A gift from the Kurz Family Foundation will fund a new initiative at New York University’s Tamiment Institute Library, the Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Collection. This collection will consist of the papers and library of Frederic Ewen (1899-1988), an author, educator and champion of the individual’s right to self-expression and intellectual freedom, as well as oral interviews and other archival, audio and visual materials relating to academic freedom.
The project will focus on the right of teachers and research workers to investigate their subjects of expertise without fear of reprimand or dismissal and the right to provide both students and the entire academic community with knowledge and information pertaining to any controversial social, economic or political issue without interference or penalty. Special attention will be given to collecting materials that relate to the post-World War I Red Scare, the McCarthy Era, and the Vietnam era.
According to Herbert Kurz, president of the Kurz Family Foundation, the goal of the Ewen Academic Freedom Collection is to provide a resource for the study of academic freedom and to create a permanent awareness of this precious right.
Frederic Ewen was a popular professor of English at Brooklyn College. His commitment to the freedom of thought, as well as his political activism during the 1930s, led to his becoming a victim of the academic witch hunts of the McCarthy Era, and his forced resignation from Brooklyn College in 1952.
Dr. Ewen had been involved in two strong political currents of the time: speaking out against the rise of fascism in Europe, and against the inequality of suffering during the Great Depression. He was an active member of the Teachers Union and was also active in the campaign to support the Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. When he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, he was forced to resign his position and was subsequently blacklisted.
A noted author, with such books to his credit as Bibliography of Eighteenth-Century English and The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine, Dr. Ewen organized lectures in union halls, theaters and other venues that would accept him, and with a team of blacklisted actors (Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Randolph, Sam Waterston) presented lecture-performances of great works of literature.
In 1988 Brooklyn College formally apologized to Dr. Ewen and the other professors who had been dismissed during the McCarthy Era; the College established a lecture series in his name.
Working on the project at the Wagner Labor Archives will be: Peter Filardo, NYU Tamiment Library archivist; Andrew Lee; Keri Myers, project archivist; and Henry Foner, field coordinator.
The Tamiment Institute Library and Wagner Labor Archives at NYU, under the direction of Debra Bernhardt, form a unique center for scholarly research on labor history, and the history of socialist, anarchist, communist and other radical political movements. The Tamiment Institute Library was originally the Meyer London Library of the Rand School of Social Sciences, the pioneer workers’ school in the United States, founded in 1906.