Joseph Freeman (writer)
Joseph "Joe" Freeman (1897 – 1965) was an American writer and magazine editor. He is best remembered as a contributor and editor to The New Masses, a literary and artistic magazine closely associated with the Communist Party USA, and as a founding editor of the magazine Partisan Review.
Joseph Freeman was born October 7, 1897 in the village of Piratin, part of the Poltava district in the Ukraine, which was then part of the Russian empire. Freeman's parents, Stella and Isaac Freeman, were of ethnic Jewish extraction, forced to live in the Pale of Settlement by the anti-semitic laws of the Tsarist regime. At the behest of his grandfather, Freeman spoke Yiddish as a small boy. His parents worked as shopkeepers.
In his memoirs, Freeman recalled a traumatic boyhood incident which had followed shortly after a pogrom of the Jewish population of a neighboring town:
"Less than a week later a bearded peasant came into my mother's store drunk. He asked for tobacco in a voice that frightened me, and my mother handed him a package.I was terrified and clung to my mother's skirt. She held me tightly to her and I saw the tears run down her cheeks. The door creaked. I saw it open. Our clerk came in. He seized the drunk by the collar and threw him into the street. The man rolled head down into the sewer-ditch. A policeman came running, dragged the peasant to his feet and lugged him into a carriage.... I felt sorry for the peasant, and felt guilty because I felt sorry."
'I'm not going to pay you,' he said. 'You filthy Jews get too much money.'
'Then you can't have the tobacco.'
The peasant took a clasp knife from his pocket. He opened the long blade and brandished it at my mother.
'I'll kill you,' he growled. Then he walked over to me and brandished the knife over my head. 'We'll have a nice little pogrom. We'll kill all the goddam Jews in this goddam town.'
Along with hundreds of thousands of others fleeing ethnic violence in Russia, the Freemans emigrated to the United States in 1904. Joseph was naturalized as a US citizen in 1920. In the new world, the Freemans managed to achieve a middle class existence in Brooklyn, New York, with Isaac Freeman earning a living in America as a real estate dealer.
Following graduation from Columbia, Freeman went to work on the editorial staff of a book project initiated by Harper's magazine entitled Illustrated History of the World War. He also worked on the editorial staff of Women's Wear in 1919 and 1920.
In 1922 Freeman returned to New York City, where he shortly took a position on the staff of Garment News, the New York-based publication of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. He became a member of editorial staff of the left wing artistic magazine The Liberator in 1922 and became Associate Editor of that publication in 1923.
Freeman became a member of the Workers Party of America, forerunner of the Communist Party USA during this interval. He was subsequently active in various mass organizations of the party, including the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born and the All-America Anti-Imperialist League.
In 1924, Freeman became the publicity director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Freeman was a founding editor of the magazine Partisan Review in 1934, a publication which touted itself as "A Bi-Monthly of Revolutionary Literature Published by the John Reed Club of New York." The magazine was launched with the understanding that it would concentrate primarily on literary and cultural themes, thereby leaving The New Masses to pursue a heavier portion of political themes.
In 1936, Freeman published his memoirs, An American Testament: A Narrative of Rebels and Romantics. He left the Communist movement at about that time, working as a freelance writer for such publications as The Nation, Fortune, and Life.
In 1940, Freeman returned to the ACLU for a second stint as its publicity director, working in that capacity until 1942. He then moved into radio, working on the editorial staff of a news program called "Information Please."
In 1929, while working for TASS in Mexico, Freeman met and married Ione Robinson, an American painter who modeled for and studied under Diego Rivera. They divorced in 1931. Freeman married American journalist, abstract painter, and art critic, Charmion von Wiegand, in 1932 or 1934, in New York.
Death and legacy
Joseph Freeman died in August 1965. He was 67 years old at the time of his death.
Freeman's papers, consisting of 4 linear feet of material, are housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University in New York City. Master negative microfilm of The New Masses, the magazine with which Freeman was most closely associated, is held by New York Public Library.
- Joseph Freeman, An American Testament: A Narrative of Rebels and Romantics. New York: Octagon Books, 1973; pp. 4-5.
- Freeman, An American Testament, pp. 5-6.
- Francis X. Gannon, A Biographical Dictionary of The Left: Volume 4. Boston: Western Islands, 1973; pp. 376-378.
- Solon DeLeon with Irma C. Hayssen and Grace Poole (eds.), The American Labor Who's Who. New York: Hanford Press, 1925; pg. 79.
- Alan Wald, The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987; pg. 51.
- Wald, The New York Intellectuals, pg. 78.
- Bloom, James. "About Joseph Freeman (1897-1965)". MAPS (Modern American Poetry). Retrieved 14 December 2010.
- McConnell, Gary (1999). "Joseph Freeman: Artist in Uniform". Modern Age 40 (1, Winter 1999): 40–46.
- "Charmion Von Wiegand". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
- "Charmion von Wiegand (1896 — 1983)". Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
- Wald (p. 183.)
- Finding Aid for the Joseph Freeman Papers, Columbia University, New York.
- Wald, Alan M. (2001). Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-5349-8.
- Dollar Diplomacy: A Study in American Imperialism. Co-author with Scott Nearing. New York: Vanguard Press, 1925.
- Voices of October: Art and Literature in Soviet Russia. Co-editor, with Joshua Kunitz and Louis Lozowick. New York: Vanguard Press, 1930.
- The Soviet Worker: An Account of the Economic, Social and Cultural Status of Labor in the USSR. New York: International Publishers, 1932.
- The Background of German Fascism. New York: [International Publishers?], n.d. [c. 1932].
- Proletarian Literature in the United States: An Anthology. Co-editor with Granville Hicks. New York: International Publishers, 1936.
- An American Testament: A Narrative of Rebels and Romantics. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1936.
- Never Call Retreat. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1943.
- The Long Pursuit. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1947.
- Bloom, James. Left Letters: The Culture Wars of Mike Gold and Joseph Freeman (Columbia University Press, 1992)
- Finding Aid for the Joseph Freeman Papers, Butler Library, Columbia University, New York. Retrieved July 19, 2010.