Morris U. Schappes (pronounced SHAP-pess, born Moishe Shapshilevich; 1907–2004) was an American educator, writer, radical political activist, historian, and magazine editor. Schappes is best remembered for a 1941 perjury conviction obtained in association with testimony before the Rapp-Coudert Committee investigating Communism in education in New York, and as the long-time editor of the radical magazine Jewish Currents.
Morris U. Schappes was born Moishe ben Haim Shapshilevich in Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine, then part of the Russian empire. The Shapshilevich family left Tsarist Russia when Morris was a small child, living first in Brazil before emigrating to the United States in 1914. The family name was truncated to "Schappes" by Brazilian immigration authorities and Moishe's mother later Americanized his name to "Morris" upon the family's arrival in North America. His middle initial, "U," referred to nothing, but was inserted by Schappes as a collegiate journalist to add zest to his byline.
Schappes earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from City College of New York and a Masters degree from Columbia University. Schappes joined the faculty of City College in 1928 when he accepted a position as a lecturer in the English Department there.
Schappes was regarded as an effective teacher and was awarded annual pay raises seven times during his career at City College. He was regarded as a scholar by his peers and frequently contributed reviews and commentary to the popular and academic press, including such magazines as Saturday Review, the New York Post, The Nation, Poetry, and American Literature.
On April 23, 1936, a new head of the English Department at City College wrote to Schappes announcing that his position at City College was to be regarded as temporary, and that he was therefore summarily dismissed from the staff. Students at City College erupted at what they perceived to be a politically motivated personnel decision, with 1500 students signing a petition calling for Schappes' reinstatement and protest meetings held by the American Student Union and former students of Schappes.
In 1941, Schappes was one of 40 educators fired in conjunction with an investigation by the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York, commonly known as the Rapp-Coudert Committee, a body which attempted to identify and remove members of the Communist Party USA from the public education system of New York state.
In sworn testimony given to the Committee, Schappes stated that he only knew three members of the Communist Party at City College — two of whom were dead and one who was a well-known party organizer. After another City College Communist had "named names," implicating fifty employees of City College as party members, Schappes was indicted for having committed perjury in his testimony.
After his removal from the halls of academia, Schappes went to work as the editor of Jewish Life (later known as Jewish Currents), an English-language of the Communist Party, USA dealing with Jewish issues and targeted to a Jewish readership. He served as editor of this publication for the next four decades.
In the aftermath of Nikita Khrushchev's February 1956 "Secret Speech" and the violent repression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 in the fall of that year, Jewish Currents aligned with a dissident liberal faction of the CPUSA headed by John Gates. The magazine ultimately decided to leave the Communist Party orbit altogether to pursue an independent existence.
Death and legacy
Morris Schappes died on June 3, 2004 in New York City. He was 97 years old at the time of his death.
Schappes' papers reside in two collections, one held by the Tamiment Library of New York University in New York City and the other by the American Jewish Historical Society. In 1983, Schappes submitted an oral history of his life to Columbia University in New York City, material which was transcribed into 66 pages.
- "Leftist Magazine Editor Morris U. Schappes, 97, Dies," Jewish Daily Forward, June 11, 2004.
- Douglas Martin, "Morris Schappes Dies at 97; Marxist and Jewish Scholar," New York Times, June 9, 2004.
- "Morris Schappes," Dreamers and Fighters: The NYC Teacher Purges, dreamersandfighters.com/
- Joseph Berger, "Jewish Currents Magazine and a Longtime Adversary Decide to Merge," New York Times, April 13, 2006.
- Morris Schappes Papers; TAM-179; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives; Elmer Holmes Bobst Library; New York University Libraries. New York, NY. Morris U. Schappes Papers; P-57; American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY.
- Morris U. Schappes, "Reminiscences of Morris U. Schappes," Butler Library, Columbia University, New York City, 1983.
- Letters from the Tombs. Foreword by Richard Wright. New York: Schappes Defense Committee, 1941.
- The Daily Worker: Heir to the Great Tradition. New York: Daily Worker, 1944.
- Resistance is the Lesson: The Meaning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. New York: Jewish Life, n.d. (1948).
- Anti-Semitism and Reaction, 1795-1800. Philadelphia: Publications of the Jewish Historical Society, n.d. (1948).
- Problems of Jewish Culture. New York: School of Jewish Studies, 1950.
- A Documentary History of the Jews in the United States, 1654-1875. New York: Citadel Press, 1950.
- The Jews in the United States: A Pictorial History, 1654 to the Present. New York: Citadel Press, 1958.
- Shylock and Anti-Semitism. New York: Jewish Currents, 1962.
- The Strange World of Hannah Arendt. New York: Jewish Currents, 1963.
- Jewish Currents Reader: A Selection of Short Stories, Poems and Essays from Jewish Currents Years 1956-1966. Editor. New York: Jewish Currents, 1966.
- Jewish Identity: Dialogue with Jewish Youth. With Michael H. Agronoff and Judith Kerman. New York: Jewish Currents, 1967.
- The Jewish Question and the Left — Old and New: A Challenge to the New Left. New York: Jewish Currents, 1970.
- Irving Howe's 'The World of Our Fathers': A Critical Analysis. New York: Jewish Currents, 1977.