"Who were the patriots, those who said yes, and those who followed, or were the real patriots those who refused to follow and faced the firing squads and were placed in concentration camps?"
-- Congressman Vito Marcantonio
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This site has no association with the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute Queens College The City University of New York, and reprints this material only as a public service. If you have benefited from this material, please make a donation to the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute Queens College The City University of New York.
I VOTE MY CONSCIENCE
DEBATES, SPEECHES, AND WRITINGS
Selected and Edited by Annette T. Rubinstein and Associates
With a new Introduction,
Bibliography of works about Vito Marcantonio,
and Biography of Annette Rubinstein by Gerald Meyer
I VOTE MY CONSCIENCE
DEBATES, SPEECHES, AND WRITINGS
Vito Marcantonio 1935-1950
with a brief introductory account of Vito Marcantonio, Congressman
and excerpts from four of his major civil liberties cases
Selected and Edited by Annette T. Rubinstein and Associates
This volume is reprinted by The John D. Calandra Italian American Institute Queens College The City University of New York
The reprinting of I Vote My Conscience: Debates, Speeches and Writings of Vito Marcantonio, 1935-1950, almost fifty years after its original publication, could not have happened without the interest and support of many. Especially because of the hefty size of this tome and its inclusion of some thirty pages of photographs, the cost of this enterprise was high. Surmounting the daunting financial hurdles became possible through the generous financial support of the National Italian American Foundation and FIERI International as well as the willingness of the editor-author of I Vote My Conscience to forego any remuneration. The professional and financial support of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute (Queens College, CUNY) and specifically Joseph V. Scelsa, Vincenzo Milione, and Carmine Pizzirusso proved to be essential to this process. Peter Vellon of the Calandra Institute proofread portions of the book.
The reprinting of this volume and its presentation on December 8, at an assembly in the Museum of the City of New York, which is located in Marcantonio' s Congressional District, constitutes a modest but meaningful celebration of a great Italian American, who sacrificed everything in the fight to make American democracy work for all. Keeping alive the memory of this much maligned very good man contributes to the unending effort to compel society to remember the forgotten men and women who are after all responsible for all the good things of the society.
This volume is part of the Calandra Institute's Historical Monograph Series conceived by Philip V. Cannistraro, Distinguished Professor of Italian American Studies, Queens College/CUNY.
New Introduction to I Vote My Conscience:
Debates, Speeches, and Writings, of Vito Marcantonio, 1935-1950
Edited by Annette T. Rubinstein
by Gerald Meyer
Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954) was a rare phenomenon in American political life: a radical, who was elected seven times to Congress (1934 to 1950). He represented a district coterminous with East Harlem, a working class quarter that contained large communities of Italians, Jews, and later Puerto Ricans. (In 1944, the district was expanded to include Yorkville, which at that time was home to large German and Irish American, and smaller Czech and Italian American communities.) He aroused the enmity of powerful interests by championing all those left out of the American dream. His parliamentary acumen, oratorical skills, and personal charisma made him one of the most prominent New Yorkers of his day; his unrivaled role as spokesman for the agenda of the Left made him, depending on political predilection, a figure of national notoriety or fame.
Marcantonio was born in Italian Harlem (the largest and the most Italian Little Italy in the United States), which was located in the eastern half of Manhattan's East Harlem, from East 96th Street to East 135th Street and from Fifth Avenue to the East River. To the west of Italian Harlem lay Jewish East Harlem, an area containing a large community of Eastern European Jews. Starting in the 1920's, El Barrio, a community of Puerto Ricans, began slowly, and then after World War II, to rapidly grow. Smaller communities of African Americans and Greek Americans also took root in East Harlem.
East Harlem's prevailing radical politics influenced Vito Marcantonio in his youth. It was a Socialist Party bastion, which in 1917 elected a Socialist Alderman and a State Assemblyman, and in 1919 an Assemblyman. (The State Legislature ejected the latter, along with four other Socialists, on the grounds that "he had been elected on a platform which is absolutely inimical to the best interests of the State of New York and the United States.") The Socialist leader Morris Hiliquit nearly won East Harlem's Congressional seat in 1916 and 1918, and was defeated in 1920 only because the Democratic and Republican parties opposed him with a fusion candidate. From 1922 until 1932, Fiorello La Guardia represented East Harlem in Congress (in 1924 he ran on the Socialist and the Progressive party lines), where he served as a unique voice for urban populism.
Marcantonio had imbibed oppositional politics as a student at De Witt Clinton High School, where teachers had been fired for their radical politics. His Italian teacher there, Leonard Covello, greatly influenced his life's trajectory. Marcantonio became an officer of the Circolo Italiano, a club Covello had organized to remedy the academic difficulties of the Italian American students. Covello, who had been active in the settlement house movement, encouraged club members, including Marcantonio, Chairman of its Executive Committee, to work in Italian Harlem to provide tutoring and to assist those seeking to become naturalized American citizens. Under Covello's guidance, Marcantonio adopted the values of service for, and devotion to, his community as well as a fluency in Italian, all of which greatly contributed to his subsequent electoral career.
His future was also decisively shaped by Fiorello La Guardia who serendipitously Marcantonio met when they both appeared as speakers at an assembly at De Witt Clinton. La Guardia, whose home district had been Greenwich Village, appointed Marcantonio as his aide in charge of managing his local political organization and providing services for his constituents. La Guardia, who lost both his wife and his infant daughter in 1921, adopted Marcantonio as his surrogate son. He clerked in La Guardia's law firm and, for a short time, lived in his home. For Marcantonio, who had lost his father while he was a high school student, La Guardia was an invaluable and honored mentor. When La Guardia was elected mayor in 1933, his protégé succeeded him in Congress. There, from an even further left position, he championed all his predecessor's causes. In 1925, Marcantonio entered into a childless but supportive marriage with Miriam Sanders, the "headworker" at Haarlem House (present day La Guardia House), where they initially lived in a small apartment on its upper floors that was reserved for housing the staff.
During his first term, Marcantonio vocally supported the most radical measures proposed, including government operation of idle factories based on the principle of "production for use." Like La guardia, Marcantonio had first run as a Republican, not because of his agreement with the Republican political agenda, but as a reaction to the corrupt big city machine politics of Tammany Hall which was dominated by Irish Americans, who had all but excluded Italian Americans from political representation. Defeated in the Democratic landslide of 1936, Marcantonio assumed national prominence as the President of the International Labor Defense (ILD), a position he held until 1942. Marcantonio further announced his commitment to the Left when in 1937 (along with La Guardia) he registered in the newly formed American Labor Party (ALP). In 1938, after a successful race where he ran on both the Republican and American Labor party lines, he identified himself as the ALP's sole representative in Congress. In New York, he soon became the leader of this party's left wing, by 1944 its de facto leader, and by 1948 its State Chairman. Running as the ALP's mayoral candidate, in 1949 he garnered a majority of East Harlem's, one third of the City's Little Italys, and almost 15 percent of the citywide vote.
In the House, Marcantonio distinguished himself as the major leader for civil rights legislation by sponsoring anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills as well as the annual fight for the Fair Employment Practices Commission's appropriation. He served as de facto congressperson for Puerto Rico, insuring that it was not excluded from appropriations bills. He also submitted five bills calling for the independence of Puerto Rico (which he called "the greatest victim of United States imperialism") with an indemnity for the damage done to the island by the United States business interests which had replaced tens of thousands of small farms with sugar plantations. Often alone in Congress, he defended the most defenseless, the foreign born, whom he described as "the industrial cannon fodder of the labor exploiters."
Serving as the only Italian American Congressman from New York State, he never forgot that he was the son of an Italian-born mother and a second generation father. Marcantonio merged the personal and the political when in the House he upheld the dignity and interests of Italian American people, a nationality subject to widespread defamation and outright discrimination. In 1942, for example, he demanded that the government lift the "enemy alien" status assigned at the beginning of World War II to the 600,000 Italian Americans who had not obtained citizenship since "the contributions of Americans of Italian extraction in blood, toil, and wealth is the devastating answer to those who seek to discriminate against them." After the coup that toppled Mussolini in 1943, Marcantonio urged that, in view of the critical assistance of the Italian Resistance to the German Army's defeat, Italy be treated as a liberated country and not as a conquered territory.
Marcantonio is perhaps most widely remembered because of his repeated insistence that the Communist Party was "An American political party operating in what it considers to be the best interests of the American working class and people." Especially during the postwar witch-hunt, he defended Communists as "the first victims of Fascism," and repeatedly argued that anti-Communism was a device to divide and defeat "the progressive forces." Although he was never a member of the Communist Party, their political positions were often closely aligned. In the postwar period, on the floor of the House, he fought the prevailing bipartisan foreign policy as "Wall Street imperialism" and as "war measures [intended to] buttress a decadent capitalism." Simultaneously, he led an increasingly lonely battle against the political repression of the Left. Ultimately, he cast the sole vote in opposition to United States intervention in the Korean War.
Marcantonio also played an important role in promoting dozens of left organizations. As the President of the ILD, he led campaigns against lynching and vigilantism aimed at labor activists and strikers. Among the most famous of these was the movement that contributed to the pardoning by the governor of California of Tom Mooney after he had served twenty-two years of a life sentence for what was believed a false accusation that he had thrown a bomb at a pro-war parade. He also opposed the police actions directed by Frank ("I Am the Law") Hague, the mayor of Jersey City, to prevent political opponents from holding public meetings and CIO organizers from distributing leaflets. Marcantonio supported the anti-Fascist Italian American community by serving as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of L' Unitࠤel Popolo, an Italian language weekly, and maintaining close ties to the Garibaldi-American Fraternal Society, the Italian language section of the International Workers Order (IWO). On May 8, 1941, he introduced HR 4688, a bill to "guarantee minimum income and social security," that embodied the IWO's "Plan for Plenty." Closer to home, he acted as Chairman of the Harlem Legislative Conference, which combined almost one hundred political, religious, fraternal, and social organizations in African American, Latino, and Italian Harlems for the purpose of identifying and promoting legislative initiatives to address the common problems of these contiguous, but often competitive, communities. In turn, these organizations marshaled the foot soldiers for his electoral campaigns, and their publications lionized "our Marc."
Marcantonio also served the progressive movement as a courtroom attorney. He can be credited with two of the very few court cases won by targets of the ever-widening repression: In 1951, he successfully represented the then eighty-five year old Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, who was indicted as an unregistered agent of a foreign government because of his sponsorship of the Stockholm Peace Petition. That year, he also brilliantly and successfully argued the case of William Patterson, the President of the Civil Rights Congress, who had been indicted for contempt of Congress for refusing to produce the names of contributors to the bail fund of the arrested Communist leaders. From 1951 to 1953, despite his growing disagreement with the Communist Party about the appropriate political strategy for the Left during that period of repression, he served as co-attorney with John Abt and Joseph Forer, in arguing its case before a panel of the Subversive Activities Control Board. This Board, which was empowered to decide whether or not the Party and its members were required to register with the Attorney General, was one of the products of the McCarran Subversive Activities Control Bill (the Internal Security Act), legislation the legal team described as "enabling legislation for a police state." After the panel ruled against the Communist Party and ordered it to register as a subversive organization, which de facto outlawed it, Marcantonio collaborated in preparing its appeal to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it was not until November 16, 1965, eleven years after his death, that the Supreme Court unanimously nullified the registration requirement of the McCarran Act. In its decision, it accepted Marcantonio's argument that the act exposed the members of these organizations to prosecution under the Smith Act and other Federal laws, and thereby denied them their right to remain silent as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. (The previous year, the High Court had declared unconstitutional the section of the same law that allowed the State Department to deny passports to Communists, and it had also thrown out the proceedings against two alleged Communist front organizations for refusing to register.) Marcantonio's defiance of the domestic and foreign policies of the major parties stirred up a firestorm of opposition. He was regularly vilified in the press, which called him "Moscow's mouthpiece" and "the Red Congressman."
At the beginning of his career, Marcantonio ran in both the Democratic and Republican party primaries, where previously he had always won one, and in 1942 and 1944, both of their designations. In 1947, the New York State Legislature passed the Wilson-Pakula Act (a law which Marcantonio said had his picture on it), which effectively restricted candidates to contesting the political primaries in which they were officially enrolled. Nonetheless, in 1948 running solely on the ALP line, he again won. Marcantonio had always been able to overcome tremendous opposition because of the loyalty of his East Harlem constituents for whom he provided prodigious amounts of service. He had also benefited from the concentration of the resources of the ALP and other left organizations and unions to the goal of his reelection. However, in 1950, although he won a larger percentage of the vote than in 1948, he lost to James Donovan, a Tammany Hall' Democrat, who ran as a fusion candidate of the Democratic, Republican, and Liberal parties a tripartite coalition that he termed the "gang up".
Amidst the disarray and destruction of the Left, Marcantonio and his erstwhile ally the Communist Party fell out. Marcantonio blamed the pitiful 53,045 votes garnered by the ALP's 1953 mayoral candidate, Clifford McAvoy, on the Communist Party which had withdrawn its resources from the ALP in order to build support for the Democratic candidate, Robert Wagner, Jr. The Communist Party's behavior in this election was based on its assumption that the United States was on the verge of full blown fascism, while Marcantonio and the leftists (including Annette T. Rubinstein and many of his other closest associates) gathered around the leftist weekly, The National Guardian, believed that the worst of the political repression had already passed. Beyond this question, however, the Communist Party, fearing political isolation and irrelevance, was moving away from participation in the American Labor Party in New York and the Progressive Party nationally, which were attracting fewer and fewer votes. Conversely, Marcantonio and the Guardian insisted that under any and all conditions the Left needed to maintain, albeit in a much diminished form, independent political organizations such as the ALP that could actually contest elections.
In 1952, Marcantonio did not contest his old Congressional seat; but, in 1954, in order to challenge the increasingly unpopular incumbent, he began to organize a new local political association, the Good Neighbor Party. His plans for a political comeback, however, were ended when on August 8, 1954, he fell dead of a heart attack in City Hall Park directly across from the Woolworth Building. In an attempt to discover his identity, a policeman found Catholic religious amulets. He then summoned a priest who administered the last rites of the Catholic Church. This was consistent with his life, as he had always identified himself as a Catholic. For example, in 1939, while speaking before the National Conference of the ILD, he had preceded his declaration that "Father Coughlin has forfeited his right to priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church" with a description of himself "As a Roman Catholic who has not deserted the faith of his fathers." Nonetheless, the Archdiocese of New York, acting on the orders of Cardinal Spellman, refused him a Catholic burial on the grounds that "he was not reconciled with the Church before his death."
Marcantonio's death in mid-career devastated all those whom he had touched. Its suddenness, and the Cardinal's singling out a dedicated tribune for the oppressed for what one mourner called "ecclesiastical malice," aroused a massive demonstration of respect and loss at his funeral. For two days, at a rate of one thousand an hour, weeping people passed his bier in Giordano's funeral parlor. A funeral procession of more than a hundred vehicles, headed by fifteen coaches filled with flowers wended its way though a community where black-bordered signs, reading "We Mourn Our Loss," hung in windows and black wreaths were affixed beside doors. The cortege passed his political headquarters, 247 East 6h Street (where La Guardia had previously served this community) then his residence, 231 East 116th Street, which was a mere four blocks from the house in which he had been born and next door to the home of his mentor Leonard Covello. After this massive outpouring of grief, the People's Politician (as he liked to be known) was laid to rest near La Guardia in Woodlawn Cemetery, a nondenominational resting place in the Bronx, where on the tombstone under his name is etched: "Defender of Human Rights."
Within a month or two of his death, a group of his closest associates and friends organized the Vito Marcantonio Memorial. Miriam Sanders served as its Honorary Chair and Arthur Schutzer, who had long been the ALP's Executive Secretary, served as its Secretary. The other members of the Board included: Leonard Covello; David Freedman (the law associate who had identified Marcantonio after his death); Louise Berman, who had contributed much time and money to Marcantonio's campaigns; her husband, Lionel Berman, who had worked closely with Marcantonio in his attempt to organize "The Good Neighbor Party"; Bill Price, a New York Daily News photographer, who had helped with the organization of the Good Neighbor Party; Virginia Rosen, who had done much research for Marcantonio's Congressional speeches; Robert Rusch, a close friend and political associate; and Annette T. Rubinstein, a close personal and political associate.
The founders of the Memorial began the laborious and inevitable process of fund raising by mailing handsomely printed brochures with enclosed envelopes which solicited contributions within a four tier range starting from $1 for "Regular Associate" to $100 for "Endowed Associate." Those who responded received a membership card with a photo of Marcantonio and the dates of his birth and death. An immediate expense was the maintenance Marcantonio's two headquarters: 247 East 116th Street, and 1484 First Avenue, a large loft between 77th and 78th Streets, that had served as his Yorkville headquarters. (Even after his defeat in the 1950 election, Marcantonio had continued providing services from these offices for the District's residents, who continued to call him "Congressman.")
The stated mission of the Marcantonio Memorial was "to keep alive and ever-present among the people of his community and of this country, the meaning and the memory of the life and activities of Vito Marcantonio." The Memorial Association planned to accomplish this goal by a series of events and projects, including: 1) "the assembling, publishing, and distributing of the record of his life [and] and his writings and his speeches"; 2) "creating enduring memorials [including] scholarships, essay awards"; 3) "holding annual and other public assemblies"; and 4) "establish [ing] and maintain[ing] a headquarters of the Vito Marcantonio Memorial." Also in response to the reality that he had died virtually penniless, it pledged "to assume and to discharge those financial obligations and commitments incurred by Vito Marcantonio in connection with his public service." This obligation was fulfilled when the Association paid $1,200 to defray expenses for Marcantonio's funeral.
The Memorial Association fulfilled another goal when it scheduled a "Vito Marcantonio Memorial Meeting" to take place on December 7, 1954, at Manhattan Center. Publicity for the assembly was modest, consisting of three small ads in the Daily Worker and one smaller ad in the National Guardian, which said little more than "Vito Marcantonio Memorial Meeting." This event was also promoted by free publicity: the Daily Worker published an article about the upcoming meeting; and in advance of the meeting, the National Guardian printed a banner headline across the top of the first page in the issue as well as a news article which identified the Vito Marcantonio Memorial as "dedicated to keeping the Marcantonio record straight and making it a continuing force." Lastly, the Guardian published a resolution issued by the then nearly defunct Progressive Party in support of the meeting. Residents of his Congressional District, also received a letter encouraging attendance, which noted that: "Here he lived, a good neighbor to every family, a dependable rock of strength for everyone who needed help, a fighting Congressman for all the people, a leader with vision and faith, and integrity."
The Daily Worker, which along with the Guardian, was the only newspaper which covered the event, reported that 3,500 people attended the meeting. The audience was addressed by a number of residents from Marcantonio's district who had received services from him, including one woman among many who had been rescued from eviction by his efforts. W.E.B. Du Bois, who had run as the ALP candidate for Senate in 1950 for the expressed purpose of helping Marcantonio's electoral chances, listed Marcantonio's "seven great crusades" which he thought revealed his philosophy. These included: casting the sole vote against the Korean War, opposing the doctrine of "trying to defeat Communism by force," and "fighting for democracy for the Negro, white, and the foreign born." His barber, Luigi Albarelli, who spoke in Italian at his funeral service, spoke directly to Marcantonio: "You lived fearlessly and courageously with affection in your heart for the common man." John Bernard, former Congressmen from Minnesota, read messages from Congressmen Arthur Klein who represented the Lower East Side, and John Blatnik, who represented a district in Minnesota. Gilberto Concepcie Gracia, the leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, declared that he had flown from Puerto Rico in order to "pay tribute.., in the name of the Puerto Rican people whom he loved so much." He further spoke of the "tears in Puerto Rican eyes" for the man who was "the greatest friend" that the cause of Puerto Rican independence ever had. Covello reminded the audience that "Marcantonio never abandoned his community or his people." He further declared that his death had left "A void in the East Harlem community... and in the lives of thousands of his East Harlem neighbors, to whom he was deeply devoted and for whose welfare he gave so completely of himself. It has left a void among the ranks of those who are struggling to eliminate poverty, disease, and hunger and to bring to all people, the abundant life....Marc decided to throw his lot completely with that one-third of the nation which President Roosevelt described as ill-housed, ill-fed, and ill-clad." The audience rose for a one minute silent tribute and a pianist played Beethoven's "Death of a Hero." Despite the excellent attendance and the balanced program, this was the first and last public meeting that the Memorial sponsored.
Another major goal of the Memorial Association was rapidly accomplished. On September 22, 1955, Miriam Marcantonio donated to the Manuscript Division of the New York Public Library her deceased husband's papers. After the physical transfer of the bulk of the papers from Marcantonio's Yorkville headquarters, the Library staff organized them into eighty four boxes containing everything from a letter signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to bills from printers. The Marcantonio Papers contain extensive correspondence with various left organizations and trade unions, campaign materials, texts of speeches and bills presented in the House of Representatives, as well as two cartons of photographs and tapes of his speeches.
Twenty cartons are filled with correspondence from constituents and other citizens from near and far who sought the help of "their Marc." One letter from a Puerto Rican woman requesting "a small turkey for my children who have no father," closes by saying that she was certain that he would not disappoint them because: "You are the bread of the poor people." Many of the letters document the vast extent of deprivation in this land of abundance. In 1950, a woman wrote "with hopes that you will be able to help me as I have heard you have helped so many others .... We're a family of three living in one room, a very small room." Another letter from an Italian cab driver consoling Marcantonio after his defeat in the 1949 mayoral election, stated: "They say you are a Communist, but to many a working man you are a prince."
The correspondence between his constituents and his office documents the remarkably extensive efforts he made on their behalf. For example, there are twenty four pieces of correspondence and two interviews over a span of one and one-half years which were generated by his effort to secure for a constituent a transfer from a WPA job in Staten Island to one nearer to home. Six other boxes carry weekly reports from members of Marcantonio's staff. There are innumerable logs of "contracts", that is, requests made by constituents for service. In 1950, for example, one aide, Leonard Fink, disposed of more than three hundred legal cases. All the ingredients that made a uniquely successful radical politician are documented by this collection: the legendary delivery of service to constituents; a vast political organization manned by men and women dedicated to a vibrant Left movement consisting of an extensive interlocking set of organizations and newspapers in more than a score of languages; and the painstaking work and passionate commitment of an advocate who dedicated every ounce of his strength for the benefit of all those left out of the American dream.
After its initial flurry of activities, the problems of financing the Marcantonio Association loomed. The maintenance of Marcantonio's two headquarters represented the major expense: the monthly rent for the Yorkville office was $100, the rent for the East Harlem office was likely less. Yet, the two spaces now served little purpose other than as a mail drop. Aside from the few meetings that were held there by a group which had not grown beyond its original small band, the only public use of these spaces was the organization of a special exhibit of over one hundred photographs mounted in December 1956 at the 247 East 116th Street office. These headquarters, however, more than any other site represented Vito Marcantonio. It was no coincidence that Alfred Santangelo, who in 1956 succeeded in defeating George Donovan in the Democratic primary and went on to win Marcantonio's Congressional seat, established his headquarters at 1484 First Avenue, that is, Marcantonio's Yorkville office.
The Marcantonio Association's attempt to raise funds by seeking dues from "associates" had met with only modest success, and the December 7th Memorial meeting had generated only a small profit. A serious setback for the fiscal health of the organization was the poor result of a letter composed and signed by W.E.B. Du Bois soliciting donations from the thirty thousand subscribers to the National Guardian, which despite the affinity of the audience for Marcantonio and the great prestige of its solicitor, failed to attract sufficient money even to cover its expenses.
Ultimately, the financial viability of the Marcantonio Memorial was underwritten by its most significant and lasting accomplishment: the publication of I Vote My Conscience. Debates, Speeches, and Writings of Vito Marcantonio, a five hundred page compilation of Marcantonio's Congressional debates and speeches, accompanied by thirty pages of photographs, edited and introduced by Annette T. Rubinstein. Dr. Rubinstein (who herself had been blacklisted) spent one full year on this labor of love. Others in the Association assisted Dr. Rubinstein: Lionel Berman created many of the captions identifying the excerpts prior to each chapter, and Virginia Rosen had selected the photographs. Annette T. Rubinstein accepted the recommendation of Miriam Marcantonio (who simultaneously thanked her for the "devotion and care, and work you are putting into this project") that the proposed cover design, which was a composite of a number of photographs, be replaced with "a single picture of Marc ... because its simplicity is more striking."
Annette Rubinstein's thirty four page introduction provides the background for the heart of this work. There she aptly described the volume as a "partial political autobiography." The body of the book consists of more than 150 excerpts of Marcantonio's Congressional speeches and debates, which are organized into the seven chapters based on the seven sessions he served in the House. In recognition of his devoted work on behalf of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people, there is a separate chapter, "Puerto Rico and Its People," which spans his entire political career. Lastly, there is a chapter of his legal briefs on behalf of McCarthyism's intended victims.
Dr. Rubinstein was inspired with the book's title when she noticed that Marcantonio used a similar phrase in his first and last term in the House. On May l4, 1936, in support of his vote for a bill to prevent family farm foreclosures, he affirmed that although "I have no farmers in my district... I shall vote my conscience on this bill." In 1950, before casting the sole vote in opposition to President Truman's order for the deployment of United States air and sea forces to support the South Korean forces, Marcantonio told his colleagues: "It is best to live one's life with one's conscience than to temporize or accept with silence those things which one believes to be against the interests of one's people and one's nation."
I Vote My Conscience evidences Marcantonio's connectedness to the people of East Harlem and his extraordinary ability as advocate for minorities and the working class throughout the United States. His effectiveness was made possible by his fearless populism, which allowed him the freedom to speak on behalf of the exploited and oppressed without looking over his shoulder for approval from leaders and organizations dedicated to upholding the status quo.
Excerpts from Marcantonio's argument on behalf of labor illustrate his politics. In 1944, in defense of the C.I.O.'s Political Action Committee, he declared: "Labor has the right to organize, not only on the economic front, but labor has a right to protect itself and its legitimate interests on the political front." In 1946, he informed his colleagues: "Workers are human beings contributing to the wealth and welfare of America and are entitled as a matter of right to a decent living. They have earned the right to organize and to strike to obtain it." The following year in arguing against a piece of anti-labor legislation, he sardonically characterized the measure as giving the workers "the right to be free, freeing him from unionization, freeing him from his hard-earned protection, freeing him from his union, his only defense against exploitation. You are only making him free to be exploited." This is the voice of an American populist, not an American liberal.
I Vote My Conscience also traces another extraordinary contribution of Marcantonio, that is, his step-by-step, root-and-branch opposition to United States Cold War foreign policy. Here and throughout his political career Marcantonio assumed that United States foreign policy was motivated by imperial interests and his sympathies were always on the side of those forces seeking political liberation and social justice. In 1946, while arguing against United States aid to Greece, he asserted that "under the guise of 'stop Communism', we are aiding a regime which is shot through with Fascists, with Nazi collaborators, petty and big Quislings .... Monopoly capital and its agents set up the same cry in an attempt to stop the forward march of mankind toward freedom from fear and want." In 1949, he insisted that military aid to Korea represented: "The same thing as we did in China, aiding tyranny and corruption."
Dr. Rubinstein's summation of the excerpts from his debates and speeches noted that they were infused with "A passionate concern for the dignity and well being of man and an unabashed and genuine patriotism." In the most general terms possible, this book documents what one brilliant and determined leftist could accomplish.
Five thousand copies of I Vote My Conscience were printed: 2,000 cloth, 250 "deluxe editions" (slipcased); and 2,750 of a "union edition," that is, paperbacked books. The sale and distribution of these volumes represented a major undertaking for this small band functioning during a time of the Left's decimation and demobilization. Albert Kahn composed a letter that went out to the Association's mailing list suggesting that "this new, handsome, generously illustrated 500 page book" would make a great Christmas present. A widely circulated brochure announced that I Vote My Conscience contains "fourteen years of history as he saw it and made it!" The official launching of I Vote My Conscience took place on July 4th 1956. In a two column editorial in the National Guardian, its editor, John McManus, noted that: "The far extent of Marcantonio's concern for the people's interest is well documented [in the book] whether it be in behalf of quarry strikers in Vermont or in defense of the Hollywood Ten against contempt citations ... . He brought to bear on every question the incisiveness of a fine lawyer, the humanity of an American radical..." Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the only other media notice of this book was the Daily Worker's longish and somewhat plodding review.
The promotion and distribution of I Vote My Conscience became the sole remaining purpose of the Marcantonio Memorial, and its major source of income. The production of the volume came to $1.72 per copy, which meant that the balance after the sale of the five thousand copies at an average price of $5.00 per copy was $6,400. Most, but not all, of the copies were sold. By January 1963, Virginia Rosen reported that there were 758 hard cover copies on hand. She proposed that one hundred copies be kept as a reserve and the remainder be donated to libraries. Copies of the book, which were sent to these libraries unsolicited, were accompanied by a letter signed by Leonard Covello, which suggested that the book "will be useful to students of American History, Law,and Political Science, filling in the scanted areas of radical thought from 1935 to 1950." The reception of these gift books varied. The principal order librarian of Oakland California's library returned the book because: "the history reference librarian has decided not to add the title to our collection. We regret returning the book to you." On the other hand, the Oregon State Library and the University of Santa Clara Library requested additional copies. By this time, the Memorial Association was operating from a post office box. On May 13, 1963, Ms. Rosen reimbursed herself for some of the money she had lent the association, and left a balance of $6.35 in order to accommodate the possibility that some of the delinquent accounts might still be paid, and the Vito Marcantonio Association closed its account and ended its business.
Since the demise of the Vito Marcantonio Memorial, a number of events have occurred that have served its proposed mission to keep "alive and ever-present among the people of his community and of this country, the meaning and the memory of the life and activities of Vito Marcantonio." On November 25, 1975, Public School 50, which is located at 433 East 100th Street, was dedicated to Vito Marcantonio. The ceremony brought together a large contingent of East Harlem's political power structure: Angelo Del Toro, the Assemblyman from East Harlem; Anthony Alvarado, the Superintendent of East Harlem's School District; and the Hon. Charles Rangel, the District's Congressman. The individual who had had the power to ensure that this still controversial radical could be memorialized by having a public school dedicated to him was the keynote speaker, Paul O'Dwyer, the President of the City Council, whose political sympathies were further left than his politics. O'Dwyer could not have forgotten that in 1948 when he was running as the Democratic candidate for Congress from Washington Heights against Jacob Javits, the Republican-Liberal candidate, the ALP's county chair, Vito Marcantonio, had secured for him the ALP endorsement, which though insufficient to provide victory, constituted approximately 23 percent of his vote. Today, the Vito Marcantonio Elementary School remains the only physical monument to this extraordinary man. (Unfortunately, this impressive structure with Vito Marcantonio's name etched on its facade in large letters, is not visible from the street, since it is located within Metro North, a complex of low income and subsidized housing.)
A number of memorial meetings have been held subsequent to the activities of the Memorial Association. An assembly dedicated to Marcantonio's memory took place on December 19th, 1976 in El Museo del Barrio. This brought together a group of prominent local leaders, including: Jack Agueros, the Director of the Museum; GiIberto Gerena ValentIn, a member of the City Council; and Joseph Monserrat, the future President of the Board of Education. After the event, El Diario reported that some of the participants of the meeting walked to the nearby Central Park where they threw roses on the waters of a lake "in memory of the best friend that the Puerto Ricans had in the United States Congress when they did not have a voice that could be raised in order to defend their civil rights nor the right of Puerto Rico to be a people free and sovereign." On October 15, 1979, the American Institute for Marxist Studies hosted a memorial meeting for Vito Marcantonio which filled the Community Church of New York City to hear Gerald Meyer, discuss Marcantonio's special relationship with the Puerto Rican people; Simon Gerson, the Communist Party's Chair for New York State, evaluate Marcantonio's successes in coalition politics; and Carl Marzani introduced a ten-minute film he had produced for his 1950 campaign.
In 1991, the Vito Marcantonio Forum, a short-lived group, was founded for the purpose of "commemorating and continuing the work of a great leader of the American Left." The one major event of the Forum was the organization of a daylong conference on November 9, 1991, at the Brecht Forum in New York City, on the topic of "Multicultural Education: Recovering Progressive Traditions," which the organizers saw as consonant with Marcantonio's insistence that genuine democracy requires the inclusion of all communities. At this Conference, the first Vito Marcantonio Award was presented to Annette T. Rubinstein, whom the Forum's founders saw as "a human being whose life's work has advanced the cause Marcantonio dedicated his life to." Aside from her editorship of I Vote My Conscience, Annette had played a major role in the American Labor Party: she had chaired an Assembly District club on the Upper West Side, twice run for office on its line, and served as its Vice President. After the demise of the ALP, she continued to work with independent political organizations while simultaneously developing an international reputation for her Marxist interpretations of the literary work of both Great Britain and the United States. Some of the Vito Marcantonio Forum's work, and specifically the presentation of the Vito Marcantonio Award was continued when in 1992 two of its founders, Gil Fagiani and Juliet Ucelli, organized Italian Americans for a Multicultural United States (IAMUS).
On December 10, 1994, a consortium that included the East Harlem Historical Organization, the Museum of the City of New York, Union Settlement, and IAMUS sponsored a conference on Vito Marcantonio and Coalition Politics. This assembly attracted nearly two hundred residents of East Harlem and New Yorkers of his generation as well as young people curious to learn about a principled radical who was able to get elected seven times. At this meeting, the second Vito Marcantonio Award was presented to Pete Pascale, a life-long resident of Italian Harlem, who worked in Fiorello La Guardia Memorial House (formerly Haarlem House) as an executive director and board member. Pascale, who personally knew and revered Marcantonio, had spent his entire life being of service to the youth of East Harlem.
In May 1997, the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute of Queens College sponsored a conference on the Lost World of Italian American Radicalism, whose plenary session was dedicated to Marcantonio. On May 1st, the authors of the four books about Marcantonio (Annette T. Rubinstein, Alan Schaffer, John Salvatore LaGumina, and Gerald Meyer) were scheduled to speak although Schaffer was unable to participate. This plenary session attracted almost two hundred people from a wide variety of backgrounds: The largest group were Italian Americans interested in either celebrating or learning about a part of their own background which has generally been denigrated or ignored; radicals from his time and the 60s; and the curious drawn by what amounted to an "event." What contributed to the interest was the presentation by IAMUS, of the third Vito Marcantonio Award to Ralph Fasanella, the renowned social realist artist who had personally known the radical Congressman. Indeed, in 1949 when Marcantonio was running as the ALP's candidate for mayor, Fasanella ran for Yorkville's City Council seat on that line. Two of his most important canvases "Campaign: Lucky Corner" and "Death of a Leader" depict Marcantonio. Fasanella combined his political activism with paintings that reflected the daily lives of working class families and their struggles.
The largest gathering, since the first memorial meeting organized by the Vito Marcantonio Memorial in December 1954, took place at New York University on November 12, 1998, where almost four hundred gathered to participate in "Vito Marcantonio: A Recognition and Celebration." The large attendance and the inspiring character of the program were the result of a yearlong effort led by Roberto Ragone, then Chair of Public Relations and Public Affairs of FIERI National, an association of young Italian American professionals, and Gerald Meyer. Prior to the NYU event, FIERI organized three preparatory gatherings in order to raise funds and build interest. The four sponsoring organizations were: the American Italian Historical Association, the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, FIERI National, and NYU's il Circolo Italiano, of which Marcantonio had been a member when he attended NYU Law School. Forty other organizations endorsed this meeting, including the American Labor Museum (Botto House), the Center for Migration Studies, the East Harlem Historical Organization, Hunter College Center for Puerto Rican Studies, the Italian American Legal Defense and Higher Education Fund, and the Italian American Writers Association. An advisory board of over fifty dignitaries from many different fields was assembled. Among the prominent individuals who aligned themselves with this effort were: Sal Albanese, former City Council member; Fernando Ferrer, Bronx Borough President; Herman Badillo, former Congressman; Msgr, George Cascelli, Director, Italian Apostolate, New York Archdiocese; Msgr. Peter Rofrano, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, East Harlem; Frank Stella, Chairman, National Italian American Foundation; and Pete Seeger. The program of speeches was enlivened by Charles Keller's demonstration of "chalk talk" (a lost art form that transforms a few seemingly random lines into a drawing while the artist narrates the subject) that he had employed to attract and hold the crowds at the street corner rallies which were Marcantonio's primary means of reaching his constituents. The Celebration's audience was also moved by the presence of nine of Marcantonio's relatives, including two cousins, Frank Marcantonio and Mark Varicchio.
"Vito Marcantonio: A Recognition and Celebration" was seen by its organizers as the launching event of the Vito Marcantonio Project which was "dedicated to the goal of making known the life and work of Vito Marcantonio and others like Fiorello La Guardia, Leonard Covello, and Edward Corsi, who lived and worked together with him in what was the largest Little Italy in the United States, Italian Harlem." The Project intended to organize a series of Marcantonio-related activities: an exhibit of memorabilia relating to Marcantonio's life and work; a plaque for his house and political headquarters; a street named for him in East Harlem; the development of school curricular materials about him; presentations of events about him in East Harlem; the celebration of a memorial Mass; and the republication of I Vote My Conscience. The fulfillment of this last goal could hasten the realization of the others. In their totality, they could help secure for Marcantonio his rightful place among our truly great American leaders and thereby contribute to the restoration of this country's real history.