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Two of the four Foner brothers who were leaders in the American labor movement and progressive academic circles were born on this date in 1910. Philip Foner wrote and edited more than 110 books, many involving groundbreaking research: on American slavery, on black history, on women and social activists as agents of change in America, and on the labor movement. These books included the ten-volume History of the Labor Movement in the United States, published between 1947 and 1994, the five-volume The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, and The Black Panthers Speak, an outstanding source book. His twin brother Jack, also an historian, established the first Black Studies program at a New England college (Colby) and wrote Blacks in the Military in American History (1974) and other volumes about black history and the civil rights and labor movements. The twins’ brothers were Moe and Henry Foner — the former an activist in 1199, the Drug and Hospital Workers Union, who founded the Bread & Roses Cultural Program, and the latter the president of the Fur and Leather Workers Union. Henry, the sole survivor of this highly creative quartet, is a member of the Jewish Currents editorial board. Both Philip and Jack were fired from teaching posts in the City University of New York in 1941 during a purge by the New York State Legislature’s Rapp-Coudert Committee, which also cost Moe his administrative post at City College and Henry his job as a substitute teacher in New York high schools. Forty years later, the university apologized for the firings. (See Morris U. Schappes eloquent account, “Forty Years Later — But Not Too Late,” at our magazine’s Sid Resnick Archives under the topic heading, “McCarthyism.”)
Their “very name evokes the progressive movements of the past half-century. . . . The Foners have persisted—through repression, Depression, hot, cold, and cultural wars—in the service of a shared social commitment. . . . They could not be silenced or bought out.”—The Nation