Student Activists’ Lifelong Commitment to Service and Justice

From the records of University Administrators and Republican operative Ray P. Chase, many of the following names represented problem students whose presence and work disrupted or threatened campus life, and who posed threats to the state and the nation. Some students, particularly Jewish and white individuals, were directly targeted as “radicals” or “Communists.” Others, particularly African American students, were only singled out when their work challenged campus segregation and anti-African American policies.

When we take a longer view of these former students’ lives, their individual and collective lifelong commitment to equity and justice comes into clear focus. Their varied careers and diverse callings represent the complex ways in which, as early as the 1930s, they used their power as students to shape the world that they wanted to inhabit. They continued to work toward a more just and equitable world throughout their lives.

If you have information about any of these men and women that would add to their biographies, please contact us through this website.

 

Lester Breslow

1915–2012

As a student, Breslow was one of the leaders of the antiwar movement, both nationally and on the campus. He appeared on the Chase lists from his undergraduate days through his appointment as a physician at the University, and was always listed as “Russian Jew Communist.”

He graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1938 and received a Masters of Public Health in 1941. He became interested in public health because, he said, he thought it suited his ideology as “a political activist for disadvantaged people.” In 1943 he joined the Army, even though his job and having a young child both exempted him from the World War II draft. He wrote that he felt guilty because earlier he had not joined the “antifascist struggle” by volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War. He served in the Pacific as a captain.

Breslow advised a half-dozen presidential administrations and was director of the California Public Health Department in the mid-1960s. Governor Ronald Reagan fired him in 1967, citing “philosophical differences” over state cuts in medical care for the poor. He then served as Dean of the School of Public Health at UCLA. His research transformed the field of public health. Among his most significant work was demonstrating the impact of lifestyle on longevity.

 

Charlotte Crump (Poole)

1918–1990

Charlotte Crump (Poole)

As a student, Crump was reprimanded by Dean of Women Anne Blitz for calling attention to racism in her semi-fictional article This Free North. Crump was a founder of the Negro Student Council, and an activist around segregated campus housing. She ran for Senior Class President on the Progressive Party ticket, likely one of the first African American students to participate in campus electoral politics. She also served on the Gopher Yearbook staff.

After graduation, Crump became a journalist and wrote for the Pittsburgh Courier. She served as the Director of Information with the national office of the NAACP. In California, where she lived with her family, she founded the Jack and Jill of America organization, and advocated for families and children, particularly on behalf of African American children.

 

Sherman H. Dryer

1913–1989

As a student, Dryer was in the leadership of the Minnesota Daily, headed a new literary magazine, and worked on the campus radio station WLB. He was a political activist in the Minnesota Student Alliance. Nicholson and Chase called him “Jew, Communist, Agitator, and Publicist.”

Dryer was a speechwriter for Governor Benson, and was smeared by Chase in his Red- and Jew-baiting campaign against Benson in the 1938 Gubernatorial race. Dryer went on to a distinguished career in radio and received a 1941 Peabody Award for the University of Chicago’s “Roundtable of the Air.” He produced a number of science fiction type programs through the 1950s.

 

Warren Valdo Grissom

Unknown

As a student, Grissom was an important leader of the effort to integrate campus housing. He chaired the Interracial Committee of the Negro Student Council, and authored its report. After graduating from the University in 1938, Grissom went on to serve as a Merchant Marine during WWII and earned his Master’s of Science in Social Work at Boston University in 1947. Grissom settled in Ohio, where he was assistant director of the Wood County Mental Health Clinic in Bowling Green.

 

Helene Hilyer (Hale)

1918–2013

As a student, Hilyer was active in the effort to integrate campus housing, and was an activist for peace. She was the granddaughter of the first African American man to graduate from the University of Minnesota, John Hilyer. Hilyer, who graduated in 1939, studied education, English, sociology and speech with the intention of becoming a teacher. She could not get a job anywhere in Minnesota because she was African American. She taught in Nashville, Tennessee at Tennessee A&I State College. Hilyer and her husband, William Hale, moved to New York, where he was involved in helping to organize a 1941 March on Washington for jobs in the defense effort for African Americans, and she became a youth secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which was committed to nonviolence and interracial work.

They moved to Hawaii in 1947 and taught in Kona, became active in the Democratic party, and were supporters of statehood. Hilyer was the first woman and the first African American to be elected to serve as both a county supervisor and the mayor of Hawaii County.

http://www.oralhistory.hawaii.edu/pages/government/politics.html

 

Howard Kahn

1915–2008

As a student, Kahn chaired the All-University Council Committee on Negro Discrimination, which recommended the integration of University dormitories in 1935. He supported that position as a student member of the Board of Regents. He was a chemist by training, and received an undergraduate and Master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota in late 1930s. He worked on housing and civil rights for his entire life. In the 1940s and 1950s, he was chairman of the Minneapolis Housing Association and the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Housing, as well as serving on the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights. Kahn was also a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

 

Garland D. Kyle

1905–1971

As a student, Kyle led the effort to integrate the “International House,” where he was assigned to live. Kyle came to the University with both an undergraduate and master’s degree, seeking his Ph.D. in mathematics. Having already traveled to 43 states, Kyle was astonished at the segregationist practices of the university administration. After leaving to serve as a civil servant in the Navy during WWII, Kyle returned to Minnesota and graduated in 1947. He went on to a long career as a Professor of Mathematics and Dean of the Mathematics and Physics Department of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a historically black university (formerly Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College). Today, the Kountz-Kyle Science Hall stands on the campus in his honor.

 

Lee Loevinger

1913–2004

As a student, Lee Loevinger was part of the group that led anti-drill and antiwar activism. He chaired the student Board of Publication that oversaw the Minnesota Daily at a time when the student newspaper was critical of the University administration and strongly favored student activism. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1933, and from the Law School in 1938. He joined the Navy in 1942, and served in North Africa and Europe. After the war he worked as an attorney, and was appointed an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, where he served for one year. In 1961, he became an Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department. After nine years on the Federal Communications Commission, he went into private practice.

 

Robert Loevinger

1916–2005

As a student, Robert Loevinger was centrally involved in the first efforts to integrate student housing. He served on the All-University Council Committee on Negro Discrimination, which recommended the integration of University dormitories in 1935. He was involved in many left- wing political groups on campus, and Chase branded him a “campus agitator, Marxist, Jew.” He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1937.

During World War II, he worked at the University of California on the Manhattan Project, the government’s effort to develop a nuclear weapon. He became a medical physicist after completing his degree there, and later joined scientific organizations that promoted the peaceful use of nuclear technology. He served as the Chief of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s dosimetry section, where he greatly advanced the use of x-ray measurements in radiation treatments for cancer patients, making it reliable for cancer patients. He received many awards for his work.

 

Norman P. Lyght

1913–1993

As a student, Lyght was not allowed to reside in Pioneer Hall because he was African American, despite holding a scholarship that required an on-campus residence. He was part of the Negro Student Council. He served in the U.S. Army 2nd Division as a Lieutenant in WWII.

 

Rosalind Matusow (Belmont)

1917–?

As a student, Matusaw was an antiwar activist and member of the American Student Union. She sought recognition for a Marxist club without success, and was thus included on Chase’s lists of subversives. She took time off from her studies to unionize hotel maids for Local 665 of the Hotel and Restaurant Worker Union, and supported other unionizing efforts. She completed a degree in public health nursing and remained a nurse for her career in California. She is included in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project.

 

Esther Leah Medalie (Ritz)

1918–2003

As a student, Medalie led the American Student Union and was an anti-fascist. Edward Nicholson gave her name to the FBI in 1941 because of her affiliation with the ASU, and she was included on a Chase list. She was the first woman on the editorial board of the Minnesota Daily, and specialized in writing editorials about international relations and interracial issues. She graduated in 1940. Medalie worked for the Office of Price Administration until she had children. Thereafter, she held international and national offices in Jewish communal organizations. She was active in Middle East peace efforts and attended the first dialogue of native and diaspora Palestinian and Jewish women leaders. She received many awards for her involvement in civil rights, human rights, consumer rights and for women’s advocacy and environmental protection programs.

 

John R. Pinkett Jr.

1914–1966

As a student, John Pinkett came to the administration’s attention when he registered for housing in Pioneer Hall and was the first African American student excluded from campus dormitories. After this event, Pinkett returned to the greater Washington D.C. area. He began an all-Black flight school called the Cloud Club, because aspiring African American pilots were denied flight instruction elsewhere. When the war began, he served as a flight instructor in Alabama, making him a Tuskegee airman. Pinkett went on to achieve the rank of Captain in the air force. He found a second career helping to run the family-owned John R. Pinkett, Inc. real estate business. Pinkett worked to integrate upper-income homes in Washington, D.C. neighborhoods. Doing so, he was known to “bear the brunt of any neighborhood reaction,” and had a cross burned on his lawn or had windows broken with bricks on more than one occasion.

 

Richard M. Scammon

1915–2001

As a student, Scammon’s name appeared on Chase’s lists along with other “Radical Leaders” for his leadership of the Anti-Drill and Antiwar movements. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in political science in 1935. He served as a captain in the Army during WWII. Scammon was a political scientist, writer and a scholar of elections, worked for both the Army and the State Department, and served as Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census from 1961-1965. He was a personal advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson during his time as head of the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau. He directed extensive election-night coverage for NBC News in 1968 and advised the network until 1988.

 

Arnold Eric Sevareid

1912–1992

As a student, Arnold Sevareid (who later dropped his first name) was a leader of the Anti-Drill movement and Antiwar activism. As a writer for the Minnesota Daily, he covered these events as well. He was a member of the Jacobins, a group of students who challenged the administration on many issues. He was denied the editorship of the paper, he believed, as a result of his political stands. As an undergraduate he worked for the Minneapolis Journal, one of the city’s newspapers, and wrote a multi-part series on the fascist Silver Shirts, which also angered Ray Chase. He graduated in 1935. Sevareid’s distinguished career as a war correspondent, journalist, and pioneer in network broadcasting made him one of his generation’s most significant journalists.

 

B. Warner Shippee

1916–2005

As a student, Warner Shippee was active in Anti-Drill and Antiwar activism, and a Jacobin who challenged the University’s administration. He was one of the first students to claim that as a conscientious objector he should be allowed to substitute physical education for drills. He was active in a number of left-wing student groups and tangled with deans in his effort to seek approval for them to be recognized as acceptable groups. He graduated in 1935.

Shippee’s career focused on housing, redevelopment and city planning. He served as Executive Director of the Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority and worked within the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

 

Joe Toner

Unknown

As a student Joe Toner was a member of the Interracial Committee of the Negro Student Council and a signer of the Grissom Report on segregated housing. He was listed among Chase’s radical leaders. Toner worked for Governor Elmer Benson. We have been unable to find any information about him after the Benson’s defeat in 1938.

 

Arnold B. Walker

Unknown

As a graduate student in sociology at the University, Arnold Walker served as a founder and president of the campus Negro Student Council. He and other students led the effort to end segregation in campus housing. After graduation, Walker moved to St. Louis, to Cincinnati, and then Cleveland, where he was an active leader within these cities’ chapters of the Urban League. Walker served as the Executive Director of the Cleveland Urban League from 1945-59, where his efforts to secure suitable housing for African Americans continued.

 

Martha A. Wright (Wilson)

1919–2010

As a student, Wright was a president of the Negro Student Council, a member of its Interracial Committee that worked for integrated student housing, and active in Alpha Kappa Alpha, the African American sorority. After receiving a degree in Mathematics in 1938, she learned that no African American could teach in the Minneapolis school system. Wright went on to a career in higher education at Savannah State College in mathematics and eventually served as Dean for Undergraduate studies, and as Acting Vice-President for Academic Affairs after her formal retirement.

She had an additional career of civic and religious service, for which she received many awards. She co-led, with the other founders of a local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the opening and expansion of what came to be called the Greenbriar Children’s Center for homeless and neglected children in Savannah, Georgia. Wright was also active in a wide range of organizations which advocated for human rights, women, and children. She was a national and state leader in the Episcopal Church, breaking boundaries as a woman and an African American.