In Memoriam, Joan Whitney, 1929-2019

(May Day 1995 photo)

(May Day 1995 photo)

It is with great sadness that we inform our readers that New Haven activist Joan Whitney passed away on Saturday, Nov. 9, at age 90.

Joan was a member of many activist organizations as well as neighborhood and cultural associations. Among the groups she worked with, gave leadership to, and supported are: Progressive Action Roundtable, Greater New Haven Labor History Association, Greater New Haven Cat Project, Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, Parkfriends, Twenty-Twenty Vision, May Day Celebration Committee, Cherry Blossom Festival, New Haven Coalition Against War in the Gulf, Peace and Justice News and Views, Connecticut Peace Coalition/New Haven, Pledge of Resistance, Amistad Catholic Worker, New Haven/León Sister City Project, Creative Arts Workshop, New Haven Green Party, Long Wharf Theater and Yale Repertory Theater.

In addition to being part of many peace groups, for about 20 years, from 1990 on, she handed out flyers against war on a weekly basis on New Haven street corners.

Joan was born in Springfield Mass., and grew up as an “army brat.” She lived in many places as the family moved to wherever her father was stationed, including Geneva, NY, where her dad took command of the Seneca Ordnance. Several decades later, after her father passed, Joan was arrested for Civil Disobedience at the Seneca Ordnance as she climbed the fence with a No Nukes sign.

Joan was a 1950 graduate of Wellesley College and received a Master’s in Social Work at UConn in W. Hartford. She was a founder of Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) and worked at its community outpatient program in Bridgeport and New Haven.

She was a contributor to many charities. After her cat Phoebe passed in 1999, she created the Phoebe Foundation and generously funded it for the welfare of people and cats.

Joan generously offered her home as meeting space for many of her groups to plan their actions. She was a gracious hostess and livened up the meetings with her wry sense of humor and sharp perceptions.

For about 30 years she hosted an open house on New Year’s Day, featuring many varieties of soup and other appetizers. This gentle, loving way to welcome in a new year became a much-loved tradition for her friends.

Her daughter Dana predeceased her this past March as did her sister Jane in 2010. Our deepest sympathy to her son Christopher and daughter Rosemary.

We are grateful to have known Joan, worked with her, learned from her and laughed with her.

In Memory of Caroline Bridgman-Rees and Lula White

The PAR Planning Committee mourns the passing of Caroline Bridgman-Rees (Dec. 31, 1922-Aug. 28, 2019) and Lula White (died at the age of 80 on Sept. 10, 2019), two women with deep ties to the greater New Haven peace community and the world who dedicated their lives for peace, equality and justice for all humanity.

Caroline was an NGO representative of the United Nations and member of a multitude of peace organizations — international, national and local. She was involved with the Progressive Action Roundtable right from its beginning in 1993.

Caroline’s memorial service will be held on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 11:30 a.m., at the Unitarian Society of New Haven, 700 Hartford Turnpike, Hamden.

Excerpt from Lula’s obituary notice in the New Haven Register, Sept. 16, 2019

Most people knew Lula White as a retired New Haven school teacher, board member of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association and member of the PAR mailing committee. For many of us in New Haven, we didn’t realize the scope of her bravery and profound sense of justice until she told us her history of being a freedom rider.

Family members have set Lula’s memorial service for Saturday, Dec. 14. Inquiries should be directed to Lulamwhitememorialservice@gmail.com.

We cherish the friendship, wisdom and inspiration Caroline and Lula shared with us. Our condolences to the families of these two remarkable, brave women who gave so much of themselves for a better world.

We are Each A Precious Entity: The Activist Life of Caroline Bridgman-Rees

The following is an edited version from the tribute written by PJ Deak for the Unitarian Society of New Haven.

Caroline Bridgman-Rees

Caroline was born on New Year’s Eve, 1922 and grew up on Staten Island. Her father, a Yale graduate, was a history professor at NYU for 29 years. A decorated war veteran, he came home from WWI in 1918 traumatized by the horrors of war, its barbarism, death, and destruction.

As a result of her father’s experiences, Caroline became very aware of the toll and folly of war – and of the importance of working for peace. In 1945, Caroline, 22, a Phi Beta Kappa and recent graduate of Smith College, joined the Red Cross. She sailed on a ship to the Philippines where she worked with the Red Cross until 1946 when she went to Korea. Why did she do it? To see the world and “to see life with the soldiers.”

She remembered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with horror and condemnation – a bombing that in her words “was totally against moral and international law and which began a frightful new era that threatened all life on earth.”

In the 1960s, Caroline began her teaching career at Bradford College in Massachusetts – teaching Asian History and Philosophy. Caroline became increasingly concerned about the conflict between the US and both the Vietnamese liberation forces and all of Indochina.

Caroline Bridgman-Rees, Nancy Eberg and Jim Pandaru (l-r)

She joined a number of prominent peace organizations: The American Friends Service Committee; Sane/Freeze – later known as Peace Action; The Women’s International League for Peace And Freedom; The War Resisters League; Mobilization for Survival; and because of her service in the Red Cross, Veterans Against The War.

“I felt then, as I do now, that non-violent direct action is a citizen’s responsibility when the government is committing major war crimes against humanity!”

In 1972 Caroline was one of 171 American peace leaders chosen to attend the Paris Peace Talks. Also in 1972, she was part of a team of women who traveled to India and conducted interviews with Indian women about the role of women in the world – Caroline even had the privilege to interview Ms. Ghandi. In 1973, Caroline, her husband and 10-year-old son traveled through India, Burma, Thailand, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Caroline became involved with the United Nations as an NGO representative, and also was active with the Greater New Haven Peace Council. In 1991-1992 she spent a year in England giving 45 separate lectures on Nuclear Disarmament and attended an international peace conference in the Netherlands.

When the first Iraq War began, Caroline was active as the anti-war movement surged anew – seeking avenues for mediation and diplomacy rather than violence.

Caroline attended meetings to discuss and take action on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke out about the size of the US military budget, the number of US military bases around the world (over 1,000) and the pollution they are allowed to create. She wrote letters to the editor that were published in the New Haven Register and participated in the New Haven Peace Council and the Unitarian Society of New Haven Peace Task Force.

“We need community, not guns. We must create a world with love, and caring and cooperation.”

Read Caroline Bridgman-Rees’ obituary on Legacy.com.

Remembering Lula White

by Joan Cavanagh, former Archivist/Director, Greater New Haven Labor History Association (2001-2017)

Lula White poses with the Thurgood Marshall Award she received in 2016 (file photo)

Lula White poses with the Thurgood Marshall Award she received in 2016 (file)

I was with Lula White at many gatherings in 35 or so years: peace actions to oppose the endless U.S. wars; Sunday night potluck discussions; Labor History Association meetings and events; union protests at Yale; even the occasional holiday party. With Mary Johnson, she often spoke of teaching, organizing and being jailed during the teachers’ strikes in the 1970s. Her story as a youthful freedom rider in the South unfolded more slowly.

When we decided to document the history of workers at New Haven’s Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Lula and her sister, Dorothy White Johnson, both long time members of the Labor History Association Executive Board, contacted former Winchester employees, conducted interviews and borrowed artifacts for the exhibit, “Our Community at Winchester: An Elm City Story.”

After the plant closed in 2006, we transferred the files, artifacts and photographs of the workers’ union, IAM Local 609, to the office I shared with the late Nicholas Aiello, then LHA president. The plan was to inventory and preserve them. As Nick witnessed 65 boxes slowly taking over our space, he became, not unreasonably, upset. We had a heated exchange. Lula arrived just as I left to take a breath. When I returned, Lula was smiling—and so was Nick, who congratulated us for having secured custody of these important historical records. Whatever she said or did, she had, typically, transformed the situation.

At Fairfield University, where the exhibit was displayed in 2017, I introduced Lula after a short history of the project, and began asking questions. The audience, mostly students, soon took over. Lula spoke quietly and without drama about her life as the daughter of a Winchester worker, growing up in the Newhallville section of New Haven, then becoming a teacher of history and union activist. She also shared the terrifying, brave experience of being jailed in Mississippi as a young Black woman, one of hundreds of freedom riders trying to integrate the buses in 1961. In an evaluation of the session, a student wrote that she was “cool.” She had shared her hope for a future based on engaged citizenship at a moment when it was desperately needed, just following the 2017 presidential inauguration.

During my only visit to the Intensive Care Unit where Lula was confined in June, not expected to survive, I whispered to her to “Keep fighting.” It wasn’t necessary. Fight she did. Over the summer, she slowly got better. She almost made it.

Despite Lula White’s inner calm, peace and strength, it cannot have been easy being fully “woke.” May she find the joy and rest she has earned.

Excerpt from the obituary notice of the New Haven Register, Sept. 16, 2019

Ms. White was frequently jailed as a freedom rider trying to desegregate public transportation. In addition, she was arrested for striking to raise salaries for teachers, and jeered for marching to protest injustice. She was recognized by the Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2016, was awarded the Thurgood Marshall Award for her activism and commu-nity service, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Albertus Magnus College in 2010. Lula fought the good fight.

Coalition for People Update

We continue to work on healthcare for all, affordable housing, the environment, concerns of unfair energy prices, care for the homeless and residents of sober houses. Our next board meeting is on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2-4 p.m. on the lower level of the Fair Haven Library, 182 Grand Ave. All are welcome to attend.

Annual membership dues for Coalition for People is $5. We would like more people to become members, as well as to consider joining our board. For more information, please call (203) 468-2541 or e-mail coalitionforpeople@hotmail.com.

In the last issue of PAR we notified readers of the passing of our board member Geraldine Poole. At the time of printing we were not able to include a photo. For all who remember Geraldine, we thought you would like to see her once more.

Is Your PAR Subscription About to Run Out?

by PAR Planning Committee

The Progressive Action Roundtable newsletter publishes from September through June. Subscriptions from many of our readers will expire with the June issue.

We hope you enjoy your subscription and value the PAR newsletter as a community resource. To see if your subscription is due for renewal, please look at your address label. If “201906” is printed on the label to the right of your name, your subscription ends next month. Please send in $13 for 10 issues (Sept. 2019-June 2020) so that you can continue to read about what local organizations are doing and you can submit articles about your own organization.

The Progressive Action Roundtable was started in January 1993. After several months, this community Newsletter became the main activity of PAR, giving New Haven area organizations an opportunity for networking and for advertising their activities.

We hope to hear from you.

David McReynolds, socialist, photographer, and lifetime WRL member, passes at 88

Early Friday morning, Aug. 31, socialist, photographer, and lifetime War Resisters League member David McReynolds — committed pacifist and socialist — died peacefully at the age of 88. David was on WRL staff for a  large part of his life and remained within community long, long after.

Born in 1929 in Los Angeles, he moved to the East Village in 1956 and began working for Liberation magazine, before joining the WRL staff. An avid photographer, a collection of his photos can be found at www.mcreynoldsphotos.org.

The memorial for David will be Saturday, Dec. 1, noon-3 p.m. at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, New York, New York 10012. To RSVP, email McReynoldsMemorial@gmail.com.

The following are excerpts from an article by WRL Member Ed Hedemann: David McReynolds (1929-2018) died at 1:30 this morning, a day after being brought to Beth Israel ICU in Manhattan. He had suffered a fall in his apartment and apparently never regained consciousness.

For those who don’t know, David was on the WRL staff for almost 40 years (1960-1999), a long time member of the Socialist Party, who ran for Congress in 1968, President of the United States on the SPUSA ticket in 1980 and 2000 — the first (I think) openly gay candidate for President — and for the U.S. Senate from New York in 2004 on the Green Party ticket. An internationalist and former chair of the War Resisters’ International, he traveled extensively, many times to war-torn countries, once getting arrested in Red Square during an anti-nuclear protest in 1978.

Tribute to Mary Johnson Oct. 18

On Thursday, Oct. 18, there will be a dedication of the Mary Johnson memorial plaque in the building of the New Haven Federation of Teachers at 267 Chapel St. in New Haven. The gathering will be held there, from noon until 2 p.m. Please come and share one of your stories about her.

Mary, beloved New Haven teacher and peace, justice and union activist, was instrumental in many organizations in New Haven during her decades of activism. She was the coordinator of the Progressive Action Roundtable newsletter until her death on Aug. 13, 2017. Her presence is greatly missed by all who worked with her and loved her.

Please RSVP to Julia at (203) 503-0161 or Paula (203) 562-2798. Refreshments will be served.

Ruth D. Friedland, May 15, 1925-April 13, 2018

Our hearts full of sadness, we mourn the passing of Ruth Friedland, member of the PAR Planning Committee and Mailing Committee for over a decade. Until two years ago Ruth was also the PAR proof-reader. Ruth embraced the friendship and respect she received from the New Haven activist community, and, acknowledging there were at times differences and occasions for debate, reciprocated with friendship and respect. Beyond being on PAR committees, Ruth attended many of the local events that PAR-affiliated organizations sponsored, including Sunday peace vigils, programs about various world concerns, and PAR parties. Ruth’s regard for justice and fairness for all included how she used her superb office skills. For many years Ruth was the bookkeeper for the Coalition for People and the Greater New Haven Labor History Association.

Our condolences to Ruth’s family and to all who worked with her and loved her.

Hu Woodard, Veteran for Peace, June 24, 1924-Feb. 26, 2018

It is with great sadness that we inform our readers that Hu Woodard, well-known, dedicated and compassionate peace activist, has passed on. Many of you worked with Hu and his wife Edith throughout the years on a multitude of issues for peace and justice.

The memorial will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 31 at the Unitarian Society of New Haven, 700 Hartford Turnpike, Hamden. Our deepest condolences to his family. He will be greatly missed. The following excerpts are from the website www.iovanne.com/obituary/Hubert-Calvin-Henry-Woodard/Hamden-CT/1784606.

With the support of his church community, he became a conscientious objector in World War II and chose to serve as a noncombatant medic in the U.S. Army. He went behind enemy lines to rescue wounded soldiers and saved many lives, earning two Bronze Stars and ten other medals and citations, including the Combat Medic Badge. His unit liberated several prison camps, and the horror of the human suffering he witnessed there stayed with him; Hu spent the rest of his life working for peace. Most dear to his heart was working on issues of social justice and peace.

Hu was an active participant in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, peacefully protesting racism in its many forms. As a member of SANE-New Haven he was an outspoken opponent of nuclear testing and arsenals.

Hu vigorously opposed the Vietnam War and frequently marched for peace. In 1999 Mayor John DeStefano appointed Hu to the New Haven Peace Commission. Hu always put his voice, pen, and body into action, peacefully. The files containing his letters-to-the-editor and to state and national leaders were inches thick! Hu’s memorial website has photos and excerpts from his files: huwoodard.virtual-memorials.com.

In 1992 Hu helped organize a local Veterans for Peace group, which then formed the Hue-New Haven Sister City program. Their goals included people-to-people reconciliation and humanitarian aid. Hu once commented that his trip to Vietnam in 1997 was one of the most meaningful experiences of his life.
Hu was tired of seeing toys that glorify violence. To raise parents’ awareness in November 1997 he organized a Violence-free Toy Fair, just prior to the holiday buying season. The event was held at the CT Children’s Museum in New Haven, where he was treasurer.

Hu and Edith were longtime members of the Unitarian Society of New Haven. He served as both treasurer and president of the church and was co-founder of the Social Justice Committee, which is still very active today.

By Our Presence, We Grieve Those Who Have Been Killed

By Allie Perry, Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice

If you happened to walk by New Haven’s 1905 Civil War memorial at the Broadway triangle New Year’s Day 2018 at 6 p.m., you might have wondered why, in freezing cold temperatures, a group of eleven was gathered around a cairn of field stones. They were there giving witness and calling attention to the on-going violence of the U.S. wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, by adding yet another stone to the cairn. Each stone is a memorial, inscribed with the number of U.S. service people who died in the previous month in Iraq and Afghanistan and with the approximate number of Iraqi and Afghan civilians killed. Each month the cairn gets higher and heavier, as the cumulative death tolls go up.

This monthly observance began in December 2007. Stephen Kobasa proposed the memorial and secured the New Haven Board of Park Commissioners’ permission to construct it. Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice provided the leadership, inviting local faith communities to lead the monthly rituals. Over the decade since, members of many New Haven area congregations have participated, including: St. Thomas More, First Presbyterian, Amistad Catholic Worker, Center Church, the University Church, Unitarian Society of New Haven, the Zen Center, Shalom UCC, Church of the Redeemer, Congregation Mishkan Israel, United Church on the Green, First Unitarian Universalist Society of New Haven, St. Paul and St. James, Ascension Catholic Church in Hamden, St. Thomas Episcopal.

At that first gathering, stones were placed, retroactively, documenting every month since the March 2003 start of the U.S. war against Iraq. Initially the inscribed numbers included deaths only in Iraq. As the hostilities in Afghanistan escalated, we started inscribing the stones with data for Afghanistan as well.

The permission granted in 2007 was for a temporary installation, to be dismantled when the wars end. Ten years later the violence continues, the wars persist, and, on every first Monday of the month, a group still gathers. By our presence, we grieve those who have been killed, we denounce the violence, and we renew our commitment to work fervently for the end of war and for justice and peace. Join us.

Mary Johnson, March 29, 1922-Aug. 13, 2017

It is with great sadness that the Progressive Action Roundtable Planning Committee informs our readers that Mary Johnson, a founding member of PAR and leader, strategist and active participant in most of PAR’s committees, has passed on.

We dedicate this issue of our newsletter to Mary. Without her guidance, ideas for informing the public and each other of rallies and events, optimism in the struggle for justice and her persistence in fighting for people’s rights throughout the years, there may not have even been a Progressive Action Roundtable. We all owe so much to her.

Frank Panzarella, “Mary was the den mother for most of the New Haven activist community.”

Mary was directly active in many of the organizations that are PAR-affiliated. She was also active in most of New Haven’s progressive organizations. She most likely was a founding member of many.
She was a great political and personal influence on many. PAR encourages our readers to send in their reminiscences of her. In the words of Frank Panzarella, “Mary was the den mother for most of the New Haven activist community.”

A memorial is being planned for her with details upcoming.

Mary Johnson’s voice was heard

The following are excerpts from the article in the New Haven Independent. Our thanks to Joan Cavanagh for working on this tribute. The full article can be read at www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/obituaries/entry/mary_d._johnson_95.

The white-haired schoolteacher was always polite when she confronted politicians, business leaders, or anyone else standing in the way of social justice. She didn’t yell at them.

She did press her case. And she didn’t let up. She was a fixture of New Haven protest politics for a half century, back to her days demonstrating against the Vietnam War and getting jailed in the 1970 city teachers strike. Since then she has marched against foreign military interventions, for a nuclear freeze, against military contracting, for striking workers and union-organizing drives, and for racial justice and preserving downtown bus stops, among many other causes….

Mary Johnson’s family was an important part of her life, but an equally significant part was her ongoing labor, peace, civil rights and social justice activism and the relationships forged in the course of that work. One of her earliest experiences was as a neighborhood activist who initiated the formation of the West Hills Community Council in the mid-1950s. She described it as a group whose goal was “to make [neighborhood] life better, independent of politicians…to make politicians work for you on neighborhood issues.”…

Although she had been involved in some anti-nuclear arms race demonstrations in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mary said that the Vietnam War propelled her further into peace work. During the 1960s and 1970s, hers was a familiar face on all-night bus rides from New Haven to Washington, D.C. for large anti-war demonstrations. In the 1980s, she continued to travel to Washington to protest United States intervention in Central America, and was arrested in April 1986 with others in the rotunda of the Capitol building for sitting in front of a bust of Martin Luther King and reading from the speech he made having decided that “the time had come” for him to publicly oppose the war in Vietnam. Periodically, they said in unison, “That time has come for us in relation to Nicaragua.” After a weeklong trial, charges were dismissed.

Mary also continued her peace activism more locally. She was a member of Spinsters Opposed to Nuclear Genocide (SONG), a New Haven based women’s affinity group, joining them in demonstrations at the local military recruiting station as well as at General Dynamics Corporation’s Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton. During the 1992 Christmas shopping season, she was arrested with another activist at a Bradlees store in East Haven for placing stickers which read “Don’t Buy War Toys” on items such as G.I. Joe figures. This latter incident reveals much about Mary’s character. She and other participants managed to walk out of the store without being stopped. One member of the group, Stephen Kobasa, was, however, roughly apprehended. When Mary saw this, she returned, waiting for police to arrive. “The Bradlees Two” were initially charged with “criminal mischief in the first degree,” a felony, but the charges were reduced in court and the case was settled….

Mary joined the New Haven Federation of Teachers in 1967, and she was a member of the Executive Board until her retirement. In 1970 and again in 1975, teachers who were perceived as leaders were sent to jail for contempt of court for defying injunctions not to strike. In 1970, Mary was the only woman among the 14 jailed….

Mary was active in the United Farmworkers’ Union movement as part of a New Haven committee that leafleted, picketed, and passed out information about the boycott of Gallo wine (made from grapes picked by non-union workers). After UFW organizers were called back to California in the mid-1970s, she continued the local support committee, producing at her own expense a handwritten newsletter about the struggle, which she hand-delivered throughout New Haven….

Over the years, Mary was a prime mover in many other organizations such as the May Day Celebration Committee, the Coalition to Stop Trident, the Pledge of Resistance, and the New Haven Coalition Against War in the Gulf.  She marched and was arrested in support of Yale union Locals 34, 35, and GESO (the Graduate Employee Student Organization, now Local 33.) She was active in the movement to pressure Yale to divest its holdings from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s….

In the 1990s, Mary worked with a group of citizens who were outraged that the City of New Haven, under pressure from a re-developer, removed several key bus stops from the central downtown area to make that portion of the city more “attractive” to tourists visiting Yale. She was also an ongoing, active member of several groups including the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council, the New Haven Federation of Teachers Retirees Chapter, the Greater New Haven Labor History Association, the Coalition for People, the Middle East Crisis Committee, and People Against Injustice.

After a 15-year struggle, the City of New Haven returned all but one of the downtown bus stops, and, on Mary’s 85th birthday in 2007, many of her friends joined her at Mayor John DeStefano’s office to demand the return of the last one to Church and Chapel Streets. DeStefano complied….

Even as her health declined, Mary continued to help coordinate the work of the Coalition for People, the Progressive Action Roundtable newsletter, and the Labor History Association. In her last years and months, she still advocated vocally for single payer health care, making phone calls to elected officials and getting her friends to do the same. She passed away on August 13, more than a year and a half after entering hospice care.

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