Combating Racism at the City College of New York-Open vs. Surreptitious Struggle in the Knickerbocker-Davis Cases 1946-49





With a history of being born into a Communist family and membership in Communist-led and Communist-influenced children's and youth organizations, it was not surprising that on 9 March 1946 I joined the Wilford Mendelsohn Club of the Communist Party USA at the City College of New York (CCNY) upon resuming my studies as an engineering student three days after the end of my 22 months' service in the U.S. Navy

Upon joining the Party, I told the club chair that I would like to focus on the struggle against racism by joining the Hillel Foundation and stimulating its members into activity for the passage of a Fair Education Practices Act by the New York State legislature.

In the Hillel Foundation, without concealing my membership in the Communist Party, my proposal to form a committee for this purpose, subsequently named the Community Action Committee, was accepted and I was made its chair. With intensive campaigning by student groups at various New York colleges, the state, in 1948, became the first state to adopt a Fair Educations Practices Act that ended the quota system that restricted the acceptance of African Americans, Jews, and other minorities to medical schools and other graduate and undergraduate programs.

The account that follows is taken from a section of the memoirs that I am now writing. It begins with the struggle against anti-Semitic discrimination directed at Jewish students and faculty in the CCNY Romance Languages Department and the subsequent struggle against Jim Crow room assignments in a dormitory established by CCNY after World War II for returning U.S. veterans. These struggles were particularly important because they were an early example of the joining of Jewish and African American and other campus organization in the struggle against racism and to which the CPUSA made important contributions.


Charges of anti-Semitism against William Knickerbocker,

chair of the Romance Language Department

In November 1946, Professor Efraim Cross of the Department of Romance Languages came to the City College Hillel Foundation to ask the Hillel Foundation to support a struggle against anti-Semitism in which he was engaged in his department. He said that he and three other members of his department had filed a complaint of anti-Semitism in the department with the New York City Board of Higher Education (BHE-the governing body for what was then the four tuition-free city colleges in New York City: CCNY, Hunter College, Queens College, and Brooklyn College). The BHE directed CCNY President Harry N. Wright to appoint an Investigating Committee, which, in turn, whitewashed the matter. Prof. Cross said that the complainants had then asked the American Jewish Congress (AJC) to intercede and that the AJC was petitioning the BHE to reopen the case.

As chair of the Community Actions Committee of the CCNY Hillel Foundation and member of Hillel's Executive Council, I proposed that that the Executive Council appoint a committee of four to look into the charges. A committee of four was appointed and. As one of the four, I was appointed chair. Also, as a representative of Hillel to the Student Council, I introduced a motion that the Student Council join the Hillel Foundation in the effort. The motion was approved and I was designated chair of the Student Council committee established for that purpose.

Shortly after Prof. Cross's visit, the New York Times on 15 November 1946, carried a brief item headlined "Anti-Semitism Charged" The article read:

Charging Dr. William Knickerbocker [1885-1960-EM], chairman of the Department of Romance Languages at City College, with a "philosophy and program of anti-Semitism," the American Jewish Congress has called for his retirement, it was learned yesterday. The retirement of all others in the department eligible for this step was also asked.

In a sixty-page brief submitted to a Board of Higher Education committee investigating charges of anti-Semitism leveled at Dr. Knickerbocker last year by four members of his department, the congress declared that "Professor Knickerbocker does not possess the character for the high office he holds."

Last spring a faculty committee composed of City College teachers found "no evidence" to support these charges.

As we subsequently learned, the report, dated 10 September 1946, was an analysis of nine volumes of testimony (over 1,100 pages) accumulated during the hearing of the CCNY Investigating Committee (Commission on Law and Social Action 1946). The AJC had sent its analysis to the BHE with its recommendation that the BHE direct the Investigating Committee to reopen the case and either dispose of the matter by ordering a reorganization of the Department of Romance Languages by the retirement of several senior members of the department or convene an open hearing to take further testimony.

The four members of the Hillel committee then met with Will Maslow of the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress to learn what the AJC was doing and to seek its guidance for any action that we could take. Maslow, who coauthored the AJC analysis with his colleague Shirley Adelson, told us that after submitting its petition to the BHE to act on its recommendation, it could take no further action until a response was received. He suggested that the first thing we should do was to familiarize ourselves with the nine volumes of testimony. That task fell to me.

I went to the college administration office that housed the transcripts of the hearing and asked to see them, whereupon the secretary then made a phone call reporting the request. I was then able to hear a voice in one of the back rooms of the office reporting (presumably to Dean of Administration John J. Theobald or CCNY President Harry N. Wright) that "a student named Marquit" was asking to see the transcript. I received permission to read the transcripts in the office. I did this for several days until I had read through all the volumes.

The AJC analysis detailed the important content of the transcript, so I will begin by using it for summarizing the charges.

Apart from Professor Cross, the other three complainants were Professor Otto Müller, Professor Elliot H. Polinger, and Dr. Pedro Bach-y-Rita. Prof. Müller and Dr. Bach-y-Rita were not Jewish; the other two were Jewish. Complaints of anti-Semitism in the Department of Romance Languages had been made repeatedly since 1943 to President Wright and other administrators, but no meaningful action was taken. On 9 April 1945, the four complainants submitted to President Wright for transmission to the BHE a letter in which they stated:

The Department has long been sharply divided into two opposing groups. The opponents of the Chairman for at least seven years have been subjected to continual harassment and what looks very much like discrimination and have had their usefulness to the college repeatedly impeded by acts which can be enumerated over a period of years." (Board of Higher Education 1948, 7)

The appeal was made to the BHE because President Wright and other high-level City College administrators had never acted on previous complaints about anti-Semitism in the department (Müller and Cross 1949, 15-17). In 1943 and 1944, affidavits signed by two former members of the department, Clifford T. McAvoy and George R. Hilton, detailed anti-Semitic statements by the department chair, William E. Knickerbocker, and other senior members of the department. These affidavits were shown to members of the BHE and to Dean Morton Gottschall of the CCNY College of Liberal Arts and Science in 1943. No action was taken until 1944, after the AJC asked President Wright to investigate complaints of anti-Semitism in the Romance Language Department. After a short while, Wright wrote the American Jewish Congress that "after very careful investigation" there was no basis for the charges of discrimination. According to Müller and Cross, Knickerbocker told a faculty meeting in 1945 that Wright never conducted an investigation, but had only asked him to submit a report (1949, 14).

On 8 May 1945, the City College Administrative Committee of the Board of Higher Education directed that President Wright and the General Faculty of City College conduct an investigation of the charges by Cross, Müller, Polinger, and Bach-y-Rita even though the four complainants had requested that the Board itself conduct the investigation. An Investigating Committee of five City College faculty, two of whom were Jewish, was appointed. One of the two Jews on the committee, Professor Lewis Meyers, was designated chair. In October 1945, the investigation committee held hearings that produced the nine volumes testimony on the charges that Knickerbocker, with the support of some other senior members of the department, discriminated against Jews in faculty appointments, in awards for Jewish students, and had repeatedly made anti-Semitic remarks. On 27 November 1945, the Investigating Committee submitted its report to President Wright, finding no substantiation of the charges. After the adoption of the report by the General Faculty on 29 January1946, along with a recommendation for disciplinary action against the complainants, the complainants asked the Commission on Law and Social Action of the AJC to analyze the proceedings and, if justified, to pursue the matter further. On 11 March 1945, the Commission of Law and Social Action of the AJC filed a petition to the BHE to reopen the case. On 22 April 1945, the BHE appointed a committee of three to consider the appeal and receive any additional evidence deemed fit and proper. On 23 May 1945, Will Maslow and Shirley Adelson, representing the AJC commission, met with the Board's committee, The Board's committee requested that the AJC commission prepare a digest of the testimony and an objective analysis of all the issues. The AJC analysis, dated 10 September 1946 was submitted to the Board's committee (AJC 1946, Appendix A; Board of Higher Education 1948, Müller and Cross 1949, 15).

AJC committee analysis of the record

According to the AJC committee's analysis, the complainants charged that several members of the Department of Romance Languages, all of professorial rank, had openly displayed anti-Semitic attitudes. The members so accused were Professor Knickerbocker, Chairman; Professor Lacuzzi, Sub-chairman; Professors Bergerson; Vailiant; and Dedeck-Hery. An affidavit by Clifford T. McAvoy, former member of the department, dated 4 October 1943, stated that while he was at the college in September 1930 assisting in entrance examinations, Professors Knickerbocker and Bergeron spoke to him approximately as follows:

These students are different. More than two-thirds of the students are Jewish. They are always trying to put something over; they have no respect for authority and you can't treat them like gentlemen. (AJC 1946, 6)

Knickerbocker, while denying the above remark, testified:

It is possible, that some of the students do try to put things over. They do. We all know that-whether they are Jews or Christians. You cannot treat them all like gentlemen. I may have said something along that line [stress added by AJC].

Knickerbocker attempted to minimize this testimony by adding that Mr. McAvoy was well known in the department as a Communist.

A deposition by George R. Hilton, a former member of the department, dated 21 June 1943, was put in evidence, relating a conversation with Knickerbocker on 18 September 1940, strikingly similar to that reported by McAvoy. On this occasion, Knickerbocker asked Hilton whether he had ever had any dealings with cheap Jews, thereupon stating that "the majority of the students could be so described and that they could not be treated as gentlemen." Hilton also swore he could testify to similar remarks "on at least two subsequent occasions" (7). In denying the above statement, Knickerbocker testified:

I do believe that there are both Jews and Christians among the students who cannot be treated as gentlemen* I may have said that there are Jews, and I may have added Christians, who cannot be treated as gentlemen; but to say that most of them are "cheap Jews," and that they cannot be treated as gentlemen, is contrary to any belief I have ever possessed.

Again, to offset the testimony, he added that "we" believed Prof. Hilton to be a Communist (7). The AJC analysis noted that "Prof. Knickerbocker's answer was a partial admission of the charge and here again he took refuge in a countercharge that his accuser was a Communist (8).

In a subsequent letter to the AJC commission dated 26 June 1946, McAvoy wrote:

I was appointed by the late Professor Downer at the personal request of President Robinson. Both President Robinson and Prof. Downer told me that they wanted to get young, white Gentile, Anglo-Saxons in the college as instructors, in order to counteract the high percentage of young Jewish instructors who were graduates of the College. Almost without exception, the older professors in the Romance Language Department, as well as some of the other departments (Economics, History, Mathematics), were anti-Semitic.

Professors Knickerbocker and Bergeron merely expressed a prevailing attitude when they informed me that if I was to succeed as a teacher, I would have to realize that most of the Jewish students were not "gentlemen" and would not behave unless treated with very strict discipline. It was also a prevailing myth, thoroughly believed by most of these older professors, that the Jewish students would try to take advantage of the teacher and put something over. . . .

It was the nostalgic wish of Professor Knickerbocker and Professor Bergeron that City College could have the same kind of pure white Anglo-Saxon faculty which they thought they saw in such colleges as Cornell, Princeton, Williams, and even to a certain extent at Columbia and Harvard. Their attitude stemmed from a curiously inverted inferiority complex and had a snobbism which was evidenced by their anti-Semitism. Neither they nor most of their colleagues of their age had any sympathy for or understanding of the problems, background and aspirations of the student body. (Appendix C)

Prof. Müller testified that in 1942 or 1943, Knickerbocker said to him:

Have you heard this one about the Jews? Their battle-hymn is "Onward Christian soldiers: we will make the uniforms."

To this charge, Knickerbocker replied:

That is a joke that I knew. Frankly, my honest impression was that Prof. Müller told it to me but I cannot take my oath on that. I may have said to him something of this sort: "Here is a joke that you will enjoy." (8)

The AJC criticized the "Investigating Committee for dismissing this 'joke' as 'without significance'" despite its relevance against the background of other testimony, and which made less credible. Knickerbocker's general denials that he engaged in such conversation (8).

As another example of Knickerbocker's anti-Semitic attitudes, Müller testified that Knickerbocker had said to him that "Hitler was all right when he attacked the Jews; when he began against the Poles, of course, that was bad." Knickerbocker denied that he ever said that. The AJC analysis notes that the Investigating Committee removed this allegation from consideration by stating that there was no indication that, if made, it was expressing Knickerbocker's own sentiments rather than being imputed to others (9n5).

In his testimony, Müller cited numerous other anti-Semitic statements by Knockerbocker: In 1938, "as long as I am Chairman there won't be any more 'kikes' appointed to this department." In 1939, Knickerbocker used the expression "our side" and "referred to the opposition as "that Jewish gang," or simply as "the Jews." Before several department meetings, Knickerbocker would bemoan the necessity of listening to "those Jews and their by-laws." In 1939, before the termination of a Jewish faculty member's appointment as Fellow, Knickerbocker said, "That young Jew won't be listening in next year" (9).

Knickerbocker denied categorically that he had made any of those statements, adding that it was the belief of the department that Müller was anti-Semitic and that "It is a fact that he spoke time and time again to me against Jews, against 'kikes'" (9-10).

The AJC analysis concluded:

It is significant that Prof. Knickerbocker did not testify that he rebuked Prof. Müller for the anti-Semitic remarks which he attributes to him. According to his own account, he apparently merely listened. Yet, it is hardly likely that conversations extending over so long a period of time would be as one-sided as Prof. Knickerbocker would have us believe. It is much more likely that Prof. Knickerbocker conversed freely with Prof. Müller on those topics and that Prof. Knickerbocker's explanation, putting the onus on Prof. Müller, is untrue. (10)

Müller testified about anti-Semitic statements made by other senior members of the department. He said that Prof. René Vaillant referred to Jews by the French derogatory expression for Jews, "les youpins." Prof. Bach-y-Rita testified that in 1941, Prof.Alfred Iacuzzi "made a remark about Prof. Polinger and Jews in the Department" and that before a departmental election Iacuzzi told him that "if Polinger is elected and it looks as if he might get enough votes, before we know, the Department will be full of Jews." Müller testified that, in 1937, 1938, and 1939, Prof. Maxime Bergeron stated that his reasons for not bringing to the disciplinary committee certain students detected cheating was "those damn Jews on the Committee will twist everything around and make out that I am the guilty one." According to the Investigating Committee transcript, the complainants had alleged that Müller indicated his readiness to testify that Bergeron told him especially to beware of Prof. Cross, and referring to Cross's name said, "Those damn Jews take on any old name. Müller also testified that after a Jewish instructor had been dropped, Bergeron showed him a laudatory recommendation that had been submitted for that instructor and said, "That's what you get when you do a Jew a favor." Professors Vaillant and Bergeron both denied having made such statements. Another charge against Bergeron made by the complainants but not pursued by the Investigating Committee was the response of Bergeron to a faculty member's shocked surprise that anti-Semitism could be found in educated persons despite the findings of science: "Well, you just can't get away from your ancestors." The AJC analysis criticized the Investigating committee for not calling Prof. Iacuzzi to explain or deny the remarks attributed to him, even though he was available in the city (10-12).

The AJC analysis criticized the Investigating Committing for not attempting to question McAvoy, even though, unlike Hilton, he was in New York City. The analysis noted that that "Prof. Knickerbocker did not testify that he rebuked Prof. Müller for the anti-Semitic remarks that were attributed to him and pointed to the unlikelihood that "conversations extending over so long a period of time would be as one-sided as Prof. Knickerbocker would have us believe." Prof. Vaillant denied having any recollection of using the term les youpins and that if he did use it, he did not use it with the inflection that would give it a derogatory sense in referring to Jews, adding that the French people have for a generation ceased using the term youpin. The AJC analysis cited several French dictionary references, all of which indicated that the term is used as a pejorative. In 2013, sixty-seven years after this AJC analysis, one can readily see the term still being used as a pejorative by French anti-Semites, as any Web search on the phrase les youpins  will show.

In regard to the charges of anti-Semitic comments, the AJC analysis concludes:

It is our view that the examination of a number of the parties involved in these charges was inadequate at the hearings. Yet even this inadequate Record suggests strongly that Prof. Knickerbocker has on many occasions made anti-Semitic remarks. (13)

The AJC analysis then referred to the complainants' charge that anti-Semitism played a role in assigning student honors and awards, noting that Jewish students constituted 80-90 percent of the student body. It cited Müller's testimony that in 1942, Knickerbocker rejected his recommendation that a student named Morton Gurewitch receive the Ward medal for proficiency in French stating "That fellow Gurewitch may be an excellent student but he is a Jew." The medal was finally awarded to a non-Jewish student, Salvatore Ramondino (14).

Prof. Knickerbocker denied that had ever made such a remark about Gurewitch. Referring only to elective courses for a student majoring in French, the Investigating Committee, in its report, stated

From a comparison of the records of the two students in question it appears that while Gurewitch had attained in two courses a grade of A against the grade of B attained by the recipient of the medal, the latter had pursued several more advanced courses in French than had the former, receiving the grade of A in each. (14)

Since the exhibits in the transcript of the hearing did not contain the grades of Gurewitch and Ramondino, the AJC obtained a copy the grades from a letter to Prof. Polinger from by a person working init own copy that originated in a letter that Prof. Polinger had received from a person that had been working at the time in the Office of Records. It turned out that Romandino had only one more elective course than Gurevitch. "Altogether," stated the AJC report, "Gurewitch (Magna cum Laude) received fifteen credits, all A's, in his electives, in the Romance Languages Department and Ramonidino (cum Laude), ten credits of A plus six of B. The AJC report concludes Gurewitch was unjustly denied the Ward medal (15). Later, I will show that the Gurewitch's course record was actually better than what transcript showed.

The remaining charges against Knickerbocker concerned discrimination in faculty appointments and promotions. So many different factors enter into decisions in individual cases, that it will not be useful for the present account to detail the cases one by one. The AJC report notes that Müller had testified that Knickerbocker, shortly after his election as department chair, expressed the resolve not to admit any more "kikes" to the department. In summary form, the result of this resolve was that of 27 appointments to Day Session from 1938, when he became, department chair, only one Jew was appointed to regular faculty (and he served only 12 days) and two were appointed as fellows. Prior to Knickerbocker's chairmanship, Jewish faculty members made up one-third of the new faculty appointments. Similarly, under Knickerbocker's chairmanship not a single Jewish assistant or associate professor was recommended for promotion except for one professor, whose recommendation for promotion by the previous chair had not yet been acted upon (15-52).

In its point-by-point review of the charges by the four complainants, the AJC showed that the record of the Investigating Committee's sustained all the principle charges of anti-Semitism made by the complainants. The principal recommendation of the AJC analysis was that "the Department of Romance Languages should be reorganized by the retirement of all professors eligible therefore, including the Chairman." (53). This would remove Prof. Knckerbocker most of the clique around hm.

Investigation by the Hillel Community Actions Committee and the Student Council.

As it turned out, my fellow committee members left it to me to read the AJC report and do the greater part of the footwork needed to carry through the investigation. The intrigue within the department somewhat reflected what was later to appear in C. P Snow's 1951 book, The Masters. I was concerned that the issues concerning infighting in the department might overshadow the issue of anti-Semitism. Cross was politically progressive and was clearly the driving force for the complaint, but rather inept diplomatically in dealing with his opponents, generally going it alone rather than collectively, except in this particular case. As I read the transcript, I worried about the motivation of Müller, who had admitted that at one time had been pro-Nazi. In the hearing, he was the only one to offer testimony about Knickerbocker's voicing anti-Semitic comments about faculty and students, although affidavits had been filed earlier by former faculty members about the anti-Semitic remarks by Knickerbocker and others.

I asked Müller about the discrepancy between the Investigating Committeer transcript and the AJC analysis in regard to Gurewitch's grades. He had not known about the discrepancy and replied simply that Gurewitch had better a better record than Ramondino. On 3 January 1946, I asked for and received permission to look at Ramondino's and Gurewitch's grade transcripts, something that would never be allowed today. I was surprised to find that Gurewitch had an incomplete in an honors course, which had not been mentioned either in the Investigating Committee's report or the AJC analysis. When I reported this to Müller, he insisted that Gurewitch never had an incomplete for any French course.

I decided that I had to talk to Gurewitch. Müller did not know where he was. Gurewitch had graduated in 1942.

A search in the phonebooks for New York City's five boroughs did not reveal anyone named Morton Gurewitch, so I began to call everyone named Gurewitch to see if I could find a relative. On the eighth call, I did indeed find a relative, who gave me a phone number at which he could be reached. Morton Gurewitch answered the phone when I called. After I explained to him what the call was about, he said that he had had a straight A average in French with no incompletes, but would rather discuss this with me in Müller's presence. Since it was during the winter break, Müller arranged for us to meet in his home in Queens.

At the meeting, Gurewitch repeated that he had had a straight A average in French and that included the honors course, which Vaillant had supervised, regardless of what the transcript showed. Gurewitch added that Bergeron told him that he, Gurewitch, was the best student he had had since Luciani-now Prof. Luciani- who had graduated twenty years earlier. A statement like that would have obligated Bergeron to recommend Gurewitch for the Ward medal. With Gurewitch's denial that he had an incomplete, the incomplete on his grade transcript was perplexing. The transcript of the Investigating Committee made no mention of this additional course. With no knowledge of the additional course, the AJC analysis showed that Gurewitch had a better record than Ramondino. This argument would have been greatly strengthened had the AJC team known that Gurewitch had an additional advanced course with grade A. I assumed that Gurewitch was truthful about this, so I now felt that it was necessary see how the CCNY administration would react to Gurewitch's claim.

When my discussion at Muller's home was over, his wife offered to drive me to the subway station.  En route to the subway, I remarked "This looks like a very nice neighborhood." I was aghast at her response, "Oh, yes," she replied, it's restricted," a term used to indicate that a neighborhood was one in which Jews or African Americans were not allowed to rent or buy homes, a practice quite common in the United States at that time. I let her comment pass without response. It wasn't until 1948 that the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that restrictive covenants (bans on sale or resale of homes to Jews or non Caucasians written into sales contracts) were not enforceable.

When I returned to the CCNY administration office on 7 January 1947 to raise the question of the missing grade, it had already been changed to an A! Strange. The issue of the incomplete had not been raised in the hearing. All that happened was that on 3 January I asked to see the grade transcripts of Gurewitch and Ramondino. Within four days a correction was pulled out of the hat. After six years, Dean Gottschall suddenly remembers that

Mr. Gurewitch's Honors grade was reported to me somewhat informally in a postscript to a letter dated May 28, 1942, from Professor Vaillant; . . . the letter related to the proposed Honors program for the following September, The grade was not reported on the Registrar's regular grade sheet . . .  because that had already been filed with the Registrar when Mr. Gurewitch's work was still incomplete. . . .The report of Mr. Gurewitch's grade did not come to light until January 1947, probably as a result of the inquiry of the Board of Higher Education committee. I inadvertently overlooked this postscript and failed to notify the Registrar. (Gottschall 1949)

It would be a strange coincidence that the BHE expressed interest in Gurewitch's grade simultaneously with mine-that is, within the four days after I requested to view Gurewitch's record. Gottschall and the BHE, however, failed to coordinate their explanation of the responsibility adequately. The BHE, in its "Review of the Facts Concerning the Charges Made Against Professor William E. Knickerbocker and the Romance Languages Department, The City College" (8 November 1948), does not state that Gottschall made the error, but that it was made "on the part of someone on the staff in the office of the Dean."

In the course of our investigation, we looked at another case mentioned to us by either Cross or Muller, where a Jewish students was in the running for the Ward medal and did not receive it. We found that in 1939 a Jewish student named Moed failed to receive the medal although his grades were better than the recipient. The case for Gurewitch, however, was stronger.

We also looked into the complainants charges of anti-Semitism in faculty appointments. The AJC report was ambiguous in their conclusions on this issue and called for further investigation of the question. Part of the problem was Prof. Knickerbocker's assertion that with the increased interest in Spanish, it became necessary to add more native speakers. Since the AJC had not responded to Knickerbocker's explanation, we looked the question of native speakers. Here is what we found. In 1937, the staff of the department consisted of 25 non-Jews, and 12 Jews; of the 18 not teaching in their native tongues, 10 were Jews and 8 were non-Jews. Of the new appointments 1939 to 1944, 23 were non-Jews and 2 were Jews; of the 16 whose native tongue was English, only 2 were Jews.

Attempt by Anti Defamation Committee to suppress the Hillel Foundation Report

In January1947, I drafted a report of our findings, which confirmed the accuracy of the charges that had been leveled against Knickerbocker. The draft report concluded with the recommendations that Knickerbocker and Bergeron be retired, that Gurewitch and Moed be declared winners of the Ward Medal, and that the president of the City College take steps to insure that no such situation can arise again in the department. After the Community Actions Committee at Hillel adopted my draft report, I presented it to the Hillel Executive Council, proposing that we publish it in the Hillel News, a newspaper issued by the CCNY Hillel Foundation. Rabbi Zuckerman told us that as a B'nai Brith organization, we were obligated to consult with the B'nai Brith's Anti-Defamation League before proceeding with publication and that the ADL would need some time to examine our report. I suggested that we give the ADL six weeks to respond with their recommendation. In early March, Rabbi Zuckerman told us that ADL recommended that we not publish the report because when a rat is cornered, it will resist more fiercely. The ADL said that they would discuss the issue quietly through channels that were open to them and in this way, they would accomplish Knickerbocker's removal, that if they could not achieve it quickly, they were sure they could arrange for Knickerbocker to resign in two or three years for reasons of health. Rabbi Zuckerman strongly urged us to accept the ADL's recommendation. I argued that what was important was not solely the removal of Knickerbocker, but his removal because of his anti-Semitism. Rabbi Zuckerman then threw in a bombshell. He raised the possibility of B'nai B'rith cutting off the funds that had been promised for a new Hillel building if we did not heed the advice of the ADL. We accepted his proposal that we meet with the ADL to hear their opinion. I do know if the threat about the ADL cutting off building funds was real or simply put forth as conjecture by Rabbi Zuckerman. In any case, the threat never materialized.

On 6 March 1947, Rabbi Zuckerman and a few members of the CCNY Hillel Executive Council met with Marvin Jager of the ADL to discuss its recommendation. Although I may have been there, I have no recollection of being present. I find a reference to this meeting in a response of the National Hillel Foundation to subsequent charges of misconduct against Rabbi Zuckerman by the ADL because of his eventual support of the CCNY Hillel organization participation in the student movement to remove Knickerbocker (National Hillel Foundation 1949, 3-4). At this meeting, Marvin Jager stated that the new information uncovered by the Hillel committee did not provide a basis for further action. The students rejected Jager's view and his recommendation that no further action be taken. When the CCNY Hillel Executive Council met to discuss the next step, it was clear that the overriding sentiment was to go forth with the publication of the report. Rabbi Zuckerman found himself in a difficult position. Torn between the pressure from the ADL and his fear of losing the respect of the Hillel students, apart from his own conviction that publication of the report was necessary step, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the publication of the report. I then presented the report to the Student Council committee, which immediately endorsed it.

On 13 March 1947, page 1 of vol. 3, no. 3 of the Hillel News opened with the headlines, "HILLEL COMMUNITY ACTIONS COMMITTEE CHARGES KNICKERBOCKER GUILTY OF ANTI-SEMITISM. The front-page article summarized the main points. A digest of the report was printed on page 3. Most of page 2 was taken up by "Statement by Rabbi Zuckermann on the Romance Language Affair," in which he supported the results of the Hillel investigation. In face of the ADL opposition to publication of the report, he heroically concluded his statement with following words:

When the trustees of the people fail the, other agencies must act. As it appeared that discretion might triumph over justice, the Hillel Foundation assumed the task of investigation. We have carried through our investigation in as fair and thorough a manner as we know. We are making our findings public in our community organ Hillel News. Thereby we wish to focus public disapproval on what we hold to be a dangerously diseased area in our City College, and so that in the voice of the people may be heard the voice of God. We are confident that the students of the City College and its Alumni, the citizenry and Councilmen of the City of New York will want to purge their College of the blemish in its Centennial Year.

"And Thou Shalt Cauterize The Evil From Out of The Midst of Thee." (Hillel News 1947)

Although I was not an editor of the Hillel News, my name was added to the list of editors as "Associate Editor." I requested this so that if there were any penalties resulting from publication of the issue, I would not be sitting idly by while others took the blame.

The CCNY Student Council met the next day, 14 March, to act on the recommendations. Knowing that a demand for the retirement of Knickerbocker and award of Ward medals to Gurewitch and Moed would not be acted upon by the CCNY administration or the BHE, I proposed that we condemn Knickerbocker for his anti-Semitism and ask the New York City Council to conduct an investigation of the matter. A City Council committee was established under the chairmanship of Councilman Walter R. Hart.

In an editorial entitled "Orchids to 'Hillel' at City College," the 27 March 1947 issue of the Jewish Review praised the action of Hillel in exposing the anti-Semitism in the Romance Language Department, and asked, " Will the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai Brith reverse its stand and for once go in fighting to uphold the report of the Hillel Foundation-both being part and parcel of B'Nai Brith? Or will it adhere to its off the record position that it will not take up its cudgels because 'victory is not certain.' When is victory certain in this age-old fight against discrimination?" The Jewish Review editorial also criticized the AJC's Commission on Law and Social Action for lack of social action when its legal appeals are ignored: " Will the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress permit the Board of Higher Education practically to throw Shad Polier's letter in the ash heap-or will the American Jewish Congress press for a showdown. In fairness, it should be stated that the AJC did provide speakers, advice, and legal aid for the subsequent student protest activities, although it did not initiate public protests on the whitewash of Knickerbocker.

On 30 April 1947, Rabbi Zuckerman met with the Dr. Abram Sacher and Judah Shapiro (Director and Associate Director, respectively, of the National Hillel Foundation), Ben Epstein (Director of the ADL) and Marvin Jager of the ADL. Again the ADL recommended no public action be taken. Epstein said that  "the ADL knew a man who was close to Mayer O'Dwyer and that this man would use his influence with the Mayor to get Knickerbocker removed. Mr. Epstein didn't think Mayor O'Dwyer would act publicly, since 1947 was not an election year, but rather behind the scenes (National Hillel Foundation 1949, 6). The ADL not only opposed Hillel taking action on the case at this meeting, but two weeks later, on 14 May, it wrote to the secretary of the BHE that it was not involved in the appeal on the case, because of insufficient evidence" (7). Rabbi Zuckerman, in a marginal comment note on this action by the ADL, wrote, "Did the passing of Henry Monsky lead the ADL people to think they could carry through this sabotage and get away with it? (10) [B'nai B'rith president Henry Monsky died on 2 May 1947-EM].

CCNY administration establishes Jim Crow housing for veterans

In the fall of 1947, a dark-skinned student whose name I do not remember came to me at Hillel to complain that he was put in a room for Negroes at Army Hall, a dormitory that was established at the former Hebrew Orphan Asylum for World War II veterans attending City College, Columbia, New York University, and Fordham University. It was administered by City College. The student stated, "I am not a Negro. I am Jewish." He was a Yemenite Jew, many of whom are dark-skinned, I replied that we cannot protest his being assigned to a room with Negroes on the grounds that he was not Negro, but we must protest the against racial segregation in Army Hall. I then raised the question with the Community Actions Committee. We decided that Hillel should not take the initiative on this issue, but we should discuss it with the CCNY Frederick Douglass Society, so that they could give the lead on the segregation issue with our support, which is precisely what happened. The Frederick Douglass Society took the matter to the Army Hall Resident Council, which, in turn, sent their demand for the dismissal of the Army Hall director, William C. Davis (1907-1968), an economics instructor, to CCNY President Wright, the Board of Higher Education, and the Mayor's Committee on Unity. President Wright announced on 28 October 1947 that a special faculty committee would investigate the charges ("College Will Study Segregation Charge," New York Times, 29 October 1947). In Army Hall records, the student's name is Paul Franklin. In the records of the investigating committee hearing, his last name is spelled Franklyn

City College students mobilize for struggle to remove racists from faculty

When I graduated from CCNY in January 1948, campaigns to remove Knickerbocker and Davis from the City College faculty drew increasing student support. Although I was not involved in the subsequent campaigns, I think it is appropriate to summarize how things developed on the Knickerbocker and Davis cases after I graduated.

On 25 March 1948, Davis announced that he was resigning as administrator of Army Hall after the special faculty committee charged him with following practices of racial segregation. President Wright, however, stated that Davis would retain his position as instructor of economics, for which he had tenure ("City College Aide Quits After Board Charges Racial Segregation to Him," New York Times, 26 March 1948). This did not satisfy the CCNY students, who continued to demand his dismissal.

On 22 June 1948, the New York City Council, by a 16 to 0 vote, with two abstentions, accepted the report of the Hart Committee, which recommended that "because of reprehensible and unworthy conduct," Knickerbocker, "be requested to apply for retirement prior to the commencement of the next semester and, upon his failure to do so within a reasonable time, that he be relieved of his duties as Chairman of the Department of Romance Languages." The committee also found that the religion of students was a factor determining Knickerbocker's treatment of them. The committee recommended that Gurewitch be publicly presented with the Ward Medal and that Professors Polinger and Bach-y-Rita be considered for restoration to the list of recommendations for promotion" (Report of the City Council 1948). On 9 July, the BHE announced it would consider the City Council recommendation at its next meeting.

Two days before the announcement of the Hart Committee report, which had already been shown to the BHE (Müller and Cross 1949), a notice appeared in the program for the CCNY commencement on 22 June that a duplicate 1942 Ward medal would be awarded Gurewitch nunc pro tunc [now for then]. Dean of Administration John J. Theobald announced it was at Professor Knickerbocker's suggestion a duplicate medal be given to Gurewitch. Councilman Hart, however, disclosed that during the Council hearings, he asked Knickerbocker if he would consider recommending that Gurewitch be granted the award in view of the corrected record. Knickerbocker's reply, according to Hart was "absolutely not." Hart added that "to say that Professor Knickerbocker made the suggestion or that he induced the administration to give Mr. Gurewitch the award in 1948 is a sad commentary on the administration of City College" ("Student Honored after 6-Year Wait," New York Times, 21 June 1948)

In connection with the beginning of the fall semester at CCNY, a meeting involving representatives of the National Hillel Foundation, the City College Hillel, AJC, and the ADL was held on 15 October 1948 to discuss following up on the City Council recommendations, which the BHE was still considering. At this point, in view of the Hart Committee Report, the ADL apparently found it difficult to distance itself from the anti-Knickerbocker campaign. All those present, except, Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld (1913-1996), who had replaced Dr. Sachar as director of the National Hillel Foundation earlier that year after the latter became founding president of Brandeis University, supported the organization of a walkout of students taking a required course for Spanish majors taught by Knickerbocker. Rabbi Zuckerman and the students present were urged to organize the walkout with an air of spontaneity so that Hillel's role would not be obvious. Both the ADL and AJC stated that they could be counted on to defend any students against disciplinary action taken as a result of the walkout. It was also agreed that the Hart Committee Report should be distributed on the campus and that the names of Hillel, ADL, and AJC would appear on it. Later in the day, the ADL said its name could not appear on it because a person associated with ADL was to appear before the BHE to bring charges against Knickerbocker.( National Hillel Foundtions 1949, 8-9). The AJC, however, which, had initiated the still-pending appeal to the BHE against the City College Investigating Committee's whitewash of Knickerbocker, had not such problem.

One of the CCNY Hillel students, David Kaplan, who participated in the meeting, took on the task of recruiting a student in Knickerbocker's class to lead the walkout. Unable to find such a student, he attended the class on the morning of 20 September and, as the class began, rose to ask Knickerbocker whether he was the man named in the City Council report. After Knickerbocker replied that that he saw no relation between the report and a class on Spanish literature, Kaplan led 19 of the 21 students out of the class. The students went to office of Dean Gottschall without Kaplan and requested that they have a new instructor. Dean Gottschall told them to draw up a petition, whereupon they went to the CCNY Hillel office to do so in consultation with Rabbi Zuckerman. The New York Times report of the walkout noted that "examination of Mr. Kaplan's program of studies did not reveal his class, or show that he was registered for Professor Knickerbocker's class," but it made no mention of his association with Hillel ("20 Students Quit City College Class," New York Times, 21 September 1948; National Hillel Foundation. 1949, 8).

On 27 September 1948, reacting to the City Council resolution, the BHE, by a vote of 15 to 4, reaffirmed its 1946 exoneration of Knickerbocker ("Board Bars Action on Knickerbocker," New York Times, 28 September 1947)

On 29 September, twenty-six students began a day-long and all-night sit down outside Pres. Wright's office to demand the dismissal of Knickerbocker. The number swelled to 500 in the morning, after which the students joined two thousand others at noon for a five-hour meeting in the City College Great Hall. Although the sit down and mass meeting were initially called to protest the BHE's decision on 27 October not to take further action on Knickerbocker, members of the American Youth for Democracy, after much debate, succeeded in including the demand for the dismissal of both Davis and Knickerbocker in a key resolution that was passed at the meeting. Another resolution that was passed after much debate was the call for a college wide "sit-down" strike. Apart from student speakers, the meeting was addressed by City Councilman Hart, City Councilman Eugene P, Connolly of the American Labor party, and Bert Diamond, a counsel for the American Jewish Congress. City College classes for the afternoon were suspended. Also that afternoon, a meeting in the ante-room of Pres. Wright's office was attended by Wright; Ordway Tead, chairman of the BHE; various deans; Bert Diamond of the AJC; Rabbi Lelyveld of the National Hillel Foundation; Rabbi Zuckerman; and student representatives. The ADL was invited, but failed to send a representative. The meeting was called on the initiative of Rabbi Zuckerman several days earlier in an attempt to reach an agreement on the Knickerbocker case. The only agreements reached, however, appear to have been acceptance of the right of students to select instructors other than Knickerbocker and that the students who walked out on Knickerbocker's class on 20 September would not be subject to disciplinary action. No public announcement about the results of the meeting was made. Not only did the ADL not send a representative to the meeting, after previously have promised to participate in the defense of the students if it were necessary, but in a report on CCNY Hillel's involvement by Jacob Grumet on 11 December 1948, the ADL accused Rabbi Zuckerman of misconduct for allowing the CCNY Hillel to participate publicly in the anti-Knickerbocker protests.

A Student Council meeting that began on 1 October and lasted eleven and three-quarters hours until 4 a.m. on 2 October finally ended with a resolution to conduct a referendum for a "sit-down" strike that was called for in the resolutions of the Great Hall meeting on 30 September. Left-wing student organizations such as the American Youth for Democracy, Students for Wallace , and the off-campus student Communist Party club strongly supported such a strike and forcefully argued for the linkage of the Davis and Knickerbocker cases.. The tactic of "sit-down" strikes was then current in the organization of the auto industry by the United Auto Workers. The more conservative student organizations opposed a strike. Support for the strike was strong among the Hillel students, but Rabbi Zuckerman pressured the Executive Council not to support it. To weaken the vote for the sit-down strike, which was scheduled for 6 October, Pres. Wright announced on 5 October that no disciplinary action will be taken against the students who walked out of Knickerbocker's class and that they would be permitted to transfer to other teachers. In addition, Wright announced that he had requested "an exchange of views concerning the situation" between student representatives and the BHE. Wright's tactics worked. The resolution to stage the strike was defeated 3,122 to 1,841. ("2000 Seek Ouster of Knickerbocker," New York Times,1 October 1948; National Hillel Foundation. 1949, 9-10; "Group Joins Drive on Knickerbocker," New York Times, 3 October 1947; "Students in Revolt Get New Teacher," New York Times, 5 October 1948; "Students Reject 'Sit-Down' Strike," New York Times,7 October 1948).

A conference on academic freedom sponsored by the National Council of Arts, Sciences and Professions on 9 October 1948 in New York approved a resolution calling for the dismissal of Knickerbocker and Davis ("Colleges Rebuked for 'Repressions,' New York Times, 10 October 1948).

A joint petition against the BHE decision not to reopen the Knickerbocker case was filed on 22 October with the State Education Department by the American Jewish Congress, CCNY Student Council, and Professors Bach-y-Rita and Polinger.

On 22 October 1948, Brooklyn College Dean of Students Frederick W. Maroney announced that he would take disciplinary action against fifteen executives of the Students for Wallace group as a response to their charge that the dean intimidated them in his effort to get them to cancel a campus march to protest the whitewash of Knickerbocker and Davis. About eighty students had taken part in the march that the dean objected to because it was on the day that parents and other visitors had been on the campus to attend an honors day convocation ("Wallace March Scored," New York Times, 23 October 1948).

In the first official action against a City College student for protests in the Knickerbocker and Davis cases, a CCNY senior, Paul Brown, was placed on probation by a student-faculty discipline committee for his refusal to cease distributing an unauthorized publication against Knickerbocker ("Student is Disciplined," New York Times, 23 October 1948). Paul Brown was a member of the CCNY Communist Party club who I had known from my childhood at the Workers Cooperative Colony in the Bronx. On the same day, Brown led a group of 100 students to City Hall to request that Mayor Paul O'Dwyer use his influence to bring about the dismissal of Knickerbocker and Davis ("100 Picket City Hall," New York Times, 23 October 1948). O'Dwyer subsequently issued a statement that declared that the refusal of the BHE to act in the Knickerbocker case was most unfortunate and should be promptly reconsidered (New York Lawyer Guild 1949).

On 8 November 1948, in response to the 22 October 1948 joint petition by the AJC, the CCNY Student Council and Professors Cross and Bach-y-Rita , BHE issued a document defending its 27 September decision not to reopen the Knickerbocker Case and in which it characterized Cross as a chronic complainer (BHE 1948). On 17 January 1949, the petitioners then petitioned the State Commissioner of Education, Dr. Francis T. Spalding to order the BHE to file charges of anti-Semitism against Knickerbocker. ("Charges Revived on Knickerbocker," New York Times, 18 January 1949.

A flier distributed on 15 December 1948 by Students for Wallace CCNY called for students to turn out in Lincoln Corridor in Shepard Hall at 3 p.m. when a delegation of "representatives and members of 26 civic organizations will request that President Wright to use his legal authority to suspend DAVIS and KNICKERBOCKER from the faculty." The flier lists organizations participating in the delegations as representatives and members of the New York branch of the NAACP, the Civil Rights Congress, the Teachers Union, the Jewish People's Fraternal Order, American Jewish Congress, National Inter-collegiate Young Progressives of America, and such individuals as Rabbi Henry Shorr, Rabbi Jonah E. Kaplan, Councilman Eugene Connolly, and playwright Arthur Miller (Students for Wallace Flier, 1949).

On 12 January 1949, the Associate Alumni of the City College of New York (which changed its name in the1950s to the Alumni Association of the City College of New York) extended the scope of the Associate Alumni Committee to Investigate Discrimination (set up in 1946 to investigate religious and racial discrimination against graduates of New York City schools and colleges) to include both the Knickerbocker and Davis cases, appointing Domestic Relations Court Judge Hubert T. Delany, an African American, as head of a committee established for this purpose. On 18 January, in response to a letter dated 14 January from Professor Nelson P. Mead, president of the CCNY Associate Alumni (a copy of which I do not have), Judge Delany recalled that in a conversation with him and President Wright in June 1948, he agreed with Wright that the BHE, in view of its previous actions, would not remove Davis even if he was guilty of segregation and discrimination because Davis had tenure. Delany added, however, that "at no time during this conference did the President indicate that Mr. Davis did not have tenure and that he could have summarily removed him on the basis of the findings of the faculty committee. At no time did the President indicate that when he [Davis] was to be returned to the Economics Department, his salary would be increased to the maximum for staff of the instructional rank." From what follows, his appointment to the committee was apparently based on the opinion he had expressed in his June 1948 meeting with Mead and Wright that the BHE would not fire Davis. For, on 8 March 1948, Delany resigned from the CCNY Associate Alumni investigating committee, charging that his committee had been packed with members who blocked efforts to get at the facts of discrimination in the college. The fact and circumstances of Delany's resignation were first made public on 29 March 1948 when the president of the CCNY Hillel Foundation presented them to the Student Council, which then set up an investigating committee (Zuckerman 1949a).

City College Student Strike, April 1949

The student reaction to Delany's resignation was sharp. Members of the American Veterans Committee called for a campus-wide strike. At a meeting in the Great Hall on 7 April, the seven-person Student Council investigating committee reported that they had confirmed Judge Delany's charges against the Associate Alumni. The defense by the secretary of the Associate Alumni committee was overshadowed by Delany's refutations, in the course of which Delany endorsed the strike call. The CCNY uptown day session Student Council prepared for a referendum to be held the next day. As reported by the campus newspaper Observation Post, on 8 April, with over 4,000 students voting, 2,797 students voted for the strike, 1,885 voted against it. Of those voting for the strike 1,129 voted for a one-day strike, 1,623 voted for a sustained strike until action was taken, action being defined as suspension of Knickerbocker and Davis pending open trials by the BHE. That evening, the uptown Student Council then voted 43 to 11 to begin the strike on 11 April (Fogel and Cohen 1949; Observation Post 1949, Zuckerman 1949).

At 7 a.m. on 11 April, hundreds of students began forming picket lines at the campus buildings. At 9 a.m. the police arrested 16 students in an effort to clear the entrance to the main building (of 16 were given suspended sentences for disorderly conduct in a trial in November 1949). Another student, who denied that he had been picketing, was later brought before a magistrate bandaged, after being treated at Mother Cabrini Hospital, and charged with assaulting a police sergeant. At 1:20 p.m. two more students were detained (but released with warnings shortly thereafter) as mounted police tried to break up a rally that was using loudspeakers. The rally continued, however, without the loudspeakers. The strike committee estimated that 75 percent of the students stayed away from classes. The CCNY administration set the figure at 65 percent. In the evening, the uptown evening session Student Council voted 844 to 360 to join the strike, but the Student Council at the School of Business and Civic Administration voted to condemn the strike. The CCNY Hillel Foundation office served as the strike headquarters (Zuckerman 1949). The "objective" New York Times could not refrain from writing, "The picket lines, thoroughly organized in every detail, used techniques common in Communist or Communist-led strikes, but denials that this was a Communist strike came from both leaders and school officials." The paper quoted Knickerbocker, "I am absolutely convinced that I am being used to further the cause of communism in the college. I am absolutely convinced that if it were not for the Communists there would be no strike" ("City College Police Clash with Police in 'Bias' Strike, New York Time, 12 April 1949; "16 Found Guilty in College Strike," New York Times, 24 September 1949); Zuckerman 1949; Fogel and Cohen 1949).

The New York Times editorial on 13 April was even more biased:

Its professed and doubtless sincere aim is to protest and punish real or fancied racial or religious discrimination, but the method is that of indiscriminate acceptance of charges of guilt which have been either repudiated by painstaking official inquiry, in one case, or suitably penalized in the other. . . . Its longevity, the forms the agitation takes, the picket cries of scab, rat, Fascist, the identity of some of the agitators, in past years and now, all point to a Leftist if not Communist inspiration. We do not believe that any sizable number of Communists are taking part in the strike; we do agree with Professor Knickerbocker when he says that "if it were not for the Communists there would be no strike.

The editorial quoted Wright as stating that the strike was "equivalent to lynch justice." The editorial misrepresented the goal of the strike, which was not, as it charged, to "force the dismissal of two teachers," but for open trials by the Board of Higher Education.

Will Maslow and Betram Diamond of the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress criticized the editorial in a letter to the Times on 18 April. They pointed to the inadequacy of the official City College investigation. Referring to the editorial's statement that Knickerbocker and Davis "have both suffered penance enough," Maslow and Diamond wrote, "Far from undergoing penance, the offender has been retained in the post of chairman while faculty members who complained were harassed and denied promotion. For Davis, too, there has never been a full-scale open hearing. . . . . No penalty was ever imposed on him. On the contrary, he was permitted to resign from his administrative duties and return to a teaching position where he was shortly thereafter granted a salary increment of $1400 annually." Wright had claimed that Davis was penalized because his economics department salary was lower salary than he had received as Army Hall administrator ("City College Police Clash with Police in 'Bias' Strike," New York Time, 12 April 1949).

The New York Sun headlined its strike report for the second day of the strike, "Reds Seen Moving In On City College Strike." (13 April 1949). The paper attributed the source of this information to a City College publicity representative, Lester Nichols, who stated that left-wing elements had appeared on the campus. The Sun reported that a group of eleven labor unions threatened to shut the college "tighter than a drum" with a monster picket line. The unions mentioned were locals of left-wing unions: United Office and Professional Workers of America, International Fur and Leather Workers Union, Wholesale and Warehouse Workers Union, Furniture Workers Union, Shoe Workers Union, Jewelry Workers Union, Bakers Union, and the teacher's local of the United Public Workers. The New York Sun reported that the president of the Student Council, William Fortunato, said the the "strikers would not accept outside help from left-wing organizations. He was obviously reacting to the anti-Communist rhetoric from the press and CCNY administration, since his objection to outside support was limited to left-wing organizations. In practice, however, left-wing student groups from CCNY and other colleges participated actively and openly in the strike.

For the first time in years, students were able to organize meetings on campus and distribute literature on campus without administrative approval for the next few days. "Three and a half million students throughout the world sent full support to the strikers through the International Union of Students, students from all over the country sent messages of support: The Student Council of the New York University, School of Education, Sarah Lawrence Student Council, 1001 students from Chicago University, and many others sent messages. Students from metropolitan colleges, Brooklyn, Hunter, Queens, Columbia, New York University and a band from Juillard School of Music joined the picket line" (Fogel and Cohen 1949; Zuckerman 1949a).

The left was strongly represented among the activists in this very broad political spectrum and was the key force in forging a strong linkage of these two issues. The several groups , predictably, did not always get along swimmingly well together, but on the core issues of racism and bigotry, differences, though often heated, were mainly tactical. . . .

Strikers went to their scheduled classes to convince wavering classmates to stay out. Faculty handled this in various ways. Some took their time arriving at their classes, allowing for the rooms to empty out. Others had inordinate difficulties registering absences and several refused to hold classes. Most faculty were sympathetic to the strike. Some teachers discreetly contributed funds to enable the daily publications of strike papers and showed their solidarity in various ways. A few, however, used the "three-cut rule" to flunk students. (Engel 1999, 5, 7).

During the strike, 1,000 students accompanied five leaders of the Strike Committee to City Hall in an unsuccessful attempt to see Mayor O'Dwyer. A student delegation went to Albany to visit the State Commissioner of Education Spalding. He then announced in a letter to the CCNY Young Republicans Club that a date was being set for a hearing of the appeal by the American Jewish Congress, the CCNY Student Council, and Professors Bach-y-Rita and Polinger against the BHE decision not to take any action. The hearing date was set for 29 April 1949. The strike continued without police interference on 12 and 13 April, with somewhat reduced participation and then was suspended until 20 April because of the Passover and Easter recess. After the strike resumed on 20 April, the vice president of the day session Student Council, Edward Sparer, announced that the Student Councils of the day and evening sessions had decided to suspend the strike because it had achieved its maximum effect.

In a decision announced on 9 April 1950, State Commissioner of Education Spalding backed the Board of Higher Education's defense of Knickerbocker and declined to order the City College to put Professors Bach-y-Rita and Polinger back on the promotion list ("State Backs Board on Knickerbocker," New York Times, 10 April 1950).

In March 1949, Davis took an indefinite leave of absence, apparently to complete his PhD at Yale University that year. In 1950, he took a position as marketing manager with General Electric. (Zuckerman 1949b; "William C. Davis, Educator, Is Dead," New York Times, 16 April 1968). Knickerbocker announced on 17 April 1950 that he would not be a candidate for reelection as chair of the Romance Language Department. He retired in 1955 at the obligatory retirement age of 70 ("Dr. Knickerbocker to Quit One Post," New York Times, 18 April, 1950; "Knickerbocker 70, Retires at College," New York Times, 21 September 1955).

In 1951, the new chair of the Department of Romance Languages, Professor William E. Colford, constituted a Ward Medal Committee consisting of himself and four faculty members. At its first meeting, a proposal was made that the committee make certain Nunc-pro-tune awards to correct for errors in past awards. On 16 May 1951, the committee unanimously approved Ward Medal awards for three Jewish students for the years 1939, 1943, 1945, and Ward Medal certificates of equal merit for three other Jewish students for the years 1940, 1941, and 1943. Colford, in his capacity as chair of the committee and department chair, met with President Wright to present the recommendations. Wright made it clear to Colford that "the Knickerbocker Case is closed," that he would not implement the committee's recommendations, and, moreover, made it plain to Colford that he was not to submit the recommendations formally. On 4 June 1951, Colford detailed to the faculty President Wright's objections and stated, "So, I did not make the recommendations" (Cross 1951).

At this point, it is worthwhile discussing the relationship between Hillel and the ADL in connection with the Knickerbocker cases. The principal source for this discussion, apart from my memory of the ADL's initial opposition to the publication of report of the CCNY Hillel committee in the Hillel News, is a copy of the 17 January 1949 response of the National Hillel Foundation (with Rabbi Zuckerman's handwritten annotations) to the Knickerbocker report prepared for the ADL by Jacob Grumet and dated 22 December 1948. I have not been able to obtain a copy of the Grumet report itself. Jacob Grumet was an attorney associated with the ADL.

The ostensible purpose of the report was "that the Civil Rights Committee [of the ADL] ought consider all the facts with respect to the Knickerbocker case, for the purpose of deciding what, if any, action the League should take in the matter." (National Hillel Foundation 1949,1). Its obvious purpose, however, was to criticize Rabbi Zuckerman for supporting the public involvement of the CCNY Hilllel Foundation in the protests against Knickerbocker despite the recommendation of the ADL not to do so. It even accused Zuckerman of being the source of the criticism of the ADL in the 27 March 1949 editorial of the Jewish Review and of providing Jewish Review with copies of the the CCNY Hillel report on Knickerbocker and Rabbi Zuckerman's statement from the Hillel News. To these charges, the National Hillel Foundation responded that Rabbi Zuckerman had not given any statement to the Jewish Review at any time (National Hillel Foundation 1949, 6). The ADL's initial position was that although it was clear that Knickerbocker should be removed, there was insufficient information available to warrant the request for reopening of the Knickerbocker case, despite the fact that the AJC had asked the BHE to do so. It was clear that the ADL did not want Hillel to engage in a public campaign around the issue, and offered only to work behind the scenes to effect Knickerbocker's retirement, for which there is no evidence that it even did that. The ADL faulted Rabbi Zuckerman for not controlling the Hillel students. The National Hillel Foundation responded to this by stating that "The Director may counsel and guide the students as he does. But it cannot be expected that he can control them completely. . . . Further the pressure of an aroused student body when it takes hold of an issue can be very great.. . . . It was through Rabbi Zuckerman's influence that the Hillel Executive Council did not approve an unlimited sitdown demonstration as advocated by the other groups on the campus" (National Hillel Foundation 1949, 2). The ADL's behavior in the Knickerbocker case was criticized in an editorial in the Jewish Review (27 March 1947). The Grumet attack on Rabbi Zuckerman had a profound effect on him, as evidenced by his annotations to his copy of the Grumet Report: "Will the ADL reverse its stand and for once go fighting?" In these annotations he accused the ADL of "sabotage of the effort to remove Knickerbocker" as I indicated earlier.

By the time of the 1949 strike, Zuckerman stood up to the ADL more strongly, supporting Hillel's public engagement in the Knickerbocker-Davis cases. He sharply disassociated himself from the anti-Communism of the ADL. In his article about the strike in the Reconstructionist, he wrote:

The Communist scare, without which no unusual event may take place in contemporary America, was exploited by the metropolitan press, with the exception of the New York Post [then more liberal than now-E.M], in an attempt to break the strike. Spearheading this effort was an editorial in the New York Times, which ignored the striker leaders' statement of purposes, misrepresented their aims and doused its readers with anti-red hysteria. (1949a)

Zuckerman remained supportive of Hillel student involvement in campus issues despite subsequent efforts by the National Hillel Foundation to restrict them. In 1950, in a letter to Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, National Director of the Hillel Foundations, he indicated his support of the objection of the CCNY Hillel Executive Council to the exercise of veto power by the National Hillel Foundation over the "use of the Hillel name in controversial situations with the College Administration" (1950).

Before ending this account of the Knickerbocker-Davis cases, I should comment on the nature of Communist involvement in them. Communists in the United States have always been in the forefront of civil rights struggles. They do so because they recognize that racism, apart from its exploitative aspects, is used to divert attention away from meaningful struggles against oppressive conditions. It is true that as a Communist and member of Hillel, I was primarily responsible for Hillel's initial involvement in the Knickerbocker case. But the case was initiated by the four professors who first complained about Knickerbocker's anti-Semitism. Student Communists and members of Communist-influenced campus groups played active roles in the protests, sometimes, but not always, taking on a leading role. What was behind the New York Times comment that the picket lines in the 1949 strike used "techniques common in Communist or Communist-led strikes"? These techniques are characterized by mass involvement of the pickets, with shouts of slogans and song, designed overcome the feelings of helplessness in a confrontation with a powerful foe, by enhancing the spirit of empowerment that is necessary for the development of the conscious understanding that the people have the power to effect changes in their lives. Several Student Council leaders, who viewed their involvement in student government as a forerunner to future establishment-oriented careers, were apprehensive of being associated with such techniques. On the eve of the strike, the New York Times quoted Leroy Galperin, a member of the Student Council Strike Committee as stating that the Communists were responsible for the politics of the earlier sit-down strike. "If there is any singing now, it will be Christmas carols," he said ("City College Strike Will Avoid 'Politics,'" New York Times, 10 April, 1949). Nevertheless, the New York Times reported, "Chanting pickets carried multi-colored signs. . . .and taunted non-strikers with cries of "scab" and "rat. To the accompaniment of banjo and mandolin, the pickets sang their slogans in clipped phrasing." There is nothing sinister about such tactics. They occurred quite frequently in trade-union struggles and continue to be used today. Considering the fact that at the time I graduated in January 1948, the CCNY student Communist club of the Communist Party had about 200 members, it should not be surprising that Communists and their political allies played an active role in the strike, although they did not lead it. Appearing for the sixteen arrested students at their arraignment were the attorneys Emanuel H. Bloch of the Civil Rights Congress (already on the Attorney General's list of Communist organizations), and Bert Diamond of the AJC, who said that he was brought in by Herbert J. Fabricant of the Young Progressives, another left-wing organization in which Communists took part but did not lead ("City College Students Clash with Police in 'Bias' Strike, New York Times¸ 12 April 1949).

Personal reflection on involvement in Knickerbocker Davis struggle

The motivations for my own role as a student Communist in the Knickerbocker-Davis cases was two-fold. One the one hand, as a Jewish engineering student from a working-class family I would, upon graduation, be facing job discrimination in the engineering profession because of my ethnic and class background. By engaging in a struggle against racism, I would be fighting for a securer future for myself and others who would be facing racial discrimination. By seeking to involve other students in militant struggle, I would be contributing to the understanding that joint action involving large numbers of people is an effective way for winning victories in such struggles, even if full success is not achieved in a particular struggle. As a Communist, I knew that processes of fundamental social change in a capitalist society required support of a population that was convinced that it had the power to bring about change and that mass involvement in struggles for reforms within the existing social system was necessary to develop the consciousness of the power to change the conditions of life. My own involvement and the involvement of Communists in general in the Knickerbocker-Davis case on these bases cannot be criticized as a foreign intrusion. Such mass actions were the necessary bases for abatement of anti-Semitism and the successes of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Although the Knickerbocker-Davis campaigns were still underway when the New York State Fair Education Practices Act outlawing discrimination in college admissions was passed in 1948, I have no doubt that they contributed to gathering of public and legislative support the passage of the Act.


Board of Higher Education. 1948. "Review of the Facts Concerning the Charges Made against Professor William E. Knickerbocker and the Romance Languages Department, The City College. 11 November. Romance Languages Department Investigation "Knickerbocker Case," Archives Division of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library at the City College of New York.

Commission on Law and Social Action, American Jewish Congress. 1946. In the Matter of the Romance Languages Department of the College of the cityof New York: Analysis of the Record [by William Maslow and Shirley Adelson]. Submitted to Board of Higher Education, City of New York, 10 September 1946. College." 8 November. Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman files. Association of Hillel and Jewish Campus Professionals Collection. Manuscript Collection 104. Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. Cincinnati Campus, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion.

Cross, Ephraim. 1951. "Cheating at the City College: Part II of Facts in the Case Against Professor Knickerbocker, Chairman of the Romance Languages Department. November.  Knickerbocker Case, Reports, 1951. Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. Cincinnati Campus, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion.

Delany, Hubert T. 1949. Letter to Nelson P. Mead, 18 January. President's Committee to Investigate Complaints of Discrimination in Army Hall Collection. City College of the City University of New York, Archives and Special Collections of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library of the City College of New York..

Engel, Marvin. 1999. "CCNY Student Strikes, 1948-1949. Jewish Currents (December): 4-7, 58.

Fogel, Robert, and Jack Cohen. 1949. "Students Strike at Racism." Jewish Life, June, 22-24.

Gottschall, Morton. 1949. Manuscript of letter to the editor of the New York Post 15 April. "Knickerbocker Case," Archives Division of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library at the City College of New York.

Hillel News. 1947. "Community Action Committee Charges Knickerbock Guilty of Anti-Semitism,"  vol. 3, no. 3, 17 March. "Knickerbocker Case," Archives Division of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library at the City College of New York.

Müller, Otto, and Ephraim Cross. 1949. "Facts in the Case Against Professor William E. Knickerbocker, Chairman of the Department of Romance Languages, The City College. April. "Knickerbocker Case," Archives Division of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library at the City College of New York.

National Hillel Foundation. 1949. "Analysis of Knickerbocker Report Submitted by Jacob Grumet, Dec. 11, 1948." Prepared 17 January 1949. Photocopy annotated by Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman, 18 January 1949. "Knickerbocker Case," Archives Division of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library at the City College of New York.

New York Lawyer Guild. 1949. "Paul O'Dwyer Urges B. of H. E. to Act on Knickerbocker," 7, no. 1 (January): 6

Observation Post. 1949a. "Council Calls Strike for Today after Students Vote Approval," 11 April.

---. 1949b. "Referendum Results Support Strike: Delany Hits Adminstration at Rally," 11 April

Report of the City Council. 1948. "Report of the City Council on Romance Languages Department , College of the City of New York. [Report of the Special Committee on Discrimination M-274]. 22 June. Reprinted by B'nai B'rith Hillel foundation at the City College of the New York and the American Jewish Congress. "Knickerbocker Case," Archives Division of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library at the City College of New York.

Students for Wallace Flier. 1949. "Knickerbocker Case," Archives Division of the Morris Raphael Cohn Library at the City College of New York. Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman files. Association of Hillel and Jewish Campus Professionals Collection. Manuscript Collection 104. Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. Cincinnati Campus, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion.

Zuckerman, Arthur. 1949a. "The City College Student Strike and Academic Freedom." The Reconstructionist, 15, no. 7:22-26.

---. 1949b. Letter to Lester Waldman, 22 March. Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman files. Association of Hillel and Jewish Campus Professionals Collection. Manuscript Collection 104. Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. Cincinnati Campus, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion.

---. 1950. Letter to Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, 24 March. Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman files. Association of Hillel and Jewish Campus Professionals Collection. Manuscript Collection 104. Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. Cincinnati Campus, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion.



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  • This is an excellent article. It contains a wealth of fascinating, first-hand information and it's historical exactitude is admirable. PA needs to publish more articles like Erwin Marquit's on the ground-breaking role of the CPUSA in struggles like this one against racism and anti-Semitism at CUNY in the late 1940s.

    Posted by Peter Zerner, 04/22/2013 9:34am (9 years ago)

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