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History


1. LARRY FRIEDMAN WRITES ABOUT THE EARLY DAYS OF VANGUARD.
2. HENRY GRINBERG WRITES ABOUTS THE LEGACY OF VANGUARDIANS.


THE EARLY DAYS OF VANGUARD
By Larry Friedman

Almost all of us have vivid memories of October 6, 1950, the day that VANGUARD ceased to exist. But how many know of its birth in 1936 at 57 Willoughby Street in downtown Brooklyn?

VANGUARD began as the successor to PIONEER, staffed by men and aimed at a male readership, and SPOTLIGHT, the female version. The first editorial on February 28, 1936 carried the headline “We Take Our Stand” and stated: “We are not discarding the liberal traditions of either of the former newspapers—traditions based on faithfulness, dependability and honesty…We shall be faithful to the student body by publishing a newspaper which is representative of their interests…We shall necessarily ally ourselves with those youth organizations which are progressive in their principles, for Brooklyn College students have shown that they realize the necessity of working for the establishment of peace, the maintenance of academic and civil freedom and adequate educational facilities for all.”

The editorial continued: “We shall be honest in facing present conditions, honest and analyzing their solutions…If we succeed in making ourselves felt as a vital force in the College, not only in reporting activities, but in directing and guiding them, we feel that we shall successfully perform our function as the Brooklyn College newspaper.”

The new VANGUARD was increased to six columns and contained six pages, a format larger than either of the old SPOTLIGHT or PIONEER. The first issue was not marked Vol. 1, No. 1, but was Vol. XI, No. 1, probably in deference to the heritage of its predecessors.

There were 26 young men and women who led VANGUARD as editors-in-chiefs:

Melvin Saltzman; Ida Schwalberg; Beatrice Gomberg (twice); Harold Boxer; Leon Horowitz (twice); Jerome Zeitlin; William Rapp; Gerson Goodman; Edith Gottschalk; Leo Bogart; Beatrice Gelber; Israel Goldiamond (twice); George Schwartz; Victor Bumagin; Mildred Strum (twice); Thelma Rosenberg (twice); Shirley Sirota; Bert Hochman; Hy Farber; Irving Goldaber; George Auerbach; Norman Erdos; Norma Lieberman (twice); Mitchel Levitas; Arthur Lack; and William Taylor.

Because the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) was so much in the news of the college during the years of VANGUARD, it is interesting to note a November 6, 1936 news story by Maia Turchin with no attempt at objectivity headlined: “The Goose-step Invasion of the R.O.T.C. on the Campus.” A subhead says that the writer finds ROTC to be “jingoistic organization.” The article opens with this paragraph: “At a time when school budgets have been cut drastically, wages slashed, hospitals closed and the nation still confronted with the problem of 12 million unemployed, the United States Congress callously passed the billion dollar war budget. From this staggering sum, a direct appropriation of 6 million dollars was given to the R.O.T.C.”

Later in the article, the writer states: “The type of citizenship that is obtained by military education…leads to uncritical nationalism, bringing habits of blind obedience to authority. Blind obedience and uncritical nationalism are of value to a Fascist dictator. They can serve no worthy purpose in a democratic community, where youth acts on its own initiative and according to its own judgment.”

In the second edition of the new VANGUARD on March 6, 1936 there was an article about a new play, “Bury the Dead,” opening on Broadway that was written by Irwin Shaw, class of 1934, and he is described as the first Brooklyn College graduate “to achieve any sort of widespread fame.” He spent five years at the college and for two years wrote a column for SPOTLIGHT called “P’Shaw.” In the story he is quoted as giving his plan for ending Communism in colleges. “First you feed all the students—you can’t reason with hungry men. And then you give every student a father with a fat pocketbook and lots of clothes and an automobile. And then there’ll be no more Communism.”

Irwin Shaw, of course, went on to a distinguished literary career, which included five plays, 84 short stories and 12 novels. He also was a prolific screenwriter. His most famous novels were The Young Lions, 1948, and Rich Man, Poor Man, 1970. He died in 1984. The Irwin Shaw Papers are housed at the Brooklyn College Library.


THE LEGACY

VANGUARD STAFFERS: CONSTITUTIONALLY LOYAL AND TRUE
By Henry Grinberg, Class of 1952

That we veterans of the Brooklyn College Vanguard cherish a fierce attachment to our old campus newspaper is no surprise. I remember staff members on every level of responsibility, whether editorial board or tyros, applying themselves with equal amounts of dedication, balance, and good humor. As young idealists, we attempted to apply to our own lives the stirring democratic principles to which we were exposed in the classroom. Moreover, all of us carried in our minds the all-too-recent hard fought victory over the Nazis. Some of us had participated in that conflict.

It is no exaggeration to say that President Harry D. Gideonse’s peremptory suspension of Vanguard in 1950, and the nullification of its charter on clearly improvised and self-serving political motives, hit staff members and many other students particularly hard. The so-called justifications for the action, centering on line-lengths of opposing editorials—permitting no discussion, seemed particularly brutal and arbitrary. Staff members had for years been inured to the baffling nastiness directed at them from the President’s quarters just across the hall from the Vanguard offices on the second floor of Boylan. But the suspension was shocking and designed to be particularly hurtful to young idealists eager to exercise the lessons of liberty that they had been absorbing in their classrooms.

Not that staff members of Vanguard had to rely solely on academic principles. Remember, these young people for the most part were bright, curious, and aggressive. Many subsequently made their marks in journalism and advocacy of many kinds. They were and are used to braininess and articulation. The Gideonse brand of cynicism did not merely violate principle and comity, but was also designed to humiliate and infantilize.

Vanguard veterans display to this day their qualities of intellectual toughness and gifts for forthright expression. For instance, some who responded to my appeal for recollections surrounding the suspension of the paper insisted, I suspect with some indignation, that meaningful memory did not begin or end with that closedown.

For instance, Pearl Shaine Panes, Associate Managing Editor in 1947, recalls that the battle in those days was between the women on staff and the returning GI’s who sought to oust them to reclaim the “rightful” domination of men. It’s clear that Pearl was divided on the topic. She asks, on the one hand, “What more could a teenage coed want” than to be surrounded by all those war veterans on campus? On the other hand, her attempt to run for editor-in-chief was stymied by a nefarious campaign, she claims, to exclude female candidates. But the post of chief editor was won by a Silver Star war hero, Jack Panes, whom she married.

Shirley Lubowitz Wershba is another respondent who kindly but firmly takes me to task for suggesting that life began in 1950. She reminds me of Vanguard ‘s previous vibrant existence. “Some of us old Vanguardians have memories that date back to the years before the ’50s. Some even go back to the late thirties and early forties. AND WE’RE STILL HERE!” I am properly chastened. Both Shirley and her husband, Joseph Wershba, of course have distinguished careers in television and authorship.

Ann J. Lane, who continues to teach at the University of Virginia, recalls, movingly, that “being on Vanguard was probably the highlight of my college life, even for one year.” She too comments on the “degree of sexism [on staff]” in the forties and fifties. Nevertheless, she asserts, she was “thrilled” to be on the team, which she was for a year, before President Gideonse shut us down. She describes an earlier life of tentative, unfocused forays into politics. “Then I found Vanguard, and that became who I was and how I found my sense of place.” She adds that, after the suspension, DRAUGNAV (“Vanguard” spelled backward and our “unofficial,” replacement college paper) was published out of her home for a number of weeks until the enterprise ran out of funds, donated by many hundreds of students.

Ann has not lost her fighting edge. In forthright fashion, she is completing a study on the provocative topic of “consensual sexual relations between faculty and students in the American academy,” adding that she has collected “hundreds of stories” on the subject.

Exemplifying an identical spirit, Jack Leavitt (Class of January ’51) writes from California that he still suffers from the “infection” of righteous defiance in the face of injustice. Jack is an attorney representing an indigent client, pro bono, who has been on death row for some 16 years. That client, heartbreakingly, has decided that his life behind bars is no life and has determined to cease efforts to stay his death sentence. Apparently, the Court refuses to recognize Jack as the new attorney of record and has slapped fines of over $10,000 for contempt of court. Jack asks, “Do any of you respectable folks, long removed from campus green with towers of marble, know of a cure for . . . doing the right thing?”

Ruth Drescher Dombrow (Class of ’52), not a member of the Vanguard staff, but an enthusiastic supporter, felt so strongly for the cause that she volunteered her time and energy to distribute (outside the campus gates, of course) copies of DRAUGNAV and Campus News, both published for a time by the Vanguard staff in an attempt to keep Vanguard alive in spirit although moribund in practice.

Geri Cohen Stevens, a former Vanguard managing editor, writes from La Jolla, California, of her powerful memories. Like Pearl Sheine Panes, she too had to contend with returning veterans vying for a place in the Vanguard sun. Her first impressions of them were keen: “Old, smug, self-assured, foulmouthed, and scary.” But after a while, she was able to relax. “Their conviction that they were on the cusp of the society in flux was palpable. And in time I made myself a part of it all. We really believed we were the good guys who were fighting to make Brooklyn College a better place.” The shutdown was “obviously catastrophic and traumatic for all of us. . . ...I believe that all who shared in that experience developed a bond that has, if anything, strengthened over the years. I don’t know if the ’Vanguard network,’ with its sense of solidarity and mutual loyalties, would have emerged or remained as strong and viable over the years had it not been born of adversity. . . . My Vanguard experiences were among the most important of my growing-up years. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!”

From London, where he has been living for many years, active as a historian and journalist, Norman Gelb contributes the following eloquent thoughts:

“There is a memory of the warm camaraderie among us on the staff of Vanguard, especially when it was under pressure in its dying months. We felt that we were a valiant band of brothers and sisters, resisting the powers of darkness and evil. Most of my courses at Brooklyn College were greatly stimulating, but my true sense of belonging there was to the Vanguard community. Our office was a place of welcome, playfulness, pride, and special identity.

“[There] I learned some of the basic disciplines of the profession I was to follow for many years as a news correspondent in Europe before turning to writing history. Vanguard was where I received the stimulus to pursue a career in journalism. “I remember the ceaseless give-and-take of ideas and whimsy in the Vanguard office. . . That was where we extracted the most pleasure and kicks from the ideas factory that Brooklyn College was for us. But there was something more specific in our Vanguard experience. We all had known what freedom of the press was supposed to mean. But it was there, when we were being shut down, that we learned what denial of freedom of the press meant, its wrongness, its wickedness. I still feel a sense of loss whenever I hear that a newspaper is forced to close, for whatever reason.”

Vanguardians (and other readers) who care to add to these reminiscences are welcome to send them to:

Henry Grinberg
e-mail: hgrinberg@eclipse.net

 


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