Thursday, July 9, 2009

Retired Teacher and Activist George Fishman Dies at 92

New Haven Independent

by Staff | July 7, 2009 11:02 AM | Permalink |

George M. Fishman passed away peacefully at his Wooster Street home on Tuesday, June 30, 2009. During the 13 years that he and wife Edie lived in New Haven, he became well known for his scholarship and his activism on behalf of democratic rights, human rights and peace.

Fishman, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 6, 1917 to immigrant parents, was a high school social science and history teacher. He held a PhD in history from Temple University.

Since 1938 he was actively involved in African American and labor studies, as researcher, writer and teacher. A member of many professional organizations, his articles were published in academic and popular journals. A selection of his work, “For a Better World. A Miscellany: Writings 1952-2002 on the African American People’s Freedom/Equality Struggles in New Jersey History” was completed in 2002. He was a member of AFT Retirees Chapter 933R in New Haven.

From 1938 to 1941 Fishman was a staff member of a Works Projects Administration (WPA) teaching unit. It pioneered in staff development in African American life, history and culture and in conducting classes in labor unions and community organizations.

During the fight against fascism in World War II he was a radio man aboard a Landing Ship Medium (#361) in the Pacific. His service included teaching English. He was awarded four medals: American Theater, Asian-Pacific, Philippine Liberation and Victory.

Following the war, he taught social studies, history and mathematics mainly in the public secondary schools of Philadelphia but also in New Jersey until his retirement in August, 1984.

In 1952 during the McCarthy period he was forced to leave his teaching position as part of the general purge of progressives including Communists, labor activists and civil rights advocates from public life.
He went to work at Campbell’s Soup in Camden, New Jersey where he lived with his family. He was a union shop steward and leader of Local 80A United Packinghouse Workers of America, CIO for eight years.

He returned to teach in Philadelphia in 1968 until retirement when the school system repudiated past discriminatory practices and all teachers were invited back.

In 1985, while living in Highland Park, New Jersey, he was a candidate for Governor of New Jersey on the Communist Party ticket. His campaign highlighted the needs of public education, especially of multiracial urban schools.

In 1994 George and Edie Fishman received the Ida B. Wells Community Service Award from the NAACP.

Fishman, who said he lived “a life with a purpose,” participated in community, civil rights, labor and world affairs throughout his life. He took part in the great struggles for unemployment compensation and social security in the 1930’s, the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the broad social movements for progressive change of today.

He was well-respected and loved for his forward thinking vision, dedication to building unity, commitment and courage, and his active concern for the needs and well-being of family, friends and the broader community.

George Fishman is survived by wife Edie, daughter Joelle and son-in-law Arthur Perlo in New Haven and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial celebration will be held on Sunday, September 6. Messages and memorial contributions can be sent to: New Haven Peoples Center, 37 Howe Street, New Haven CT 06511 or via e-mail to

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