Frances Goldin, Housing Activist

goldinFrances Goldin is an accomplished affordable housing activist and literary agent. She is the only surviving founding member of the Cooper Square Committee and has been active for over 50 years, fighting to save her neighborhood from destruction by construction running through the Lower East Side. In 2013, her committee’s alternative renewal plan was finally adopted and nearly 2,400 families previously at risk of displacement were able to secure their apartments for the next 200 years. She was a Clara Lemlich honoree in 2011.

Interview by Sereene Kurzum

I used to live in Queens, but it was a very uninvolved community. After I got married I decided to move to 11th street, to Cooper Square, and I found nirvana. I moved to 11th street between 2nd and 3rd and lived in a five-flight walk up. I heard that there was an organization called a tenant council, in the building of the American Labor Party on 2nd avenue. I initially went to the organization because I wanted to find out if I was paying the right rent. When I went over, they took all my information, and they said to come back in one week. I came back one week later, and they told me I was paying the right rent after all. It was $65 a month. Then they said, “You seem intelligent, would you like to come work in the tenant council and help us out?”. I said sure, and I’ve worked with the tenant council ever since. I never left.

Then in 1959, Robert Moses wanted to build a freeway through the Lower East Side to make it easier for rich people to get to their jobs on Wall Street. It would have destroyed our neighborhood. That’s when we formed the Cooper Square Committee. Cooper Square came up with a plan to build public housing on vacant lots and then move people right into that affordable housing in their neighborhood. We organized and demonstrated and finally beat him 50 years later.

It was a few years ago, when everybody who lived on 3rd and 4th street, between 2nd avenue and the Bowery, came out with their families and signed leases to secure their apartments for the next 200 years. Everyone came out, there was a lawyer there, they notarized their leases, and that was that. They owned their apartments for the next 200 years. This was the moment I knew we had won. Everybody who came to sign kissed me and said, “You helped us do this, thank you!” I mean, it was wonderful. Yes, it was quite wonderful.

I’ve been involved with affordable housing organizations through all those 50 years, and I was very active in meetings and organizations. I never stopped being active. When you stay active, it’s good for your health.

I have this sign that reads, “I adore my lesbian daughters” on the front, and “Difference enriches us all” written across the back. I had a friend who was very artistic. I asked him to letter that sign for me and he did. I took it to the parade that year and it was the most popular sign at the parade. Lesbians and gay men would rush to me and say, “Would you call my mother?”, “Would you contact my father?” Of course, I’d call them. I’d tell them about an organization called PFLAG that works with parents of gays and lesbians to help them learn to accept and understand their children. I’d give them the number of that group. I hope they called them. Continue reading

Connie Hogarth, Civil Rights Activist

conniehogarth-tnConnie Hogarth is a co-founder of WESPAC, the Westchester People’s Action Coalition, as well as the Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. She was an active organizer with the 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson. Her activism contributed to the closing of Indian Point, the ending of apartheid in South Africa, and spurred local movements in environmental protection, human rights, gay rights, civil rights, affordable housing and equal educational opportunities. She has lived in New York all her life, traveled extensively, and she continues to be active in the Beacon Sloop Club, the Duchess County and Fishkill Democratic Committees, and the Southern Duchess County NAACP. She currently resides in Beacon, NY, overlooking the Hudson River. She was a Clara Lemlich honoree in 2012.

Interview by Larissa Ross

I grew up in Brooklyn–in all its different phases and faces, Brooklyn is a great place.

My father was, in some part, a musician. He used to have a band in the Catskills, and he played the organ and the piano for silent movies.

As movies progressed and the talkies came about, he was out of a job. My uncle and my father got jobs as projectionists, and they had a strong union. I used to walk the picket line with my father when I was seven or eight years old. We won most of the labor struggles and I say that it’s possible: it is possible to be a community of workers, to resist and to win.

My mother was very feisty; rather a premature feminist. So, I had two positive role-models:A strong woman for my mother, and a father with a background of working-class success stories.

That was all in the Depression, and in those days, landlords would offer one month’s free rent to people moving in, so we moved a lot– just about every year. It created a lot of flexibility in me; in making friends and losing friends. By the time I got to high school, though, we actually bought a little house in Brooklyn.

I had an extraordinary, wonderful high school experience. It was the beginning of  the very positive effect of the Communist Labor Movement, of the Arts. Henry Foner taught at my high school, believe it or not. It was full of marvelous, progressive people and had a very positive impact on me.

I decided early on that I wanted to be a doctor, even though I loved painting and music and art. When I finished high school, I won just about every medal and award at graduation–I was an excellent student. Even with all this, I could not get into Barnard, because I needed a scholarship. It was a real rejection and I was quite disappointed.

Still, my parents always helped me to develop a confidence, a strong sense of myself, an ego. Despite the setback, I had to keep moving on. I went to Hunter College for a year and a half–commuting from Brooklyn. Then, I got a full scholarship to go to the University of Chicago. This grand disappointment turned into a positive–you can look at life that way if you see the possibilities.

I spent four years at the University of Chicago as a pre-med major, and as I graduated in pre-med,  I married my first husband–a man I’d known from high school–as he graduated from medical school. He took an internship at Mount Sinai while I applied to med schools in New York–that was about 1948. It was a tough road trying to get into medical school as a woman, who needed a scholarship. In the interim, I worked at Mount Sinai doing research on a drug for multiple myeloma.

In that time, I started to dance. I had danced in Chicago, but I got a scholarship to study modern dance in New York. I had to make a choice–do I want to keep trying to get into med school, or do I want to dance? I chose to dance.

That was well and good until one day I was working with some liver samples at Mount Sinai. Things were done differently then, we didn’t have as much knowledge about certain diseases. I used to be sent down to the morgue to take liver samples from some of the cadavers–I had to aspirate the samples myself, and I got hepatitis. I spent a month in the hospital with the illness which effectively ended my dance career–not my interest, just the formal career. Continue reading

Molly Klopot, Women’s Activist

MollyKlopotMolly Klopot is a lifelong activist. For many years, she headed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s New York Chapter, initiating the active “gaggle” of the Raging Grannies. She had been involved in similar activities since the start of the Cold War, serving in East Berlin with the Women’s International Democratic Federation to develop international attention to women’s issues. A Detroit native, she was active in United Auto Worker strikes and demonstrations. She worked in the then-new Social Security Administration, where she worked to organize the first State, County and Municipal Workers of America union. She worked as a riveter and was among the first women to be a union rep. Later at Columbia University’s School of Social Work, she taught and counseled union members and worked with pregnant teens. She was a 2013 Clara Lemlich honoree.

Interview by Sereene Kurzum

Growing up, my father was a Communist and we were involved in a fraternal organization called the International Workers Order. This was a mutual benefit, Communist-affiliated organization. We were provided with medical care, the kids were taught to read and write in Yiddish, these were the kinds of services and cultural activities offered.

As Jews, we had our own organization with our own cultural activities, and the Poles had their organization, and it was divided up culturally like this. However, we all came together and existed as a community through the workers camp. We had choirs for the children and the adults, and we’d put on shows and plays for each other. We would all go to this same camp and come together as a community. This was the community I grew up in.

I was also a member of the Young Pioneers, a youth Communist organization. Because I was the chair, I would open all the meetings. We’d open them by singing the Internationale, a song for the workers of the world, and I’d shout, “Pioneers for the cause of the working class, are you ready?”, and they’d respond, “Always ready!” I’d say it with such fervor. We would have meetings and learn about how people lived and why it was a big time for organizing unions. I learned about the history of the working class, the beginning of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the fight for unionization.

I was heavily influenced by my father, and by belonging to the International Workers Order. I was meeting all these different kinds of people and working together with them. Another influence was belonging to the Young Pioneers. We were always reading and always studying, but at the same time, we were together as friends, and we’d sing and dance and have fun together. Even the parents belonged to choirs, and they’d have concerts. So we had this feeling of solidarity. This was our culture. It is why I have always had the feeling of being one with the world. Despite the bad experiences in life, despite being jailed several times. Because from the very beginning, I was always part of a bigger world. It’s how I grew up.

This was a time when the KKK were very active. One day at the worker’s camp, we were to have a meeting. We were all crowded into a big hall, filled with people, and the kids were outside talking. Then the KKK came. They had come to burn down the camp. They were downstairs, and they were going to get us when we left. So what did we do? We organized the kids to go marching around the hall singing our worker songs. By the time we finished the meeting and got downstairs, the cops had chased them away. These are the kinds of experiences I had.

I’ve spent much of my life organizing unions with a focus on women’s issues. The first union meeting I went to, they had never seen a woman at these union meetings. I was going to talk, and some man said something like, “Oh, this little lady wouldn’t!” So I got up to answer and I said what I wanted to say. Then they finally let me talk. Wherever I worked, I was always in a union. I always organized around women’s issues as well.

I worked as a social worker before and after the war. I began with Social Security, which provided aid to the blind, aid to dependent children, old age assistance, and so on. We organized a union there. I later went to LA and got a job in a hospital as a social worker, then moved to San Francisco, where I continued my social work. I organized unions in both those places.

When the war began and all the men went out to serve, they wanted the women to take over the factory jobs, so I got a job at Ford factory in Highland Park. There were all these women, the mothers and wives of the men who were overseas, working at the factory. The factory was supposed to be putting them to work making war missiles and things like that, which it was getting government money for. Instead, women were sitting around reading, and they weren’t given any work. So I organized all the women, I called the newspapers, and we had a picket line in front of the factory. Not to keep people from going in, but to let them know what was going on. So we were able to unionize there. That wasn’t the end of it though. Issues would arise and I’d continue to challenge the factory. For instance, I noticed that the factory was not hiring any black women, even those who were trained and qualified. So I organized a picket line for that as well. Again, not to keep people from going in, but to raise awareness. All the newspapers wrote about it. After that, the factory began hiring black women. I also organized a fashion show, showing the women how to cover their hair so it wouldn’t get caught in the machines, but still look good. That was in the newspapers as well.

Near the end of the war, the women had just gotten 40 cents an hour. The men of course still made more, but they made a big deal of honoring all the women who had worked in the factories and helped out during the war. They honored us, then the war ended, and they fired all of us.

These were the kinds of experiences of solidarity I had. When Paul Robeson sang at Peekskill, I was there. And, though I didn’t know it yet, so was my future husband. This was the concert that sparked the Peekskill riots, which were rooted in racism and antisemitism. Paul Robeson was up on a stand, and surrounding the field were all these people holding arms, forming a chain, throughout the concert. My husband was one of these people holding hands. Later when we left, we saw that the cops had been patrolling the entrance, letting one car out at a time, holding others back. There were men standing with stones, all throwing the stones at the cars. One man lost sight in his eye. A rock was thrown into  his window and the glass shattered and a shard had hit his eye. I was lucky I didn’t get hurt. But these were the kinds of experiences I had, and in the end, I was lucky to have had them.

We went to the Board of Education of a school once. It had something to do with discrimination against black students, I don’t remember what the exact issue had been. But I do remember that the cops chased us out. So, I ran into a nearby street car and I sat down next to an African-American woman. The cop came to the door of the car and he was looking over everybody, and it was quite obvious he had been chasing me. The black woman who I was sitting next to, who I didn’t know, said “She’s with me.”  So, the cop turned around and left. So I’ve had these experiences of solidarity in my life. Continue reading

Maddy Simon, Musician, Activist

maddysimonMaddy Simon is an accomplished social activist, educator, and musician who has attended and led many rallies for causes such as labor issues and peace, among many social justice issues. Maddy was a professional choral conductor of many amateur choruses throughout the New York area. She also taught music in the New York high schools for over 25 years and was involved in Camp Kinderland for 70 years where she used musicals to teach campers the importance of social activism. Maddy is still involved in social activism through attending rallies and demonstrations and by teaching weekly Yiddish classes. She was a Clara Lemlich honoree in 2011.

Interviewed by Lilly Engeler

Since childhood, I have been very involved in social activism. Perhaps my biggest influence for this was growing up in a workers’ cooperative colony in the Bronx. This was one of the first projects that was built and it was very left wing and similar to a co-op of today financially. There were about 750 families living in the two blocks in a racially accepting community that was mostly first generation Jewish. We called it the coops. It started in around 1927 and my parents were original investors. It was an ideal place for children to grow up – everyone knew everybody else, there were gardens and playgrounds. There were also political, sports, social, and science clubs for the children growing up there. The adults were all socially active as well. As a matter of fact, my mother marched on City Hall to get a playground.

Overall, it was a very special place to grow up in, and I was raised as a left-winger because of it. That is why I respect people who are political activists who come from no political background – for me it was very easy, because I just grew into it. That is also why when I got the Clara Lemlich award, I was like, “Who, me?”, because what I did were ordinary things, I just participated in a lot of things during my lifetime.

I believed that at the time I was growing up, that 98% of the world was like me, as a left-winger, progressive, and believing in justice for everybody. Along with the influence from the coops, it was also very easy for me to fall into political activity because my parents were in it, and my friends were in it, and that’s what everyone did. My parents belonged to a left wing, Jewish organization, and as I grew, I became part of that world also. When I was a child my parents took me to rallies and I would march along with them – I went to rallies during the Second World War when I was very young.

As a teen, I belonged to a group called American Youth for Democracy. This was around the time when Henry Wallace, a progressive third-party candidate, was running in 1948. There was a major movement to elect Henry Wallace. There were songs about him, which I loved – “It’s the same old merry-go-round, which one will you ride this year? The donkey and elephant bob up and down, on the same old merry-go-round.” We had several songs like that, and my friends and I went to Henry Wallace rallies and we sang them. This was my social experience – I was 16, and this was what I did for fun. This was a time of the famous hootenannies with folk music becoming important. These hootenannies had performers who were all left-wing and the audience, including me, learned many political songs about current issues of the day.

Music thus became a huge influence on my life and became my main channel for social activism. I had perfect pitch, and as a result it was ordained that I should be a musician. I went to a high school called Music and Art, (now called LaGuardia High School) and I also took piano lessons from an early age for fourteen years.

Continue reading

Lubow Wolynetz, Museum Curator

wolynetzLubow Wolynetz is the curator of folk art at the Ukrainian Museum on the Lower East Side in New York City.  Born in Ukraine, she spent four years in a displaced persons camp in Germany following World War II, and then immigrated to the United States with her family. She studied at Hunter College and earned a Master in Library Science from Columbia University. She organized the Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford and continues to teach embroidery and other traditional crafts at the museum on the Lower East Side. She was a Clara Lemlich award winner in 2017.

Interview by Larissa Ross

Some things kind of fall into your lap. I think it starts with the family. When I was growing up, we lived according to certain traditions. I was interested in the details: Why do we do this thing or that? Why in this way? What is the purpose?  I wanted to know.

I was six when we had to leave Ukraine. We were fleeing the Bolsheviks in a covered wagon, bombs blazing, through war.

When we finally landed in this little town in Germany, my mother went through to see what we had and what we did not have. She saw that I had outgrown my embroidered shirt.

So, I had no embroidered shirt, and this is a big thing for Ukrainians. She had some cloth–my mother was a seamstress–and all the other women got together bits of thread and things, whatever they had, and my mother made the shirt. I remember putting it on; it was a really important moment. In the middle of everything, the fact that I had to have this piece of tradition was meaningful.

I forgot about that for a long time until this guy from our camp who lived in California wanted to put a film together about our camp. I saw myself in this embroidered shirt and it struck me. I think a lot of my love of tradition started then.

While we were in the displaced persons camp, I remember this little photo studio opened up in the German town and a lot of people went to have their picture taken. Everyone gathered together different pieces of traditional clothing for the photos, and the result was all of these pictures of people in traditional Ukrainian costume; it was as if to say, “we made it. We survived.” Continue reading

Etta Dixon, Dancer, Healer


Etta Dixon, Brooklyn born, began dancing as a child, starting to dance at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom (the only integrated ballroom in New York), eventually becoming a competitive dancer in exhibitions, competitions and contests, and she’s still dancing. She also worked for DC 37, the municipal employees union, and works today in dance and health and wellness outreach. She advises neighbors about diet, exercise and a more stress-free life at Brookdale Hospital and the Mt. Ararat Center in Brooklyn. She was a Clara Lemlich award winner in 2016

Interview by Julia Gagliardi

Whenever I talk to younger people, I always ask them how old they are. I say, “How old are you, twenty? Well. I was sixty-four when you were born.” You don’t ever hear older people say, “Wow, I was sixty-four when you were born.” Why is that? But I say it. It makes an impression.

I need to make an impression. I’m a walking wellness witness. But I’m an example in the flesh. Because I’m not having the same problems my peers are having. They have arthritis. Or they have high blood pressure. They have all these health problems. But I help them by telling them what they need.

I teach workshops for the elderly at the Brookdale Hospital and the Mount Ararat Center. And every Thursday of the month, I hold an open house for the neighborhood at my house, on the corner of Bushwick and 2nd Avenue. We only serve the healthy stuff, like salads. That’s probably the only good thing people eat all week. And they need it! They also need all the wellness advice they can get!

Every week, I go to the Senior Citizen Center to do bodywork and wellness work. One time, I came and I announced, “I’m here to do bodywork!” And all the old people there look at me and they told me they don’t need bodywork. They don’t need my health advice. They say, “I’m going to meet my Maker. I’m going to a better place. I’m going to meet my Creator.” When I got through to them, they changed their minds. You know what I told them? You’re going to hear it, you’re going to get a good hearing. I told them, “We don’t have one Brittany or one Whitney. We have a whole barrage of them, a tribe of them out there. They’re trying to get through a storm. And here you are, who survived the storm. You need to be here, to let them know how to get through that storm and survive them. And guess what? Since you’re the only person who knows how to get through the storm, you are the most important person on Earth. When I told them that, they changed their minds. They were so happy to be the most important person on Earth!

Continue reading

Anne Foner, Professor, Volunteer


By Lizbeth Brosnan

Anne Foner, retired sociology professor, reminisces easily about her students and their ever-stimulating conversations. However, her least favorite part about 25 years of teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey was the large volume of papers she had to grade.

After her husband, Mo,  became ill, she moved from Queens to Manhattan and cut back on her own writing and publishing, and turned to volunteer work.

Anne has two daughters and one granddaughter. One daughter lives on the Manhattan’s East side, while the other lives in her same Westside apartment building. She sees her family often and plans on getting together with them for the holidays.

After mandated retirement, Anne did not leave the field of sociology right away. She continued to be involved in academic publishing for as long as she could. “I was really lucky to continue to work,” Anne explained.

She also continued to volunteer at a number of places, Anne describes as a “continuity of what I was doing before.”  To Anne, retirement presented opportunity, adding that it is a  myth is that retirement is a terrible thing in which you lose all contacts and any meaningful work. She explains how not everything falls apart, and that it is just a different stage of life.

One organization where Anne had volunteered after retirement was called Partners in Conversation in Queens. Here, Anne helped those who did not know much English practice their English skills through conversation. She worked with a diverse group of men and women, ranging in age. Anne shared that when looking for somewhere to volunteer, “trying to find something interesting is not easy.”

As she got older, Anne also continued to teach classes at NYU. Anne had a long and extremely interesting career and is very lucky to be able to have continued to work in the field that she loved for so many years.




Freddy, Manager, Burger Lodge

By Lizbeth Brosnan

Burger Lodge, located on East 189th Street in the Bronx between Belmont and Cambreleng Avenue is a staple restaurant for Fordham students, catering to their desire for some traditional comfort food. The menu is large and diverse and the atmosphere is especially welcoming.  Hungry Fordham students can always be found in this popular joint.

The warm and welcoming atmosphere is something that makes Burger Lodge especially enjoyable for customers.

In talking to Freddy, manager of Burger Lodge, we learned some about his family and the history of the restaurant, which opened last February. Freddy spoke with pride and respect about his son, Ferso, who is not only a student at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, but the actual owner of Burger Lodge.  It is easy to tell that he is very proud of his son for accomplishing his dream of establishing a popular restaurant for college students.

Freddy, originally from Macedonia, has lived in the Bronx ever since coming to the United States.

The best part about Burger Lodge, he says, is that “The customers are happy with the food”. Everyone is always happy with the food. Freddy explained how the customers are mostly students from Fordham. There is even a Burger Lodge challenge, nicknamed “Lodgezilla” by a Fordham University student.


Mary Douglas, Hospital Volunteer


Mary Douglas, Retired Schoolteacher

and Volunteer at St. Barnabas Hospital

by Katie Russo

Mary Douglas was introduced as a volunteer at St. Barnabas Hospital, but we quickly learned that she was so much more than that.

Douglas was born in the Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk region of North Carolina as Mary Albritton. Her parents were farmers. The first time she came to New York City was in high school, with some family.

Douglas was the valedictorian of her high school, and was loved and praised by all her teachers. She always knew she wanted to teach, and each teacher wanted to her to specialized in their subject. The principal of her high school told her the best thing for her to be was an elementary school teacher, in order to teach a bit of everything.

To become a teacher, Douglas attended Elizabeth City State University, where she said that the college president was like another parent to her. Both her parents and the president were hard on her and made sure she lived up to their standards, reminding her she didn’t know everything. That same president signed her on to live and work at the college her senior year, then recommended her to her first job in Crisfield, Maryland.

Douglas said she “felt so alone” in Crisfield, without anyone to look after her like her parents and the college president had. The teaching job she had there was very strict—they could not be seen buying alcohol or with people of ill repute, and had to attend church on Sundays. She met and married her husband, Frederick Richard Allen Douglas (who went by “Douglas” to avoid the inevitable conclusion of Frederick Douglass), a Korean War veteran. Eventually, they moved to New York City, where Mary Douglas taught at an elementary school on 180th Street, Louise Archer Elementary. She retired Feb. 2, 1985, at the age of 56.

Douglas had never taken a day off, so when she went to retire, she had months of paid leave she could use. She took her leave from September 1984 until January 1985, and used that time to attend medical aide training school. To become a certified nurse’s assistant (CNA), one must complete 122 hours of in class training and 32 hours of hospital training, the latter of which Douglas did at St. Barnabas Hospital. Douglas got 100 on her tests and was the top of her class at medical aide school, as well as being an honors student. She graduated in Riverside Church with her class of 1,500 people. The woman who ran the program, a Ms. Respoli, asked “What kind of people would you like to work with?” Douglas replied “Senior citizens” and has been working mostly with them ever since. Continue reading

Chris Borgatti, Ravioli Maker


By Lizeth Brosnan and Jenna LoFaro

Chris Borgatti is the current owner of Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles on 187th street just off of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Chris is the third generation to take ownership of this family run business.

He has worked in the store since he was a young boy with his father, Mario along with other family members. He says that working in the Borgatti store, at least for a short time, has become a rite of passage in his family. His own son worked in the store as a boy and now attends Fordham University’s continuing studies program after having graduated from the Gabelli School of Business.

Chris recounted some of the history of his beloved shop. He said that his grandparents opened the shop after immigrating to the Bronx from Italy, 81 years ago. At that time, the store was about half the size of what it is today.

He also spoke about the progression of their ravioli sales. Saying that originally, his grandparents would mass produce hundreds of tiny raviolis and sell them at a price of one dollar for every hundred.

Today, Chris still uses the same recipes as his grandparents did when the opened the shop in 1935. He notes that the demand and customer base for his family’s product is still very much alive and growing, something of which he is very proud.

Like many New Yorkers, he feels great connection to the neighborhood and city he grew up in. He is both happy and proud to be carrying on his family’s legacy in that very neighborhood today and to be continue providing the community with a high quality product.