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Morris Schappes

Born in the Ukraine, but raised in Brazil, Morris Schappes and his family were en route back to his birthplace when WWI broke out and they were stranded in New York where they remained.

When Morris got to the City College of New York, he began his writing career – which would span a lifetime – by becoming a sportswriter for the school newspaper before graduating in 1928. He went on to earn a Master’s degree from Columbia University, however it was back at City College where he returned to teach English as a tutor. He said of himself that he was the "conspicuous ‘Red’ on campus," and joined the Communist Party in 1934.


Morris Schappes filming his interview with Dreamers and FightersAccording to the May and June 1936 issues of New York Teacher News, his union’s paper, he had taught English for the previous eight years, "had been granted annual increases of $200 seven times," and had been asked to collaborate on a collection of anthologies to be used by the college.  Considered by his colleagues as a "scholar and critic," he also contributed critical essays and reviews to the Saturday Review, The Nation, Poetry, the New York Post, American Literature, and others.

On the school front, his students hailed Morris with testimonials to his "warm personality" and "stimulating teaching," and was elected by the senior class as, "most popular teacher," "best orator," and "most respected instructor."

There was an abrupt change when a new English Department chairman arrived and Morris eventually met his Waterloo. By that time, there was also reported "antagonism" between Morris and the College President over his membership in the Anti-Fascist Association, his organization of the Instructional Staff Association and his membership in the College Section of the Teachers Union.

On April 23, 1936, after his eight-year commitment to CCNY, and a penultimate communication from his Chairman inviting Morris to act as his advisor in judging a literary prize contest, there came a harrowing blow.

His chairman wrote that Morris’ appointment had been a "temporary" one and addressed Morris, charging, "Your efficiency as a teacher of English has not been sufficiently notable to justify me in asking for your appointment as a permanent member of the college staff."

Morris was handed his dismissal from the college and the student protests began. The New York Times headlines became familiar documents of the very public protest:


April 25, 1936
Dismissal of Teacher is Protested by 1,500

City College Students Call for Reappointment of Schappes by Education Board

Fifteen hundred City College students signed petitions yesterday protesting the dismissal of Morris Schappes as a tutor of English at the end of this semester. Protest meetings also were held yesterday by 200 members of the college chapter of the American Students Union and 300 former students of Mr. Schappes …


April 26, 1936
Schappes Charges Bias

Dismissed Teacher Says (CCNY President) Robinson Is Antagonistic to Him

Morris Schappes at his deskMarch 16, 1941
Schappes Is Ousted by City College As Leader of Campus Red Activity

City College Ousts Schappes as a Red

As a result of disclosures by the Rapp-Coudert committee investigating subversive activities in the city schools, Acting President Harry N. Wright of City College yesterday ordered the suspension, without pay, of Morris U. Schappes, self-confessed former Communist who has been a tutor in English at the college since 1931.

 


March 17, 1941
Schappes Demands Right to Face Foe

City College Tutor, Suspended as Former Red, Assails 'War Hysteria' of Investigators

SEES 'TRIAL BY THE PRESS' He Defends His Record as a Teacher and Denies That He Gave False Testimony

Morris U. Schappes, who was suspended from his position as a tutor of English at City College on Saturday as a result of disclosures before the Rapp-Coudert committee that he had been a member of the Communist party, issued a statement yesterday denouncing the committee for "war hysteria," and demanding the right to cross-examine his accusers.


March 19, 1941
Schappes Indicted, Held as Perjurer in School Inquiry

City College Tutor Accused on 4 Counts of Lying About Campus Red Activities

Dewey Aides Act Swiftly

Teacher, Who Also Is Under Board Charges, Lodged in Tombs – Union Protests

Schappes Indicted

Held as Perjurer

Indicted as Perjurer

Acting swiftly on a grand jury indictment on four counts of perjury in the first degree, District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey's office arrested yesterday Morris U. Schappes, suspended City College English tutor who has admitted he formerly was a Communist party member.


July 4, 1942
Schappes Loses Appeal

Perjury Conviction of Ousted City College Man Upheld

The Appellate Division upheld unanimously yesterday the conviction for perjury of Morris U. Schappes, ousted City College instructor, whose indictment resulted from his testimony before the Rapp-Coudert committee investigating subversive activities in the public educational system.


The Decision and Aftermath

After a five-year court struggle, the battle was over. Years later, an explanation of his perjury charge was given in Professor Schappes’ New York Times obituary, (published June 9, 2004).

Under oath, Mr. Schappes told the panel that he could name only three Communists at the college, two of them dead and one known to be a party organizer. Because another history instructor named about 50 employees as Communists, Mr. Schappes was convicted of perjury.

Morris continued to publish books and magazine articles and was editor of Jewish Currents for over the next 40 years. 

In 1981, the faculty senate of City College apologized for firing Morris Schappes, and by then, approximately 50 other of his college faculty colleagues.

 

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