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Edwin Berry Burgum (1894-1979)

Edwin Berry Burgum was born in Concord on 4th March 1894, the first child of Edwin Gannell Burgum and his wife Addie. In 1915 he graduated from Dartmouth College. Between 1916 and 1920, he worked as an Instructor in English at the University of Pittsburgh. Meanwhile he had time to graduate from Harvard University in 1917. From 1920 to 1923, Berry became Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois and, in 1924, he became Associate Professor of English at New York University.

On March 22nd 1927, Edwin Berry Burgum married Mildred Rabinowich in New York. Berry was thirty-three years old and Mildred was twenty-one. Berry wrote several books and articles primarily in the field of literary criticism. In 1947 he wrote "The Novel and the World's Dilemma", a book dedicated to his wife and daughter. Others written or edited by him included "The Literary Career of Edward Bulwer, Lord Lytton" (1926), "The New Criticism" (1930), "Ulysses and the Impasse of Individualism" (1941), "William Faulkner's Patterns of American Decadence" and "The Works of James Joyce" (1947). He also edited or contributed to several literary magazines including "Science and Society" and "Accent". In the Spring 1943 edition of Accent, Berry contributed an article entitled "Kafka and the Bankruptcy of Faith."

Dr Edwin Berry Burgum remained at New York University for twenty-eight years. Between 1936 and 1938, he had been president of the College Teachers Union of New York City. In October 1952, an article appeared in the pages of the New York Times. The headline read- "Five Teachers Called By Senate Inquiry." The piece stated that five individuals, including a faculty member at New York University, had been subpoenaed to appear before the Senate sub-committee that was investigating communism in American schools. The faculty member at N.Y.U. was Dr. Edwin Berry Burgum, Associate Professor of English. This was the time of McCarthyism and the communist witch-hunts. Berry appeared before the McCarran Committee on Columbus Day, October 13th 1952. Among the committee members were Senators Ferguson of Michigan and Willis Smith of North Carolina.

Berry, himself, did not confirm or deny his alleged Marxist beliefs. Instead he spoke of freedom and his right under the laws of the American Constitution. Berry, like many other academics at the time, felt a fundamental principle was at stake and invoked both the First and the Fifth Amendments for seventeen of the questions that were put before him. Over the next few months and years, the columns of the New York Times revealed more of the story. Another headline, this time in the New York Times dated October 14th 1952 read - "Ex-Red Describes City Teacher Blocs". A photograph of Berry printed with the story read- "Suspended: Edwin B. Burgum, Associate Professor at New York University, was relieved of his duties yesterday after he refused to tell a Senate sub-committee investigating communism in schools whether he was or had been in the Communist Party." The article spoke of "two hundred college students and other demonstrators marching in front of the Courthouse carrying signs and chanting...We want our professors back."

The Evening News, a publication of Washington Square College, part of New York University, carried the headline - "Student Groups Protest Suspension of Dr. Burgum". A small editorial on the front page said - "The Evening News fully supports Dr Burgum's postion and reiterates its request that the University administration reinstate him to his teaching post." Berry appealled against his suspension and a hearing was convened before the New York University Faculty Committee. Twelve meetings took place, each three hours long, during the spring of 1953. Berry was represented by legal counsel and attempted to justify the principles he felt were at stake.

During all this turmoil, Berry continued with his other activities. The National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, a group founded in part on academic freedom, began a magazine called "The Contemporary Reader". Its first issue was published in March 1953; its editor was Edwin Berry Burgum. Berry wrote... "The Contemporary Reader is being published in response to an increasing dissatisfaction on the part of many writers and readers with our current American literature and their increasing demand for the restoration and promotion of a genuinely democratic literature in our country." Click here for the full text of Berry's Editorial of "The Contemporary Reader" together with a list of its contents. The magazine also includes a Policy statement by The National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions.

In April 1953, a New York Times headline read - "NYU Professor Tied To Reds is Dismissed". Having been suspended, Berry, who had been a member of the New York University faculty from September 1, 1924 through April 30, 1953, was fired from his job. On May 5th the story continued with a headline "NYU Teacher Silent On Query If He's Red". On Wednesday July 1st, 1953, Berry appeared before the U.S. Senate, Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations. Text of Berry's testimony to that Hearing.

In February 1954, a paper was published relating to Edwin Berry Burgum. It was called "Academic Freedom and New York University: the case of Professor Edwin Berry Burgum". It was published by the Committee for the Reinstatement of Professor Burgum. I have to say the arguements for "Academic Freedom" are long and extremely complex, running to seven hard chapters and six appendices; a total of 80 pages!

Four years later, the case was still going on. Still in the New York Times, this time dated Thusday June 7th, 1956. The headline read - "26 Who Signed Brief Called Communists". It said "The chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee denounced as Communists today the 26 persons who had signed a brief to the Supreme Court." One of those signatories was Edwin Berry Burgum. Despite campaigns from lawers, teachers and unions, Berry was never reinstated. Sadly, the pressure and public disgrace may have proved too much for Berry's wife, Mildred. In July 1957, she took her own life. Mildred had been a psychotherapist and, after training, Berry became a lay analyst and psychotherapist, going on to take over his wife's practice.

Edwin Berry Burgum died on July 2nd 1979, following a long illness. He was 85. The columns of the New York Times had one more announcement about Berry - "BURGUM, Edwin Berry, beloved husband of the late Mildred, devoted father of Naomi, dear grandfather of Tony."

My search for Naomi is described elsewhere. She now works as a teacher and has a son. I do not know if Dr. Edwin Berry Burgum ever was a member of the Communist Party. I do not know whether it really matters now. Berry's politics do appear to have been left-wing and were, at least in part, a reaction to the facism that had developed in Europe during the 1930's and 1940's. On the other hand, he may well have been as intolerant of the "right-wing", as they were of him. What I do know is that Berry's long and distinguished career was destroyed and his home life shattered.

Joe Joseph, a friend of Berrys, has shared an apartment with him for several years during the 1950's and 1960's and said - "To the best of my knowledge, Berry Burgum was not a member of the Communist Party USA. He took the 5th Amendment (that's the right to silence) as a matter of principle." In a letter, Joe Joesph described to me how Berry "....took over his wife's practice. In his usual thoughtfulness, he had evening hours for those who could not come during the day and his fees accommodated those who could not afford much money." Joe's letter about Berry is both moving and personal and reflects the close friendship of the two men.

In respect for the privacy of the family, I have withheld certain surnames and actually considered not publishing this section of my family history research, relating to Berry Burgum. However, I was swayed by something David Goldway had said to me....

David Goldway was chairman of the editorial board of "Science and Society" and wrote to me in June 1990. (Sadly, one month later, David Goldway died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident). The last words of his letter were... "The best of luck with your researches. It is good to know that something is being done to keep Berry's memory alive."