Edward Elkind, lifelong peace activist, dies

Edward Henry Elkind, a lifelong peace activist, died at age 81, Oct. 8, at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md. The cause of death was cardiac arrest secondary to Parkinson's Disease.

Elkind was born on September 20, 1930 in New York City, the son of Paul David Elkind, a dentist and musician, and Ethel (Blum) Elkind. His father died when Elkind was five years old. He was mainly raised by his mother, who was a political activist herself and by his maternal uncle, Herman L. Blum, an engineer who owned a Whirlpool Corporation franchise, and helped establish the Royal Switch Board Company, which still exists. Also influential was his grandfather, Saul Elkind, a classical musician who performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra during the period 1924-1949 that Serge Koussevitzky was director. Young Ed played the cello.

Elkind attended Horace Mann School for Boys in New York City. While an 18-year-old freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in 1948 he worked to register voters, organize a rally, distribute literature and acted as a poll watcher in the Henry Wallace for President Campaign. Those he met in the campaign influenced him to join the Communist Party, to which he remained loyal for the rest of his life.

During the early 1950s government agents would approach him on the street and attempt to make him a collaborator. He would not speak to them. He commented, as quoted in an unpublished "Profile" of 1986 by Leslie Norton that, "In retrospect, it was a ridiculous decision to join at that time. The party was beginning to fall apart. Later on, of course, I figured, what the hell, I'm being followed around anyway."

Elkind met his future wife, Harriet Gesser, a social worker, in 1951 when both were taking courses at the Jefferson School of Social Science. Later he taught courses in political economy and the theory of Marxism-Leninism at the People's School for Marxist Studies, successor to the Jefferson School, which had been shut down in 1956 as the result of government repression.

Having dropped out of Rensselaer after a year, he returned to school at Columbia University between 1958 and 1962, where he was an activist on the student council and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in physics.

Elkind worked (with significant stretches of unemployment) as a computer programmer in a series of consulting jobs lasting two or three years each by IBM, Grumman and Bell Labs. This lasted for 25 years.

About his work he once commented, "They want you to be intelligent on the job and stupid about everything else." He liked to talk politics in the workplace. His son Raphael, then age 24, said his father never "made it," in the business world because he refused to be a manager. At which Elkind laughed, "Those are the limits of communism."

Because of his science background, Elkind was attracted to the anti-nuclear and peace movements, helping establish the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, which is now a global organization. He also worked with SANE for many years, which included participation in marches and electoral campaigns to pressure legislators to establish a moratorium on nuclear bomb testing in the atmosphere and arms proliferation.

His children grew up accompanying him and his wife and participating in these events. In his honor after he died, his son's family went to the Occupy Wall Street encampment, which, as they put it, is where their father would have been. His daughter commented that he taught her not to expect others to fight your fights, but to be there to fight for others.

In 1986, the Grumman Corporation fired Elkind, then age 56, because he would not sign a security clearance statement. He was not able to obtain another job in computer consulting. The financial insecurity, plus his lifelong depression took a toll on his marriage. He and his wife obtained a divorce. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked at Kramer's Bookstore on Dupont Circle.

At the same time that he moved to Washington, D.C., Elkind continued his political involvement, becoming an officer in the local communist organization, the Frederick Douglass Club. In this capacity he helped organize educational forums, establish and edit the club web page, and advocated for progressive causes such as D.C. home rule, full employment, and the expansion of public housing, rent control and public health clinics.

Having been hospitalized for depression on a number of occasions, he had a particular sympathy for providing medical and mental health services to people. The seven years he endured in his last illness was, in his view, nothing to being depressed.

With his colorful picket signs and buttons, he was a regular figure at demonstrations and marches on the mall against American aggression in Latin America and the Middle East. His daughter commented that he taught her how to separate being Jewish from Israel. For many years he distributed the newspaper, People's Daily World, at trade union and other meetings.

Elkind was also a longtime supporter of the Nation Magazine Discussion Club, the Washington Peace Center and the Washington Ethical Union, where he met Corrian Atwell, his faithful companion for the past 20 years. Especially in his last years she provided for his well-being and quality of life. He donated his large collection of political pamphlets, books and memorabilia to the Lewis J. Ort Library at Maryland's Frostburg State University, which has been designated the "Edward H. Elkind Collection."

Elkind in summarizing his life remarked in the Norton "Profile" that the dissolution of his marriage was his biggest failure. On the other hand, he considered his three children to be his biggest successes.

Edward Elkind is survived by Raphael Elkind of Westport, Connecticut, and his two daughters, Lisa Elkind and Juliet (Elkind) Cruz, both of New York City and five grandchildren, Hannah, Peter and Henry Elkind, and Margo and Rebecca Cruz.

 

 

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