George A. Meyers, Victor Perlo collections to be celebrated

FROSTBURG, Md. – Friends and family of George A. Meyers and Victor Perlo, outstanding Communist leaders who died in recent years, will travel to Frostburg State University (FSU) Oct. 19 for a celebration of book collections in the school’s library named in their honor.

The day will include the dedication of a plaque inscribed with the names of those who have donated books, pamphlets, and other memorabilia of the progressive and socialist movement to the Meyers Collection.

The Victor Perlo Collection will be formally handed over by his widow, Ellen. Tim Wheeler, editor of the World, will speak on behalf of the Friends of the George A. Meyers Collection.

The George A. Meyers Collection was established in 1991 when Meyers donated the 4,000 books in his personal library to FSU less than 10 miles up Georges Creek from the coal mining town, Lonaconing, where he was born. FSU was established through contributions by the coal miners of Georges Creek.

Dr. David Gillespie, chief librarian at the university, conceived the idea of establishing a collection devoted to Marxism, the CPUSA, the labor movement, civil rights and all the other working-class causes Meyers had devoted his life to. The collection mushroomed with 35 individuals donating all or part of their libraries.

In a letter inviting participation in the Oct. 19 event, Gillespie writes that the collection not only includes thousands of books but also a unique and very valuable pamphlet collection of more than 8,000 publications by the CPUSA and other organizations.

There are also posters, political buttons, labor badges and hundreds of photographs that have been painstakingly catalogued by staff and volunteers.

“A recent gift by Ellen Perlo added depth to the economic works already in the collection,” Gillespie continued. Victor Perlo, an internationally recognized economist, published thirteen works in seven languages.

Gillespie said that in the years since it was established, the George A. Meyers Collection has proven itself an invaluable resource. “Just today, we got a request through Inter-Library Loan from a scholar at Johns Hopkins University for a pamphlet about Filipinos in the U.S. by the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born,” Gillespie said. “It may be the only copy of that pamphlet still in existence. We get four or five requests like that each week.”

Nat DeBruin, the archivist in charge of the collection told the World, “We have a graduate student from West Virginia University who has come here six times doing research for his dissertation on the life of George A. Meyers. There is such a wealth of material, he decided to narrow it down to the Smith Act trial and George’s years of incarceration.”

History students at a local high school, as a class project each year, write a book on some aspect of local history. “In 2001, they picked the Great Depression of the 1930s and its impact on Allegany County,” DeBruin continued. “They used the Meyers Collection as a source of information on George Meyers and his role in the organizing of the Textile Workers Union at the Celanese plant. It was incorporated into their paperback book.”

Two art classes, one at FSU and the other at Allegany College of Maryland, have used posters, mostly from the Perlo Collection, to study graphic and visual art “and how you can get the message across with images rather than words,” DeBruin said. They were especially impressed by a poster of the great farm worker leader, Cesar Chavez, and by Soviet posters given by the Perlos. The family of working-class artist, Ralph Fasanella, has donated a set of autographed reproductions of his art which are displayed in the library.

Last January, National Public Radio requested material from the Meyers Collection for a feature story on the Appalachian poet, Don West. “We provided them with pamphlets and other materials on West,” DeBruin said. The Cleveland Plain Dealer also relied heavily on the Meyers Collection for a feature story on the Communist Party of Ohio, DeBruin said. “This collection is definitely being used.”

As the collection grows, so do the costs of maintaining it. One purpose of the Oct. 19 celebration is to help raise funds to establish a permanent endowment with the Frostburg State University Foundation . “We currently have a little more than $8,000 toward our goal of $75,000,” Gillespie said.

The Baltimore-based Friends of the George A. Meyers Collection are mobilizing to send a busload to the event and invitations have been sent out to more than 100 people. A comfortable coach will leave for Frostburg at 7:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 19, from Chinquapin Middle School, 900 Woodbourne Ave, in Baltimore. Tickets are $20. Make checks payable to Margaret Baldridge, 810 Winston Ave., Baltimore, MD 21212.