Leo Fichtenbaum, lifelong drum major for justice, dies

Leonard Joseph Fichtenbaum (Leo), lifelong drum major for justice, born on June 7, 1924, the son of Helen and Jack Fichtenbaum, died on Nov. 27.

As a teenager and a member of the Young Communist League, he was active in the struggle to free the Scottsboro Boys and helped to organize the fur workers.

He fought to end fascism during World War II. As an infantryman he landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 7, 1944, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, then liberating a concentration camp. He was then appointed mayor of a city in occupied Germany and remained in the Army until his honorable discharge at the end of the war.

Under the GI Bill, he attended City College of New York (CCNY) graduating with a degree in history. While at CCNY he was active in a variety of struggles for social justice including the fight to free Willie McGee. He worked as a machinist until he was blacklisted during the McCarthy period.

He returned to school getting an MSW from the University of Connecticut. After graduation he was employed as psychiatric social worker at the Clifford Beers Child Guidance Clinic. Later he worked as a social worker and community organizer at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, while earning a master's in public health from Yale.

He was very active in many civil rights campaigns and was part of the antiwar movement, protesting the war in Vietnam. As a community organizer he spearheaded the fight to prevent lead poisoning, committing civil disobedience to bring attention to the problem in young children, particularly in the African American community.

He was also active in leading the movement to desegregate the public schools in New Haven. He helped found the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and was active in the movement to Free Angela Davis, and the Reverend Ben Chavis and the Wilmington 10.

In 1970, he moved to St. Louis where he worked for two neighborhood health centers, Yeatmann and Union Sara, and was an assistant professor in the Department of Community Medicine at St. Louis University until his retirement in 1986.

In St. Louis, he fought against police brutality in the African American community and against the closing of Homer G. Phillips Hospital. He campaigned for the release of prisoners unjustly jailed and for justice in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

For more than 50 years, he was a member of the Communist Party and was an ardent fighter for labor rights, social justice, peace and human rights.

Wherever he went he touched the lives of others. He was a courageous man who fought like hell to make the world a better place for his family, friends and all of humanity.

He cared deeply for his loving wife Myrna, who was his lifelong partner, and he was a fierce defender of his family taking great pride in their achievements.

He is survived by wife Myrna, his three children, Rudy (Bonnie), Heidi (Antonio) and Carl (Mary Beth), and grandchildren Nicholas, Alexis, Andres, Eric, Diego, Walter, Jeremy and Adrienne.

He was a generous man, always willing to share what he had with others. He had a great sense of humor and his laughter was contagious. Throughout his lifetime, he raised his voice for the concern of others and stood fast to his ideals and left the world a better place.

Although he is gone his legacy remains.

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