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Thu, 06.23.1938

Charles McDew, Activist born

Charles McDew

*Chuck McDew was born on this date in 1938. He was a Black educator and activist.

From Massillon, Ohio, Charles McDew's father, James, had taught chemistry in South Carolina but as a Black was unable to get a job in the Ohio schools; he went to work in the steel mills.  His mother, the former Eva Stephens, was a nurse.  He led his first demonstration in the eighth grade, to protest violations of the religious freedom of Amish students in his hometown.

As a student at South Carolina State College, he became involved in the civil rights movement. This included a campaign against segregated lunch counters in Orangeburg, South Carolina in 1960.  Stopped by a police officer, Mr. McDew failed to show proper deference (he neglected to say “sir,” he said) and was struck by the officer.  McDew hit him back, and a fight ensued. (“Mind you, this is before the nonviolent civil rights struggle,” he said.) He wound up in jail with a broken arm and jaw.  Taking a train back to college, he was arrested again after refusing to sit in a baggage car designated for Blacks.

McDew converted to Judaism after being denied admission to a white Christian church in the South in the 1960s.  He participated in the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. Described by fellow SNCC activist Bob Moses as a “black by birth, a Jew by choice and a revolutionary by necessity,”   McDew has devoted his life to issues of social and political change, to the empowerment and development of local Black leadership, to civil and human rights, and to the fight against racism. Influenced by Rabbi Hillel’s dictum, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And If Not Now, =When?,”

McDew was elected as Chairman of SNCC in 1961 and served in that capacity until 1964.  Since that time, McDew was active in organizations for social and political change, working as a teacher and as a labor organizer, managing anti-poverty programs in Washington, D.C., serving as community organizer and catalyst for change in Boston and San Francisco, as well as other communities.

He appeared on radio and television programs as a speaker against racism. He was involved in programs for social and political change designed to develop local leadership and break down racial and cultural barriers.  As an Educator McDew retired from Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis, MN, where his classes in the history of the American Civil Rights movement, African American history, and classes in social and cultural awareness are always oversubscribed since 1981.

Charles 'Chuck' McDew died on April 3, 2018, in West Newton, Mass.  He was 79.  His daughter, Eva Goodman, said the cause was a heart attack he had while visiting his longtime partner, Beryl Gilfix, for the Passover holiday.  McDew lived in St. Paul, Minnesota.



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