Anne Burlak Timpson died at age 91 on July 9, 2002.
Timpson, known affectionately as “The Red Flame,” was remembered by workers in New England for her compassion and charismatic speeches. A self-proclaimed revolutionary, convinced that socialism offered the brightest future for working and oppressed people, she was a life-long advocate for the most vulnerable members of society and a tireless fighter against racism, sexism and classism. She dedicated her life to solidarity with working people and the struggle for peace and justice. In 1982, she received a Wonder Woman Award.
Born in Slatington and raised in Bethlehem, Pa., the eldest child of Ukrainian immigrants Harry and Anastasia Burlak, she left school at 14 to work in a silk mill to help support her family.
By 16, appalled by the miserable working and living conditions of her family and those around her, she became a union organizer and joined the Communist Party USA. In 1928, she was a delegate to the founding convention of the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), which took an anti-race discrimination stand and called for a ban on separate “Jim Crow” locals for Black workers.
She attended the 1929 founding convention of the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL), whose platform included equal pay for women, a 7-hour work day and a 5-day work week. She was elected to the TUUL Women’s Council.
She was fearless in the face of injustice and physical danger. When, in an atmosphere of brutal union-busting, beatings and the murders of organizers, the NTWU voted to organize where the need was greatest – in the southern textile mills, she volunteered to go south. She was only 19 years old in 1930 when she was arrested with five others – including two African Americans – and charged with sedition for speaking at an interracial public meeting.
First to be bailed out, she launched a national speaking tour to raise money for the defense of the “Atlanta Six.” The charges were dropped in 1939.
During the 1930s, she was a NTWU organizer in textile factories in Rhode Island, New Bedford, Fall River and Lawrence, Mass., where she conducted nearly daily mill-gate rallies calling for unity between employed and unemployed workers, and resisting wage cuts, layoffs and reduced hours. She was dubbed “The Red Flame” as a leader in the massive 1931-32 Lawrence textile strike.
In 1932, with 17 million unemployed in the country, and over a million demonstrating in state capitals for relief, she led the Rhode Island delegation of 3,000 in the national Hunger March to Washington, D.C., demanding unemployment insurance. She continued to organize for Social Security and unemployment insurance until they became law in 1935. She then helped to organize industrial workers into the CIO.
She was an active leader in struggles to free the Scottsboro Boys and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. She was arrested for her activities numerous times – first at age 16 while she read the Bill of Rights at a public rally. During the McCarthy era she was followed constantly by the FBI and persecuted by the press in Boston, where she lived with her husband and children.
She was a leading spokesperson for the CPUSA in New England, and was called before several government committees investigating “un-American activities.” In 1956, she was one of the last American Communists arrested under the Smith Act, charged with “conspiracy to advocate” the overthrow of the U.S. government. The case was dropped for lack of evidence.
Since 1940, she lived and worked as a bookkeeper in the Boston area, continuing to work for civil rights, civil liberties, peace and justice.
Timpson donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection, an internationally recognized repository of primary source materials in women’s history, which also houses the papers of her early mentor, Ella Reeve Bloor.
Anne’s family requests that donations be made to the collection in Anne Burlak Timpson’s memory, so that her story will continue to be told and inspire new generations. Money sent in her memory will be used specifically for the archival preparation of her papers. Donations of letters, photographs, speeches, or other material from Anne herself are also wanted. Send to: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA 01063-0001, and designate the Anne Burlak Timpson collection.
She is predeceased by her husband, Arthur Timpson, and survived by her children, Kathryn Wright and William Timpson, two granddaughters, and brothers Michael and Nicholas Burlak.
A memorial will be held at a later date in Boston.