Howard B. Silverberg: Fighter for peace and equality

BALTIMORE, Md. – Howard B. Silverberg was remembered at a memorial here June 1 as a giant of a man with big hands and big feet. But his niece, Ruth Caley, told the crowd, that “biggest of all was his heart,” never so true as when he was standing up for working people, the poor and the oppressed.

A tireless community organizer, a peace and anti-racist fighter and a leader of the Communist Party of Maryland, Silverberg died here May 27. He was 86. He was born in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1917 and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he joined the Young Communist League. During World War II, he was a merchant seaman, an active member of the National Maritime Union, making 24 voyages to defeat Hitler fascism.

He moved to Baltimore after the war and met and married Regina H. Rosen. They participated in the legendary July 11, 1948, interracial tennis match at Druid Hill Park to protest segregation, eight years before the modern day civil rights sit-in movement erupted.

“His wife was arrested but he was too big and the police gave up on trying to arrest him,” his brother-in-law, Michael Dresser, told the crowd at the Captain James Landing restaurant. Dresser likened him to the “tree standing by the water,” in the union song, “We Shall Not be Moved.” It was one of several songs sung at the memorial.

Longtime friend Milton Bates used Yiddish terms to capture Howie’s personality, “shtarka,” a person of strong convictions, and “mensch,” a person of integrity and caring. He praised Silverberg’s courage in refusing to “rat on” his comrades when hauled before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings during the 1950s, a stand that cost him his job as a Sparrows Point steelworker. Later, he was active in the Baltimore Committee to Free Angela Davis, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the anti-Vietnam war movement. Joan Burns, a neighbor, said Silverberg was a member of the executive board of Citizens for Washington Hill, helping save 200 homes. “He fought to preserve the lovely historic neighborhood. If you look around today, it’s gorgeous. Howie loved Baltimore. He loved life.”

Rosellen McDavid, who had served with Silverberg on the executive board of Jobs With Peace, recalled that he had proposed the “Save Our Cities” march on Washington in 1991 to protest the trillions squandered on the Pentagon while Baltimore and other cities crumbled. It was endorsed by Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the City Council. Thousands joined the march and rally on Capitol Mall.

Maryland state legislator Salima Siler Marriott delivered a citation with the Maryland state seal honoring Silverberg. She recalled her political discussions with Silverberg at countless backyard cookouts by Party members. “It has enabled me to speak truth to power even in the halls of the General Assembly and to write a letter to President Bush telling him his war on Iraq is wrong,” she said.

PWW editor Tim Wheeler said, “Howie never wavered in his confidence in the working class. … After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Howie was as clear as a bell that we had to stand against the ultra-right using this terrible tragedy to advance their agenda of repression at home and preemptive war abroad. Last March, in a driving rain, there were Howie and Jeannie down at the War Memorial picketing against the Iraq war.”

Margaret Baldridge told the crowd she visited Silverberg in the hospital the night he died. His parting words, she said, were “’Give ‘em hell!’ That is so typical of the fighting legacy that Howie left us with.”

Tina Wheeler, organizer of the Maryland CP, said that when she first took on the task two years ago, she turned to Howie and other Party elders for guidance. “We know the problems of our city, our country, and internationally. Howie said, ‘Give em hell!’ So let’s just do it!”

Silverberg is survived by his wife of 18 years, the former Jeanne Dresser. His friends and comrades are raising funds for a memorial in the People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo, a newspaper he loved and distributed.