‘Art Shields: The People’s Scribe,’ an online presentation and discussion, January 25
Art Shields, at right, interviewing young people for an article in the Daily Worker in 1949. | Daily Worker / People’s World Archives | Tamiment Library

Art Shields (1888-1988) covered it all: As a reporter for the Daily Worker, antecedent to People’s World, on the front lines in Spain, as a labor journalist, and organizer himself. He covered many key events for the left including the defense of framed anarchist agitators Sacco and Vanzetti, the Battle of Blair Mountain, the organizing drives in Harlan County, Ky., the sit-down strike in Flint, Mich., and many more. Shields believed that strong unions were one of the best defenses against fascism, and covered the defense of those trade union leaders under attack during McCarthyism.

Luckily, he left us a two-volume account of his amazing life in which he worked with such figures as Mother Jones, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Illinois poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg, William Z. Foster, author Mike Gold, Big Bill Haywood, and Harlan County’s Florence Reece, lyricist of the classic labor song “Which Side Are You On?” Art’s wife Esther (1900-1989) was also a noted working-class journalist, as reflected on their grave marker at Forest Home Cemetery, just west of Chicago, in the area surrounding the Haymarket Martyrs monument.

Art Shields’ two-volume autobiography.

Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives Board Members and daughters of veterans of the Brigade, Josie Yurek and Nancy Wallach, will share excerpts and analysis on Art Shields’s fascinating autobiography On the Battle Lines, 1919-1939. They will continue the story of the Lincoln Brigade by putting a spotlight on this key figure in the history of the American labor movement and journalism. On the Battle Lines followed volume 1 of the autobiography, My Shaping-Up Years.

This presentation will help to highlight Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade’s own roots in the labor movement and strengthen ALBA’s own support for and connection to today’s resurgence of union activity. Nancy and Josie will add their own reflections and recollections of Art Shields to ALBA’s own repository of historical memory.

Nancy Wallach is the daughter of ALB veteran Hy Wallach. She is a retired New York City public school teacher with a background in art education and professional development and support. She has been a recipient of the NYC Schools and Culture Award, the Lincoln Center Institute’s Creative Teaching Award, NYCATA/UFT’s Art Educator of the Year, and many other grants in the area of arts education. She has been proud to represent ALBA at International Brigade and anti-fascist commemorations in Spain, England, Ireland, and France, and has delivered several presentations on the life and work of Paul Robeson and his support for the International Brigades in Belfast, Dublin, and Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, where he is a much-beloved figure among the Irish people.

Josephine Nelson Yurek is a founding member of the Bronx National Organization for Women and of the Cinnamon Tree Day Care Center, and a member of the board of directors of Lehman College Performing Arts Center for ten years. Retired as a high school administrator from the New York City public school system, Josie is the daughter of Steve Nelson, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The moderator will be Richard Bermack.

Made an honorary member of the Lincoln Brigade for his reporting in Spain in 1982, Art Shields is one of the many VALB participants whose contributions to our country’s history should be more widely known. By making Shields’s story more available, Josie and Nancy hope to reclaim some of labor’s history, such an important part of the Spanish Civil War history that ALBA seeks to restore.

The presentation and discussion on Art Shields will take place on Thurs., Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT. The link to register for this event can be found here.

In honor of philanthropist and visionary Perry Rosenstein, whose Puffin Foundation has made so many ALBA programs possible, ALBA presents an interactive series of events, bringing together diverse progressive voices to enhance understanding and awareness of progressive traditions in America and beyond, and to put those traditions in the context of today’s troubling political and social climate.

Art Shields’s memoir On the Battle Lines is available from International Publishers.

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Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.