Grace DuBreuil, impassioned organizer

Grace M. DuBreuil, a lifelong working-class organizer, civil rights activist, internationalist, feminist and communist, died Sept. 18 in Rhode Island’s Newport Hospital at age 59, after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

DuBreuil started her social justice activism while in high school in Evanston, Ill. She initiated a campaign for students to donate their lunch money to the civil rights organization Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

In college she worked with SNCC and other civil rights groups. She became involved in union organizing and was fired by Sears after taking a union leaflet into a store and discussing it with her co-workers.

While working for civil rights in the 1960s and because of her commitment to workers’ rights, she joined the Communist Party USA. She remained a committed Communist to the end.

DuBreuil served as an organizer and national contract coordinator for the health care union District 1199 for more than 10 years. She was a founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, participated in coalitions in New York on affirmative action, and was an active member of Women for Racial and Economic Equality. She was an impassioned voice for women’s rights.

Her commitment to social justice led her to activism for international solidarity. She was active with the National Anti-Imperialist Movement in Solidarity with African Liberation and worked with African liberation movements. She brought the message of the importance of fighting apartheid to CLUW chapters in New York and New Jersey and national conventions.

Active in solidarity with Puerto Rican independence, DuBreuil was instrumental in getting the Puerto Rican Socialist Party involved in African liberation solidarity through her husband of 25 years, José A. Soler, a leader of the PSP at that time. Soler said, “This led to a broadening of the support for Puerto Rican independence and self-determination in Africa.”

DuBreuil worked with the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union and the Communications Workers of America in New Jersey. She was a member of the Women’s Affirmative Action Committee of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council and received numerous awards for her work among and on behalf of women workers.

“She had the ‘communist plus’ in everything she did. Grace was truly selfless in her dedication to the workers’ cause and her total repudiation of racism,” Soler said.

Besides her husband, she leaves a brother and two children.

Carl Vedro, 98 fighting years

On Sept. 10, in his 98th year, Carl Vedro died quietly at the Jewish Home in San Francisco.

He was born Leo Krassen in 1908. His family fled the pogroms in the Ukraine at the height of the Russian Revolution, grateful for the protection of the Red Army. Surviving the murder of his father in their three-year journey, the family arrived at Ellis Island in 1922. Vedro quickly saw America’s “great divide”— on one side, the America of his dreams and aspirations; and on the other, the stark reality of injustice, racial prejudice and poverty. He traveled to the Pennsylvania coalfields in 1930 to deliver relief supplies to striking miners and their families and take pictures for the new Worker’s Film and Photo League. He came back radicalized and joined the Communist Party under the name Carl Vedro.

Working in New York alongside his then-wife Fay Caller, he was present at the birth of the Transportation Workers Union. A leader in the Brooklyn, Communist Party, he organized the campaigns of Peter Cacchione for City Council, including the winning 1941 campaign which made Cacchione the first Communist elected to public office in New York. With his friend Si Gerson, Vedro also advised the campaigns of Congressmen Adam Clayton Powell and Vito Marcantonio.

When war broke out in Spain, he joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, only to be taken off the boat at the last minute for other duties. In World War II, he served as a tank driver, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and receiving two Purple Hearts. He fought with the French “maquis” to liberate Paris.

Vedro, like many Party leaders, was sent “underground” during Cold War McCarthyism. Later he relocated to Los Angeles, where he and his new wife Evelyn (Schneider) founded the Pacifica Gallery — an offshoot of KPFK-FM, the city’s progressive listener-supported radio station.

One of the first art works exhibited at the gallery was a mahogany mural depicting the history of the African American struggle by artist Robert Witt Ames, entitled “Freedom Now.” The Vedros began a 10-year collaboration with the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman on the Freedom Now Mural Tour, concluding with its permanent installation in Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History.

Vedro organized numerous progressive events, including the first gathering of a pantheon of folk artists at the Hollywood Bowl. His final project was the Annual Gandhi/Thurman Celebration in San Francisco, bringing together the Jewish, African American and Indian American communities to honor a 1936 meeting with Gandhi that helped bring the principles of nonviolent action to the U.S.

At the Jewish Home in 2005, Vedro became the catalyst for resolving a long-simmering labor dispute. Declaring at a news conference that he “would rather starve than be fed by a strikebreaker,” his pleas led to the intervention of Sen. Barbara Boxer and resolution of a lock-out threat against SEIU Local 250.

Vedro is survived by his wife Evelyn, sons Karl Karlton, Steven and Peter Vedro, eight grandchildren and stepdaughter Leslie Hobson.