Tribute to Charlotte Sagoff – Social Justice

From  John Abernethy:

I am writing this letter to honor the passing of Charlotte Sagoff. Charlotte was a very compelling advocate for social justice and the environment and is well known locally for her success in forcing a major corporation to prevent its pollutants from contaminating the water supply. She grew up in New York , the daughter of a single-mother garment-worker and as such experienced poverty first hand. She was an apt student and became a biologist, married an anthropologist and through this connection became an observer at an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in WW2. Here in plain sight she saw governmental injustice. In the sixties and seventies her husband was a faculty member at SUNY at Buffalo and she in her turn became a guidance counselor. I was present on that campus in 1964-68 as a foreign postdoctoral student. Although our paths did not cross we both observed the very same political corruption, police brutality, mob violence, and racism that was endemic in that city, not to mention the Red Squad activities on the Buffalo campus itself that forced faculty members to resign, telephone operators to report to the FBI, mail to be opened. When we finally met and compared notes 20+ years later (in the relative haven that is Acton), it became clear we also attended the same anti-war rallies and observed the same random acts of violence visited on protestors.

By dint of sheer gregariousness, wit, intelligence, and perspicacity Charlotte demonstrated a remarkable ability to encourage people around her to become socially active in causes outside themselves. One of her favorite songs was “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night” which was reprised for her by her son in the days before her death. Joe Hill was an itinerant worker, labor activist and songwriter who faced a firing squad in 1915 after a now-discredited trial for murder. His last and now famous, written words were “Don’t waste time in mourning. Organize.” He became a martyr for oppressed workers and the song written in his memory became their anthem. The first stanza goes:

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me.
Says I “But Joe you’re ten years dead”
“I never died” said he,
“I never died” said he.

A suitable epitaph for Charlotte would be for us to work for the same goals that she so effectively espoused so that she can echo:

“I never died” said she,
“I never died” said she.


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