[News] Vicki Garvin - Black Activist and Internationalist Passes

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 12 18:43:04 EDT 2007

Victoria H. Garvin, African-American liberation 
activist and dedicated internationalist, died on 
June 11, 2007, after a long illness, at the age of 91.

Vicki, as she was affectionately known, was born 
in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in a working 
class family in Harlem. Her mother was a domestic 
in rich white homes; her father a plasterer who 
often was unemployed due to racism in 
construction unions. Vicki spent her summers 
working in the garment industry to supplement her family's income.

 From high school on, she became active in Black 
protest politics, supporting efforts by Adam 
Clayton Powell, Jr. to obtain better paying jobs 
for African-Americans in Harlem and creating 
Black history clubs dedicated to building library 
resources. After earning her B.A. in political 
science from Hunter College, she became the first 
African-American woman to earn a Master’s degree 
in Economics from Smith College, and did graduate 
work in French literature. She spent World War II 
working for the National War Labor Board in New 
York, organizing a union there and serving as its 
President. When the wartime agencies ended, she 
became National Research Director of the United 
Office and Professional Workers of America and 
co-chair of its Fair Employment Practices 
Committee. During the postwar purges of the Left 
in the CIO, she was a strong voice of protest and 
a sharp critic of the CIO’s failure to organize in the South.

She was married briefly to a trade union 
organizer, and although they divorced, she kept 
his last name. In 1951 she took part in the 
formation of the National Negro Labor Council 
(NNLC), and became a national Vice President and 
Executive Secretary of the New York City chapter. 
With the NNLC, she worked closely with Coleman 
Young, later Mayor of Cleveland, and she 
organized cultural programs featuring Paul 
Robeson, then under persecution. He was a close 
friend until his death. In 1955, under pressure 
from the House Un-American Activities Committee 
and other repression, the NCLC disbanded.

In the wake of McCarthyism, Vicki traveled to 
Africa in the late 1950s, worked in Nigeria, and 
then went to Ghana, where she worked closely with 
Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Shirley Graham DuBois, 
Alphaeus and Dorothy Hunton, and others on the 
African Encyclopedia and anti-colonialist 
efforts. In Ghana she lived with Maya Angelou and 
Alice Windom. When Malcolm X, who Vicki had known 
in Harlem, visited Africa, Vicki introduced 
Malcolm to the ambassadors from China, Cuba, and 
Algeria whom she knew from teaching English at 
the embassies. Using her French language skills, 
she interpreted for his meeting with the Algerians.

In 1964 Vicki was invited to China by the Chinese 
ambassador. Both Malcolm X and Dr. DuBois 
encouraged her to go. She taught English for six 
years in Shanghai. She became close friends with 
many of her young students and kept in touch with 
them over the years. In China, she also became 
close to then political exiles Robert F. Williams 
and Mabel Williams. When Mao Tse-Tung issued his 
proclamation in support of the Afro-American 
movement in 1968, Vicki made a speech about the 
statement to a rally of millions. Also in China 
she met and married Leibel Bergman in a Red Guard 
ceremony during the early days of the Cultural 
Revolution, and became a loving stepmother to his daughter and two sons.

On their return to the U.S, they lived in Newark, 
where Vicki was Director of the Tri-City 
Citizen’s Union, a community organization for 
children and teenagers. In Manhattan, Vicki 
worked for four years as Area Leader for 
Community Interaction at the Center for Community 
Health Systems of the Faculty of Medicine of 
Columbia University. Later they moved to Chicago, 
but when the marriage ended Vicki returned to her 
parent’s home in Brooklyn and cared for them until their deaths.

She remained active in political and 
international circles, traveling back to China 
several times, and making many trips to Africa 
and the Caribbean, often with her dear friend 
Adelaide Simms. She was an active supporter of 
many organizations, including: Sisters Against 
South African Apartheid/Sisters to Assist South 
Africa (SASAA); the Committee to Eliminate Media 
Offensive to African People (CEMOTAP); Black 
Workers for Justice; and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Vicki spoke at community events and joined 
rallies in support of Mumia Abu Jamal and other 
political prisoners. She was recognized by many 
organizations as an “honored elder” for her 
contributions to the freedom struggle of her 
people and the world’s peoples. In speeches made 
just before her serious health decline, Vicki 
urged the younger generations forward. She wrote: 
“Of course there will be twists and turns, but 
victory in the race belongs to the long distance 
runners, not sprinters
 Everywhere the just 
slogan is reverberating­no justice, no peace!” 
She is survived by two stepchildren, Miranda and 
Lincoln Bergman. A memorial celebration of her 
life will be scheduled in New York City later this year.

For information on this event, please contact 
Lincoln Bergman by email at 
<mailto:lbergman at berkeley.edu>lbergman at berkeley.edu or phone 510 367-8922.


Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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