Joanne Grant Rabinowitz
(1930 — 2005)

As remembered by:
     Connie Curry
     Joyce Ladners

     by Helen Rattray, East Hampton Star
     by John J Simon, Guardian

As remembered by Connie Curry

Some of the later people in SNCC may not have known Joanne Grant very well. Briefly, she came to the very first SNCC conference in Atlanta in the fall of 1960. She was a reporter for the National Guardian at the time. Many years before she had worked with W.E.B.DuBois.

She worked to support SNCC throughout its life and ws very close to Ella Baker. Her film about Ella, Fundi is still shown everywhere. She was also a writer and wrote Black Protest, and the book about Ella Baker.

She was very good friends with Jim Forman and, as a matter of fact, I was calling about Jim on Monday, and I spoke to her husband, Victor Rabinowitz, long time civil rights attorney, told me Joanne has passed on Sunday night. She was at home after being the hospital for hip surgery, was in bed and appeared to be unconscious, 911 was called and she was taken to the hospital, but she was gone, I gather, around 11:15 p.m. — about 24 hours before Jim died.

As remembered by Joyce Ladner

I first met Joanne at a SNCC meeting in Atlanta. I remember her clearly, as if it were yesterday, as a young, energetic, pretty woman who exuded tremendous self-confidence. When I learned she was a reporter for the National Guardian, I was very impressed because I had never met a black woman reporter.

I did not develop a friendship with Joanne until I moved to New York in 1973. We worked together on a committee that organized a testimonial for Ella Baker. It was at the testimonial that Bob Moses described Miss Baker as "fundi," one who passes skills from one generation to the next. It was at this time that Joanne chose Fundi as the title of her film on Miss Baker.

I spent a fair amount of time with Miss Baker during this time, and on one occasion JoAnne, Miss Baker and I attended a civil rights conference in Jackson, Mississippi. I remember this so well because JoAnn did a lot of interviewing of Miss Baker for her film, Fundi, and Miss Baker was ailing.

JoAnne and I often found ourselves at the same meetings. She stayed with me in my home in Washington when she spent time at the Library of Congress researching Miss Baker's role in the NAACP.

These two deaths [Joanne and Jim Forman] have shaken me from my fragile foundation. I am very, very sad that they are no longer with us.

The last time I saw her was at a conference of the Organization of American Historians in Washington. She made many contributions to the movement. May she be a "fundi" to the generations to follow.

Joanne Rabinowitz
Writer And Activist
East Hampton Star
Helen Rattray
January 15, 2005

Joanne Grant Rabinowitz, who died at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York Sunday night, was called a soldier in the fight against racism and oppression when she was chosen as one of 16 activists of the civil rights era who were honored by Community Works New York City, a nonprofit organization that mounted an exhibit called "The Long Road to Freedom" in 2003. A writer, journalist, and filmmaker, Ms. Rabinowitz had been a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar-in-residence at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. She began her career in 1959 as assistant to W.E.B. DuBois, a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Her death was unexpected. However, her family said she had been in deteriorating health for the last few years and was recuperating from a broken hip. She was 74.

Ms. Rabinowitz is perhaps best known for her 1968 book Black Protest: History, Documents, and Analysis. It became a standard text and was updated in 1974. Her next book, Confrontation on Campus: The Columbia Pattern for the New Protest, was published in 1969.

She was also the author of a biography, Ella Baker: Freedom Bound for which Julian Bond, a friend, wrote the introduction. It was praised by such well-known figures as Marian Wright Edelman and Pete Seeger. Her documentary film, "Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker," which preceded the biography, was shown nationally on PBS and was chosen as an outstanding film of the year at the London International Film Festival. It also won a first place from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, among other honors. Ms. Grant had joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s and become a close associate of Ms. Baker, who is considered by many to have been an unsung civil rights hero.

From 1960-65, Ms. Rabinowitz was a reporter for the National Guardian and a fund-raiser for the movement, including the Mississippi Summer project. She also worked as the news director of WBAI-FM for a year and developed a syndicate to distribute articles nationally for The Nation.

Along with 160 other Americans, Ms. Rabinowitz went to Moscow for the 1957 Festival of Youth and Students, and then joined 41 others to defy a State Department ban on travel to Communist China. The group said they were taking the trip in the spirit of adventure and defended their right to travel. The New York Times reported that "a thousand flower-bearing Russians waved as the Moscow-to-Peiping [now Beijing] express rolled from the Yaroslav station." She made several more trips to China in the following years.

An inveterate traveler, her circle of friends included writers, academics, filmmakers, musicians, attorneys, and others in many parts of the world, from London to Prague and from Cuba and to California. She was a frequent lecturer and panelist on college campuses in this country and abroad and served on the committee for the James Aronson Awards for Social Justice Journalism.

One friend said she was a vibrant member of any dinner party whose passion for social justice could turn polite talk into heated discourse. Another commented that Ms. Rabinowitz never knew of a party that she did not want to attend.

She and her husband, the civil rights attorney Victor Rabinowitz, spent their first summer in East Hampton in 1964 and bought a house in the Settlers Landing area in 1968. Mr. Rabinowitz and the couple's son, Mark, who has been living in Los Angeles, survive, as does a daughter, Abby, who lives in New Jersey. The East Hampton house was sold a few years ago when the couple decided to live year round in their Greenwich Village apartment.

Although the family came to the South Fork to relax, Ms. Rabinowitz continued her activism here, working with others to stage benefits for civil rights and peace activists and for political candidates who shared her perspective. Over the years, she contributed to The Star, including a number of "Guestwords" columns. They varied in topic from extraditing a squirrel from her house to the silence that followed the death of a friend: "Perhaps we should not mourn so privately, not hide our tears, our sorrow, our pain. Those who are left have only each other."

Joanne Grant was born on April 30, 1930, in Ithaca, N.Y. Her parents were the late John and Minnie Randall Grant. In addition to her husband and children, she is survived by a half-sister, Mary Jane Hubbard of Norwich, N.Y., and a half-brother, James Hubbard of Orlando, Fla. Two stepchildren, Peter Rabinowitz of Clinton, N.Y., and Joni Rabinowitz of Pittsburgh, and two step- grandchildren also survive. Ms. Rabinowitz graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor's degree in history and journalism and did additional academic work at Columbia.

No funeral was planned, although her family said a memorial gathering would be scheduled in about a month.

Friends had urged Ms. Rabinowitz to organize her papers for inclusion in a public collection and to write a memoir of her extraordinary life. Although some of her research papers are now at Ohio State University, both projects were for the most part left unfinished at her death.


© 2005 Helen Rattray

Joanne Grant
Reporter and participant in the US civil rights struggle
By John J Simon, Wednesday January 26, 2005

Joanne Grant Rabinowitz, 1930 — 2005

Reporting from the perspective of ordinary people breaking down the barriers of segregation, Joanne Grant, who has died aged 74, covered the American civil rights movement of the 1960s for the old-leftist New York weekly, National Guardian. She was not just at mass demonstrations, she was there in isolated communities where black students, conducting voter registration drives, were often rewarded with bloody beatings. Grant visited small towns in rural Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia in the early 1960s, at a time when assaults, killings and lynchings were common. As a black reporter this took courage, but Grant faced those dangers, filed her dispatches, got herself arrested, and became a member of the most militant of the civil rights groups, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In 1968, Grant published Black Protest: History, Documents, And Analysis 1619 To The Present. The book, still in print, is a teach-in between covers, and a standard text for teaching African-American history. Confrontation On Campus, a narrative of the 1968 student rebellion at Columbia University, followed in 1969.

Born in Utica, in northern New York state, Grant, the daughter of a mixed-race mother and a white father, grew up in a mostly white rural community. She studied journalism at Syracuse University but, failing to find a newspaper job, worked in public relations and as a freelance for several years.

While growing up, at university, and, later, working in New York city, Grant recalled that she never had much sense of race or colour. As an attractive light-skinned girl with a bright smile and sharp eyes - a look she retained all her life - she had mainly white school chums. In the United States she found that she could be white when riding in a white-owned taxi in segregated Atlanta, Georgia, but black when meeting civil rights volunteers. But for her that was simply about skin pigment. Colour, she learned, underpinned larger global social and political concerns.

In 1957, she joined 141 Americans at the Moscow Youth Festival. Along with 41 others she went to China, defying a US cold war-era ban on travel to that country. That trip and subsequent visits to Asia and Africa, she later recalled, caused her to come to terms with the complexities of her skin colour.

At a Delhi garden party in the 1960s, the then-president of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, told her, "we coloured folks have to stick together". In notes for an autobiography she did not live to finish, she wrote that as others came to assume that she was of colour, so did she. She saw her political and intellectual journey as going from "black to red", and that it was coming to terms with her black identity that led her to join the civil rights struggle, as reporter and participant.

Back in New York, she found work as a research assistant to WEB Du Bois, the great black sociologist and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Du Bois, in turn, led her to the National Guardian.

In 1965, Grant was briefly news director of the radical New York radio station, WBAI. Leftwing politics were never far from her thoughts - misreading her own script, she substituted "destalinisation" for "desalinisation" in a story about an Israeli water project; friends teased her about this for years.

In the early 1980s, her documentary Fundi: The Story Of Ella Baker (1981) was chosen as an outstanding film at the London Film Festival. The movie, about Baker, a longtime civil rights advocate, a key strategist and nurturing mother to the 1960s student movement, was shown on television internationally, and is included in the Black Film-makers Hall of Fame. In 1998, Grant published a biography, Ella Baker: Freedom Bound. She also participated in teaching documentaries on mass demonstrations, student direct action, and the voter registration drives in the south.

An inveterate traveller, Grant amassed friends on four continents. A superb cook, she gave dazzling dinner parties, often transformed into passionate political and cultural debates by her own sharp opinions, which she did little to filter. In Havana, Paris, or Beijing, it was said that she never heard of a party she didn't want to be at. In London, she surrounded herself with friends such as Sally Belfrage, Jill Tweedie, Eve Arnold and Ella Winter, telling funny stories and gossip over seemingly endless glasses of white wine.

Her last years were plagued with illnesses, which she bore with grace. Grant is survived by her husband, the noted civil liberties lawyer Victor Rabinowitz, whom she married in 1965, and two children, Mark and Abby.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2005

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