Charles Edward Russell

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Charles Edward Russell

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward Russell and Lydia Rutledge

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About Charles Edward Russell

Charles Edward Russell (September 25, 1860 in Davenport, Iowa – April 23, 1941 in Washington, DC) was an American journalist, opinion columnist, newspaper editor, and political activist. The author of a number of books of biography and social commentary, he won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for The American Orchestra and Theodore Thomas. Russell is also remembered as one of three co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Early life

Charles Edward Russell was born in Davenport, Iowa on September 25, 1860. His father was a newspaper editor at the Davenport Gazette, and a noted abolitionist. He attended St. Johnsbury Academy, in Vermont, for his high school education. His first cousin was Frederick Russell Burnham, who became a celebrated scout and the inspiration for the boy scouts.

Russell wrote for the Minneapolis Journal, the Detroit Tribune, the New York World, William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan, and the New York Herald. He was employed as a newspaper writer and editor in New York and Chicago from 1894 to 1902, working successively for the New York World, the New York American, and the Chicago American.

Russell joined the Socialist Party of America in 1908, of which he remained a member until his expulsion in 1917 over his support of American intervention in the First World War.

Muckraking journalist

In his memoirs, Bare Hands and Stone Walls, Russell stated that "transforming the a place where one can know some peace...some joy of living, some sense of the inexhaustible beauties of the universe in which he has been placed", was the purpose that inspired his work and his life. He was one of a group of journalists at the turn of the 20th century who were called muckrakers. They investigated and reported—not with cold detachment—but with feeling and rage about the horrors of capitalism. In Soldier for the Common Good, an unpublished dissertation on Russell's life, author Donald Bragaw writes: "Historian Louis Filler has called Russell the leader of the muckrakers for contributing 'important studies in almost every field in which they ventured.' Most of Russell's work was of a 'pioneering nature: beef trusts...railroads...tenements...and the farm problem....[H]is real topic was injustice, wherever it was to be found."

Russell's reports on the corrupt practices and inhuman conditions at Chicago stock yards were the inspiration for Upton Sinclair's powerful novel The Jungle, which caused a national uproar that led to inspection reforms.

NAACP founder

In 1909, Russell was one of five founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, formed in the aftermath of a race riot at Springfield, Illinois in August of the previous year.

Social democratic politician

Russell was the Socialist candidate for Governor of New York in 1910 and 1912, and for U.S. Senator from New York in 1914. He also ran for Mayor of New York City. In 1915 he unexpectedly came out in support President Woodrow Wilson's war "preparedness campaign". This decision painted Russell into a tight corner politically as the majority of the SP's rank and file remained strongly anti-war. Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs believed that Russell's decision to support Wilson's move for rearmament probably cost Russell the party's Presidential nomination in 1916. While Debs disagreed profoundly with Russell on the issue, he applauded him for the courage of his convictions.

Aligning himself with Upton Sinclair, among others on the right wing of the party, Russell continued to agitate for "responsible...Marxian" positions inside the Socialist Party through 1917. .

After the February Revolution, Russell was named by Woodrow Wilson to join a mission led by Elihu Root intended to keep the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky in the war. The mission report recommended that George Creel's Committee on Public Information conduct pro-war propaganda efforts in Russia. Russell personally lobbied Wilson to use the relatively new medium of film to influence the Russian public. Wilson was receptive and the CPI subsequently developed film and distribution networks in Russia over the next few months. Russell appears as himself in the 1917 film The Fall of the Romanoffs, directed by Herbert Brenon, which may have been a product of these efforts.

Participation on the Root Mission was effectively a burning of bridges with the Socialist Party, which remained solidly opposed to the European war. Russell left the Socialist Party to join the Social Democratic League of America. He also worked with the AFL to help found the patriotic American Alliance for Labor and Democracy, an organization which agitated on behalf of American participation in the war among the country's workers.

Russell subsequently became an editorial writer for social democratic magazine The New Leader. He died on April 23, 1941 in Washington, D.C.


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Charles Edward Russell's Timeline

Age 81