Remembering Frances Goldin, Lower East Side Activist Who Gave a New Voice to the Forgotten Intellectuals

Frances Goldin Activist BELatina
Photo Credit Getty Images

To be able to change the world once in 95 years is commendable. To do so at every possible opportunity is simply unforgettable.

That was the life of Frances Goldin, a literary agent and social activist who changed the history of New York forever, and who said goodbye last Saturday, after eight decades of fighting for the underprivileged

Born in Queens in 1924 to Russian Jewish parents, Frances (née Axler) grew up in Springfield Gardens, survived street violence and anti-Semitism, and eventually trained as a secretary, which would open the doors to the world of activism and civil rights work in offices headed by figures like W.E.B. Du Bois.

A communist for a decade (between 1940 and 1950), and after adopting her husband Morris Goldin’s surname, she found her niche on the Lower East Side, where poverty allowed her to begin weaving a social network that would catapult her into the role of activist and voice of the most forgotten.

Among them was Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former reporter and political activist who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was a client of Goldin when she decided to become a literary agent, and the fight for his freedom would be the epicenter of the activist’s life for a long time.

“Unreconstructed socialist,” as iconic writer Sam Roberts describes her in her obituary for the New York Times, Goldin became a civic leader in the Lower East Side neighborhood, founder of the Metropolitan Housing Council and the Cooper Square Committee, and an outspoken negotiator against gentrification and the displacement of minorities in the second half of 20th century New York.

It was through the Cooper Square Committee, the nation’s oldest anti-displacement organization, that Goldin succeeded in averting the slum clearance plan proposed by Robert Moses in the late 1950s, and established a mutual housing association to rehabilitate and operate uninhabitable buildings.

Her fight for the housing rights of the Hispanic and Chinese communities kept her active until a few years ago, when she was still disputing and negotiating the construction of housing nuclei for people of medium and low income.

“Capitalism can’t work,” Ms. Goldin told The Indypendent, a local paper, in 2014. “It’s a system where you can never have enough.”

“The nature of the system is to expand,” she added. “It’s why we are an empire. In time, all empires disappear. I just want it to happen faster.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t fast enough.