December 10, 1902:
“You only live once and it is best to live one’s life with one’s conscience rather than to temporize or accept with silence those things one believes to be against the interests of one’s people and one’s nation.”
—Vito Marcantonio in Congress June 27, 1950, the only Congressional voice opposed to U.S. intervention in the Korean War.
Vito Marcantonio was perhaps the most consequential radical politician in the United States in the twentieth century. Elected to Congress from New York’s ethnically Italian and Puerto Rican East Harlem slums, Marcantonio, in his time, held office longer than any other third-party radical, serving seven terms from 1934 to 1950. Colorful and controversial, Marcantonio captured national prominence as a powerful orator and brilliant parliamentarian. Often allied with the U.S. Communist Party (CP), he was an advocate of civil rights, civil liberties, labor unions, and Puerto Rican independence. He supported social security and unemployment legislation for what later was called a “living wage” standard. And he annually introduced anti-lynching and anti–poll tax bills a decade before it became respectable. He also opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee, red-baiting, and antisemitism, and fought for the rights of the foreign-born. He was a bold outspoken opponent of U.S. imperialism. (Adapted from another blog post)
“If it be radicalism to believe that our natural resources should be used for the benefit of all of the American people and not for the purpose of enriching just a few…then, Ladies and Gentlemen of this House I accept the charge. I plead guilty to the charge; I am a radical and I am willing to fight it out…until hell freezes over.”
“I have stood by the fundamental principles which I have always advocated. I have not trimmed. I have not retreated. I do not apologize, and I am not compromising.”
—Vito Marcantonio, in his last speech to Congress
On the morning of August 9, 1954, Vito Marcantonio, only fifty-one-years-old, dropped dead of a heart attack in the rain on lower Broadway near City Hall.