Oscar Berland passed away on March 21, 2023, at his home in El Cerrito, CA, after a short illness. He is survived by his partner, Paulette Comeau, and cousins in Pennsylvania. Berland was born in New York City in 1927. He grew up in the United Workers Cooperative Colony, famously known as the “Coops,” and attended the City College of New York. In 1948, he went to Birmingham, Alabama, and then to Durham, North Carolina, to work for labor reform and civil rights in the segregated American South. He was arrested in 1951 by a plainclothes Birmingham police agent for throwing leaflets out of a window announcing that another policeman had bombed the houses of two African Americans.
Berland turned to scholarship in the 1960s. During 1960 to 1964, he exchanged letters with the noted University of California labor economist Ira B. Cross. Subsequently, he moved to California to study there. His historical writings are still cited today. In 1962, he published “Giant Forest’s Reservation: The Legend and the Mystery,” an often-cited article about California’s Utopian Kaweah Colony, in the Sierra Club Bulletin. Berland’s innovative 1966 San Francisco State University MA thesis was entitled “Aborted Revolution: A Study in the Formative Years of the American Labor Movement, 1877-1886, with Special Reference to the International Workmen’s Association of San Francisco.” He did graduate work at the University of California, Davis, and wrote theoretical articles, including, in 1966, “Radical Chains: Marxian Concepts of Proletarian Mission” for Studies on the Left. During 1999-2000, he penned a two-part set of articles called “The Communist Perspective on the ’Negro Question’ in America, 1919-1931,” for Science & Society.
Berland also wrote a volume of unpublished poetry, was active in Yiddish and labor history reading groups, worked as a machinist, built his own telescope, taught in a vocational school, studied Polish Jewish culture, and enjoyed playing the mandolin. Very much a social person, he had a buoyant, charismatic personality. Always inquisitive, he eagerly embraced life to the fullest.
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