Anne Burlak Timpson Papers
Anne Burlak Timpson was born on 24 May 1911 in Slatington, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest of six children of Ukrainian immigrants, Harry and Anastasia (Nellie) Smigel Burlak. Only four children lived to adulthood. Although she wanted to be a teacher, Anne Burlak dropped out of school at the age of 14 to help support her family by working at the mill. Like many young women seeking employment in the mills, she lied about her age, sixteen being the legal age for workers. From 1925 to 1929 she worked in the silk mills in Bethlehem and Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 1927 Ella Reeve Bloor came to Bethlehem to fundraise for the labor newspaper, The Daily Worker. After the meeting, she and Anne Burlak talked about the working conditions in the mill where Burlak worked. Bloor urged Burlak to join the Young Communist League (YCL), opening up "a whole new vision and purpose in life" for Anne Burlak, who was elected that year to the District Committee of the YCL of Eastern Pennsylvania. In 1928 Anne Burlak was a delegate to the founding convention of the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU). When she tried to organize the mill in her hometown, she was fired. Although it was easy to find work nearby, every time she tried to organize her fellow mill workers, she lost her job.
In May 1929 Anne Burlak and many others, including her father, were arrested and charged for spreading Communist propaganda under the state sedition laws. Burlak decided that if she was going to be charged "for Communist ideas under the Sedition law, I might as well join the Communist Party and learn more about it." Although the sedition case was eventually dropped, Burlak found herself blacklisted and unable to find a new job. So, when the Executive Board of the NTWU asked her to organize full time, she accepted and was paid ten dollars a week to work first in Pennsylvania, then in North and South Carolina. In 1930 she was sent to Georgia. On 21 May 1930, she and five others were arrested for insurrection against the state of Georgia because they addressed an interracial audience of unemployed workers. A conviction could have carried the death penalty. Burlak and the other five members of the "Atlanta Six" were held incommunicado for six weeks before their lawyers won them the right to bail. Burlak was the first one freed, and she traveled around the country raising money for the others' bail and for their defense under auspices of International Labor Defense. Although the Supreme Court declared the Georgia insurrection law unconstitutional in the Angelo Herndon case in 1937, the charges against the Atlanta Six were not dropped until 1939.
Anne Burlak returned to the north and organized workers in the mills of Rhode Island and New Bedford, Fall River and Lawrence, Massachusetts. It was during the 1931-32 Lawrence textile strike that she acquired the nickname, "The Red Flame." When Edith Berkman and the other two organizers were arrested in 1931, Burlak was asked to go to Lawrence to take charge of the strike. A local minister had already labeled Berkman the "Red Flame from hell" and when Burlak came into town to replace Berkman, the headline in a Lawrence newspaper said, "One Red Flame goes to jail and another one rises in her place!" In spite of the fact that the media often claimed that Burlak had red hair and/or wore outrageous red clothing, the origin of her nickname had nothing to do with her physical appearance.
At the age of 21 Anne Burlak was elected the National Secretary of the National Textile Workers' Union, the first American women to hold such a high post in a labor union. Immigration authorities tried to deport her, but they were forced to release her when a baptismal certificate proved her citizenship.
Anne Burlak's father was eventually fired for his union activities. In the midst of the Great Depression, there were few jobs in the U.S., but the Soviet Union was seeking skilled workers. In 1932 her parents and brothers returned to the Ukraine. When she went to Moscow to attend the Lenin Institute in 1936, it was the last time she would see her entire family. Her father died of starvation during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in 1943 and she did not see her mother or brothers again until 1961.
In 1932, Anne Burlak unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Pawtucket, Rhode Island on the Communist Party ticket. Her platform included unemployment and social insurance at the government's expense, cash relief instead of scrip from the local department of public aid, immediate payment of soldiers' bonuses, and the right of workers to strike. That same year, she led the Rhode Island contingent of 3000 (25% African American and 33% women) to the national Hunger March in Washington, D.C. to petition the federal government for unemployment insurance. While there, she met her future husband, Arthur E. Timpson, who was representing the Wisconsin farm delegation in D.C., but Burlak does not remember meeting him until 1935. Although he wanted to get married before he left to fight in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade as a volunteer soldier in the Spanish Civil War, they waited until he returned home and they were married on 10 November 1939.
In 1938 Anne Burlak ran for Secretary of State of Rhode Island on the Communist Party ticket, advocating jobs, security, democracy, and peace. In January 1939, while working as the Administrative Secretary of the Communist Party of Massachusetts, she was subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities (Dies Committee). In 1940 she was elected the Executive Secretary of the Communist Party of Massachusetts. Through World War II she appeared at legislative hearings at the statehouse regarding pro-labor and civil rights legislation. Arthur Timpson volunteered for and entered the United States Army in March 1942. Anne Burlak Timpson gave birth to her first child, Kathryn Anne Timpson, in May 1943 while Arthur was training in Pennsylvania. Arthur Timpson served overseas with General Patton's forces from June 1943 until the end of the war.
With the war over, and soldiers returning home to reclaim the jobs that many working mothers had filled while the men were overseas, the federal government decided to close federally funded day care centers. Anne Burlak Timpson successfully fought against the closing of the Boston area facilities in 1945-46. When son William Michael Timpson was born in July 1946, Anne Burlak Timpson stayed at home with her two children and edited the Roxbury Voice, a newsletter issued by the local Communist Party.
Many Communist Party leaders were arrested under the Smith Act during the summer of 1951. With her movements being followed by the FBI, Anne Burlak Timpson stayed away from her home for eight months hoping to avoid arrest, leaving her daughter with good friends, first in Kansas City, Missouri and then Roxbury, Massachusetts; once school started again, she left her son with friends in Boston. Although she managed to avoid arrest during the early part of the decade, Anne Burlak Timpson was indicted under the Massachusetts Anti-Anarchy Law and in March 1956 she was arrested with six others for violating the Smith Act. After the Supreme Court ruled in the Steve Nelson case that only the United States government could prosecute such cases, the charges stemming from the state anarchy law were dropped. The Smith Act trial was delayed until the Supreme Court made a decision in the California Smith Act case. When the California defendants were acquitted, the case against the seven in Massachusetts was dropped as well.
This was not the end of Anne Timpson's arrests, however; on 1 October 1964 Timpson was indicted again, this time under the Internal Security Act of 1950, commonly known as the McCarran Act, which required Communists to register and prohibited them from holding federal or union jobs. As one of 44 arrested, Timpson and many others refused to cooperate, citing their right not to incriminate themselves. In 1965 the Supreme Court held that the registration provision was unconstitutional, and the charges against Timpson were dropped.
Throughout this period, Anne Burlak Timpson worked as a bookkeeper. In the 1960s she was asked to serve on the board of the Marian Davis (later Davis-Putter) Scholarship Fund, an organization dedicated to providing monetary support to students working for peace and justice. In 1981 Timpson retired and she spent the last few decades of her life involved in local politics, fighting for better schools, housing, jobs, and health care. She championed the rights of low income workers and senior citizens; continued her fights against racism, classism, and sexism; and was heavily involved in the peace movement, advocating nuclear disarmament as the Cold War came to a close. Timpson dedicated herself energetically to fundraising for the Communist Party and the party newspapers, and organized a picnic fundraiser every summer in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s. In 1982 she won a Wonder Woman Award for Women Creating New Realities, which provided her a stipend so she could write her memoirs. In 1997 she was awarded the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Award for Contributions to Social Justice. Anne Burlak Timpson remained a member of the Communist Party to the day she died, 9 July 2002, at the age of 91 in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.