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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Carl E. Ross
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Carl Ross was born on July 22, 1913, in Hancock, Michigan, to Finnish immigrant parents. He grew up in Superior, Wisconsin, where his father was a typesetter for the Finnish-language communist newspaper "Tyomies". From early on, he was active in the communist youth movement. His interest and abilities in sports led him serve as secretary for the Midwest district of the Labor Sports Union, a communist youth organization, from 1930 to 1934. In 1934 Ross moved to St. Paul to expand Labor Sports Union activities and became deeply involved in the flowering youth and student movement there. He served as secretary of the Young Communist League (YCL) of Minnesota (1934-1937) and as the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local #665 (Miscellaneous Workers) representative to the the Hennepin County Central Committee of the Farmer-Labor Party. In 1937, Ross was promoted to the national leadership of the YCL, and moved to New York. Ross remained in the leadership of the YCL until it was dissolved in 1943, when he became the national secretary of its successor organization, the American Youth for Democracy. At the age of thirty-three, Ross was reassigned from youth work to the Communist Party U.S.A. and returned to Minnesota in 1946 as the state secretary of the Party. In that position, he coordinated and oversaw Party work in the labor movement and in the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) and participated in the Progressive Party effort to elect Henry Wallace as President in 1948. While in Minnesota, Ross remained on the National Committee and Board of the CPUSA, and when the Party decided to go underground in 1950, he became "unavailable." From 1950 to 1953 he lived incognito in New Haven, Connecticut, and San Jose, California. His time in the underground ended with his arrest for harboring a fugitive, fellow CPer Robert Thompson, and he served eighteen months in a federal prison for this offense, returning to Minnesota late in 1955. In the wake of the Progressive Party defeat of 1948, the expulsion of communist-led unions from the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the purge of Communists from the DFL, Ross had begun to think that the CP needed to redefine its strategy, identity, and theory entirely. As a National Board member, he struggled with others in the Party leadership, and resigned from the Party in 1957 when it became clear that such a reorientation would not happen. Ross and two other former CP functionaries bought a plating shop in Minneapolis and set up business as auto body electroplaters. The business prospered, and in 1973 Ross and his partners sold it and retired. In retirement he pursued his interest in Finnish American history, with an emphasis on the radical community in which he grew up. This series of oral history interviews with him was recorded as part of the 20th Century Radicalism in Minnesota Project of the Minnesota Historical Society, which Ross directed from 1987 to 1989. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: The interview has been divided into four parts because of its length. Part I covers Ross's childhood and young adulthood in Superior, and his early activities in the Twin Cities, roughly 1913-1936. As Ross himself says, much of this first part of the interview reflects his own later scholarship, as well as his personal memory. Part II of the interview covers the years 1934-48. During this time, Ross was secretary of the Young Communist League in Minnesota; national secretary of the YCL in New York; national secretary of the American Youth for Democracy; and secretary of the Minnesota Communist Party. He also served on the national board of the American Youth Congress. Part III of the interview covers the years 1949-1973, including Ross's underground activities; his imprisonment; the decline of the Communist Party; his departure from the CP; and his electroplating business. Part IV of the interview covers the years 1973-1988, in which Ross pursued his scholarly interests. Carl Ross reviewed the transcripts for accuracy in 1992, and made several lengthy additions. These have been marked with brackets and footnotes.
24 hours sound cassette
378 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
26:56:10 running time
Interviewee: Ross, Carl
Interviewer: Berman, Hyman
Made in: Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, United States
Creation: 09/18/1986 - 07/19/1988 (Interviews conducted 9/18 9/23, 9/25, 9/30, 10/2, 10/7, 10/14, and 10/23/1986, 5/28, 6/17, 6/30, 7/7, and 8/3/1987, and 7/13 and 7/19/1988.)
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.36 (Accession Number)
MHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'