Accessibility links

Breaking News

Oregon Residents To Pay Tribute To Native Son John Reed

Washington, June 21 (RFE/RL) - John Reed, the controversial American journalist who participated in the Bolshevik revolution and is now buried in the Kremlin Wall, may get a monument of his own in his native state of Oregon.

Reed, also an author and poet, wrote several books including, "Ten Days That Shook the World," his personal account of the Bolshevik revolution. The introduction to the book was written by Lenin.

Reed was born in Portland in 1887 to a wealthy family. His mother's family owned the Portland Gas Company. His father became a U.S. Marshall, a sort of federally appointed police officer with jurisdiction in an assigned district.

During his youth, Reed attended the prestigious and expensive Portland Academy and then later, Harvard University. After graduation, he moved to Greenwich Village in New York, where he joined groups involved in radical politics. Here he said he felt his first pangs of guilt at having led such a privileged life.

"My happiness," he wrote later, "was built on the misery of other people."

He then moved to Mexico where he covered Mexican political events.

In 1917, Reed traveled to Russia with his wife, journalist Louise Bryant, to cover the revolution. Their open admiration of Lenin and the Bolsheviks caused the couple to be openly vilified in America. Reed died of typhus in Moscow in 1920 and was buried in the Kremlin Wall. He was 33 years old.

The movement to erect a hometown monument to Reed started in 1987 when a group of Portland's art and literature lovers decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Reed's birthday.

"We got very excited because here was a man who was in print in many languages, who was born right in our own city and lived many exciting years here before he went off to Harvard and Mexico and then Russia," David Milholland, of the Oregon Cultural Historical Commission told RFE/RL. "After this event we decided that we should do something more, that he should be memorialized here because he was a significant product of our city."

But Milholland admitted the task of raising money for such a controversial figure is not easy. He said the group has raised about 5,000 dollars so far for the monument, but that the goal is 75,000 - 100,000 dollars.

"We want to do something big," he said. "Something that captures a piece of this complex man, John Reed."

The Commission has already been given permission from the Portland City Park Department to create a memorial to John Reed at a large park at the top of a hill overlooking the city. Milholland said the Commission is already accepting designs for the monument and is especially interested in proposals from Russian and Mexican artists because "Reed spent considerable time in both countries and really felt a bond with the people."

The place and location for a monument has also been approved by Reed's family. In early June, John Reed, the nephew and namesake of his famous uncle, visited Portland to inspect the site.

"It's a beautiful site," Reed told RFE/RL. "It overlooks the city of Portland and I think Uncle Jack would like it."

When asked whether the family would eventually like John Reed's remains to be removed from the Kremlin Wall and returned to the United States, Reed replied emphatically: "Uncle Jack had a deep and sincere attachment to Russia and the Russian people. I am sure that it was his wish, and that of his late wife, to be buried in a suitable place there."

Reed added that he had been discussing this matter at great length with U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Thomas Pickering, when the family heard of a movement, allegedly coming from the mayor's office in Moscow, to disinter Reed's remains from the Kremlin Wall and bury him in the state cemetery Novodevichie as part of a plan to rid the Kremlin of old Bolshevik heroes. Reed said they sent letters to Pickering as well to President Boris Yelstin's office, informing them of the family's wishes.

"We said that if Uncle Jack's remains are to be disinterred from the Kremlin Wall where he is now buried, we would like them sent home to Portland for burial at the family plot in Riverview Cemetery," Reed said. "But if not, we are very happy to have them remain where they are."

Milholland is hopeful that the visit of Reed's nephew to Portland will re-energize the fundraising effort for the monument.

"We want to provide a fuller vision of John Reed than just a revolutionary figure," he said. "He was also a journalist, involved with playwright Eugene O'Neill in creating a theater movement, and was a fine poet. He was much more than just a revolutionary."