Perry Rosenstein: Building a Foundation for Art and Social Justice

As president and founder of the Puffin Foundation, Rosenstein nourished independent journalism.

Joel Bleifuss May 18, 2020

With the pass­ing of Per­ry Rosen­stein on April 3, In These Times lost a friend and Amer­i­can work­ers lost a champion.

Perry had hoped to become a teacher—but he was blacklisted because of his economic and racial justice work, so became a captain of industry instead.

Per­ry was the son of Pol­ish Jews who, hav­ing immi­grat­ed to New York at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, became labor move­ment activists. His was among more than 700 work­ing fam­i­lies who, in 1925, pooled their sav­ings to build the Unit­ed Work­ers Coop­er­a­tive Colony, a res­i­den­tial hous­ing co-op in the Bronx. At the time, the Coops,” as it was known, was the largest res­i­den­tial hous­ing coop­er­a­tive in the Unit­ed States.

This grand exper­i­ment in coop­er­a­tive liv­ing (and its sad, self-inflict­ed demise) is doc­u­ment­ed in At Home in Utopia, a 2008 film by Michal Goldman.

Yok Ziebel grew up with Per­ry in the Coops. He explains in the film, The main force of all the kids in the Coops — though we didn’t know it at the time — was politics.”

Pete Rosen­blum, who lived in the apart­ment be-low Perry’s, recalls how, in the 1930s, the two of them scav­enged for the sil­ver papers that lined cig­a­rette packs. The col­lect­ed met­al” (so they were told) would be melt­ed down into bul­lets for the Abra­ham Lin­coln Brigade, the Amer­i­cans who, in the 1930s, fought for the Span­ish Repub­lic (aka the Sec­ond Span­ish Repub­lic) against Franco.

It affect­ed Per­ry like it affect­ed me; it ruined us,” Pete laughs. It instilled in us a Left spir­it. We were part of the world.”

Fol­low­ing World War II and a stint as a union orga­niz­er in the steel mills of South Bend, Ind., Per­ry had hoped to become a teacher — but he was black­list­ed because of his eco­nom­ic and racial jus­tice work, so became a cap­tain of indus­try instead. Perry’s inno­v­a­tive man­u­fac­ture of screws and met­al fas­ten­ers made him a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire. In 1983, Per­ry put his for­tune to work for the pro­gres­sive move­ment and estab­lished the Puf­fin Foun­da­tion, which sup­ports indi­vid­ual artists, inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism, the Abra­ham Lin­coln Brigade Archives at New York Uni­ver­si­ty and the Puf­fin Gallery for Social Activism at the Muse­um of the City of New York.

In 2009, the eco­nom­ic fall­out from the Great Reces­sion forced In These Times to lay off half the staff. Per­ry, as pres­i­dent of the Puf­fin Foun­da­tion, stepped up to help fund the In These Times Growth Plan,” which grew our sub­scriber base to 38,000 (up from few­er than 10,000 in 2010) and our full-time staff to 10 (up from 4 in 2010).

We are where we are today because Per­ry sup­port­ed the pub­li­ca­tion of the mag­a­zine you hold in your hands. We hon­or him for his sup­port of inde­pen­dent media. His lega­cy lives on in the pages of In These Times.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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