A founder of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, Benjamin Israel, died at his home in St. Louis on February 23. He was 64, and had been battling cancer for a long time. Benjamin was dedicated to the fight against the white supremacist movement, against racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry and for the rights of working people to organize. He had unbounded energy for work he believed in, and an intense intellectual curiosity marked his everyday life. His second marriage in 1990, to Virginia Walker, made him obviously happy and satisfied, and allowed him to make a greater contribution to the community around him. He was a man of principle in a world that bought and sold morality dirt cheap.
This writer knew Benjamin as a good friend and a comrade from the late 1970s. We traveled together and march in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1980—a march that both commemorated those who had been murdered and wounded by Klansmen and neo-Nazis the previous November and also honored the four Greensboro students who had sat in at Woolworths 20 years before. When the Institute for Research & Education on Human Right was first founded in August 1983, Benjamin was one of four intrepid individuals who signed his name as a member of that first board of directors. Despite maintaining a full-time, 40-hours a week job, Benjamin found time and opportunity to research and write articles for every issue of IREHR’s quarterly magazine. The articles were all unsigned. But I remember most clearly his work investigating Nazi war criminals, and the serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, and his work uncovering the story of Unitarian minister Rev. Leon Birkhead, who had organized against the Klan and neo-Nazis a generation before the IREHR.
At the time of his death, Benjamin was researching and writing the story of the first African-American lieutenant on the St. Louis police force. His wife has vowed to finish the story.
We will all miss Benjamin Israel, his work for good causes, his sharp mind, his love for his wife and family and beautiful spirit.