Charles Edward Russell (September 25, 1860 in Davenport, Iowa – April 23, 1941 in Washington, DC) was an American journalist, opinion columnist, newspaper editor, and political activist. The author of a number of books of biography and social commentary, he won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for The American Orchestra and Theodore Thomas. Russell is also remembered as one of three co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Charles Edward Russell was born in Davenport, Iowa, a transportation center located on the Mississippi River on the far eastern border of the state. His father Edward Russell was editor of the Davenport Gazette, and a noted abolitionist. The Russell family were staunchly religious Christian Evangelicals, with Charles' grandfather a Baptist minister and his father a Sunday school superintendent and a leader of the Iowa Young Men's Christian Association.
Russells attended St. Johnsbury Academy, located in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for his high school education and also worked under his father while at the newspaper.
Russell wrote for the Minneapolis Journal, the Detroit Tribune, the New York World, William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan, and the New York Herald. He was employed as a newspaper writer and editor in New York and Chicago from 1894 to 1902, working successively for the New York World, the New York American, and the Chicago American.
In his memoirs Bare Hands and Stone Walls, Russell stated that "transforming the world...to a place where one can know some peace...some joy of living, some sense of the inexhaustible beauties of the universe in which he has been placed", was the purpose that inspired his work and his life. Russell felt very strongly about the well-being of others, after seeing the struggles that people all over New York had to undergo. These struggles included the unfair working conditions and wages in which people from all walks of life were forced to endure. People were placed into cramped working spaces with few, if any breaks. Aside from the physical conditions, most big employers did not value the well-being of their employees, especially the immigrants. With these horrendous mental images in place, Russell became inspired.
Russell was one of a group of journalists at the turn of the 20th century who were called muckrakers. They investigated and reported—not with cold detachment—but with feeling and rage about the horrors of capitalism. This type of reporting became known as "Yellow journalism." Yellow journalism and the muckraker movement helped to jumpstart numerous reforms that included: prison conditions, railroads, church building conditions and other practices.
In Soldier for the Common Good, an unpublished dissertation on Russell's life, author Donald Bragaw writes: "Historian Louis Filler has called Russell the leader of the muckrakers for contributing 'important studies in almost every field in which they ventured.' Shortly after his hiatus from writing due to the death of his first wife, Russell wrote one of his best books, "The Greatest Trust in the World," exposing the horrific ways of the meatpacking industry.
Russell's reports on the corrupt practices and inhuman conditions at Chicago stock yards were the inspiration for Upton Sinclair's powerful novel The Jungle, which caused a national uproar that led to inspection reforms. Comparable to the writings of Upton Sinclair, Russell's most controversial expose was fixated on the Trinity Church. This report was detrimental to the church's reputation as it accused the church of being one of the leading slum landlords in New York City.
This accusation resulted in the church taking swift action by cleaning up or selling the worst of their properties. After traveling all over the world in investigative journalism, Russell's beliefs about capitalism began to form stronger and stronger. He believed that capitalism itself was quite faulty and that the financial endeavors of the United States that led the economy were corrupt. As his convictions became deeper, Russell recognized that his beliefs were in line with that of the Socialist party, leading him to join in 1908.
In 1909 Russell was among 60 inspirational men and women such as Oswald Villard, William Walling, Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jane Addams, and Lillian Wald who worked together to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), formed in the aftermath of a race riot at Springfield, Illinois in August of the previous year. Russell's participation in the founding of the NAACP stemmed from his experiences with violence and racism as a child. One of the most memorable experiences included his father nearly being hanged for simply opposing slavery. Russell served and participated on the board of directors for the NAACP for the remainder of his life.
In 1908 Russell joined the Socialist Party of America.
Russell was the Socialist candidate for Governor of New York in 1910 and 1912, and for U.S. Senator from New York in 1914. He also ran for Mayor of New York City. Due to Russell's belief that Germany was an undeniable threat to the U.S., in 1915 he unexpectedly came out in support of President Woodrow Wilson's war "preparedness campaign". This decision painted Russell into a tight corner politically as the majority of the SP's rank and file remained strongly anti-war. Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs believed that Russell's decision to support Wilson's move for rearmament probably cost Russell the party's Presidential nomination in 1916. Later that year, Russell separated from his party, and became a part of a group known as "prowar socialists". While Debs disagreed profoundly with Russell on the issue, he applauded him for the courage of his convictions.
Russell would ultimately be expelled from the Socialist Party in 1917 over his support of American intervention in the First World War.
The Root mission to Russia
Aligning himself with Upton Sinclair, among others on the right wing of the party, Russell continued to agitate for "responsible...Marxian" positions inside the Socialist Party through 1917.
After the February Revolution, Russell was named by Woodrow Wilson to join a mission led by Elihu Root intended to keep the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky in the war. The mission report recommended that George Creel's Committee on Public Information conduct pro-war propaganda efforts in Russia. Russell personally lobbied Wilson to use the relatively new medium of film to influence the Russian public. Wilson was receptive and the Committee on Public Information subsequently developed film and distribution networks in Russia over the next few months. Russell appears as himself in the 1917 film The Fall of the Romanoffs, directed by Herbert Brenon, which may have been a product of these efforts.
Participation on the Root Mission was effectively a burning of bridges with the Socialist Party, which remained solidly opposed to the European war. Russell left the Socialist Party to join the Social Democratic League of America. He also worked with the AFL to help found the patriotic American Alliance for Labor and Democracy, an organization which agitated on behalf of American participation in the war among the country's workers.
Russell subsequently became an editorial writer for social democratic magazine The New Leader.
Death and legacy
C.E. Russell died on April 23, 1941 in Washington, DC at age 80.
Russell's papers are housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Russell's first cousin was Frederick Russell Burnham, who became a celebrated scout and the inspiration for the boy scouts.
Books and pamphlets
- Such Stuff as Dreams. Indianapolis, IN: Bowen-Merrill, 1901.
- The Twin Immoralities and Other Poems. Chicago: Hammersmark, 1904.
- The Greatest Trust in the World. New York: Ridgeway-Thayer, 1905.
- The Uprising of the Many. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1907.
- Lawless Wealth: The Origin of Some Great American Fortunes. New York: B.W. Dodge, 1908.
- Songs of Democracy and Other Themes. New York: Moffat, Yard & Co., 1909.
- Thomas Chatterton: The Marvelous Boy: The Story of a Strange Life, 1752-1770. London: Richards, 1909.
- Why I Am a Socialist. New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1910.
- Business: The Heart of the Nation. New York: John Lane, 1911.
- Socialism the Only Remedy. Chicago: Socialist Party, 1912.
- The Passing Show of Capitalism. Girard, KS: Appeal to Reason, 1912.
- Stories of the Great Railroads. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1912.
- Doing Us Good and Plenty. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1914.
- These Shifting Scenes. New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914.
- The Story of Wendell Phillips: Soldier of the Common Good. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1914.
- Unchained Russia. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1918.
- After the Whirlwind: A Book of Reconstruction and Profitable Thanksgiving. New York: George H. Doran, 1919.
- Bolshevism and the United States. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1919.
- The Story of the Nonpartisan League: A Chapter in American Evolution. New York: Harper & Bros., 1920.
- Railroad Melons, Rates and Wages: A Handbook of Railroad Information. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1922.
- The Outlook for the Philippines. New York: The Century Co., 1922.
- The Hero of the Filipinos: The Story of Jose Rizal, Poet, Patriot and Martyr. With E.B. Rodriguez. New York: The Century Co., 1923.
- Julia Marlowe: Her Life and Art. New York: Appleton & Co., 1926.
- The American Orchestra and Theodore Thomas. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1927.
- A-rafting on the Mississipp'. New York: The Century Co., 1928.
- An Hour of American Poetry. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1929.
- From Sandy Hook to 62 Degrees: Being Some Account of the Adventures, Exploits and SErvices of the Old New York Pilot Boat. New York: The Century Co., 1929.
- Haym Salomon and the Revolution. New York: Cosmopolitan Book Co., 1930.
- Charlemagne: First of the Moderns. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1930.
- Blaine of Maine: His Life and Times. New York: Cosmopolitan Book Co., 1931.
- Bare Hands and Stone Walls: Some Recollections of a Sideline Reformer. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933. —Autobiography.
- A Pioneer Editor in Early Iowa: A Sketch of the Life of Edward Russell. Washington, DC: Randsdell, 1941.
- "The Clergyman's Daughter," Waverly, March 1897, pg. 48.
- "The Greatest of World’s Fairs," Munsey's, Nov. 1900, pp. 161–184.
- "The Story of the Nineteenth Century," Munsey's, Jan. 1901, pp. 551–559.
- "Are There Two Rudyard Kiplings?" Cosmopolitan, Oct. 1901, pp. 653–660.
- "William Randolph Hearst," Harper's Weekly, pp. 790–792.
- "Marshall Field, A Great Commercial Genius," Everybody's Magazine, March 1906, pp. 291–302.
- "Mr. Hearst As I Knew Him," Ridgway's, Oct. 1906, pp. 279–291.
- "Caste — The Curse of India," Cosmopolitan, Dec. 1906, pp. 124–135.
- "The Growth of Caste in America," Cosmopolitan, March 1907, pp. 524–534.
- "The Haymarket and Afterwards," Appleton's, Oct. 1907, pp. 399–412.
- "Tenements of Trinity Church," Everybody's Magazine, June 1908, pp. 47–57.
- "The Growing Menace of Socialism," Hampton's, Jan. 1909, pp. 119–126.
- "Robert Marion LaFollette," Human Life, July 1909, pp. 7–8, 24.
- "The Remedy of the Law," Hampton's, Aug. 1910, pp. 217–230.
- "Railroad Revolution," Pearson's Magazine, Feb. to May, 1913.
- "The Keeping of the Kept Press," Pearson's Magazine, Jan. 1914, pp. 33–43.
- "How Business Controls News," Pearson's Magazine, May 1914, pp. 546–557.
- "The Revolt of the Farmers: A Lesson in Constructive Radicalism," Pearson's Magazine, April 1915, pp. 417–427.
- "Why England Falls Down," Pearson's Magazine, Aug. 1915, pp. 201–219.
- "The New Socialist Alignment," Harper's Magazine, March 1918, pp. 563–570.
- "Radical Press in America," Bookman, July 1919, pp. 513–518.
- "Collective Bargaining in the President's First Industrial Conference," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 90 (July 1920), pp. 68–69.
- "About a 'Tolerable Autocracy,'" Young India, Aug. 1920.
- "Is Woman Suffrage a Failure?" The Century, March 1924, pp. 724–730.
- "Take Them or Leave Them," The Century, June 1926.
- "An Old Reporter Looks at the Mad-House World," Scribner's Magazine, Oct. 1933, pp. 225–230.
- "Toward the American Commonwealth: Social Democracy: Constant Gradualism as the Technique for Social Advance," Social Frontier, Oct. 1938, pp. 22–24.
Russell played himself in the 1917 film The Fall of the Romanoffs, a dramatization of the Russian revolution and the influence of Rasputin on the Russian royal family.