Sam Reed: Brief Biography

Sam Reed was born Samuel Pobiersky in a small Jewish village of Konela in the Ukraine on August 20, 1906 and died on August 3, 1999 in Durham, North Carolina. Reed was raised by his mother and grandfather, Rabbi Dashevsky, who instilled in him the virtues of tolerance and love for all people regardless of their differences. His grandfather also taught Sam to value intellectual life and rigorous debate, and Sam live these values every day. In 1923, Sam fled the Ukraine and immigrated to the United States with his mother and two brothers in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, having survived anti-Jewish riots and near-starvation. Inspired by the revolution's values, Sam moved to Duluth, Minnesota when he arrived in the U.S. and quickly became a radical political activist.

In 1925, Sam changed his name to Reed in honor of John Reed, author of Ten Days that Shook the World, a history of the Bolshevik Revolution. Sam joined the Communist Party and spent the years prior to World War II organizing on behalf of the downtrodden. In his passionate efforts to improve the immigrant laborers in Duluth, the tenants of slumlords in New York, and during the Depression, he moved to Pittsburg to work in the Congress of Industrial Organizations' efforts to organize the steel workers whose living and working conditions he found to be deplorable.

Sam served in the U.S. Army in World War II on the island of New Guinea and returned to activism at the end of the war. During the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy Era, Senator Joe McCarthy himself called Sam one of the most dangerous men alive. Not long after, Sam left the Communist party because of the crimes of Josef Stalin, and he turned his energy to the civil rights movement. Just as he had worked with labor hero John L. Lewis in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, Sam marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma and Chicago.

Through it all, his marriage to Georgia, his wife of 54 years, sustained him. He met Georgia while organizing steel workers, and as a teacher of inner city children, she shared his convictions. Her salary often supported them during his years of political organizing. In 1973, Sam and Georgia moved to Durham, and he immediately became a prominent figure on the local scene. Sam exerted his leadership on behalf of better pay for Durham's public employees. He founded and led a local Labor Day celebration. When the Martin Luther King Holiday was passed into law, Sam led the group that established an annual local celebration and march. He worked diligently in political campaigns not because he was a politician, but because he wanted to support those candidates who he believed would truly serve Durham's neediest citizens.

He often commented to friends that his happiest and most productive days were spent in Durham. Within a month of his death, Reed continued to work tirelessly, meeting people and sharing his message of justice, equality, and brotherhood, and recruiting volunteers and raising funds for the Trumpet of Conscience. He was a prolific writer whose editorials and comments often filled the editorial and letters pages of the local newspapers voicing his positions on the issues of the day. In 1999, Sam was elected to be vice-president of the Durham chapter of the NAACP with responsibility for increasing membership. One month later, Sam had recruited 100 new members, white and black.

Sam's greatest legacy in Durham was the publication and organization he founded, The Trumpet of Conscience. The Trumpet newspaper, published from 1987-2000, was a forum for anyone who wished to express his or her views related to community betterment and grassroots activism. Through The Trumpet, he sought to build a better Durham and was dedicated to promoting racial harmony and community involvement. In the true spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet's motto was "Keeping the Dream Alive."

To commemorate his service to Durham, on August 9, 1999 the Durham County Commissioners entered a resolution honoring him. Similarly, the City of Durham Human Relations Commission established the Sam Reed Advocacy Award in his honor. The award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated dedication and commitment to civil and human rights advocacy. Additionally, the s Commission Commission entered a September 7, 1999 resolution memorializing him. Among the numerous awards and recognitions bestowed upon Reed were:

  • (Posthumous) Spirit of Hayti Award given by the St. Joseph's Historic Foundation, March 22, 2001
  • Community Service Award given by the Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center, April 25, 1998
  • Carlie B. Sessoms Award given by the Durham Human Relations Commission, February 26, 1998
  • Award of Excellence – "In grateful appreciation for outstanding service to the election of Joe W. Bowser, Durham County Commissioner 1996-1998"
  • Citizen Award given by the Independent Weekly, December 19, 1994
  • Certificate of Appreciation given by the Durham County Commissioners, "For helping to build a community of brotherhood and love as the founder of the Trumpet of Conscience publication, April 18, 1994."
  • Outstanding and Dedicated Service Award given by Durham Chapter, NCSC, May 1981
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award, January 15, 1990
  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, "Keeper of the Dream Award presented to the Trumpet of Conscience, January 16, 1989
  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, "Keeper of the Dream Award presented to Sam Reed, January 20, 1986
  • Outstanding leadership, love, and dedicated service," given by the Durham Chapter #189 AARP November 14, 1986
  • AFSCME in the public service, December 13, 1985 ("Leadership as business manager of the city workers union local 1194")

Reed passed away on August 3, 1999 after a brief illness. A memorial service was held for him at St. Joseph's Historic Foundation/Hayti Heritage Center located at Fayetteville Street, Durham, North Carolina on Sunday, August 15, 1999, a location where The Trumpet often held meetings and celebrations. Although Sam and Georgia had no children, Sam maintained close ties with his nephews, Bill Powers of Sacramento, Rick Powers of Iowa, Tom Powers of Chicago, and Steve Gardner of Bloomington, Indiana.

Biography Compiled by Lois Deloatch, July 17, 2007

Sources Consulted

  • Deloatch, Lois, personal conversations with Sam Reed, 1996-1999.
  • Obituary written by Bill Powers for Sam Reed's memorial service, August 1999.
  • Durham County Commissioners' Resolution, August 9, 1999.
  • Durham Herald Sun Newspaper, Sam Reed Obituary, published on August 6, 1999.
  • Titles of awards were taken from the actual plaques.
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