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Notable Oregonians: John Reed - Journalist, Poet

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John Reed

John Reed, 1887-1920 (image from Robert Hallowell portrait at Harvard University)

John Reed was born in Portland, Oregon on October 22, 1887 to Charles Jerome Reed and Margaret Green Reed. As a youth he was educated at the Portland Academy. Reed graduated from Harvard in 1910, where he served on the editorial board of the Harvard Monthly and Lampoon, and was class orator and poet. After graduation he traveled in England and Spain. Upon returning to the United States, Reed started his career as a journalist in the magazines of the political left. He was one of the leading socialists of the New Review and The Masses.

 

In 1914 Reed covered the Mexican revolution for the Metropolitan Magazine. He spent four months with Pancho Villa and his troops and described the revolutionary fighting in his book Insurgent Mexico published the same year.

During World War I Reed worked as a war correspondent for the Metropolitan Magazine. The magazine rejected some of his stories as being too leftist in tone. Reed's reports on the fighting in Germany, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Russia were published in 1916 in The War in Eastern Europe. That same year he returned to the United States for an operation to remove one of his kidneys. In the early 1917 he married the journalist Louise Bryant and traveled with her to Russia to witness and report on the October Revolution in St. Petersburg for The Masses. Reed's pro-Communist and antiwar articles were partly responsible for that journal's indictment and trials on the grounds of sedition.

 

His 1919 book Ten Days That Shook the World focused on the crucial moment of history when Lenin, a friend of Reed's, pressed the Bolsheviks to seize power. The book recounted conversations, arguments, political machinations, and personal motives. Although Reed's enthusiasm for the revolution limited his objectivity, he provided a unique, firsthand account of a turning point in Russian history.

 

In 1919 he organized the Communist Labor Party and was founder and first editor of the Voice of Labor. For a short time he was the Soviet consul in New York. When the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party split in 1919, Reed became the leader of the latter. After charges of treason he fled to Finland where the authorities kept him in prison before exchanging him for Russian-held Finnish prisoners of war. In prison Reed wrote more poetry and outlined a pair of novels, which he never completed.

 

In Russia he gave speeches and was joined by Bryant, whom he had secretly contacted. At the peak of his career, Reed was stricken with typhus and died on October 19, 1920. He was subsequently buried with other Bolshevik heroes beside the Kremlin wall. Reed's popularity as a radical leader led to the creation of John Reed clubs across the United States. His life was subject of the 1981 film Reds.

 

(Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica | Dictionary of Oregon History) Revised 1/2013

 

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