October 8, 1998
Remembering political activist Alice Freeman
By DAVID TRUMBULL
My neighbor Alice Freeman died two weeks ago at age 80. You knew Mrs. Freeman if you participated in civic affairs, in the Cambridge African-American community, or in Republican politics. In so many activities, in so many organizations, in so many ways Alice Freeman touched the lives of so many people. "My mom drew her power from other people," was how her son answered mourners who remarked on Mrs. Freeman's seemingly boundless energy for helping others.
This spring, at a luncheon in Boston, Alice Freeman received the Sojourner Truth Award from the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs. I had the privilege of representing the Cambridge branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the tribute which drew friends from all across the United States.
Mrs. Freeman was well known and highly respected in the Cambridge NAACP, where she served on the executive board. It is fitting that Alberta King, president of the Cambridge NAACP, has announced that our 1999 Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast on Saturday, Jan. 16, will be dedicated to the memory of Alice Freeman.
I first met Mrs. Freeman through politics, and quickly came to know her as the rare person who is always ready to help, with no care for reward other than the opportunity to serve. As a member of the Cambridge Republican City Committee, as a delegate to Republican conventions, and as a volunteer for candidates, Alice Freeman was, for decades, a pillar of the local GOP. Mary Samp, wife of Edward Samp who retired in 1995 after 35 years as Republican member of the Cambridge Election Commission, said that she cannot remember a time when Alice Freeman was not a party activist, going back to when there was a Cambridge Women's Republican Club.
Mrs. Freeman's start in political activities dates to the years when most African-Americans voted Republican. Now a generation is passing that is the last to remember the GOP as the party of Lincoln. Locally, Ruth Jones, grandniece of Frederick Douglass, was a link to our party's past until her death two years ago. Though age had slowed her down from activity in politics, Ruth Jones maintained, even at 100 years of age, her membership on the Cambridge Republican City Committee.
Starting in the 1930s, the black vote migrated to the Democratic Party and by the mid-60s the re-alignment was complete. Yet even then, there were bright spots; in 1966, Republican Ed Brooke won election to U.S. Senate, becoming the first black senator since Reconstruction and the only black ever elected statewide in Massachusetts.
Sadly, Republican outreach to African-Americans since then has met only limited success. Alice Freeman believed that the Republican philosophy of government was good for all Americans, black and white. I believe she was right. The Republican principles of limited government under law, the greatest measure of personal freedom that is consistent with justice, and impartial administration of laws that apply to all Americans offer minorities the best opportunity to achieve equal treatment, economic well-being, and personal happiness.
The Republican Party and American blacks both suffer if the black experience is not properly represented in the party. Alice Freeman never stopped helping to shape the GOP. When I asked her if she wanted to go to the state convention this past April as part of the Cambridge delegation her answer was, "I guess if I'm needed, I'll go."
When a friend announced this spring that he was running for office, Mrs. Freeman sent me a note wishing him well. She wrote of the good that government can do when rightly directed at problems and encouraged the candidate to speak about substantive issues. It was clear from that note that she had a vision for government and that she wanted to help the GOP along in the direction of that vision.
Republicans once took for granted, and ended up losing, the black vote. We have not yet earned it back, but many of us are working at it sincerely. I appreciated that Mrs. Freeman never gave up on the Republican party. You can be sure that the Republican Party will never give up on African-Americans.
Lee Street resident David Trumbull is Chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee.