Freedom House Statement on the Passing of George Field
George Field, a founder and long-time executive director of Freedom House, died May 26 at the age of 101.
With no formal education and some experience in advertising and social-interest radio, Field in mid-life conceived an organization to counter the tyrannies of Nazism and Fascism sweeping Europe and threatening the world in 1940. He opposed isolationism in America and organized opposition to Germany's ideological source of tyranny, Hitler's Braunhaus in Munich. Field would create instead Freedom House.
Freedom House was chartered in October 1941, just weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and drew the United States into World War II. Freedom House was formed by the merger of two ad hoc committees pressing for greater U.S. support of the British, then fighting alone.
Field, active in one of these groups, persuaded Wendell L. Willkie, the unsuccessful Republican challenger of Franklin D. Roosevelt for the presidency in 1940, to take a leadership role in Freedom House. They were joined by Eleanor Roosevelt, the president's activist wife, Harry D. Gideonse, president of Brooklyn College, and a score of prominent journalists, academics, trade unionists, theologians, and public officials in and out of office.
The dynamic center of the small organization was George Field. He sensed looming issues in international and domestic affairs and sought prominent writers, mostly members of the Freedom House board, to create public statements that would generate wide publicity. Freedom House thus remained ahead of the curve in supporting post-war policies such as the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the United Nations. Freedom House held a pioneering civil rights conference by attracting white and black activists from the South as well as the North - a courageous format at the time. Freedom House, as a liberal anti-communist organization, publicly challenged the anti-communist extremism of McCarhyism.
The signature public platform of Freedom House under George Field was the annual Freedom Award dinner which filled the grand ballrooms of major New York hotels. Recipients included Presidents Eisenhower, Truman, and Johnson, Winston Churchill, civil rights leaders, Hungarian freedom fighters, and Puerto Rico's Governor Luis Munoz Marin.
The organization under George Field reflected his scrappy, dominant personality, and his youthful dabbling with socialism. The staff included an assistant and two secretaries operating on an annual budget of some $100,000. The organization was housed in the Willkie Memorial Building which Field financed by special contributions immediately after Willkie died in 1944. The building served as headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and other social-interest groups.
Today, George Field's staff of five, all in New York City, has risen to more than 120 in offices around the world, a $19 million annual budget, and a flow of internationally recognized publications and professional exchanges.
As Freedom House continues to evolve with changing times, the organization is indebted to the spirit which George Field set in motion 65 years earlier.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.