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The Lycoming College History Department will host a lecture by Dr. David Witwer, associate professor of history and humanities at Penn State University, Harrisburg, as part of its annual Ewing Lecture Series. "The Acid Attack on Victor Riesel and the Racketeer Menace in Cold War America" will take place on Wednesday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in Heim Building G-11. The event is free and open to the public.
In 1956, Riesel, a syndicated labor columnist in New York City, was assaulted after finishing a radio broadcast during which he castigated the leadership of a local union. Riesel was also working hand-in-hand with federal prosecutors in a legal assault on New York's garment, trucking and other racketeering operations.
The person identified as the acid-thrower was found murdered and the prominent labor racketeer who allegedly ordered the attack was never convicted. Spurred by the assault, the U.S. Senate convened an investigation that found corruption in organized labor to be widespread and delegitimized union power when it was at its peak.
Utilizing records he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Witwer discovered evidence indicating the FBI and Justice Department "knew the truth" about the attack but did not make it public, instead allowing union opponents to the opportunity to undermine organized labor.
Witwer, whose research focuses on the impact of union corruption scandals on modern American politics, is the author of "Shadow of the Racketeer: Scandal in Organized Labor" and "Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union," which was selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and the winner of the Richard L. Wentworth Award. He also serves on the editorial board of the journal "Labor History" and has published extensively in various scholarly journals.
The Ewing Lecture Series was established in 1973 when Robert H. Ewing, of whom it is named, retired after 27 years of teaching at Lycoming. His life was characterized by a deep religious faith, a passion for history and a strong devotion to a liberal arts education. These qualities touched the lives of all who came in contact with him and led his many friends to contribute to the Ewing fund to establish this series.
Lycoming College is a national liberal arts and sciences school dedicated to the undergraduate education of 1,400 students. It is recognized as a Tier 1 institution by U.S. News and World Report. Founded in 1812 in Williamsport, Pa., Lycoming is one of the 50 oldest colleges in the nation.