Michael Wreszin, Queens College professor emeritus of history, died August 12, 2012 at the age of 85.
A charismatic teacher, he inspired generations of students first at
Wayne State University and Brown University and then for many years at
Queens College. He challenged his students to question conventional
wisdom, to think deeply about history and society, to approach life with
passion and conviction, to not settle for lives governed by material
ends, but to lead purposeful and rewarding lives that would improve the
He was also a highly respected scholar. He was the author of
biographies of Oswald Garrison Villard (1965), Alfred Jay Nock (1971),
and Dwight Macdonald (1994), as well as editor of a collection of
Macdonald’s letters. It was his biography of Macdonald, A Rebel in
Defense of Tradition, that marked his greatest scholarly achievement.
Wreszin understood the iconoclastic and rebellious Macdonald because he
shared so much of Macdonald’s impatience with and disdain for pomposity
and unwarranted authority. Like Macdonald, he read the The New York
Times thoroughly each day and was an inveterate letter writer to The
Times, although it rarely printed his letters (he claimed The Times had
a wastebasket marked “Wreszin Discard”).
From his time at Wayne State and Brown University in the late 1950s
and early 1960s where he demonstrated in Detroit and Providence for fair
housing laws through his leadership on the Queens College campus in the
ant-Vietnam war protests, to later demonstrations for civil rights and
against militarism and war, Wreszin was a political activist who put his
body on the line. Wreszin was a wonderful conversationalist and a
master of polemical debate; he loved New York City and often quoted
Thomas Dewey’s remark that “if you are not in New York, you are camping
But he also loved his summer place in Westport Point where he enjoyed
family, entertained friends, and fished for the “wily blue.” Above
all, he was a generous and true friend to his large circle of friends.
He is survived by his wife, Carol, his son Danny, daughter-in-law,
Terri, granddaughter Caroline of Los Angeles, and his daughter Sarah and
son-in-law, John, of Providence, Rhode Island.