In Memory: Tributes to past civil liberties leaders

Ed Likover 1916 – 1992

Ed Likover

Remembered as an ACLU hero, Ed Likover stood up for his right – and the right of others – to have political and social views that diverged from what the U.S. government considered acceptable. As a school teacher blacklisted during the McCarthy era, Ed knew firsthand the ramifications of government intrusion into one’s private life. In 1953, he was one of the many subpoenaed by the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee (modeled after the federal government’s House Un-American Activities Committee), created to ferret out individuals thought to have Communist beliefs or sympathies. Those suspected of harboring Communist ideas were asked bluntly, “Right now are you an active member of the Communist Party?” All refused to answer based on the Fifth Amendment, which protects citizens from self-incrimination.

Various grand juries eventually indicted forty people, with fifteen ultimately convicted of supporting communism. Against counsel wishes, Ed Likover took the First Amendment as his defense (rather than the Fifth) because he strongly believed that the government had no right to harass him in regards to his associations or beliefs. As a result of advocating for his First Amendment rights, Ed was fired by the Cleveland Board of Education from his position at the Cleveland Trade School.

After losing his teaching job, Ed became a house painter, but found his true calling as an activist and advocate for civil liberties. He was a longtime ACLU member, and upon his retirement in 1982 from the Painters’ Union where he worked as an official, Ed became a full-time volunteer with the ACLU, working as a paralegal and intake coordinator. Ed was most passionate about issues involving the First Amendment, protecting citizens from encroachments on their freedoms of speech, religion, press and assembly. Ed also spent five years working intensely on a notable case against the Ohio State Reformatory, which culminated in a win for the rights of inmates. The class-action suit was filed on behalf of the 2,200 inmates, arguing that conditions in the prison were inhumane. The prison was shut down in 1990.

The ACLU was part of Ed’s life until the very end. In a testament to his dedication, Ed served for five years as president of the Cleveland Chapter of the ACLU in addition to serving on the ACLU of Ohio Board of Directors. During his last six months, whether in or out of the hospital, Ed had his ACLU of Ohio work with him, assessing intake and personally responding to each inquiry. After his death in 1992, the Ed Likover Memorial Lecture was founded by the Likover family. The lecture series seeks to uphold the strong commitment to the First Amendment that Ed Likover pursued during his lifetime.

Read Ed Likover’s testimony before the Ohio Un-American Activities Commission in 1953, provided courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

Read Belle Likover’s biography.