Queer Places:
6023 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19139
Temple University, 1801 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19122
Columbia University (Ivy League), 116th St and Broadway, New York, NY 10027
New York University, 70 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10012

Maurice Victor Russell (May 7, 1923 - February 8, 1998) was a Columbia alumnus and Trustee Emeritus and a longtime leader in social work service and education in New York. Among a long series of young paramours, the one whom Alain LeRoy Locke assisted most was Russell, introducing him to concerts conducted by Eugene Ormandy, igniting a life-long appreciation for Classical music. Maurice Victor Russell rose from abject poverty to professional prominence. Fatherless at 7, handsome, sensitive, expressive, a hard-working student, he was as devoted to his widowed mother as Locke was to his. In time a Columbia University board member and Harlem Hospital’s head of the department of social work, he knew tremendous success. “Russell adored Locke…” confides a mutual friend. He was, as Jeffrey C. Stewart, Locke's biographer, says, “the love of Alain Locke’s life”.

Russell was born May 7, 1923, in Philadelphia and remembered a childhood of hard struggle and poverty after his father was struck and killed by a car when the boy was only 7. “I became acutely aware of what it felt to need help,” he later recalled. “That experience sensitized me, and perhaps for that reason I have always found a lot of satisfaction in helping people.”

A good student, he graduated from high school at 16 and attended Temple University at night, working during the day to support his mother and pay his tuition. It took eight years to earn his B.A. while he helped his mother realize her life’s dream, to own a house of her own. With a loan and fellowship and two jobs, he earned the master of social work degree from Columbia in 1950. Teachers College awarded him the Ed.D. in 1964.

At Columbia he was an active alumnus. A longtime member of the advisory board of the School of Social Work, he was co-chair of the school’s 1998 Centennial Honorary Committee. He received the University’s alumni medal in 1993. As a Columbia Trustee, Russell chaired the educational policy committee and served on the executive, alumni affairs, community affairs and health sciences committees.

LENWOOD H. MORRIS Untitled (Male Nude Study).
Oil on masonite board, circa 1900. 406x508 mm; 16x20 inches. Inscribed "L. Morris, Philadelphia" in pencil on the frame back. Alexander McCune frame, Philadelphia, with the label on the backing paper. Provenance: Maurice Victor Russell, New York and Philadelphia; private collection, New York. This painting was part of Russell's estate, a collection that included artworks given to Russell by Alain Locke, the renowned Howard University professor and philosopher. Part of the same New York literary circle in the late 1940s, Locke became Russell's mentor and confidant.

Over more than 40 years, Russell taught and directed social services at several New York institutions. Lately, he was professor of clinical social work at N.Y.U.’s School of Medicine. For 15 years, from 1973 to 1988, he had been director of the Social Service Department of N.Y.U.’s Medical Center. He also taught at Columbia, Hunter College and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is credited with establishing the first professional department of social work at Harlem Hospital 30 years ago, and he was director of social services at Jacobi Hospital. Earlier he was associate director of Brooklyn Psychiatric Center, Inc.

Arthur Wright was involved with Locke’s wide circle of New York City friends, among them Maurice Victor Russell, who was at the time an aspiring playwright living in Philadelphia. Locke acted as his mentor and confidant, and would stop off and visit him between trips to New York. In 1942, Locke offered Russell confidential advice about his, Russell’s, sexual orientation, commending his “effort to understand yourself and reconcile after your own psychological inner law.” On another occasion Locke said: “Now the constructive side of our friendship can really begin, and I can deliver what I promised you; counsel, guidance, spiritual help.” Russell and Locke shared a love of classical music, and at one point Locke had to excuse the fact that he could not ask Russell to accompany him to a Marian Anderson concert at Constitution Hall, since the tickets were so hard to obtain. During the Haiti trip, Locke also wrote frequently to Russell, supplying him with numerous details about the various dinners and lectures. Writing from the Hotel Oloffson, Locke revealed how nervous the ceremony made him: “With Haitian and American dignitaries present and all the critics keen for the occasion, you can imagine it isn’t easy even for a veteran.” When Russell faced the prospect of military conscription, Locke made arrangements to loan $450.00 to Russell’s mother, to cover her rent in the event he was drafted. Locke covered this loan by writing a check to Arthur Fauset, who was obviously Mrs. Russell’s landlord. After the war Russell tried unsuccessfully to obtain a Rosenwald scholarship, and eventually he was employed in a government job, working in a civil service post in the Navy Department. During the war, however, his relationship with Locke intensified. Russell confessed he hated his own sexual orientation, and Locke continued trying to help him accept it, sending him books by Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis. Years earlier he had sent Countee Cullen some of the same literature, and it clearly served to set a tone for Locke’s sense of intimacy. After spending a weekend together, Russell told Locke: “I can see the beauty in relationships that I never saw before. As far as the body sex pattern is concerned, I feel that I can make certain adjustments which should be satisfactory.”

Locke introduced Russell to Richmond Barthé, and the two apparently become good friends. Russell was living with his mother as late as 1946, and he faced scorn from his sister who felt he had not fully deserved his deferment from the draft. This Russell put down to the particular nature of Philadelphia mores, something Locke could easily recognize. At the beginning of 1944 Locke told Russell that “I am turning a little left these days myself, tho not entirely—too Philadelphian for that! I have just written an article for The New Masses—corrected the proof New Year’s Day as a matter of fact.” Maurice Russell visited Locke in February 1952 and remarked: “I felt you looked well and was especially pleased to hear of the plan to have someone in to prepare meals for you.” In April Locke, exhausted from a trip to Toronto, was able to work on The Negro in American Life, which would only appear in an unfinished form after his death, completed by Margaret Just Butcher. He even mustered the energy to make plans for a trip to Europe or Jamaica. That same year, in September, Locke faced a hospital stay, where his shortness of breath was serious enough to require attention and complete rest. Russell enthusiastically reported the return of the Katherine Dunham dance troupe from a very successful European tour, since one of dancers of the troupe, Lenwood Morris, was an adolescent friend of his. The troupe was largely African American, and Dunham was one of the first of her race to attend the University of Chicago, where she attained the Ph.D. in anthropology. Locke’s keen interest in the Dunham dancers was esthetic and personal: Katherine’s brother had been Locke’s assistant at Howard.

In May 1952, after another visit to Washington, Russell reassured Locke, perhaps with comforting exaggeration, that “I agree that your health strides are nothing short of miraculous. I think you look better now than I can remember for some years.” But Locke’s heart condition could not have been all that strong. In the same month, as Russell turned thirty years of age, Locke offered him solace and continued firmly to play the role of mentor: “I myself can’t get over the intuitive feeling that all your situation needs is that most difficult of all things—physically and psychologically satisfying friendship.” Locke probably shared with Russell just how serious his health problems had grown by the end of the summer of 1952.

At the time of his death Russell had been president for 25 years of the Kenworthy-Swift Foundation, which funds projects to promote mental health in young people. He was a Trustee of Columbia from 1987 to 1995, the first African-American elected to represent the alumni of the University on the board.

Russell died in a fire in his country home in Rhinecliff, N.Y., Feb. 8, 1998. He was 74 and a resident of Manhattan. He died of smoke inhalation from a fire near a wood stove that broke out in his home, said Dutchess County Sheriff Fred W. Scoralick.

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