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Friesen, Gordon (1909-1996) | Mennonite Archival Commons

Name: Friesen, Gordon (1909-1996)

Historical Note:

Born 3 Mar 1909 in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Parents: Jacob E. Friesen and Maria T. Duerksen.

Married Agnes "Sis" Cunningham July 1941. Died 15 Oct 1996 in New York City. Two children.

Gordon Friesen separated from the Mennonite community and supported radical ideology.  He was a communist supporter and activist.  His negative early life experiences with poverty and the Mennonite community led him to reject the Mennonites and capitalistic ideology in later years. 

Gordon Friesen was born in 1909 in Weatherford, Oklahoma to Jacob and Marie Duerksen Friesen, who were Mennonite Brethren.  Four of his grandparents were part of the first small contingent of Mennonites who immigrated from Russian Crimea and settled in Kansas in 1874.  Friesen spent most of his youth in Oklahoma, except for a year spent in Kansas to try and escape poverty, but they returned to Oklahoma.  The family suffered poverty due to the Depression and Dust Bowl.  His suffering and misery led him to atheistic thoughts. 

Friesen received a high school education and attended college but never graduated.  He married Agnes “Sis” Cunningham in July 1941 and moved to New York that same year.  Friesen was a reporter for several different newspapers over the years including the Detroit Times.  He did freelance work also.  In 1962, he founded Broadside, a magazine full of protest folk songs.  He had close connections with Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, whose songs appeared in the magazine.  The Friesen’s lived a communal life with other folk singers for a time.  They were communist supporters and organizers and were blacklisted during the McCarthy era.  Friesen also worked for a time for CBS and the Office of War Information in New York.  One of Friesen’s major accomplishments was his book Flamethrowers, “a novel about a Mennonite boy trapped between the old world and the new.” (Article about G.F. by Allan Teichroew in Mennonite Life June 1983 Vol. 38) The novel was published in 1936.  Friesen died in 1996.

Sources: GRANDMA database. Autobiography <em> Red Dust and Broadsides</em> (1999).
Note Author: jdt

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