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|Subject: Helen Travis, Activist Who Won Case on Right to Travel|
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Date Posted: November 23, 2002 11:44:25 EDT
Helen Levi Travis, a peace and social activist and the subject of a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that upheld her right to travel abroad, died on Nov. 14 in San Pedro, Calif. She was 86.
Born in Manhattan, Mrs. Travis graduated from Barnard College in 1937. A student trip to the Soviet Union in 1934 impressed her with the promises of socialism, and after graduation she started traveling extensively with her first husband, Abbott Simon, a leader of the radical left-wing American Youth Congress.
In the wake of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, the German-Soviet treaty of 1939, the couple established a clandestine "safe house" outside Prague to hide anti-Fascist activists from Spain, Italy and Czechoslovakia.
She returned to the United States, where she taught English, worked in an automobile assembly plant and wrote for the Communist Party organ, Daily Worker. Her brief marriage ended in divorce, and she met and married Robert C. Travis, a principal organizer of the bloody 44-day sit-down strike in Flint, Mich., of 1936-37, which forced General Motors to accept the United Automobile Workers as the strikers' bargaining agent.
Mrs. Travis had her encounter with the government in the 1960's, when the federal courts were inundated with suits trying to sort out who might be permitted to travel where. She was charged with visiting Cuba twice in 1962 without a passport stamped valid for that destination.
She was found guilty, given two suspended six-month sentences and fined $10,000. A federal appeals panel upheld her conviction, but the Supreme Court threw it out in 1967 along with a docketful of similar travel-curb cases.
The Travises had moved to Southern California in the late 1950's, where Mrs. Travis was a caseworker for the Los Angeles Department of Social Services. She also headed the Fellowship for Social Justice of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles and was active for many years in El Rescate, a private legal and social-services group for Central American refugees.
Mr. Travis died in 1979. Mrs. Trav is survived by a stepdaughter, Carole Travis of Chicago. Also surviving is Mr. Simon, a resident of Brooklyn.
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