The Carl Joseph Memorial Library Collection and Reading Commons is located on the fifth floor of the University of Toledo’s Carlson Library. It was funded by a bequest made in Carl’s memory by his brother, Albert Joseph, and formally dedicated on June 6, 2013. The collection focuses on subject areas of interest to Carl, including social justice and social reform, labor history and the labor movement, political theory and political activism, war and peace, and American history and American presidents. The reading commons is a unique space in the Library where University of Toledo students can study, read, and reflect. In 2019 and 2020, it was expanded to include two newly renovated study alcoves, each with a theme related to both Toledo's history and Carl's life.
Carl Joseph, age 29, of Toledo, Ohio, was killed in action by a German sniper in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June, 6, 1944, the first day of the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. He was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and had made previous combat jumps into Sicily and Salerno during the Allied invasion of Italy. But this one was to be his last. Carl’s life, short but influential, was marked by intellectual curiosity, strong moral and political convictions and the courage to act on them, respect for the "common man,” and a deeply held belief in the equality of all races and peoples.
Carl was born on May 8, 1915, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the oldest son of immigrant parents from what is now Lebanon (then Syria). In the early 1920s, the Joseph family relocated to Toledo, Ohio, where Carl and his five siblings grew up in the "Little Syria" enclave of the city's Old North End neighborhood. The rich ethnic and cultural landscapes of the neighborhood, which also included Poles, Greeks, Germans, Jews, and African Americans, provided him with early and frequent exposure to people from a variety of backgrounds. An avid reader and fiercely independent thinker, he developed a strong interest in history, political theory, social justice, and the American labor movement.
After graduating from Waite High School in Toledo, where he had earned a reputation as a troublemaker for his “radical” activities and "Communist" beliefs, he went to work as a longshoreman at the busy port of Toledo. He quickly became active in his union, Local 1353 of the International Longshoremen's Association, and a prominent labor leader and activist in the Toledo area. In 1934, he was arrested during the famous and violent Toledo Auto-Lite strike. In 1938 at age 22, he was elected president of Local 1353. He also ran for the state legislature in 1938 but was narrowly defeated. Some eighty years later, many of the items on his nine-point campaign platform, which included a call for racial equality, smaller class sizes in public schools, reform of foreclosure law, and strict regulation of finance companies, seem more relevant than ever. “Until a fundamental change is made in our systems of production and distribution we’re going to have the unemployed with us,” Carl wrote in his campaign pamphlet. “It’s time our politicians stopped playing hide and seek with human misery and faced the problem squarely.”
His involvement with a 1938 strike at the Toledo plant of Federal Creosoting Company led to a run-in with the law, and he was charged with possession of dynamite. Even though the trial judge agreed that Carl was cooperating with the police in trying to prevent others from using the dynamite, he was convicted and given a five-year probation. (It was later cut to two so that he could enlist in the military.) When he applied for admission to the University of Toledo in 1939, his probation brought him to the attention of University President Philip C. Nash, who personally reviewed the case. Carl's activism interrupted his studies and he dropped out but reapplied in 1941. He dropped out again in 1943 to join the war effort, never to return.
While serving in the military, Carl exchanged wartime correspondence with President Nash (the two had struck up an unlikely friendship), and Carl would sometimes philosophize about the conflict, reflecting his thoughtful nature. "It's a big war we are carrying on, but all its vastness is contained within the mind and soul of each individual and the sum total of all our individual ideals,” he wrote in a letter to Nash in February 1944. “Courage and hope is all that mankind has to draw on for a better world.” His correspondence with Nash also clearly indicated both the intensity of his beliefs and how important knowledge and books were to him. While serving in Italy, he took the time to purchase books that he sent back to the University of Toledo as donations to the library. He did the same while on furlough in England. After Carl was reported missing in July 1944, Nash wrote in a letter to the local newspaper, "He became one of the outstanding men on the campus. We had considered Mr. Joseph as a very promising young man, who might well take leadership in the labor movement or any movement which he is concerned."
Fate had intervened and taken away Carl’s opportunity to return home and live out that promise to the fullest. At around 1:50 a.m. on June 6, 1944, he had landed with his fellow paratroopers behind enemy lines in the 505th’s designated jump zone near the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, and they began working toward their objective of seizing the town in the early hours of D-Day. The area had been occupied by German soldiers and artillerymen for the past few months, and at around 10:00 a.m. one of them shot and killed Carl. His body was subsequently transferred to Belgium for identification and burial. His final resting place is in the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial (Plot D, Row 13, Grave 57) in Neupré, Belgium, with some 5,300 other Americans who gave their lives for their country. In 2015, a small chip from a brick in the foundation of Waite High School in Toledo was inserted in the ground at his grave.
Thanks to the generous bequest from his family, Carl's life and story continue to live on in the Carl Joseph Memorial Library Collection and Reading Commons at the University of Toledo. It is a fitting tribute to his accomplishments, ideals, character, service, and sacrifice, and the Carlson Library is proud to play a part in maintaining it.
The Carl Joseph Collection and Reading Commons is located on the fifth floor of the Carlson Library.
The Carl Joseph Reading Commons has recently been expanded to include two new study alcoves.
The first one (see above) was completed in 2019. It features a display of pictures from the 1934 Toledo Auto-Lite strike. Construction on the second room (see below) is complete but work on the display is still in progress. The display will focus on Toledo's industrial war effort during World War II.
George and Edma (Jamra) Taweel emigrated to the United States in 1902 with their young daughter Nazema from the small village of Kfeir in what was then Syria (now Lebanon). Upon entering through Ellis Island, George changed the family name to Joseph, after his father's first name, Youssef. They settled in Iowa, and George and Edma had five more children, Assaf (who died as a child), Carl, Evaughn, Albert, Madeline, and Richard before relocating to Toledo, Ohio, in the early 1920s.
Carl Joseph & mother Edma
Carl Joseph & father George
Carl Joseph, sister Madeline, & brother Albert
Edma & George Joseph (front row) & their children (back row, left to right) Richard, Evaughn, Albert, Carl, Madeline, & Nazema.
(All photos courtesy of the Joseph family)
Carl Joseph was awarded numerous military commendations for his service during World War II:
★ Bronze Star
★ Purple Heart
★ Combat Infantryman Badge
★ Marksmanship Badge
★ Parachutist Badge
★ World War II Victory Medal
★ American Campaign Medal
★ Army Presidential Unit Citation
★ Army Good Conduct Medal
★ European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign