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He was manager for the YMCA in Russia where he worked with a number of Bolshevik leaders including Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. In 1924 he founded the Jerome Davis Research fund was established in 1924 to support students at Oberlin College who "worked with labor" to facilitate "mutual understanding and cooperation in the field of industry." He received a PhD in sociology from Columbia University and was a professor at the Yale Divinity School.
His failure to receive tenure caused controversy, as it was widely believed to be due to his activism and Socialist leanings. It is alleged that he was a Stalinist sympathizer. He was blacklisted by the HUAC in the 1950s.
In the late 1930s he (along with D.N. Pritt, Upton Sinclair, Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger and others) defended the Moscow Trials from critics. He claimed that, as a former Chairman of the Legislative Commission on Jails in the State of Connecticut, he had seen hundreds of criminals bluntly confess based on overwhelming evidence against them, and compared this with the reactions of the Moscow Trials defendants. He did, however, note that "there is a lot of false testimony in a trial of this kind."
He founded the American group "Promoting Enduring Peace" and organized many trips to the USSR for purposes of advocacy during the Cold War. The Gandhi Peace Award was first proposed by him, on March 13, 1959.
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