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Helen Levi Travis, 86; Activist Convicted for 1963 Trip to Cuba

November 29, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Helen Levi Travis, 86, a social activist whose conviction for violating a U.S. ban on travel to Cuba was thrown out in a 1967 Supreme Court ruling, died Nov. 14 in San Pedro. The cause was not disclosed.

Travis became involved in socialism as a Barnard College student in the 1930s, when she joined students in a trip to Soviet Union.

With her first husband, Abbott Simon, who was a leader of the radical American Youth Congress, she helped establish a clandestine safe house outside Prague to shelter anti-Fascist activists. She later returned to the U.S., became an auto worker, and was divorced from Simon.

Her second husband, Robert C. Travis, was a principal organizer of the violent 44-day strike in Flint, Mich., in 1936-37 that forced General Motors to recognize the United Auto Workers.

Her own brush with the government came in 1963, when she was charged with making two trips to Cuba without a valid passport. Travis was secretary of a committee providing medical aid in Cuba.

She was found guilty and given two suspended sentences and a $10,000 fine. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld her conviction, but her attorneys argued that the law only withdrew U.S. protection for citizens who traveled to restricted areas and did not authorize punishments for such trips.

The Supreme Court agreed and tossed out her conviction in its 1967 ruling.

Travis, who later worked as a social worker, also was head of the Fellowship for Social Justice of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles and a longtime supporter of El Rescate, which provides legal aid and social services to Central American refugees.

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