Albert Freeman Coyle was born in Fortuna, California in November 1891. His father had been a notary, born in New Orleans to Irish immigrants. Coyle attended Stanford where he completed a law degree in 1915. A renowned public speaker, he was accepted into a public speaking fraternity (Delta Sigma Rho) and won a scholarship to complete his studies in Yale.
Albert Freeman Coyle
As the United States entered the first world war, Coyle was taking a theological course and had tried to enlist while living in Connecticut. However, he failed the medical due to poor eye-sight. Instead Coyle joined the YMCA, who provided canteen and other services to US military personnel both in base camp and in the front lines. Coyle ended up serving as a YMCA secretary (as YMCA staff were known) with US troops in the campaign in Russia in the Murmansk-Arkhangelsk theatre in 1919. There, a variety of western contingents and ‘White’ Russian forces fought against the Bolsheviks in Russia’s civil war. While there, Coyle arranged for the evacuation of the five year old son of celebrated Russian scientists (who had both died in the civil war) to the United States where he was fostered by his brother-in-law.
The main US contingent began to withdraw through Arkhangelsk in June 1919 although Coyle remained at a YMCA post in Chekuevo along the Onega River. Sensing that the western contingents were abandoning them, local Russian troops decided to join forces with the Bolsheviks. The Chekuevo position was then taken over by the Bolsheviks. Coyle and another YMCA secretary, Clinton Areson, were taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks on 21st July 1921. After almost two months being held prisoner, he was released and returned to the United States via Norway. Having learned some Russian and witnessed life in Russia under the Bolsheviks, Coyle later claimed his experience had prompted him to study the Soviets in more detail.
Subsequently Coyle became active in left wing, including communist, circles in the United States and often drew the attention of the authorities, including the FBI. In 1920, he was taken on as the notary to record evidence given in Washington to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, whose report was subsequently published in 1921 as Evidence on Conditions in Ireland.
His activism included becaming involved in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers union. He edited their journal and spoke at events on behalf of the likes of the Workers Party of America, sometimes specifically trying to recruit those with Irish ancestry. He also was active in co-operative movements and on other issues, such as the reprieve campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti. It seems Coyle was publicly ‘outed’ as a communist in the early 1920s. In the 1927 he was on a delegation sent to Russia by various US labour unions to see what progress had been made in the ten years since the revolution in 1917.
Coyle’s family life appears to have been somewhat chaotic. He and his wife Margaret often lived in separate states. She was a teacher who took teaching posts in a variety of cities across the US, invariably bringing their two children with her. While court proceedings in Reno in 1935 suggest they may have formally separated, they still appear together on subsequent census records even though he might be living in New York and she in Alabama. Coyle maintained a law practice based in New York city although he was the Vice President of the American Insurance Union and President of the America-Russia travel bureau of the International Express. This facilitated him regularly travelling across the Atlantic. His involvement in a campaign for creditors to try and recover debts from Cuba same him immersed in a scandal involving politicians. The two main politicians involved, Senators Burt Wheeler and George Nye, were alleged to have been lavishly hosted by the Cuban government while supposedly trying to get it to honour debts Wall Street had incurred when Cuba had defaulted on bonds (the money never materialised). Both were prominent non-interventionists who opposed US involvement in the second world war. Wheeler had also been ‘outed’ as a communist in the early 1920s. In the late 1930s Coyle was involved in a further bond default scandal, on this occasion with the government of the Phillipines.
According to an interview Coyle gave a British journalist in 1939, from 1936 he had started acting as an intermediary between Jewish families in Germany, their relatives in the United States and the Cuban and Mexican authorities. Liaising directly with the Gestapo, Coyle made around four of five trips a year to Germany and secured passage for 500 German Jews, most of whom he managed to get free from concentration camps and prisons. Certainly, by 1940, it appears that it was no longer possible to secure passage for Jews from the Nazis. In 1941, Coyle was found guilty of practising law without the proper license. In 1942, he was charged and pleaded guilty to grand larceny over claims that he had been in receipt of $20,000 raised to provide passage for German and Czech Jews to travel to the United States by way of Mexico.
In the late 1940s Coyle continued to campaign in support of the Soviet Union and spoke at public events offering a communist perspective. He had returned to live in Santa Clara, California where he died on 4 January 1956.