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Series VI. Communists and Civil Liberties

Scope and Content Notes:

Communists and their supporters issued most of the items in this section during the period following World War II when the Federal Government, several state governments, and numerous private organizations began systematic surveillance, prosecution, and harassment of Communist Party members, close fellow travelers, and former Communists suspected of still harboring sympathy for communism. While many observers call this the McCarthy Era, after Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy who garnered substantial publicity for his speeches asserting the threat of a Communist conspiracy within the Federal government, the repression began well before McCarthy’s first major speech on the question in 1950 and continued well after his censure for procedural excesses in 1954.

Federal prosecutors used three legal strategies to pursue Communists: indictment under the 1941 Smith Act (which made it a crime to conspire to advocate overthrow of the government—a legal subterfuge designed to find a way around Bill of Rights protections for speech and association); actions to revoke citizenship and deport foreign born Communists (under clauses of the immigration laws that made advocacy of violent overthrow of the government grounds for denying or revoking citizenship), and prosecution for failing to fulfill the demands of several Federal laws that required Communists and Communist front groups to register as agents of a foreign power (which, if carried out, opened those who did so to other prosecutions). In addition widespread hearings on Un-Americanism threatened those called to testify with a legal double threat. Much of the public viewed pleading the Fifth Amendment equivalent to a guilty plea, and employers frequently fired individuals who did so. But individuals who answered any question forfeited rights to refuse to answer any subsequent question and faced indictment and imprisonment for contempt of Congress if they did so. Both state and Federal governments also instituted loyalty oaths as conditions of public employment. Employees who refused to sign would be dismissed. Those who did so but were subsequently revealed to be Communists could be indicted for perjury. Private employers supplemented prosecution by denying employment to individuals known or suspected of Communist membership or sympathy. While the blacklist in the entertainment industry has been the most closely studied part of this phenomenon, the FBI routinely informed all major employers of suspected individuals employed by their firms and most employers fired such people. The FBI also released the names and addresses of suspected Communists to daily newspapers that subsequently published the lists. Individuals whose names appeared faced not only loss of employment, but also social ostracism, physical attack, and vandalism to their homes and automobiles.

Communists used three primary rhetorical approaches to seek public support in their battles against prosecution and harassment. First, they argued that their espousal of revolution was open and public, not conspiratorial, and purely rhetorical. Indeed, they vigorously opposed individual acts of violence, such as the bombings as “propaganda of the deed” advocated by some anarchists. None of the indictments against them, they pointed out, cited any specific violent acts. Second, they argued that they were a legitimate political party, functionally equivalent to the Democratic and Republican Parties. Finally they argued that harassment of Communists for their controversial views threatened the civil liberties of all Americans and stifled public discussion and thought. The first two defenses were probably valid descriptions of the frame of mind and intentions of the bulk of rank and file Communists, but prosecutors had no trouble demonstrating that Communist propaganda had frequently advocated violent revolution in the past and the necessity of revolutionary violence was a central contention of core Marxist-Leninist texts. Moreover, prosecutors had evidence (though they sometimes hesitated to present it in open court for fear of revealing details of the intelligence apparatus) that Party leaders and dozens of Party members had participated in Soviet espionage. The Communists’ third argument—that anticommunist repression stifled civil liberties and public discourse for non-Communists was true—but Communists found that liberals who they expected to support their defense on such grounds frequently refused to do so not only because of fear that they too would thereby invite harassment on themselves, but also because the Communists’ long history of sudden shifts in their public positions and vitriolic sectarian denunciations of political competitors had fundamentally undermined Communists’ credibility.


Box 1
Folder 205 Treason in Congress, The Record of the Un-American Activities Committee, by Albert E. Kahn
Folder 206 The Schneiderman Case, United States Supreme Court Opinion with an Introduction by Carol King, August 1943

Box 2
Folder 1 Documents Regarding Harry F. Ward from the Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities
Folder 2 Hearings Before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eighty-Fifth Congress, First Session, 1957
Folder 3 Democracy, Civil Rights and Liberty in Connecticut, by Daniel Howard, 1958
Folder 4 The Mine Mill Conspiracy Case, by Sidney Lens
Folder 5 "Democracy Should Begin At Home"
Folder 6 America's Thought Police, October 1947
Folder 7 "Happy Birthday" Postcard Issued by the National Conference to Win Amnesty for Smith Act Victims
Folder 8 Freedoms and Foreign Policy, by Owen Lattimore
Folder 9 Amnesty!, by Marion Bachrach, December 1952
Folder 10 What Everyone Should Know About the "Bill of Rights" and other Constitutional Guarantees of Individual Freedom, A Scriptographic Study Unit, 1969
Folder 11 Censored News Of Your America, Will America Become a Land of Whispers?, September 1950
Folder 12 Citizens Without Rights
Folder 13 What Kind of Teachers for your Child, The Facts Behind the Suspension of 8 Excellent Teachers, May 1950
Folder 14 The Right to Travel, by Corliss Lamont, 1957
Folder 15 The Case of the Stubborn Editor
Folder 16 Note of Resignation to the Belamy Club from Edith Rickard
Folder 17 "A Dangerous Woman", Stella Petrosky Held for Deportation, by Sprad, June 1936
Folder 18 What Political Prisoners Do We Defend? Pamphlet
Folder 19 The Bill of Rights in Danger!, by Robert W. Dunn, January 1940
Folder 20 Civil Liberties in the U.S.A., A Short History of the Origin and Defense of the Bill of Rights, by S. Small
Folder 21 The Big Plot, Proof of the Justice Department's Plan to Jail 21, 105 Americans
Folder 22 Fellow Citizens: Our husbands are in prison!...
Folder 23 Digest of Amicus Curiae Brief to the United Supreme Court on the Constitutionality of the Internal Security Act of 1950 in the case of Communist Party of the U.S.A. v. Subversive Activities Control Board
Folder 24 The Twelve and You, What Happens to Democracy is your business, too!, by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Folder 25 "Is This What Truman Means By Civil Rights!"
Folder 26 Due Process in a Political Trial, The Record vs. The Press
Folder 27 The Reign of Witches, The Struggle Against the Alien and Sedition Laws, by Elizabeth Lawson, 1952
Folder 28 Red Tape and Barbed Wire, by Sender Garlin, 1952
Folder 29 In Danger, The Right to Speak for Peace, by Harold Spencer
Folder 30 "The Persecution of Oleta O'Connor Yates"
Folder 31 Patriotism against McCarthyism
Folder 32 "Turn Informer or Go to Jail! Which Choice Would You Make?, Oleata O'Connor Yates Made Hers!"
Folder 33 Books on Trial, The Case of Alexander Trachtenberg, 1952
Folder 34 Greet the New Year with the L.A. Committee for Protection of Foreign Born
Folder 35 "Summary and Analysis of Important Features of the Alien Registration Act of 1940, Smith Act", November 3, 1951
Folder 36 "Supreme Court of the United States" Pamphlet
Folder 37 The Case of Carl Marzani
Folder 38 "It Can Happen to You" Flyer
Folder 39 "Jailed for Fighting Franco, Free Them!"
Folder 40 "In the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1948, No. ........"
Folder 41 "The 13th Juror, The Inside Story of My Trial, A Dramatic Revelation", by Steve Nelson
Folder 42 "S.F. No. 16,935 In the Supreme Court of the State of California"
Folder 43 600 Prominent Americans Ask President to Rescind Biddle Decision, 1942
Folder 44 The Walter- McCarran Law, Extracts From Testimony Before President's Commission on Immigration & Naturalization
Folder 45 Man Bites Dog, Report of an Unusual Hearing before the McCarran Committee
Folder 46 The People Vs. McCarthyism, The Case Against the McCarran Act, by John Abt
Folder 47 Mandel Vs. McCarthyism,
Folder 48 Only the People Can Decide
Folder 49 Rights, Un-American Activities Committee Acts Unconstitutionally, October 1959
Folder 50 Report of the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Committee on Judiciary Pertaining to Loyalty Oaths, March 1959
Folder 51 Hate Groups and the Un-American Activities Committee, by David Wesley, 1962
Folder 52 For Abolition of the Inquisitorial Committees of Congress
Folder 53 "When Conscience Speaks"
Folder 54 "The Bill of Rights and The Mundt-Ferguson Bills", An Analysis of the Provisions and Opinion on their Constitutionality
Folder 55 Vengeance of the Young, The Story of the Smith Act Children, by Albert E. Kahn, June 1952
Folder 56 The People's Case, The Story of the IWO, by Albert E. Kahn, 1951
Folder 57 Creeping McCarthyism: Its Threat to Church, School and Press, 1953
Folder 58 The Crime Against Jean Field, by Albert E. Kahn, February, 1952
Folder 59 Is a Fair Trial Possible at the Hands of Federal Juries
Folder 60 Scholar and School- New Targets for Bigotry
Folder 61 Shall Freedom of Speech Apply to all Americans?
Folder 62 Not Guilty!, The Case of Claude Lightfoot, June 1955
Folder 63 The Strange Trial of Stanley Nowak, by Conrad Komorowski, December 1954
Folder 64 McCarthy on Trial, 1954
Folder 65 "Remove the Dagger! From the Heart of the Bill of Rights"
Folder 66 Elizabeth Bentley and Her Role in the Attack on the New Deal
Folder 67 "Defend the Bill of Rights Rally" Flyer
Folder 68 An Open Letter to the American People
Folder 69 Morton Sorbell, Prisoner on Our Conscience, A Newspaper to Secure Justice in the Case of Morton Sorbell, November 1956
Folder 70 Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1952, No. 687, Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg vs. United States of America
Folder 71 Flyer Instructing Communists to Take Action Against Los Angeles City Councilman Davenport
Folder 72 Exile, The Story of David Hyun
Folder 73 Scholar and School- New Targets for Bigotry
Folder 74 Why Did They Fire My Teacher?
Folder 75 In the Shadow of Liberty, The Inhumanity of the Walter- McCarran Law, by Abner Green, September 1954
Folder 76 Can Americans Tolerate Prison for Ideas? Pamphlet with Accompanying Letter, April 1954
Folder 77 "Journal for 1956, Published for the 6th Annual Conference to Repeal the Walter-McCarran Law and Defend its Victims", April 7, 1956
Folder 78 End Exile
Folder 79 "An Open Letter to the American People"
Folder 80 The Rape of the First Amendment, by Alexander L. Crosby
Folder 81 Free American's from the McCarran Act Danger!, by Gus Hall
Folder 82 End McCarrasnism on this we Stand Together
Folder 83 The McCarran Act, Fact and Fancy, by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Folder 84 "...And What Can We Say to Gus Polites?, We Need a Statute of Limitation!"
Folder 85 "Facts and Opinions McCarran Internal Security Act" Pamphlet
Folder 86 "Rules and Procedures for the Walk for the Bill of Rights" Flyer
Folder 87 "Defend Academic Freedom: Stop McCarthyism Now!", A Statement on Academic Freedom Week by the Labor Youth League
Folder 88 Burlington Dynamite Plot, by Walt Pickard
Folder 89 Letters from the Tombs, by Morris U. Schappes, 1941
Folder 90 The Case of Claude Lightfoot
Folder 91 We Accuse McCarthyism, February 1954
Folder 92 The Heat is On!
Folder 93 Loyalty Oath, If We Remain Silent...
Folder 94 Smear and Run...An Un-American Activity
Folder 95 Who's Unamerican!, July 1947
Folder 96 "CRC Monthly News Letter Exclusively for CRC Member", November 1950
Folder 97 "Let Freedom Ring for Earl Browder", by Carl Ross, February 1942
Folder 98 "Earl Browder Takes His Case to the People", January 1940
Folder 99 "An Open Letter to J. Howard McGrath", Attorney General of the United States, 1951
Folder 100 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Speaks to the Court, Opening Statement to the Court and Jury in the Case of the Sixteenth Smith Act Victims in the Trial at Foley Square, New York, July 1952
Folder 101 "The Smith Act", New Conspiracy Against American Labor
Folder 102 Report on the Denial of Labor and Civil Rights in Hudson County, New Jersey, February 1937
Folder 103 A Letter to Congress: Defeat the Anti-Labor Smith Bill!, by William Z. Foster, June 1952
Folder 104 The Smith ...McCarran...Taft-Hartley Conspiracy to Strangle Labor, by George Morris, October 1951
Folder 105 The Smith Act- A Threat to Labor
Folder 106 "It is Later Than You Think..." A Solemn Warning and Appeal to the People of Los Angeles County!
Folder 107 13 Communists Speak to the Court, March 1953
Folder 108 McCarthyism and the Big Lie, by Milton Howard, November 1953
Folder 109 Courage is Contagious, The Bill of Rights versus The Un-American Activities Committee, 1953
Folder 110 Either the Constitution or the Mundt Bill, America Can't Have Both!, by Simon W. Gerson, June 1950
Folder 111 In Defense of the Communist Party and the Indicted Leaders, by William Z. Foster, July 1949
Folder 112 "Don't Let it Happen Here", A Call to the American People
Folder 113 "Communists Trial Defendants Join Picket Line" Photograph, June 7 1949
Folder 114 The Twelve and You, What Happens to Democracy is Your Business, too!, by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, September 1948
Folder 115 "To Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case" Pamphlet, 1951
Folder 116 "An Appeal for Clemency" Pamphlet, 1952
Folder 117 Mercy for the Rosenbergs Flyer, 1952
Folder 118 "Fact Sheet in the Rosenberg Case" Pamphlet, 1953
Folder 119 "The Nelson Case: State Sedition Laws are Weapons of Anti-Labor, Anti-Negro, Anti-Semitic Repression" Leaflet, May 1955
Folder 120 "Defend Academic Freedom! A Statement on Academic Freedom Week by the Labor Youth League" Pamphlet, 1955
Folder 121 Rights, V.1 N.10, June 1954
Folder 122 McCarthyism in the Courts: the story of the Steve Nelson Frame-up Pamphlet, 1951
Folder 123 "Constitution of the International Labor Defense"
Folder 124 Ten Years of Labor Defense, by Sasha Small, 1953
Folder 125 Labor Research Association's Monthly Labor Notes, August 1938
Folder 126 Night Riders in Gallup, by Louis Colman, May 1935
Folder 127 Friedel Rosenthal, U.S. Hostage in Germany, by James C. Bilotta with Accompanying Letter from the Author
Folder 128 We Want Drastic Revision or Outright Repeal of the Racist & Discriminatory Walter-McCarran Law By the 85th Congress!, April 6, 1957
Folder 129 "Fight the Blacklist!" Flyer

Box 13
Folder 43 "Conference of Inquiry", Source Material for Panel Discussion