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It Did Happen Here

It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America

Bud Schultz
Ruth Schultz
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 447
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  • Book Info
    It Did Happen Here
    Book Description:

    In this moving book, two skilled oral historians collect the words of Americans who have been victims of political repression in their own country. Disturbing and provocative,It Did Happen Hereis must-reading for everyone who cares about protecting the rights and liberties upon which this country has been built.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91068-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Ruth Schultz and Bud Schultz
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xx)
    Victor Navasky

    Consider what presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said to Robert Scheer, crack reporter for theLos Angeles Times,in the spring of 1980: “There was no blacklist of Hollywood. The blacklist in Hollywood, if there was one, was provided by the communists.”

    I cite Reagan’s comment because his Cold War obsession with communism allows him to deny the existence of an institution which he and everyone else in the industry and the political culture at the time knew to be a fact. Not only was there a Hollywood blacklist, but there was also a blacklist in the academic community, from elementary...

  5. PART I: The Commandments of Repression

    • Introduction to Part I
      (pp. 3-4)

      Across this century the commandments of repression have been invoked against those who dared to think thoughts of dissent and then had the audacity to act on their thoughts. Legislatures, courts, investigating committees, loyalty programs, the FBI—all tried to silence rebellion, whether it took the form of speeches protesting child labor, songs condemning war, or sermons preaching coexistence. Education in the service of freedom and petitions for the right of Blacks to vote became targets for suppression. Nevertheless, rooted in the tradition of protest, Scott Nearing, Pete Seeger, Myles Horton, William Howard Melish, and Chuck McDew—each in his...

    • Thou Shall Not Speak
      (pp. 5-12)
      Scott Nearing

      At the beginning of the 1880s there was a profoundly religious Quaker named Joseph Wharton. He came from a well-to-do family and he was president of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Bethlehem Steel was very closely interwoven with the arms trust group in Pennsylvania. That whole area in there, including du Pont to the south, was an arms producing, dynamite-manufacturing area.

      Joseph Wharton didn’t wear a collar button, nor a cuff button nor a watch chain. He was an austere Quaker. He was also rich enough to give three-quarters of a million dollars to the University of Pennsylvania to found the Wharton...

    • Thou Shall Not Sing
      (pp. 13-21)
      Pete Seeger

      The Peekskill riot was in September 1949. From the conversations I’ve had with various people, it now seems pretty clear it was organized by the Ku Klux Klan, which had members in the local police departments. When Paul Robeson made the statement in Paris that American Blacks would not fight against the Soviet Union, the one country that had outlawed race discrimination,* they were outraged. He touched America’s Achilles’ heel, and when he was going to give a concert in Peekskill, they said, “Let's get him.”

      The mob came to the site of the concert, overturned the stage, beat up...

    • Thou Shall Not Teach
      (pp. 23-33)
      Myles Horton

      I grew up in a religious background, like most people in the South. And poor. We were living in the country, sharecropping. I had to start work away from home when I was fifteen. I wanted to do something in the way of education, and I assumed I could get a job in the mountains in some kind of college or high school. I wanted my teaching to have to do with helping people live a more creative life. I also wanted to help people deal with economic problems, because it was such a poor area.

      There were no examples...

    • Thou Shall Not Preach
      (pp. 35-46)
      William Howard Melish

      My father was the rector of the Brooklyn Heights Holy Trinity Church, one of the most active Episcopal parishes in the city of New York. We had always had monthly forums on contemporary subjects, where we tried to apply the Christian gospel to the general social, economic, and political scene. We were unusual in that respect. Nearby, a conservative pastor used to say of his congregation, with pride: “We are the pullman car on the Episcopal train.” But father was considered a distinguished person in the Episcopal church, so his social activism had been accepted during his years, in spite...

    • Thou Shall Not Resist
      (pp. 47-58)
      Chuck McDew

      I was raised in Massillon, Ohio, a town of about thirty-five thousand, where they produced steel and football players. Initially I had planned to go to Oberlin College. But it was my father’s feeling that we should all—myself, my sister, and my brothers—spend at least one year of school in a Black institution, where we would see Black professors, lawyers, and other professionals as role models.

      I had no great desire to go down South. I had never been there. I had never been in a totally Black environment in my life. But in 1960 I was sent...

  6. PART II: The Method to the Madness

    • Introduction to Part II
      (pp. 61-64)

      Each branch of government, the judicial, the legislative, and the executive, has contributed to the selective denial of rights to persons it considers a threat. The pursuit of presumed heretics in the courts, which at times became relentless, is predicated on laws that compromise free expression. Pete Muselin’s advocacy of unions was heresy in the 1920s in a tightly controlled company town. He was charged with sedition. Gil Green’s advocacy of socialism was heresy in the late 1940s in a country wracked by fear of the Soviet Union. He was charged with teaching the forcible overthrow of the government. Benjamin...

    • Outlawing Dissent:: Trials of Heresy

      • The Steel Fist in a Pennsylvania Company Town
        (pp. 65-74)
        Pete Muselin

        I arrived in this country in 1912 with my brother. He was fourteen and I was twelve. Our parents had come here earlier and settled in Pittsburgh, where my dad worked in the steel mills. We lived in Pittsburgh until Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation broke ground for their Aliquippa mills, right on the site of the old Aliquippa amusement park. My dad was offered a job up there, so the family moved to what was then known as Woodlawn. The Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation was its one industry.

        We lived in the Logstown section, a typical settlement of...

      • Forbidden Books on Trial
        (pp. 75-89)
        Gil Green

        The red scare was on. Supposedly, Russians had infiltrated every where and there were spies everywhere. Alger Hiss, a top adviser in the State Department, was suddenly accused of being a Soviet spy. The Rosenberg case aroused the country and inflamed public opinion; the Rosenbergs finally paid with their lives. The hysteria grew to immense proportions. It swept over from one area of life to another. The top leadership of the CIO, which had worked with Communists up to that point, expelled eleven of the most progressive unions from its ranks. The House Un-American Committee caused thousands of people to...

      • The Conspiracy to Oppose the Vietnam War
        (pp. 91-100)
        Benjamin Spock

        I was a New Deal Democrat. I was always interested in politics, but I wasn’t active until I joined the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy in 1962. They had asked me to join them two times previously, in the late 1950s, but I told them, “I don’t know anything about radiation. Besides, I reassure parents; I don’t scare them.”

        The issue at the time was the need for a test ban treaty. When SANE came back a third time, in 1962, they got through to my conscience. I have to give them credit for persistence. They convinced me...

    • The Congressional Inquisition

      • The Beginning: The Hollywood Ten
        (pp. 101-116)
        Ring Lardner Jr. and Frances Chaney Lardner

        Ring: We had begun to hear rumors in the latter part of 1946 that there was some kind of investigation coming up. The Republicans had won a majority in Congress. In January of 1947, a vote was put through the new Congress to make the temporary Un-American Activities Committee a permanent committee of the House. A Republican, J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey, became chairman. They announced that one of the first places to investigate would be the motion picture business.

        In May, they held hearings in Los Angeles, which met in executive session. They summoned only witnesses who were...

      • To Swing a Union Election
        (pp. 117-126)
        Tom Quinn

        I was fortunate I worked for Local 601 of the United Electrical Workers. That union tolerated, in fact encouraged, people to speak out on views that were contrary to the prevailing wisdom. It represented workers at the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in East Pittsburgh, one of the largest plants in the nation during World War II.

        In 1946, workers in electrical, steel, auto, and all the major industries in the country walked out. During the course of the strike at Westinghouse, I took an active role in the local. After the strike, I was elected to a major office in the...

      • To Smear a Professor
        (pp. 127-139)
        Barrows Dunham

        The point at which the attack on constitutional rights was leveled was not at us lefties. We were unimportant except to be used as pawns. The attack, I am quite sure, was aimed at breaking up the coalition Roosevelt had established between the liberals at the center and the socialist left. There was a group of people you could call left-wing liberals, and these were the chief victims, the spectacular victims. Alger Hiss was one. Owen Lattimore was another. These guys, along with others, were connected with developing our policy toward China during and after the war. They argued for...

      • There’s No Business Like Show Business
        (pp. 141-152)
        John Randolph and Sarah Cunningham

        John: When the House Un-American Activities Committee came to New York in 1955, it announced that Sarah and I had been sub poenaed. My picture appeared on the front pages of theHerald Tribuneand theNew York Timesthe day I testified. We were living at 107th Street then. The phone stopped ringing, except for the hate calls. At three or four in the morning, you’d hear: “Jew-Commie,” “Kike-bastard,” “Go back to Russia.” Suddenly your best friends disappeared because they were too scared. Hysteria was all around us.

        I knew an actor who was raised in the tradition of...

      • He Said No to Joe
        (pp. 153-158)
        Harvey O’Connor and Jessie O’Connor

        Harvey: I am indebted to the Daughters of the American Revolution for starting me off on the radical line. When I was growing up, the DAR had an annual essay contest in the schools. One year the subject was the Bill of Rights. Preparing for that was my introduction to what the Bill of Rights really meant. And it’ thanks to Tacoma High School that I found out about socialism. In 1912, when Debs was running for president, one of my teachers decided to have a debate on socialism. I didn’t know beans about it. I went to the library...

    • The Compulsion of Loyalty

      • The Palmer Raids: The Deportation Mania Begins
        (pp. 159-164)
        Sonia Kaross

        I was born in May 1901, in Lithuania. I came here at five years of age with my family. My father was a revolutionary from old Russia who ran away to this country. He couldn’t speak English well, but he was a well-learned man. After he was here a few years, the boss wanted my father to vote—I think it was for the Wilson election—so he got him citizenship. That’s what it was like in those days. The boss fixed it all up. But when father was in the voting booth, he voted for Eugene Debs. Anyway, by...

      • The Ordeal of the Loyalty Test
        (pp. 165-174)
        Arthur Drayton

        It’s been so long ago, but I can tell you about my encounter with the great fear back there in the 1950s. McCarthy was riding high, and most Americans were frightened into thinking that the Communists were going to take over.

        At that time, I happened to have been a postal worker. When I started out, my parents had been so proud of me. It was a great thing to have a son working in the post office. Then, in 1949, I was dismissed under the government’s loyalty proceedings after twenty-five years of service. I had been an active member...

      • A Purple Heart Was Not Enough
        (pp. 175-181)
        Jim Kutcher

        I never had any steady jobs before I entered the army in World War II. The longest job I had was working in a paint store, but that only lasted about six months. I sold paint over the counter. And my boss, in order to keep the business going, had to go out and do contract jobs on people’s apartments. So I usually was left in charge of the store. He paid me a dollar a day.

        During the war I was wounded. When I came back, I worked for the Veterans Administration in New Jersey. It was about a...

      • Forbidden Utterances: Reason Enough for Exclusion
        (pp. 183-194)
        Margaret Randall

        I’m a woman, almost fifty, who was born in this country, who grew up in New York and New Mexico, and in 1961 moved to Mexico with my son. I married Sergio Mondragon, a Mexican poet, and together we edited a bilingual literary journal,El Corno Emplurnado. In 1966, I decided to take out Mexican citizenship as a way of getting better work. We had three small children, and my husband didn’t have a steady job. After the breakup of my marriage, I moved to Cuba with my children. I spent ten years in Cuba, four years in Nicaragua, and...

    • Criminalization of Dissent:: The Frame-Up

      • The Wilmington Ten: Prisoners of Conscience
        (pp. 195-211)
        Ben Chavis

        My family, the Chavis family, has been involved in the struggle for Black freedom in this country a long time. I am a direct descendant of the Reverend John Chavis, a free man who set up an underground school in Hillsboro when the law banned Blacks from teaching. He was born around the 1750s, the son of a slave in Granville County, North Carolina. That was the county I was born in a couple centuries later, in 1948.

        I grew up in Oxford, North Carolina. Most everybody worked on tobacco plantations, but my mother and father were schoolteachers. I was...

      • War Against the American Nation
        (pp. 213-230)
        Leonard Peltier

        Leonard: My first encounter with non-Indian people was an act of violent racism. I was six years old. I was standing on the street corner, waiting for my uncle, who went to the drugstore. Some kids came walking by and said, “Hey, you dirty Indian, go home.” I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t even know there was a difference between Indians and whites. They started throwing rocks at me. An older kid came along and started throwing rocks, too. They stoned me in the street because I was an Indian.

        I remember it terrified me. I finally started...

  7. PART III: The Face of a Police State

    • Introduction to Part III
      (pp. 233-235)

      The image of a police state is one of a nation in which police act arbitrarily, violently, and with impunity against opponents of the state; in which the body politic is subject to surveillance and harassment by networks of secret police; and in which persons are interned, kept apart from others in prisons or concentration camps, for no reason other than their ethnic identity or their political views.

      In the United States, our heritage of respect for civil liberties is rich, deep, and long-lasting. But for those perceived as a threat to the status quo, the reality has been different....

    • Police Unleashed

      • The Everett Massacre, 1916
        (pp. 237-248)
        Jack Miller

        I was a volunteer organizer for the United Mine Workers in 1908, 1909. The United Mine Workers didn’t want the operators to know what was going on, so it was very clandestine. I was an agitator, really, and it was just as dangerous then to do something like that as it was to belong to the Wobblies. I was either told to get out, or was escorted out, or sometimes rather forcibly expelled from every coal-mining camp in that Cumberland Valley division of Virginia.

        Two of us would go into the camp as partners. When we got there, we wouldn’t...

      • The Orangeburg Massacre, 1968
        (pp. 249-262)
        Cleveland Sellers

        On the night of February 8, 1968, state troopers fired without warning into an unarmed group of students on the campus of South Carolina State College, wounding many and killing three. Shocked officials from a number of Black colleges wrote Lyndon Johnson: “Demonstrators seeking freedom were killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770: A Negro was the first to die there. In February 1968, freedom seekers led by Negroes were again fired upon and killed—this time in Orangeburg, South Carolina.”¹ In a lot of communities in South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre and the memory of the three slain students...

    • Secret Police:: American as Apple Pie

      • FBI Crackdown on Opposition to HUAC
        (pp. 263-278)
        Frank Wilkinson

        I began my personal campaign to get rid of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. A national campaign to abolish HUAC was launched in 1960. The committee was not abolished until January 14, 1975. And I know that if the free marketplace of ideas had been left open for us to argue the cause of abolition with Congress or in the field, we could have done the thing in five years or less.

        The role of the FBI was to disrupt our opposition to repressive laws and inquisitorial activities of government. That’s clear from their own documents. We got...

      • The FBI’s Southern Strategies
        (pp. 279-288)
        Jack O’Dell

        I think the attacks on men like Paul Robeson, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr., show that this system is not tolerant of Black leadership with something to say to the American people. J. Edgar Hoover was not the first or the last in power to try to disrupt and discredit a “Black messiah.” All COINTELPRO did was formalize a policy of repression that’s been in existence since the anti-slavery movements—frame-ups, character assassinations, sometimes out-and-out assassinations, a broadside attack upon our leadership. When you look at what happened to those who tried to serve with...

      • The Grand Jury: An Extension of FBI Authority
        (pp. 289-302)
        Jill Raymond

        All six of us who ended up jailed in Lexington in 1975 were at some point in our undergraduate college years. Some of us didn’t know each other at all before the grand jury subpoenas came up. In other cases, we had been close buddies through women’s study groups or just general hanging out together. We all had a wide assortment of interests in political activities and political causes.

        By that time, a certain amount of antiwar consciousness and feminist consciousness had sunk in at large campuses in the United States. Many people were exploring alternative health care, alternative business...

      • The Lawlessness of the LAPD Red Squad
        (pp. 303-317)
        Seymour Myerson

        Early in the 1970s, I became aware of the fact that I was being followed and being photographed at various meetings and demonstrations. And then the harassment began that eventually led to this complaint against the police department and the city:

        On or about April 21, 1974 at Pershing Square, located in the City and County of Los Angeles, California, Defendant Ruff . . . and other unknown agents of Defendant City of Los Angeles, operating under the express or implied consent, permission, authority and direction of Defendant [Police Chief] Edward M. Davis . . . acted so as to...

      • Undercover Agents’ War on Vietnam Veterans
        (pp. 319-333)
        Scott Camil

        I grew up in a right-wing house. My stepfather was a policeman and very big in the John Birch Society. You dialed FRE-EDOM and you’d get a recorded message in his voice on the communist conspiracy, why we should invade Cuba, or that Martin Luther King attended communist meetings. In our house, I was taught that everybody owed a duty to their country. I had faith in the government. I looked up to authority and figured they knew what was going on. We were the smartest people in the world, I figured, our country was the best, and everything we...

      • The Greensboro Massacre: Police-Vigilante Nexus
        (pp. 335-346)
        Paul Bermanzohn

        Our daughter, Sandy, was in Sally’s belly, three months from being born, at the time of the massacre. She was named after Sandi Smith, who was murdered there. Frankie Powell was eight months pregnant. She was shot in the back of the legs and buttocks. We were very worried she would lose her kid, but her son was born okay. The kids who made it through those times became a rough, tough bunch.

        My own mother and father were in concentration camps during World War II. They were Polish Jews, and both their families had been killed off. They met...

    • The American Experience with Concentration Camps

      • In Defense of the Constitution
        (pp. 347-360)
        Minoru Yasui

        As children, we grew up in the small town of Hood River, Oregon. I guess until about the third grade I thought I was like everybody else. I can remember fighting with a good friend of mine, Kenny Abraham, whose father was a doctor. We were rolling around in the dirt. And the father came by and said, “Kenny, get away from that goddamn Jap.”

        My grandfather came here in the 1890s. He went to work on the railroads, both in Idaho and in Montana. He got a few dollars and called for his eldest son, my uncle. Between the...

  8. PART IV: The High Cost of Winning

    • Introduction to Part IV
      (pp. 363-364)

      There are some who respond to a victory in a civil liberties case by saying, “The American system of justicedoeswork.” To take issue with that view is not to deny the legacy of freedom in the United States. But to see only that positive side ignores many who were not vindicated, who were jailed for their beliefs or political activities because they lacked adequate resources to defend themselves or because the times were harshly biased against them. It ignores countless others who suffered repression in silence. And it suppresses the record of cruelties experienced even by those victims...

    • Turning the Tables on Government Raiders
      (pp. 365-376)
      Margaret Herring McSurely

      It was about eight o’clock on an August evening. I was out in the kitchen cooking, and Al was writing a political paper. This was before women’s lib got hold of me. I looked out of the window, and there were these men prancing through the grass. Some of them had uniforms on and some of them didn’t, but they all had guns. I said to myself, “My goodness, they must be looking for an escaped convict.” Then I told Al to look out the window, that there were a bunch of cops outside. The next thing I heard was...

    • Exposing the Informer Racket
      (pp. 377-391)
      Edward Lamb

      One afternoon in 1953, when I was at the National Press Club in Washington, a friend handed me a wire service bulletin that said my name had been dropped by a witness before McCarthy’s committee. Senator Joe McCarthy had a one-man show in New York that supposedly was investigating the United Nations. John Lautner was his witness. Without any relationship to anything that was said before or after, McCarthy asked, “Do you know Edward Lamb, the broadcaster?”

      “I don’t know Lamb, but I can say that he was highly respected by the top Communists. I wouldn’t be able to say...

    • Bringing the Blacklisters to Account
      (pp. 393-408)
      John Henry Faulk

      I had a professor by the name of J. Frank Dobie. He was a folklorist, a great writer in Texas. He had but one goal: the liberated mind. Dobie and I came from the same milieu, a white, Protestant kind of primitive egalitarianism. But he and I both pronounced the word “Negro” as “nigra” and called Black people “colored folks” or “darkies,” without any thought of the implications of using designations like that. We had never challenged the notion of segregation or the Jim Crow laws that were fixtures in our society.

      In a way, it was old Hitler who...

  9. A Final Word
    (pp. 409-414)

    The experiences recorded in this book contradict the view that “it can’t happen here.” They show, as well, that political repression cannot be attributed simply to moments of national weakness or to the excesses of ambitious or zealous bureaucrats. There was, of course, the colossal arrogance of J. Edgar Hoover, who took it upon himself to determine the appropriate leadership for Black Americans by “neutralizing” leaders from Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Black Panthers. And it is true that political repression reached spectacular proportions in times of national hysteria: the red scare of the 1920s and the Cold War...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 415-422)
  11. For Background Reading
    (pp. 423-427)