Jun 242013
 

Dickstein

(Rep. Samuel Dickstein (D-NY), second from right, March 1937. Source: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/hec2009009088/)

When examining the history of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), one soon discovers an amazing irony. While HUAC spent over three decades developing a reputation as a right-wing scourge of communists real or alleged, the congressman who first conceived the idea of a committee to investigate “un-American activities” was a New Deal liberal worried about the threat of subversion posed by domestic Nazis and fascists. Even more incredibly, that same congressman, dubbed by HUAC scholar Walter Goodman as the “Father of the Committee”, actually spent several years as a paid agent of the Soviet Union.

Born in 1885, Rep. Samuel Dickstein (D-NY) emigrated to the U.S. as a small child and grew up in New York City. He went to law school and became involved in the Democratic Party, serving in various state offices before winning election to Congress in 1922. Dickstein was alarmed by the Nazi seizure of power in Germany in 1933 and by the often well-publicized activities of Nazi sympathizers and native fascists in the United States. At his urging, on March 20, 1934 the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 198 (H. Res. 73-2), which created a special committee to investigate:

  1. “The extent, character, and objects of Nazi propaganda activities” in the U.S.

  2. “The diffusion within the United States of subversive propaganda that is instigated from foreign countries and attacks the principle of the form of government as guaranteed by our Constitution”

  3. “All other questions in relation thereto” (78 CR 4934)

The House Special Committee on Un-American Activities, widely considered the forerunner to HUAC, contained seven members. Rep. John McCormack (D-MA) served as Chair with Dickstein as Vice-Chair. The McCormick-Dickstein committee, as it was popularly known, primarily investigated the activities of far-right extremists such as the German-American Bund and the Silver Legion of America, but did also investigate the Communist Party (CPUSA) as well.

The McCormick-Dickstein Committee published its report on February 15, 1935. This report included the following summation of the 1930s countersubversive worldview:

“To the true and real American, communism, naziism (sic.), and fascism are all equally dangerous, equally alien and equally unacceptable to American institutions.” (Investigation, p.23)

The Special Committee on Un-American Activities disbanded after releasing its report. Dickstein, however, continued his campaign against alleged Nazi and fascist subversion. In early 1937, he called for the creation of a new committee on un-American activities, with a charge even more sweeping than that given to the 1934-35 version. In his ever more strident warnings about the threat posed by the German-American Bund and other far-right groups, Dickstein became one of the most prominent voices of what historian Leo Ribuffo has called the “Brown Scare”: an exaggerated fear of the threat posed by domestic Nazis and fascists in response to the alarming rise of the Third Reich in Europe and the often repellent activities of its supporters in the U.S.

By this time, Dickstein had adopted the practice of denouncing by name individuals, businesses and organizations he suspected of Nazi or fascist sympathies in speeches on the floor of Congress. When six individuals identified by Dickstein as Bund members submitted signed affidavits denying the charge, Dickstein responded on the House floor on December 21, 1937 as follows:

I have always protected character and reputation in respect to any name I have inserted in the RECORD, and I say to the membership of the House that if out of these hundreds of names that I have buttonholed as Fascists and Nazis, or whatever I have called them, only six filed a protest, I think I have done a pretty good job. (82 CR 2031)

Dickstein’s desire to see a new Special Committee on Un-American Activities came to fruition on May 26, 1938, when the House passed House Res. 282, creating the committee that would become HUAC and continue in several incarnations until 1975. The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Martin Dies (D-TX), with Dickstein’s full support and cooperation. However, Dies was appointed Chair while Dickstein was left off the committee altogether. The Dies Committee would direct the majority of its investigative focus on the CPUSA and New Deal, much to Dickstein’s chagrin. As Goodman memorably phrased it, Dickstein was “relentless” in his efforts “from 1933 to 1938” to bring HUAC into being, only to find that he “had the rest of his life to regret” his efforts.

The story of Samuel Dickstein and the origins of HUAC took an even more bizarre turn in 1999, when Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev released their book The Haunted Wood. Based on research in KGB archives, Weinstein and Vassiliev revealed that Dickstein maintained a covert relationship with the NKVD (Soviet secret police: predecessor of the KGB) from 1937-1940. Motivated primarily by financial incentives, Dickstein was given the code name “Crook” by the NKVD and was paid approximated $12,000 during this period. The Soviets severed the relationship with Dickstein in 1940, unhappy that they were not getting their money’s worth. (Weinstein & Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood, Chapter 7)

This leaves us with the ultimate irony that the man who did more than any other to bring the House Un-American Activities Committee into being was on the payroll of Soviet intelligence while doing so.

After resigning from Congress in 1945, Dickstein became a justice of the New York State Supreme Court, serving there until his death in 1954.

 

Original Sources:

Investigation of Nazi and Other Propaganda, House Report No. 153, 74th Congress (74-1), Serial Set 9890 (1935)  (Available in U.S. Congressional Serial Set; ECU users only)

Investigation of Nazi Propaganda Activities and Investigation of Certain Other Propaganda Activities. Public Hearings Before the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Seventy-Third Congress, Second Session. 1934-35, 8. v.  (Joyner Docs CWIS: Y 4: Un 1: N 23)

78 Cong. Rec. 4934 (1934) (Available in ProQuest Congressional; ECU users only)

82 Cong. Rec. 2031 (1937) (Available in ProQuest Congressional; ECU users only)

 

Additional Sources:

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: Dickstein, Samuel, (1885 – 1954)

Goodman, Walter. The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968. (Joyner Stacks E743.5 .G64)

Ribuffo, Leo P. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983. (Joyner Stacks E806 .R47 1983)

Weinstein, Allen and Alexander Vassiliev. The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America–The Stalin Era. New York: Random House, 1999. (Joyner Stacks UB271.R9 W45 1999)

 

Apr 212013
 

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3g00000/3g06000/3g06100/3g06144r.jpg

(front cover of July 1951 comic book featuring Jackie Robinson. Source: Library of Congress American Memory Collections: Baseball and Jackie Robinson: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/robinson/)

In 1947, Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson would make American history as the first African-American to officially play Major League Baseball in the 20th Century. On July 18 1949, his status as a hero would see Jackie Robinson summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

HUAC was holding hearings on the topic of “Communist infiltration of minority groups”. In April 1949, the radical African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson had allegedly stated that African-Americans would be reluctant to fight on behalf of the USA against the USSR. Robinson was invited by the committee as a “friendly” witness to rebut Robeson’s claims.

Robinson began his testimony by stating that “it isn’t exactly pleasant to get involved in a political dispute”, but that he decided ultimately to testify out of “a sense of responsibility.” While noting that “I don’t pretend to be any expert on communism or any other kind of a political ‘ism.’” Robinson pointed out that he was “an expert at being a colored American, with 30 years of experience at it.” After reminding the committee that he was still one of only seven African-Americans in Major League Baseball (out of 400 players), Robinson made a powerful statement about both African-Americans’ desire for civil rights and the tendency fostered by HUAC to see all social protest as a result of conspiratorial subversion:

“The white public should start toward real understanding by appreciating that every single Negro who is worth his salt is going to resent any kind of slurs and discrimination because of his race, and he is going to use every bit of intelligence such as he has to stop it. This has got absolutely nothing to do with what Communists may or may not be trying to do. And white people must realize that the more a Negro hates communism because it opposes democracy, the more he is going to hate any other influence that kills off democracy in this country-and that goes for racial discrimination in the Army, and segregation on trains and buses, and job discrimination because of religious beliefs or color or place of birth.

And one other thing the American public ought to understand, if we are to make progress in this matter: The fact that it is a Communist who denounces injustice in the courts, police brutality, and lynching when it happens doesn’t change the truth of his charges. Just because Communists kick up a big fuss over racial discrimination when it suits their purposes, a lot of people try to pretend that the whole issue is a creation of Communist imagination.

But they are not fooling anyone with this kind of pretense, and talk about “Communists stirring up Negroes to protest” only makes present misunderstanding worse than ever. Negroes were stirred up long before there was a Communist Party, and they’ll stay stirred up long after the party has disappeared-unless Jim Crow has disappeared by then as well.”

Source: Hearings Regarding Communist Infiltration of Minority Groups–Part 1, Hearings Before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eighty First Congress, First Session. 1949, p. 479-83  (Joyner Docs CWIS: Y 4: Un 1/2: C 73/11/pt.1)

Additional Federal Information Sources on Jackie Robinson:

 

Apr 212013
 

This blog is designed to promote J.Y. Joyner Library’s Cold War and Internal Security Collection by highlighting specific items from the collection and by discussing  the broader historical context behind the collection and its documents. Future posts will focus on topics such as the following:

  • Historically well known hearings and documents, such as Hiss v. Chambers, the Army-McCarthy hearings, the “Hollywood Ten”, etc.
  • Documents concerning specific individuals, such as Linus Pauling, Paul Robeson, etc.
  • Unique and interesting documents that provide insights into the nature of congressional countersubversion investigations.
  • Documents discussing specific organizations, such as the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Ku Klux Klan, Black Panthers, German-American Bund, etc.
  • Documents on a specific topic: investigations of the motion picture industry, the “Brown Scare”, labor unions, the internment of Japanese-Americans, etc.
  • North Carolina specific-topics: the “Silver Legion of America”, the CPUSA in North Carolina, the Klan in North Carolina, etc.

Each post will refer to relevant documents available in the CWIS Collection, as well as other topical materials available online or elsewhere in Joyner Library. For basic information about the CWIS Collection and how to use it, please see our CWIS LibGuide.

Please contact me with any questions or comments

David Durant
Federal Documents & Social Sciences Librarian
J.Y. Joyner Library

Apr 082013
 

http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/graphic/large/Welch_McCarthy.jpg

(Senator Joseph McCarthy during the famous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. Attorney Joseph Welch, who famously asked McCarthy “Have you no sense of decency, sir”, looks chagrined in the left foreground. Image via Senate historical website: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/graphic/large/Welch_McCarthy.jpg )

 

Joyner Library’s Federal Documents Collection is pleased to announce the creation of the Cold War and Internal Security (CWIS) Collection. The CWIS Collection includes approximately 1,000 volumes of congressional hearings, committee prints and committee reports from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), its successor the House Committee on Internal Security (HCIS), the Senate Government Operations Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (SPSI), and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Internal Security (SISS), covering the years 1934-1977. The contents of the collection cover congressional investigations of organizations deemed “subversive” or “un-American”, primarily the Communist Party USA and its allies. Other subjects of investigation include the New Left, the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panthers, 1930s and 40s pro-Nazi organizations and even the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans. These items serve as valuable primary sources on topics such as American political culture during the Depression, World War II and the Cold War, the history of American Communism and the other investigated movements, the fate of civil liberties during a period of perceived external threat, and the evolution of attitudes toward political movements deemed extreme or “un-American”.

The CWIS Collection is housed in the basement of Joyner Library and is intended as an archival resource. The collection, however, is open stack and can be used in the building by any interested patrons. Documents from the CWIS Collection cannot be checked out, but secondary copies of many of these volumes are available in the regular Documents Stacks and can be checked out. When complete, the CWIS Collection will contain at least one copy of every document published by each of the four committees within its scope, as well as select relevant documents from other congressional bodies.

Please contact David Durant, Federal Documents & Social Sciences Collection, for any questions about the CWIS Collection and how to use it: durantd@ecu.edu

The CWIS Collection is part of the Association of Southeast Regional Libraries’ Collaborative Federal Depository Program.

 Posted by at 6:19 pm