On February 11, 1963, at Emory University, Howard Zinn participated in a debate with Fulton Lewis III, a journalist and member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on the question of “Shall the House Committee on Un-American Activities Be Abolished?” Zinn noted this in his diary and the two-and-half hour event was recorded.

The following is an interlaced project featuring diary entries about the event which were published in 2018 by Robert Cohen in the book Howard Zinn’s Southern Diaries: Sit-ins, Civil Rights, and Black Women’s Student Activism, the three-part audio recording of the debate that has been digitized by NYU’s Tamiment Library, and transcriptions of the audio conducted by HowardZinn.org.


Excerpts from Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary: Sit-Ins, Civil Rights, and Black Women’s Student Activism, pages 114-115.

Tues. eve. Feb. 5

Chairman Emory YAF [Young Americans for Freedom] called to ask me to speak or get someone else to — debate with Fulton Lewis III on HUAC, Monday nite. Will probably do it.

Mon. Feb. 11 Debate.
First they showed Film: Operation Abolition. Nancy Perkins agreed yesterday to comment on it after the film. She was a little nervous up there — big crowd, perhaps three hundred — but did a marvelous job. Film itself was not as damaging to students as I had been led to believe. Unless one were already convinced of their guilt, they didn’t look bad. Long, extended shots of men called Communists by commentator, orating into mic in rather unpleasant way, probably the most effective things in film from their point of view. Otherwise, the committee didn’t look too good.

Fulton Lewis III came to my office earlier in the day to meet me, go over ground rules. Said he’d listened to tape of my WQXI broadcast — which meant he didn’t get best picture of me because I wasn’t too good that night.

The debate itself was a greater success than anything I anticipated. Lewis had been built up as a formidable opponent (has been all over the country speaking — debated 13 times with Michael Harrington alone, whom he described as greatest debater he’s ever seen) but was hardly that. Intelligent, but saddled with a poor issue to defend, and more right-wing really than he would let on. Made a few remarkable concessions: that the committee “as it was in the earlier days … should have been abolished” but this committee was more “sophisticated” had improved procedure, etc. Also, at very end, admitted committee not following its enabling resolution, said if it were it should be abolished, said resolution was outdated. Concentrated on need for committee to avoid espionage, sabotage “250 Communists in Conelrad stations.” No question about who got more applause, both at end of main presentation and in course of evening. Excellent questions from floor. A great one by Staughton: “The great men in history who have been remembered have not been the members of inquisitorial committees but  their victims: Galileo, Socrates, Jesus, Liliburne…[“] Interruption:  what is your question. Staughton: “[T]hose statements are connected by semi-colons, I’m coming to my question. My question: Why is that?” Lewis tried to answer, but was inept. Often tried by flow of words to accomplish his purpose, by sheer quantity. I’m sure his definite followers liked him. As for people in-between I don’t think he was too effective in winning them over. They made a tape and will send me one.

excerpts, including a summary by Robert Cohen of Zinn’s diaries.




EDITORS NOTE I: This transcription has been reviewed and edited to capture and match sentence structures to the best of our ability. Please check the actual audio before quoting passages.

EDITOR'S NOTE II: The House Committee on Un-American Activities has sometimes been referenced as "The House Committee on American Activities." The editors have presented the transcription under the official title using the term "Un-American" to avoid confusion.

Nancy Perkins  00:03
Possible I’ve written my remarks. There’s been a great deal of criticism, as you’re probably all aware [inaudible] film. And I feel it is not fair to present it without presenting the other side’s story also. There is a film that had been produced by a civil liberties group in California called “Operation Correction,” which I haven’t seen, but which I understand shows the same pictures with a different commentary. And the story that emerges is different. As the accused students are not here to speak for themselves, I have gathered a few clippings to present part of their defense for them. They may have been unruly, but I’m not convinced by this film that they were either violent or communist-led. Sixty-eight students were arrested, and the charges were dismissed against 67 of them almost immediately. The other, Robert Meisenbach, was tried in May 1961. No witnesses either for the prosecution or for the defense could be found, who saw him rush a barricade and hit a policeman with a nightstick. Sheriff Carberry of San Francisco County said quote, “There was no act of physical aggression on the part of students.” There are no pictures of the storming of barricades supposed to have incited the police to turn the hoses on the students. In fact Life magazine and on May 23, 1960, shows the students sitting quietly just as the hoses went on. Many of them was still dry and the boy who was supposed to be jumping the barricade was leaning against the wall and smoking a pipe. Meisenbach’s defense lawyer contended, indeed, that the student himself had been brutally beaten by a policeman instead of the other way around.

Nancy Perkins  02:05
What really happened and how can the film be so convincing to so many people? The Washington Post of November 26, 1960, says, “This is a flagrant case of forgery by film.” We will see in a minute how this was done. But first, what did the students say they were trying to do? They were part of a large protest movement in California against the House on Un-American Activities Committee. The committee had scheduled hearings in 1959 for a large group of subpoenaed teachers in the California school system, and then had delayed the hearing, and finally canceled them, keeping the teachers under a cloud of suspense and suspicion and then giving them no chance to clear themselves of the charges. A resolution passed by the Episcopal Diocese of California accused the committee of having outraged the public conscience. Many people in organized labor on faculties of the universities and in the churches, besides the students, were objecting to the methods of the committee. A week before the hearings, which was scheduled for May 1960, students got police permission to pick it and to stage demonstrations. And they were quite orderly for the most part. Trouble began when they were not allowed to enter the building where the hearings were held. They sang and chanted outside and the police turned fire hoses on them to clear the building.

Nancy Perkins  03:45
How does the film distort these facts?

Nancy Perkins  03:50
The House on Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed the films that were taken on the scene by the television newsman, and had prints made of them, and edited them, and spliced them in their proper sequences. Paul Jacobs, a west coast newsman explained, quote, “Separate sequences have been run together to give the impression of mob action, and the film shows students displaying defiance after police warnings, although actually the demonstrations shown occurred at completely different time.” The film foot footage that was not used in this movie, but that is in possession of TV stations in San Francisco, shows a good deal of needless police brutality, according to The Washington Post. But they show no violence on the part of students. Several policemen had heart attacks, and one had a bitten thumb, which it must be admitted is evidence of aggression. There is a documented article by Robert Moon and in the Christian Century of March 22, 1961, which makes the following observation. “The known communists in the pictures were there largely because they were subpoenaed. Nobody proved that any of them came there to direct a riot or that they were successful in directing the students to do anything.” White cards were given out ahead of the hearings so that, as investigator Wheeler of California said, “We would have some decent people in there, and the commies couldn’t pack the hearings.” These white cards were given out in numbers of 100 or so and the hearing room would hold 400 people, but each white card would admit some reporters say three people and other say up to six people, so that there were not more than 30 students there on two of the days and not more than 75 on the other day. And what the students were complaining about was not being allowed to go into the hearings, and they were frequently promised by the sheriff that room would be made for them that they could go in and hear. And when this promise was not kept, they got angry. The movie shows subpoenaed witnesses making allowed demonstration in the hearing room in such a way as to suggest that this action set off noisy demonstrations by students. The first happened on May the 12th, and the second of May the 13th. And these were put together as if they were causally related. The film also shows policemen talking to the students and then the students singing in the building, as if in deliberate disobedience. But these two scenes are not related in time either. The Star Spangled Banner incident implies that the students were breaking up the hearings, but this incident occurred during a noon recess when no committee members were present. The narrator says that there was open defiance of law and order. And other observers said that there was no violence at all.

Nancy Perkins  07:24
Students report that there were no warnings given that the fire hoses would be turned on if they did not clear the building. The reason they sat down when the police dragged out the hoses was to show that their intentions were nonviolent. They were obeying directives is not of communists, as the film states, but of their own respective student leaders, a procedure that had been agreed on ahead of time in case of violence. In Michigan, this film and another one on communism were shown in schools and to private groups by the state police subversive activities squad until the governor ordered them to stop on grounds that the films were, quote,  “Inaccurate and distorted and does harm rather than advance the purpose of an intelligent anti-communist program.” To my way of thinking, the students’ crime is that of not liking the House on Un-American Activities Committee and showing it, and that is their privilege in a democracy.

Mr. Eckbert  08:42
Ladies and gentlemen, the Emory University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom welcomes you to the second in our series of political discussions and debates. Dr. James Hund, of the Department of the School of Business Administration, will introduce our topic and our speakers of the evening.

James Hund  09:09
Thank you, Mr. Eckbert.

James Hund  09:13
This evening our visitor from out of town is Fulton Lewis III who is sitting at my right, member of the National Board of Directors and National Field Director of the Young Americans for Freedom. His education was received at the University of Virginia, after which he served two-and-a-half years as research director for the house on American Activities Committee, during which time he traveled with the committee and was present in San Francisco during the episode covered by the film which we’ve just seen. Since leaving the committee, he has lectured widely and debated on behalf of the conservative position. He has appeared on radio and television shows, including substituting at times for his father Fulton Lewis Jr. On my left is Professor Howard Zinn, chairman of department history and social sciences at Spelman College here in Atlanta. Dr. Zinn received his PhD from Columbia in history and political science, after which he served in the Air Force as a bombardier navigator in the European Theater during World War Two. He has worked at Harvard with the East Asian Studies program, has written a book on LaGuardia in Congress, which was the winner of the Albert Beveridge Prize of the American Historical Association, and has written for other current magazines such as Harper’s, The Antioch Review, Columbia University Forum, and The Nation. This evening’s format will include a 30-minute presentation by each of the speakers, then a 10-minute rebuttal by each after which the floor will be open for questions. During the question [tape defect] questions alternate from the floor first for one speaker, and then for the other. For those of you who were present at the last meeting of this kind, sponsored by this group, I perhaps don’t have to repeat that what we really want to do is to bring out our speakers, not air our own opinions, so that we will welcome questions but not speeches. The first speaker in this evening’s program will be Dr. Zinn.

Howard Zinn  11:37
Thank you very much. Can you hear me? I guess you can.

Howard Zinn  11:45
I only have 30 minutes so I think I will begin with the Stone Age. [Laughter] Mankind has gone through the age of stone, and the age of bronze. And today, we live in the age of irony. We probably in a 20th century the ironies are more monumental than ever. But I am not going to pick one of these stupendous ironies, not one of the petty ones, let’s call it a middle-level irony. And it goes something like this. We, the American people, do not want to live in a communist state. The reason for this is not so much that we object to a planned economy, although many of us do. Not so much that we object to socialized medicine, there’s some controversy about this. This may be effective. Certainly not because we’re afraid that if we live in a communist society, Coca Cola will be replaced by borscht, or that we have anything against the Bolshoi Ballet or vodka or anything. That’s not it. We don’t want to live in a communist society because we don’t want to live in a situation where the government or some agency of government is supervising our ideas and our associations to make sure that we hold no idea, believe in no political ideology which is contrary to the official dogma. We don’t want to live in a communist state because we don’t want any government agency inspecting what we say, what we think, the associations we have, the paintings we paint, the writings we write, the books we read, the meetings we go to, the organizations we join. We don’t want to be in a situation where people around us are watching us, and may inform on what we say or where we go or the petitions we sign. We don’t want to live in a situation where opposing the official credo may result in going to prison, where disagreeing with this governmental agency will send somebody to jail. And so in order to avoid all this, we set up a committee. And this committee, in order to prevent us from experiencing this, inspects what we read. [Laughter] It, looks at who we associate with, checks up on the things we write, the books we read, the associations we have, the meetings we go to, the wife that we marry. It also employs paid informers to keep track on what people do, what they say, where they go. It also sends people to jail for disagreeing with the committee. Now the premise of this irony is that we don’t really mind if our freedoms are taken away from us so long as it’s done by Americans. Now, and also, that it is alright to take our freedoms away from us today because this will strengthen us to meet the trials of tomorrow. The House Committee on Un-American Activities was founded in 1938. It had a few predecessors, the Olbermann Committee of 1919, the Fish Committee of 1930. They had roughly the same object. In 1938 the House on American Activities Committee was created as an ad hoc committee. The chairman, um, well, I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say the chairman was not selected from among the most brilliant members of the House. Chairman was Martin Dyes of Texas, this became known as the Dyes Committee, and you all perhaps know, well, it’s not necessary to say anything about the Dyes committee. It saved our country. [Laughter] It investigated Brooklyn College, which everybody knows is the seat of subversion in this nation. [Laughter]

Howard Zinn  16:23
It investigated the Federal Writers Project and writers are among the most dangerous people in this country. It investigated the former Labor Party of Minnesota, and well, all you have to do is look on the map and see the strategic location of Minnesota. It is right next to Iowa, and not far away from Wisconsin, and then there’s the Schlitz Brewery Company which is right near, and if the communists got control of the Schlitz Brewery Company…

Howard Zinn  17:01
Well, the…This committee became a permanent committee in 1945, the man most responsible for making it permanent was another one of our great congressman, John Rankin of Mississippi. As an example of Mr. Rankin’s incisive comments, on communism, of which he was one of the nation’s most assiduous students.

Howard Zinn  17:35
July 18, 1945, on the floor of the House, John Rankin speaking, “These alien-minded communistic enemies of Christianity and their stooges are trying to get control of the press of the country. Many of our great daily newspapers have now changed hands and gone over to them. They are trying to take over the radio. Listen to their lying broadcasts in broken English.” Unquote. It’s clear that the committee fulfilled its function. I listened to the radio yesterday for a while I had no broken English. All I heard was things like, “I’m crazy about you, baby, because you’re so sweet” or something like that. The radio has been cleared of communist propaganda it seems to me, very effective. Now since then, the IQ of the committee since those days of Rankin has gone up, but the values remain the same. It’s important to take a look at the enabling resolution passed by Congress, which gives the committee its legal power. It’s important to know this because this is the legal foundation upon which the committee operates. This is what the committee is supposed to be doing. And this resolution says that the committee is authorized to conduct investigations quote, “Into the extent character and objects of un-American propaganda activities in the United States.” And to, quote, “the diffusion within the United States of subversive and un-American propaganda that attacks the principle of the form of government as guaranteed by our Constitution.” I want you to note that both requirements are the propaganda we investigate. No one on the committee, incidentally, as far as I can see, has given a very satisfactory answer to the question of exactly what is un-American propaganda? What is American propaganda, what is subversive, what is unsubversive propaganda. Dyes in the good old days, said that if you didn’t believe in God, this was an example of un-American thinking, and if you believe in a planned economy, this was an example of un-American thinking. The most recent definition I’ve seen was given by Chairman Congressman Walter in 1961, who — this was on “Youth Wants to Know” television program — question from this young student, “Sir, for our own information, could you tell us just what is considered un-American by your committee?” Walter, “Well, any activity that strikes at the basic concept of our republic.” That’s a good clear answer, isn’t it? [Laughter] Any activity that strikes at the basic concept of our republic? What is the basic concept of our republic? Well, I will offer my own answer.

Howard Zinn  20:29
The basic concept of our republic, I think, is that no government agency has the right to say what is the basic concept of our republic. Because the principles of American democracy are changing things. They’re hammered out on the anvil of experience, they are debated and re-debated, and they engage in a kind of dynamic process of reverberation of opinion and atmosphere of freedom. And they’re not subject to the kind of vague, ultra-specific definition which the house on American Activities Committee enjoys giving. Now let’s look at the committee as it has actually worked.

Howard Zinn  21:20
In 1947, and I hope you’ll realize I need to select out of the luminous masses of hearings and reports, this is the writing-est. I didn’t say the most literate but the writing-est committee. It compiled the most books, has heard the most testimony. In 1947, it issued a report on the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. I would urge you if you get a chance to read and the Harvard Law Review of October 1947, an article by Walter Gellhorn, a professor of law at Columbia University, who writes in that issue of the Harvard Law Review, an article called a report on a report of the House on American Activities Committee in which he dissects this issue AC report for and finds in it distortions, and occasionally a falsehood. And, in general, concludes that this report is lacking in a certain amount of intellectual honesty. The report refers to Frank Graham, who I think is one of our more distinguished people in this country, head of the University of North Carolina and governor of the state, as quote, “One of those liberals who show a predilection for affiliation to various communist-inspired front organizations.” Now, play with that and figure out what that means. “One of those liberals who show a predilection for affiliation to various communist-inspired front organizations.” Gellhorn notes the kind of items that committee uses. Susan Reed, a singer, was named because she was employed by Cafe Society, which was owned by a man whose brother was a communist. Well, it’s damning, damning. [Laughter]

Howard Zinn  23:13
The…In 1947, the 80th Congress issued a series of reports on activities in Hollywood. Back in 1945, John Rankin, that laid the basis for this, he said, quote, “One of the most dangerous plots ever instigated for the overthrow of this government has its headquarters in Hollywood. This is the greatest hotbed of subversive activities in the United States. We’re on the trail of the tarantula now, and we’re going to follow through,” unquote. Well, in 47, Subcommittee of the HUAC met in executive session, (which is another way of saying secret session) heard witnesses, issued a report, and then this report said the communist have, quote, “employed subtle techniques and pictures glorifying the communist system, degrading our own system of government and institutions,” unquote. Pictures glorifying the communist system. Now, some of you, I think, have seen movies for a number of years. I have. If you haven’t, didn’t see them on the screen and 19…around that time, you are now seeing on television what was produced on the screen in those years and I asked you to search and find a picture glorifying the communist system. Here are some of the testimony from those hearings.  Mr. Stripling, investigator for the committee, interrogating one of the nation’s leading experts on communism, Mrs. Leela Rogers, the mother of Ginger Rogers, who is also her daughter’s manager. Mr. stripling quote, “Mrs. Rogers, as your daughter’s manager, so to speak of you and your daughter ever objected to or turned down scripts because you felt there were lines in there for her to speak which you felt were un-American or communist propaganda?” Mrs. Rogers: “Yes, sir. We turned down ‘Sister Carrie’ by Theodore Dreiser.” [Laughter]

Howard Zinn  25:09
Well, here she is, again, discussing a well-known communist film “None but the Lonely Heart” based on a novel by Richard Llewellyn. She says, quote, when she was demonstrating how communist propaganda is inserted into films, quote, “I can’t quote the lines of the play exactly, but I can give you the sense of them. A communist is very careful, very clever, very devious in the way he sets the film. I will tell you of one line. The mother in the story runs a second-hand store. The son says to her, quote, “You are not going to get me to work here and squeeze pennies out of little people poorer than I am,” unquote. [Indiscernible] Gary Cooper testifying, another friendly witness, another expert on communism. If you had to hunt communist, wouldn’t you call on Gary Cooper? [Laughter] He said to the committee, “I have turned down quite a few scripts, because I thought they would tinge with communist ideas.” Stripling: “Can you name any of those scripts? “Cooper: “I don’t think I could because most of the scripts I read at night.” [Laughter]

Howard Zinn  26:35
I won’t discuss the interrogation of Bertold Brecht by the House on American Activities Committee except that someone said it was like a zoologist being cross examined by apes. [Laughter]

Howard Zinn  26:46
But we turn from comedy to dishonesty. March 1, 1948, the House on American Activities Committee issued, a subcommittee of it, issued a report called “On National Security,” and in this report, they named in a very unfavorable way Dr. Edward Condon, who was head of the National Bureau of Standards. And in their report they quoted a letter which J. Edgar Hoover had sent to Secretary of Commerce Harriman the year before and the letter, as quoted in the report from Hoover to Herriman, said the following quote, “The files of the Bureau reflect that Dr. Edward V. Condon has been in contact as late as 1947 with an individual alleged to have engaged in espionage activities, Mr. and Mrs. Condon associated with several individuals connected with a Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C.,” endquote. Well, this alarm people. Condon was one of the nation’s most respected scientists, I think. He was considered one of the world’s leading authorities on quantum mechanics, and microwave electronics, radioactivity, few other things I don’t know anything about. But it was discovered that the committee in reporting this letter had left out a sentence from that original letter sent by Hoover to Harriman and that sentence read as follows, quote, “There was no evidence to show that contacts between this individual and Dr. Condon were related to this individual’s espionage activities,” unquote. Not only did the House Committee, subcommittee in its report, leave out this sentence, but they left out any indication that a sentence had been omitted.

Howard Zinn  28:39
Let’s follow the committee through the years. In 1948, the committee did something which has never let the nation forget about and that is it opened up that whole Chambers-{Bentley?}-Hiss business which led to his being indicted for perjury, sentenced to jail for a number of years. I won’t argue the merits or demerits of that case, there’s still debate over whether Hiss was guilty or innocent, and frankly, I don’t know. I just think that the sending of Hiss to jail for a few years is a mighty small contribution to the American nation for 25 years of assault on American intelligence and democracy. In 1950, this committee, which was set up as all investigating committees do, to produce legislation. In 1950, his committee after 12 years of labor, finally gave birth to an important piece of legislation. And what was born was a monster. This was the Internal Security Act of 1950. I don’t have time to go into it. Very complex. But I invite everyone to go through the provisions of the Internal Security Act of 1950 — which your congressmen, senator will send you — and then decide for yourself whether this legislation is more likely to be found in a democratic state or in a totalitarian state.

Howard Zinn  30:15
More House on American Activities Committee doings. June 1949. At this time, the chairman is John Wood of Georgia, he sends out letters to 71 schools’ Boards of Education asking them to turn in lists of their textbooks to the committee so the committee can inspect them to see if there’s any communist propaganda in them. In 1954, the committee cites for contempt faculty member at Antioch College because he told about being in a Marxist study group nine years before, and he refused to name who were the other people in that study group nine years ago. So they cited him for contempt. The court disagreed, also Antioch College disagreed and kept him on. And I suppose there’s a basic question there, aside from the length of time and the little things you can argue about, and that is in a free nation, does a person have a right to join a Marxist study group? 1956 hearings in Youngstown, Ohio, Congressman Velde, interrogating a witness. Velde: “Whose side are you on?” This was the time of the Hungarian rebellion. “Whose side are you on in the revolt, Soviet Unions or the rebels?” Witness: “I am on the rebel side.” Velde later on in the hearing, quote, “From the witnesses appearance and demeanor before this committee, I am satisfied that he bears watching by the duly constituted authorities. I do not think he is on the side of the rebels. I think he is on the side of Moscow, the Soviets.” Unquote. In 1952, Velde  interrogating a newspaper editor named Tom O’Connor. Velde: “Are you a member of the Communist Party now?” O’Connor: “No, sir.” “Were you a year ago?” “No, sir.” “Were you five years ago?” “No, sir.” “Were you 10 years ago?” “No, sir.” Velde, a little later: “I personally can draw only one inference that you are not only a past member of the Communist Party, but that you continue to be a member of the Communist Party, and if you [were an?] to extreme danger to the security of the country as the managing editor of a large New York newspaper,” end quote. June 1959, well, with prelude to the events on the film you saw 110 teachers in San Francisco area subpoenaed. [There was?] a lot of opposition to the committee, like communist groups like the Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church in the San Francisco Chronicle, and people like that. And finally, the committee left, it said it would come back, but it didn’t. But before it left, it made sure that the little files that had on each one of these hundred and 10 teachers, and I don’t know what was in the files — you know, one signed a petition on this, and one did that and one attended this meeting and one belong to that organization, you can pretty much guess — turned over this information to the State Superintendent of Education. And then when his attorney general told him that there was not much they could do with that, really, legally, they made sure it got into the hands of local county officials who are in charge of hiring and firing these teachers. However, even these apparently wouldn’t cooperate too much because they said that, well, the statements in the material turned over to them by the HUAC didn’t indicate where the information came from, who are the accusers, and so on and so they didn’t see how they could do very much with this.

Howard Zinn  33:33
Let me say a word about the personnel of the committee. Robert Carr, a law professor at Dartmouth, did the definitive scholarly study of the House on American Activities Committee. And I think people should read this, because it tells a lot more than I can possibly tell in the short time I have. He has a chapter on personnel. He says, quote,  “The un-American activity, the UnAmerican Activities Committe, has not been [famed?}among congressional committees for the high quality of its membership,” unquote. This, in typical professorial fashion, is a bit of an understatement.

Howard Zinn  34:25
Here is J. Parnell Thomas. Now I am not claiming J. Parnell Thomas is a typical member of the committee. All that I’m saying is that he’s one member of the committee, or was. He served on it for 10 years. He was a charter member. He was chairman for a while he participated in some of its most important hearings. If you picked up the newspaper December 8th, 1949, the dispatch from Washington, D.C., New York Daily News, quote, “J. Parnell Thomas was sentenced today to a six- to 18-month term in prison, and fined $10,000 for defrauding the government by padding his office payroll. Earlier the 54-year-old former chairman of the HUAC, who last week withdrew his plea of not guilty, threw himself on the mercy of his court, resigned as Republican congressman from New Jersey. January 2: “His attractive wife, Amelia, promptly announced that she will seek Thomas’s congressional seat to continue, quote, “his struggle against subversive influences,” unquote. In 1954, 55 — now, I am not claiming, and I mean this because there’s a problem in selection and in selection, that there is a possibility of coloring other evidence and Parnell Thomas certainly is not typical in this sense of the other members of the committee. I’m certainly not imputing crime to the other members of the committee, all I’m imputing is incompetence, the ignorance, and the totalitarian frame of mind. [Laughter] In 1954, 55, the committee was plagued by a rash of recantations by witnesses, who, it suddenly it was disclosed, had perjured themselves. Harvey Matusow who had been supplying hundreds of names of communists. After two years of doing this, suddenly said that he’d been lying; that he’d named people that he didn’t even know. Wrote a book about it, called “False Witness.” Then he was indicted for perjury, not for the lies he told the first time but for lying the second time when he said he lied. [Laughter]

Howard Zinn  36:40
In 1955, Mrs. [Marie] Natvig, another paid informer, said she had lied about the supposed communism of some applicant for an FCC license. In 1955, a man named David Brown at a hearing before the Subversive Activities Control Board on the Civil Rights Congress, said he had lied for four years to the FBI about organizations, about this particular organization, had received $5,000 in the course of this time. June 1955, a fellow named Matthew Cvetic. He had appeared as a witness in 300 cases, he was, became the hero of a film — “I Was a Communist for the FBI” — turned out he was suffering from alcoholism and psychic disorders. In 1955, a government official named William Henry Taylor, defending himself from the charges of Elizabeth Bentley: “I went through her testimony and found about 37 discrepancies. I haven’t checked them really to know whether they really were discrepancies. I just saw one or two, and while I had some faith after looking at these two, in fact that there will probably others. I’m not sure.” In 1956, the Solicitor General himself, in addition to the Supreme Court, recited a list of perjuries of a man named Joseph Massey[?], who for 12 years had been an FBI undercover man. In December 1961, [Mr. Pittman so sharp social very??] petition to the Supreme Court and the Kilian case, an FBI agent named Onrejka testified or No, he didn’t test..But this appeared his testimony appeared in the petition, that he had been an informant for the FBI for five years. That in this time, he had married a member of the Communist Party, she had born him three children, and all this time he kept reporting to the FBI on her party activities, but didn’t tell her. Zechariah Chafee, the Harvard Law School professor who is author of the classic “Free Speech in the United States,” has some things to say about the use of professionals, of spies and informers in proceedings. He says that they don’t always lie, and maybe they don’t lie most of the time. But there’s a predisposition on the part of some people to begin to muddy the truth with lies when they’re being paid for.

Howard Zinn  38:59
Now, the thing, I think, that is most terrible about the House on American Activities Committee, is not so much the specific damage it has done to, I don’t know how many hundreds of people throughout the country, thousands, perhaps that has named that a dissenter jail for various reasons. Although in a society that prides itself on respect for the individual, and on belief that the individual is important, I think, even a few hundred people, whether they’re teachers or writers or newspaper men, deserve consideration their lives mean something. But I think more important than this is the poisonous fallout that has been the result of the committee’s work. I mean, the effect on everybody else.  The effect on the whole country. And I don’t have to document this because you have seen this. You have seen petty bureaucrats on school boards here and now throughout the country searching for textbooks. You have seen politicians who don’t know the first thing about communism searching for communists everywhere. You’ve seen all sorts of ridiculous things going on. The request that Robin Hood be taken out of the library because it is communist propaganda. The removal of a mural from New York University wall because the artists seem to put in something communist in that painting. The removal of Charlie Chaplin’s films because of his political beliefs. The barring of lectures from college campuses because of the fear that they might have subversive connections. All of these things. This sometimes gets to the point of hysteria and murder. In 1961, a crazed man broke into the office a University of California professor with a double barreled shotgun in one hand and a Bible in the other. I don’t know, maybe this is a picture of modern civilization. But he fired away, killing instantly a graduate student who is there and shooting off the jaw of the professor. He found in his briefcase a note saying “death to communists.” Now, of course, the House on American Activities Committee isn’t directly responsible for this kind of thing. All I’m saying is that the kind of activities conducted by the committee create the kind of atmosphere which encourages the attacks on civil liberties that we’ve seen these past 25 years. Let me say, one, just one or two more things, I think I have two minutes.

Howard Zinn  41:56
What we have done, we have taken a group of fairly mediocre congressmen, we’ve given them a lot of money, and a lot of power, and we have said to them, “Save us from communism.” I wonder if it really makes sense that this group of men — bloated as they are with their own sense of self-importance, buried under the weight of the volumes of testimony that have accumulated over the years, embarrassed by the caliber of their members, plagued by the reports of perjured testimony — I wonder if this group is really capable of handling the most subtle, the most complex problem of the century. And that is the relation of communism to the dynamics of a world in rapid change.

Howard Zinn  42:54
I want to end by quoting this from Justice Robert Jackson’s statement, when he delivered the decision in West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnett in 1943. He said, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no individual, high or petty, may prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force any citizen to confess by word or deed  their faith therein. If there are any circumstances, which create an exception” — I’m now paraphrasing — “if there are any circumstances which create an exception, we do not know that this now.” If you believe that statement, I believe that you must also logically believed in a discontinuance of the House on American Activities Committee.

James Hund  44:22
Thank you, Professor Zinn. We’ll now hear the other side presented by Mr. Fulton Lewis the third.

Fulton Lewis III  44:43
Thank you very much. I want to say that in the course of my presentation, I want to analyze this committee of Congress as it presently exists. You’ll have to Excuse partially my ignorance of history and partially my youth for not being able to go in and discuss with too much detail the events which occurred during 1939 through 1945, and 1948, and 1950. For the purpose of debate, I will concede right now that the committee on American activities of 1947 should be abolished, but we should retain the one of 1962 and 1963.

Fulton Lewis III  45:36
One of the reasons that this issue involving the Committee on Un-American Activities is such a healthy issue for us to discuss and debate is because when it is truly discussed, it encompasses many, many issues, the issue of communism on American soil and what threat it poses to our national security, the issue of national security itself, issues involving civil liberties, the various amendments to our constitutions, which were incorporated in the Bill of Rights, the rights of individuals versus the rights of government to protect itself. The activities of congressional committees the right legally and the right morally of congressional committees to compel and require testimony and information. It also borders over into the international field of the Communist threat itself, as it is posed against the security of our country. And I think that only we are only getting our money’s worth in discussion. If we analyze all of these fields with respect to the Committee on American activities, and try to analyze that committees role with respect to all of these issues and all of these fields to try to determine whether this committee’s role today is something which is needed, or whether as it has been suggested, that committee’s service is something which should be discontinued or that committee should be abolished. There is something in this country today an organization called the Communist Party of the United States. It is an organization which according to the Supreme Court of the United States, the final judge in these matters, it is an organization which is a communist action organization, and is subservient, and under the discipline and control of the Soviet Union. It has been the purpose of Congress to try to defend this country, much as we spend $50 billion a year in providing ourselves with military armaments to protect ourselves from the possibility of external attack from the Soviet Union. It has been the purpose of Congress to appropriate a certain sum per year, and do set up a standing committee for the purpose of analyzing our laws and keeping track of this CP USA Communist Party USA, to make constantly sure that at no time Can this organization become a serious threat, and perhaps an overpowering threat to the security of our country, much as perhaps the citizens of Troy should have had a committee on Trojan activities. To try to analyze what the Greeks were doing when they successfully took over that city through their now famous Trojan horse operation. We as American citizens are trying to protect ourselves from a communist Trojan horse operation. And the Congress has established the committee on American activities for this purpose. What is the danger from communism in this country? Is it a danger that the communists are going to numerically rise up in this country from their underground hiding places and storm the capital and seize control from the Kennedy family in Washington and bring a communist regime to this country? I think that any person who would argue this communist threat is a domestic military threat of internal revolution is about 30 years or 20 years behind the time. The Communist Party in this country was formed in 1919, when a group of persons who were highly amorous of the of the Bolshevik method of accomplishing things broke off at a socialist meeting in Chicago broke off from the normal apparatus of the Socialist Party. They form the Communist Party USA.

Fulton Lewis III  49:55
At that time, any student of history will tell you the Soviet Union did not pose any military threat to the security of the free world, to the security of the United States or to the security of anyone. The Communist Party’s ambition was to establish Soviet control in the United States and the only method could accomplish this would be to have communist hoods and communist hoodlums rioting in the streets, trying to incite internal revolution as had been done in the Soviet Union, knowing full well that at no time could they rely upon the Soviet Union for anything other than a tiny bit of monetary support, and a whole lot of moral support, but certainly no military support which would be needed for such a successful operation. There were improve in fact, many riots during the 20s and 30s instigated by communists. The communists tried at one time to seize a large portion of our labor force, and were somewhat successful until the Stalin Hitler pact, right prior to World War II, at which time the communist party membership began to decline.

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