Thursday, August 8, 2013

PAST 90 (7): BACK IN JOE MCCARTHY’S TIME: Little Things Remembered

PAST 90 (7)

I wrote a lot about McCarthyism in my memoir, Looking for the Future. So did Roz in her Memories. Mostly, we wrote about the big things, persecutions and imprisonments under the Smith and McCarran Acts, both later to be ruled unconstitutional after outrageous damage was done. We wrote about my experiences being barred from jobs under “loyalty oaths” that ruled academia into the Sixties until they, too, were overturned by the courts.

Thinking back for stories to pass on to my grandchildren, some “little” personal encounters come to mind from life in McCarthy times.

One day when Carla was about 6 or 7, she came home from school troubled. The book being read in her class was Little Black Sambo. Her complaint to the teacher got nowhere. So we decided to talk to the principal. Sadly, the principal saw absolutely nothing wrong with passing on racism in the curriculum of a public elementary school. But she saw a lot wrong with us! She said it was people like us who were behaving outrageously, making life miserable for “poor Judge Medina”, then presiding over the Smith Act trial of Communist Party leaders. Did the principal know (had she been informed) of the politics of parents of an elementary school pupil? Or was concern about teaching Little Black Sambo a sure sign that we were un-American “subversives”?

Then there was another experience of how some people “thought” in those days, this time with Mrs. Murphy, who was Superintendent of our apartment building in the Bronx. We had been on good terms and she was fond of our small children. Then she told us one day that the FBI had come around asking questions about us. She proudly said she told them off, saying that if they had questions, they should take them directly to us. She went on to say she didn’t care if it was about income tax or whatever. We were, of course, pleased and shared with her what it was probably all about: that I worked as an organizer for a youth organization on the “Attorney General’s List”. That was it, worse than fraud or theft. She never talked to us again except to shout up from the courtyard when one of the children cried: “Keep that damn kid quiet!”

There are more such “little” things I remember, many more. There were cousins who told us they were staying away from us for fear that one or another might lose a job. Oh, well. The important friendships survived, got stronger. And these experiences left us without scars.

1 comment:

  1. Well, the experiences with my working civil-service neighbors who were frightened by the FBI didn't leave scars, but when the nursery school, run by "Marxists" shed my 4-year old son after the FBI visited them, there were scars. And there were more scars added when so-called good friends - also on the left - trembled when we telephoned them. But there were the staunch few who didn't buckle under and who remained good friends. When we were moving from our building in Flatbush our sweet church-going next door neighbor informed us she had refused to allow the FBI to put a mike on the common wall we shared.