In These Times
Most Americans know the song “MTA,” popularized by the Kingston Trio in 1959. It’s the one about a “man named Charlie” doomed to “ride forever ’neath the streets of Boston . . . the man who never returned.” What’s forgotten, however, is that the song was originally made for a left-wing political campaign. In 1949, the Boston People’s Artists wrote “MTA” for a left-wing candidate. The song became a hit — the man behind it disappeared.
When Irish left-wing labor leader James Larkin arrived in the United States he joined the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) and the Socialist Party. A supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution, Larkin was arrested during the 1919 Red Scare and sentenced to hard labor at Sing Sing. There he was visited by Charlie Chaplin who described the prison as "grimly medieval," and wondered "what fiendish brain could conceive of building such horrors."
Passed into law in 1940, the Smith Act made it illegal to "teach, advocate or encourage the overthrow" of the government and extended to any member of an organization that allegedly did so. The notion that in 1956 the Communist Party was interested in, let alone capable of, overthrowing anything was patently absurd. From a 1940's peak of around 80,000, the CP's national membership had dwindled to perhaps 10,000 by the time of the hearings in Connecticut.
"Letters from Langston: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Red Scare and Beyond" is both a compilation of an intriguing exchange of letters among five heroic African Americans and a loving tribute to the letter writers from the daughters of four of the writers: Evelyn Louise Crawford and MaryLouise Patterson.
Colorado poet Pamela Uschuk, longtime activist, lovingly depicts how McCarthyist teachers and neighbors confused her Russian background with subversive activities, firmly defending her cultural roots.
The Komisar Scoop
1948, the tenth birthday of Café Society, where great jazz and cabaret in a corner of Greenwich Village clashed with the worst know-nothings of the McCarthy era. But we're over that now, so come to this musical memoir to enjoy the delicious sounds of the 30s and 40s. And recall how evil the thought police of that era were...the vicious House Un-American Activities Committee (the ironically well-named HUAC) goes after the entertainers. Some get scared.(Closes Jan. 4)
Moyers & Company
Ayn Rand helped the FBI investigate whether `It's a Wonderful Life' was commie propaganda. When the movie first came out, it fell under suspicion from the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as Communist propaganda, part of the Red Scare that soon would lead to the blacklist and witch hunt that destroyed the careers of many talented screen and television writers, directors and actors.