California Witch Hunt Part 2

Jack Tenney, Sam Yorty, and the Birth of the California Un-American Activities Committee

CUAC Investigatory Index Card on Ronald Reagan (1947/1948) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

CUAC Chief Counsel Richard E. Combs dictating names of suspected communists

In California Witch Hunt Part 1, this exhibit explored the rise of Jack Tenney and the growth of the California Un-American Activities Committee (CUAC). The second part of this exhibit examines the committee’s methods and tactics to investigate progressive organizations and individuals. The committee's focus on red-baiting allowed accommodation of anti-Japanese, anti-Latino, and Fascist sentiment.

The California Un-American Activities Committee documented all known "suspicious" activities of individuals on 5 x 8 index cards. Larger index cards contained information about national or international organizations.

The index cards included "F" number reference codes which linked to committee file folders. The committee compiled classified documents, investigative reports, letters, invitations and notices within each "F" file folder.

The Tenney Committee typed up the index card at left on Ronald Reagan, a member of a democratic club and president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, whose membership included some alleged communists. It suggested examination of the F2.126 and F2.227 folders for additional information.

CUAC Investigatory Index Cards on Edward G. Robinson, Rita Hayworth, and Paul Robeson (1940/1955) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

CUAC Chief Counsel Richard E. Combs dictating names of suspected communists

By the time the committee ended in 1971, it had amassed over 125,000 index cards, many of which had information typed on both sides.

Shown here are the CUAC index cards for actors Edward G. Robinson and Rita Hayworth. For singer/ songwriter Paul Robeson, the committee filled both sides of the eighteen index cards shown.

CUAC Investigatory Index Cards on Frank Lloyd Wright, Katherine Hepburn, Gene Kelley, and Caey McWilliams (1940/1955) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Although undoubtedly there were card-carrying communists among the 20,000 individuals and organizations the committee investigated, many targets were simply politically progressive, supporters of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or strong believers that the hearings, as conducted, violated their civil rights.

Shown here are the CUAC index cards for architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and actors Katherine Hepburn and Gene Kelly. The CUAC committee followed journalist Carey McWilliams for over 15 years and created over thirty cards, front and back, on his supposedly suspicious activities and contacts.

CUAC Investigatory Index Cards on John Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, and Dorothy Parker (1936/1963) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Refusal to answer a question made one a suspect and often led to further investigation.

Shown here are CUAC index cards for singer/ songwriter Woody Guthrie, and writers John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker.

CUAC Investigatory Index Cards on Orson Wells, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, and Charlie Chaplin (1940/1952) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The committee constantly focused on Hollywood writers and labor leaders as well as screen actors and musicians. CUAC members also investigated Democratic politicians, professors, teachers, and many, many others.

Shown here are multiple CUAC cards for actor/ directors Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin, and for actors Humphrey Bogart, and his wife, Lauren Bacall.

The Hollywood Ten protesting at Los Angeles Airport (1947) by Herald-Examiner Collection/ Los Angeles Public LibraryCalifornia State Archives

The Hollywood Ten

In the committee’s eyes there were only two types of witnesses: friendly or hostile.

Many witnesses did not cooperate and refused to provide names of suspected communists. The committee, therefore, considered them as hostile and advocated that they be blacklisted and prevented from getting work. It held uncooperative witnesses in contempt and some faced jail time.

Tenney honed in on writers and producers, concerned that they would insert subversive or “communistic” themes and ideas into the minds of the American people.

In Washington D.C., members of Congress established the House Un-American Activities Committee. Like its California counterpart, it took a keen interest in the film industry and subsequently subpoenaed writers and screen actors to testify.

By 1945, it targeted a core group that would become known as the Hollywood Ten.

Members of the Hollywood Ten refused to name names, and were held in contempt, fined $1,000 and sent to federal lock up for 12 months. All but one of the group refused to cooperate.

Pictured at left are family, attorneys, and supporters of the Hollywood Ten at the Los Angeles Airport in 1947: Lester Cole, Dalton Trumbo, Alvah Bessie, Nicole Trumbo, Christopher Trumbo, Cleo Trumbo, Mrs. Ring Lardner, Jr., Ring Lardner, Jr., Ben Margolis (attorney for the Ten), and Herbert Biberman.

SB591 - 1943 (Tenney) Original Bill File and Letter of Support from Jack Tenney to Governor Warren (1943) by Senate Original Bill Files, Governor's Chaptered Bill Files. California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Tenney as a Legislator in the Capitol

While Senator Tenney became well known as Chairman of the Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in California, he was also a legislator and introduced hundreds of bills.

Having served in World War I, Tenney authored and co-authored numerous bills that sought to benefit fellow veterans and fund veteran facilities. He had a interest in horse racing and carried many bills that sought to regulate the sport. He also was an advocate for ocean shorelines and beach protection, and carried bills regarding fisheries.

Pictured at left are the original bill file and author's statement for SB591 of 1943 regarding abalone harvesting.

Reflective of his lifelong interest in music, he authored bills that regulated music brokers and ensured prevailing wages for musicians employed by government entities. He also introduced legislation towards a “California State Music Project” with the goal of creating a “California State Band."

Yet this was not the legislation which caught the public’s attention, rather it was Tenney’s relentless effort to require Californians to learn and live by his definition of “Americanism."

As a legislator he was quick to support the bills of his colleagues, yet he was equally swift in targeting legislators who failed to support his legislative priorities. Tenney even created index cards on a number of his fellow legislators and others who had the temerity to disagree with him.

Over time, he would be seen as the west coast version of Joseph McCarthy. Some even referred to Tenney as “junior McCarthy."

Testimony of P.D. Perkins (1942) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The Committee and Japanese-American Internment

The Tenney Committee is widely seen as having played a significant role in the case for internment of Japanese-American families.

Following President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, the nation was on a path to mass incarceration of people of Japanese descent.

The Tenney Committee elicited testimony on this subject from a variety of individuals, including P.D. Perkins, who had served as public relations advisor to the US Consulate in Japan. His testimony (at left) raised the specter of Japanese-American internment before the committee, arguing that it would be for “their own protection, of course.”

An internee would later famously be quoted as saying "If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?"

The committee also leaned heavily on the views of self-proclaimed “Dr.” John Lechner, chairman of the Americanism Commission of the Twenty-Third District of the American Legion. Although he was an outspoken supporter of the Japanese in 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he did an about-face and became one of the most strident and vocal proponents for internment.

CUAC Third Report on "The Japanese Problem in California" (1945) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Lechner gave a series of anti-Japanese speeches in the Los Angeles area and even published a pamphlet entitled The Inside Story to our Domestic Japanese Problem.

Lechner ultimately provided about half of all the testimony received by the committee regarding “Japanese activities,” and the Tenney committee was quick to endorse his views on the subject.

“He [Dr. Lechner] stated that he emphatically agreed with the American Legion that the administration of the camps should be under the supervision of the Army and not in civilian hands,” reads the committee’s 1943 report to the legislature.

The Committee’s first report concluded with a series of recommendations including one to Congress: “that pro-Axis Japanese in the various camps be segregated and that control of all Japanese activities be placed in the hands of the United States Army for the duration of the war.”

Its 1945 report (at left), indicates that the committee still considered Japanese-Americans in California to be a concern.

George Knox Roth and image of Japanese-Americans awaiting departure to an internment camp (1942/1946) by Herald-Examiner Collection/ Los Angeles Public Library and Public Assistance/ War Records/Department of Social Welfare Records, California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Nonetheless, there were those who were steadfast in their opposition to internment. George Knox Roth, who had worked on Upton Sinclair’s EPIC campaign, became an outspoken advocate for people of Japanese descent.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war, forty or so Japanese-American public servants for the City of Los Angeles were informed that they would be forced to retire. Roth appeared before the Civil Service Commission, met with the Mayor and later met with Los Angeles City Councilman Norris E. Nelson in an effort to keep their jobs.

In 1942, the Tenney Committee called Roth to testify as a result of his series of fifteen-minute radio broadcasts in Los Angeles. He told the committee that his daily radio broadcasts discussed the effect of the evacuation of the Japanese from Southern California. A former employee of the Department of Agriculture, Roth argued that if the Japanese were evacuated, an estimated $60 million worth of California crops would not be produced.

Tenney Committee Chief Counsel Combs wrote in his report: "Transcriptions of the broadcasts indicate strong pro-Japanese feeling and contained such allegations as 'the Japanese have been and are our friends, etc.'"

The committee insisted that Roth divulge the names of those who had helped fund the broadcasts. Roth refused to answer, and he was charged with contempt and fined $200. Roth was effectively blacklisted and would later struggle to find work.

In an unusual procedure, the Los Angeles Grand Jury indicted twenty-three young Mexican-Americans for the gang murder of Jose Diaz near "Sleepy Lagoon." (1942) by Herald-Examiner Collection/ Los Angeles Public LibraryCalifornia State Archives

Sleepy Lagoon

Many significant historical events took place during the nine years of Tenney’s chairmanship of the committee. Just months after the internment of Japanese-Americans, its focus turned to the Mexican-American population in Los Angeles County.

The Sleeping Lagoon case, in which twenty-three Mexican-American youth were indicted for the murder of a man named Jose Diaz, illuminated the lack of due process and equal protection for minorities at the time.

The Tenney Committee was prone to viewing any controversy through the lens of communist agitation. Its 1945 report discusses the Sleepy Lagoon case. It opens with the following statement: “The so-called “Sleepy Lagoon Murder Case” occurred in Los Angeles County on August 1, 1942. It was destined to be another cause celebre for the Communist Party.”

According to Tenney, “new [communist] front organizations were immediately created and fund-collecting committees for the defense of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants mushroomed in English and Spanish.”

Tenny subsequently labeled the Citizen’s Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth, a “Communist Front Sponsor."

Among the defense committee’s many members were Philip "Slim" Connelly, then State President of the CIO, Al Waxman, publisher of the Eastside Journal, Bert Corona of the Warehousemen’s Union, Alice McGrath, La Rue McCormick, Lupe Leyvas, Henry Leyvas, Josefa Fierro, Maria Alvez, Gray Bemis, Luisa Moreno, Carey MacWilliams and others.

The majority of the young defendants were convicted and sent to state prison with the balance doing time in county jail.

The Citizens Committee’s defense efforts were both relentless and successful. The California Court of Appeals ultimately threw out all convictions for lack of evidence and criticized presiding Judge Charles W. Fricke.

CUAC Investigatory Index Card fon Louisa Moreno and Carey McWilliams' testimony at a 1943 CUAC Hearing on racial intermarriage (1945/1946) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Tenney and Miscegenation

As Tenney branded members of the Citizen’s Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth as communists, one of its members, Luisa Moreno, challenged Tenney saying “a desperate Tenney has used the Sleepy Lagoon Case and Red-baiting to support segregation, oppose miscegenation, and to divide the Mexican community in Southern California.”

Based in San Diego, activist and labor leader Moreno was one of California's most prominent Latinas in the 30s and 40s. Tenney played a major role in her deportation.

Furthermore, Tenney asserted in his 1945 report that Carrey “McWilliams’ views on racial intermarriage are identical with Communist Party ideology.”

Alleged Zoot Suit leaders await the Los Angeles Grand Jury inquiry into the series of riots between Zoot-suiters and servicemen (1943) by Herald-Examiner Collection/ Los Angeles Public LibraryCalifornia State Archives

The Zoot Suit Riots

The Sleepy Lagoon case was used to fan the flames of an alleged Mexican American crime wave in Los Angeles and served as a precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots. Tenney’s 1943 report quoted Congress of Industrial Organizations leader Philip Connelly: “Crime waves are turned on and off by newspapers like water in a spigot and when the city editor is short of news he orders police reporters to round up attack cases….”

Tenney’s 1945 report dedicated nearly fifty pages to the Sleepy Lagoon case and the Zoot Suit Riots, included ample Q and A with law enforcement, and focused attacks on members of the Citizen’s Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth, again asserting that they were communists.

This report focused on testimony provided to the committee by Carrey McWilliams in 1943:

“He [McWilliams] believed that the ‘zoot suit' phenomenon was a 'second generation' problem, aggravated by bad housing conditions, overcrowding, lack of sanitation facilities, lack of recreational opportunities, and a low standard of living. He believed that discrimination against the Mexican people had contributed considerably to ill feeling. He believed that there had been some police brutality but the police inaction, rather than brutality, had permitted the situation to reach riot proportions. The local metropolitan press of Los Angeles, in his opinion, had contributed to the violence in exciting young Mexican boys to drastic action.”

Many servicemen saw the Zoot Suiters’ clothing as unpatriotic and wasteful in a time when clothing restrictions were in place.

As riot incidents grew, servicemen would remove Zoot Suiters’ clothing during the conflicts, in some cases taking young men on stage at movie theaters and stripping them of their clothes in front of the crowd.

Although Tenney was highly critical of McWilliams’ views on the conditions that unleashed the Zoot Suit riots, many of the underlying issues mirror the conditions that led to both the Watt’s Riots over twenty years later and the Los Angeles Riots fifty years later.

Letter from Governor Earl Warren to Senator Jack Tenney written in defense of Walter Gordon. (1943) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

A Request from the Governor

Governor Earl Warren sent a letter in 1943 to Chairman Tenney in support of attorney Walter Gordon. Tenney had accused Gordon of being a communist. Gordon, who was African-American, was a longtime friend of the Governor from their college days at UC Berkeley.

In his letter, Warren offered a polite, yet passionate, defense of Gordon. Warren even offered to attend one of Tenney’s committee hearings to clear the name of his good friend.

Tellingly, Warren had earlier that year chosen Gordon to lead a team to investigate and evaluate the Zoot Suit Riots. The governor’s team had recommended punishment for all military and civilians responsible for the riots, and called for better-trained police to work with Latino youth.

Gordon would go on to serve as Chairman of the State Parole Board, Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands and later a federal judge.

Testimony of Inez Schuyten at a 1954 CUAC hearing (1954) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Lack of Due Process

At left are three pages from hearing transcripts which demonstrate the committee’s failure to honor the rights of those subpoenaed.

One night, Inez Schuyten received a subpoena to report the following morning to testify before the committee. She called her attorney to assist her, but he was out of town. The committee refused to accommodate her request to reschedule. She dutifully showed up the next morning and stood her ground.

(Mr. Combs is the chief counsel to the committee while Mr. Coombs is a member of the committee.)

Letters from Mrs. J. Hirschfield to Jack Tenney, Tenney's response to Hirschfield and subsequent Investigatory Index Card on her (1943/1944) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The Courage to Speak Out

Many Californians opposed the committee’s activities and openly challenged Tenney. Mrs. J. Hirschfield of Los Angeles politely expressed her opposition to Tenney's efforts: “I know it will interest you to know that your smearing of progressive movements does not meet with the favor of many, many people.”

However, opposing the committee, or even questioning legislation supported by its chair, often triggered an investigation. Tenny’s response to Hirschfield was both ominous and threatening.

Tenney subsequently created a CUAC index card on her to track her.

Letters from Sid Schumann and L. Kurtz, and subsequent investigatory Index Card on Sid Schulmann (1941/1947) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Letters of Dissent

Sid Schumann wrote to Tenney, drawing parallels between the committee's actions with those of the Nazis overseas. Tenney instructed that an index card be made for Schumann in writing "8 X 5 made" at the top of the letter. In fact, the committee had already started a card on Schumann with a slightly different spelling.

Several years later, J. Kurtz advocated shutting down the committee for lack of results.

Hollywood Democratic Committee (1943) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The Hollywood Democratic Committee

The Hollywood Democratic Committee began in 1943 as an association of Hollywood progressives who wanted to make a difference. Hollywood talent joined the committee en mass.

It began with a wartime agenda and its first major effort was to re-elect President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944. It then focused on a legislative agenda that included civil liberties, freedom of speech and organization, international cooperation, atomic peace and veterans issues.

Most of its activities involved writing campaigns, radio shows, conferences and performances.

The election ballot, at left, is one of the numerous documents CUAC undercover investigator Cavett collected and added to committee files.

The Tenney Committee kept the organization under constant surveillance for many years.

Investigator's Report of Hollywood Democratic Committee (1945) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Many of the leading names in the entertainment community were members of the Hollywood Democratic Committee.

Though the committee was not part of the California Democratic Party, it had a strongly progressive agenda.

The report, at left, from the CUAC files lists the names of ninety-four prominent members, including many of America’s greatest talents: Duke Ellington, Orson Welles, Olivia De Haviland, Gene Kelly, Ira Gershwin, Rita Hayworth, John Garfield, John Houseman, Walter Huston , Mirium Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson, Billy Wilder and many others.

Investigator's Report of Hollywood Democratic Committee (1944) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The committee’s Southern California investigator, Thomas Cavett, described his assistance from “a trained investigator” in producing the typical report at left. He used pejorative language throughout his classified reports.

The marks next to names were a committee mainstay and are on nearly every document in the collection. They suggest that these individuals were subject to additional investigation. The committee’s index card files are full of people who attended various meetings, and were thereafter branded as subversive.

The list presented here includes eight of the Hollywood Ten: Trumbo, Scott, Bessie, Cole, Maltz, Ornitz, Lawson and Lardner (Bieberman and Dmytryk are not listed).

Investigator's Report of Hollywood Democratic Committee (1944) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The individuals listed in this report represent a Who’s Who of Hollywood writers who supported President Roosevelt.

All have marks next to their names: even if they had previously avoided suspicion, they now would be subject to investigation.

Investigator's Report of Hollywood Democratic Committee (1945) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP)

One response to surveillance was to periodically change an organization’s name and reinvent itself to avoid scrutiny.

In a game of cat and mouse with the Tenney committee, progressives morphed the Hollywood Democratic Committee into the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP), which later merged with the National Council of Progressive Citizens of America, and renamed itself the ASP- PCA.

Always with an air of independence, Hollywood progressives would then define themselves as H-ASP.

In the report at left, Cavett informed Tenney that the Hollywood Democratic Committee would be replaced by HICCASP.

Harry Bridges (1937) by Harris and Ewing, Photographer. Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph DivisionCalifornia State Archives

The Tenney Committee and Organized Labor

The Tenney Committee also heavily focused on organized labor. During this period, many worker's organizations had at least some communists among its membership, particularly in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

Two labor leaders who stood out in the eyes of the committee were Harry Bridges (pictured at left) and Herbert Sorrell.

Bridges, who was born in Australia, was such an effective and powerful union leader that he became a prime target for the committee. He unified West Coast dock workers under the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union, and made the cover of Time Magazine in 1937.

Supporters established the Harry Bridges Defense Committee to combat numerous federal efforts to deport him. Tenney would label it a “communist front organization."

Harry Bridges deftly navigated the turbulent waters of union leadership and became one of the most important and successful union leaders in US history.

The 1945 Tenney committee report included this attack on Bridges:

'The Communist record of Harry Bridges, as well as his activities on the west coast, are too well known to be repeated here. He was found to be a member of the Communist Party in his last deportation hearing. The committee is not aware of any instance in which he has failed to follow the Communist Party “line." It is interesting to note that prominent Californians are being pressured or otherwise persuaded to appeal to the President of the United States and the United States Attorney General Francis Biddle on the behalf of Harry Bridges. The Communists and their front organizations are openly clamoring for a dismissal of the deportation order against the alien, basing their appeal on the alleged ground that he has been an important factor in assisting the United States war effort and that his deportation would disrupt “unity."'

Herbert Sorrell (1945) by Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public LibraryCalifornia State Archives

Herbert Sorrell (sporting a black eye in the photograph at left), on the other hand, was more of a raging bull. Sorrell had previously worked under Harry Bridges, and would build a reputation for himself as a pugnacious labor leader whose strikes, at times, turned violent.

A dispute between Sorrel’s CSU (Confederation of Studios Union) workers and IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and the Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada led to arbitration. CSU prevailed.

Typically, that would have been the end of it. The Hollywood producers and studios, however, refused to honor the results of arbitration. This triggered the strike.

Sorrell chose Columbia Studios as the first studio to picket by flipping a coin. Paramount, along with many other major studios, would be deeply affected by the strike.

Hollywood Black Friday Labor Strike (1945) by Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public LibraryCalifornia State Archives

The CSU strike started in March 1945 and went on for six months. It included over ten thousand workers. Unable to produce new films, the studios began running out of movies to distribute.

On October 5th, tensions boiled over as picketers and replacement workers faced off in a melee later known as Hollywood Black Friday. Strikers blocked access to studios, including the Warner Brothers Lot (at left) and flipped cars over (at right), resulting in over forty injuries.

As more time passed, it became clear to Sorrell that the strike was not sustainable, and he realized he had to let his impoverished workers cross the picket lines.

His decision to initiate a strike on the movie industry ultimately undermined his union and ushered in the Taft-Hartley Act, which imposed new restrictions on the activities and powers of labor unions.

Tenney considered Sorrell to be hostile to the committee’s goals and insinuated in the Commiittee report: “There is no doubt in the minds of the members of the committee of the close association and fellow-traveler status in the Communist Party of Herbert K. Sorrel.”

Even without any evidence, Walt Disney took it a step further. In an open hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Disney testified: “I believed at that time that Mr. Sorrell was a communist because of all the things I had heard and had seen his name appearing on the commie front type things.”

Dorothy Ray Healey and Jack Tenney (1956) by Herald-Examiner Collection/ Los Angeles Public LibraryCalifornia State Archives

Communists in Our Midst

Dorothy Ray Healey (at left, with Tenney) for many decades was a prominent and vocal communist.

She is said to have embraced the Communist Party at the age of 14 and worked her way up to Chairwoman of the Communist Part USA in Southern California. She was a true believer. Her nickname was "the Red Queen."

The committee called upon her to testify early on and frequently; each time she was fearless and committed to her beliefs.

She turned away from communism after hearing Nikita Khrushchev's four-hour speech on the Personality Cult and Its Consequences, in which he detailed Stalin's human rights abuses.

Council for Civic Unity (1944) by California Secretary of State Records. California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Seeking Common Ground in a Growing City

With Internment, Sleepy Lagoon and the Zoot suit riots there was a growing call for tolerance.

The book The Way We Really Were: The Golden State in the Second Great War explored efforts to address interracial cooperation.

In 1944, the Council for Civic Unity (its Article of Incorporation at left) held a large meeting at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium to find common ground among communities and to address the problems of discrimination and racial tension. Its speakers included Mayor Fletcher Bowron, Orson Welles and Dalton Trumbo, along with lively entertainment.

The program began with The Star-Spangled Banner and concluded with the recitation of a Pledge of Unity:

"I PLEDGE myself to refrain from any thought, speech or action based on prejudice or discrimination against a race, a creed or a class;
TO JUDGE every man according to his true individual worth;
To RESPECT and to further in every business, political and social relations the ideal of human brotherhood.
I PLEDGE my best effort to the exposure and defeat of the forces which spread intolerance and hatred;
AND to the enlightened mobilization of this community and this nation toward a common goal –
THAT WE may today make a living truth of the great American principle that all men are created equal.”

Although the Council for Civic Unity was a positive effort to build consensus and to remove barriers between communities, Tenney's silence on the issues of racism and fascism in California helped create opportunities for both to fester.

Gerald L. K. Smith (1945) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Gerald L.K. Smith and the Mobilization for Democracy

Tenney’s first report, covering 1941 through 1943, had included long essays on the threat of fascism. Yet at the conclusion of the war, the Tenney committee shifted its attention.

Instead of focusing on fascists, the Klu Klux Klan, or other hate groups, Tenney concentrated almost exclusively on communism.

In the wake of World War II, as troops returned home, Los Angeles was a city divided: Progressives faced off against conservatives regarding city politics, labor issues, housing, civil rights and race relations.

The speaking tours of Gerald L. K. Smith in 1945 alarmed many Californians. Smith was the founder of the America First Party, which would later become the Christian Nationalist Party.

When citizens protested against Smith, such as in the pamphlet at left, Tenney blamed "the communists."

“[Smith’s] appearance in the City of Los Angeles might have gone unnoticed had it not been for the organized efforts of many good citizens, unwittingly led by the Communist Party to block Smith’s efforts to speak at the Philharmonic Auditorium,” Tenney argued in his report.

Tenney’s 1947 report was indifferent to Smith’s vitriolic and racist reputation:

“In 1945 Gerald L. K. Smith came to Los Angeles for the purpose of delivering a series of addresses. It was alleged by the Communist press, and repeated in many quarters, that Smith is anti-Jewish, anti-Negro, anti-labor, anti-Catholic; a former member of Pelley’s Silver Shirts, a rabble rouse and a Fascist. Smith vigorously denied these accusations but admitted that he is vigorously anti-Communist.”

Mobilization for Democracy City College Conference (1945) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

On July 20, 1945, over twelve thousand progressives attended a mass rally at the Olympic Auditorium to demonstrate their opposition to Gerald L. K. Smith.

The effort was called Mobilization for Democracy.

The following month, the group held a one-day conference at Los Angeles City College. The conference program (at left) stated:

“Present were over 1,200 delegates representing more than 500 organizations with an aggregate membership running well over the half million mark. In a real sense it was the democratic core of the community.”

Gerald L. K. Smith telegram (1945) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Smith repeatedly sought and received permission to speak at Polytechnic High School and other locations in Los Angeles.

Progressives, however, were steadfast in their opposition.

This telegram (at left), dated October 27, 1945, alerts progressive activists to a meeting to plan “immediate action to stop Smith permanently."

Many activists attended these Board of Education meetings where they excoriated Smith. The ACLU supported his constitutional right to speak, however, and his speeches and rallies continued.

Frustration grew among progressives.

Yet, even though they did not succeed in stopping Smith’s speech at Polytechnic High School, they continued to organize.

Letter from Charles L. Isaacs (1946) by California Un-American Activities Committees Records (93-04-12). California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

A Veteran Speaks Out

World War II Veteran Charles L. Isaacs wrote to Tenney in 1946 (letter at left) challenging his commitment to rooting out fascists and his failure to investigate Smith specifically.

Mr. Isaacs was credible. He had written for “Bob Hope, Monsignor Thomas O’Dwyer, Ted Lawson of ‘Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo’ fame, and a movie short that Warner Bros. made with Ronald Reagan – later shown in all leading Los Angeles theaters.”

This concludes Part 2 of "California Witch Hunt: Jack Tenney, Sam Yorty, and the Birth of the California Un-American Activities Committee." To continue, please click here for Part 3 on Google Arts and Culture,
which features sections on progressive efforts to counter Gerald K. Smith at the Gilmore Stadium rally and the Thirteenth District Citizen's Committee; Tenney’s continued harassment of progressive organizations; Sam Yorty’s rise within the committee; Tenney’s blanketed branding of “Communist Front Organizations,” his call for loyalty oaths, and his swift decline.

Credits: Story

California State Archives
Sacramento, CA
Unless otherwise cited, all images are from records held by the California State Archives.

Original exhibit by Bill Mabie (2018).
Digital exhibit by Beth Behnam (2018).
Imaging by Beth Behnam and Lisa C. Prince (2018).

California State Archives
A Division of the California Secretary of State's Office
1020 O Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Reference Telephone: (916) 653-2246
General Information: (916) 653-7715
Fax: (916) 653-7363

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