McCarthy Era

Adam Green (1:45)

All throughout the 1940s, and into the 1950s, there is selective but very relentless targeting of African-American leaders that are seen to be sympathetic with left ideologies, with Communist projects. Individuals like Paul Robeson, W. B. DuBois, Shirley Graham DuBois, or Ella Baker. Individuals found their passports taken away so that in essence they were in a kind of condition of house arrest, being kept within the United States because of the ways in which they were such effective critics of the conditions that African-Americans lived under about how the United States could advocate on behalf of democracy and against Communism and yet not practice democracy in its own home areas.

Ellen Schrecker (1:34)

There are a number of mechanisms that are crucial to that second Red Scare after World War II. One is the notion of imposing political tests for employment. The government has its loyalty security program - it is copied by state and local governments around the country. It is copied by a number of private corporations that also have loyalty programs and the implementation of these kinds of programs requires that there be a certain level of surveillance, that lists of names get collected, that files, that the FBI begin to investigate people. And so you do get increased surveillance over American citizens during this period by the FBI. Throughout this period, what you are getting is statements, on the part of J. Edgar Hoover and others, that American national security requires the elimination of Communists, or people who are associated with them, from any position of influence within American society. And it's that national security rationale that makes it possible to do all this.

Ellen Schrecker (1:20)

The party was secret and therefore when the government wanted to eliminate Communists from Federal employment, they had a problem and the FBI, which was really in charge of this loyalty program, had a problem because their people didn't publicly identify themselves as Communists. So what they did was they created a list of organizations that worked with the Communist party, that was established by the Communist party, and the assumption was that if somebody belonged to these groups that person probably may have been a Communist. There is this kind of myth of the innocent liberal. That anybody could be called up before a committee, but in fact most of the people who were identified by a committee, who were fired under the loyalty security program, probably were or had been in or near the Communist party.

Athan Theoharris (0:56)

Once you begin to collect information that has no law enforcement purpose, and we should understand this as the principal role and mission of the FBI, the question that that arises is what do you do with the information you collected. Because in some cases the individual who was the subject of this had committed no Federal crime. And in other cases the information was illegally obtained and thus couldn't be used for prosecutable purposes. What you find taking place in the years after the 1940s is the attempt to use the information to influence public opinion so you would have the leaking of information to friendly reporters, members of Congress, as a means of shaping public opinion. And to silence individuals, the safest thing you can do during the Cold War years was being apolitical because your political activism might carry with it certain risks, that you might lose your job. What was disclosed in the 1970s was a series of programs that the FBI had initiated in 1950s and extended in the 1960s called Co-Intel-Pros. We found out as a result of the release of these records that individuals lost their jobs because the FBI was disseminating information to their employers.