McCarthyism, Blacklists, and Urbana-Champaign: A Community’s Stand for Civil Liberties and One Family’s Difficult Experience

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The following was a talk given on April 17, 2007 organized by
the College of Education. This transcription of the talk was
shortened for the Public i due to space considerations.
This is a very special occasion for me in two ways. It’s not
often that you have a chance to retell the story of a personal
past, in this case a 54 year-old past, to an audience
beyond family and friends, an audience of strangers, to
whom that story may still have meaning, and even some
contemporary relevance. The story is your history, the legacy
which you as citizens of this university and of this community
should be very proud.
We will have to go back in time and imagine the political
climate 54 years ago in the spring term of 1953. This climate
is at one and the same time the larger context and the
dominant rationale for the web of repressive actions later
referred to as McCarthyism nationally, and for the Boyles
Bills here in Illinois. From the top-down, there was a fourdecade
Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
There was a three-year Korean War involving the U.S. in a
hot war against communism in North Korea, and China.
During the same period here at home in the U.S., there was
the arrest and trial of the so-called “atomic spies,” Julius
and Ethel Rosenberg, ending with their deaths in the electric
chair on June 19, 1953. The effect – some, including
myself, would say intentional effect – was to add the threat
of the ultimate punishment, death at the hands of the federal
government for so-called “un-American” activity.
In this atmosphere, anti-subversive legislation was introduced
three times in the Illinois state legislature: in 1949,
when it failed to pass; in 1951, when it did pass but was
vetoed by then Democratic governor Adlai Stevenson; and
again in 1953, which is where our story begins.
In February 1953, the bills were reintroduced. March to
May was a period of increasingly intense activity against the
Broyles Bills, led by the ad hoc Champaign-Urbana Committee
to Oppose the Broyles Bills. Of course, anti-Broyles
activity took place in Chicago and elsewhere in the state.
But I think it’s fair to say that in the decisions of the state
legislature in many U.S. states, then and even now, rural
areas carry disproportionate weight and this university –
outside of Chicago, downstate, and the land grant institution
with all the relationships and responsibilities that land
grant status entails – this university community was positioned
to play, and did play, a very significant role.
TWO LETTERS BY FIVE HOUSEWIVES
I will not detail all the speeches and statements and letters
to the editor by named groups of students, faculty, religious
and business leaders. I’m going to read excerpts from two
letters to the editor in which five housewives, including
myself, reported on the Senate hearing early in the campaign
in March, and then reported on the House hearing
much later in the campaign in May. Both letters were published
in full in the local press.
Back in 1953, I was a part-time Master’s student here in
elementary education, wife of an assistant professor of
music and, indeed, a housewife, with two small daughters,
the younger born in Urbana in 1952. I participated then as
a citizen and speak today in that same role.
The following is an excerpt from the first letter to the
editor signed by the five housewives that appeared in the
Champaign-Urbana Courier on March 23, 1953:
“We were present during the entire four and one half
hour hearing and feel that many important aspects of the
proceedings have not been included in reports in the newspapers
and on the radio. Eight persons were present to testify
for the proposed bills. 32 persons representing diverse
organizations from all parts of the state volunteered testimony
against the [Broyles] Bills. Due to a defeat of a motion
to adjourn [the Senate Committee hearing], only 13 of the
32 scheduled in opposition were allowed to speak. They
included from this community Professor Russell Sullivan
for the AAUP [American Association of University Professors]
at the University of Illinois and Reverend Arnold
Westwood of Urbana from the Chicago Area Universalist
Unitarian Association.
“In his introductory statement, Senator Broyles called
Senate Bill 101 and 102 the ‘All American’ bills to defend
our Constitution and our liberties and frequently during
the afternoon gave assurance that no loyal American would
be harmed by them. But the spokesman for the anti-subversive
committee for the American Legion gave a lengthy and
frightening picture of those whom the proponents of this
legislation considered ‘current enemies,’ including labor
unions, the independent voters of Illinois, several prominent
ministries in the Chicago area, the head of the Chicago
Housing Authority, the American Friends Service Committee.
How can we believe Senator Broyles’ assurance that no
loyal Americans will be harmed?
“Additional indications of the kind of thinking which
breeds such legislation, and which will oversee its enforcement
if passed, appeared during the questioning of opposition
spokesmen by members of the Senate Committee, following
a statement by Ms. Carolyn Lee, a speaker from the
University of Chicago concerning the dangers these bills
present to education. Senator Myers said, ‘the purpose was
not to prohibit full exploration of ideas, just to prevent people
from reaching the wrong conclusions.’
“Senate Bills 101 and 102 are now out of committee. To
prevent their passage, legal arguments and principled objection
must now become a groundswell of political pressure.
Only by fullest exercise of the rights of the American people
to think deeply and speak out courageously on vital matters
of government policy can these rights be preserved.”
The letter was signed by five women. Bernice Burnett
was the wife of Professor of Science Education, R. Will Burnett,
who was himself one of the leaders of the campaign
throughout the spring. Jane Bardeen was not in my memory
connected with Education, but her husband John
Bardeen was a Nobel laureate and professor here in Electrical
Engineering. Henrietta DeBoer was the wife of John
DeBoer, professor in English education. John was the U of I
faculty member most publicly attacked as subversive by the
pro-Broyles forces, and for that reason played no active role
in the campaign. Henrietta was the devoted secretary of the
ad hoc Committee Against the Broyles Bills throughout the
Spring. Phyllis Martin may have been staff or faculty, as well
as a housewife, with the rest of us. As I remember, we five
shared not only our housewife status, but also membership
in the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. I
should also explain that a half century ago, there were
nepotism rules that left many well-educated, but unemployed,
housewives in this university town.
Now for the second letter that ran in the News-Gazette
two months later on May 25, 1953:
“On March 23, we wrote in a letter to the editor the
frightening story of the Illinois Senate Committee hearings
on the Broyles Bills, Senate Bills 101 and 102, and called for
a groundswell of political pressure to bring about their
defeat. Just two months later, on May 19, we went again to
Springfield to the House Judiciary Committee hearing on
this same legislation. While as a result of great community
interest in these bills, the facts of this hearing have been
much more adequately reported in the press, we feel that
the significance of the proceedings needs emphasis so that
the people may realize more fully the victory that was won.
“If the Senate hearing was characterized by the slander
of organizations and individuals and the intimidation of
witnesses, in the House Committee these were supplemented
by parliamentary tactics designed to silence the opposition.
Although the hearings did not begin until after two
o’clock and more than 40 people had asked to testify, a
decision was made to vote on the bill at 4:30. A motion was
hastily passed requiring that each witness be asked if he
was or ever had been a member of the Communist Party, so
that those who affirmed such associations or refused for any
reason to answer could be denied the right to speak. But
when the roll call votes were taken, the picture became
clear. Those who seek un-American repressive legislation
do not give up quietly. Their tactics are born not of
strength, but of desperation. It mattered little that only four
of the more than 25 people who asked to be heard in opposition
were given time to testify, for during the past weeks,
scores of organizations – religious, professional, educational,
labor, and community groups, and thousands of individuals,
wrote or wired to the legislators and to Governor
Stratton. On the day of the hearing the Chicago Daily News
reported the Governor’s mail ran ten-to-one against the
Broyles Bills.
“The voice of the people could not be denied. The committee
voted overwhelmingly against both Senate Bill 101
(21 to 15) and Senate Bill 102 (23 to 12). But even more
important than the numerical vote was the magnificent
expression of belief in democracy that was made by committee
members who rose to speak in explanation of their votes.
Representative Dixon, in the most applauded speech of the
afternoon, explained, ‘The essence of liberty is the right to
be heard.’ Here was democracy in its finest form, elected
representatives given strength to speak their deepest convictions
by the vocal support of their constituents. Evidently,
because of complicated party politics, the House voted on
May 20 to override the decision of its Judiciary Committee
and place the Broyles Bills on the floor for final vote.
“In our earlier letter we wrote, ‘Only by fullest exercise
of the rights of the American people to think deeply and
speak out courageously on vital matters of public policy
can these rights be preserved.’ The victory won in committee
can become an even greater and a final victory on the
floor of the House. There is yet time to preserve Illinois as a
haven for freedom if the people will but speak again.”
The people did speak again, and this time, the threetimes
introduced Broyles Bills were completely defeated.
The Illinois House of Representatives voted against Bill 101.
Bill 102 passed but was vetoed by Republican Governor
William Stratton on July 1, 1953.
THE LEGACY OF OPPOSITION
Now to our family’s personal experience. The story of any
significant social movement is about two levels of actions
and effects: the contending social issues at one level, and
the fate of individuals on the other.
Here in Illinois, the Broyles Bills were defeated, but the
careers of some U of I individuals were seriously effected
nonetheless. My husband, Norman Cazden, was denied
tenure, although to my knowledge never publicly attacked
as John DeBoer was. Like DeBoer, Norman played no role
in the committee. I remember engaging in what might now
be called magical thinking. If only we could win this campaign,
maybe Norman’s job could be saved. And I’m sure
those hopes, politically naïve as they turned out to be,
added personal passion to my intellectual commitment to
the campaign.
The fate of individuals should be understood as one
more reason to fight about the larger social issues. Despite
the negative impact on individuals, the larger successful
movement against repression is your legacy. I hope that you
feel rightfully proud. Implications of this legacy, I leave to
you to consider. My only suggestion is the continuing
importance for today of one of the characteristics of that
1953 campaign, the description of the campaign where citizens
must not only be educated to the dangers inherent in
legislation, but also given the courage to speak and write
openly about of their opposition. That description may be
one of the morals of this 1953 story for us now in 2007.

About Courtney Cazden

Courtney Pierre is a first year doctoral student in the History department. Her inspirations include Angela Davis and Llanick Pierre (her mother).

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