Inspired by Chris Matthews’s “The Rise of the New Right” shown on MSNBC last night, I was anxious to find out more about how this attitude came to be. The more I looked into it the more I discovered that party platforms had nothing to do with the espoused rhetoric of the few. It was more about the person than it ever was about a particular party. This series of articles will show how the similarities between people are astounding and it has nothing to do with the party that they choose to belong to. Using the information from Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) and Spartacus Educational (www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk), I intend to show you just how ideologies can triumphs party, where the affiliations can be changed but the philosophy never does. Many of these people you have met before and some you may have not. For those you have met, you may learn something new and for those that you have not, prepare yourself. Thanks to Chris Matthews who opened my eyes and I hope that I can do half as good a job with others as his documentary did for me.
The first group that I would like to introduce to you is the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee. This “Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was originally established in 1937 under the chairmanship of Martin Dies, a member of the Democratic Party.” “The main objective of the HUAC was the investigation of un-American and subversive activities.” “The HUCA originally investigated both left-wing and right wing political groups and some called for the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan to be interrogated by the HUAC.” This was never to be because soon after his appointment Dies received a telegram from the Klan which read: “Every true American, and that includes every Klansman, is behind you and your committee in its effort to turn the country back to the honest, freedom-loving, God-fearing American to whom it belongs.” Dies was a supporter of the Klan and had spoken at several of its rallies but he was not the only one.
Another leading member of the HUAC, John Rankin, who was elected to the House as a Democrat and active in probing the Communist Party, USA and the German-American Bund, was also criticized for failing to investigate violence and murder perpetrated by the Klan. After HUAC’s chief counsel Ernest Adamson announced: “The committee has decided that it lacks sufficient data on which to base a probe,” Rankin added: “After all, the KKK is an old American institution.” Rankin supported racial segregation and voiced racist views on African Americans and Jews on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and used the epithet nigger. In 1944, following the Port Chicago disaster, the U.S. Navy asked Congress to give $5,000 to the victim’s families, however Rankin insisted the amount be reduced to $2,000 when he learned most of the dead were black sailors. He was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and advocated economic intervention in poor rural communities while opposing the creation of the UN, stating “The United Nations is the greatest fraud in all History. Its purpose is to destroy the United States.” He also opposed civil rights legislation. Rankin went as far as to suggest that during World War II, the US Army’s loss of a certain battle was due to the cowardice of black soldiers. When African American Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was elected to Congress in 1945, Rankin vowed to never sit next to him, but he was maybe not the worst.
Another member of the HUAC was John S. Wood who served as Solicitor General of the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit, 1921-1925; and was a Superior Court Judge, Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit, 1925-1931. In 1931, Wood was elected as a Democrat from Georgia’s 9th congressional district. He had a prominent role in investigating the American Communist Party and the entertainment industry; this investigation resulted in the Hollywood Blacklist. Wood was also criticized for failing to investigate the Klan while serving as chairman of the HUCA and was also a Klan sympathizer. Wood defended the Klan by arguing that: “The threats and intimidations of the Klan are an old American custom, like illegal whisky-making.” This while bad enough was not the only surprising thing that I learned about Mr. Wood.
Mr. Wood turned up at the scene of the lynching Leo Frank in 1915 with Judge Newt Morris twice a Superior Court judge of the Blue Ridge Circuit the next morning, and he drove the vehicle which took away Frank’s body to the undertaker. Whether he had any prior knowledge of or involvement with the lynching is open to dispute however after a doctor completed the examination of Frank’s body while it still hung from the limb, it was cut down and fell onto the ground. Robert E. Lee Howell, a “frenzied onlooker,” ground his shoe into the face of the corpse. Judge Newt Morris restored order, placing his hand on Howell’s shoulder and saying, “Citizens of Cobb County…whoever did this did a thorough job, and there’s nothing more to be done. Leo Frank has paid the penalty of the law, Little Mary Phagan has been avenged, and the law has been vindicated.”)
Leo Frank was the president of the Atlanta chapter of the B’nai B’rith since 1912. The B’nai B’rith was an organization which protected the rights of Jews and was the largest in the South. Frank was charged with the murder of Mary Phagan, a young lady who worked for him at the factory, but later found innocent and pardoned after his murder and it was believed that this great miscarriage of justice was due to Frank moving in a cultured and philanthropic milieu whose leisure pursuits included opera, bridge, and tennis as well as a class and sectional resentment against educated northern industrialists, for whom many southerners worked in factories. Frank was scheduled to be hung but new evidence was discovered and his sentence was reduced to life. A well-rehearsed group showed up at the Milledgeville prison where he had just recently survived an attempt of his throat being slashed and was housed. This group cut the phone lines, entered the prison, subdued the guards and warden and left with Frank. On October 16, 1915, two months to the night after Frank was taken from the Milledgeville prison, members of the Knights of Mary Phagan burned a gigantic cross atop Stone Mountain. No one was ever investigated or charged.
While this should inform you about the inability of prejudice and racism to be limited by any party or affiliation, it should also teach us that it’s the person on the inside which should garner concern and not the mask that many wear on the outside. The real lesson here is these events were perpetrated by those most respected in any community. They were doctors, lawyers, police and judges. Any wonder why people who look like me, fathers and grandfathers had such a severe distrust of those others held so high. Now that we have covered the “What’s in a Name” part of this let’s now look at how it all ties with the title and up-coming articles.
You were introduced to John Rankin in the paragraphs above and one of the stories regarding him was his suggestion that during World War II, the US Army’s loss of a certain battle was due to the cowardice of black soldiers. A fellow Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas replied that many black soldiers had been decorated for bravery despite serving in a segregated Army. Gahagan Douglas entered politics in the 1940s and was elected to the United States House of Representatives from California’s 14th congressional district as a liberal Democrat in 1944, and served three full terms. While the connection is made their between Gahagan Douglas and Rankin it goes even further and helps to connect the other up-coming articles in this series.
During the three full terms in the House of Representatives it is reported that she carried on an affair with Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1950, Gahagan Douglas ran for the United States Senate even though the incumbent Democrat Sheridan H. Downey was seeking a third term. William Malone, the Democratic state chairman in California, had advised Douglas to wait until 1952 to run for the Senate, rather than split the party in a fight with Downey. Gahagan Douglas, however, told Malone that Downey had neglected veterans and small growers and must be unseated. Downey withdrew from the race in the primary campaign and supported a third candidate, Manchester Boddy, the owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News. When Gahagan Douglas defeated Boddy for the nomination, Downey endorsed the Republican U.S. Representative Richard M. Nixon. It was Gahagan Douglas who coined the popularized nickname for Nixon which became one of the most enduring nicknames in American politics: “Tricky Dick” because of the style of campaign Nixon ran against her.