MARCH 10, 1959
WASHINGTON—I have been grieved to see that the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., is being investigated, ostensibly under the accusation of communism. Actually, the objection is and always has been that it provides a meeting place for colored and white to discuss subjects of mutual interest to both races, and particularly that it has helped to train people in the labor movement.
Before the labor movement had even reached the strength it has today in the South this school helped the unpopular labor organizer. It is still none too popular to be a labor organizer in certain areas of the South and for a school to have stood fearlessly for integration and for labor rights and to have made a good name in its own community and friends in its own community I think speaks well for the school and its director, as well as its supporters.
I hope no one will be afraid to testify in favor of the right of this school to function. It is true that even some (happily only a few) of our highly placed Southern Senators and Congressmen have used this threat of accusing an organization or an individual of communism when what they really meant was that they were strengthening the cause of integration in the South and strengthening the cause of Labor.
We want to be aware of the threat of communism; we want to be taught what are the earmarks of a real Communist; and we should dread the growth of communism anywhere in our country. But I have yet to see any growth in the Communist party in the United States and I have yet to find anywhere a really intelligent and mature person who believes in communism as it is practiced today in the Soviet Union.
There may be a few people who may have been attracted by the ideal of communism, which has never been achieved, but they are usually theorists and have never faced the real facts of communism or so-called socialism as practiced in communistic Russia, Red China, or anywhere else that I know of.
I do not think for a moment that our people in this country could be fooled into curtailing their own liberties and I have been much encouraged by the change of a number of theoretical Communists who have ceased to be Communists and have said so quite honestly and openly. Among these people, for instance, are Howard Fast and John Gates.
I am told that even when those who have turned against communism have openly come out and given up their Communist affiliations, our fear is so great that some of them, like John Gates, cannot find any kind of a job by which to learn a living.
This seems to me shortsighted, for men who have acknowledged their errors should not be asked to go on paying for them to the exclusion of being able to live on a decent basis or of being able to support their families.
If we are afraid that surreptitiously they are still attached to their old ideas, I think we can be reassured, for the FBI will find them out sooner or later. It is not the business of the average American to do his own sleuthing, for he may be quite sure that anyone who has once been a Communist will be watched by the men who are expected to safeguard our country from communistic activities.