The Ohio Un-American Activities Commission (OUAC) Clashes with Communists in the Cold War Fifties

Philip Rubio. American Communist History. Volume 15, Issue 1. April 2016.

There was an air of editorial indignation and incredulity expressed in the headline of a front-page article on Tuesday, 1 April 1952, in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch, which read: “2 Witnesses Defy Probers, Clam Up On Red Questions.” The article, set up as the top local story, exuded exasperation at the behavior of non-compliant witnesses appearing at the Ohio statehouse:

The Ohio UnAmerican Activities Commission Tuesday ran head-on into two defiant witnesses who flatly refused to give any testimony relative to possible Communist activities. Robert E. Lee Terrill, 595 Stambaugh Av and Mrs. Anna H. Morgan, 5800 Cleveland Av, not only refused to answer questions upon the contention that their answers would tend to incriminate themselves, but even refused to give their addresses or present places of employment.

The article continued: “A third witness, David Jackson, 739 Stambaugh Av, answered a few questions concerning his previous employment and the length of time he lived in Franklin County but refused to answer questions relating to his alleged activities in the Communist Party.” The fourth witness, Oscar Smilack, was accompanied by his attorney, and according to the article answered some questions and refused many others—a source of both gratification and frustration to the OUAC counsel. Like the others, he refused to answer whether he had been a member of the Communist Party (CP), although previous “friendly witnesses” had identified him as a member. He denied being a major funds contributor to the local Party. When asked his views of the CP, Smilack replied, “As long as I have the respect of my immediate family, and I think I have, I don’t need to be ashamed.”

A total of 29 witnesses were called in 1952, 17 deemed “hostile,” “defiant,” or otherwise uncooperative, along with 12 “friendly” or cooperative witnesses. The following year, 24 more witnesses—4 of them friendly, 20 defiant—were called before the OUAC. The non-cooperative witnesses varied in their defiance. Some, like Anna Morgan in 1952, refused to answer any questions, including her home address. Others conferred with their lawyers and sometimes gave tentative answers combined with other refusals. There were also those who mocked or denounced the OUAC. One of the last witnesses called on 1 December 1953, in Cleveland (the following day would be the last of the OUAC’s hearings) was Sally Winters Morillas who went toe-to-toe with OUAC counsel Sidney Isaacs. He asked for her name, she gave it; she then asked for his name, which he provided, along with his position as “legal director and counsel for the Ohio Un-American Activities Commission.” “Isn’t it a further fact,” he asked at one point, “that in order to secure signatures on the Communist Party nominating petition [in 1940], you told them that they would receive a free tube of shaving cream?” Morillas shot back: “I don’t know how a person could answer a question like that. Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow,” but Isaacs was undeterred: “You didn’t decline to answer it back in 1940, because you pleaded guilty to that indictment [for election fraud]….” Isaacs asked Morillas concerning two prominent Communsts “…[Y]ou know that both Andy Onda and John Williamson have been convicted as traitors to the United States?” Morillas replied combatively:

You seem just consumed by patriotism, Mr. Isaacs; I decline to answer that question.

In fact, enforcing “patriotism” was the whole point behind the OUAC, as it was established by the Ohio legislature in 1951 in “an act…to provide for the establishment of a subversive activities commission” with an expiration date set for 1954 (with the state’s attorney general to take over its functions after that). In its first report at the end of 1952, the OUAC included among its “Recommendations of the Commission” that there should be a “continuation of the investigation of Communism and Communist activities in Ohio.” The report further suggested that the legislature make it a felony to “aid in the commission of any act intended to overthrow the government of the State of Ohio or the United States government…” Additionally, the OUAC proposed that “legislation be enacted” that would assume that any state employee who refused to testify under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution “concerning his being a Communist, a member of a Communist front organization, or any subversive group,” was therefore a member of those organizations who should be dismissed. And finally, it urged the legislature to bar members of “subversive organizations” from “special privileges or licenses,” require transparency from any funds solicitation conducted by those organizations, and “assure and maintain a high degree of patriotism among public employees.”

The legislature obliged in 1953 with three separate bills incorporating the OUAC’s requests. The first and most sweeping one, passed over Democratic Governor Frank Lausche’s veto, among other things banned “subversive organizations” or membership in those groups. The governor did, however, sign the other two laws—one authorizing “dismissal” of public employees who were members of subversive groups, and the other similarly authorizing termination for state employees who refused to testify as to whether they were members of any such organizations.

Ohio’s “Little HUAC”

Few studies of organized anticommunism from the late 1930s to early 1960s have examined state versions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). What were their goals? Who were their targets? Who were their allies? Not merely derivative, incidental, or marginal, these committees were part of a national movement that took the Cold War with the Soviet Union literally. Twenty “Little HUACs” (in 19 states and one territory) all had unique histories and somewhat different agendas. But in their obsession with “patriotism” and “loyalty,” they collectively help point to a combination of official repression at all levels and anticommunist mass movement activity during what is commonly called the “McCarthy era” after its leading figure Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). This article considers Ohio, where both Republican and Democratic lawmakers saw the urban-industrial Midwest as a battleground against the CP (with its headquarters in Chicago), especially in the contentious areas of labor and civil rights, as well as government and education. This was a kind of purifying patriotic effort launched by Republican conservatives who saw the CP as a proxy for what they called the “Soviet war effort” on the United States, with a Cold War fifth column targeting industrial workers, blacks, and youth.

The initial OUAC report of 1951-1952 laid out the targets of its investigation. It was going after the most disciplined Communists, yet it saw the Party as both a monolithic and a “rank-and-file” danger. The OUAC’s antidote was similar to those of organizations leading the anticommunist crusade, namely HUAC, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and McCarthy’s Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS). The OUAC’s stated goal was to “investigate, study and analyze all facts relating to the activities” of the CP and a wide range of left groups. But like the others, its practical intent was to isolate, criminalize, and crush the left. Historian James Selcraig is one of the handful of scholars to study the state and local McCarthyist movement. Examining Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, he maintains that “the Scare was formed by the conservative movement, which in turn drew strength from the rise of the loyalty issue.”

Despite a decade-long campaign, Ohio conservatives had been unable to form a bipartisan consensus to enact anti-subversion legislation until 1950 with the start of the Korean War, a two-month expose of the CP in the Cincinnati Enquirer, and a subsequent invitation to HUAC to come to that city to launch an investigation—combined with an election year upsurge for the Republicans resulting in their Party taking control of both houses of the state legislature.

This article is the beginning of a study of the forces behind the OUAC investigations as well as its target—especially those involved in labor and civil rights struggles, which included members of the CP, the Progressive Party, and leftist unions such as the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) and the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (“Mine and Mill”). Those who were investigated, I argue, were more than just CP members. They tended to be longtime veterans of social movement struggles at the grassroots level. No strangers to political struggles, they saw the anticommunist upsurge that was led by the right (but also supported by liberals) as a pushback to undo what they felt had been legitimately won. Ann Fagan Ginger later reflected:

We were fighting back. We didn’t know when it would end or how it would end. We felt that we were part of a movement that had won some victories in the 30s and some in the 40s. And that we were being attacked, and that we would stand together….

Most of the action in this public drama took place in Ohio’s state capital during the Second Red Scare of 1947-1956. Besides the wealth of secondary sources on this period and the handful on this particular topic, this article relies heavily on key primary sources like the OUAC reports and hearing transcripts, the Columbus Dispatch, the unpublished autobiography of Anna Hass Morgan, the FBI files on Anna and her husband Richard (“Dick”) Guy Morgan, obtained under the Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOIPA), and the author’s 2008 oral history interview with Anna Morgan’s attorney, Ann Fagan Ginger, who took Anna’s case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1959 and won.

In fact, Anna Morgan was an “open” Communist, as were probably most if not all of the Ohio “defiant witnesses” (as well as many “friendlies”). But to admit CP membership in 1952 before a legislative committee risked prosecution under the 1950 McCarran Act that required Communist organizations and members to register with the government or face fines or even loss of citizenship. And the 1940 Smith Act made it a crime to advocate or belong to groups that promoted violent overthrow of the government. But those resisting the OUAC witch hunt were themselves hobbled by the CP’s unquestioning faith in USSR foreign and domestic policy. It was an organization that was ideologically rigid, doctrinaire, manipulative, and had managed to alienate most of its allies. Ellen Schrecker, the noted historian of McCarthyism, has pointed out those fatal flaws in the CP:

Besides its flips and flops, the CP had other institutional characteristics that were to increase its vulnerability to McCarthyism—characteristics that made the party easy to demonize as a dangerous conspiracy against the United States. It was, to begin with, a secretive organization that operated in a highly authoritarian manner. And, of course, it was totally committed to defending the Soviet Union. When the Cold War turned the CP into a political pariah, these structural and ideological flaws compromised its moral authority and made it hard for liberals and others who claimed to oppose McCarthyism to defend the political and civil rights of communists.

A critical assessment of Party members’ behavior as both hardworking and manipulative comes from noted African American civil rights and feminist activist Pauli Murray. Murray often found herself at political odds with Party members in mass organizations: “They came early to [union] meetings and stayed late, often committing a union to a position that followed the party line by raising an issue and having it voted upon after most of the members had gone home.” In her autobiography Murray, a transplanted southerner from Durham, North Carolina, who later moved to New York City, recalls her “instantly negative reaction” to the Party’s “Black Belt Thesis” (as well as the CP’s slavishness to Soviet foreign policy and its lack of internal democracy): “To people like me who had lived under Jim Crow and who wanted citizenship rights like other Americans, this slogan not only was unrealistic but seemed to offer merely another form of racial segregation.”

To make things worse, the CP had even begun to conduct internal witch hunts against what it called “white chauvinism” and “deviationism” that became bizarre reflections of the McCarthyist witch hunts they were themselves enduring. And they drove members out by the thousands. “Party leaders could not rid the country of McCarthyism,” muses historian Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “so they decided to rid themselves of the malignant forces among themselves.” The OUAC counsel noted that David Jackson had charged a Franklin County Communist Party (FCCP) official with “white chauvinism” for not allowing him into her home once when he went to visit. That official, LaVerne Slagle, was put on “trial” in the CP, removed from local leadership, and suspended from the Party, while Jackson took her place on the executive committee. Slagle herself testified before the OUAC in 1953 as a hostile witness. Additionally, Anna Morgan was removed by a state CP official as FCCP organizer for what was termed “unintentional white chauvinism,” ostensibly because she scheduled a 12 March 1949, meeting with top CP official Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor at a North Side home in Columbus where blacks did not feel comfortable, according to an anonymous FBI informant reporting to FBI Special Agent John M. Dinsmore. Considering her lifelong dedication to the fight for equality, it horrified Morgan to be caught up in the internal CP “cleansing” that targeted dubious cases of individual racist behavior. Morgan made no mention of this humiliating ritual demotion in her 1995 autobiography, but had this to say later in a 1977 letter to the author (the gist of which the author also remembers hearing from her many times over the years):

The CP made many mistakes because it is an org[anization] of workers not saints. I have stuck, argued with leadership, am still arguing with leadership. I have had several hearings to discipline me, one trial. But I have worked hard and never been thrown out yet!

Special Agent Dinsmore who reported the charges made against Morgan, her “anger” at the charges, and her subsequent CP internal “trial,” also noted this FCCP discussion relayed to him on 1 September 1948 by “Confidential Informant T-1” suggesting that a young couple was the source of these charges:

There is bad feeling in Columbus yet against [redacted] and [redacted] who are out of Columbus permanently. The [redacted] were young, and worked fast and made decisions on the spur of the moment. They are accused of stirring up the claim of white chauvinism and then leaving town.

FBI sources must be read for their own special bias, although ironically they do provide us with more information today than we previously had. And the FBI informer system has in fact been critiqued by historians. Overall, the FBI and its network also helped create a climate of fear among CP members, families and associates, and in fact anyone with liberal or “progressive” political views. Yet, in her autobiography Anna Morgan later wryly observed:

Years later, in the 1970’s when, under the Freedom of Information Act, I received my F.B.I. file I found that no less a person than J. Edgar Hoover himself, he of the bulldog puss, sent a letter to our Civil Defense Office in Indianapolis and rhetorically asked, “Who is Anna H. Rubio?” [Anna had been previously married to a Cuban university professor named Antonio Rubio.] And then he generously added, “We are not advising you to dismiss her but felt that you should know.” Apparently, a record of my activities since I joined the Communist Party in 1938 accompanied the letter. While millions of us little nobodies were helping in the war effort for victory, and to save our sons, of course, the S.O.B. sat on the fat cushions in his Washington office and tried to undercut us! But why should I complain now? That record of over 850 pages of one unimportant American housewife from 1938 through and past 1974 serves me as my Boswell, it substantiates my memory of what I said and did way back in the late 30’s. When I recall something that the FBI missed I crow triumphantly, “One win for little ol’ me!” I thought of the money the U.S.A. spent for two men, always two, to follow me all those years!

Meanwhile, defiant OUAC witnesses like Anna Morgan found themselves fighting contempt citations, convictions, and overall political harassment. Yet, legal scholar Robert Lichtman has pointed out that during the McCarthy era, most of those called to testify before federal committees were probably not current or former CP members, but rather those who belonged to one or more of 197 “Communist-front groups” then on the US Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations. Lichtman further notes that from the early 1920s until 1952, hundreds of thousands of activists passed through the CP, staying only two to three years on average. Both observations are interesting. Taken with other evidence discussed here, they suggest a combined HUAC, SISS, and FBI shotgun attack on a large non-communist left that they assumed was controlled by their main target: the CP. But one of the most fascinating aspects of the OUAC that distinguished it from the HUAC and possibly other state HUACs was that most if not all of the defiant witnesses probably were or had been CP members, just as the OUAC had boasted in its report. Why was this likely the case? The OUAC had a direct connection to the FBI with its counsel Sidney Isaacs being a former agent. This probably made it easier to access information—both true and fanciful—that came from detailed FBI informant notes, as seen in the FBI files of Anna and Dick Morgan. More importantly, the OUAC cast a relatively narrow net in its two years of investigations and hearings, calling 37 “hostiles” and using many of the 16 “friendlies” to identify them. If, as Lichtman argues, the HUAC and SISS mainly pursued “front” group members, then the OUAC appeared to want to especially isolate Party members (most of whom belonged to “front” groups as part of their Party work) in addition to declaring war on other “subversive” groups.

Who Were These “Little HUACs” and What Did They Want?

Throughout the states, there were numerous communist control programs, loyalty oaths, as well as non-governmental investigative bodies, such as the one in Maryland that was copied elsewhere. But at least 19 states and one territory established “Little HUACs” as anti-subversive investigative governmental bodies between the 1930s and 1960s, almost all of which included the name “Un-American Activities.” Five were in the midwest: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Four were in the northeast: New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Two were in the southwest: Oklahoma and Arizona. The longest running was in California. In the Pacific Northwest was Washington. And there was even a committee in Hawaii 12 years before it became a state. Southern states mostly did not follow the trend until after the 1954 Brown decision, after which they added anticommunism to their pro-segregation campaign in six states: South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana.

These committees (or “commissions”) were part of an anticommunist network, as James Selcraig persuasively argues. They were not mere “wannabes” or bandwagon efforts. They shared many common assumptions. They took Cold War fears and agendas and made them their own. They pooled resources and inspiration with the FBI, HUAC, and the SISS. And at least in the case of Ohio, they also expressed frustration with poor law enforcement coordination. “Professional witnesses” meanwhile traveled between congressional and state committees to testify against Communists and “fellow travelers”—a popular term that meant anyone deemed to have politics on the left close to that of the CP. There was even an overlap of nine states (including Ohio) with both “Little HUACs” and substantial campaigns for “right-to-work” laws to strip unions of power in those states. “Little HUACs,” writes historian M.J. Heale

were most often found in states which did contain clusters of Communists or other radicals….Such states tended to be urban-industrial states, for the CP recruited from trade unionists, educators, welfare workers, students, and racial and ethnic minorities….The urban-industrial states were the ones most likely to exhibit the characteristics provoking the conservative counter attack—a New Deal or Popular Front heritage or some support for Henry Wallace’s Progressive [Party] insurgency of 1947-48. The Communists in these states had frequently worked with liberal Democrats, trade unionists, or other reformers.

Heale also makes a convincing case for the business interest in organized anticommunism that combined with anti-union struggles, such as the “right-to-work” campaigns in Ohio and other states:

Until the issue of national security became paramount during and after World War II, most major red scares occurred in response to labor unrest. Red-baiting offered anti-union employers a way to legitimize opposition to organized labor without having to refer to economic issues.

One of the most obvious examples of corporate connections to organized anticommunism can be seen in the same edition of the Columbus Dispatch of 1 April 1952 that recapped the previous day’s OUAC defiant witness testimony. In that edition, there appeared a full-page advertisement by the Timken Roller Bearing Company. Timken was a factory that had been a target of CP organizing and a fierce steelworkers strike in 1941. The ad itself featured likenesses of V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin (each labeled “Red Boss,” with Stalin’s image looming especially large above the fold), both positioned above a quotation in Russian from Stalin (possibly a 1930s speech), with the English translation in all capital letters: “WE SHALL FORCE THE UNITED STATES TO SPEND ITSELF TO DESTRUCTION.” The ad asked readers to “Write your Congressmen.” It did not say what the readers should write, but an implicit clue can be inferred. The slogan: “The right to work shall not be abridged or made impotent” was printed at the bottom of the ad. It was a catchphrase that for years Timken had promoted (along with General Electric and Armco) as part of a campaign to make Ohio a “right-to-work” state with no “union shops” allowed (where all workers have union dues deducted from their paychecks by a union with a collective bargaining agreement with that employer). The ad’s aim was connecting unions and communism.

The Columbus Dispatch itself used “red” shorthand whether referring to OUAC hearings or global Cold War conflicts, as seen in these 1952 headlines: “Fear another Korea as Reds Invade Indo-China,” and “Reds Promise Immunity to Returning Prisoners.” Meanwhile, Ohio Republican Senator Robert Taft, who served from 1939-1953, was known for red-baiting everyone from Communists to liberals. Taft’s name is on the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, a pro-business and anti-communist pushback to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. The Taft-Hartley Act banned “closed shops” (requiring workers to join the union before hiring), allowed states to ban union shops, and required unions with Communist members to register with the government, which would cut those unions’ collective bargaining rights. But as historian David Caute has pointed out, Democrats also had their own agenda. They were not just on the defensive against Republicans, although they still found themselves to be targets of Republican “red-baiting”:

The purpose of the Truman administration’s campaign against the Left…was not merely to placate the Republican opposition in Congress and the press, or simply to take the wind out of its sails, but also to harass, isolate and excommunicate from the company of patriotic Americans left-wing critics of Truman’s foreign policy.

Clark Clifford, a close Truman adviser, later recalled that politics played a key role in the loyalty hunt following Democratic losses in the 1946 midterm elections and pressure from FBI Director Hoover and US Attorney General Tom Clark. In addition, private citizens, usually organized through powerful special interest groups like the American Legion, were also enlisted in this war on communism. Petitions were gathered—in many cases by conservative women’s clubs, which at least one scholar has argued were crucial to the anticommunist effort. In Ohio, there was even a popular sentiment that the statewide effort could do more than was being done at the federal level, both legally and otherwise. The anticommunist movement in Columbus included members of the Legion and the “General Orton Chapter of the Reserve Officers Association” who led a mob attack in late March 1948 on the house at 220 West Tenth Avenue that was rented to CP organizer Frank Hashmall by Anna’s oldest son Alfred (“Al”) Rubio, an “open” Chicago CP member. The riot led Edwin C. Zepp, Director of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, to ask for the resignation of Anna’s husband Dick Morgan as Ohio State Museum Curator of Archaeology—after announcing to the media that he had been fired (Morgan heard it on his car radio driving to work).

States were part of a nationwide network that also shared the imprimatur and resources of the FBI and its anticommunist campaign led by Director Hoover. Indeed, historian Kenneth O’Reilly has suggested that “the political activities of FBI officials were probably much more pervasive than is generally known.” A good example of official organization of mass anticommunism can be seen in a 1947 book by California Democratic State Senator Jack B. Tenney—the former songwriter and bandleader who led that state’s Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities (CUAC) from as early as 1941. Tenney titled his book Red Fascism: Boring From Within…By the Subversive Forces of Communism, advertising it as “an ideological manual for those patriotic citizens who wish to improve and preserve the American way of life.” Over 700 pages framed this struggle as a “total war” with Communist infiltrators following the Soviet political line, “trained, iron-disciplined and inspired with a zeal and purpose to wipe out our way of life.” The reach of this “infiltration” extended to “front groups” and liberal organizations somehow “duped” by Communists into doing their work. Tenney quoted Communist strategists in the USA and around the world as proof that citizens needed to become active, sounding a call for other states to help lead this movement:

It is the responsibility of the Legislatures to enact suitable laws for the protection of the community, the State and Nation from these subversive organizations, but laws are not enough. We need a fighting faith for our Democracy, our Constitution and our way of life.

The book concluded with a 12-page “statement” by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, called the “Role of the FBI and the Un-American Activities Committee.” Hoover’s frank admission underscored the shared goal of the FBI and the HUAC (and by extension, “Little HUACs”): “I have always entertained the view that there are few appellations more degrading than ‘Communist’ and hence it should be reserved for those justly deserving the degradation.” But more to the point, Hoover closed this manifesto with a quasi-public health proclamation:

I feel that once public opinion is thoroughly aroused as it is today, the fight against Communism is well on its way. Victory will be assured once Communists are identified and exposed, because the public will take the first step of quarantining them so they can do no harm.

For its part, the OUAC in 1952 paid homage to Hoover as a kind of de facto leader of this campaign, somberly quoting him in their first report:

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has said, “The numerical strength of the Party’s enrolled membership is insignificant. But it is well-known that there are many members who because of their position are not carried on Party rolls…What is important is the claim of the Communists themselves that for every Party member there are ten others ready, willing and able to do the Party’s work.”

Notably, about one-fifth of the OUAC’s witnesses (both friendly and hostile) were African American. Indeed, as Gerald Horne has argued, the attraction by many African Americans to left politics generally and the CP in particular did not escape the attention of anticommunist witch hunters. As Horne points out: “the phenomenon often subsumed under the rubric of ‘McCarthyism’ had a particularly sharp racist edge….indeed, the repressors of Blacks and Reds tended to march in lock step.” There was also a white supremacist paternalism in the anticommunist movement that wanted to “save” African Americans from communism, and also use them as friendly witnesses to undercut CP claims of fighting racism.

Studying the anticommunist campaign at all levels—including rank-and-file volunteers—gives us a clearer picture of “McCarthyism” as a conservative anti-labor, anti-left, and anti-civil rights pushback. And in this struggle that was at once political, social, and cultural, the role of the media was essential. The overheated Columbus Dispatch 1952 coverage of OUAC hearings cited earlier was just the latest salvo, coming two years after an “expose” of the local CP in 1950 by the Cincinnati Enquirer that asked the HUAC to investigate—which it did.

The OUAC Goes to Work

Ohio resembles many American states in having both conservative and progressive threads. It saw white supremacist Ku Klux Klan activity in the early twentieth century. But by the 1940s, the leftist UE and Mine Mill unions were very active, while in 1951 the NNLC was holding its first national convention in Cincinnati. Nationwide, a diverse conservative movement that had chafed under the 1930s New Deal social experiments feared a left upsurge. The movement to restrict the role of government had begun to combine with a longstanding fear and conflation of communism with labor unions and civil rights as early as the late 1930s, and the anticommunist movement worked with the FBI during World War II to isolate CP members and its local “clubs” as they were called.

Once the OUAC was approved as a special commission of the state legislature, it went to work under special counsel Sidney Isaacs, a former FBI agent who had been assigned to Cincinnati. Even with a small staff of three, he had access to FBI and police surveillance of the “defiant witnesses.” This was useful, given the institutional conflict based on competing agendas of the FBI and Little HUACs. Typically, the former wanted to watch Communists, whereas the latter wanted their exposure. This limited “Little HUACs” to a focus on past rather than current activities for the most part. But how to tap into ongoing CP activities, especially with so much of the Party going underground? Here, Isaacs’ contacts were crucial. FBI surveillance showed up in his questions of defiant witnesses. Even when they refused to answer, he could still insert his detailed rhetorical questions into the record. Frederick Thayer’s 1954 Ohio State University master’s thesis on the OUAC is helpful albeit biased (his “acknowledgements page” thanked the OUAC, especially Sidney Isaacs for providing information and correcting his drafts). Thayer’s first chapter compared the OUAC to other “Little HUACs”:

From the start, the Ohio Commission regarded labor as the most important field in which to search for subversion. In this respect the Commission was quite different from committees in other states, which regarded education as the most important field. It will be recalled that when the Ohio Commission listed its fields of primary interest, labor headed the list.

Who were the OUAC witnesses? Mixed among the “friendlies” and “hostiles” were blue-collar workers, university professors, graduate students, state employees, teachers, nurses, self-described “housewives,” and businessmen. There were 42 men and 11 women among the 53 witnesses. Eleven black witnesses included the following: Admiral Kilpatrick a combat veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who had fought on the loyalist side against the fascist uprising in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War; Emmett Brown and Harry McGill, both NNLC officials; and UE Local 766 activist Talmadge Raley, indicted in federal court in 1950 for refusing to answer questions before the HUAC.

“Friendly” versus “Defiant” Witnesses

The Columbus Dispatch had been covering the OUAC testimony, including that of two cooperative witnesses in early 1952: John and Martha Edmiston, a married couple who had been recruited by the FBI in 1940 to spy on the CP in Ohio until their expulsion from the Party the following year. The Columbus Dispatch on 30 March 1952, announced the beginning of a half-hour weekly dramatic radio series called “I Was a Spy for the FBI,” based on “the authentic experiences of Matt Cvetic, the man who for nine agonizing years, lived the part of a rabid Communist in order to gather incriminating evidence for the FBI.” The Dispatch noted that “it is one of the most provocative documents in America’s war on communism.”

Cvetic, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had testified before the OUAC on 11 February 1952. He was a kind of anticommunist “rock star,” along with ex-CP member Harvey Matusow. Matusow himself testified before the OUAC on 25 February 1952. Both had already appeared before the HUAC, and now one could say they were taking the show on the road, with 58 pages of testimony by the former, and 28 by the latter. Matusow, from Dayton, Ohio, would later discredit himself with wild allegations, which he retracted along with all his other testimony in his autobiography. Cvetic, who provided three volumes worth of testimony and evidence to the HUAC starting in 1950, was also later discredited, ironically by one of the OUAC’s chief targets in 1952: the UE.

For their part, Robert Terrill and Anna Morgan were not the first witnesses called in 1952, but they were the first “defiant” witnesses called before the OUAC. Terrill and Morgan were followed by David Jackson and Oscar Smilack in that order. The latter two did answer some questions, but refused others. (The OUAC actually thanked Smilack for answering some questions.) All four were arraigned on 29 May 1952, before the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. All four pleaded innocent, with Judge John R. King incredibly sentencing Smilack to the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane until attorneys were able to appeal and secure his release the following week.

In addition to being past or currently CP members, many witnesses had also been active in the UE, Mine Mill, and Civil Rights Congress (CRC). A few had “transferred” from New York, and there were transplants from the South and Midwest (Anna Morgan came from Indiana, and previously Illinois). Most were from Ohio, and the rest from across the country as well as from parts of Europe and Russia. Terrill was African American, as was David Jackson, living only a couple blocks from each other on Stambaugh Avenue. Jackson was also spotlighted in the Columbus Dispatch on the day following his hearing with an article and photo caption that read: “Ohio Red Probers May Ask 3 Contempt Actions.” Terrill and Jackson had been part of Columbus’s FCCP Southside branch. Terrill had himself worked at Timken, and was a member of the Steel Branch that later became the South Side Branch, which, according to the OUAC questions he did not answer, was known as Columbus’s black CP branch, while the North Side Branch was known as the white branch.

In one of the last OUAC hearings held on 1 December 1953, in Cleveland, Sidney Isaacs had ignored the comment by Sally Winters Morillas pertaining to his being “consumed by patriotism,” and gone on with his questioning that occupies six pages. Those questions included one about her attending a 1940 birthday celebration in Cleveland by the local CP in honor of Soviet leader Josef Stalin (who had died 5 March 1953). More to the point, Isaacs asked her about a 1944 meeting during the two years that the CP was the Communist Political Association (CPA) when she was elected president of its Ward 13 Club in Cleveland; and the following year when she was elected to the county committee; and when the CPA became the CP again in 1946 and she was elected to the Cuyahoga county executive committee. Indeed, Morillas was one among several women in local leadership positions in the CP, which was typical, although the Party also had a glass ceiling nationally when it came to top leadership for women. Isaacs asked her questions based on surveillance evidence that extended all the way up until May of 1953, although with most witnesses the evidence he confronted them with stopped with the late 1940s. The OUAC was literally framing witnesses as the public face of American Communism, painting them as nefarious bad actors. Few of these witnesses had lawyers (more did in 1953 than 1952, but Morillas was not one of them). In any case, all an attorney could do was advise them. They could not object to questions. This was not a courtroom but a hearing where the accused had little recourse, much to risk, and a presumption of guilt, especially if they invoked United States constitutional amendments. Highlights of witness testimony found their way into newspapers like the Columbus Dispatch that reinforced the ritual humiliation process as serving the public good. Witnesses who “took the Fifth” were assumed to be hiding something, as opposed to protesting the right of the commission to question them as to their loyalty.

Sally Winters Morillas was one of the last but not even the most combative witness to confront the OUAC. Admiral Kilpatrick, an African American, was grilled in 1953 as to his having belonged to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the CP, and other organizations deemed unpatriotic. His answers to these kinds of questions included: “Why the hell do you ask me?” and “Go back to your stool pigeon and find out.” At one point Kilpatrick interrogated Sen. Joseph W. Bartunek, the Cayuhoga County Democrat, noting that in 1941, one of the years in question regarding Kilpatrick’s past activities, the CP had been a legal political party: “I am asking you,” demanded Kilpatrick, “isn’t that true?” “Absolutely true,” came Bartunek’s reluctant response. Isaacs later had no better luck: “I ask,” he began, “as a matter of fact—,” only to be cut off by Kilpatrick: “Decline to answer before you finish. Decline, decline, decline, and furthermore, I refuse to discuss any persons, names of persons that I may know with this defunct committee, you understand that?” Kilpatrick asked what difference it made for him to admit having committed the legal act of signing a CP nominating petition in 1940: “Do you think it will aid the people of the state of Ohio?” “Yes, I think it will,” shot back OUAC Secretary Samuel L. Devine, a Franklin County Republican, “when the people realize the danger that people like you and your group represent.”

A case could be made that Isaacs and other commission members were indeed “consumed by patriotism” throughout the hearings as they mined the memories of the 16 cooperative witnesses while peppering 37 hostile witnesses with rhetorical questions based on police and FBI surveillance. The interrogation was laced with repeated references to convicted Communists as “traitors” and challenges to hostile witnesses as to which side they would be on if the USA and the Soviet Union became embroiled in a “shooting war.” A typical query to hostile witnesses by Isaacs was this one to Harry Thornton McGill, alleged president of the Dayton NNLC, and probably a past or current member of the CP and UE: “Don’t you find your avowed loyalty to the United States inconsistent with your long and active membership in the Communist Party?” Most defiant witnesses like McGill invoked the Fifth Amendment, but many also added the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth amendments. A few invocations were not that explicit, prompting clarification requests from OUAC members (but seldom being directed to answer questions, which later became a significant legal matter). Some witnesses became aggressively defiant in their responses, declaring that they did not recognize this as a legal body. But the OUAC always had the last word, with such provocative “red-baiting” questions as these to Harry McGill: “Have you ever told the members of the Dayton Negro Labor Council [sic] that you are a member of the Communist Party? Do you intend to go back to Dayton and tell those members that you are not and have never been a member of the Communist Party?”

Additionally, the OUAC asked questions that constructed narratives revealing “rank-and-file Communists” operating furtively within Communist-dominated “front groups.” The year before, for example, the OUAC had demanded of Anna Morgan not only if she was a member of the CP but also of the CRC, and had she known that the latter was “both a subversive and Communist-front organization by the Attorney General of the United States”? Surely Morgan knew: she was one of 95 signers (four from Ohio) of the 1951 CRC anti-racist petition to the United Nations titled We Charge Genocide.

“Are you now or have you ever been…?”

As noted before, Robert Terrill, Anna Morgan, David Jackson, and Oscar Smilack all refused to testify in Columbus before the OUAC on 1 April 1952. Terrill (a Columbus resident) and Jackson (a Georgia native), both African American and probably in their 50s, were blue-collar organizers. Smilack was a European Jewish immigrant was in his late 30s who owned an iron and metal company “April Fool’s Day,” as Anna Morgan would write in her autobiography, was a fitting day to have been subpoenaed to testify before the OUAC in the state capital building. She recalled how that day had begun:

I sat alone far back in the hall. A bevy of ladies sat near the front. The committee and all the reporters were on the platform. Suddenly one of the proper ladies came back to me. “Good morning,” she said, “I’m one of the Watch Washington Committee. We missed yesterday’s ‘friendly witness’ testimony. Could you loan us your newspaper for a few minutes?” “Of course,” I replied, giving her the morning paper. These ladies were collecting one million signatures on a petition supporting Senator Joe McCarthy! In spite of my nervousness I was much amused. When she returned the paper she said, “The ladies want to know, would you like to sit with us to hear better?” I smiled my sweetest smile and said, “Oh, no thank you, I think I’ll hear well enough when the time comes.”

It must have shocked the anticommunist “ladies” to suddenly discover that they had not recognized one of the “Communists” whose questioning they had come to witness. Following Robert Terrill’s testimony, Anna Morgan was called to the stand. Counsel Sidney Isaacs asked the first question: “State your name, please.” “My name is Anna H. Morgan.” “Where do you reside, Mrs. Morgan?” “I regret that I cannot answer your question under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution because to do so would give your committee an opportunity to incriminate me….”

“Mrs. Morgan, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” “I continue to appeal under the Fifth Amendment….” The questions kept coming: “I will ask you if it is not a fact that at that [July 26, 1951 Communist Party] meeting held in your home, Robert Campbell, a state Communist Party functionary, spoke on the subject of white Chauvanism [sic] and stated that there were two parties in Columbus, a white Communist Party in the North-end and a Negro Communist Party in the South-end.” “I will ask you, Mrs. Morgan, if this is not a petition presented to the United Nations alleging that it is the official and studied policy of the United States government to exterminate the Negro race in the United States?….” “I will ask you if this is not a publication of the Civil Rights Congress?….” “Are you a member of the Civil Rights Congress?….” “Are you aware of the fact that the Civil Rights Congress has been cited as both a subversive and Communist organization by the Attorney-general of the United States?”…

Altogether, Isaacs asked her 38 questions. Anna Morgan refused to answer any except her name, citing the Fifth Amendment. Just as she was being excused, OUAC Chairman Gordon Renner, a Cincinnati Republican and Speaker of the House, read into the record Anna Morgan’s prepared “Statement of belief.” This was a five-page protest of her subpoena and the OUAC’s very existence. She had given it to Dayton UE members to print and leaflet the Statehouse. It included the following combination of affirmations and accusations:

This Committee was paid to investigate so-called Un-American and subversive activities, but in all these months, it has failed to state what it considers Un-American or subversive….

Who am I, you may ask. I am just an average American housewife. Daughter of a deacon I early was baptized in a Congregational Church. I accepted its teachings of the brotherhood of man for every day in the year, not just for Sunday. I now present my sincere beliefs and let this committee and all interested citizens who pay this committee judge me.

I believe in the complete economic and social equality of all races and I ask this committee how come Ohio has never enacted FEPC legislation to guarantee those rights to its minority citizens? I feel that the American pattern of lynching Negroes, of murder and genocide in general is bringing down the hatred of the world upon us. I believe in freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights….

Because this Committee conducts its hearings like an inquisition with no rules of evidence that victims are denied the rights which they would have in a duly constituted Court. Therefore, I must claim the protection of the Fifth Amendment of the constitution of the United States and remain silent before this Committee.

Part of Anna Morgan’s criticism of the OUAC in her “Statement of beliefs” was also aimed at informers and the so-called “friendly witnesses.” Whether or not her charges are true, the testimony of the “friendlies” is just as useful for researchers as that of the “defiant” witnesses like Morgan herself. Of the 12 “friendlies” testifying in 1952, three could be called “ideological witnesses” (attorneys and educators testifying in general terms as to the so-called Red Menace); four were professional informants paid by the FBI to infiltrate the CP (John and Martha Edmiston, Harvey Matusow, and Matthew Cvetic); and five were disillusioned or expelled former Party members, two of whom were African American and involved with the UE (Asbury Turner and John C. Mitchell). All but the ideological witnesses, as this author would call them, provide snapshots of Party activities that just as compelling as those of the defiant ones. Frederick Thayer in fact argues that the testimony of former rank-and-file CP members like Mitchell, Turner, and John DeLong, are more credible than “professional witnesses” like Charles Baxter, a former Party higher-up. Yet, it was Baxter who told the OUAC that (1) the Ohio CP in 1951 numbered about 1300 (700 in the Cleveland area, 200 in the Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton area, and 400 in Toledo, Akron, and environs) but planned to build a reserve in case of mass arrests, using the old Russian Bolshevik and German Communist Party model; and (2) the CP’s 1951 “re-registration” of members to rid itself of FBI informants actually expelled some loyal Party members.

“Just an average American housewife”

Anna Morgan’s bemused alienation from the conservative “ladies” at her OUAC hearing is also of a piece with her childhood memories growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, and being told that “ladies” did not do things like refuse to dance with boys they did not like. But her public self-identification as a “just an average American housewife” when she in fact worked as a nurse and ran two small businesses—a farm and a bookstore—was typical of attempts by CP members to blend into mainstream American culture while asserting their own brand of patriotism. In this case, it also showed Morgan speaking to and organizing working-class women (this was both a statement and a leaflet). Historian Kate Weigand has argued that “the male and female witnesses who appeared before OUAC led personal and political lives that were highly unconventional, according to the standards of the 1950s” that led to “serious misunderstandings or…serious confrontations” with the OUAC. OUAC testimony by women, she notes, is “particularly useful to answer questions about how women, whose lives did not, overall, conform to the dominant and idealized expectations about women in the 1950s,” and concludes that a feminine mystique blindspot is revealed in the questioning by the all-male OUAC missed women’s agency in the CP and other left groups, thus undermining the hearings’ “stated…legislative goals.”

Yet, for Anna Morgan and many women in the CP, what the Party called the “class struggle” and the “Negro Question” outranked the “Woman Question.” With her arrival in Columbus, she had joined the Committee for Democratic Practices, later noting: “This committee fought against racism, since at that time Columbus was a very Jim Crow city….” For his part Dick Morgan had an interest in black history besides being active (as were Anna Morgan and Oscar Smilack) in the local struggle against restrictive covenants used to keep blacks from purchasing homes in white neighborhoods. According to Anna, Dick was fired from his Ohio State Museum post not just because of the 1948 American Legion riot, but also because board member Raymond Baby, a “conservative racist,” coveted Dick’s job and was “still irritated by the exhibition of Negro culture and the Carter [G.] Woodson banquet”—the latter a reference to the annual convention of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) on 26-28 October 1945, at the museum. That exhibit, Anna Morgan said, angered “the publisher of the largest newspaper in the city, who was also on the Board of the…Museum” and ordered it taken down. Anna Morgan also attracted the attention of the local authorities with her support for a local strike begun in 1946 by Mine-Mill, a Communist-led union that would be expelled from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) along with the UE and eight others between 1949 and 1950. Morgan had been arrested for leafletting in support of the strike. She recalled the OUAC’s agenda:

That spring [1951] they called up all the Progressive Party leaders in Ohio. In the following spring, with all the top national Communist leaders already in jail, the Ohio Un-American Committee [sic] called two aging Black workers from Columbus said to have tried to organize a local steel plant two decades before; a Jewish wholesale dealer in war surplus materials, alleged to be the “angel” of the local CP, and me, just an ordinary American housewife interested in improving the world.

The OUAC made repeated references in its reports to the CP having recently sent its top leaders underground. Indeed, Isaacs could not resist asking Ed Likover, a Cleveland schoolteacher, “if on instruction of the Communist Party [in 1951] you began to enter the underground apparatus…?” Along those same lines, in the spring of 1952 the Morgans found themselves, as Anna later recalled, in the embankment above the creek on their land burying their “selected progressive books” wrapped in plastic and placed in “two large hogsheads” in case of fascist repression that they and other Party members thought might come any time. Ellen Schrecker succinctly assessed this decision to send one-third of the Party underground while the rest practiced extreme secrecy: “In retrospect, this furtive operation was a stupid mistake. McCarthyism was not fascism….”

Going to the Supreme Court

But Anna and Dick Morgan did not go underground. And no evidence has been found that any other defiant witnesses did so. In fact, Anna Morgan and others decided to appeal their convictions. After finding that lawyers they asked were “too busy” to represent them in the climate of fear and constant media attention, Anna Morgan volunteered to be “the guinea pig,” as 12 of the other witnesses chipped in to cover the costs of mounting a court case. This proved a challenge: the FBI visited members of their first defense committee, who then “disappeared to other cities or left the state.” Meanwhile, they had heard “through the grapevine” about an attorney who would take their case. But first, Anna writes, “Dick and I, along with our two ex-steel comrades [Jackson and Terrill], drove to Cleveland to find the attorney. (The war surplus businessman [Smilack] who had been sent to the state mental hospital had paid his fines and was in business again, but we understood.)” Anna then remembers: “In a short while we felt that this young and pretty attorney had not only knowledge but also self-confidence in her ability and unlimited courage. She was Attorney Ann Fagan Ginger….” The four defendants were convicted in 1953 of contempt of the legislature by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. “They were right,” Anna would often say later: “I had a very healthy contempt for the Committee.”

Anna Morgan’s case, as it turned out, would soon be bundled together not with that of Jackson, Terrill, and Smilack—who had all been indicted and convicted together—but instead with three other defiant witnesses who refused to testify on 20 October 1952, and like the others were also later convicted. Joining Anna Morgan to begin the appeals process were: Talmadge Raley, a UE organizer probably in his 40s or early 50s and originally from Kentucky; Emmett Calvin Brown, 27, a Cincinnati native and NNLC organizer; along with Jewish businessman Joseph Stern, in his early 30s and born in Georgia.

Besides Ann Fagan Ginger, their attorneys would include Carl B. Rubin, Earl W. Allison, Morse Johnson, C. Watson Hover, and Thelma Furry. They fought their cases all the way to the US Supreme Court where all of the convictions except Stern’s were overturned in 1959. Writing for the majority, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., rebuked the OUAC and the lower courts, noting that the OUAC had questioned the defendants without informing them that “Ohio immunity statute deprived them of the protection of the privilege [of taking the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination] and that therefore they committed an offense by not answering the questions as to which they had asserted the privilege.” And he added that “the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution did not permit the witnesses, who had refused to answer certain questions, to be convicted for contempt on the theory that the defendants were presumed to know the law of Ohio….” Finally, Brennan concluded for the court: “After the Commission, speaking for the State, acted as it did, to sustain the Ohio Supreme Court’s judgement would be to sanction an indefensible sort of entrapment by the State—convicting a citizen for exercising a privilege which the State had clearly told him was available to him.” Ann Fagan Ginger’s “due process strategy” had worked for three of the four defendants (the Supreme Court failed to overturn Stern’s conviction because the OUAC had reminded him that he was under oath when he refused to give his address).

In all, 37 Ohioans were forced to testify before the OUAC. They were all “outed” as Communists whether they had been members or not, which in some cases resulted in loss of jobs and union membership. Thirty-two were cited for contempt. Victory for Raley, Brown, and Morgan also resulted in other cases being thrown out in Ohio. And Thelma Furry, who had herself been called before the OUAC in 1953, in her Raley v. Ohio oral arguments included a quote from Anna Morgan’s 1952 statement before the OUAC: “In all these months, the Commission has failed to state what it considers Un-American or subversive…. Because this Committee conducts its hearings like an inquisition with no rules of evidence…its victims are denied the rights which they would have in a duly constituted Court.”


The resistance of activists from the 1940s through the 1960s, combined with the witch hunting by the HUAC and SISS undermined the viability of those ritual public humiliation forums, although the “demonization of politically marginalized groups and the use of state power to repress them,” as Ellen Schrecker points out, is still with us. Those who won before the Supreme Court in 1959 were beneficiaries of the Warren Court’s concern with abuse of civil liberties and civil rights. The year that the OUAC handed its work off to the Ohio Attorney General was the same year the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren issued its landmark Brown decision in 1954 striking down segregation in the nation’s public schools. Meanwhile, other than Anna Morgan, not much is known of the other defiant witnesses in Ohio. But their lives and livelihoods were disrupted to say the least.

In general, more research needs to be done to recall these state and local stories of the lopsided early Cold War battle of “McCarthyism versus The Left.” This was a time when lives and careers were ruined, resources wasted, and critical thought suppressed. McCarthyism in many ways resembles the twenty-first century’s “astroturf” or elite-led grassroots reactionary movements. With the power of the State (and the states) leading it, this movement took on a diverse, divided, and often demoralized collection of progressive organizations. The chief target and centerpiece of that anti-left repression was the CP: an organization that itself had badly botched progressive ideals and was known for a rigid and manipulative political ideology that wasted talents, resources, and opportunities.

These American “show trials” featured the usual Manichean mix of patriotism versus treason. But unlike the Stalinist versions where the alleged miscreants confessed their ideological crimes, here the accused commonly expressed either defiance or noncompliance as part of the staged official “show.” And in this OUAC dramatic production, there were on the one hand “bad labor” activists like the UE witnesses and UE supporters who came down to Columbus to protest the hearings, versus the “good labor leaders” like James B. Carey of the International Union of Electrical Workers-CIO (UE’s rival), who was never called to testify but was quoted positively several times by the committee. There were “good blacks” versus “bad blacks” displayed in the deliberate selection of both friendly and hostile witnesses. And there were “good upstanding women” who served their country and infiltrated the CP to bring back evidence of subversion versus “bad Communist women.”

The overconsumption of patriotism is a cautionary tale whenever there arise organized suspicion campaigns like the ones we saw in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, when the “Cold War” actually felt like a conflict that could explode at home at any time. Conservatives saw an opening with the burgeoning anticommunist movement to not just immobilize the CP, but New Deal-era civil rights and labor liberalism as well. Many moderates and liberals shared anticommunist assumptions and were eager for the CP “tumor” to be cut away to preserve what was left of the New Deal coalition and public policy. For their part, CP members may not have even been aware of the many ways their party had alienated allies and comrades; as well as the extent of popular anticommunist hysteria—both of which left them isolated. Ohio provides an instructive microcosm of this historical period when the lights flickered on democracy—not just in Washington, DC, but all across the nation in states and local communities.