to Willard H. Pedrick (Northwestern University Law School)
December 11, 1952
Dear Professor Pedrick:
I inclose a copy of my piece about the FBI. It was published in the October 1949 issue of Harper’s. If you can return it to me when you have finished your study, I should like to have it.
As for the episode involving Mrs. Eisler — or was “Mrs.” a courtesy title? — I was at the time a member of the executive committee of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union, having joined the organization in the early stages of the Strange Fruit case, the first step in an ultimately successful effort to weaken the system of extra-legal literary censorship that had made Boston notorious. The others on the committee were lawyers, doctors, professors, and business men. The CLU secretary believed that such people were very busy men, whereas writers were idlers and were never engaged in important work even when occasionally occupied. It wouldn’t have been nice to call a teacher from a class, a lawyer from a case, or a store manager from a discussion of his golf score. So whenever anything came up, she habitually telephoned me and I went gonging off to the fire.
Some organization, and I forget what it was (if indeed I ever knew its name), though doubtless it was a front group or at least composed of moony yearners, had arranged to bring Mrs. Eisler to Boston for a lecture — probably to raise funds for Eisler’s defense, though I am not sure of this. The group had hired Jordan Hall for the lecture. Jordan Hall is the concert hall of the New England Conservatory of Music, a staid and painfully respectable institution, and was then the second largest auditorium in Boston — a larger one has since been built. It was, and still is, hired for all kinds of musical performances that could not be expected to fill the larger Symphony Hall, and for various kinds of lectures and theatrical performances. Thus it was, and still is, a source of badly needed and greatly appreciated income for the Conservatory of Music.
One morning the Boston newspapers carried a story saying that, the previous evening, the Boston City Council had passed a resolution calling on the Mayor to revoke the license of Jordan Hall because of the forthcoming lecture. Possibly the Mayor was out of town, or more likely Jim Curley was still Mayor and a prisoner in a federal penitentiary. If Curley had been on the job there would have been no problem, for he would have disregarded the resolution. The Acting Mayor was Mr. John B. Kelly, then President of the Council, later Attorney General of the Commonwealth.
I had barely read the news story when the CLU secretary phoned me and said that we had to act, as was obvious. I assembled a committee of the greatest respectability […] and that afternoon led them to the Boston City Hall. Mr. Kelly was in his own office but would not meet with us till he could get down to the Mayor’s office, and there was a further delay while he summoned the newspaper reporters who covered the City Hall beat. Mr. Kelly’s literacy was not so overwhelming as to embarrass either him or his listeners. We went in and I explained to him that the Council’s resolution, which had been passed while he was in the chair, was against the bills of rights in both the Federal and Commonwealth constitutions, that it was destructive of the right to freedom of assembly and of speech, and that so far as I could determine by phone calls to various lawyers the Mayor had no power to revoke the license of Jordan Hall anyway. I am sure that Mr. Kelly regarded us as highly dangerous people, though that his information gave him any clear notion of what a Communist is can be doubted, but he did have some rudimentary notion of freedom of speech, having heard the aldermen hurl the phrase at one another during their intramural feuds, and a very clear and vivid notion of political opportunity. He stood up, and facing the newspapermen, delivered a rousing oration to the effect that he was a patriotic American, that America was the land of freedom, that he loathed Communism, and that he would safeguard both the freedom and the patriotism of Boston. In the course of this prose poem he intimated that he would not revoke the license of Jordan Hall. The intimation did not seem to me sufficiently binding, so I kept after him till he said specifically, and in the presence of reporters, that he would disregard the Council’s resolution and make no effort to revoke the license. I thanked him and we filed out in a reverent manner and dispersed.
That was the entire episode. It was routine for the CLU, though in those days most of our energy went to rescuing Jehovah’s Witnesses from various painful situations which their incorrigible trouble-making proclivities had got them into. There is one interesting feature about McCarthy’s use of it. I understand that the former FBI agent who does his research was in Boston for several days, trying to dig up dirt about Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who, incidentally, was a student of mine when I taught at Harvard. The Boston newspapers had devoted about an inch to our appearance before Mr. Kelly, I am morally certain that the agent could have got wind of the episode only in a newspaper morgue, and I am personally convinced that he could have been directed to it only by a newspaper, presumably the Post or the Herald. It was a trivial matter, and, I am sure, had vanished from human memory. […]
The preparation of both McCarthy and his agent was extremely superficial. In spite of his emotions about the State Department, he missed the fact that Archie MacLeish had been an Assistant Secretary of State, which would have enabled him oratorically to gain forty or fifty yards if not score a touchdown.
If I can judge by a wisecrack that Judge Wyzanski tossed at me in the library, he believes that McCarthy libeled me. I myself have no doubt that he did. I did not hear the first speech but I did hear the second one, and I have heard tape recordings that were made of it. In that speech he quoted me as having made in the piece about the FBI statements which in fact I did not make, ferociously inflammatory statements. I take that to be libel. Whether or not he damaged me in a pecuniary way I do not know. I do know that an editor and a lecture agent with whom at the moment I was negotiating contracts solemnly inquired of their associates and representatives whether they would lose money if they employed me.
One thing more. McCarthy’s second speech was he delivered it was more vicious and scabrous than the advance text which he supplied to the newspapers. I have been told that the same thing is true of the first speech. I have examined several hundred newspaper clippings and so far s I can see no newspaper called attention to this fact. In my opinion this is important. Incidentally, my sole function in Governor Stevenson’s Research Group was that of an expert on conservation and public lands policy.
I am glad that you are making your study and hope that this letter will facilitate it.