For those of you who don’t remember that period during the 1950s, where the Communist scare took on unprecedented proportions, the wave of Hearings took place in most major cities of the U.S. – each city looking for those pockets of Communist influence in the workplace and in local government.
For a five-day period, from February 25-29, 1952, the HUAC Committee visited Detroit from Washington and began a series of hearings of certain suspected Communist sympathizers, organizers and agents. The testimony was at times tense, but mostly with subpoenaed figures pleading the fifth Amendment.
One of the more dramatic testimonies came from future Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, himself not under suspicion of Communist activities but of having communist friends and co-workers. In what began as routine questioning quickly devolved into a testy exchange:
Mr. Young: “Mr. Tavenner, I “would like to say this : First of all, I have understood, from official pronouncements of this committee, and
yourself, that this is a forum; you call it the highest forum in the
country, being that of the Congress of the United States. I have,
been subpoenaed here. I didn’t come by my own prerogative.
Mr. Tavenner. I understand.
Mr. Young. I can onlv state that in being interviewed and being
asked questions, that I hope that I will be allowed to react fully
to those questions, and not be expected to react only in such a manner
that this committee may desire me. In other words, I might have
answers you might not like. You called me here to testify ; I am prepared
to testify, but, I would like to know from you if I shall be
allowed to respond to your questions fully and in my own way.
Mr. Tavenner. I have no objection to your answers, if they are responsive to the questions.
Mr. Young. I will respond.
Mr. Tavenner. But I desire to ask you the question which I have
asked other witnesses: Are you now a member of the Communist
Party ? Mr. Young. I refuse to answer that question, relying upon my rights
under the fifth amendment, and, in light of the fact that an answer
to such a question, before such a committee, would be, in my opinion,
a violation of my rights under the first amendment, which provides
for freedom of speech, sanctity and privacy of political beliefs and
associates, and, further, since I have no purpose of being here as a
stool pigeon, I am not prepared to give any information on any of
my associates or political thoughts.
Mr. Tavenner. Have you been a member of the Communist Party ? Mr. Young. For the same reason, I refuse to answer that question.
Mr. Tavenner. You told us you were the executive secretary of the
National Negro Congress
Mr. Young. That word is “Negro,” not “Niggra.”
Mr. Tavenner. I said, “Negro.” I think you are mistaken.
Mr. Young. I hope I am. Speak more clearly.
JNIr. Wood. I will appreciate it if you will not argue with counsel.
Mr. Young. It isn’t my purpose to argue. As a Negro, I resent the
slurring of the name of my race. Mr. Wood. You are here for the purpose of answering questions.
Mr. Young. In some sections of the country they slur
Mr. Tavenner. I cam sorry. I did not mean to slur it. I was mistaken
in referring to your leaving said you were the executive secretary of the National Negro Congress ; but, I will ask you a question, if you were, at any time in the past, executive secretary of the National
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer that question under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Your position is that to answer any question with
relation to your connection with the National Negro Congress might
tend to incriminate you, is that your position?
ISIr. Young. The National Negro Congress, as I understand it, has
been labeled by not only the Justice Department, but by this committee,
which also labeled the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People as subversive, and I don’t intend to discuss any
organization that, properly or improperly, has been designated by
you or any other committee as subversive.
Mr. Tavenner. Were you, at any time, a field organizer for the
National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. The same answer will apply in regard to the National
Mr. Tavenner. I understood you to state—you answered a moment
ago that this committee had labeled the NAACP as a subversive.
Mr. Young. That is correct. Mr. Tavenner. When was such action taken?
Mr. Young. I refer you to the Negro Yearbook of 1949.
Mr. Tavenner. Can you refer to a record of the committee which
has so designated the NAACP?
Mr. Young. I am sure this committee is in possession of its own
records. I would suggest a search of those records. Mr. Tavenner. It is on record? You are sure I have evidence of such designation with regard to the NAACP, a national organization?
Mr. Young. I refer you to Mr. Tavenner. There was a local in Hawaii which had some special
problem, but, as far as the national organization is concerned,
this committee has not so cited it, nor has the Attorney General’s office, in my opinion.”
As a reminder that the 1950s were a time of deep suspicion and paranoia, here is that testimony, as it was given by Coleman Young, and others from February 28, 1952 as recorded and broadcast by WJR-Radio in Detroit.
If this sort of unvarnished and long-thought lost bit of history is interesting to you, and you want to hear more of it, please consider chipping in a few bucks to our annual Past Daily Fall Fundraiser, which is going on now. We do this once a year and we try not to be obnoxious, so we put our appeals down at the bottom of an article or casually post an appeal every few days. We need your help, but we don’t want to drive you away. I’ll be honest – we need your support and we offer a Tax Deduction for your troubles. You can contribute how much you want, whatever you are comfortable with. We just want to hear from you. So, if you like what we’re doing, and want to see us continue, please click on the link here: (Past Daily’s Fall Fundraiser) and give what you can. You’ve been fantastic so far, we just need to hear from a few more of you. So please, do what you can.