Copyright © 2012 Lisa Harbatkin
“They threw everything they had at us,” dismissed English teacher Arthur Newman told researcher Linda Cirino* in recalling his experiences as one of those subjected to the investigations. Along with several other teachers subjected to the Board’s highly public and widely reported departmental trials in late 1952, Newman was dismissed in January 1953. He was among 10 teachers reinstated in December 1976.
Newman had worked closely with parents on trying to improve school conditions and make things better for the children. Describing the forces opposing the TU and driving the Board of Education’s investigations, he acknowledged that “Many of these people felt, truly felt, that communists were destroying our civilization…” But, he added, “it was also a pretext that helped them avoid reform of the schools and solidify their own positions…That’s why they were so rabid against us…because we were showing them up…The communist issue was a means of getting rid of us.”
The TU fought for decent schools in ethnic minority areas – black, Irish, Italian, Poles – another teacher said, as he described the poverty-stricken children he taught. “We were defending the school system. This is why they called us communists…” Dismissed after refusing to name names before a congressional committee, he recalled rumors flying all over the place. People were wondering “When would our turn come,” he told Cirino as he recalled the fears so many teachers felt.
“I’m quite sure there were communists in the union – so what?” this teacher said. “If they were willing to join our union and help with programs they’d be welcome.”
*Linda Cirino’s interviews with teachers and others involved in the investigations took place in the late 1970s/early 1980s.