Setting the Stage for Rapp-Coudert and the ‘50s

Heading into the 1920s and the Lusk Laws, the Board of Education’s demands for loyalty, patriotism, and adherence to democracy were matched by Teachers Union assertions that teachers were loyal, patriotic, and democratic. Some New York Times headlines in 1922 could almost provide an outline of the conflicts between the union and the board:

  • “Teachers Decry Secret Reports”
  • “Teachers Secretly Quizzed on Loyalty”
  • “Demands Justice For Two Teachers”

Those 2 teachers were Eugene Jackson and Austin M. Works, and the board was withholding the required certificates as to their loyalty and character that would enable them to continue teaching under the Lusk Laws. Both had served in the army during the war, and both were then teaching at De Witt Clinton. They were among several teachers caught up in the same bind.

Jackson, a modern languages teacher, kept his job, as did Wood. Both are mentioned in school news coverage in subsequent years. Jackson played an active and public role in the Teachers Union through the 1930s and 1940s. He was among the teachers caught in the mid-century probe, retired in 1952 soon after Saul Moskoff took over the investigation.

But the hunt for radical teachers in the schools continued through the 1920s and beyond; in effect it didn’t stop. Governor Al Smith signed the bill repealing the Lusk Laws in the spring of 1923. Even before he did, as the conflict over the repeal escalated, a Times headline proclaimed “Red Outbreak Tale Told to Governor.” And, after the repeal, in 1925: “Radicalism Taints Schools, Says Doty.” (Doty was dean of De Witt Clinton.)

With both communism and fascism ramping up overseas, the following decades saw the board and the news coverage far more concerned about the red menace, even as fascist forces grew more powerful in Germany.

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One response to “Setting the Stage for Rapp-Coudert and the ‘50s

  1. eric mauer February 18, 2014 at 6:23 am

    I have just read your post, Lisa. As you know my father Irving Mauer would not inform for the wicked and sanctimonious Moskoff, and thus lost his job as a teacher in P. S.120 in September 1955.

    Loyalty and Character: Moskoff was loyal to a persecutory and cruel witch hunt and had an indecent character. My father was loyal to his (often very poor, often racially oppressed) students,( and loyal, as well, to the First Amendment and to American Democracy) and had a very decent, humane character.

    I think we must continually reiterate and keep in mind: Shame, shame on the unAmerican criminals such as Saul Moskoff, William Jansen, and the members of the Rapp- Coudert committee and their fellow criminal persecutors of “reds” and “radicals”! Shame on them! They were cruel and very wicked. They were indeed simply criminals. Nothing less.

    For myself, I am- almost sixty years later – quite mindful of their sheer lack of humanity and their great cruelty and complete disregard for justice. I wish I could forgive them. — Eric Mauer in San francisco

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