Copyright © 2012 Lisa Harbatkin
…because, well, Bella Dodd. And SISS counsel Jay Sourwine. And that right flank in the Republican Party back in the 1950s that looked at Republican moderates sort of the way current Tea Party types look at whoever passes for a Republican moderate these days. Back then, though, the grown-ups in the GOP were in charge of most party decisions.
That helped a lot as two icons of the moderate/liberal GOP, Clifford Case of New Jersey and Jacob Javits of New York, were preparing their first runs for the Senate. President Eisenhower – and Richard Nixon – supported Javits and Case as they dealt with the highly public attempts to smear them. While taking hits from their own party, both also found themselves targeted by Democrats all too eager to show off their own patriotism by going after communists. So, yes, just a slight detour: the New York Board of Education investigations reflect the overall political left/right splits in both parties and in the larger political environment.
Case was running to fill a vacant seat in 1954. He’d been in the House, and was president of the civil liberties group Fund for the Republic, when GOP leaders urged him to go for the open seat. His open criticisms of Joe McCarthy drew angry responses from the senator’s supporters, and the far right within the Republican party tried to get him off the ballot. Then the Newark Star-Ledger quoted Dodd saying that his sister Adelaide Case was active in CP fronts, including efforts in 1943 to get Morris Schappes released from prison.* Turned out the Adelaide Case Dodd knew in 1943 was actually a college professor who had died in 1948 – and the Star-Ledger and other media never bothered to check the facts of a carefully prepared smear campaign. Case delivered a televised response on October 17, and was elected to the Senate in November.
Javits tumbled down the rabbit hole in 1956, courtesy of Dodd, Sourwine, the usual suspects, and assorted rumors. Then New York’s attorney general, he was on the brink of getting the GOP nod to run for Herbert Lehman’s Senate seat when not-so-whispered rumors of a 1946 meeting with Dodd (while she was still in the CP and TU), contacts with the American Labor Party, and fuzzy charges of seeking communist support in his runs for office after he left the Army in 1946 threatened his chances. Rumor suggested that Sourwine was the sole apparent public source for the rumors, although Dodd had testified before SISS in June. She had named several political figures as people she’d known in the CP, but committee chief counsel Robert Morris had refused to say whether she’d mentioned Javits. Javits testified before SISS, denying seeking communist or ALP help, and saying Dodd was one of many people he’s met with as he sought information prior to his run for office. Committee members weren’t all that convinced, but Eisenhower and the New York GOP were. Once again, as with Case, the grown-ups prevailed.
Sourwine, by the way, was also running in the Nevada Democratic Senate primary. He came in last. Herblock did a delicious cartoon on the outcome. It showed him crushed by a rockslide, with an attached labeled that said “smear candidate,” and holding a pail of liquid saying attack on attorney general Javits.
*Schappes was a New York college professor jailed for perjury after acknowledging his own CP membership but denying that there were still others at City College, where he was a tutor. He was the only person jailed in the 20 or so years of the investigations, which ran from Rapp-Coudert in 1940-42 to 1960.
Information sourced from New York Times, Time Magazine, and other news sources.
Bella Dodd went from left-wing darling and Teachers Union fireball to right-wing darling and left-wing pariah in the few years after she was thrown out of the U.S. Communist Party in the late 1940s.
A friendly repeat performer in numerous congressional hearings during the McCarthy years, she made frequent appearances in the newspapers. Headlines like “100 City Teachers Listed as Commies By Dr. Bella Dodd” in the September 12, 1952 New York World Telegram, along with the suspicions of teachers who had known and worked with her, has made it easy to see her as an informer .
But it may not be that easy. I’ve read a lot of Dodd’s testimony before HUAC, SISS, and other congressional committees, both open session and executive session, at the National Archives. (Some is also available online, along with other information on Dodd, some of it downright mystical, if not outright weird.)
At least from these sessions, it’s not clear whether she named New York teachers. She did name CPUSA leaders and other people she’d known in the party. Much of her testimony consisted of her descriptions of the party’s inner workings, and she repeatedly asserted that CP teachers inevitably slanted their lessons and propagandized their students. Missing so far, though, are those 100 or so commie New York teachers the headlines said she named.
Add to this what Abraham Zitron and Celia Lewis Zitron, both strong leaders in the Teachers Union, told researcher Linda Cirino when she asked about Dodd in a 1979 interview: “It never became clear that she gave names of teachers,” Abraham Zitron said. “She gave a list of names of people in the CP. Maybe she added names of teachers who had already been named.”
At the same time, Dodd provided information, which could likely have included teachers’ names, to Saul Moskoff, the New York assistant corporation counsel who ran the Board of Education investigations for much of the 1950s. On the Board’s informer lists, she is code-named “77” and “Falcon.” Moskoff on several occasions asked congressional investigators not to call his informers and undercover agents to testify before their committees, saying that it would hamper his efforts.
In his Reds at the Blackboard, Clarence Taylor notes that Dodd testified before congress and claimed in her own School of Darkness that the CPUSA manipulated the Teachers Union and essentially turned it into a communist front.
And, possibly, Bella Dodd named teachers in other venues – she did testify at least once before a grand jury – or in congressional testimony I haven’t seen, or in private meetings with investigators. There is more to find out.