Today in labor history: Official claims “Robin Hood” was communist plot

(History.com) – In an example of the absurd lengths to which the “Red Scare” in America is going, Mrs. Thomas J. White of the Indiana Textbook Commission, calls for the removal of references to the book Robin Hood from textbooks used by the state’s schools, Nov. 13, 1953. Mrs. Young claimed that there was “a Communist directive in education now to stress the story of Robin Hood because he robbed the rich and gave it to the poor. That’s the Communist line. It’s just a smearing of law and order and anything that disrupts law and order is their meat.” She went on to attack Quakers because they “don’t believe in fighting wars.” This philosophy, she argued, played into communist hands. Though she later stated that she never argued for the removal of texts mentioning the story from school textbooks, she continued to claim that the “take from the rich and give to the poor” theme was the “Communist’s favorite policy.” Reacting to criticisms of her stance, she countered that, “Because I’m trying to get Communist writers out of textbooks, my name is mud. Evidently I’m drawing blood or they wouldn’t make such an issue out of it.” The response to Mrs. White’s charges was mixed.

Indiana Governor George Craig came to the defense of Quakers, but backed away from getting involved in the textbook issue. The state superintendent of education went so far as to reread the book before deciding that it should not be banned. However, he did feel that “Communists have gone to work twisting the meaning of the Robin Hood legend.” The Indianapolis superintendent of schools also did not want the book banned, claiming that he could not find anything particularly subversive about the story. In the Soviet Union, commentators had a field day with the story. One joked that the “enrollment of Robin Hood in the Communist Party can only make sensible people laugh.” The current sheriff of Nottingham was appalled, crying, “Robin Hood was no communist.”

As silly as the episode seems in retrospect, the attacks on freedom of expression during the Red Scare in the United States resulted in a number of books being banned from public libraries and schools during the 1950s and 1960s because of their supposedly subversive content. Such well known books as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo, were just some of the books often pulled from shelves. Hollywood films also felt the pressure to conform to more suitably “all-American” themes and stories, and rock and roll music was decried by some as communist-inspired.

Not so silly, however, was the political repression Communists and “fellow travelers” faced, including imprisonment, firings, blacklists, attacks in the press, and subpoenas to testify in front of a government committee. Some committed suicide because of the pressure. Then there was the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a case based almost solely on anti-Communist hysteria and anti-Semitism. No other political party in United States history faced such political repression as the Communist Party, and its members and allies were stripped of their Constitutional rights of freedom of expression and association.

According to Wikipedia: It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of McCarthyism. The number imprisoned is in the hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs. In many cases simply being subpoenaed by HUAC or one of the other committees was sufficient cause to be fired. In the film industry, more than 300 actors, authors and directors were denied work in the U.S. through the unofficial Hollywood blacklist.

But blacklists were at work throughout the entertainment industry, in universities and schools at all levels, in the legal profession, and in many other fields. A port security program initiated by the Coast Guard shortly after the start of the Korean War required a review of every maritime worker who loaded or worked aboard any American ship, regardless of cargo or destination. As with other loyalty-security reviews of McCarthyism, the identities of any accusers and even the nature of any accusations were typically kept secret from the accused. Nearly 3,000 seamen and longshoremen lost their jobs due to this program alone.

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain


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Special to PeoplesWorld.org
Special to PeoplesWorld.org

Peoplesworld.org is a daily news website of, for and by the 99% and the direct descendant of the Daily Worker. Published by Long View Publishing Co., People’s World reports on the movements for jobs, peace, equality, democracy, civil rights and liberties, labor, immigrant, LGBT and women’s rights, protection of the environment, and more.

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