Books, baseball and birthdays

We publish below excerpts from personal letters written by one of our country’s most famous political prisoners and Communist labor organizers, Gus Hall, who was general secretary and then national chairman of the Communist Party. The letters were written to his wife, Elizabeth, and his 14-year-old daughter, Barbara, from the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. On Sept. 20, Hall’s remains will be interred at Forest Home Cemetery (formerly Waldheim Cemetery), near Chicago.





Dear Barbara:

... I received the very nice birthday cards from all of you. I also received the birthday painting of myself by that promising young artist from Saywell Avenue – Arvo. I think it is very nice.

With the coming of cooler weather I have increased my reading. Odd as it may seem, there is something to be said for and something to learn from prison reading. Of course, one reads more, and prison life lends itself to a consistent, systematic, seven-day-a-week reading. But even more important is how one reads. So often you hear people say how they got so much more from a book on a rereading. It is only testimony to haphazard reading in the first place.

Too often, speed seems to be the important thing. It is how many books you read and not how you read – what do you get out of a book. In prison one is not in any hurry. There is no place to go, so the aim is to pass time. The difference between prison reading and reading on the outside is like that between just every day dusting around the house and a complete spring house cleaning. Here you have time to get at all the corners; all the hidden covered-up spots in a book. One really reads a book from “kiver to kiver.”

I don’t know how it is with other folks, but at least I used to kind of dust around a book. You know, skip over parts and generally plow through in great haste. Here I take my good old time. I stop to meditate over a thought, I reread a section, reflect and ponder over an idea. If I don’t finish in September, I’ll finish in October, or in 1953, etc.

I must say I get greater enjoyment from this kind of reading, especially of classical novels of greater depth. With the rush of present-day living, with radio, television, autos, movies, papers, comics, if you want to read, you have to have self-discipline and a plan of set hours for reading of books. Reading is a very important part of your growth and education that you will get only on a self-help basis.

We are still having nice weather here. I hope you are going to make Arvo a Halloween pumpkin like we used to. He is old enough now to enjoy it.





Dear Elizabeth:

... I have read with interest the reactions of the male species to a female having the unmitigated gall to sign up, of all things, to play baseball. What a horrible thing this little girl did! Managers of clubs threatened to resign, umpires stated they would not umpire, players said they would not play ball. The baseball bigwigs called hasty conferences, newspapers printed special editorials, sportswriters were speechless, boycotts and court actions were mentioned and words like “travesty,” “impossible,” “ridiculous,” were used – all because a female wanted to play professional baseball.

Not wars, famines, presidential elections or taxes have aroused the male sex to such a high pitch of anger and indignation as did the action of this little girl in Harrisburg, Pa.

Now of course, we men are for full equality of sexes, but baseball happens to be one of those special fields of endeavor reserved for men only. As long as the female does not invade our special fields – why, we are for full equality. We even go so far with our liberalism that we do not any more throw stones at women when they play baseball – by themselves.

What a relief – after all the dust has settled down, the sportscasters victoriously and proudly announce the danger is over, the Harrisburg ball club has gone on the road – the one female rebel has gone to her typewriter – back to the kitchen. Not so long ago there was a male protest against women using typewriters.

I suppose some psychoanalyst will come to our defense and say our male reactions flowed from our instinct of self-defense. Because, after all, once the women learn to swing the bat, who knows what they will swing at?



Dear Barbara:

Glad you got home all right. It was very nice to see you again. You should not give another thought to a few tears when you visit me. After all, a family get-together in a prison isn’t the usual happening in our lives.

Did you happen to notice, in last Sunday’s Plain Dealer, a photo and a news item about a pile of old dusty paintings someone found in a storeroom of the Public Auditorium of Cleveland? If I had money and I was in Cleveland I would bid to buy the whole dusty stock. They are the paintings of Cleveland artists, painted on a government unemployment relief project during the depression of the ’30s.

I am sure in that dusty pile there are paintings by many of my old friends. Many of them are from the brushes of able craftsmen who had national and world reputations, but were forced on relief. Others are by newcomers who have since mastered the art of the brush and won fame for themselves.

These paintings were not forgotten because of their quality, but rather because of their origin. Some thought these projects were the beginning of the end for creative art. Personally I think they were the cause for the greatest forward spurt of popular art in our history. It was sort of a blessing in disguise. It was an unfortunate hardship for the artists, but a blessing for art.

These projects not only developed very many artists, but for a moment tore this cultural medium from the grip of commercialism. The artist was free to express on canvas not what the highest bidder wanted, but rather what he thought the people would enjoy and admire.

Because of this, in those years art came closer to depicting and expressing the real America than at any other time. The ivory towers came tumbling down and the artists mixed with and understood the common folk.

Of course, it is not necessary to have another depression for art to get such a boost. If the city council goes through with its plans and puts these paintings on display, go and see them and then write and tell me what your reactions are. One thing I’m sure of: there you will see, possibly not always the best colors and proportions and shadings, but the best reflection of those depression years on canvas anywhere.

Gus Hall