Letter from prison: Communist leader Carl Winter on the 4th of July
Carl, Michele, and Helen Winter, as photographed in the Nov. 7, 1949, issue of the Daily Worker. | People's World Archive

Editor’s Note: Carl Winter, who was an editor of The Worker (formerly the Daily Worker and later re-named People’s World), was among the first group of defendants falsely convicted under the anti-communist Smith Act of conspiring to overthrow the United States Government in 1949. Winter would serve a five-year sentence in federal prison. Upon release, he was again arrested and charges against him were not dropped until 1963.

The Smith Act, also known as the Alien Registration Act of 1940, made it a criminal offense to conspire or advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government by force or violence and required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the federal government. With the outbreak of the Cold War, this law was used as a means to target and prosecute members of Communist Party USA. Prosecutors simply quoted from sections of The Communist Manifesto that said the capitalist system will be overthrown and replaced by a socialist system. Defendants were asked if they believed or agreed with that. When they said “yes,” it was used to claim they were for the overthrow of the U.S. government, which of course was not true. Prosecutions under the Smith Act continued until a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1957 reversed a number of convictions under the Act as unconstitutional.

Carl Winter’s daughter, Michele Artt, provided People’s World with the following letter written by her father in 1951 while he was imprisoned. It includes a poem on the meaning of the Fourth of July and the fight for freedom. Michele said of the letter:

“Every July 4th, I think of the letter I received from my father when he was incarcerated at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary after having been convicted under the Smith Act. Along with others of the leadership of the Communist Party who were tried and convicted in 1949, he was charged with ‘teaching and advocating the overthrow of the government by force and violence.’ His patriotic poem in honor of the writings on the Statue of Liberty and those who defend them speaks volumes about his beliefs which he defended until his death in 1991.”

Below is his letter and poem in full. On this Independence Day, may we continue to remember those who fought for true democracy against oppression despite persecution.

Carl Winter’s 1951 letter to his daughter. | Courtesy of Michele Artt

Mickey Dear,

Yesterday was the 67th anniversary of the laying of the foundation for the Statue of Liberty at Bedloe’s Island. Yesterday I saw a beautiful photo of the statue in the New York Herald Tribune, and that reminded me that I had not yet written you the message I wanted to send when Mother brought you the little statue I sent from New York as my farewell gift. So I made up a little poem for you instead. It says the things, or at least some of the things, I wanted to put in that message. I’ve been saving them up in my mind, and now they just poured out in this little poem– you know, just like you sometimes made up a little song on the piano or a dance step to show me.

I sent a little statue
That can always look right at you
From a place upon your shelf
And seem to say demurely,
You must know who I am, surely
For I’m Miss Liberty herself.

Now remember, darling daughter,
That the ship that early brought her
Came from France across the sea,
Where they sent her to remind us
By her torch—not to blind us
That all men seek liberty

And the book she holds up high
Dated: Fourth of July
Gave that promise to all men;
But the meaning in the writing–
Grown through many years of fighting–
Needs defending yet again

So, whenever you look upon her
You may feel with pride and honor
That you know her very well,
If you don’t rely on pictures
Or on neatly written structures,
But in freedom’s fighting ranks you dwell.

Carl Winter
Inmate 19439
August 6, 1951

2019 marks a century since the founding of the Communist Party USA. To commemorate the anniversary of the longest enduring socialist organization in the United States, People’s World has launched the article series: 100 Years of the Communist Party USA. Read the other articles published in the series and check out the guidelines about how to submit your own contribution.


CONTRIBUTOR

Carl Winter
Carl Winter

Carl Winter (1906-91) was a leader in the Communist Party USA for many decades. He was among those convicted in the anti-communist Smith Act trials during the early years of the Cold War. From 1966 to 1980, he served as editor for The Worker and the Daily World, predecessor publications of People's World.

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