MARCH 25, 1954
HYDE PARK, Wednesday—As I mentioned in my column yesterday, I read a newspaper article recently which said that charges of communism had been made against Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Durr and Mr. Aubrey Williams. I was astounded to learn of these accusations, and I should like to say something in their defense.
Mrs. Clifford Durr I knew when I was in Washington, and she was devoted to progress in this country. She believed that discrimination against anyone was harmful to our nation—and she came from the South! She also believed in the rights of labor.
Perhaps coming from the South, she was more conscious than some of us are of the fact that it was still difficult for an organizer to be safe if he tried to form a labor union in certain Southern mill towns. She did not like Ku Klux Klan or vigilante methods. She believed that people had a right to choose what they wanted to do, and if they wanted to have a union, they had a right to have it.
I am not surprised that she denied ever having been a Communist but I wish she might have said what she really believed in. I think she would have said, "I am a Democrat and a liberal." If it is now conceded that anyone who does not believe in discrimination and who does believe in certain fundamental rights of labor is a Communist, then I think there are a good many Communists in this country. It would be well to have it clearly understood, if this is the way some people are understanding communism today.
I did not know Mrs. Durr well enough to understand how wise she may always have been. She may have known some Communists. She may even have attended some Communist meetings. There was a time when people who felt they wanted to know certain things felt free to attend meetings, even when they disapproved of the groups calling the meetings. Of one thing I am certain, she was never cognizant of any Communist plot to get information from the White House.
I remember most of the people mentioned in the article I read. They belonged, a few of them, to the American Youth Congress or some other young group. Malcolm Dobbs was not a minister then, but a Southerner deeply disturbed about the sharecroppers' situation which existed in Missouri and Arkansas at that time. The others mentioned I remember even less, but they never had an opportunity to meet people in government and to obtain any secret information in the White House. I know they could not have gathered any valuable information even if they were the tools in a Communist plot, and Mrs. Durr could not have obtained anything worthwhile from them so I feel sure she was not cognizant of a Communist plot! I hardly knew her husband, so will say nothing about him.
Aubrey Williams I knew well and worked closely with him when he was head of the National Youth Administration. He also said he was not a Communist at any time and nothing that I ever saw would suggest that he could have been. I am beginning to think, however, that if you have been a liberal, if you believe that those who are strong must sometimes consider the weak, and that with strength and power goes responsibility, automatically some people consider you a Communist.
Today this responsibility because of strength and power belongs to labor as much as to capital but that has not always been the case and there was a time when the rights of labor had to be fought for. If everyone who fought for those rights was a Communist, then there are more Communists than we can count in this country.
In plain English, we had better understand what communism really is and we had better be very sure that investigating committees and courts understand the real danger of communism. It is equally important, however, that they understand that those who hold liberal views which may go a little further than some of their most conservative neighbors are still not Communists.
This is a country of free speech and free thought but there is a danger that without complete understanding of the meaning of the words we use we may make some grave mistakes.