CRISIS No. 2
THIS second Crisis Paper deals with honorable men, and dishonorable men. And so it was long ago, during our Revolution, when the original Crisis Papers were written. Then too, there were men who loved America and men who sold America.
It is more than a century and a half since those original Crisis Papers were written by Tom Paine. Yet, the times that try men's souls--of which he spoke so movingly--are here again, and once again the summer soldier and sunshine patriot find security in silence and cowardice.
Yet others are neither silent nor cowardly, and here is a tale of four honorable men who would not crawl and debase themselves. I want to tell you about the price they paid for courage and honor.
GO BACK in your memory a few years, and you will recall how the witch-hunt began, how labor leaders, Negro leaders and intellectuals were dragged before the Un-American Committee, and how one after another they were summarily sentenced to prison. Recall the early trials of progressives. That was when it became plainly evident that many Americans would be arrested and imprisoned for their political beliefs; and already, at that time, private bonding companies -- companies which readily provide bail for drug-dealers, gangsters, pimps and thieves--refused to provide bail for progressives.
That was when it became necessary that some sort of fund be provided and a bail fund was set up by a group of public-minded citizens. They established, then, the Civil Rights Bail Fund. They did this because the tradition of bail, the tradition that no man should be imprisoned until he has been tried and sentenced, is as old as the United States itself.
When they announced the existence of such a bail fund and asked for contributions, money came pouring in from thousands of people of every political persuasion, from workers, professionals, storekeepers, artists, ministers, rabbis and housewives--yes, and from children too, who gave their small savings.
Such a fund had to be administered by people of honesty and courage--who would use and guard this fund. Four such men were found. One was Dashiell Hammett, the novelist--a man not only known and beloved by many millions of American readers, but a part of the struggle for civil rights these fifteen years past.
The second of the trustees was Dr. Alphaeus Hunton, Negro scholar and philosopher, for many years a fighter for Negro rights and for the freedom of the enslaved people of Africa.
The third trustee was Abner Green, head of the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, whose record in the struggle for civil rights and individual freedom is almost unequaled in America--a man whom thousands of the foreign born remember with love and gratitude.
The fourth trustee was Frederick Vanderbilt Field, scholar, author, and student of Far Eastern affairs, a man of wealth and prestige who has unselfishly devoted himself to the struggle for democracy.
THESE are the four trustees who were made responsible for the fund. In the years since the fund was established, they have carried out their trusteeship with scrupulous care. During that time, dozens of political prisoners have been released on Civil Rights bail. No irregularity in the administration of these funds ever took place, nor did any of the depositors in the fund ever raise any question concerning the use of the funds.
How were the funds used? Well, for example, Harold Christoffel, Allis-Chalmers strike leader, was released on CRC bail. Auto workers, fur workers, electrical workers were given their freedom through this fund. Persecuted Negroes, such as Haywood Patterson, one of the Scottsboro defendants, who was framed recently in Detroit, were released by CRC bail. Fletcher Mills, the Negro who faced extradition from Philadelphia to Georgia--and death--was bailed and saved by the Civil Rights Congress. More recently, bail was provided for the eleven leaders of the Communist Party who were arrested and sentenced to prison under the Smith Act for the "crime" of teaching and advocating peace.
This list is a long list and a proud list, and the bail fund became a shield and a buckler against injustice and wrong for scores of Americans, particularly for the foreign born--some of whom had lived and worked in this land for thirty and forty years--who were seized and sent to the concentration camp on Ellis Island and held without bail or trial. Those men and women, consigned to a living death, an eternity of imprisonment, the CRC fought for--and won them release with the bail fund.
For these very reasons, a savage and vengeful Justice Department set about to destroy the bail fund. Let me tell you how that was done.
SEVENTEEN working class leaders were arrested in a series of dawn raids. In a previous Crisis Paper, I told the story of their arrest by FBI agents. I told of how they were seized for mailing letters, writing on peace, or speaking at meetings.
When they were arrested, many were held in bail of seventy-five thousand dollars. CRC then fought to have this bail lowered, and CRC won its fight--and then they were released with money provided by the bail fund.
Meanwhile--it must be noted--four of the eleven Communist leaders whose bail had been provided by the fund had disappeared. Their bail was forfeit. People who provide bail cannot guarantee the appearance of the accused, nor are they supposed to. But this particular action of four men was seized upon by the Justice Department as an excuse, and all of the seventeen men and women who were out on CRC bail, were thrown back in prison.
Whereupon the four trustees of the bail fund were summoned before a Federal judge and ordered to reveal the names of those men and women--thousands in number--who had originally provided money and government bonds for the fund. In other words, they were ordered to betray their trust, become common informers.
We have a history of what happens to people when the Justice Department gets their names as part of the civil rights struggle, a history of how they are hounded, blacklisted, thrown out of jobs they hold--and even imprisoned.
The trustees refused. They could not do otherwise, for this was a part of their trust, and one by one, Dashiell Hammett, Dr. Alphaeus Hunton, Frederick Vanderbilt Field, and Abner Green, were summarily sentenced to prison.
YOU have been told very often that we live in times of crisis, which we do; but consider this: how is the crisis of our times manifest? I began this second Crisis Paper by stating that I would tell you a tale of honorable men.
These four trustees are honorable men, typically and finely American, not as a Rankin and a McCarthy are American, but in an older tradition, as Thoreau and Whitman, and Frederick Douglas and Lincoln and Eugene Debs were American. They are men who have achieved much, yet have always managed to live by certain ethics--and the main ethic they lived by might be summed up thus: that they could not be silent or hold back from venturing their personal safety, so long as their fellow men suffered injustice and wrong.
Here is the price they paid.
Dashiell Hammett refused to reveal the names of those who entrusted him with bail funds. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment--and clapped into jail.
Dr. Alphaeus Hunton refused to reveal the names asked of him, and he too was sentenced to six months imprisonment, and in the same fashion Abner Green was sentenced to prison.
But for Frederick Vanderbilt Field, a special vengeance was reserved; for it was felt that he must bear double punishment for using his prestige and position, not for his own comfort, but in the struggle of workers and Negro people for peace and freedom. He was sentenced to six months; then to three months more--and then dragged from committee to committee, from hearing to hearing, from New York to Washington and back again, with an endless nightmare of sentences hanging over his head.
SO these four men sit in jail--and there in jail they can be kept forever, for there is no limit to the sentences which can be imposed upon them, even after they serve their present sentences.
Since these men were sentenced, Federal judges in other cities have scored the Justice Department and demanded that CRC bail be accepted. But this has not changed the fate of the four trustees.
A whole century has gone by since Henry Thoreau cried out, "What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot today?" To which he answered, at a time when his country--our country--was embroiled in an unjust war of aggression, "Under a government which imprisons any man unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison... the only house in a slave state in which a free man can abide with honor."
Thoreau wrote those words many years ago, but how hauntingly familiar they must sound to Judge Delbert Metzger of Hawaii who, when he stated that bail was not a punishment and released the victims of mass arrests in Hawaii in five thousand dollars bail for each, was told by the government that he would not be reappointed to his post.
How far have we gone! Where is honor today? Is it only among the political prisoners in jail that we find it? And is there no other reward for courage and honesty than that which Judge Metzger faces--that which the four trustees received?
Never before in all the history of our land, not even in the crisis of our Revolution, were there times that tried men's souls more sorely than the times we live in. Never was there so much injustice in America. Never were our courts turned into such a mockery, never were our jails so crowded with good and upright men.
It was not idly that Carl Schurz said:
"It is a matter of historical experience that nothing that is wrong in principle can be right in practice. People are apt to delude themselves on that point, but the ultimate result will always prove the truth of the maxim. A violation of equal rights can never serve to maintain institutions which are founded on equal rights."
I have told you the price of courage and integrity and human dignity. Scores of men are paying that price in prison today, and four in particular, the four trustees of the bail fund, are there without trial, hearing or appeal.
CIVIL RIGHTS CONGRESS
Can you remain silent?
If you think silence is safe, then consider how many Americans and Koreans and Chinese have died--because we are silent. These things do not happen only because evil men desire them to happen. They happen so that the peace movement may be paralyzed with terror, so that the merchants of death may grow fatter with their millions of war profits, and so that plain people, workers, Negroes, intellectuals--people like yourself--will pay and suffer without protest. And in the end, even as in Germany, the price of this evil is death.
There is neither honor nor safety in silence.
(WILLIAM L. PATTERSON, National Executive Secretary), proudly publishes this second of a series of articles by the noted American author and novelist, Howard Fast.