VII. VENGEANCE ON THE YOUNG
BY ALBERT E KAHN
Chapter 7 from THE GAME OF DEATH
Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity.
1. Grim Fact
Officially, the two Nelson children had no connection with their father's trial or with the offense of which he stood accused. In actuality, they were being treated as if they themselves had been found guilty of some heinous crime. Their penalty consisted of ingeniously brutal persecution.
Both Josephine and her brother, Robert, had been attacked and beaten by other children. These children had been incited by adults who told them that Steve Nelson was plotting to poison the city's water supply.
At the public school Josephine Nelson was attending, a teacher would give the child carefully selected words during spelling tests to spell aloud before the rest of the class-words such as "trial," "jury," "guilty" and "conviction." Josephine would also be instructed to define words like "treason" for the benefit of her classmates; and when the teacher found the definition unsatisfactory, she would supplement it with one of her own, making thinly veiled references to the child's father. In another of Josephine's classes, photographs of "places of interest" in Pittsburgh were passed among the pupils for them to identify. One of the pictures given to Josephine was a photograph of the courthouse where her father was on trial. . . .
The inhuman persecution of Josephine and Robert Nelson because of the political beliefs of their father is no unique phenomenon in the United States in these days of the Cold War. Appallingly enough, it is part of a swiftly expanding pattern of conduct, whose most ominous feature by far is that it is being deliberately sanctioned and systematically practised by agencies of the Federal Government. There is indisputable evidence of this grim fact.
After learning of the experiences of the Nelson children, I set out to ascertain what was happening to the children of other Americans charged with political offenses. As the largest single group in this category were individuals indicted for alleged violation of the Smith Act, I concentrated on an investigation of the treatment of their children. (1)
2. Ways of the FBI
ON THE afternoon of March 8, 1952, I interviewed Mrs. Gilbert Green and Mrs. Frederick Fine, the wives of two Communist Party leaders being sought by the FBI for arrest under the provisions of the Smith Act. (2)
The interview took place in Mrs. Green's modest apartment on the west side in Chicago. Outside the apartment house, in plain view from the room in which we were sitting, was a parked car with two men in it.
"They're FBI agents," Mrs. Green told me. "There's another car with two more agents parked in the alley across the street."
Throughout the eight months since her husband's disappearance, related Mrs. Green, she and her children had been kept under day and night FBI surveillance. "The agents in the cars work in three eight-hour shifts," she told me. "We don't know how many altogether are watching us. There are always four we can see, but there must be more hidden in the apartments around us, because if we leave by the back door to go to the grocery store, there is one on our heels."
The oldest of Mrs. Green's children, Daniel, a tall dark-eyed boy of fourteen, hurried from the room and came back with a sheet of paper, which he handed me. Neatly listed on it was his own record of the license numbers and makes of the numerous cars the FBI had been using to trail Mrs. Green and her children. . . (3)
Mrs. Fine and her only child, a six-year-old boy named Larry, were being subjected to the same sort of surveillance.
"They follow us wherever we go," Mrs. Fine said. "They follow us into movies and candy stores. . . When I take Larry to school, they're right behind us. One day they came with the principal into Larry's classroom and asked the teacher to point out Larry in front of the rest of the class. As if they didn't know what he looked like! They took enough pictures of him this summer -yes, and of his playmates too- they had him afraid to go out of the cottage where we were staying. Maybe they went to his classroom because they expected to find his father under his desk! No, they just wanted to frighten him some more."
She paused, then added angrily: "They just want to terrorize us and our children. They think they can break us down this way and make us tell them where our husbands are. As if we knew"
Had the Chicago newspapers carried any stories, I asked, about these operations of the FBI?
Mrs. Green produced an article from the Chicago Daily News. Headlined "Children of Hunted Red Live Warily-In Silence, Carry On in Hostile World," the article reported regarding Mrs. Green's two children:
Ralph Green, 6, and his sister Josie, 9, looked like any other children in the quiet neighborhood.
But these were not like other children. These were the children of a hunted man, Gil Green. . . .
To a stranger's greeting, "How was school, Josie?" the dark-haired little girl turned a cool, suspicious eye. Her brother followed in step as the pair walked into their home for lunch.
Across the street, two FBI men sat like silent shadows in a waiting car. . . .
There's an air of heavy silence about the apartment where they (the Greens) live. . . .
Green's family carries on alone in a silent, hostile world.
"The 'stranger' who spoke to Josie," said Mrs. Green when I had finished reading the article, "was the newspaper reporter himself. And what he really said to her was 'Where's your Daddy, Josie?' That's nice objective reporting, isn't it? And of course the description of the atmosphere in our house is completely false. And the fact is that neighbors and the children's classmates have been very friendly."
I had been informed, I said, that the FBI had prevented a summer camp from taking Daniel.
Mrs. Green nodded. "It was last summer. The camp was in New Jersey, and I drove east with the children. The arrangements for Danny to go to the camp had all been made in advance, of course. Then when we got to New York, the people running the camp asked me not to send Danny. They'd been visited by FBI agents who advised them not to take him. Danny was terribly upset, of course."
Mrs. Green showed me a letter she had subsequently received from the camp administration. It read in part as follows:
. . . approximately one week prior to the opening of our camp, our camp director was visited by two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. . . They indicated that if the child [Daniel] came to our camp, the camp would be kept under constant surveillance. . . . Our camp was visited constantly by agents of the FBI and our directors were questioned about staff and the children.
When Mrs. Green and her three children returned to Illinois and spent several weeks with her brother-in-law's family at a lake resort near Chicago, they were under the constant watch of FBI agents. "They put a spotlight on our cottage at night," said Mrs. Green. "They even followed the children when they went swimming and fishing."
Once, when Mrs. Green was alone in the cottage with her brother-in-law's two children and her own, two FBI agents suddenly entered and refused to leave when she ordered them to. "We don't use guns much," one of the agents told Mrs. Green, in front of the five children, "but sometimes a man we're hunting gets shot. Now you wouldn't want that to happen to your husband, would you?"
In both of their cases, Mrs. Green and Mrs. Fine related, harassment by the FBI had by no means been limited to themselves and their children. Their neighbors, friends and relatives, the proprietors of stores where they shopped, the teachers of their children, their doctors and dentists, all had been periodically visited and questioned by FBI agents.
Twice when Mrs. Fine had managed to secure jobs, which she needed badly in order to support herself and her little boy, she had been summarily dismissed after FBI agents had visited her employers.
Mrs. Fine said to me, "Try as they will, they're not breaking our spirit. But we think people should know the facts" . . .
I left the Greens' apartment late that afternoon with Mrs. Fine and walked with her to a nearby bus stop.
"When we get on the bus, watch that car," she said, pointing to an automobile parked down the block. "It's one of the cars trailing me."
As our bus started off, I watched through the rear window. The car pulled away from the curb, drew to within a short distance of the bus and remained there following us.
3. Operation Nursery School
"I AM writing to you as a Negro mother concerned with the future of her children and all other children in America today, asking you to speak out against the harassment of children by the FBI," stated Mrs. James Jackson in a letter to the editor of the New York Daily Compass on January 16, 1952. "My two children, aged 4 and 8, have been followed, threatened and intimidated constantly since June 20 when their father was indicted under the Smith Act."Mrs. Jackson's letter continued:
"Unable to locate their father, the FBI has decided to take it out on the children and wife. Only this week my four-year-old daughter, Kathy, has been notified she will be dropped from the Day Care Center in Brooklyn on January 18th. Since keeping her in nursery school is the only way I have been able to seek and find employment, the effect of this expulsion order can only be interpreted as an attempt to starve the family and deny the children a chance to a normal life."
As indicated in Mrs. Jackson's letter, she and her two daughters had been subjected to systematic persecution by the FBI since her husband's indictment. Regarding the treatment of the Jackson family, James L. Hicks of the well-known Negro newspaper, Baltimore Afro-American, reported in a front-page article under the headline, "FBI Hounds Wife, Daughters of Missing Dr. Jackson":
It's the story of a family with two shadows; their own shadow and the shadow of the government. . . .
If the older girl is sent to a store, an FBI man goes too. . . . If she [Mrs. Jackson] takes the kiddies to a movie at night, the FBI sits a few rows behind them. . . . When the children go to school, they are followed by the FBI. When they come home, the FBI is right behind them.
Indignantly, the Afro-American editorialized:
Chagrined at their failure [to apprehend Dr. Jackson]. These agents have wreaked their systematic revenge on his wife, Mrs. Jackson, and their two daughters. . . . They have hounded and harassed this woman and her children. . . .
It looks like some of those eight FBI boys frittering away their time trailing innocent four-year-old children down the streets of Brooklyn could be more profitably employed tracking down bomb-throwing killers in the everglades of Florida. (4)
While Mrs. Jackson's eight-year-old daughter, Harriet, refused to be frightened by the FBI agents and contemptuously pointed them out to her playmates, their tactics were not without effect on four-year-old Kathryn. "They can't put little children in jail, can they?" she asked her mother one day. Describing Kathryn's reaction on another occasion, when an FBI agent approached her on the street, Mrs. Jackson relates: "The child screamed with terror when she saw the agent, whom she recognized from his earlier snoopings. She was so frightened I had to stay with her in school that day" . . .
It was in November 1951 that in order to work half-days, Mrs. Jackson had entered Kathryn in the nursery school in Brooklyn.
Two months later, after the Christmas holidays, Mrs. Jackson received a letter from the Child Care Division of the New York Welfare Department, requesting her to report immediately to the office of Mrs. Merl Hubbard, the Child Care director. There Mrs. Jackson was peremptorily told that Kathryn would have to be removed from the nursery. "We have information," said Mrs. Hubbard, "that you have an unreported income."
When Mrs. Jackson challenged the truth of this charge and demanded to know its source, Mrs. Hubbard declined to reveal it. Mrs. Jackson, she said, might try to see the Welfare Commissioner if she wished to discuss the matter further. Meanwhile, she could expect a letter from the Department ordering Kathryn's removal from the nursery school within a week. . .
On seeking interviews with Mrs. Hubbard's superiors, Mrs. Jackson was curtly told that no more information on the case could be made available to her.
At this point, Mrs. Jackson released the story to the press.
Public reaction was immediate. Letters from outraged citizens began appearing in the press. The Welfare Department was besieged with telegrams and telephone calls insisting that Jackson be permitted to remain in the nursery school. Indignant editorials in Negro and progressive newspapers voiced the same demand.
It was apparent the FBI had overplayed its hand.
On January 30 the Welfare Department notified Mrs. Jackson that the directive expelling her daughter from the nursery school had been indefinitely suspended.
"If enough people knew how the FBI is treating us," Mrs. Jackson told me a few weeks later when I interviewed her, "they'd stop it just like they stopped the FBI from putting Kathy out of nursery school."
Despite the set-back it had suffered in the nursery school episode, the FBI had not diminished its efforts to intimidate, Mrs. Jackson and her children.
"They still follow the children everywhere, and they've even been trying to get other children to spy on Kathy and Harriet," said Mrs. Jackson.
4. Strategy of Sadism
THE SEDULOUS efforts of the FBI to harass and intimidate the wives and children of James Jackson, Gilbert Green and Frederick Fine have been duplicated in the cases of the other Communist leaders being sought for arrest under the Smith Act. Here are extracts from affidavits given this writer by their wives:
Mrs. Henry Winston, mother of a five-year-old boy, Larry, and a one, year-old girl, Judith:
My children and I have been under constant day and night surveillance of agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. My son is followed to school, he is followed to the playground, he is followed when he goes to the candy store. They follow me when I go to a PT A meeting, they follow me to the hardware store, to the drugstore. . . .
In early September, when my son had bronchitis and I was forced to stay indoors with him, my neighbors would come and take my baby girl for a daily outing, and FBI agents followed my neighbors as they pushed 'my daughter in her carriage in the park. . . .
Mrs. Sidney Stein, mother of two boys, Richard, aged fourteen, and Peter, aged eleven:
I've been followed continuously by FBI agents, whether shopping, looking for work or taking the children to the park. . . .
One day, when FBI agents were visiting every house on our block, a drunken man came across the street to our place. He was all worked up from something the agents had apparently told him. I was out shopping, and the children were playing on the porch of the house. When this drunken man started to go for the children, they ran upstairs -we live in a duplex- and they locked the doors. He smashed three windows and broke part of a door, but he didn't manage to get in. When I came home: the boys were sitting in the living room holding baseball bats, ready to protect themselves. Two FBI agents had been sitting in their car right across the street all the time, but they didn't do anything to stop the man.
Another time I was walking home with Richard from a movie and an FBI man was following right on our heels. He was following so close in fact that when we stopped, he almost stumbled over us. Then this agent said threateningly to Richard, "Junior, you start something, and we'll finish it."
Mrs. William Norman, mother of two boys, Robert, aged ten, and John, aged six:
Beginning June 20, 1951, for approximately six weeks, I had six FBI agents watching me, sitting in front of my door twenty-four hours a day, questioning neighbors, attempting to befriend my children's friends and questioning them. They rang the bell and tried to get admission to my apartment each day during those six weeks.
FBI men have followed the children and me wherever we've gone. . .
Bobby was registered at a children's camp last summer, but because the FBI threatened the camp, we were notified by the camp that Bobby could not come. I took both the children to another camp (an adult camp), but the FBI placed their agents there, following the children no matter what part of the grounds they were playing in. (5)
The systematic brutality of FBI operations under the Smith Act has by no means been restricted to the wives and children of the missing Communist Party leaders. In city after city, when men and women have been arrested for alleged violation of this law, their families have been treated with calculated malevolence and sadism by FBI agents.
In Los Angeles, when FBI agents arrested Mrs. Rose Chernin, they refused to let her say good-bye to her eleven-year-old daughter or make arrangements for the care of the child, who was left alone. Ben Dobbs was arrested and handcuffed as he left a motion picture theater with his five-year-old son . . .
Typical was the arrest of Mrs. Loretta Stack, a former trade union organizer and member of the California Communist Party state committee.
At eight o'clock in the morning, when Mrs. Stack was preparing breakfast for her nine-year-old son and four-year-old daughter and getting them ready for school and nursery, a group of FBI agents burst into her apartment. In front of her frightened children, the agents told Mrs. Stack they had come to arrest her.
Mrs. Stack declared she would not leave her house until she had made provisions for her children and had telephoned an attorney. The FBI agents replied they would permit her to do neither. She could leave her son and daughter in their charge, they said.
"I wouldn't trust my children to the FBI!" retorted Mrs. Stack.
Only after an hour's argument did the agents allow Mrs. Stack's nine-year-old boy to go to a neighbor to arrange for the care of his little sister and himself in his mother's absence . . .
Held on the exorbitantly high bail of $50,000, Mrs. Stack was to spend four and a half months in the Los Angeles County Jail before rejoining her children. . .
Reflecting this peculiar trait of the FBI was the treatment of eight-year-old Bella Frankfeld, when her father, Philip Frankfeld, was arrested at LaGuardia Airport. Here is how the New York Daily Compass columnist, William S. Gailmor, described Frankfeld's arrest:
His 8-year-old daughter had just arrived from a stay at a camp, and Frankfeld had met her in New York and was proceeding to fly with her to Cleveland, where she was to join her mother.
Surely the efficient government operatives knew what Frankfeld was about. Neither quarry nor face would have been lost had the father, just reunited with his child, been given the few hours necessary to bring her to her waiting mother.
Instead, Frankfeld was seized at the airport together with the 8-year-old youngster, and brought to Foley Square.
The bewildered child was left virtually to her own resources, while Frankfeld was booked, finger-printed and otherwise processed by law. Finally, according to reports, friends came and took the child away from the forbidding environs of jail, and had the painful task of trying to explain to the youngster what was happening to her daddy here, and to her mother, also arrested, in Cleveland.
Commenting on the treatment of Frankfeld's child, Gailmor wrote:
Had this girl been the child of some obscure, unknown family, and were this a situation in which, for example, she had fallen into a well-pit, or were dying of leukemia. . . a single news item would have had the great heart of all America pouring its affection out, in the form of gifts and offers of care.
But this is the child of a Communist. What sins of whose fathers are being visited upon her . . . ? (6)
Repeatedly, men and women indicted under the Smith Act have been taken from their children and kept in jail for prolonged periods prior to their trials by the setting of inordinately high bail. Fifteen indicted Communist leaders on the West Coast, most of whom had young children were 'held prisoner for four and a half months after Federal courts had demanded bail totalling the prodigious sum of $750,000.
In addition to being thus separated from their parents by a device flagrantly violating the basic principles of American law, all of these children are faced with the threatening likelihood that their parents will be taken from them for much longer periods of time. Already this bitter deprivation has been inflicted upon a number of them because of their parents' political beliefs.
"How does a youngster of his age explain this to himself?" asks Mrs. Eugene Dennis, wife of the General Secretary of the Communist Party, about her nine-year-old son's attitude toward the fact his father is now serving a five-year prison sentence under the Smith Act. "How does he reconcile this treatment of his father with what he has been taught about the traditions of American democracy?"
On November 23, 1951, after Eugene Dennis had been in jail for five months, Mrs. Dennis took Eugene Jr., to see his father at the Atlanta Penitentiary. She had visited the prison before, but this was the first time her son had accompanied her. "With Gene, Jr., at my side, I seemed to see the Federal prison as if for the first time," she recalls. "Seen through nine-year-old eyes, the prison walls seemed much higher; the watchtowers with their gigantic searchlights and armed guards seemed more menacing; the locked doors seemed larger and heavier."
Later, outside the prison, the boy looked back at the great stone building. He sighed and said, "Gee, it's funny. I had so many things I wanted to tell Daddy. And then I couldn't think of hardly any of them."
In one major respect, the campaign against the families of individuals indicted or convicted under the Smith Act has proved an utter failure. Despite all efforts of the FBI, the families have refused to be intimidated or demoralized. Instead, they have been conducting a spirited counter-offensive against the repressive measures of the Federal authorities.
Early in September 1951, members of these families met in New York City and established a committee called Families of the Smith Act Victims. A public statement announcing the formation of the committee declared:
More than sixty homes in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Hawaii have been invaded in the past two months. Over fifty children have had their fathers or mothers, and in some cases both, taken from them and now live with the knowledge that their homes are threatened. . . . The activities of this Committee will center around efforts to safeguard the well-being of all these children, to assist individual families solve their many personal problems, and to work for the repeal of the Smith Act under which our loved ones are being persecuted.
Support to the Committee was immediately forthcoming from fraternal, civil rights and labor, groups, as well as from prominent civic-minded individuals.
"Whatever our personal opinions," declared the eminent anthropologist, Dr. Gene Weltfish, "the actions of government officials require that we express our feelings in a concrete way; first in direct protest against such actions and then also for the material relief of the victims of these persecutions and their families."
Nor have the children themselves been passive. On their own initiative, they have formed an organization called Youth for Civil Rights. "We plan to fight for civil liberties and peace," one of its members told me. "The fight against the Smith Act is part of that bigger fight" . . .
(1) In addition to being prosecuted under a Pennsylvania sedition law, which effected his being sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for 'the possession of "subversive literature,"' Steve Nelson had also been indicted for alleged violation of the Smith Act.
Regarding the Smith Act, enacted by Congress on June 28, 1940, under the official title of the Alien Registration Act, the noted authority on constitutional law, Zechariah Chaffee, Jr., writes in his book, Free Speech in the United States: ". . . this statute contains the most drastic restrictions on freedom of speech ever enacted in the United States during peace. . . the 1940 Act gives us a peace-time sedition law, for everybody, especially United States citizens. . . . A. Mitchell Palmer is dead, but the Federal Sedition Act he so eagerly desired is at last on the statute-books."
On June 4, 1951, when the U. S. Supreme Court in a 6-2 split decision upheld the constitutionality of the Smith Act and the conviction of eleven American Communist leaders charged with violating the law, Justice Hugo L. Black in his dissenting opinion denounced the law as unconstitutional and declared: "They (the defendants) were not even charged with saying anything or writing anything designed to overthrow the government. The charge was that they agreed to assemble and talk and publish certain ideas at a later date. . . . No matter how it is worded this is a virulent form of prior censorship of speech and press which I believe the First Amendment forbids."
Since the Supreme Court ruling, as realization has spread of the extent to which the Smith Act menaces the rights and liberties of all Americans, there has been a constantly growing insistence throughout the country that this unprecedentedly repressive law be repealed. Trade union bodies such as the CIO, civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, church bodies, fraternal societies and other public-spirited groups, as well as many outstanding public figures, have joined in the mounting demand that the Smith Act be taken off the statute-books.
(2) A Communist Party leader convicted under the Smith Act, Gilbert Green did not surrender to the authorities for imprisonment following the upholding of his conviction by the Supreme Court.
Frederick Fine had been indicted under the Smith Act, but the FBI had been unable to locate and arrest him.
(3) To maintain this sort of surveillance over the families of eight Communist Party leaders being sought for arrest under the Smith Act, the FBI continuously used a minimum force of 200 agents. This operation was costing American taxpayers, in FBI salaries alone, at least $80,000 a month, or approximately $960,000 a year.
(4) In January 1952 when the author of this book visited Miami, Florida, following the assassination of the Negro leader, Harry T. Moore, and his wife, no FBI agents were to be found in the community. Later, I was informed that two agents had briefly appeared on the scene, although nobody seemed to know exactly what they were doing and a number of individuals who wanted to offer information regarding the bombing were not questioned. This was at a time when literally dozens of FBI agents were engaged in trailing the wives and children of Communist Party leaders.
The casual attention being paid by the FBI to the Moore case has been duplicated in scores of other bombings and terrorist outrages in Florida and elsewhere in the country.
(5) The wives and children of Communist leaders Robert Thompson and Gus Hall were subjected to the same sort of treatment as the families of the other missing leaders.
In the case of Thompson, the vicious maltreatment of his family had begun at a considerably earlier date.
On the evening of November 20, 1948, while Thompson and his wife were at a motion picture theatre, a private detective and former labor spy named Robert J. Burke burst into Thompson's house. Flashing his detective's badge at Mrs. Mildred Cheney and Harold Rainey, who were minding the Thompson children, Burke told them he was carrying a gun and warned them not to make a sound. Burke went to the bedroom of Thompson's eight-year old daughter, and attempted to physically molest the child.
Mrs. Cheney and Rainey wrested the child from Burke, who then shambled from the house. . . .
Arrested and brought to trial on charges of illegal entry and seeking to impair the morals of a minor, Burke pleaded that he did not like Communists and that he wanted to give Thompson a "hard time." The judge held Burke innocent of illegal entry but found him guilty on two morals charges.
The judge's ruling, however, was set aside and a new trial scheduled when Assistant District Attorney Irving Shapiro, who had himself prosecuted the case, found a technical "error" in Burke's typewritten confession.
A second trial was held. This time, Burke was found not guilty on all charges and set free.
(6) In sharp contrast to the FBI's treatment of the children of men and women being prosecuted under the Smith Act has been the conduct of ordinary American citizens in every walk of life. In repeated instances, friends, neighbors and public-spirited organizations and individuals have come to the aid of these children, sought to make life easier for them, and protested their persecution at the hands of the Federal authorities. Almost without exception, the other families involved in the Smith Act prosecutions have experienced acts of sympathetic consideration, warm hearted understanding and generous, courageous assistance.
Typical is the case of Mrs. Henry Winston, who relates:
"My neighbors have shown warmth and friendship to me, and courage in the face of the FBI. In September, when I was threatened with eviction, the landlord had a day and a half of delegations among tenants, who told him in no uncertain terms that the FBI was not going to dictate who would be their neighbors. And the landlord changed his mind. . . .
"I was never so touched by the understanding of the good people of this earth, who judge for themselves despite threats and hysteria, when I was presented with a washing machine by my neighbors, who did this out of a desire to make life easier for us. That gift, bought with 170 one-dollar bill, collected among the neighbors and given to me as a surprise present, was a tribute not to the Winstons, but to the decent, honest and democratic Americans of Bronx Park East."
Comments to : firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright New Media Services Inc. © 2006. The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of shunpiking magazine or New Media Publications. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. Copyright of written and photographic and art work remains with the creators.