"Salem, 1950," by George Marshall

published in Masses & Mainstream (vol. 3, no. 7), July 1950
(pp. 62-63)

I HAVE been re-reading some of the evidence in the trials of the Salem witches of 1692 and am again impressed by the fact that men and women were convicted by "spectral evidence" on the say-so, or the "crying out," of the seventeenth century Rankins, Clarks and McCarthys. In those days this function was performed by hysterical adolescent girls. One could not prove by tangible, rational evidence that one was not out last Wednesday night at a witches' Sabbath or that one was not suspended at the end of that beam of light, because one's "Spectral Shape" could have been there.

It is not a far cry from this reasoning to that of the opinion of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in my Un-American Committee Contempt Case. The Court could not find that any so-called propaganda of the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties was "un-American" or "subversive"; but Martin Dies had "cried out" against us four years previously and the court concluded that we might have been engaged in the "silent diffusion of subversive doctrine." Thus, "spectral shapes" were substituted for facts.

In refusing to review my case and, in effect, ratifying my going to jail, the Supreme Court would seem to have put its stamp of approval on the substitution of phantoms for reason.

If time permitted, I should like to discuss at length this rejuvenated judicial trend of deciding cases on preconceived theories and of keeping from the record the basic facts on which alone a just decision can be made. I shall only mention by way of illustration the McGee case and the various loyalty review cases.

During these last few days I have been trying to figure out why I shall be going to jail. What is it that men in their fears are trying to cover up by such phrases as "un-American" and "subversive," "silent diffusion" or "contempt of Congress"?

It so happens that our enemies have given us the answer. Dies, in his omnibus smearing speech of 1942, condemned the N.F.C.I. for including in our program a demand for:

Yes, we stood for this program ten years ago-and still do!

The Un-American Committee's objective was to destroy the N.F.C.I. and the militant fight to defend and extend constitutional liberties.

The Committee's major tactic was to demand the names of those who supported our program so that it could add them to its blacklist. Through this means the Committee hoped to terrorize defenders of civil rights into silence.

The Committee, with the support of the courts, has held that a man must choose between being a "stool-pigeon" or a "jail-bird." I still do not believe that our Bill of Rights says this.

Some day Congress and the Courts will recognize what Tacitus knew two thousand years ago--"Informers [are] a class of men invented to be the public ruin."

I wish there were time to speak on each of the "Hundred Cases" and relate their occurrence at this time to the current drive toward war and fascism. The fight in behalf of each and all of them must be intensified and better organized than ever before. We must find ways of reaching ever-wider sections of the American people on the fundamental issues involved. We can only win when the great mass of the American people speak out and condemn the growing destruction of their constitutional liberties.

Speaking for the Civil Rights Congress and myself--we are proud of the fact that we have won the enmity of Rankin and the poll-taxers and of the white-supremacists. The Civil Rights Congress and its thousands of Negro and white members will continue to fight Jim Crow and all its manifestations until the Negro people have won full civil and human rights. They will not stop us!

And I assure you that going to jail will not stop me!


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Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:41:51 EDT