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I Sit and Look Out: Queens was not immune from McCarthy’s impact

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Last spring a committee of the U.S. Senate made public disclosure of the 1953-1954 transcripts of secret hearings held by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. At the time of the release, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who oversaw the release,...

By Kenneth Kowald

McCarthy in Queens, Part I

Last spring a committee of the U.S. Senate made public disclosure of the 1953-1954 transcripts of secret hearings held by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. At the time of the release, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who oversaw the release, said: “By providing broad public access to the transcripts from this era, we hope the excesses of McCarthyism will serve as a cautionary tale to future generations.”

She added that the documents “shed new light on a shameful chapter in American history.”

The years 1953 to 1954 were so long ago, but in McCarthy’s day and for many years after that, what he did and said touched and tarnished many innocent lives. And his personal reach extended to Queens, as well.

I learned some of the background that follows from “The Oxford History of the American People,” by Samuel Eliot Morison, published in 1965.

Morison taught at Harvard for many years and was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of biographies of Christopher Columbus and John Paul Jones.

He was commissioned in the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor, saw action at sea, received the Legion of Merit with clasp and wrote “History of United States Navy Operations in World War II” in 15 volumes. He retired from the Navy with the rank of rear admiral. He was a man of firm opinions, and he expressed them without fear or favor. And his histories are joys to read.

McCarthy began his campaign early in 1950 and was against what he claimed to be a vast Communist conspiracy in government. His charges led to a Senate investigation later that year, which found that the charges were “a fraud and a hoax perpetrated on the Senate of the United States and the American people. They represent perhaps the most nefarious campaign of half-truth and untruth in the history of the Republic.”

But in the next election such was the mood of the day, fanned by McCarthy’s unsubstantiated charges, that the chairman of the Senate committee investigating McCarthy’s claims, Millard Tydings of Maryland, was defeated for re-election.

The Senate report did not stop McCarthy, even though not one of the hundreds of “subversives” named by him in the State Department was found guilty after full investigation or trial. But his methods were not vigorously opposed by politicians of either party, many of whom seemed to fear him, until he went too far.

The cancer of McCarthyism reached everywhere in this country, including Queens. Last fall Queens College had an exhibit and forums about the poison of McCarthyism in academia and especially at Queens College, including how it affected the lives of faculty and students. As far as I know, however, the exhibit did not touch on McCarthy’s personal interference in the lives of Queens residents.

More on that special Queens connection next time.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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