Growing Up in the Witch Hunt


John Garfield, left, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Credit Associated Press

Laurie says:

I was a child living in the cloud of fear generated by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the House Un-American Activities Committee. In the political community where I lived in New York City, most people were what we would now call progressives. Many of them were communists in the 30’s and now were fearful and sometimes terrified that they would be blacklisted, their lives damaged and possibly destroyed by a government witch hunt that dominated for too many years. And we, their children, lived deeply under that cloud. So this letter to the New York Times from Susan Avery really rang true. My mother had been a communist in the 30’s but situationally had relatively little to fear. But so many people I knew, and some I was related to, had much to be afraid of. For a child, it was pervasive.

Susan Avery’s letter is a response to a moving Op-Ed in the Times by Julie Garfield, daughter of the actor John Garfield, who was very probably hounded to his death in that witch hunt.  Although this era is remembered for the blacklisted movie stars, most of the people including the ones I knew were celebrities.  As Julie Garfield says … “And remember this, Mr. President: You still have your job, your family, your money. And your life.”

Susan Avery says:

Julie Garfield, the daughter of the movie star John Garfield, who was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, eloquently expressed what many of us whose parents were investigated during the McCarthy era experienced and still bear to this day.

I am about the same age as Ms. Garfield and was followed home from school by F.B.I. agents. It was a terrifying and confusing time for us, the children of suspected “Reds.” Donald Trump has no idea what it feels like to be the target of a witch hunt.

I think of today’s children who have to live with similar fears about their parents. Now, the children of undocumented immigrants must be as terrified as we were. They have to live with the fear that something frightening and horrifying may happen to their parents. Do they look behind them when they walk home from school? Do they dread a knock at the door? If there is a witch hunt, then we should ask, Who is the hunter, and who is being hunted today?