Find Out If One Of Your Heroes Was Blacklisted During The Red Scare
If there’s one trend that Hollywood’s taking advantage of today, it’s nostalgia.
You don’t have to travel too far to see a trailer of a movie that’s set at least as far back as the 1900s.
But with Hollywood’s love of the past, it’s ironic that certain periods of history are ignored.
One of the periods that certainly comes to mind is the Red Scare period.
The more you learn about the Red Scare period, the more you realize why Hollywood doesn’t want to revisit that time in history. To be honest, it represents some of the most shameful actions that the U.S. government took against American citizens, especially the entertainment industry.
What started out as an investigation into Communism became an outright witch hunt against powerful figures in entertainment.
Even more shameful is how prominent Black figures who wanted to make life better for Black Americans were also targeted during the Red Scare.
Learn more about the Red Scare Period and how the movement’s tactics were used to target some of our Black heroes.
The Beginning Of The Red Scare Period
The Red Scare period was a time where the U.S. government targeted the perceived threat of Communism in the country.
Even though the fear of Communism began during World War I, it transformed into full-on hysteria during the 1940s and 1950s.
The most interesting aspect of this period are the lengths that the U.S. government took to determine who was a Communist. The actions that certain government agencies took would put the Salem Witch Trials to shame.
All it took to turn someone’s entire life upside down were mere whispers that someone attended a few Communist parties.
Committees Formed During The Red Scare Period
Beginning in 1938, the U.S. House of Representatives formed the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). This organization was created with the sole purpose of investigating all Communist activities.
A majority of the HUAC’s investigations were focused on locating Communists who could be working inside the federal government. But by 1947, it transitioned into potential Communist activity within Hollywood.
There were two men responsible for this transition: Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. McCarthy would collaborate with the HUAC and other organizations to target federal government workers, while J. Edgar Hoover would use the FBI to target those in Hollywood.
Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism
Joseph McCarthy was a U.S. Senator who allowed his feelings towards anticommunism to run rampant. Most of the unethical tactics that the government used toward entertainers and others accused of being Communists are because of McCarthy.
McCarthy would use intimidation and hearsay to smear anyone who disagreed with his political opinions. He accused intellectuals, entertainers, and even those who he disagreed with of disloyalty to the country.
McCarthy’s actions were so reprehensible that they were publicly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans.
J. Edgar Hoover’s Questionable Tactics
McCarthy wasn’t the only one who outright violated the rights of Americans with the Communist investigations.
J. Edgar Hoover was another anticommunist who used the Red Scare period to terrorize those that he deemed a threat.
He would order FBI agents to collect extensive files on entertainers, Black civil rights leaders, and leftist groups. In addition to the files, he would collect information on these individuals through wiretaps and surveillance.
Because J. Edgar Hoover was a blatant racist, he also targeted any Black American figure with influence. Any Black figure that denounced Jim Crow was targeted by Hoover and the FBI.
Black Figures Who Were Blacklisted
The questionable Red Scare tactics used by Hoover were used to destroy any progress with the Civil Rights Movement. Any Black person who openly opposed racism was a threat to the country in Hoover’s eyes.
Black writers and playwrights like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Lorraine Hansberry found themselves on Hollywood’s Blacklist.
Black actors, actresses, and singers were also silenced. Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, and Hazel Scott were some of the entertainers whose lives took a drastic turn after being blacklisted.
To no one’s surprise, civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin were also targeted by Hoover. Black intellectuals weren’t safe either. W.E.B. Du Bois was accused of promoting Communist propaganda.
Aftermath Of Being Blacklisted
Being added to a blacklist was the worst thing that could happen to a Hollywood celebrity. Companies would take it upon themselves to shun actors and actresses that were blacklisted.
Popular actors, actresses, screenwriters and directors became social pariahs overnight. Their careers became nonexistent. Friends and family members would alienate them.
For Black entertainers, the aftermath was worse.
Hollywood was no different from the rest of America. Black entertainers already had a difficult time breaking into the industry and being respected for their talents.
The careers of Black entertainers came to an end once they were labeled Communists. Because these men and women were brave enough to speak up against racism, they lost everything.
The Failure Of The Red Scare Tactics
Even though the Red Scare tactics seemed to cause more harm to Black figures, it’s safe to say that the movement as a whole was a failure.
Ultimately, most of those who were accused of being Communists were accused because of false allegations.
By the time that the hysteria died down in the late 1950s, the general public criticized McCarthy’s methods. At the time of his death in 1957, he was viewed as a disgrace.
J. Edgar Hoover didn’t fare any better. History’s revealed that Hoover’s attempts to stop Black empowerment were in vain.
Hoover not only tried to stop the civil rights movement from being successful; he attempted to bury the legacies of so many prominent Black people.
Unlike the HUAC, the Black figures that were unjustly blacklisted will not go down on the wrong side of history. Today, we have the chance to learn the truth about their contributions to history.
Covering The Red Scare Period In The Future
In a couple of years, I hope to write a script covering the Red Scare and its effects on Black figures during that time.
It’s no secret that Black men, women, and children were fighting for their rights even before the Red Scare period. This period is literal evidence that the government took part in deliberate racist practices against Black men and women.
The Red Scare tactics impacted Black entertainers and writers in ways that can’t be explained through one blog post. People worldwide should know how they overcame harassment by these government agencies.
While researching this period, I came across this amazing film named Scandalize My Name: Stories From The Blacklist. I can’t wait to watch this film and learn more about this time in history.
To learn more about this film, click here: Scandalize My Name: Stories From the Blacklist – Zinn Education Project (zinnedproject.org)
If you’ve seen this film, share your opinions in the comment section below.