Red Scare in the Green Mountains, The McCarthy Era in Vermont, Historical Talk

MCCARTHY AND FLANDERS-   Senator Flanders handing papers to Senator Joseph McCarthy and his assistant Roy Cohn.  Picture Courtesy of Rick Winston

By Carla Charter

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MONTPELIER, VT. – Vermont during the Red Scare will be the subject of a talk at the Vermont History Museum on February 21st.  The talk will be given by Rick Winston, author of Red Scare in the Green Mountains, The McCarthy Era in Vermont 1946-1960.

“Red Scare in the Green Mountains was a new book that caught our eye,” said Amanda Gustin, Public Program Manager at the Vermont Historical Society.  “We like to provide a forum for new research being done. Through our talks we try to reach a wide variety of people and span the width of Vermont history. This particular topic helps us understand the topics of politics, free speech and how it plays out in history.  A couple of years ago we created a display on the counter culture of the 1960s and 1970s.  The questioning of authority and the cold war were repercussions from the McCarthy area. The culture and climate of the 1960’s and 1970’s was a political backlash to that.”

Winston first became interested in the McCarthy era when as a teenager he discovered that his parents had been affected by it.  “When my parents and I lived in New York City they were art school teachers who were caught up in the Red Scare. McCarthy was not the only one conducting investigations. The New York Board of Education was also launching investigations If you didn’t answer their questions you were fired. My father lost his job. My mother kept hers.”

After college, Winston moved to Vermont. “In the late 1980’s, I met two people who shared my interest in the Red Scare, Richard Hathaway, a Professor at Vermont College and Michael Sherman the incoming head of the Vermont Historical Society at the time. We put together a conference in 1988 on Vermont in the McCarthy Era which eventually became the basis for the book I wrote 30 years later.”

After retiring from his career as the owner and manager of Savoy Theater in Montpelier, Winston began working on his book in earnest in 2010.  “Six of the chapters relate directly to the material from the conference with additional research included. There are five other chapters that the conference did not cover. It is not a complete history, it is 11 episodes from 1946 to 1960.”

“Vermont was not nearly as liberal then as it is today,” Winston said. “Then, it was rare to have a democrat in any state office. It was more libertarian at the time. The first chapter discusses Charles Plumley, Red Scare conservative and congressman and the election of 194 where he was challenged by  Andrew Niquist.  The book also highlights William Loeb publisher at the Burlington Daily News  who was very much anti-communist at the time.

Winston said the era also included middle of the road Republicans. . A major figure in the book is Robert Mitchell, an editor and publisher for the Rutland Herald who opposed McCarthy and wrote many editorials devoted to that. Also highlighted is Senator Ralph Landers who was instrumental in bringing McCarthy down

Activities and beliefs which could lead to accusations of being a communist ran a wide gamut, according to Winston.  These could include supporting Henry Wallace in the 1948 election, being active in the Civil Rights Movement, having Anti McCarthy beliefs or holding a dissenting view on US Foreign Policy.  Wallace was a 1948 presidential candidate running for the progressive party. He was Roosevelts Vice President and ran against Truman.

Among Vermonters affected by the Red Scare were two Vermont college professors who lost their jobs. Lyndon State College Professor Luther MacNair was let go for being a supporter of Henry Wallace in the 1948 election.

University of Vermont Professor Alex Novikoff, was forced to resign after refusing to answer questions at Senate hearings in Washington, D.C. At the time of the hearings the senate was investigating Communist influence at Brooklyn College, where Novikoff taught at the time.  Lee Emerson, the 1953 Vermont Governor, put pressure on the University of Vermont to let Novikoff go.

As for the relevance of the book in today’s political climate, Winston said, “I started the book in 2012 two and a half years into Obamas first administration I have had people say to me the book could not be more timely, how did you plan it?  The answer is I didn’t.”  However, he added, “I do see a lot of McCarthy tactics being used again. Fear of others, insinuation, attacks on the press.”

He also added the current administration has a direct link to the McCarthy era. “Roy Cohn was a McCarthy protégé and was seen at all the senate hearings.  Twenty-five years later Roy Cohn was Trump’s mentor when Trump tried to enter the Manhattan Political and Real Estate World.

The Red Scare in the Green Mountains talk will take place on February 21 from noon to 1 p.m.  at the Vermont History Museum, 109 State Street, Montpellier. The event is a brown bag talk those attending should bring a brown bag lunch. Coffee and water will be provided. More information can be found at vermonthistory.org/visit/vermont-history-museum

 

 

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