Students have read about the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s and how Hollywood and Washington figures were called to testify before the HUAC about communist activities. In this activity, students will evaluate the testimonies of "friendly" witnesses that supported the efforts of Congress in its hunt for Communists.
Students will use information from the CNN Cold War Web site to consider transcripts of HUAC hearings. Students will read about the specific testimony offered by each "friendly" witness, the proof that supported accusations made during the hearings, the proposals of Reagan to halt the spread of communism, and McCarthy's accusations about Communists within the federal government. Students will then answer four questions and apply this information by writing a letter about the hearings and their impact on civil liberties.
- Students will explain how the HUAC hearings fueled the Red Scare and what impacts they had on civil liberties.
- Students will be able to use this knowledge to write a letter describing the hearings and their impact on civil liberties.
Student Activity Answers
- As the president of the Screen Actors' Guild, Reagan testified that he had observed a disruptive faction of union members that demonstrated communist viewpoints. Congress hoped to establish that Communists were using Hollywood to influence American attitudes. Gary Cooper's testimony concerned the Communists' use of celebrities' endorsements. Disney testified that films could be an effective means for disseminating communist propaganda. His testimony also helped support the HUAC's assertion that Communists were infiltrating labor unions. Rand's testimony asserted that Hollywood's depiction of the Soviet Union and communism was completely inaccurate and damaging to the fight against communism.
- The witnesses testified that Communists used solicitations, pamphlets, social gatherings, labor disputes, and celebrity influence to gain political support. They also testified that sometimes they were duped into supporting activities that turned out to be Communist gatherings.
- There was no real proof given to substantiate the accusations. Disney even testified that, "No one has any way of proving those things." Witnesses based their opinions on intangible reasons. They said a suspect had no observable religion, had spent time in Moscow, had led a union strike, or had been disruptive in union negotiations.
- Reagan cautioned that Congress would compromise the nation's democratic principles if it outlawed the Communist Party. He proposed that a well-informed voting population would eradicate the threat of communism. He suggested that if given all the facts, the American people would never make a mistake.
- Students' letters will vary.
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