Stood Here Before
Bruce Hartford 2022

Day after day we see stories in the media about election workers threatened by and hounded from their jobs by MAGA mobs, of librarians harassed and bullied by right-wing extremists who object to the contents of books on the shelves, and teachers facing termination — or even prison — if their lessons mention race or racism in any way that offends the white-supremacy, nativist, anti-immigrant dogmas of Republican legislators, prosecutors, and judges.

I'm webspinner of this website, and the other day while archive-diving for new material to post I came across Yours for a Genuine Brotherhood, a 1951 pamphlet that exposed and opposed racial segregation and discrimination in Los Angeles hospitals. It vividly recalled to my memory that we've been here before, that this is not the first time that for partisan gain Republicans have preyed on public fears to whip up hysteria against scapegoat targets.

Back in the '50s, it was the boogeyman of the "Godless Communism" and atom-bomb terror, the "International Jewish Communist conspiracy," and the threat of "miscegenation" hanging over the purity of white womanhood. Now it's "immigrant rapists" (imagined), "Critical Race Theory" (undefined), and "grooming" (whatever that is). The scare-words may have changed, but it's the same old Republican playbook.

My father, Ken Hartford, was a co-signer of that "subversive" 1951 pamphlet. He and my mom had been union organizers in the '30s and '40s until the American Communications Association, the union they had dedicated their lives to building, was destroyed by Joe McCarthy and his red-baiting band of nativist bigots. My dad got a job helping to organize the Community Medical Center (CMC) on Western Avenue at the edge of the South-Central ghetto. It was a union-oriented health plan and clinic that offered low-cost medical care and medical employment on an equal, interracial basis to men and women — all to the horror and fury of the L.A. chapter of the American Medical Association. "Socialized medicine!" they shrieked.

Hearing their desperate pleas for aid against this "Red Menace" threat, the Republican-dominated California Senate Committee on Un-American Activities rode to their rescue. Along with a number of others, my father was Subpoened to appear before them in a public outing, shaming, and targeting spectacle disguised as a legislative hearing. His signature on that pamphlet was used to condemn him.

"29 Doctors Branded as Reds in L.A. Probe" blared the front page headline of the Los Angeles Examiner. The Times and Daily News were baying for blood right alongside of them. (My dad was an organizer not a doctor, though he did have a 6th grade education from a one-room Kentucky school.) Encouraged by organized hysteria and the political powers that were, the state Medical Board threatened to pull the licenses of any doctor or nurse who continued to work for a "Red" health plan. That forced CMC to close its doors, throwing my father out of work. For good measure, the FBI dropped by the toy store where my mom worked as a secretary to ask the manager, "Why are you employing a subversive?" She got the boot too.

Civic-minded do-gooders bestirred themselves to take action against the Red Menace lurking in our home on Arlington Avenue. We got so many vicious hate-calls that 10-year old me was instructed never to answer the phone. My 5th Grade school teacher helpfully taught our class an hour-long lesson comparing the benefits of American freedom and democracy with the cruel dictatorships tormenting the suffering people of Communist Russia and Red China. Then, as a living example of American openness, she offered me the opportunity to address the other kids and explain why I favored tyranny and oppression.

Not knowing what to say, I hung my head, slouched down in my seat, saying nothing. I did know, though, that the bullies were going to beat the crap out of me as soon as class let out — after all, as our teacher had just made so plain, it was their patriotic duty. Sure enough, I was jumped and pounded by boys chanting "Red, red, wish you were dead."

Yet, despite what you might be thinking, in no way is this a "Boo-hoo Bruce" story. As evidenced by my later life, the bullies obviously failed to entirely de-crapize me. And though my family had some hard times for awhile, with the help of courageous friends and allies we not only survived, we thrived. Led by the Civil Rights Movement (which I am so proud to have played a small part in), a political mass movement was built in the 1960s that defeated and discredited McCarthyism, white-supremacy, race-baiting, and witch-hunting — or at least it did so for several decades (and hopefully longer).

So when the news you hear today foster feelings of despair, remember that we've been here before. We beat them then, and we'll beat them again.

Copyright © Bruce Hartford. 2022

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