By Augie Bareño
The early fifties were a time of innocence and hope, mixed with fears of the nuclear war and communist takeover. This made it easy for McCarthyism to sweep the nation and put a stranglehold on our democracy. It destroyed the lives of those principled and brave enough to fight the madness. It important to point out that at the time, fighting the accusations and seeking due process, was a very risky proposition. The principal voice for McCarthyism was the House Committee on Un-American Activities established in the late 1930s and refined through public law 601 of 79th Congress 1946.
The founding members of the House Un-American Activities were discovered to have been Klan sympathizers, when Democrats in Congress asked that Klan Lynching be investigated as a subversive activities and the request never made it to the formal committee. Subsequent investigations showed that the Committee members had attended Klan Rallies and had financially supported Klan activities. In later refinements of its authority and scope, the committee set it sights on immigrants, labor, entertainers, educators and Negroes seeking equal opportunity.
McCarthyism is defined as being the practice of making accusations of Disloyalty, Subversion or Treason without proper regard for evidence.
It was in that spirit, that as part of the “Investigation of Communist Activities in the State of California-Part -9, the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities on Wed-nesday April 21, 1954, held a hearing in the San Diego Chamber of Commerce Building, to examine how the communist party is influencing negroes seeking housing and employment opportunities, in Logan Heights area, as well as determing the impact and influence of communist on the labor movement, specifically those individuals, thought to have major influence among Spanish speaking people. Plus all the witnesses that had been summoned to the hearing on the faceless accusations fostered through the F.B.I and other sources.
The Committee members present were Representatives Donald Jackson, Chair, Clyde Doyle and San Diego Representative Bob Wilson, along with Frank Tavenner, Counsel and staff investigator William Wheeler.
The witness list included informants, plus those with collaborating information about the accusation, whether factual or not, the accused which generally were individuals known to the committee, plus their lawyers, which the committee also considered subversive.
Interestingly, there were regular citizens, asking to speak to the committee, to clarify for the record, that although they shared the same name, as some of the called witnesess, they wanted it known, they are not now, nor have they ever been, a member of the communist party and they are loyal Americans. Obviously, being called by the House Un-American carried with it a stigma, that could destroy lives, whether valid or not.
The framework of the hearing and indeed of the times was a battle between individual beliefs and a perceived communist takeover of the world, using American domestic issues as its vehicle.
According to several Committee witnesses, the Logan Heights chapter of the Communist party, which started in 1946,had at its apex 8 to 10 members, who for the most part were non-resident Anglos. Its primary focus was to use the issues of the negro community, as a recruiting tool, as it coincided with several actions that were being undertaken by the negro community, to improve employment opportunities in the stores like Safeway and others, who were located, in the heart of the negro community, yet as a matter of policy, would not hire Negros. In 1945, there had been a picketing effort at the Victory Theater on 25th and Imperial, for similar reasons. Utimately, according to the testimony of collaborating sources, the recruiting drive aimed at Negros in Logan Heights, never really took hold and eventually, died out, as the community, turned to its own internal leadership and sources like the NAACP and individual Community Leader.
Much like the defining moment, when counsel to the Secretary of the Army Mr. Welch calls out Senator Joe McCarthy on his lies and distortions about Communist in the Army, With his biting phrase of “At long last, have you no shame”, etc.”. It signaled the beginning of the end for, Senator Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism. The end also came in San Diego, in the Testimony of Chicano Labor Leader Philip Usquiano, when he challenged, before the Committee, the very notion of using the Informants, with out Due Process and standards of evidence. He further chastised the Committee for wasting tax dollars to investigate subversives in San Diego, when there are 20,000 unemployed workers, in San Diego County and Congress does nothing. That’s really is Subversive.
Up to this point, both Phil Usquiano and his Attorney Ben Margolis, had been frequent targets of the Committee, what the Committee failed to understand, was in the case of Usquiano, he was regarded as an Iconic Labor Leader, who had struggled for many years on behalf immigrants, workers, Mexicans, Chicanos and had developed one of the earliest mutual support groups in the state of California and was a very adept political strategist, having helped form the Mexican-American-Political Association of California. He worked with far reaching base of support both in the labor and Chicano Communities. Mr Margolis was also part of the Defense Bar frequently attacked and investigated for their defense of individuals standing up for their rights. History proved to be on the side of the Defense Bar for their courageous efforts.
Herewith is the testimony of Phil Usquiano, before the House UnAmerican Subcommittee, San Diego, CA, April 20, 1954, San Diego Chamber of Commerce:
Mr. Usquiano. Phillip Usquiano, U-s-q-u-i-a-n-o. Would you mind if I read my statement?
Mr. Jackson. The statement will be read following today’s hearing
Mr. Tavenner. Will you state your name once more?
Mr. Usquiano. Usquiano, U-s-q-u-i-a-n-o.
Mr. Tavenner. What is your first name?
Mr. Usquiano. Phil.
Mr. Tavenner. Are you accompanied by counsel?
Mr. Usquiano. Yes, I am.
Mr. Tavenner. Will counsel please identify himself for the record ?
Mr. Margolis. Ben Margolis.
Mr. Tavenner. When and where were you born ?
Mr. Usquiano. I was born in Grant, New Mexico.
Mr. Tavenner. Where do you now reside?
Mr., Usquiano. At 3188 Boston Avenue.
Mr, Tavenner. In San Diego?
Mr. Usquiano. San Diego.
Mr. Tavenner. How long have you lived in San Diego?
Mr, Usquiano, Since 1940. I resided in the County of San Diego since 1936.
Mr, Tavenner, Mrs. Mildred Berman testified before this committee and identified you as a person who was listed as a member of The Communist Party during the period that she was dues director In 1944, some time between 1944 and ’46. Was she correct in identifying you as a member of the Communist Party in San Diego?
Mr. Usquiano, Well, I don’t like to associate my name with any Informer. I decline on the ground I am forced to testify against, myself; the Fifth Amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Are you willing to give the committee any facts within your knowledge regarding the operations of the Communist Party in San Diego? (At this point Mr. Usq-uiano conferred with Mr. Margolis.)
Mr. Usquiano. It is assumed that you have facts to this knowledge of something like that. I don’t like to associate with any of those things that you have just mentioned.
Mr. Tavenner. Well, you may not like to do it, but will you do it.
Mr, Usquiano, No, I won’t. Congressman Jackson and Congressman Doyle, and Mr, McCarthy, they have violated the Constitution and the oath they took to protect it, and they have violated that, and 1 think that the people have a right, it is a privilege, and it is my privilege to stand on the ground that any decent people cannot testify on himself—innocent, not decent.
Mr. Tavenner. What do you mean by innocent person not testifying against himself ?
Mr, Usquiano, Well, there is on the Fifth Amendment, it is being used a lot, and that is why the Fifth Amendment was put in there.
Mr. Tavenner. You think it is fashionable to use the Fifth Amendment?
Mr. Usquiqno. Well, can I ask you, why was the Fifth Amendment put in there?
Mr. Tavenner. It was for protection of those whose testimony might tend to incriminate them. Now, you have said that you were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.
Mr. Usquiano. What was the question?
Mr. Tavenner. So I would like to ask you, are you now a member of the Communist Party ?
Mr. Usquiano. I refuse to answer any questions of that nature. I think—well, I know tliat the people have a right to protect the Constitution and I have that right to claim privilege under the First, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments.
Mr. Jackson. Let the record show that no one has in any way infringed Upon his rights or disregarded those rights to claim the constitutional Privilege. Counsel has not put in any objections to that At any time. Do you have any further questions, counsel?
Mr. Tavenner. No, sir.
Mr. Jackson. Do you have any questions, Mr. Doyle?
Mr. Doyle. You mentioned just now you claimed your right under the Ninth and Tenth amendments of the United States Constitution. In what way does Amendment No. 9 of the United States Constitution apply to your rights here today?
Mr. Usquiano. Are you an attorney? Would you like to define that? You are an attorney, aren’t you, Mr. Doyle?
Mr. Doyle. I haven’t practiced law for 8 years, since I have been in Congress, but I have the United States Constitution here in front of me, and as long as you speak of the Ninth Amendment and the Tenth amendment, I thought of course, you were familiar with them. So will you please tell me in what way they apply to your rights here today?
Mr. Usquiano. Yes. I am short on words, you know, being a Laborer. I am not a politician, and I would like counsel here to tell you exactly what the ninth and tenth amendments are so that you will know.
Mr. Jackson. Let the Chair say that if the witness has been advised by counsel that he should take refuge in those amendments, I do not feel that it is essential for the witness to know the purport of the Amendments. Evidently he has been advised by counsel to stand upon those amendments.
Mr. Margolis. I will be glad to enlighten Mr. Doyle.
Mr. Jackson. I do not think it is necessary, Mr. Margolis.
Mr. Usquiano. Mr. Jackson
Mr, Jackson. That is all right. Your declination based on those amendments will be accepted without objection.
Mr. Usquiano. Mr. Jackson, investigating subversives and everything here in San Diego, I think it is up to you to report to Congress when you make your report that there is such a thing as something subversive over here. We have a little over 20,000 unemployed, and I Think you ought to do something and report it to Congress, because I Think that that is more of interest to people than this smear that You are trying to put on.
Mr. Jackson. Let me say to the witness that his short and illuminating speech is in the record and will be a permanent part of it, so anyone reading it can read your statement.
Mr. Doyle. I think, Mr. Chairman that the witness has stated that you and I have violated our oath to the people of the United States, and I think I would like to hear the witness say if he is prepared to explain how I have violated my oath of office to the people of the United States. Will you please tell me, sir, I am giving you a chance to propagandize, or anything else you want for a minute.
Mr. Usquiano. Well, as a witness coming here without a jury you come out here to smear me and to let me invoke those amendments for my protection that you are violating, those constitutional amendments we have, and I think that you gentlemen, in spite of everything, you have violated that oath, because it states specifically in the fifth Amendment that you cannot testify against yourself in any case until You have a jury or a witness is there.
Mr. Doyle Well, just very briefly, may I reply to you thus: We have certainly not tried to urge you to violate your conscience and testify against yourself. You claimed the fifth amendment of the United States Constitution, and that is okay, but I want to call your attention to the fact that we are here as members of the United States Congress operating under Public Law 601, which directs us and authorizes us to go in the Continental United States and question people as to the extent and character of subversive activities, and that is why we are here questioning you. We believe that the record shows that the American Communist Party, without question, is a subversive organization and, therefore, we are questioning you as an American citizen to see if you can help us find the extent of it and the character of it in the San Diego area.
Mr. Usquiano. I think that you can find that in the files of the FBI, and I am pretty sure that they are capable of acting on this. Wliat you are trying to do is smear people by making stool pigeons out of persons to smear our acquaintances and friendships in places where we are together, or anything that you think we touch.
Mr. Jackson. It is quite apparent to the chairman that the witness is not going to answer any of the questions that are directed to him. I think any further discussion of it is simply a waste of the committee’s time.
Do you have any further questions, Mr. Tavenner?
Mr. Tavenner. No further questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Jackson. Without objection, the witness is excused from further attendance under the subpoena.
Call your next witness.
Despite the vigilance, of the House Un-American Subcommittee, Russian Tanks were never spotted on Logan Avenue, National Avenue, or Imperial Avenue, throughout the 1950s,had they come a bit later, they would have found that interstate 5, had remove the problem all together.