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From Gods' Man (1929)

Theologians and Scoundrels

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One notable victim of the Red Scare was Harry Frederick Ward, father of artist and woodwork innovator Lynd Ward who, on 23 June 1953, received the Caldecott Medal for “picture book of the year”, awarded by the American Library Association, for The Biggest Bear, a cautionary children’s tale about the hazards of domesticating wild animals (the younger Ward both wrote and illustrated the book).

Less than a month after Lynd accepted the Caldecott Medal at a ceremony in Los Angeles, Manning R. Johnson, a former senior member of the American Communist Party, testified before McCarthy’s HUAC that Harry F. Ward, Lynd’s father and former chairman of the American League Against War and Fascism since 1933, was “the chief architect for Communist infiltration and subversion in the religious field” in America.

Although the senior Ward was never invited to testify before the HUAC, he found himself blacklisted by editors of mainstream publications and was the subject of intense scrutiny and shadowing (or harassment, if you prefer) by the FBI.

Lynd Ward’s father, Harry a Methodist minister who drafted the blueprints for workplace reform in America, stood chair for 20 years over one of the most influential civil liberties unions in the world, and who organized and mobilized clergy to take on social reform causes, is shadowed by federal agents, blacklisted, and unable to find work as a social activist journalist during the shameful Red Scare because he happened to lead a fight against fascism in Europe that was funded in part by the American Communist Party.

The League that Harry Ward chaired, an effort by ecumenical clergy devoted to resisting the rise of fascism in Europe, was indeed funded by the Communist Party of America, but Harry was not a member of the political party. Johnson’s allegations were nothing more or less than a nasty smear against a devout Methodist cleric who had devoted his life to social service, inspired by the American religious and economic reformer Richard T. Ely’s message, voiced in his tract Social Aspects of Christianity (1889) that “Christianity is primarily concerned with this world, and it is the mission of Christianity to bring to pass here a kingdom of righteousness and redeem all our social relations.”

In 1908, Harry Ward’s Social Creed of the Churches, calling for the abolition of child labor, a shortened work week, greater emphasis on safety in the workplace, and a living wage for all workers, was adopted by ecumenical Federal Council of Churches, and would become synonymous with the moral platform for workplace reform.

Aside from chairing the ACLU for the first 20 years of its existence, Harry Ward was also a co-founder, in 1907, of the Methodist Federation for Social Services (MFSS), a national organization dedicated to mobilizing clergy and laity to take action on issues of poverty and social injustice; Harry served with the MFSS until 1945, the same year that his son Lynd was elected an Associate Member in Graphic Arts of the National Academy of Design in New York City.

This then was the caliber of a man that the HUAC and so-called “friendlies” of McCarthy’s misguided anti-Communist committee like Walt Disney sought to discredit and destroy with their sanctimonious patriotism.

“Actually if you could see close in my eyes,” Disney once told an interviewer (as cited by Dave Smith in The Quotable Walt Disney), “the American flag is waving in both of them and up my spine is growing this red, white and blue stripe.”

It bears noting that red, white, and blue Walt Disney, by contrast to Harry Ward’s deeds and committee chairs, was a member of the America First Committee, founded in 1940, a stridently vocal and aggressive non-interventionist political action committee opposed to America’s entry in World War II.

The most prominent spokesman for the celebrity-laden America First Committee, who mounted a petition to put some teeth into the Neutrality Act of 1939 and urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to maintain his vow to keep the United States out of the conflict in Europe, was aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, a larger-than-life American icon. (Establishing a paradigm of American hero worship early in his career, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon produced by Walt Disney Productions in 1928 was titled Plane Crazy, in which the world’s most famous animated rodent is inspired by Charles Lindbergh to build and fly an airplane; the aviator appears in the first few seconds of the cartoon short from a newsreel clip.)

There is no doubt that if Disney had ever produced a movie or TV drama about Lindbergh, he would have omitted the 11 September 1941, speech at the America First rally in Des Monies, Iowa, where Lucky Lindy, as he was dubbed by the press after his transcontinental flight, declared that “the three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration.”

Lindbergh expressed sympathy with the persecution of Jews in Germany, but cautioned in the same breath that “no person of honesty and vision can look at their pro-war policy here (in America) without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy.”

“Instead of agitating for war,” the advocate of American isolationism declared, “the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation. A few farsighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention but the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”

Lindbergh’s anti-Semitic “Jews control the media” rant is, unfortunately, still in vogue today and is probably a sentiment that Disney embraced in his time. (Late in 2010, CNN news personality Rick Sanchez was summarily dismissed from the cable news outlet for expressing beliefs similar to Lindbergh’s in a radio interview.)

In a 2006 interview with The Early Show for CBS News, Disney biographer Neal Gabler, something of a Disney apologist, opined: “Was he an anti-Semite? That’s out there. My answer to that is, not in the conventional sense that we think of someone as being an anti-Semite. But he got the reputation because, in the 1940s, he got himself allied with a group called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, which was an anti-Communist and anti-Semitic organization. And though Walt himself, in my estimation, was not anti-Semitic, nevertheless, he willingly allied himself with people who were anti-Semitic, and that reputation stuck. He was never really able to expunge it throughout his life.”

But the fact of the matter is, if it walks like a duck it isn’t an elephant. Saying that Disney “got himself allied himself with people who were anti-Semitic” but wasn’t anti-Semitic himself by modern definitions is like trying to excuse in hindsight the dry cleaner who took in the robes from the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1963; any person of good conscience and clean morals does not want to associate with such emissaries of hate and ignorance.

So, in summation, a Methodist minister who drafted the blueprints for workplace reform in America, stood chair for 20 years over one of the most influential civil liberties unions in the world, and who organized and mobilized clergy to take on social reform causes, is shadowed by federal agents, blacklisted, and unable to find work as a social activist journalist during the shameful Red Scare because he happened to lead a fight against fascism in Europe that was funded in part by the American Communist Party.

To add further toxins to the poisonous broth of conservative hatred that was spilled on Harry Ward’s head, his son, Lynd Ward, the much in demand freelance designer of dust jackets, frontispieces, decorations, and illustrations for books for children, had, prior to his father’s blacklisting in 1953, provided artwork for patriotic works about Paul Revere, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, John Wesley (the founder of Methodism), the Alaska and California Gold Rush, Hildegard Hoyt Swift’s North Star Rising: A Pictorial History of the American Negro (Morrow, 1947), and, of course, Esther Forbes’s young adult adventure of the Revolutionary War, Johnny Tremain, in 1944.

Walt Disney, by contrast—who produced a successful television movie from the Tremain book in order to continue riding the wave of riches he was mining from whitewashed biographies of American folkloric heroes for his television shows (beginning with the seismic success of Davy Crockett), publicly associated with the likes of Red-baiters and anti-Semites, tried to deprive people of their livelihoods with his valuable HUAC testimony, and fought tooth and nail against unionization of his studio workers—is a paragon of virtue and good, clean American values, the man with a “red, white and blue stripe” running up his spine that children were entrusted to every Sunday evening.

Rodger Jacobs has won multiple awards and grants for his work as a journalist, documentary writer and producer, screenwriter, playwright, magazine editor, true crime writer, book critic, columnist, and live event producer. He provided the preface and original inspiration for Jack London: San Francisco Stories (Sydney Samizdat Press) in 2010.

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