Backtracking: In Our Times: Local residents reacted to McCarthy hearings, communism in June 1954

FILEJust in time to watch the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, a new television technology was introduced in Oneonta, as seen in this Oneonta Star advertisement from June 7, 1954.

 

There was practically no escaping the U.S. Army-Sen. Joseph McCarthy hearings or communism news, in general, locally, during the month of June 1954.

If area residents had television sets, many were watching the news coverage of the Army-McCarthy hearings, which had started on April 22 and was ongoing. For those interested in a new technology, they could drop by City Television in Oneonta to check out color television while perhaps catching a glimpse of the hearings.

There were few and far between who felt the hearings were worthwhile, either to watch or good for our nation.

“Samplings of public opinion yesterday,” The Oneonta Star reported on May 8, “brought hardly any kind words for either Senator McCarthy or the Washington hearings.

“Oneontans were willing to speak in private, but only a small percentage cared to be quoted publicly. ‘In my position,’ they’d explain. ‘I can’t stick my neck out. Too many people think McCarthy is wonderful.’”

One who went on record was Oneonta Police Department patrolman John Corsi who said, “As a policeman I don’t dare abuse a person but McCarthy can get away with it. This makes me ask, ‘What is the difference between Communism and McCarthyism?’ To my way of thinking they’re both fighting for power.”

Chester A. Miller, former Oneonta postmaster and a leader of the local Democratic Party, pulled no punches on the Wisconsin senator, a Republican.

“... Senator McCarthy has seem fit to attack the President of the United States, to undermine the Department of State, the Voice of America, the civil intelligence, demoralize the Army, insult its officers, create doubt about our schools and churches and arouse fear and distrust regarding the government itself.

“The Communists would wish for little more.”

Those watching the hearings on TV during the week of June 10 saw high drama when Army counsel Joseph N. Welch accused Sen. McCarthy of recklessness, cruelty and a lack of decency. Those at the hearing broke into loud, unchecked applause for Welch.

Viewers of CBS News were alarmed to learn on June 22 that Don Hollenbeck, a commentator, committed suicide by gas at his Manhattan apartment. Hollenbeck had been in ill health with bleeding ulcers, likely brought on by accusations of being a communist sympathizer from print media.

Communism and McCarthy were recurring themes in both local college graduations that year.

“Seventy-seven Hartwick College seniors graduated Sunday night,” The Star reported on June 1, “with a warning to watch out for communism and the prophets of doom.

“Dr. David Delo, Wagner College president and guest speaker at the 23rd annual Hartwick Commencement, called this a ‘great responsibility.’

“He attacked fear-mongers and ridiculed sensational news stories such as the current McCarthy-Army investigation.”

While Delo sounded a warning, the commencement speaker at the Oneonta State Teachers College on June 13 urged all to take action.

“Dr. Wing-tsu Chan, Dartmouth College,” The Star reported the next day, “urged graduates to organize and mobilize youth, and to train for a superior type of leadership.”

Speaking to a capacity crowd of more than 1,000, Chan compared the “life-affirming” principle of democracy, versus the “life-denying” actions of communism.

“‘We teachers have got to take an active part in this world struggle,’ the chairman of Dartmouth’s humanities department said. ‘The college is no longer an ivory tower.’

“Teaching is not only a job, not a career. It is a mission to foster, promote and enrich life. Education is a life-giving profession.”

The U.S. Senate had apparently had enough of Sen. McCarthy’s endeavors, resulting in his censure in December 1954.

This weekend: Various tales from Woodside Avenue.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

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