I want to write a book about one of the most important trials concerning free speech in the United States—the sedition trial of the Minneapolis Socialists in 1941. But my motivation for this book comes from recent events.
On September 24, the FBI raided the homes of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis, seizing large thousands of documents. These raids reflect the latest in a long history of witch-hunts against radical speech, including “McCarthyism.” The Minneapolis Socialists were charged with violating the Smith Act, which criminalized radical speech and ideas. Rep. Smith of Virginia was an ardent segregationist and a leader of the anti-union forces in Congress.
The Minneapolis members of the SWP were targeted for their radical unionism and opposition to the federal government gagging free speech with the Smith Act. They were best known for leading the famous Minneapolis Teamster strikes of 1934. The FBI raided offices of the SWP, seizing large quantities of literature and other political materials. Albert Goldman, a great radical attorney, and a defendant led the defense team. Most of the government’s case rested on the radical books seized in their office. Books freely available in local libraries. The novelist James T. Farrell led a public defense campaign.
My book, provisionally titled "Free Speech on Trial: A True Story Of A Forgotten Trial That Changed Civil Liberties in America" will seek to rescue this hidden history, and offer lessons for social justice activists facing the threat of political repression today.
The money that will be donated will help support the next six months of my research that will include extended periods of time in Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota using the archival resources available in those cities, as well as, interviewing the surviving family members of those tried and convicted. I hope to weave the individual stories of the defendants and their supporters with the exciting and historic events of the 1930s. And as the decade came to a close, the growing demanding by members of Congress for an attack on radical ideas and organizations.
I plan on concluding the book by explaining how a trial in a mid-size Midwestern city involving a small radical group in 1941 came to have such a detrimental effect on civil liberties across the nation for the next two decades, and what it means for us today.
- (60 days)