On February 28-29, 1952 the House Committee on Un-American Activities came to Detroit to hold a hearing to ferret out communists. Unintimidated by the Committee and its efforts to destroy the lives of those it considered “subversive”, Coleman Young verbally jousted with its lawyers while refusing to name names in the National Negro Labor Council.
“I understood from your statement you would like to help us,” said committee legal counsel Frank Tavenner Jr. to Young during public testimony.
“You have me mixed up with a stool pigeon,” responded Young, who was represented by attorney and future Democratic U.S. House member from Detroit George Crockett Jr.
In the 1940s, Young was labelled a fellow traveler of the Communist Party by belonging to groups whose members also belonged to the Party, and was accused of being a former member. Young’s involvement in radical organizations including, the Progressive Party, the United Auto Workers and the National Negro Labor Council made him a target of anti-Communist investigators including the FBI and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He protested segregation in the Army and racial discrimination in the UAW. In 1948, Young supported Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace.
In 1952, Young stunned observers when he appeared before the McCarthy era House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and defied the congressmen with sarcastic retorts and repeatedly refused to answer whether or not he was a member of the Communist Party. The encounter came at a highly publicized formal hearing in Detroit. Young’s performance made him a hero in Detroit’s growing black community. On HUAC’s charge that he seemed reluctant to fight communism, Coleman said: “I am not here to fight in any un-American activities, because I consider the denial of the right to vote to large numbers of people all over the South un-American.” On the HUAC congressman from Georgia: “I happen to know, in Georgia, Negro people are prevented from voting by virtue of terror, intimidation and lynchings. It is my contention you would not be in Congress today if it were not for the legal restrictions on voting on the part of my people.” On the HUAC committee: “Congressman, neither me or none of my friends were at this plant the other day brandishing a rope in the face of John Cherveny, a young union organizer and factory worker who was threatened with repeated violence after members of the HUAC alleged that he might be a communist, I can assure you I have had no part in the hanging or bombing of Negroes in the South. I have not been responsible for firing a person from his job for what I think are his beliefs, or what somebody thinks he believes in, and things of that sort. That is the hysteria that has been swept up by this committee.”
Later on, Young would go to serve as a delegate revising the Michigan Constitution, a member of the Michigan Senate, and the first African American mayor of Detroit, being elected 5 times.
Michigan Every Day
KenColeman, “On this day in 1952: Coleman A. Young tells congressional committee he’s no ‘stool pigeon’”, Michigan Advance, February 28, 2022.
The MSU community and visitors to the MSU Main Library can access hearings with testimony by Coleman A. Young in the Proquest Congressional database.