1952 : Coleman A. Young Stands Up to House Committee on Un-American Activities

February 28, 2018 all-day

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.

Coleman A. Young in 1964 | Detroit Federation of Teachers photo 

“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.

Young was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Coleman Young, a dry cleaner, and Ida Reese Jones. His family moved to Detroit in 1923, where he graduated from Eastern High School in 1935. He worked for Ford Motor Company, which soon blacklisted him for involvement in union and civil rights activism. He later worked for the United States Post Office Department, where with his brother George he started the Postal Workers union. George later went on to become Postmaster for this same facility, which handles over ten million pieces of mail each year. During World War II Young served in the 477th Medium-Bomber Group (Tuskegee Airmen) of the United States Army Air Forces as a bombardier and navigator. As a lieutenant in the 477th, he played a role in the Freeman Field Mutiny in which 162 African-American officers were arrested for resisting segregation at a base near Seymour, Indiana in 1945.

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.

Sources :

Detroit African American History Project

Michigan Every Day

Coleman A. Young wikipedia entry

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.