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Interpreting the Evidence

Communism and the Red Scare

  • Historical Eras:

    The Great Depression and WW II (1929 - 1945)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    High School

  • Topics:

    Civil Rights

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load My File Upload - January 28, 2021 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Topic: Fear of communism after WWI, Red Scare, Governmental Power

 Skills: Analyzing a primary source document, Evaluate government actions

 ​​​​​​​This document shows an example of documents confiscated in NYS for supporting communist ideas and how the Red Scare was fueled in the U.S.

 ​​​​​​​Historical Context: The end of WWI found the U.S. struggling to accept the newfound peace. The horrors of the war and the tense international climate caused questioning of political, social, economic, and moral ideals. The U.S. would undergo important and sometimes painful changes. Unrest manifested itself in the women’s movement, African-American and immigrant rights, labor protests, and a “red scare” against communist and other political revolutionaries. The actions of the government seemed to contradict the civil liberties that many Americans held close. The anti-communist campaign and the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti signified the key debates in American society.

The fearful reaction in the U.S. to the communist revolution in Russia led to a period known as the “Red Scare.” This document, located in the NYS Archives, was one of many collected by the NYS Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities, established in 1919 and headed by Senator Clayton Lusk of Cortland County, to study radical organizations after WWI. For more than a year, the committee gathered an enormous body of information on suspected radical organizations by raiding organizations’ offices, examining documents, and infiltrating meetings. Of the thousands arrested during this investigation, only a few were charged and a handful convicted or deported since little incriminating material was found within the thousands of documents seized by the committee. 
Open invitations, such as this flyer, also fueled the fire that led to the raids by U.S. Attorney General Paler on communists, anarchists, and foreigners in general.

Essential Question: How does the communist flyer symbolize the debates over civil rights in the 1920s?

Optional Extension Activity

The following activity could be completed in order to extend students’ thinking and encourage them to make connections:

1.      Have students research the case of Rosa Luxemburg in Germany and compare to the Sacco/Vanzetti case and limiting of political civil rights.