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Interpreting the Evidence

Protest against Un-American Activities Committee, 1959

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Postwar United States (1945 - 1970)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Civil Rights

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Protest against Un-American Activities Committee, 1959 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Press release from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee protesting the Un-American Activities Committee in Puerto Rico, November 19, 1959
Historical Context
After World War II, the United States engaged in what was termed the “Cold War.”  This war had more to do with political ideas than it did with actual combat.  As communism spread throughout Europe and the Far East, Americans became increasingly fearful of attacks on democracy in the U.S.  The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC, established in 1938) searched for communist sympathizers who were believed to be a security risk for the United States and conducted hearings, during which people were interrogated regarding their connections to communist organizations or individuals.  During these hearings, individuals were asked to “name names” of others who were suspected of being communists.  

Congressman Francis Walter and Senator Paul McCarran worked together in 1950 to write the McCarran-Walter Act (also called the Internal Security Act).  The act assigned strict immigration quotas from countries that had large communist populations, but also denied entry to anyone who could be accused of voicing the “wrong” political opinion.  Individuals already living here who were found to be in favor of communism could be deported immediately.  Though President Truman vetoed the act, and stated to Congress that it “would make a mockery of the Bill of Rights and of our claims to stand for freedom in the world,” the legislation was passed in 1952 by 89% of Congress.  The Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security was created to administer and enforce the provisions of the Internal Security Act.

Anti-communist investigations and hearings continued in both houses of Congress, even after Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare” tactics were discredited by the U.S. Senate in 1954.  During the 1960s, House and Senate committees focused their attention on social activism among minority populations.  The FBI assisted in investigation and intimidation of “communist subversives.”

In November 1959, Congressman Walter, Chairman of HUAC, investigated Puerto Ricans in San Juan and New York who were suspected of being communists.  The hearings were considered by many to be a form of discrimination because they were aimed specifically at the Puerto Rican population.  This press release is a protest by forty prominent Puerto Ricans from San Juan concerning the presence of HUAC on the island.  It was sent to the press by the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in New York City.
Essential Question
How do matters of national security impact civil liberties?
Check for Understanding
Identify the main idea of this document and evaluate the impact of national security issues on civil liberties.
Historical Challenges
Make a poster highlighting the events in the 1950s that amplified the Cold War and led to the second Red Scare.
Research the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee. What were its methods and results? Who was asked to testify, and why?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Create protest signs that the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in Puerto Rico might have used against the Un-American Activities Committee.
English Language Arts: Write up an interview with Joseph McCarthy. Develop a list of questions to ask him and answers you think he might have given.