“…to Serve The World-not To Dominate It”

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One unique product of the system was the Progressive Vice-Presidential candidate, Senator Glen Taylor of Idaho, who had made his living as a cowboy singer, and brought his troupe —his wife, his three small sons, and his brother—to Shibe Park with him. The son of an itinerant evangelist preacher, Taylor dramatized his rural background by riding his horse up the Capitol steps in Washington. “I am not leaving the Democratic Party,” he announced on joining Wallace. “It left me. Wall Street and the military have taken over.”

 
 

Considering the accusations of Communist domination hurled at the platform committee, the Progressive platform turned out to be amazingly moderate. The committee was chaired by Rexford Tugwell, a veteran of F.D.R.’s New Deal, with Lee Pressman, a former cio official, as secretary. Its planks on foreign policy included a disarmament agreement to outlaw the atomic bomb; internationalization of the Dardanelles, Suez, Panama, and other trouble spots; and control of the Ruhr by the Big Four.

On domestic policy the platform supported giving eighteen-year-olds the vote; national health insurance; federal aid to public schools; federal legislation to wipe out the poll tax, lynching, and racial discrimination in employment, in the armed forces, and in interstate travel; the closing of tax loopholes; public ownership of tideland oil; and “raising women to first class citizenship.”

The prime evidence of Communist domination at the Progressive convention centered on the so-called Vermont resolution. Presented on the floor by three Vermont delegates, it stated: “Although we are critical of the present foreign policy of the United States, it is not our intention to give blanket endorsement to the foreign policy of any nation.” It was an intelligent disclaimer, but it was defeated on the grounds that the point had been reasonably covered in a plank already accepted. Even if the resolution had passed, however, it would probably have had no practical effect in diluting the pro-Communist charges hurled at the new party.

The real controversy over Communist domination centers on John Abt and Lee Pressman. Abt, a soft-spoken lawyer, had been the chief legal adviser to union leader Sidney Hillman. Before joining the Progressives he made it clear that his wife was editor of Soviet Russia Today and that his sister was public-relations director of the Communist Party. Wallace still wanted him.

Pressman had secured enormous power at cio headquarters—the last link to the left-wing unions—before Murray fired him in February, 1948, at the start of the anti-left offensive. Pressman would later admit to brief Communist Party membership during government service in the igso’s. In the same testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee he named three Communists, including John Abt.

Progressive leaders later denied that either Abt or Pressman ever controlled Progressive policy or pushed it to the left. While the Communists had considerable influence on a local level, in areas of New York, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Colorado, they were organizers and local functionaries, not master planners.

That summer, as anti-Communist hysteria increased with charges that Alger Hiss, a former State Department official, had belonged to a prewar Communist cell in Washington, Wallace invaded the South. He became the first Presidential candidate to insist on unsegregated audiences and to campaign personally for black voting rights. No other party since Reconstruction had placed so many blacks on its slate. If it accomplished nothing else, the Progressive Party gave an urgency and dignity to the civil-rights struggle that prepared the way for later advances.

The Progressive campaign in the South was actually a continuation of the registration and voting drives of the igSo’s. In North Carolina alone, Wallace needed petitions signed by thirty-five thousand registered voters just to get on the ballot. In New Orleans a black professor at Dillard University had tried to register fourteen times. The Progressives brought hundreds of students to stand in line and disrupt the office until the professor was accepted.

Senator Taylor first tasted violence on May i in Birmingham, Alabama. When Eugene “Bull” Connor, the public safety commissioner, ordered segregation for a black youth conference, Taylor entered through a door marked “colored” and was seized by police. Identifying himself as a United States senator, he was still dragged to a police car, found guilty by a police-court judge, and fined $50 with a i So-day jail sentence that was eventually suspended.

Wallace toured seven southern states from August 29 to September 3, speaking to thirty unsegregated meetings in twenty-eight cities and making twelve radio broadcasts. In North Carolina, where the governor opposed violence, a National Guard sergeant with drawn revolver and four plainclothes police escorted Wallace to a Durham meeting. Afterward, it took almost an hour for the escort to get Wallace through a howling mob to his car. At Burlington, pelted with eggs and tomatoes on Main Street, he could never give his speech. Forbidden to use any unsegregated halls in Memphis, Wallace drew two thousand people outdoors at Bellevue Park, where his car was rocked, his windshield smashed as he left. “Am I in America?” he asked.