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1938 Fifty Years Ago

September 2021
1min read

On May 26 the House of Representatives established the Committee on Un-American Activities. Congress set up the committee primarily to investigate the activities of Soviet and Nazi agents in the United States. “We shall be fair and impartial at all times and treat every witness with fairness and courtesy,” said the chairman Martin Dies at the committee’s opening session. “The Committee will not permit any ‘character assassination’ or any ‘smearing’ of innocent people.”

In addition to Communist and Nazi infiltrators, HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) set its sights on labor unions, the Work Projects Administration, immigrants and minorities, and even Shirley Temple, who, along with other Hollywood celebrities, had sent a greeting to the leftist French newspaper Ce Soir . “They’ve gone into Hollywood,” said Harold L. Ickes, “and there discovered a great Red plot. They have found dangerous radicals there, led by little Shirley Temple. Imagine the great committee raiding her nursery and seizing her dolls as evidence.”

In 1948 HUAC’s investigation of Alger Hiss propelled the committee member Richard M. Nixon to fame. In the 1950s Joseph McCarthy’s activities in the Senate overshadowed the House committee’s own investigations. McCarthy’s subsequent loss of credibility prepared the way for a dissolution of the committee in 1975.

When Joe Louis went into the ring against Max Schmeling on June 22, he just wanted revenge for Schmeling’s twelfth-round knockout in their 1936 world championship bout. But with Hitler on the march in Europe, the rest of America saw the Louis-Schmeling rematch as a symbolic confrontation between democracy and totalitarianism.

The “Brown Bomber” pounded Schmeling into submission in just over two minutes, and Louis became a national hero.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted on June 25. The bill, applying to industries involved in interstate commerce, established a minimum wage of twenty-five cents per hour, strictly limited child labor, and required time-and-a-half pay for overtime. Also known as the Wages and Hours Bill, this was the last major item of New Deal legislation passed during the Roosevelt administration.

The first issue of Action Comics hit the stands in June, featuring the debut of Superman. “Just before the doomed planet, Krypton, exploded to fragments, a scientist placed his infant son within an experimental rocket-ship, launching it toward earth!” Thus began the saga of the Man of Steel, created by the Cleveland natives Joel Schuster and Jerry Siegel. The alien orphan, rescued by John and Mary Kent of bucolic Smallville, grew up to become “Superman, champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!”

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