1953 July 29

Abraham Chasanow Suspended From Navy Job; Civil Liberties Nightmare Begins


Abraham Chasanow was suspended on this day from his job as a civilian employee with the Navy’s Hydrographic Office because of allegations of “left-wing political activity.” His firing touched off a 13-month nightmare that was typical of the fate of many people accused of subversive activities under the federal loyalty program (created on March 21, 1947) — except that he fought and won his job back. Chasanow’s accusers were anonymous, as was the case in all loyalty program investigations, with no right of the accused emplol=yee to confront and cross-examination them. He was officially terminated in April 1954. He challenged his discharge, and his lawyer successfully questioned the credibility of his accusers to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. A special hearing board was created to review the case, and in that process the credibility of Chasanow’s accusers was demolished. The Navy then reinstated him in September 1954 with back pay.

During the Cold War, people were persecuted for their political beliefs and associations, including by spurious allegations or long-past membership in an organization by several means: the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, established by President Truman (December 4, 1947); investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee (October 27, 1947); and private organizations that engaged in labeling alleged subversives (see “Red Channels,”  June 22, 1950).

Chasanow was one of the few government employees in the Cold War who was able to succeed in the face of “nameless accusers.” Additionally, soon-to-be famous reporter Anthony Lewis won the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes for his stories on the case. (On the death of Lewis, a great pro-civil liberties journalist, see March 25, 2013.)

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

And the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations: Robert Justice Goldstein, American Blacklist: The Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations (2008)

Learn about the origins of the Attorney General’s “List” here.

And more: Athan Theoharis, Seeds of Repression: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of McCarthyism (1971)

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