1954 December 13

Civil Rights Activist Carl Braden Convicted of Sedition


White civil rights activist Carl Braden was convicted of sedition in Louisville, Kentucky on this day. His crime? He and his wife Anne purchased a home in an all-white neighborhood and then almost immediately sold it to an African-American. Racists retaliated by bombing the Braden’s home, and the Bradens and four other whites were indicted on sedition charges under a state law. (Sedition is generally defined as advocating the violent overthrow of the government.) Carl Braden was a copy editor for the Louisville Courier-Journal, but he was suspended after being indicted, and then fired when convicted. Carl eventually served several months in prison.

The crime of sedition is generally defined as advocating the violent overthrow of the government. The two most famous federal sedition laws were the Alien and Sedition Acts (July 14, 1798) and the 1918 Sedition Act (May 16, 1918), which augmented the 1917 Espionage Act and strengthened the government’s repression of dissent in World War I. State laws were often known as Criminal Anarchy laws or Criminal Syndicalism laws. The New York Criminal Anarchy law of April 3, 1920 was the law in question in the landmark Supreme Court decision of Gitlow v. New York, June 25, 1925, when the Supreme Court for the first time incorporated the free speech and free press provisions of the First Amendment and made them applicable to the states.

Carl and Anne Braden went on to long careers as civil rights activists in the South. Anne was the author of a pamphlet exposing the role of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as a defender of racial segregation (see below).

Read the Braden’s own story: Anne Braden, The Wall Between (reprinted, 1999)

Read Anne Braden’s critique of HUAC racism: Anne Braden, HUAC: Bulwark of Segregation (1964)

Learn more about Anne Braden: http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/anne-braden

Learn more about the history of criminal anarchy, criminal syndicalism, sedition, and similar laws: Geoffrey Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004)

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