1957 December 29

Reporter William Worthy, Jr. Rejects Passport Restrictions


On this day, African-American reporter William Worthy, Jr., refused to accept restrictions on his international travel as a condition of having his passport renewed. In 1956, Worthy had visited China and Hungary, in violation of a State Department ban on travel to the two Communist-controlled countries. The government seized his passport, but Worthy traveled to Cuba without one. Upon his return, he was prosecuted for entering the country without a passport. Worthy was represented by attorney William Kunstler on behalf of the ACLU. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, in Worthy v. United States, in February 1964, on the grounds that someone could not be punished for returning to the U.S. without a passport.

A number of noted Americans had passport problems during the Cold War because of their left-wing political beliefs and/or associations. They included the famed African-America singer and activist Paul Robeson (August 4, 1950), the noted painter Rockwell Kent (August 7, 1950), and civil libertarian Corliss Lamont (October 15, 1951).

The Fifth Circuit:  “It is our conclusion that the Government cannot say to its citizen, standing beyond its border, that his reentry into the land of his allegiance is a criminal offense; and this we conclude is a sound principle whether or not the citizen has a passport, and however wrongful may have been his conduct in effecting his departure.”

Read: William Worthy, The Rape of Our Neighborhoods (1976)

Listen to Phil Ochs sing The Ballad of William Worthy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmkZOHN9qvA

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