by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Last spring, a post on this blog featured a May 1929 issue of The Open Forum, the newsletter of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, founded in 1920 to defend individual liberties and rights of Americans as protected by the Constitution.
This post looks at the 16 March 1929 edition of the four-page publication. A feature article is a look at a correspondent’s trip to Japan, including reference to the damage done in the horrific earthquake that hit there six years prior. There was also some discussion about notions of cleanliness, with a hint of paternalism regarding personal, domestic and common realms.
There was also a visit to a wealthy man’s home in Kobe, at which the writer observed that “they all, family and domestics, looked us over and thought us as funny as we thought them.” There were, it was said, only two economic and social classes in Japan, the “high” and “low,” with one governing and the other “plods its weary ways.” It was also expressed as strange to see automobiles there, though a visit to a school, where the American flag waved and children sang the national anthem “was indeed an eye-filling and heart-beating sight.”
Notably, the piece keyed into a major theme of the ACLU in those years, by stating “the thing that Japan needs most is birth control” noting that Margaret Sanger, the prominent advocate, was in the country and the government encouraged practices, while the United States did not. The writer contrasted the “misery and injustice” caused “by wars, pestilence and famine” with the supreme wealth lavished on the emperor, Hirohito, who assumed the role at the end of 1926, while “Osaka has the worst slums of any city in the world!”
Another front-page article discussed the cases of striking textile workers in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and the fact that about a hundred of over 660 of them were sentenced to probation. This was considered a victory by the ACLU, because any fines and jail terms were suspended and the decision “shows the hollowness of most of the cases” of that type. The organization considered the charges trumped-up because of a feeling that local authorities wanted to nab Communists in the ranks of the picketers.
Other main, though shorter, features talked about the free speech of supporters of the Russian exile Leon Trotsky (later assassinated in Mexico, but then living in Istanbul), concerns over a deportation bill (interesting in light of the passage of the first comprehensive immigration laws five years prior), and a short reference to the continued incarceration of noted labor leader Tom Mooney and his fellow convict, sentenced for their alleged role in a San Francisco bombing in 1916.
The second page contains a lengthy editorial on trying to discern “fact from fancy” among American radicals, with other distinctions between collectivists and individualists. Articles also touch upon a criminal syndicalism bill in Colorado aimed at the International Workers of the World (I.W.W.); a Pennsylvania Supreme Court hearing concerning the arrest of members of the Workers Party charged with disorderly conduct after a meeting of unemployed laborers; a lecture by an Italian whi’d left his country after the rise of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini; and “News and Views” by insurance agent P.D. Noel with references to former president Calvin Coolidge as “one of the most insipid occupants of the Presidency with which this country has been afflicted”; the lack of funding for black school children; the excess of women in England due to the carnage of the First World War; and the failure of an attempted libel suit against “Fighting Bob” Shuler, a controversial Los Angeles-based evangelist.
Page three largely consists of letters from readers on temperance (anti-alcohol), Mexican politics; a very positive view of the treatment of workers in Soviet Russia (though it was early in Josef Stalin’s dictatorship!); and a retraction of a previous statement about the Socialist Labor Party and its alleged endorsement of the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. This latter is below a short article providing information on the party and there is a short piece on Georgia teachers unionizing.
Finally, the last page lists local events of interest to members; book reviews; an ad for a speech by noted radical Upton Sinclair, held at Trinity Auditorium in Los Angeles on the 21st; brief notes by Sinclair on the Centralia Case involving violence at an I.W.W. rally at an Armistice Day event in 1919 in Centralia, Washington; and notice of a talk on Mohandas K. Gandhi at a Los Angeles church on the 18th; among other items.
This issue of The Open Forum, one of eighteen in the Homestead’s collection spanning from 1926 into the 1930s, is an interesting window into the attitudes and concerns of left-wing members of an organization that is still a significant political player as the centennial of the A.C.L.U. approaches.