The excerpt that I recently posted from the Church Committee Case Study on counterintelligence activities directed at Martin Luther King, Jr. provides some of the background for the "Martin Luther King . . . . At Communist Training School" flier I attached to a post about smears and opportunistic defamations of Cindy Sheehan.
On July 12, 1963, Governor Ross E. Barnett of Mississippi testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that civil rights legislation was "a part of the world Communist conspiracy to divide and conquer our country from within." Barnett displayed a photograph entitled "Martin Luther King at Communist Training School" taken by an informant for the Georgia Commission of Education [sic], which showed Dr. King at a 1957 Labor Day Weekend seminar at the Highland [sic] Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee with three individuals whom he alleged were communists.
There is actually more to the story than what is explained by the Church Committee report (that's Church as in Senator Frank Church). I want provide some elaboration in this new series of posts for two, related reasons: a) this history is inherently interesting and important to understand and b) this history can help us understand some of what is presently being directed at Cindy Sheehan and others voicing political dissent in the US.
The flier was not just submitted to the Senate; it was also part of a broader public relations campaign to defame King, as in the billboard pictured here. Furthermore, when the Georgia Commission on Education conducted its surveillance at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, they weren't just going after MLK. The image of Martin Luther King as one of "'four horsemen' of racial agitation," advancing the "Commmunist doctrine of 'racial nationalism,'" was pulled from a larger publication that was disseminated by the Georgia Commission.
The image of King at Highlander is from a four page newspaper sized propaganda piece that was produced by the Georgia Commission in 1957. The Highlander Folk School had a special twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, which was attended by activists from around the country. The Georgia Commission sent a spy, who took pictures and produced a report naming many of the participants .
At right is the top half of page 1 (click on image for the full sized image on the MS Department of Archives and History website). Here is an excerpt from the lead article in the top left column.
During the Labor Day Weekend, 1957, there assembled at Highlander the leaders of every major race incident in the South, prior to that time since the Supreme Court decision. This meeting was directed by Reverend John B. Thompson, chaplain, University of Chicago. Reverend Thompson has a lengthy record of Communist affiliations which appears elsewhere in this folder. The direction of the entire school was under the leadership, as usual, of Myles Horton.
There were representative leaders of the TUSKEGEE, ALABAMA BOYCOTT, the TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA BUS INCIDENT, the MONTGOMERY ALABAMA BUS BOYCOTT, the SOUTH CAROLINA - NAACP SCHOOL TEACHERS INCIDENT, the KOINONIA INTER-RACIAL FARM - AMERICUS GEORGIA, and CLINTON, TENESSEE SCHOOL INCIDENT among others.
They met at this workshop and discussed methods and tactics of precipitating racial strife and disturbance.
The meeting of such a large group of specialists in inter-racial strife under the auspices of a Communist Training School and in the company of many known Communists is the typical method whereby leadership training and tactics are furnished to the agitators. This was a general workshop and would be the most common method of developing a long range program. (Emphasis added.)
The left most column on the front page also includes profile articles on the founders of Highlander and on its Executives. On the right half of page 1 is an incredible list of more than ninety liberal and progressive groups said to be Communist Front organizations. Also on the right half of the front page is an article profiling each of the supposed Communist Front organizations that is listed in the House Committee On Un-American Activities Committee's "Guide To Subversive Organizations and Publications."
Open up the newspaper and you get a full two page spread* of photos of the Highlander Labor Day Weekend, 1957 attendees, with captions naming them and characterizing their alleged Communist affiliations. Running across the top of the two facing pages is a huge headline that reads, "Labor Day Weekend at Communist Training School 1957." An "Editorial Comment" on the back page* explains:
It has been our purpose, as rapidly as possible, to identify the leaders and participants of this Communist training school and disseminate this information to the general public. This Commission would appreciate your furnishing to us any further identifications you can make.
It behooves each of us to learn more of Communist infiltration and the direction of Communist movements. Only through information and knowledge can we combat this alien menace to Constitutional government.
Almost all of the rest of the back page* is a listing of the alleged Communist Affiliations of four of the purported leaders of HIghlander Folk School, James Dombrowski, John B. Thompson, Don West and Aubrey Williams. For each of these men, there is an extensive list of memberships, speaking engagements, political statements and petitions signed that the Georgia Commission would have us believe are evidence of Communist affiliations. Dumbrowski's list has forty-five items, Thompson's thirty-six, West's eighteen, and Williams' forty-three. The level of detail in these lists suggests that they were provided either by the FBI or by the House Committee on Un-American Activities or both.
*Because the Georgia Commission on Education report is printed as a newspaper, the pages are scanned in halves and therefore a little tricky to read on screen. For your convenience, here are the links again, more clearly specified:
- Page 1: top half, bottom half
- Page 2: top half, bottom half
- Page 3: top half, bottom half
- Page 4: top half, bottom half
Photo: Highlander Research And Education website.