Green Feather Movement

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The Green Feather Movement was a short-lived college protest fad directed against McCarthyism at the height of the Red Scare in the United States. The movement arose in response to an attempt to censor Robin Hood because it displayed Communist ideals and eventually spread to universities across the nation.

Background[edit]

The Green Feather Movement came during the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism in the United States following World War II and the establishment of communist regimes abroad and the Great Depression, after which many were disillusioned by capitalism. Americans were especially paranoid about possibly having Communists in the country, especially in the government, so alleged Communists were often tried and fired. People like Senator Joseph McCarthy were able to capitalize on this widespread fear of communism to gain political power. McCarthy claimed to have the names of more than 200 communists in the state department, and he held a series of televised smear campaigns in order to rid the government of communists. However, his attempts to find communists were largely unsuccessful; he ended up accusing the US army of containing communists, leading to his downfall and irrelevance after his inquiry of the army starting in 1953.

Censorship[edit]

Censorship was an important part of the Red Scare and containment of communism in the United States. The film and music industries were especially censored, as well as literature. Writers, screenwriters, directors, etc. were often investigated and blacklisted due to claims of their alleged communist beliefs. Lawyers, social workers, and especially teachers lost their jobs for the same reason. Loyalty oaths from teachers were also required in more than 39 states to ensure that they will not teach communist-leaning lessons to students.[1] Educational literature and literature in college curricula were especially targeted under McCarthyism due to the fear that communism will be taught to students. As a result, many famous works were censored during the 1950s, including Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Civil Disobedience (Thoreau) by Henry David Thoreau, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.[2] The newly popular genre of writing, comic books, was also especially targeted because they were seen as corrupting the minds of young people. The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenal Delinquency oversaw this problem and aimed to completely ban comic books.

The Movement[edit]

On November 13, 1953, Mrs. Thomas White, a member of the Indiana school textbook commission, proposed to ban Robin Hood from the grade school curriculum because of its supposed Communist connotations. She claimed that Robin Hood embodied communist and socialist ideals because he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, saying that "there is now a Communist directive in education now to stress the story of Robin Hood."[3]

In response to this attempt to ban Robin Hood, five college students, Bernard Bray, Mary Dawson, Edwin Napier, Blas Davila, and Jeanine Carter, at Indiana University Bloomington bought bags of feathers from a poultry and dyed them green to represent the one worn by Robin Hood. Then on March 1, 1954, they surreptitiously tacked one on every bulletin board o campus. Blas Davila, one of the 5 undergraduate students who came up with the plan, later became a psychology professor at the University of Indianapolis. [4] These students called themselves Robin Hood's "Merry Outlaws" and circulated an anonymous protest against McCarthyism. The students were investigated by the FBI and a local newspaper, eventually owning up to the deed in a letter to the student paper. Their actions where extremely radical during a time in which more than 50% of the nation in support of McCarthyism according to a Gallup poll.[3] Although support for McCarthyism was high, there were also many contrary voices to this abusive power of the government, with these 5 students being a prime example. Louise Derman-Sparks, who joined the Green Feather movement as a high schooler, said that "as a child of the McCarthy period, I was angry at the repression and also scared."[5]

The students responsible for starting this movement were motivated not only by the Red Scare, but also by their religious faith. In an interview, Bernard Bray, one of the original 5 students, talked about how he and his friends attended the Roger Williams Fellowship at a local baptist church to discuss social issues while performing vespers. He was also inspired by a man he knew growing up who refused to fight in World War II and was, as a result, jailed. The religious activism of his parents, Helen and Earl Bray, also prompted him to act. Thus, he saw the proposed censorship of Robin Hood as “a great opportunity to find a symbol to fight McCarthyism—it was more a matter of principle.”[3]

Effects[edit]

News of the Green Feather Movement spread to other universities through newspapers and the Labor Youth League, who distributed buttons with the green feather as a symbol of solidarity. Students at other colleges would contact them to order literature, protest buttons and feathers, and in the course of a few weeks the protest mushroomed into a nationwide campus movement, starting with chapters in Wisconsin and Michigan and spreading around the country. By May 21 the Harvard Crimson was reporting that a Green Feather club had formed at Harvard and was seeking recognition in order to distribute Green Feather buttons in the dining halls.[6] Stephen S. Willoughby, who had organized a "Joe must go" campaign to recall Senator Joseph McCarthy, led the Green Feather organization at Harvard.[7] A Green Feather march held at UCLA drew 500 participants; according to Maurice Isserman the march organizers were an unlikely coalition of campus Communists and Shachtmanites.[8] News of the Green Feather movement even spread to Nottinghamshire, England, the traditional home of Robin Hood, and the residents there mocked the association of Robin Hood with communism. Although the Green Feather movement lasted only through two semesters and came to an end after Sen. McCarthy was censured by the US Senate in December, 1954, it successfully prevented the censorship of Robin Hood[9] and served as an important challenge to the abusive power of McCarthyism and the government in people's lives.

Although the actual movement lasted less than a year, its effects are still felt to day as student activism continue to be an important way for students to let their voices be heard. The Green Feather Movement in UCLA was said to be "a turning point in student activism on campus because this type of political performance was not sanctioned by the administration." [3] Universities have increasingly begun to include more student activist groups following the Green Feather Movement allowing students to have conversations about pressing issues of the day and to plan and take action. New improvements in technology have also allowed students to express their opinion through different mediums to reach a larger audience, making student activism much more prominent and common following the Green Feather Movement. The issues with censorship as seen in this movement is also one that people still face today.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Anti-Communism in the 1950s | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History". www.gilderlehrman.org. 2012-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  2. ^ "Forms of Censorship During the 1950s | Synonym". Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  3. ^ a b c d "» The Green Feather Movement Zinn Education Project". zinnedproject.org. Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  4. ^ Branigin, John, "What Did it Matter: The Legacy of Protest," Indiana Alumni Magazine, March-April 2001. Retrieved November 29, 2009.
  5. ^ "Green Feather Movement - Teaching for Change". Teaching for Change. 2013-11-18. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  6. ^ " 'Green Feather' Asks Recognition", Harvard Crimson, May 21, 1954. Retrieved Nov. 29, 2009.
  7. ^ "Green Feather Group To Fight McCarthyism Will Start Here Soon | News | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  8. ^ Isserman, Maurice, If I had a hammer: the death of the old left and the birth of the new left (Basic Books, 1987), p. 63.
  9. ^ Clark, Thomas D., Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer (Indiana University Press, 1977) vol. 4, p. 232-238.

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