Telling the Truth about/in the Native Land
Reading through the labor press of 1943 and 1944 I found this item about censorship in Chicago. The film was Native Land, originally produced between 1938 and 1942 (when it was
released) as a response to the right wing “March of Time.” The film features Paul Robeson as a narrator and mixes documentary footage as well as dramatic reenactments of, for example, KKK attacks and union defense against labor spies and thugs. (Click here to find out more about the film and the plot and here.) The context was the predations of the precursor to the “Un-American Activities” investigations, the committee led by Texas member of the House of Representatives, Martin Dies. The committee name was changed to its more well known appellation from the “Dies Committee” in 1946. In 1938, the year that work on Native Land was begun (under the working title, later discarded, of Labor Spy), the Dies Committee subpoenaed Hallie Flanagan, head of the Federal Theater Project, to investigate its infiltration by communists. Member of the committee Joe Starnes achieved notoriety by asking Flanagan if Christopher Marlowe was a member of the American Communist Party, and whether the playwright “Mr. Euripides” preached class warfare. The environment in which Native Land was censored in Chicago also saw the labor press calling for the disbanding of the Dies Committee for its anti union activity.