On this day in 1946, Helen Gahagan Douglas took on Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare with a historic speech on the floor of the US House of Representatives.
A Democratic member of Congress from California, Douglas took advantage of her international fame from her previous careers as a Broadway actress and opera singer to gain support for her political agenda — and public speaking was one of her leading strategies.
She kept up a hectic speaking itinerary around the country on behalf of issues like postwar price controls and the regulation of atomic energy.
She spoke out forcefully for civil rights at a time when Jim Crow segregation laws prevailed in much of the country. She was the first white member of Congress to hire African Americans on her staff, and she pushed to desegregate restaurants in Washington DC.
And in another courageous stance, she used her voice during a dark chapter in American history by standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating alleged Communist sympathizers.
On March 29, 1946, Douglas took the fight to the floor of the House, and she pulled no punches.
“Mr. Speaker,” she began, “I think we all know that Communism is no real threat to the democratic institutions of our country. But the irresponsible way the term “Communism” is used to falsely label the thing that majority of us believe in can be very dangerous.”
“I think we all know that Communism is no real threat to the democratic institutions of our country. But the irresponsible way the term “Communism” is used to falsely label the thing that majority of us believe in can be very dangerous.”
Firing back, her critics viciously attacked her pro-Red and a Communist “fellow traveler” — with no basis in fact.
When she later campaigned for the Senate, in 1950, her primary opponent called her “the pink lady” and said she was “pink right down to her underwear” — a reference to her supposed Communist sympathies.
Her speech at the House of Representatives — known as” My Democratic Credo” — has gone down in history as a bold and principled stand at a time of massive political and social acquiesce.
Many innocent people lost their jobs and suffered the destruction of their careers and reputations during the Red Scare because of a ruthless, unchecked campaign of lies and insinuation.
You can read a transcript of Douglas’ brave remarks here.
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