Civil Rights and the CPUSA

•January 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Last fall semester, I had the privilege of teaching a History Junior seminar course at Florida International University designed to expose students to non-traditional primary source materials on the subject of the Great Depression and New Deal era. One of the undergraduate students in that class, Nathaniel Candelario, passed in a final research paper on the antecedents of the Civil Rights Movement that most of us today associate with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other activists of the 1950s and 1960s. While most Americans are familiar with the boycotts, sit-ins, and demonstrations of the post-Second World War era, this student persuasively argued for the need to acknowledge the earlier struggle for African-American civil rights that took place during the 1930s, largely under the aegis of the Communist Party of the United States (or CPUSA).

During this earlier era in the struggle for African-American rights, the CPUSA—very much a “white man’s movement”—positioned itself as one of the leading instruments in the civil rights crusade. While their progressive position on race was embraced partly as a means of wooing and recruiting blacks into the Party, it also stemmed from the genuine belief of their members in the values of equality, and in the goal of championing the cause of oppressed peoples. While First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) also worked tirelessly in this period to advance the cause of African Americans, the CPUSA was the only political party of the era to adopt civil rights as part of its party platform and the first to put an African-American vice-presidential candidate on its ticket.

Even as the Great Migration witnessed a major shift of African Americans from the rural South to Northern cities and urban centers, during the Depression decade the majority of blacks were still scratching out a meagre living as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and migrant laborers tied by debt and KKK terrorism to peonage in the South. In the 1930s, the Communist Party U.S.A. dedicated itself to fighting the “defenders of white chauvinism,” educating and liberating oppressed African Americans, and advocating for “Self-Determination for the Black Belt.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

In many of their publications, the CPUSA railed against Capitalism and its false promises to the African Americans. In a pamphlet envisioning the Sovietization of American society, the Party’s black vice-presidential candidate, James W. Ford, ironically quoted Booker T. Washington’s belief that “No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

According to Ford, Radical Reconstruction had failed to deliver on its promise of “40 acres and a mule,” and Capitalism had eroded and black land ownership and virtually “re-enslaved” blacks in the rural South through a system of “debt peonage,” foreclosures, and vagrancy laws that drove poor black men into prison chain-gang labor camps.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act had been designed to help poor farmers, Southern politicians managed to subvert and pervert the provisions of the program to allow white landowners to earn federal subsidies even as they drove “Negro” tenants and sharecroppers off their property.

While Communist rhetoric and print propaganda wooed the African-American community, the Party realized that actions spoke louder than words. Attempts to forge integrated unions in the South proved difficult and dangerous for the Party. Angelo Herndon, an African American working for the Communist-affiliated Unemployment Council had a run-in with the law in Atlanta, Georgia in 1932 after organizing a hunger march and demonstration at the Atlanta courthouse. Two detectives trailing Herndon discovered Communist literature in his hotel room, and arrested him under an old Reconstruction-era “insurrection” statute for attempting to organize an integrated union of working-class blacks and whites. Having faced a racist judge in the courtroom, and hostile public outside, Herndon’s defense attorney, African-American lawyer Benjamin Jefferson Davis, Jr., became radicalized himself, joining the Party after making his concluding arguments in the 1933 case. Moving to Harlem, Davis became an editor of the Party’s newspaper, The Negro Liberator in 1935, and afterwards of The Daily Worker.


Benjamin Davis, Jr. (1903-1964) portrait /by Hugo Gellert
Courtesy of: PD-US,

After Herndon was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 18–20 years in his first trial, the CPUSA continued to organize national speaking engagements and demonstrations on his behalf. The Party’s legal arm, the International Labor Defense, managed to secure him a new trial, and following a second conviction by Georgia’s Supreme Court, a successful appeal and overturning of the 1937 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that declared Georgia’s controversial Insurrection Law unconstitutional.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca 

The CPUSA found another opportunity to show the Party’s concern for the plight of African Americans with the infamous trial of nine African-American boys in Scottsboro, Alabama. The boys, like hundreds of thousands of other youths, had hopped a freight train in a desperate bid to find work in some other city. After a skirmish with some white hobos also riding the rails, the train came to a stop in Scottsboro, Alabama. Two homeless females were also pulled off the train, and to deflect charges of vagrancy and prostitution, claimed to have been victims of an alleged gang rape. Narrowing escaping a lynching, eight of the boys were convicted and sentenced to death in a sham of a trial; the youngest boy received a life sentence. While the NAACP initially chose not to involve itself in such a controversial case, the CPUSA sent organizers to speak with the boys’ families and secured permission to take on their defense. The Party organized mass demonstrations nationally and internationally, and kept their cause alive in print.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Communist Party leaders also hired the best criminal lawyer in the country to defend them, and litigated a series of retrials that would take the Scottsboro Boys’ case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision rendered there had important consequences for the future Civil Rights movement, as the Supreme Court decision rejected the long-standing Southern tradition of depriving blacks from participating in the jury selection process and from sitting on juries.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The CPUSA also actively agitated on civil-rights issues in the cultural life of America. Articles and editorials in the Party’s mouthpiece, The Daily Worker, consistently advocated on behalf of integrating the national pastime of major league baseball in the 1930s. The Party also won the support and allegiance of a number of prominent Black intellectuals, writers, and performers, including Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Paul Robeson.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

While the NAACP and Eleanor Roosevelt were determined advocates for African-American civil rights in this same period, their record of accomplishments in the 1930s was mixed. Both the NAACP and the First Lady championed a federal anti-lynching bill, but President Roosevelt, a New Yorker, failed to throw his public support behind its passage, fearing the defection of the Southern “Dixiecrat” wing of his party. Consequently, the anti-lynching bill failed to pass in Congress.

Eleanor remained a staunch supporter of civil rights and black culture. She attended many meetings of the NAACP, was photographed presenting an African-American woman an award at the Annual NAACP meeting in Richmond, Virginia in 1939, and attended the dedication of Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center on May 7, 1941.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The First Lady was herself derided by critics as a “Communist sympathizer” on account of her stance on integration. Her personal intervention during the Second World War was critical to the Tuskegee Airmen receiving the opportunity to prove themselves in air combat in Europe.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

After a decade of civil-rights and anti-fascist activism that established a reputation for the CPUSA as the most progressive party in America between 1929 and 1939, the Communist Party imploded and disintegrated as leadership toed the Moscow line in support of the Hitler–Stalin Pact in 1939, and membership fell precipitously. Black Socialist leader A. Philip Randolph resigned from the Negro National Congress in protest. After a brief warming of relations during the war years that made allies of the U.S. and Soviet Union, there was a return to animosity in the postwar period and during the Red Scare of the 1950s.

The Party had negligible influence in the subsequent Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Communist Party supporter, Stanley Levison became Reverend King’s closest white advisor in the early 1960s, and another individual with Communist associations, Hunter Pitts (“Jack”) O’Dell, became an important member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Ultimately, King bowed down before the anti-Communist hysteria of the era. Under pressure from President John F. Kennedy and the FBI, Dr. King ceased all contact with Levinson and reluctantly called on O’Dell to resign from the SCLC in 1963 so as not to allow America’s “morbid fear of Communism” to discredit the Southern Freedom Movement as something “Communist inspired.”

Fair Thee Well

•December 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

More than 200 Art Basel visitors to Miami Beach took advantage of an opportunity to see a display of rare books, periodicals, and ephemeral items in The Wolfsonian library collection last Friday evening. The guests were treated to a selection of highlights from our holdings and items that had been, or would be, featured in past and future library installations. The display also included some recent gifts donated by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf earlier this fall season. Here is the report of our Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn.


Once a year in December, just prior to the winter holidays, the Wolfsonian–FIU hosts its Art Basel event. All the work we do here culminates into the splendor of this exotic episode of music, cocktails, fascinating objects, enthusiastic crowds, and the exceptional library treasures we invite the public to see.

Guests congregate around a table laden with original photograph albums and antique books from all over the world. All night long, attendees enjoy a rare opportunity to make themselves at home and page through the past.

This year’s display featured a special selection of materials from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

This photo album was most likely put together in Egypt at the Royal Air Force base in Abu-Sueir (Suwayr) by a member of its 27th flight training squadron.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Candid portraits of natives are interspersed with startling images of flight training mishaps.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collectionn

Another type of local caught the attention of the photographer.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

This original photo album was produced by Lieutenant J. D. Harding from the Kent Regiment of the British Army between 1918 and 1919 in the Northwest Frontier of India, Afghanistan, and Balochistan, at the beginning of the 3rd Afghan War.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Some Pashtuns, from a primary ethnic group still prevalent in Afghanistan and Pakistan today, are taken prisoner.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Harding captures the forbidding landscape.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The Sharf collection reaches further back in time, to the Far East.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The photographs in this album are most likely by Felice Beato and possibly his trainees in Yokohama, Japan in 1877. The prolific Beato used exquisite hand-watercolor painting techniques on black and white albumen prints.


The WolfsonianFIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Kusakabe Kimbei, one of Beato’s protégés and later a successful photographer in his own right, tinted many of Beato’s photos.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In addition, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, an Austrian who set up shop in Japan around the same time as Beato, could be the photographer of some of the album’s pictures.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The identities of the photographers remain almost as mysterious as their beautiful and enigmatic models.

Visit The Wolfsonian–FIU library for your own epic encounter with the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.

Happy Days Are Here Again: Prohibition Repealed This Day In 1933

•December 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

After thirteen “dry” years, on this day in history in 1933, the American national experiment with Temperance came to an end when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus repealing the 18th Amendment that had prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the United States.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Kate Greenaway Collection

The production of wine and alcoholic beverages dates back to colonial times and the consumption of liquor remained a popular American pastime ever since.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Kate Greenaway Collection

But from its humble beginnings in the early nineteenth century, the Temperance Movement grew by the early twentieth century into a powerful political force capable of convincing several states to outlaw alcohol within their borders. In the Southern states, the Ku Klux Klan threw their support behind Prohibition, motivated by fears of the supposed excessive drinking habits of Catholic Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants.


Image courtesy of:

In January 1919, a three-fourths majority of states ratified the 18th Amendment, and on October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act to enforce Prohibition over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Robert J. Young

Given the popularity of drinking, Prohibition proved to be a difficult law to enforce. Ordinary citizens showed their disdain for the law by hoarding alcohol in their cellars, or attending illegal “speakeasies.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

For the well-to-do, there was also the option of traveling outside of U.S. jurisdiction to vacation destinations like Cuba, where the rum still flowed like water.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

With the passage of Prohibition in the U.S., many big city barmen packed up shop and moved to Havana, adding to the proliferation of thousands of bars catering to “thirsty” American tourists.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

Havana Widows, a Hollywood comedy starring Joan Blondell and released in the same year that Prohibition was repealed, played up the theme of American millionaires and gold-diggers carousing and living it up in Cuba.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Prohibition also created opportunities in the United States for unscrupulous bootleggers and gangsters to make overnight fortunes by producing and selling overpriced bathtub gin and moonshine, or by importing the “good stuff” from Canada and Cuba. Clashes with competitors and collusion with corrupt police forces added to the violence of the “Roaring Twenties.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

By the early 1930s, many Americans already experiencing the economic woes of the Great Depression tired of the experiment in Prohibition, and the federal government anticipated the much-needed boon for business and tax revenues that would accrue from making liquor legal again.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Just as the 1929 song “Happy Days Are Here Again” was picked up by and used as the presidential campaign theme song for Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic Convention, it also became associated with the repeal of Prohibition soon after his inauguration, when spirits flowed freely once more in America.


Sic Transit Gloria Mundi: An Imperial Funeral During the First World War

•November 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post, a reflection on the anniversary of the funeral of Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph, comes to you courtesy of Associate Librarian, Nicolae Harsanyi, Dr. Harsanyi is the Wolfsonian library’s resident expert on European history and culture and is fluent in many of the languages spoken in Eastern Europe. Here is his report: 

Franz Joseph, the emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, died on November 21, 1916, at the age of 86. After having watched his wife’s assassination and 1898, his son’s suicide a year later, and his designated heir’s assassination in 1914, the emperor died as powers across Europe and the world were engaged in one of the most brutal and globalized conflict in human history. The funeral of the emperor took place on November 30.

The Wolfsonian–FIU Library has a portfolio published by the Association of Silver Cross of the returning Austrian reserve military, which contains 48 photographic plates presenting various moments of the funeral.




The Austro-Hungarian bodyguard wearing ceremonial uniform was one of the several military units that preceded the imperial hearse in the procession that headed to St. Stephen’s Cathedral for the funeral service.





Here, the casket is carried inside the church. In a dispatch from December 1, 1916, The New York Times reported that the church was “crammed in every corner with a brilliant congregation of Kings, Crown Princes, Archdukes, diplomats, prelates, statesmen and other personnages [sic].” However, the article fails to mention that representatives of many countries, namely those against which Austria-Hungary and Germany were currently waging war, did not attend the funeral.


From St. Stephen’s, the procession moved on foot through the streets for four blocks to the church of the Capuchins, the traditional burial place of the Habsburgs.




Shown here are Emperor Charles, Empress Zita, Crown Prince Otto, and the Kings of Saxony, Bavaria, and Bulgaria in the funeral procession of the Emperor Franz Joseph.  Charles, the successor of the late emperor, reigned only for two years. At the end of the First World War he and his family were banished from all the successor states of the empire. After the Second World War, Otto von Habsburg became an advocate of European unification and was a member of the European Parliament until his death in 2011.

XB1994.315.2 Plate42a

In this photograph is the final resting place of Franz Joseph’s coffin, at the Capuchin church in Vienna, surrounded by the remains of his wife, Elisabeth, and his son, Rudolf. This last image appears in a brochure describing the Capuchin church, dating from 1933, also in our library’s collection.

Oui, Je Parle Français! FIU French Language Students Encounter Museum Founder Micky Wolfson

•November 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This past Saturday, Modern Languages Professor Maria Antonieta Garcia brought a large group of FIU students and Francophiles to The Wolfsonian for a presentation of French-language materials in the library, and a brief tour of the galleries. Professor Garcia, who also serves as advisor for FIU’s French club, Le Cercle Français, has organized frequent visits to the museum by her students and members of the club.

For this particular visit, Professor Garcia asked us to lay out some rare materials dealing with the topic of France’s overseas possessions and colonies, and items documenting the dark history of the German occupation of France during the Second World War, both subjects for which The Wolfsonian has superb holdings.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Our founder, Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr., when he is not traveling the world in search of new items to add to our collection, has his home base in Paris. In the last few years, our French language materials have grown considerably.

In the foyer of the library, the students had the chance to see two French artifacts on display in Selling the Golden Leaf, a library installation focusing on tobacco advertising. One item is a viewbook published as a souvenir for the Exposition Coloniale International in Paris, 1931, by the tobacco industry.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The other piece on display is a calendar printed during the Second World War depicting a French woman sharing cigarettes with North African men wearing fezes, thus combining the colonial and world war interests of the visitors.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The group had the opportunity to see how France represented its colonial possessions at the Paris exhibition of 1900, the Exposition coloniale de Marseille in 1922, and the 1931 Exposition Coloniale International.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Although the Paris 1900 exposition is largely remembered for its promotion of the popular Art Nouveau style in art and architecture, it also included various exhibitions of French colonies, particularly some of those of Sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the colonial exhibits included samples of products and raw materials, and were staffed by “native” peoples dressed in traditional attire and demonstrating local handicrafts. In reality, the people brought over to populate these “human zoos” were nearly all “assimilated” persons from the colonies. Some were paid to act and behave as “savages” and others to demonstrate the civility they had learned from their humanitarian-minded colonizers. France’s overseas possessions were also represented by pavilions inspired by the vernacular traditions of the colonies, but designed by important and Modernist-minded French architects.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Exposition nationale coloniale de Marseille in 1922 was actually the fifth colonial exhibition organized in France. Postcards and books published as souvenirs for the exhibition show the importance France attributed to its overseas possession and colonial commodities.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Images from one souvenir book demonstrate how native huts and buildings were juxtaposed to modern European buildings in order to reinforce distinctions between “primitive” peoples and their supposedly “cultured” and technologically sophisticated European colonizers.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Exhibition catalogs and portfolios from the Exposition coloniale internationale held in Paris in 1931 also emphasized France’s greatness as a world empire by picturing peoples of all races under her dominion.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The fair organizers even erected a museum celebrating the French Empire, designed by Albert Laprade and Léon Jaussely, and covered in bas relief designed by Alfred Janniot to represent the exotic peoples and products of the French empire.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Visited by 33 million during the six months of the exposition, the Musée Permanent des Colonies still remains, though it has since been renamed the Palais de la Porte Dorée.

Of interest to my French visitors this Saturday was a unique portfolio of watercolor renderings made before the opening of the exposition in 1931. The images show elegantly dressed Parisians strolling through the colonial exhibition to view, if not interact with, the exotic peoples brought to the fair.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

In one plate, France’s technological superiority is implied by an aerial view, designed to remind the viewer that even the highest minaret is dwarfed by the accomplishments of France’s fleet of airplanes.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Another plate not-so-subtly emphasizes France’s “civilizing” mission by depicting a European woman in a pith helmet teaching Africans gathered in a circle around her.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Another portfolio with photographic reproductions uses a double-exposure to equate a long-necked native beauty with a tropical palm tree.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The Wolfsonian holds a strong collection of material documenting the Vichy government established in France under the German occupation during the Second World War. These include propaganda books designed to indoctrinate children in the values of the Fascist-allied regime even as they taught them their ABCs.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Many of these books include photographic or illustrative renderings of the “Marechal,” Philippe Pétain. A hero of the First World War, Petain was installed as a figurehead of the collaborationist government after France surrendered to the Germans. As was typical of the times, images show children looking up to their “grandfatherly” leader with love and adoration.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

After deconstructing and critically analyzing the materials laid out in the library, I conducted the group in a tour of the galleries where we most fortunately encountered Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. in the flesh! Several students asked Mr. Wolfson some questions, (in French, of course), and our founder responded in kind.


As the class was next bound for the Holocaust Memorial, we briefly stopped first on the sixth floor to introduce them to our exhibition of the work of the Jewish graphic designer, Julius Klinger.


A successful and prominent commercial artist working in the Modernist style, Klinger’s career was cut short by the German annexation of his Austrian homeland in 1938. Klinger was deprived first of his livelihood, and ultimately of his life, as he and his wife were transported to and murdered in one of the Nazi death camps.

The G.I. and Democracy

•November 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment


In commemoration of the Veterans Day holiday, today’s post will focus on the ideological battle between the forces of interventionism and isolationism in the post-First World War period, and efforts to create an educated American citizen-soldier during the Second World War.


After the experience of the First World War, many influential politicians and opinion-shapers expressed skepticism over the benefits of American military intervention abroad. Although President Woodrow Wilson had been a chief instigator in the development of the League of Nations, isolationist Republicans had opposed American participation, claiming that membership might threaten national sovereignty and lock the United States into actions dictated by that body.


Revelations concerning wartime propaganda campaigns and “fake news” atrocity stories from occupied Belgium created an atmosphere of skepticism in post-war America. Hollywood films dealing with the Great War in the 1930s, including All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Heroes for Sale (1933), and others, caused many Americans to question whether the war had actually made the world safe for democracy.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, (meeting between 1934 and 1936 and chaired by Republican Senator Gerald Nye), added to American cynicism towards those banking interests and arms manufacturers—or “merchants of death”—who were blamed for promoting and profiting from U.S. military intervention in the First World War.


The publication in 1935 of War Is a Racket by Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler lent credence to such cautionary advocates of American isolationism, and a spate of Neutrality Act legislation designed to keep America out of other nations’ conflicts. Alarmed by the Fascist, Nazi, and Japanese military aggression, during his second and third terms in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt actively pushed back against isolationist and anti-interventionist sentiment.


Downplaying domestic issues in his 1940 presidential campaign, Roosevelt advocated making America the “Arsenal of Democracy,” arguing that the Neutrality Acts actually aided and abetted Axis aggression and endangered American lives by preventing the nation from helping other democratic nations in their fight against fascism and militarism. Despite the vocal opposition of The America First Committee—(an anti-war pressure group created on September 4, 1940 and boasting of 800,000 dues-paying members at its height)—President Roosevelt managed to steer his Lend-Lease bill (providing aid to Britain and China) through Congress in March, 1941.


The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 silenced virtually all of Roosevelt’s anti-interventionist critics, U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom and appeasement advocate, Joseph Kennedy. Gerald Nye, Charles Lindbergh, and other prominent members of the America First Committee also fell silent as the group disbanded three days after the attack. With America once again at war, the President was determined that the G.I.s who enlisted, or were drafted, into the conflict knew what they were fighting for. Roosevelt was convinced that democracy depended on an educated and informed citizenry. While the Nazi and Fascist regimes depended on propaganda to forge and motivate armies of unquestioning automatons, American democracy required that the U.S. Armed Forces be informed and persuaded rather than “tricked” into taking up arms.


Towards that end, the U.S. War Department funded documentary films by such acclaimed Hollywood directors as Frank Capra and John Ford, to explain “Why We Fight,” and why “The Negro Soldier” had a stake in the war’s outcome.

Even as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act (the “G.I. Bill”) into law in 1944, pledging veterans unemployment compensation, vocational training, college education, and even federally-subsidized home mortgage or business loans on their return to civilian life, the War Department began publishing a series of educational pamphlets. Written by members of the American Historical Association, these pamphlets were designed to provoke discussion among the G.I.s on a wide variety of topics related to the war and the post-war world America aimed to create. Some titles include: “The Balkans,” “Our Russian ally,” “Australia: our neighbor “down under,” “What lies ahead for the Philippines?,” “Can war marriages be made to work?,” “Will the French Republic live again?,” “What will your town be like?,” “Will there be work for all?,” “Can we prevent future wars?,” and “What should be done with war criminals?”


Rather than arguing a particular point of view, the pamphlets were designed to “provide factual information and balanced arguments as a basis for discussion of all sides of the question.” Provided to “information-education officers” and operators of Armed Forces Radio Service outlets, the pamphlets were intended to encourage discussion among the G.I.s rather than stifle them or overawe them with foregone conclusions. The pamphlets included color-illustrated covers, and often included photographic, cartoon, and pictorial illustrations. One pamphlet, titled “What is propaganda?,” and featuring Donald Duck on its cover, tried to explain the difference between persuasion and propaganda in order to “inoculate our citizens against the effects desired by the enemies of democracy.”




Another pamphlet reflected on FDR’s “Good Neighbor” foreign policy initiatives, and supplied discussion leaders with facts, possible talking points, and even suggestions for further reading on the subject matter.





Yet another pamphlet looked to the future, and provided G.I.s with ideas to consider when deciding “Shall I build a house after the war?”






Loco for the Locomobile

•November 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment



The Wolfsonian–FIU, T. M. Cleland Archive, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

On this day in 1902, the Locomobile Company—named from a combination of “locomotive” and “automobile”—delivered its first gasoline-powered vehicle to a customer in New York City. Founded in 1899, the Locomobile Company of America had made its reputation building steam-boiler powered vehicles. Recognizing that the future lay in the internal-combustion engine, in 1902 the company hired the young engineer and racecar driver Andrew Riker with the aim of creating a new line of gasoline-driven vehicles.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

Thus was the Locomobile’s Model C born—a steel and bronze framed, four cylinder, 12-horsepower, gasoline-fueled vehicle. Priced at $4,000, the Locomobile was designed for wealthy customers.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, T. M. Cleland Archive, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Unlike Henry Ford’s standardized “Model T” for the masses (which he famously boasted could be had in any color, as long as that color was black), the gas-powered Locomobiles built in the 1910s and 1920s were crafted in a wide variety of styles and colors.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, T. M. Cleland Archive, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Acquired by Durant Motors in 1922, the Locomobile brand continued to capture the high-end automobile market and was advertised as the “Best Built Car in America.” The luxurious Locomobile touring cars, limousines, sedans, roadsters, coupes, and convertibles were very popular with and lauded by their wealthy clientele.










The Wolfsonian–FIU, T. M. Cleland Archive, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While Ford’s assembly-production churned out cars at one-thirtieth of the price of the Locomobile Model 48, the company prospered building vehicles for an elite niche market—that is, until the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which bankrupted the business.