Martin Dies Jr., The House Un-American Activities Committee, and Racial Discrimination in Mid-Century America



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As global conflicts spiraled out of control in the late 1930s, many Americans

became concerned about foreign threats, particularly from fascists and communists. This

study examines how U.S. Congressman Martin Dies, Jr. (D-TX) used his authority as

chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to transform the fear of

communism into a powerful weapon against African American civil rights. Many

historians have analyzed HUAC’s suppression of free speech and its adversarial role

toward Hollywood, but there is little research on how Dies used anti-communist rhetoric

to thwart progress on African American civil rights. This paper illustrates how Dies’

work with HUAC reinforced a nativist and segregationist attitude, which appealed to

many of his constituents, and thereby enabled him to shape national policy from 1931 to

  1. Dies proved so successful, in fact, that his tactics were later replicated by other

legislators in the 1950s and 1960s.



Anti-Communism, Civil Rights