FBI Files Show HBS Forced Out Leftist Professor
Red Scare Revisited: Historian quit after refusing to state his politics
The year is 1954. A pregnant woman and her newly unemployed husband board a train for New York where they will stay with relatives they have never met. The woman gives birth a month later as a charity patient at a New York hospital.
The woman, Ann Fagan Ginger, says the quick flight from Massachusetts came after Harvard officials forced her now deceased husband to resign from the faculty because he refused to reveal whether he was, or had ever been, a Communist.
A file maintained by the FBI backs up the claim. According to a number of FBI documents, Harvard gave Assistant Professor of Research in Business History Raymond S. Ginger an ultimatum: reveal his politics or resign.
Two days later, the Gingers left Boston for good.
If the accounts recorded in FBI files are accurate, they reveal a more aggressively anti-Communist stance during the Red Scare of the McCarthy era than Harvard has publicly admitted. Ginger's case would be the first ever revealed in which a Harvard professor was asked to resign because he refused to respond to charges that he was a Communist.
After years of silence, Ann Ginger has written to the Board of Overseers to demanding an apology and has released to The Crimson copies of relevant FBI files obtained through a public records request.
University spokesperson Joe Wrinn confirms that Harvard has received Ginger's September letter, though Ann Ginger says she has not received a reply.
"Out of courtesy, I'd imagine the letter would be returned with some kind of response," Wrinn says. "What kind of detail that letter will contain, I can't say."
Kremlin on the Charles
In McCarthy's words Harvard was a "smelly mess"--a "privileged sanctuary for Fifth Amendment Communists," where students risked "indoctrination by Communist professors."
Harvard fought back publicly. In a special 1953 statement, the Harvard Corporation said membership in the Communist Party was grounds for dismissal but that refusing to answer questions about the party was not.
Harvard questioned many faculty members about alleged ties to the party (please see related story, page A-7)--one professor was even suspended when Harvard feared she was "under Communist domination."
But according to all definitive accounts to date, Harvard never forced anyone off the faculty for refusing to answer questions about whether or not he or she was a Communist.
The Ginger Files
The files contain the results of interviews apparently conducted by FBI agents with numerous sources at Harvard and elsewhere. Stamped confidential and full of blacked-out names, the files set out in stark detail the government's version of events that took place at Harvard in 1954.
According to the files:
On June 14, 1954 Business School officials received an anonymous tip that Ann and Ray Ginger might be called before the Massachusetts Commission to Investigate Communism.
The next day Harvard officials, whose names are deleted from the files, called Ginger into an office at 4:30 p.m. Ginger was then asked if he was in fact under suspicion by the commission.
According to the document, Ginger said he would be called before the commission, but "hedged" as to whether he would cooperate with its investigation. Ginger was told he was to appear at a 9 a.m. meeting the next morning with more answers.
The morning meeting came, but Ginger would not answer the critical question posed to him: was he a Communist?
"When the conference with him resumed this morning, Ginger refused to give a definite answer about whether he would cooperate," an FBI document states. "He thereafter refused to answer questions put to him whether he is now or ever had been a member of the Communist Party."
Harvard officials also asked Ginger whether his wife Ann--a lawyer involved in the defense of alleged subversives--was a member of the Communist Party.
"He 'flared' at [name removed] when the latter asked him subsequently about his wife's status, if any, with the CP, and secondly whether she too had been asked to appear before the Massachusetts Commission," the FBI record says.
The Bureau's files indicate that, faced with Ginger's reticence, Harvard officials offered the professor a clear choice between talking or leaving the University.
"[Name deleted] then advised Ginger he would either answer the question or submit his resignation as Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Business Administration. Ginger stated he would resign," the document states.
A few days after the incident, a Harvard official called the FBI to make the University's records on Ginger available to the Bureau. The FBI's record of the conversation says that the official did not think Ginger "had any connection with the Communist Party or any sympathy for it" but was aware that his wife was "believed" to have a connection with it.
The Harvard Paper Trail
Official University publications indicate that Ginger was indeed an Assistant Professor during the 1953-54 academic year, under a contract FBI files said was to last until Aug. 31, 1954.
But the Harvard Archives confirmed after examination of confidential Corporation documents that Ginger was also given a three-year appointment to the Business School faculty set to begin on July 1, 1954.
Harvard has no record of the circumstances of Ginger's departure in his public archival files. In the 1954-1955 Graduate School of Business Administration Dean's Report, Ginger's name is listed among dozens of professors who "left the School to continue teaching elsewhere or to enter business or government service."
Some of the available evidence from the time supports the idea that Ginger left Harvard abruptly in 1954.
Ginger's title as editor of Harvard's quarterly Business History Review disappears midway though the year. The first issue after he left carries a special note saying that Ginger "planned and prepared" the edition for publication, but a new editor assumes his place on the masthead.
Business School officials had planned for Ginger to be in the classroom when school started in the fall. Business School course announcements from the time indicate that Ginger was to teach classes in business history in both semesters during the 1954-1955 academic year.
Ann Ginger's Story
The FBI files say Harvard decided to pay him in consideration of Ann's advanced pregnancy. But she says that this is not the whole story.
She says the payment came with a stringent condition attached: Ray would get his salary if the Gingers left Massachusetts immediately. That way, the two would never be called before the Massachusetts Commission to Investigate Communism, and Harvard could avoid a messy public investigation.
They left almost immediately.
"All I know is that Friday morning I got on a train with my three-and a-half year old and baggage, leaving my house in a total disarray and having hired somebody to come and pick up the papers and pack them," Ann Ginger says. "We went to stay with my brother in law's parents in New York whom I had never met."
The next month, Ann Ginger checked into New York's Beth Israel Hospital as a charity patient, where her son James Fagan Ginger was born on July 19, 1954.
"People have asked why I didn't sue," she says. "For God's sake, we had to find a hospital, we had to find a doctor, we had no money."
Who Was Raymond Ginger?
In 1949, with an A.B. and A.M. from the University of Michigan his only scholarly credentials, he published his first book, Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs, which became required reading for students of labor history. In 1951, he earned his a Ph.D. from Western Reserve University in California.
After leaving Harvard he worked briefly in publishing and then taught at Brandeis University, Wayne State University in Michigan and the University of Calgary, where he was a professor at the time of his death in the mid-1970s.
He wrote additional books, seven of which are held in the Harvard libraries. But he is best known for Bending Cross.
"I had read as a really young man his biography of Debs, and it was a very powerful influence on my political development," says Howard Zinn, the famed leftist historian. "It is a wonderful book. He was a very meticulous scholar and very, very much respected in the profession."
A labor historian. A scholar of Eugene Debs. But was Ray Ginger a Communist?
"Was he a Communist? Was Eugene Debs a member of the Communist Party?" says Ann Ginger. "These things are fluid. They're not a simple thing, like a card-carrying member of the KKK. People were in and around the Socialist party, the Communist party, the CIO."
Ann Ginger says she does not know whether her husband was a member of the Communist Party, though she says both of them were active in left-wing causes and attended Marxist study groups and, occasionally, Communist Party meetings.
At the time, the Gingers were friends with some of Massachusetts' best-known members of the left. Ann Ginger took piano lessons from the wife of Otis Hood, who was the head of the Communist Party of Massachusetts. Ann Ginger says she attended many more political meetings than her husband but still cannot say whether her involvement reached to a level that could be termed "membership" in the Party.
But she emphasizes that it was scholarship, not activism, that most interested her husband. His friends agree.
"He was so totally committed to his profession that he really pulled a curtain down on anything else," says Mark Solomon, a professor emeritus at Simmons College. "I remember talking to him in the 1960s about what was going on temporarily and he looked at me and said 'I'm totally immersed in my period.'"
In contrast, Ann Ginger was, and is, deeply involved in politics.
In 1954, she was active in the National Lawyer's Guild, which the United States Attorney General was trying to put on its list of subversive organizations, and was a lawyer with the Civil Rights Congress, which was already on the list.
Since Ann and Ray Ginger divorced in 1957, she has continued her work as an author, lawyer and activist, authoring and editing 22 books on civil rights and law, including, most recently Nuclear Weapons Are Illegal. She is currently president of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute in Berkeley, California.
Truth and Reconciliation
When the incident first occurred, the Gingers decided not to publicize it because they both needed to get jobs.
"I was a lawyer. I didn't want to have a huge amount of stuff about this in the papers," she said. "It wouldn't have helped me. And he was an author. It wouldn't have helped him get a job to have a big bunch of stuff in the papers."
She said that as the years went, by she decided not to bring the story to the press because she wanted to tell it her own way.
In her voluminous writings she has made two mentions of the incident, one in footnotes to a 1979 Harvard Civil Liberties Law Review article and the other in a poem published in 1987.
But inspired by the idea of "truth and reconciliation" she has now decided to step forward and tell the whole tale.
"The idea of having a person who committed a crime tell that they did it to the person they did it to and to try to have a reconciliation is a very appealing thing to me," she said. "That's what led me to this: a feeling that the time had come for Harvard to face openly what's happened in the Cold War."
Ginger says she is waiting to hear back from Harvard about her letter. But until she gets an apology, she has no respect for the University.
"I hate Harvard," Ginger says. "I have absolutely no respect for Harvard until they admit what they did to me."
--Staff writer Joshua E. Gewolb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIDEBAR: HARVARD STOOD UP TO MCCARTHY, WITH EXCEPTIONS
Many universities came under Sen. Joseph McCarthy's scrutiny in the early 1950s, and some chose to fire those who the senator accused. McCarthy and his colleagues made Harvard a special target of their crusades, holding special hearings in Boston to examine suspect professors.
"I cannot conceive of anyone sending their children anywhere where they might be open to indoctrination by Communist professors," McCarthy said of Harvard.
Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey '28, an old McCarthy rival from his Wisconsin days, vehemently denied the senator's charges. He said that while he believed there were no Communists on the Harvard faculty, if he found any he would dismiss them.
"A member of the Communist party is not fit to be on the faculty because he has not the necessary independence of thought and judgment," Pusey said.
But Harvard earned a reputation as a bulwark against McCarthyism by refusing to fire faculty targeted by McCarthy and his colleagues.
When Associate Professor of Physics Wendell H. Furry took the Fifth before a congressional committee in a nationally publicized case, Harvard reprimanded him but said that his refusal to speak was not cause for dismissal.
"We deplore the use of the Fifth Amendment," Pusey said in a later statement of his support for the Corporation's decision in the Furry case. "But we do not regard the use of the constitutional safeguard as a confession of guilt."
But when it suspected that people were presently Communists, or under Communist influence, Harvard was less sympathetic, according to contemporary newspaper accounts and later scholarship.
In the strongest of such cases, Harvard suspended Medical School Assistant Professor of Anatomy Helen Deane Markham when it decided that it could "no longer reasonably believe that she is free from Communist domination."
Her suspension was revoked after about a month and a half when the Corporation decided that she was not presently under Communist influences.
The Private Policy
In one case, Harvard told an ex-Communist that he could not have a job promised to him if he did not inform on the party.
Sigmund Diamond, a Communist for nine years, had been offered a position as counselor for foreign students and dean of special students. But when Dean of the Faculty McGeorge Bundy learned of his Communist past, he told Diamond he would have to turn over a list of his political associates or he would lose the offer. Diamond refused and left for Columbia University.
Bundy put a similar condition on Robert Bellah's appointment as an instructor in the Social Relations Department and sent him to University Health Services where a doctor asked him if he had "engaged in sexual acts" for which he "could be blackmailed."
Revealing information about the Communist Party was also sometimes made a condition of financial aid.
When Bellah was a graduate student, Bundy told him that he would have to name names of his associates in the Communist Party in order to retain his fellowship. Bellah left the University for Canada rather than accept the conditions.
Fulfilling the conditions would have been an easy task according to Judge Lawrence D. Shubow '43-'44, a former Communist.
"In my class at Harvard College I was the only member of the Young Communists League," he recalls. "I was called upon by my comrades to recruit other people but could not. I look back with amusement at the notion that somehow the Red tide was rising to dangerous heights at Harvard."
--Joshua E. Gewolb