The House Un-American Activities Committee is one of the few places in this country where the right and left enter into the advisability of further legislation on the Cuba travel ban, this situation created a warm and spontaneous alliance between the witnesses--though these men are more accustomed to splitting hairs in their partisan disagreement.
At the hearings, the quality of discussion was curiously uneven. It was clear, for example, that the radical Negro civil rights lawyer, Conrad Lynn, was eager to discuss his view that Negroes in America should arm themselves in self-defense, and to explain why Cuba's Inter-racial society might seem utopian to Americans who had suffered discrimination all their lives.
But the Committee's counsel, Alfred M. Nittles '36, was more interested in the organizations to which Lynn belonged than in his reasons for joining them. Nittle's questions about Cuba dealt mostly with Americans Lynn might have seen there, and not at all with the country itself. Only occasionally was the witness provided room to express a substantive point of view, and then his statements were overlooked.
On the Committee's terms, Lynn was a rather unusual witness--he chose to answer all of the questions put to him. A radical lawyer whose political associations have always been a matter of public record, he has less to lose than many of the other people the Committee interrogates. His clientele is stable, and provides him with enough money to live comfortably. His most important case concerns an American Negro, Robert F. Williams, who is wanted for kidnapping in this country and has exiled himself in Cuba. In fact, at the rally he had speculated that his appearance in Washington might reflect the Committee's effort "to frighten integrationists who are more radical than Martin Luther King."
The Committee was particularly interested in establishing the relationship between Americans who had travelled to Cuba illegally, or those who had over stayed the time allotted on the time allotted on their visa, and people still living in the United States. This was the point of the questions it had asked Elizabeth Southerland, whose job at Simon and Schuster gave the Committee an additional opportunity to imply connections between pro-Castro propagandists and people who are employed in the mass media.
Consequently, the Committee drew spon the fact that Lynn had recently visited Robert Williams in Cuba after obtaining permission from the State Department. "Did you talk with him about the route he took?" Nittles inquired. (After leaving the United States, Williams had reportedly determined to settle in Canada, like the men who had escaped slavery before the Civil War. When he heard that the Canadian police were going to extradite him to America, he travelled on to Cuba.)
"I didn't have to discuss the route with him. I already knew it," Lynn replied. "We had reconstituted the underground railway" to protect Robert Williams from unjust persecution by the American government.
Though the Committee pursued this line of questioning a little further, asking Lynn for names for people who had assisted Williams and for information into the exile's present activities, it probed more deeply into the lawyer's organizational affiliations. Lynn agreed that he belonged to groups which the Committee considered to be on the extreme left wing, including the American Forum for Socialist Education, which admitted representatives of the Communist party to its board.
Finally, toward the close of the hearing. Committee chairman Edwin E. Willis told Lynn that though he had not been a member of the Party since 1937, his subsequent career suggested that he was still a spokesman for Communism.
Lynn had the audience with him, and knew it. He delivered his answer--which turned out to be the last substantive comment of the afternoon--in a piercing voice which grew louder as he went on:
"I object to the characterization of these organizations as Communist projects. They are projects of the left--I am definitely on the left--and I am willing to discuss them with you in exhaustive detail. The American Forum wanted to find out whether by discussion we could find a new way for America. I do not happen to be satisfied with this Government, which permits the brutalization of those Negroes in Birmingham."
The audience applauded loudly. Willis excused the witness and the hearing ended. Afterwards those who had testified stood talking with their friends in the hall of the Old House Office Building, just beyond earshot of a group from the Committee which was standing around discussing the day's business