This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
W.E.B. Du Bois
October 20, 1956
* * *
April 11, 1959
* * *
Blacklist = Black Market
Excerpted from the May 4, 1957 Issue
As the year 1957 lurches toward its mid-point, Hollywood finds itself celebrating, willingly or unwillingly, the tenth anniversary of a blacklist which began in 1947. Despite assurances that ten heads would appease the gods, the guillotine has since claimed some 250 artists and technicians.
A blacklist is an illegal instrument of terror which can exist only by sufferance of and connivance with the federal government. The Hollywood blacklist is but part of an immensely greater official blacklist—barring its victims from work at home and denying them passage abroad—which mocks our government in all its relations with civilized powers that neither tolerate nor understand such repression. The shock of the blacklist produces psychic disorders among sensitive persons, from which result broken homes, desolate children, premature deaths and sometimes suicide.
It is not alone the loss of income or of property that hurts: the more terrible wound is the loss of a profession to which one’s entire life has been dedicated. A director must have the facilities of a studio: denied them, he sells real estate. A violinist must appear in person for the concert: barred from admittance, he becomes a milkman and practices six hours a day against the unrevealed time when his music once more may be heard. The actor’s physical personality, which is his greatest asset, becomes his supreme curse under the blacklist; he must be seen, and when the sight of him is prohibited he becomes a carpenter, an insurance salesman, a barber.
A writer is more fortunate. Give him nothing more than paper, a pencil and a nice clean cell, and he’s in business. Dante, Cervantes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Ben Jonson, Milton, Defoe, Bunyan, Hugo, Zola and a score of others have long since proved that in jail or out, writing under their own names or someone else’s or a pseudonym or anonymously, writers will write; and that having written, they will find an audience. Only fools with no knowledge of history and bureaucrats with no knowledge of literature are stupid enough to think otherwise.