Paid government witness Harvey Matusow had yet to admit his perjuries when a subcommittee of three from the the US House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities conducted hearings in downtown Dayton in September 1954. Within a year his revelations would become public, which probably should have ended HUAC's interest in Antioch College right then and there. Due to a variety of other voices calling for its investigation such as The Yellow Springs American, HUAC sent a special investigator to Antioch, who uncovered an informal Marxist discussion group on the College's faculty during the mid 1940s. Despite the fact that Antioch's educational philosophy of free inquiry had been explained rather plainly in similar hearing by two of its presidents, this was deemed enough evidence to call Professor of Art and Aesthetics Robert Metcalf, a reknowned stained glass artist, to appear as a witness. His testimony, reprinted here, is exemplary of the kind of reasoned, principled resistance to the pressures of the Red Scare that ultimately contributed to its end. Metcalf refuses to name the names of any of his associates, and along with his expert counsel Telford Taylor, a staunch opponent of McCarthyism who had served as Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials, successfully fought a contempt of Congress charge for that refusal.
The subcommittee, consisting of Gordon Scherer (R-Ohio), Kit Clardy (R-Michigan), and Francis E. Walter (D-Pennsylvania), and counselled by attorney Frank Tavenner, had strong anti-communist credentials: Clardy was known as “Michigan's McCarthy” and Walter had co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Pat McCarran that permitted the government to bar from entry into the US or deport anyone it identified as subversive. However, even they had ultimately found that their hearings revealed nothing of what they had been led to believe about Antioch College.
TESTIMONY OF ROBERT M. METCALF
Mr. Tavenner. What is your name please, sir?
Mr. Metcalf. Robert M. Metcalf
Mr. Tavenner. Mr. Metcalf, you are familiar with the rules of the committee with respect to the right of a witness to have counsel—
Mr. Scherer. Pardon me just a moment. Let the press get their pictures, and then you will kindly desist, gentlemen of the press.
Mr. Tavenner. Mr. Metcalf, you are familiar, are you not, with the rules of the committee that the witness is entitled to have counsel with him if he so desires or consult counsel during the course of the investigation?
Mr. Metcalf. That is correct.
Mr. Tavenner. When and where were you born?
Mr. Metcalf. Springfield, Ohio, December 23, 1902.
Mr. Tavenner. Where do you now reside?
Mr. Scherer. Just a moment. It is hard to hear.
Mr. Tavenner. I am not certain whether he answered the question.
Mr. Metcalf. I said December 23, 1902.
Mr. Tavenner. Where do you now reside?
Mr. Metcalf. Yellow Springs.
Mr. Tavenner. What is your profession?
Mr. Metcalf. I am both a stained glass artist and a professor at the college, Antioch College.
Mr. Tavenner. What department of the college is it in which you teach?
Mr. Metcalf. Art and esthetics
Mr. Tavenner. How long have you been a teacher at the college?
Mr. Mercalf. Since 1945.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you tell the committee, please, what your formal educational training has been?
Mr. Metcalf. I went to Wittenberg College in Springfield part of the time, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
Mr. Tavenner. What has been your major employment since the completion of your educational training?
Mr. Metcalf. Up until 1934 I was a stained glass artist, primarily. In 1934 I went to the Art Institute in Dayton, and head[ed] the Decorative Arts Department there. More?
Mr. Tavenner. Well, we want a fairly accurate background.
Mr. Metcalf. I was at the Institute up until, I was in Europe 14 months, the better part of two years in 1938 and 1939, on a special project, travelling around and photographing all the old windows in color.
I returned, was at the institute for a while, and then at the start of or after the war started, I was at Wright Field, in the capacity of an artist. When I left Wright Field I went to Antioch College.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you state whether or not, to your knowledge, there has been at any time an organized group of the Communist Party in Yellow Springs?
Mr. Metcalf. It is a difficult question to answer. Technically, I suppose you would say “yes.”
Mr. Tavenner. Will you explain your answer, please?
Mr. Metcalf. I could really expedite your whole questioning if you would let me give you a picture of something, and then it would be—
Mr. Tavenner. You may give a full and accurate picture.
Mr. Metcalf. It will be full and accurate, I assure you.
Mr. Scherer. I think he should be given full opportunity to explain his answers.
Mr. Tavenner. Of course. In any event you would be given an opportunity to explain any answer.
Mr. Metcalf. I think you will understand after I make the statement, you will understand why it is difficult to answer certain questions that you ask.
Mr. Scherer. I think in this case you should ask the questions in the normal way and give him an opportunity to fully explain the answer. We have not allowed other witnesses to make statements, and I think we should abide by the procedures. I am sorry.
Mr. Tavenner. You have stated that technically speaking you considered there was a Communist Party?
Mr. Metcalf. That is correct.
Mr. Tavenner. Were you a member of it?
Mr. Metcalf. I was. I still would like to explain that, though.
Mr. Tavenner. Surely.
Mr. Scherer. You may now.
Mr. Metcalf. In the latter part of 1945, or the early part of 1946, I became involved with a small group. As I understood, it would be a Marxist discussion group and not an organized part of the Communist Party. Some time later, and this information did not come through to me personally, but there was an effort to make or to suggest that this group affiliate with the student group. I did not approve of this at all. I never do approve of indoctrination of any kind. I would have nothing to do with it.
I said that I would then immediately withdraw from any activity in such a thing, and there was one Marxist meeting held at which the whole business was disbanded, largely because, I think, all of the people felt that we were not involved with what we had started with at all. These people I never heard make any subversive remarks, and as far as I know personally those people got out that organization the same time that I did.
Mr. Clardy. You said something about some student group. What was that?
Mr. Metcalf. That I honestly cannot tell you. I am not refusing to tell you. I don't know whether that was a group that was in existence or about to be in existence. I knew nothing about who they were. I had no connection with that student organization.
Mr. Clardy. What did they intend to call themselves, or what did they call themselves?
Mr. Metcalf. I don't know. I honestly don't.
Mr. Clardy. On the many campuses, there have been the Young Communist League groups.
Mr. Metcalf. I would answer it, if I knew, but I don't really know what it was to be called.
Mr. Scherer. Did you pay dues to this group?
Mr. Metcalf. I guess I did. If I did, it was a very small amount and only once. I don't know actually. Nine years is a long time. I can't really remember.
Mr. Tavenner. Did any outside organizer come in and confer with the members?
Mr. Scherer. As far as he knows.
Mr. Metcalf. As far as I know, no. I wouldn't want to be committed to that because I might be inadvertently saying something. But I don't think so. I can't say there was or wasn't.
Mr. Scherer. Doctor, that group was in existence at the time you joined?
Mr. Metcalf. It was.
Mr. Scherer. It was in existence?
Mr. Metcalf. It was.
Mr. Scherer. And how long it continued after you left it you don't know?
Mr. Metcalf. I am not positive, but I am almost convinced that that was the very end of it, but again, I can't prove that.
Mr. Clardy. What year was that again?
Mr. Metcalf. It was somewhere in the period of 1945 and 1946. You see, it was at the end of 1945 and the beginning of 1946.
Mr. Clardy. Did you know or did you learn as to the identity of the people who originated that group?
Mr. Metcalf. Frankly no, I didn't. You see, I was very new there at the time. I didn't know much about it. I still don't.
Mr. Clardy. Were these all faculty members, students?
Mr. Metcalf. They were a varied group of people.
Mr. Clardy. Townspeople and others. Can you tell us who they were?
Mr. Metcalf. I am afraid at this point I will have to ask you to put a letter, read it into the record. I don't know whether you want me to read it or whether you refer to it.
Mr. Scherer. Is that your reason?
Mr. Metcalf. That is my reason.
Mr. Scherer. Would you like to read it?
Mr. Metcalf. I would like to.
Mr. Scherer. All right.
Mr. Metcalf (reading):
SEPTEMBER 15, 1954
CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES,
City Commission Room, Municipal Building, Dayton Ohio.
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: I have accepted service of the subpoena signed by you, calling for my appearance to testify at a hearing held by your committee on Wednesday, September 15. I assume that my testimony is required in aid of the inquiry which your committee has been conducting with reference to the beliefs, associations, and activities of individuals connected with educational institutions.
If this is the purpose of the questions your committee proposes to put to me, I am obliged to state, most respectfully, that there is grave question whether your committee is authorized by Congress, or entitled under the Constitution, to conduct such an inquiry. This question has been underlined by the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in United States vs. Rumley (345 U. S. 41). That decision has made it clear, if indeed there was ever any doubt, that the investigative process, like the legislative power to which it is an adjunct, is bound by the limits of the Constitution, including the first amendment. In light of this decision, therefore, and for other reasons, the authority of your committee to inquire into the beliefs, associations, and activities of individuals connected to educational institutions is certainly not unlimited.
The basis and scope, if any, of your committee's authority to investigate educational institutions, and individuals connected therewith, presents a fundamental and far reaching legal question. I have no desire to restrict my testimony before your committee for the purpose of precipitating a judicial test. Believing as I do, however, that the inquiry is beyond the powers of your committee, and, in any event, restricted by the Bill of Rights, I shall be constrained to decline to reply to unauthorized questions, in case answering might cause other individuals unnecessary harm or embarassment, or would otherwise cause me to lose self-respect.
Very truly yours,
ROBERT M. METCALF
Mr. Scherer. Well, Doctor, with due deference to what you have read, I am going to ask you some questions and you can decline to answer on the basis of what you have stated in your memorandum. Were there members of the faculty in this group that you have just described to us other than yourself?
Mr. Metcalf. Yes.
Mr. Scherer. Will you tell us the names of those?
Mr. Metcalf. I am afraid that I will have to refer to my statement on that.
Mr. Scherer. Well, now, I am going to have to direct you to answer.
Mr. Metcalf. I then will have to refuse to answer.
Mr. Scherer. Were there other townspeople involved in this group?
Mr. Metcalf. There were.
Mr. Scherer. Do you know who those individuals were?
Mr. Metcalf. Yes, sir.
Mr. Scherer. Will you tell us the names of those individuals?
Mr. Metcalf. I will refuse to answer on the same grounds as before.
Mr. Scherer. I am going to have to direct you to answer.
Mr. Metcalf. I refuse.
Mr. Scherer. Were there any students connected with the group?
Mr. Metcalf. I will have to refuse to answer that question.
Mr. Scherer. I have not asked the names of the students. Were there any students connected with it?
Mr. Metcalf. On the same basis I will refuse since it would be a leading question.
Mr. Scherer. I will have to direct you to answer whether there were any students.
Mr. Metcalf. I refuse.
Mr. Scherer. Do you know the names of the students that were in the group?
Mr. Metcalf. I will have to refuse to answer the question. It still applies to the original question.
Mr. Scherer. Do you know who the officers were of the group?
Mr. Metcalf. There were no officers.
Mr. Scherer. Mr. Clardy reminds me, do you know the names of the other faculty members?
Mr. Metcalf. I think I will have to refuse to answer that, too.
Mr. Scherer. I will have to ask you to answer whether you knew the names or not. This question doesn't ask you to tell us the names. I have asked you that question.
Mr. Metcalf. O.K. Yes, I know.
Mr. Scherer. Doctor, I can appreciate your feelings, but every day in hundreds of courtrooms and in hearings such as this, individuals are called to give testimony, subpenaed to give testimony. I imagine most of those witnesses dislike to give the testimony that they are asked to give under oath. But you cans see that our whole judicial procedure and the procedures of the investigating committees of Congress would fail if individuals would say that they do not want to give information for whatever reason that might be. When you are subpenaed, either in a hearing such as this or in a courtroom, the responsibility then passes from you to the people represented by the court, in this case the people represented by this congressional committee.
I respectfully advise you that there is no basis for your refusing to answer with reference to information that you have concerning the activities about which we ask you, or the identity of individuals connected with such activities, and that it amounts to contempt. You understand that?
Mr. Metcalf. I understand it thoroughly.
Mr. Scherer. I believe that it was suggested to you that you consult counsel about your position before coming here today.
Mr. Metcalf. I consulted counsel.
Mr. Scherer. You still want to maintain that position?
Mr. Metcalf. I still have the only possible moral position I can maintain.
Mr. Scherer. All right.
Mr. Tavenner. How many persons were in this group or unit that you have described?
Mr. Clardy. Mr. Chairman, may I ask the question be withdrawn? I have a question I would like to put to the witness.
Mr. Scherer. Is that all right with counsel?
Mr. Tavenner. Yes, sir.
Mr. Clardy. Witness, I am constrained to say at the outset that your calm demeanor and your refusal to engage in the histrionics some of them do when they take the stand is refreshing, and appreciate it. I think I understood more than you probably think I do what is running through your mind, even though I may differ from every standpoint. But, I am wondering whether the information which we consider would be most helpful to your government, I wonder if you would be willing to give that to us in executive session.
Mr. Metcalf. No, this is purely moral basis. Let me put it this way: If I felt for a miniute that I had any information that would indicate that these people involved were a danger to the country, subversive in any way, you wouldn't have to ask me. I would volunteer that information.
Mr. Clardy. May I interrupt you, sir?
Mr. Metcalf. Yes, sir.
Mr. Clardy. You are unquestionably a man of integrity, a man of honor and honesty, a man of some importance in your community and your profession. But, may I point out to you, sir, that when you arrogate to yourself the problem of deciding that which is confined to your government and your Congress, namely, to decide whether or not the movements or the persons or the ideas about which you have knowledge are or are not dangerous to your country, you are getting far out of your field. It is not within your province to make that decision. And if what you say and the reason you advance should be accepted universally, then law enforcement in this Nation would completely collapse. It would be anarchy because it would amount to each individual saying and announcing I shall abide by those laws I wish to abide by; I shall interpret them as I see fit; I shall live under them as I think proper, and no man, not even the constituted authorities of the Nation may challenge.
Now, you are a man of considerable education, sir. You have had the advantage, as we have, of going to college, but your field was entirely different from our own. I submit that you should reexamine your conscience and your mind and give us the information that we seek.
I say that because, distasteful as this is, many times we are compelled to do that which we dislike when a witness as you in this instance have indicated, actually knows the identity of persons and information about movements, but refuse, after admitting that, to go beyond it and give us the identities. You place us in a position where we are forced and compelled to take steps that we dislike very much to take, and especially in your case because of your behavior and because of your attitude generally, and because of the kind of person I think you are.
Now, I beg you to reconsider at it could be done in executive session. It would be just as helpful to us there as in open session.
Mr. Metcalf. I am afraid that I will have to explain my own moral point of view slightly to you.
Mr. Clardy. Before you do so, many I point out that the courts of the United States have utterly, absolutely, and completely rejected any claim of moral compulsion as justification for refusal to answer questions of the kind that have been propounded to you.
Mr. Metcalf. In that case, then, I will refuse to give any testimony even in executive session.
Mr. Scherer. Did you say in executive session also?
Mr. Metcalf. I will refuse to do that.
Mr. Scherer. Do you have any more questions?
Mr. Tavenner. The question I asked a moment ago was, How many persons constituted this group in its entirety?
Mr. Metcalf. About 10. I am not positive. Ten, I think it was.
Mr. Tavenner. You may be in error by a few one way or the other?
Mr. Metcalf. Yes, but it is not important, the difference. As nearly as you can estimate it, it was 10?
Mr. Metcalf. That is correct.
Mr. Tavenner. I have no further questions.
Mr. Clardy. I have no further questions.
Mr. Scherer. That is all. You are excused.
(Witness was excused.)