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United States. Subversive Activities Control Board records
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Collection Details
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  • Access
  • Use
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Location of Originals
  • Historical Note
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Title: United States. Subversive Activities Control Board records
    Date (inclusive): 1950-1973
    Collection Number: 71009
    Contributing Institution: Hoover Institution Library and Archives
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 90 manuscript boxes (37.5 Linear Feet)
    Abstract: Hearing transcripts, decisions, and reports, relating to determination of communist-action and communist-front organizations in the United States.
    Creator: United States. Subversive Activities Control Board
    Physical Location: Hoover Institution Library & Archives


    The collection is open for research; materials must be requested in advance via our reservation system. If there are audiovisual or digital media material in the collection, they must be reformatted before providing access.


    For copyright status, please contact the Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired by the Hoover Institution Library & Archives in 1971.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], United States. Subversive Activities Control Board records, [Box no., Folder no. or title], Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

    Location of Originals

    Duplicate set of records in: National Archives and Records Administration.

    Historical Note

    The United States Subversive Activities Control Board was created in 1950 in conjunction with enactment of the Internal Security Act of 1950. This act, known as the McCarran Act after its author Senator Pat McCarran, did not outlaw the Communist Party but sought to secure its control through regulation (or perhaps more likely, its dissolution rather than submit to such control). It required registration with the United States government of domestic "communist-action organizations" (defined as organizations substantially under the control of "the world-wide communist movement") and of domestic "communist-front organizations" (defined as organizations substantially under the control of "communist-action organizations"). The Attorney General might petition the Subversive Activities Control Board to order the registration of specific organizations under one or the other of these rubrics. The Board, made up of five members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, was in turn empowered to hold hearings to determine whether these were indeed "communist-action" or "communist-front" organizations, and if so, to order them to register as such. Registration entailed annual provision of financial records and membership lists.
    The Communist Control Act of 1954 added a third task for the Board: that of determining "communist-infiltrated" organizations, principally labor unions. "Communist-infiltrated" unions were not to be required to register, but were deprived of the collective bargaining rights guaranteed to other unions.
    The Board opened hearings on the Communist Party, U.S.A., and, after hearing voluminous testimony, issued a report in 1953 ordering it to register as a "communist-action organization." The Communist Party appealed through the courts, challenging the constitutionality of the McCarran Act and alleging the Board's report to have been based in part on perjured testimony. When the case reached it in 1956, the Supreme Court found sufficient merit in the latter contention to remand the case to the Board for review. A modified Board report reaffirmed its earlier finding and again ordered the Communist Party to register. Another round of legal appeals ensued, with the Supreme Court upholding the Board ruling in a 5-4 decision in 1961. The Communist Party continued to refuse to register, however, maintaining that a party official certifying his party under the stigma of subversion would be placing himself in a position tantamount to self-incrimination.
    The Board met this argument head on by invoking a hitherto-unused section of the McCarran Act providing for registration of individual members of "communist-action organizations." Beginning in 1962 it held hearings and issued orders to several individuals, mainly well-known Communist Party leaders, to register. Consequent appeals reached the Supreme Court in 1965, and the Court responded by striking down the individual registration portion of the McCarran Act as being in violation of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Looking one chess move ahead, it was apparent to all that there could be no possibility of forcing any of its officers to register the Communist Party, or any other organization, as subversive.
    The Board had meanwhile held hearings regarding, and issued registration orders to, a number of other organizations, all associated with the Communist Party, mainly in the "communist-front organizations" category. These had generated similar rounds of legal appeals. In the post-1965 period the Board initiated hearings on only two more organizations and a very few individuals. Its decisions in these cases stated Board findings of communist affiliation, but did not include any registration orders. Clearly the Board was unable to carry out the function originally envisaged for it. Moreover the national political climate had changed since 1950. President Richard M. Nixon issued an executive order abolishing the Board, and it wound up its affairs in 1973. During its 23 years of existence, it held extensive hearings, took voluminous testimony, and issued a number of decisions and orders, but did not succeed in securing the registration of any "communist-action", "communist-front" or "communist-infiltrated" organizations or of any individuals.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Subversive Activities Control Board records in the Hoover Institution Library & Archives are a substantially complete duplicate set of the Board's official records now in the National Archives and Records Administration. They were acquired from the Board in 1971, with subsequent increments during its winding-up phase.
    The great bulk of the collection consists of mimeographed verbatim transcripts of hearing proceedings, most of which had been completed by the end of 1957. Both Department of Justice and organization or individual under investigation were represented by attorneys during hearings and had the right to call witnesses and to cross-examine opposing witnesses. The mass of testimony affords a wealth of information regarding the operations of the Communist Party and of associated organizations. Among the many witnesses appearing on one side or the other were Herbert Aptheker, Louis F. Budenz, Paul Crouch, W. E. B. DuBois, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, John Gates, Benjamin Gitlow, Joseph Zack Kornfeder, Harvey Matusow, Frank S. Meyer, Philip E. Mosely, William L. Patterson, Herbert A. Philbrick, Herbert Romerstein, Howard Selsam and Milton Wolff. The testimony and oral argument of counsel also document the intellectual and legal ground on which communist and subversion controversies were conducted.
    Also included are the mimeographed decisions of the Board and a certain number of internal supporting documents used by the Board. The latter are mainly carbon copy typescripts.
    Proceedings regarding organizations (by far the largest part of the records) are listed first, and proceedings regarding individuals afterwards. Within each of these two record groups, hearing transcripts appear first, followed by supporting documents and finally by Board decisions. Materials within each of these subdivisions are arranged by docket number, each docket number designating a separate case. Printed annual reports of the Board and bound compilations of its decisions appear last.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Communism -- United States
    Subversive activities -- United States