Inside the Secret Hearings of Joseph Mccarthy: Newly Released Documents Shed Light On the Questioning of Aaron Copland, Langston Hughes and Others

May 06, 2003

Sen. Joseph McCarthy used closed-door secret sessions to winnow out witnesses who might have challenged him in the sensational anti-communism hearings 50 years ago.

Newly released transcripts indicate that of the 500 witnesses who testified in private, one-third were never called back to testify in public.

Among those who testified in private were the composer Aaron Copland, poet Langston Hughes and mystery writer Dashiell Hammett. Copland fiercely defended himself saying "I have not been a Communist in the past and I am not now a Communist." Hughes protested that he had not read much about Marxism "beyond the introduction of the Communist Manifesto." Hammett invoked the Fifth Amendment.

McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican, led the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953 and 1954 at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

His investigation into Communists in the U.S. government was widely seen as a witch-hunt and spawned the term "McCarthyism" to describe smear attacks.

  • Donald Ritchie, Associate Senate historian. He edited the hearings into the five volumes that were retrieved from stenographic notes on 9,675 pages of onion-skin typing paper and housed for more than 50 years in the National Archives.

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