Supplemental document for Project 49: Ruth A.M. Schmidt, geologist, McCarthyism survivor.
Dear Mr. Compton:
In reply to your registered letter of July 25, 1950, which I received on July 27, 1950.
I offer herewith a statement of my membership and activities in the Washington Bookshop Association, as accurately as my recollections serve me at this time.
I became a member of the Washington Cooperative Bookshop in August of 1945, as you can see from the attached copy of a letter of complaint to the organization. Since my arrival in Washington during the war (I came in early 1943) I had been disturbed by the segregation of Negroes, and the unequal treatment they received in the capital of our country. I felt that such a situation was bad for this country, particularly when we were waging a war for equal rights, and against discrimination. In 1945, towards the end of the war, I happened to read Richard Wright’s BLACK BOY – and this incensed me to the point of wanting to do something besides talk about it. I had heard of the Bookshop, probably from a folder I may have picked up in the store, as I frequently browsed in book stores along 17th Street on the way to the Virginia buses on K Street. As I have always approved of cooperatives (I am a member of Group Health, before that the Blue Cross, subscribe to Consumer Reports, and have some insurance with the Farm Bureau Mutual Company.), I decided to join this cooperative bookshop that claimed to be interracial. I had more time, now that the war had ended, and was interested in starting a record collection, possibly buying a few books – and in finding out about the cultural activities in art and literature mentioned in the folder, particularly as they emphasized the activities were on an interracial basis.
The attached letter accounts for my activities after joining. After I wrote the letter in January 1946, I suppose I received notices of the forums. However, at this time, the winter and spring of 1946, along with most other scientists, I was very much interested in atomic energy problems. I have become a member of the Washington Association of Scientists, which had been spontaneously formed at this time, and was very much concerned with atomic energy. This group was vigorously supporting the McMahon bill which was then before Congress, and later became law. I was a member of the executive board of the Washington Association of Scientists at that time, and in that capacity was particularly interested in seeing that as many people as possible knew about this legislation. In the spring of 1946, therefore, my recollection is that I requested the Bookshop to hold a forum on atomic energy, and was chairman at that meeting.
From that time, or rather from about the time of the forum in the spring of 1946, to early 1947, I attended a few forums, and my recollection is that they were on literature. At this time I was pretty well occupied finishing my Ph.D. thesis, as well as working, and did not have much time for other activities.
In February of 1947, I finished the first draft of my thesis, and again had more time, and probably started going to forums again. In any event, when, in April 1947, I was asked if I would be willing to serve on the executive board of the Bookshop as a replacement until elections in the summer, I said I would. I was curious to see how a cooperative organization worked, it seemed like it would be an interesting experience, and I really would be doing something positive in an active interracial group.
It was customary, as I recall, for members of the board to act as chairmen of the different committees, and I inherited the forum committee. This committee worked with the Book committee in helping to select speakers and obtain places for forums, and conducted a poll of the membership to ascertain subjects in which they were interested to serve as a partial guide in arranging subsequent book reviews and forums. Often the chairman of the forum committee had to introduce the speakers at the forums. In all, I served on the board for four months. I was not nominated for election to the next board. And as I was not on the next board, I ceased to be chairman of the forum committee. After helping the new chairman for a few meetings, I ceased taking a part in the work of the committee. As a matter of fact, my only association with the organization from the fall of 1947 on was solely that of buyer of books and records, and occasional spectator at the forums devoted to the arts, sciences and literature.
In December of 1947 the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations was published, and I was dismayed to find that the Washington Cooperative Bookshop was listed. This was an organization that I belonged to, an organization that appeared to me as a worthwhile, democratic, interracial, cultural, non-political group. It seemed to me doing good in the Washington community by promoting interracial cultural gatherings, even though they were small. I felt the listing was unjust. I had not seen any evidence or even indication that the organization was communist-dominated, or in any way associated with communism or the Communist Party. Totalitarianism methods are so repugnant to me, that had they been evident, I would have resigned from the organization as soon as I became aware of such tendencies. For a short time I had attended executive board meetings, where policy was determined, and at no time did I observe any improper, un-American, or subversive activity. On the contrary, at the board meetings I attended, I recall that the board was concerned with the operation of the store, and its related activities, such as selection of books, and how to get authors to speak, preferably for nothing; how to make money on forums; how to find meting places at a nominal cost that both Negroes and whites could attend, and how to supply books for a lending library for colored cafeteria workers.
Immediately following the listing of the Bookshop, I made a point of going to the store and asking one of the clerks for a copy of the constitution. I carefully read it and saw nothing that accounted to me for the listing of what seemed to be a non-political, cultural cooperative, as subversive. I attended the next meeting. It was a membership meeting, and had as its main topic a talk on the races of mankind. Again, as in the past, there was nothing said or done at that meeting which I could possibly interpret as subversive or communistic.
During the next year, as a spectator, I attended, occasionally, not more that half a dozen times, other forums of a similar nature, and I found, as before, there was nothing subversive or communistic about them. However, they were not holding meetings on subjects in which I was particularly interested, and my attendance slackened, and about a year or so ago I stopped going altogether. Attendance at these public forums and a few purchases of books and records constituted my only relationship to the Bookshop following the publication of the list. (Prior to the listing, as I have heretofore explained, I had become inactive in the organization.) Several months ago I was notified by mail that the Bookshop was no longer in existence.
Very sincerely yours,
(Sgd.) Ruth A.M. Schmidt
Letter transcribed from the original in the Ruth A.M. Schmidt collection, Archives & Special Collections, UAA/APU Consortium Library.