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Statement on House Committee on Un-American Activities Hearings on the United Packinghouse Workers of America

Author: 
King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Southern Christian Leadership Conference)
Date: 
June 11, 1959
Location: 
Atlanta, Ga.
Genre: 
Press Release
Topic: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views

Details

Following accusations of Communist Party involvement in the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) held investigatory hearings on the union in May 1959.1 King enclosed this statement of support from SCLC in an 11 June letter to UPWA oficial Russell Lasley.2 King assured Lasley that "we are with you absolutely '' and encouraged him to use this statement "as you see fit." The union had been an early supporter of SCLC, providing the bulk ofthe organization's initial budget in 1957.3

After discovering that the House Committee on Un-American Activities had conducted hearings in the matter of alleged Un-American activities in the Union of the United Packing House Workers of America, the Executive Committee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference voted unanimously to publicly express its confidence in the integrity of this union.

The officers and members of the United Packing House Workers Union have demonstrated a real humanitarian concern. They have worked indefatiguably to implement the ideals and principles of our democracy. Their devotion to the cause of civil rights has been unswerving. This union has stood out against segregation and discrimination not only in public pronouncements, but also in actual day to day practice. They have given thousands of dollars to aid organizations that are working for freedom and human dignity of the South. Because of the forthright stand of the Packing House Workers in the area of civil rights, they have aroused the ire of some persons who are not so commited. But in spite of this they have continued to work courageously for the ideal of the brotherhood of man. It is tragic indeed that some of our reactionary brothers in America will go to the limit of giving Communism credit for all good things that happen in our nation. It is a dark day indeed when men cannot work to implement the ideal of brotherhood without being labeled communist.

We sincerely hope that nothing will happen to deter the significant work being done by this dedicated labor organization. Again we express our confidence in the integrity and loyalty of the officers and members of the United Packing House Workers of America.

1. "6 Accused as Reds Balk at Hearing," New York Times, 6 May 1959. UPWA president Ralph Helstein denied any Communist influence within the union. Following the HUAC hearings, the union distributed a questionnaire to union members accused of being Communist Party members prior to 1949 and who may have been in violation of the AFL-CIO's Ethical Practices Codes. The codes stipulated that "no person should hold or retain office or appointed position in the AFL-CIO or any of its affiliated national or international unions or subordinate bodies thereof who is a member, consistent supporter or who actively participates in the activities of the Communist Party or of any fascist or other totalitarian organization" (Russell Lasley to Sir and Brother, 10 July 1959). HUAC was established as a standing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1938 to investigate Communist and fascist influence within American institutions.

2. Russell R. Lasley (1914–1989) was an officer in UPWA Local 46 in Waterloo, Iowa, and served as UPWA international vice president from 1948 until 1968.

3. At the third meeting of the fledgling civil rights group on 8 August 1957, King announced the start of a voter registration campaign. SCLC treasurer Ralph Abernathy estimated that $200,000 was needed to finance the campaign. In October, UPWA president Ralph Helstein presented King with a check for $11,000 at their convention in Chicago (Art Osgoode, "Negroes Rap State Solons in Resolution," Montgomery Advertiser, 9 August 1957; Ralph Helstein, Remarks at the fourth biennial wage and contracts, third national anti-discrimination, and third national women's activities conference of the United Packinghouse Workers, 2 October 1957; see also UPWA, "Program proposals for 1957,'' 21 June 1957). King later agreed to serve on the UPWA's Advisory Review Commission of Public Citizens set up to monitor the union's compliance with the AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Codes (Helstein to King, 8 July 1959).

Source: 

UPWR-WHi, United Packinghouse, Food and Allied Workers Records, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., Box 389.