First Published: Observation Post, Vol. 40, No. 3, October 4, 1966.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Rick Rhoads is tall, thin, redhaired, married, an expectant father, a freshman at the College, and the President of the College’s Progressive Labor (PL) club.
It is perhaps indicative of his style, and the style of the sixties, that he used his subpoena from the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC) as an opportunity to denounce the war in Vietnam, and to go on the Huntley-Brinkley Report and declare himself a communist. When a person is called to testify before HUAC, he usually goes to a lawyer and decides whether to deny everything or avoid answering questions. Rhoads and the others went to a lawyer. “We discussed dialectics,” he said. “How are we going to turn the questions around and make them an attack on the government? How are we going to wrest control from the committee, take over their pulpit and appeal to the American people?” Never before had such a strategy been tried against HUAC. “We depended on the American people to understand that we were fighting in their interests,” he said.
When the hearings started, the young activists were ready. They overshadowed the committee’s program with a show of their own. Said Rhoads: “The friendly witness that HUAC had on the stand first was Phil Luce, a PL member turned fink. He was characterizing us as conspirators when Jeff Gordon (of Brooklyn College) on my left, stood up to object and was grabbed and dragged out of the room. Steve Fraser (’68), a sophomore here, stood up on my other side and pointed at Jeff, and then he was dragged out, much more roughly. Just then, Luce said that we were interfering in democratic dialogue, so I stood up and shouted, ’There’s an example of HUAC’s democratic dialogue’ and as they dragged me away I yelled, ’and here’s another one’.” Rhoads and the others each forfeited $10 bail for disorderly conduct.
When it was Rhoads’ own turn to testify, he remembered his dialectics. “Someone asked me a question about violence, implying that PL advocated the violent overthrow of the government. ’You’re the violence,’ I said. ’You’re murdering people all over the world.’ “I talked about Vietnam, Watts, Anacostia (a black district of Washington that was having its own Watts rebellion at that time), pointing to the U.S. government as the source of killings.
When I judged that the audience was beginning to get tired I changed my tack. ’People have every right to use violence to solve their problems if that’s necessary. The government belongs to the people, and they must take control of it.”
“We had them up tight; once Poole (D-Tex.) asked me was I taking the Fifth, and I had to remind him that there wasn’t any question on the floor. And they’d never have thrown Arthur Kinoy, our lawyer, out of the room, if they’d been able to think clearly.”
Rhoads believes that the opportunity to express his views in the front pages and on network television, makes the whole venture an unqualified success for his side. “People who saw me on television came up to me in school and said, ’Well, I may not agree with you, but you sure stood up to them. Americans like that.’”