In their new book, “Books on Trial: Red Scare in the Heartland” from the University of Oklahoma Press, professors Shirley and Wayne Wiegand recount the 1940 arrest and trial of four people for their activities involving communist books.
“The social and economic instability of the 1930s ” the Great Depression ” caused the down-and-out to look the Communist Party for help,” Shirley Wiegand said. “This did not escape the attention of government officials in the 1930s. Oklahoma was no exception.”
In fact, the case in Oklahoma would precede the Red Scare of the Fifties, in the arrests and trials of the personnel of Progressive Bookstore at 129 1/2 W. Grand in Oklahoma City, which generated headlines across the country.
On July 24, 1940, an Oklahoma City police detective dressed as an oil field worker walked into the bookstore, and purchased copies of:
” Vladimir Lenin’s “The State and Revolution,”
” Joseph Stalin’s “Foundations of Leninism” and
” Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto.”
The move was a sting operation. On Aug. 17, police raided the store, arresting about 20 people ” including customers ” and seized more than 10,000 books.
Four people arrested became primary defendants accused with “criminal syndicalism,” a charge that alleged they were advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. All were convicted, but on appeal, the convictions were overturned.
One editorial of the time noted that Oklahoma possessed a “collective paranoia that manifested itself in vigilantism.” Does it still today?
“I do see that here still,” Shirley Wiegand said. “I won’t discuss specifics, but I could.” “Ben Fenwick