BOOKS ON TRIAL by Shirley A. Wiegand


Red Scare in the Heartland
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Sobering account of a 1940 bookstore raid that unleashed a fury of protest from civil libertarians and a flurry of support from the political right.

On August 17, Oklahoma City police officers entered the Progressive Bookstore at 129½ West Grand. Proprietor Bob Wood (an alias) was secretary of the state Communist Party, and most of the shop’s customers were either party members or sympathizers. The police arrested everyone inside and seized cartons of material, some expected (Marx et al.), some worthy of a lifted eyebrow (biographies of Jefferson and Dickens). Indictments and trials followed. In their debut volume, the husband-and-wife team of Shirley A. Wiegand (Law/Marquette Univ.) and Wayne A. Wiegand (American Studies/Florida State Univ.) follow an unsurprising arc from the raids and the reactions through the trials to the aftermath, providing plenty of human interest along the way. The accused were convicted of violating Oklahoma’s “syndicalism laws,” which banned speech of any sort calling for the overthrow of the government. Juries often took very little time to deliberate before handing down guilty verdicts with recommendations for the maximum sentence: a $5,000 fine and 10 years in the penitentiary. Judges were happy to accommodate. News of the Oklahoma doings spread quickly. The ACLU supported the defendants; Woody Guthrie wrote songs for them; Richard Wright, Lillian Hellman and other writers protested the trials; the Eastern presses rolled with words of condemnation. On the other side, the KKK and like-minded allies donned their actual and metaphorical white robes. All the convictions were eventually reversed on appeal, but the authors point out that the determination of some government officials to ignore the inconvenient Bill of Rights is still very much with us.

A thorough study of madness.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8061-3868-8
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2007