lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 7 06:59:36 MDT 2002
NY Times, Aug. 7, 2002
Junius Scales, Communist Sent to U.S. Prison, Dies at 82
By ARI L. GOLDMAN
Junius Scales, who in the postwar anti-Communist fervor was the only
American sent to prison for being a member of the Communist Party, died
Monday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He was 82 and lived in
Manhattan and Pine Bush, N.Y.
He died of heart failure and the effects of a stroke, said his daughter,
His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court, but his sentence was later
commuted by President John F. Kennedy.
With his privileged Southern upbringing, Mr. Scales was an unlikely
Communist. He joined the Communist Party in 1939 while he was at the
University of North Carolina, saying that he saw in the party an
opportunity to right the wrongs done to blacks and poor working people.
Mr. Scales rose quickly within the party to coordinate civil rights and
labor organizing activities in several Southern states. He took his
operations underground when party leaders were being trailed and harassed
by federal authorities.
Mr. Scales was arrested by the F.B.I. in Memphis in 1954 on charges of
violating the Smith Act of 1940, which made it a felony to lead or be a
member of a group that advocated the violent overthrow of the United States
While a handful of others were prosecuted for leadership roles in the
party, Mr. Scales was the only one convicted and sent to prison under the
clause in the law that made it a crime to be a member of such a group. He
was not charged with being involved in violent or subversive activities, as
were other leading Communists, like Gus Hall and Angela Davis.
The Scales trial wended its way through state and Federal courts for almost
seven years. Mr. Scales maintained his party membership through the early
years of the proceedings, but when Khrushchev acknowledged Stalin's crimes
in 1956, he left the Communist Party.
In his memoir, "Cause at Heart: A Former Communist Remembers," written with
Richard Nickson (University of Georgia Press, 1987), Mr. Scales wrote of
that moment of revelation:
"Stalin my revered symbol of the infallibility of Communism, the builder
of socialism in one country, the rock of Stalingrad, the wise, kindly man
with the keen sense of humor at whose death I had wept just three years
before Stalin had been a murderous, power-hungry monster!"
He added, "My idol had crumbled to dust forever."
Despite his repudiation of the party, Mr. Scales refused to reveal names of
other party members, a stand that he maintained led to the government's
refusal to drop the prosecution of his case. In 1961, the Supreme Court
upheld his conviction in a 5-to-4 decision, and he was sentenced to six
years in prison.
Many prominent Americans petitioned President Kennedy to commute the
sentence. These included James A. Wechsler, the editor of The New York
Post; the labor leader David Dubinsky; and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
In an editorial on June 14, 1962, The New York Times called Mr. Scales "a
misguided idealist" and urged his release.
"There is something un-American in having even one political prisoner in
the United States," the editorial added.
President Kennedy commuted Mr. Scales's sentence on Dec. 24, 1962. He had
served 15 months of his six-year sentence.
Junius Irving Scales was born on March 26, 1920, in Greensboro, N.C. His
great-uncle, A. M. Scales, had been governor of the state. He was brought
up on the family estate and said that the only black people he knew were
Mr. Scales's wife, Gladys, died in 1981. He is survived by his daughter,
who lives in Montreal, and one granddaughter.
As a young Communist Party member, he enlisted in the Army during World War
II. Military intelligence, aware of his party membership, would not send
him overseas until the end of the war, when he was sent to southern Italy,
well away from the front lines.
In January 1963, shortly after his release from prison, Mr. Scales took a
job as a proofreader at The New York Times. His daughter said he worked the
overnight shift as part of an effort to "withdraw from the world," spend
more time with his family during the day and work on his memoir. He retired
Mr. Scales's story became a drama called "The Limits of Dissent," by Lou
Lipsitz, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Mr. Scales's alma
mater. The play, based on the transcripts of the Scales trial, was
performed in several North Carolina courthouses in the 1970's. As part of
the drama, nine members of the audience would serve as jurors and render a
verdict on Mr. Scales.
The play explored issues of free speech, tolerance of unpopular views and
the dangers of getting caught up in the passions of the day.
I had a grand old time yesterday with Junius Scales at his country home up
on the side of a mountain near Pine Bush, New York. We sat on the porch
while he offered pointed observations about well-known and not so well-know
figures on the left.
The question of how people shift to the right after leaving
Marxist-Leninist groups has come up on this list time and again. Junius's
trajectory seems far more typical. After leaving the CPUSA in disgust back
in the mid 1950s, he has continued to embrace socialist or progressive
values which were very much in evidence when he recently spoke at a
conference at the University of North Carolina on campus radicalism in the
1940s. He was in the thick of things back then as the leader of a 150
member (!!!) party club there in 1947.
We spoke some about Trotskyism which he never had the pleasure of
encountering until he left the CP. When he was a proofreader at the New
York Times, he met Dave Weiss who worked in the same department and who was
the brother of Murray Weiss, married to Myra Tanner Weiss. These were two
SWP leaders in the 1950s. Dave Weiss, a rank-and-filer, eventually became a
documentary film-maker of some repute while Murray and Myra were typical
party leaders, intolerant to a fault and convinced of their own
intellectual and political superiority to everybody else.
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