“Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department weighed in against a reduction in [Junius] Scales‘s sentence [for being a member of the Communist Party]….But Bobby was changing. He had begun to distinguish saying provocative things from actually doing something wrong. He was more open to admitting a mistake. He was also less afraid to break with the unbending J. Edgar Hoover, who insisted Scales stay behind bars until he named his ex-comrades….
“[After 15 months in prison] Scales would be let out on December 24, 1962, with a guard on duty yelling to him, ‘We just got a telegram from Bobby Kennedy, and he says we gotta get you home by tonight in plenty of time for Christmas.’ ”
— From “Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon” by Larry Tye (2016)
On this day in 1954: Junius Scales, head of the Communist Party in the Carolinas, is arrested by the FBI and charged under the 1940 Smith Act with membership in an organization advocating violent overthrow of the government. Scales, a longtime resident of Chapel Hill, is a scion of a prominent Greensboro family — both his father and grandfather were state senators.
Scales will be convicted at his trial in Greensboro and sentenced to six years in prison. In 1961, after an unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Scales (who resigned from the Communist Party in 1957, soon after the Soviet invasion of Hungary) begins serving his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. On Christmas Eve 1962 President John Kennedy frees Scales, the only American to spend time in prison for being a Communist, by commuting his sentence to parole on his own recognizance.