On this day in 1956: A subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee convenes in Charlotte. Two days of hearings will single out Bill McGirt, a poet working at a Winston-Salem fish market, as the state’s top communist, but he and 10 other subpoenaed witnesses refuse to testify, and little new information surfaces.
“The conclusion is inescapable,” says Rep. Edwin Willis of Louisiana, “that these people are professional agitators, expert emissaries of the Communist conspiracy planted in the Southland. Who said it couldn’t happen here?”
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.