Lundin remembered the first Red Scare. It was the early 1920s, he, a high school kid at the time, was left with the impression of an orgy of extralegality. The Bolshevik Revolution had taken Russia out of World War I, and postwar America was aflame with exaggerated fear of ‘reds’ and anarchists.
The government’s reaction, led by Attorney General Palmer and his right-hand man, young J Edgar Hoover, included illegal search and seizures; warrantless arrests; detentions and wiretaps; and the deportations of hundreds of resident aliens, many of whom were known radicals, as well as other individuals who merely fell under suspicion.
Even the New York State legislature – hardly a frontier institution – expelled its five Socialist members. In other states legislators rushed to enact an array of patently unconstitutional sedition laws as well as so-called ‘red flag’ laws making display of a red flag illegal. In a comic-opera waiver, Minnesota exempted red flags at railroad crossings. No surprise then that a bright and idealistic young Lundin would have been aware of the wholesale transgressions of the Constitution. Upon hearing Norman Thomas speak in Boston, Lundin, a Harvard student, joined the Socialist Party.
A student of early American history, Lundin had the good fortune to serve as research assistant to the doyen of the field, Samuel Eliot Morrison. A post-grad fellowship took him to Germany for a year’s study. Back at Harvard, young Lundin earned an MA before moving on to Princeton where he wrote his PhD under another luminary of the day – Professor Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker. It was the Depression, and academic jobs were scarce, but, as ‘Sam Morrison’s fair-haired boy’* and with the backing of his Princeton mentor, Lundin landed a position at Indiana University in 1937.
IU was then a sleepy campus in the southern Indiana town of Bloomington. It was deeply conservative country. Most of the students were from small town Indiana. Sports, fraternity parties, and the elections of pretty coeds as ‘queens’ for one or another social occasion were the salient events. Political apathy and cultural parochialism were the norm.
Among Lundin’s pre-war students there was no curiosity about the world at large. After the war in Europe broke out in ’39, one student told him that whenever war news came over the dorm radio, someone would call out, Turn that off, and get some swing music. Frivolity reigned.
The Ku Klux Klan (Klan) had a strong presence in the state. A decade earlier a Klansman had been elected Governor of Indiana. Bloomington was racially a Southern town. A man who grew up there remembered seeing Klansmen in full regalia riding into town on horseback in the late ‘40s. Predictably, the town was segregated, although by custom rather than law after pro-integration legislation in ‘49. Restaurants, bars, barber shops, and even most of the university’s main dining room were off-limits to the small number of Negroes enrolled at the university.
He continued, “It is not easy to be polite to someone who seems determined to make you a corpse, an arsonist, a murderer, or a bully.”
Concluding, Professor Lundin forcefully argued:
possibly there are worse things than
bad manners toward a public speaker.
Possibly one worse thing is a government
lying to its people.****
Leonard Lundin certainly did not win all his engagements, but he remained steadfast throughout the years in his intent to bear witness for what was right – a singular man.
*C L Lundin, Indiana University Oral History Interview (1994), 8.