Like so many others who grew up in the Civil Rights movement, I am amazed to see the triumph of hope and the desire for change trump racism. As a political being, I find myself believing once more in the possibility of a fair America.
As a writer, I am a bit taken aback that A Red Family: Junius, Gladys and Barbara Scales has been transformed from an interesting exploration of an almost extinct small tribe of activistsâ€”American Communistsâ€”the province of a small if determined branch of the academy, to a highly relevant personal history of the successes and failures of a generation determined to create the continuing American revolution.
The combination of an Obama presidency, the obvious failures of an-out-of-control capitalism, and the defeat of the pervasive fear-driven, anti-intellectual politics of division makes it clear we can and must address the all-important issues of what kind of country we want and need to be. These are issues that Junius and Gladys Scales thought about. Junius, the only American ever convicted under the Membership Clause of the Smith Actâ€”imprisoned not for any violent acts against the government, but merely because he was an acknowledged member of the Communist Partyâ€”was born not in Moscow but North Carolina, a son of the wealthy Southern aristocracy. Gladys was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of a modestly successful middle-class Jewish family.
Junius became a Communist because of the horrible injustice of segregation. He was transformed when he moved from his life of comfort to an impoverished textile mill village. Gladys’ inherent empathy was multiplied as her family, and millions of others, were shattered by the Depression.
This ancient history seems ever more relevant. Yesterday’s Smith Act is today’s Patriot Act; yesterday’s Depression may soon be ours.
A Red Family offers a clear look of what drives Americans to struggle for social and economic justice, at how hard it is to succeed and how easy it is to fail. The story of the Scales family is the story of the never-ending need to transform bigotry to mutual respect, to replace greed with equity, and the understanding that none of this will happen unless we act with courage, humility, and great self-awareness. In a movement that is transparent and always democratic.
To read some short excerpts from A Red Family, go to http://aredfamily.com/.
Mickey Friedman is a documentary filmmaker and writer and the founder of Blue Hill Films, where he has directed several films, including Good Things to Life: GE, PCBs, and Our Town. He is the author of the forthcoming book A Red Family: Junius, Gladys and Barbara Scales (March 2, 2009).