Magazine article The Nation

Harvey O'Connor

Magazine article The Nation

Harvey O'Connor

Article excerpt

Harvey O'Connor

On August 29, Harvey O'Connor died at the age of 90. After working as a reporter and editor on several socialist and labor newspapers between 1918 and 1930, O'Connor wrote a number of books, including Mellon's Millions, The Guggenheims, History of the Oil Workers International Union, The Empire of Oil and Revolution in Seattle. Between 1945 and 1948 he was publicity director of the Oil Workers International Union.

O'Connor was the first witness to take the stand in his own behalf in a trial for contempt of a Congressional committee. He had been indicted after refusing to answer questions about his political beliefs put to him by Senator Joseph McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in July 1953. Although he often stated publicly that he had never been a Communist, O'Connor remained silent, on First Amendment grounds.

At his trial in Washington that October, O'Connor waived his right to a jury. Defense attorneys moved for a directed verdict of acquittal, charging that the subcommittee's questions "invaded the rights of the defendant under the First Amendment' and that the indictment failed to establish the subcommittee's authority to ask such questions. (Soon after, Judge Edward Weinfeld of New York dismissed First Amendment indictments of Corliss Lamont, Albert Shadowitz and Abraham Unger on the same grounds.)

When O'Connor's attorney Leonard Boudin asked him to tell the judge why he had declined to answer Senator McCarthy's questions, O'Connor said:

I felt a very special responsibility as a writer--writers have no special privileges in such matters, but they do have a special responsibility, I think, in guarding the freedom of the press. …

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