Historical Background - The McCarthy Era Vanguard Closing
“It was an environment by that time of intimidation, of repressiveness, of the school authorities trying to flex their muscles against the students, and of the students responding, many of us, by being even more assertive, in your face. But overall, there was an atmosphere of fear. And I felt it myself. After yet another letter from the school authorities threatening me, I decided that it was better for me to leave Brooklyn College at the end of my third year.” Rhoda Karpatkin
For Rhoda Karpatkin, another child of the Depression, it was also a great financial achievement to be able to go to college. The youngest of twenty one cousins, she was the only one to attend college. Arriving at Brooklyn College at the end of World War II, Karpatkin experienced a vibrant college campus made all the more so by the returning veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill to complete their education. Like Frances Koral, Karpatkin’s college experience was shaped by the political climate of the times. McCarthyism, coloring most every aspect of American life, was also affecting the lives and choices of college students in the post-World War II era.
Karpatkin and her fellow student journalists, narrate in the Vanguard segment of the website the story of working on the Vanguard, Brooklyn College’s student newspaper, when President Harry Gideonse, the college president, shut it down. As they describe, the closure of the newspaper in 1950 was the culmination of a series of conflicts with President Gideonse over the fundamental issues of freedom of the press and civil liberties. These battles were fought against the backdrop of a domestic Cold War that was heating up on federal, state and local levels. President Truman’s 1947 Executive Order 9835, a loyalty-security program for federal employees, further legitimized the investigations of New York State’s Rapp-Coudert Committee that had been pursuing and purging supposed Communist and other left-leaning and liberal teachers and professors since 1940. President Gideonse, an ardent anti-Communist, had welcomed the Rapp-Coudert Committee onto the Brooklyn College campus in the early 1940s, and encouraged its investigation of some twenty faculty members. In the early 1950s, Gideonse supported the investigations of the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SISS) which took up where the Rapp-Coudert Committee left off.
Like the college’s faculty, the Vanguard student journalists subscribed to a wide range of political perspectives and affiliations. What they shared, however, was a fierce commitment to academic freedom and freedom of the press. As Karpatkin explained, “And I believe that as passionately today as I did when I was a student, that one of the saving graces for a democratic society today is its free press.”