Banner Logo:  Dreamers & Fighters: the NYC teacher purges
Tab: Home PageTab: DocumentaryTab:  HistoryTab: Multimedia ArchiveTab:  Children of the BlacklistTab:  Current EventsTab:  Message Board
Page Title:  History

Timeline


This Timeline traces the political impact of the blacklist era on New York's schools. Please click on the images to enlarge photos and documents.

1916

Teachers Union (TU) founded; Dr. Henry R. Linville, president.

1920-1923

Passed in 1920, the Lusk Laws require teachers to apply to the state education commissioner for certifications of their loyalty and character. They are repealed in 1923 under Governor Alfred E. Smith.

1932

The Board of Education implements cuts in teacher salaries. Opposition groups in TU gain strength.

1935

TU membership 2,200. Some 800 members leave the TU to form the Teachers Guild. Charles J. Hendley elected TU president, and Bella Dodd becomes legislative representative. With the new officers in place, TU members in Harlem schools form the Harlem Committee of the Teachers Union to work to improve conditions for the children in the schools, as well as to focus on Negro history and fight discrimination. Lucile Spence is the chairman.

1936

The Harlem Committee of the Teachers Union joins with parents, and civic and religious leaders to form the Committee for Better Schools in Harlem.

1940-1942

Rapp-Coudert hearings in the New York State Senate target “subversive” teachers and result in some 50 or more college and public school teachers losing their jobs through the 1940s. TU membership declines during the 2 years of the hearings, and the union was badly weakened.

1941

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) revokes the TU’s charter and granted a charter to the Teachers Guild.

1944

Rose Russell becomes the TU’s legislative representative.

1948-1950

A LOOK AHEAD: The Board of Education, after some resistance to the pressures building on the national level, begins checking on teacher backgrounds. Superintendent of Schools William Jansen tells Congress there are at most a few Communist teachers in the system, but soon launches initial investigations.

1948

Abraham Lederman is elected TU president. TU immediate past president Samuel Wallach refuses on constitutional grounds to answer questions before a House subcommittee investigating alleged Communism in the TU.

December 1948

Elementary school teacher Minnie Gutride commits suicide after being questioned in her school by two aides from Superintendent Jansen's office.

1949

Superintendent Jansen announces he is investigating 6 teachers for possible Communist ties. He denies he is launching a witch hunt.

July 1, 1949

The Feinberg Law goes into effect. It specifies that current membership in a subversive organization is sufficient cause for dismissal, while past membership was presumptive proof of current membership unless a full break with any such organization could be proven. The Board will make perhaps even more use of Section 903 of the City Charter, which calls for dismissal of city employees who assert their Fifth Amendment rights.

September 1949


Jansen announces the procedures the Board of Education will follow in implementing the Feinberg Law. The New York Times reports that 25 teacher and public groups spoke against the proposed rule while 5 spoke in support.

1950-1952

A LOOK AHEAD: The Board of Education brings the first post-Rapp-Coudert cases, and the first dismissals occur. The Board continues serious internal discussions and development of the policies it will follow in subsequent actions and investigations.

March 1950


Elementary school teacher Sylvia Schneiderman becomes the first teacher dismissed as the investigations intensify.

May 1950


Superintendent Jansen suspends 8 teachers, including TU leaders and active members David Friedman, Abraham Lederman, Celia Lewis Zitron, Isador Rubin, and Alice Citron.

June 1950


Despite significant opposition, the Board of Education passes the Timone Resolution banning the TU from operating in the schools and declaring the Board would not negotiate with the TU. Using the resolution, Jansen permitted principals to ban the union from distributing its materials in teachers’ letter boxes.

July 1951


Assistant corporation counsel Saul Moskoff is assigned to the Board of Education from the city’s Law Department to handle the anti-Communist investigations.

December 1951


The Board of Education issues a policy statement reiterating that present Communist Party membership was sufficient basis for dismissal, but that past membership might not be, and that each case would be considered individually.

1952

The first Negro History Week supplement appears in New York Teacher News. They appeared every year through 1963. Other special supplements included Puerto Rico Day in 1954; Jewish Centenerary, also in 1954; 400 Years of Italian-American History in 1955; and Pan-American Week in 1956.


January 1952

Superintendent Jansen suspends 8 more teachers for refusing to answer questions about CP membership. They include Dorothy Bloch, Mildred Flacks, and Samuel Wallach.

March 1952

 

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Feinberg Law in Adler vs. Board of Education of the City of New York. In addition to Irving Adler, the others bringing the case include Edith Tiger.

Summer 1952

 

The second Timone Resolution extends a ban against the use of school buildings by organizations on the Attorney General’s List to the TU, even though it wasn’t on the list.

September 1952

The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee holds hearings in New York. Several NYC teachers who invoke the Fifth Amendment are fired, as are some college teachers. Newspapers report that Bella Dodd, in addition to her public testimony, named 100 teachers as Communists in executive session. These sessions go into October. The Board of Education conducts departmental trials for the first teachers charged. Senate hearings will continue into 1953.

November 1952

The Board of Education suspends Irving Adler and 4 other teachers for insubordination and conduct unbecoming a teacher.

1953-1958

A LOOK AHEAD: Departmental trials take place for more of the teachers previously charged, against a background of changes in the rules and regulations governing the procedures. The Board of Education brings additional teachers up on charges. The TU helps the affected teachers by helping with legal and living costs. But by 1953 membership falls to 3,000 from a high of 7,000.

February 1953

The TU ends its affiliation with the United Public Workers (UPW), saying it will now act as an independent teacher organization.

March 1953

Jansen says that 81 teachers had been suspended, allowed to resign, or had retired since the Board began formal investigations in 1950. Another 180 are under investigation, he says.

June 1953

Application of the Feinberg Law is extended to New York’s colleges and universities. The Board of Higher Education sets up a special committee to decide on the use of Section 903 and the Feinberg Law.

January 1954

Moskoff reports that 149 teachers and other Board employees have been forced out through dismissal or through resignations and retirements. He also announces the adoption of new procedures aimed at subjecting teachers who make false statements about their Communist ties to public trials and confrontation by their accusers. The point is to expose CP membership, rather than permit those charged to refuse to answer, Moskoff says. In effect, teachers will not only be dismissed, but will also be publically exposed as CP members.

January 1955

The New York City corporation counsel’s office weighs in on the ongoing debate on the proposed resolution requiring teachers to inform. It tells the Board of Education that it can require teachers to identify other teachers they know to be in the CP, and that failure to do so can subject them to charges of insubordination and to departmental trials. In the same month, State Commissioner of Education Lewis A. Wilson turns down an appeal by 11 teachers who had been suspended without pay or dismissed for refusal to answer questions on CP ties.

March 1955

The Board of Education adopts the resolution requiring teachers called in for investigation to inform and to sign oaths as to their truthfulness. Teachers who had previously refused to cooperate are called back in and questioned again.

May 1955

Moskoff reports that 239 teachers and clerks have been forced out of the system.

April 1956

The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the city’s dismissal of Brooklyn College professor Harry Slochower for taking the Fifth. In May, the city announces it will fight the decision.

August 1956

Recently appointed New York State Commissioner of Education James E. Allen issues a ruling stating that teachers could not be required to inform. Teachers directly affected include Irving Mauer, probationary principal Samuel Cohen, and Harry Adler. The city says it will challenge the ruling. Allen also upheld dismissals of 2 college faculty members because they didn’t involve informing, and reverses the dismissal of another.

 

July 1958

Saul Moskoff leaves the Board of Education to return to the Corporation Counsel’s office. Abraham Barnett, also an assistant corporation counsel, moves over from the Law Department to handle the investigations.

November 1958

Since the start of the investigations in the early 1950s, the Board of Education reports on November 5 that:

  • 126 teachers admitted past Communist Party membership but were allowed to keep their jobs.
  • 249 teachers resigned or retired after being told to appear for interviews
  • 34 teachers resigned orn retired while being investigated, but before they were told to report for interviews.
  • 5 teachers were suspended and awaiting departmental trials after admitting CP membership but refusing to inform.

1959-1977

A LOOK AHEAD: The investigations will continue through the early 1960s, but court decisions, administrative rulings, and shifts in the political climate bring a gradual winding down. The Board of Education eventually reinstates some 30 teachers and restores pension rights, though not back pay.

May 1959

The New York Court of Appeals upholds the right of the state education commissioner to forbid New York to dismiss teachers who refuse to inform.

December 1959

The city reverses on its informant policy, reinstating 2 teachers who had refused to name names. But it continues to press charges against 3 others for perjury for denying CP membership.

1961

The United Federation of Teachers defeats the TU in a collective bargaining election.

August 1962

The Board of Education passes a measure that in effect reverses the Timone Resolution denying the TU access to the schools. The decision in effect reinstates the TU as a teacher representative.

November 1963

With the UFT the recognized bargaining agent for New York’s teachers, the Teachers Union votes to disband as of early 1964. The TU executive board recommends that its members should join the UFT. In its statement, the TU cites the handicaps the union had faced due to the investigations and purges.

1964

The Teachers Union formally disbands.

January 1967

 

The Supreme Court declares the Feinberg Law unconstitutional in the Keyishian case, brought by 5 professors from Buffalo.

1968

Section 903 of the City Charter, used to dismiss many teachers who had claimed the privilege against self-incrimination, declared unconstitutional.

December 1976

The Board of Education reinstates 33 teachers.

October 1977

The Board of Education reinstates an additional 10 teachers. The city reinstates the pensions of 2 teachers, Irving Adler and Harold Blau, after settling with them on lawsuits they filed.

College professors (front) Vera Shlakman and Oscar Shaftel and others receive restitution

April 1982  

Ten college professors are reinstated and given restitution.

SOURCES

Clarence Taylor, Reds on the Blackboard, Communism, Academic Freedom, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union; forthcoming book

Celia Lewis Zitron, The New York City Teachers Union 1916-1964

David Caute, The Great Fear

New York City Municipal Archives

Newspapers, including The New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, New York World -Telegram and Sun, New York Journal-American, New York Post, New York Daily News, and others


Design by E. Harbatkin
Website Development by BeagleTech
www.beagletech.com
Maintained by Deborah Dee
Maintained by Dorothy Giansiracusa