L is for Library and I Guess Libel Too

This morning I woke up to the sounds of monkey giggles and someone knocking at my front door.

It was Exupery and his bookish friend Françoise. They asked for help getting to the library. I took them to the downtown branch which is named in honor of John Henry Faulk. We had a nice time but Exupery and Françoise just couldn’t help monkeying around a bit.

Below you can see them climbing the stacks. Better than rock climbing apparently. When we were leaving they caused a bit of a sensation by climbing the metal statue in front. So much for their ‘underground’ movement. There was a virtual paparazzi of cell phone snaps from the people waiting for the bus.

shelf monkeys2
Exupery and Françoise go book climbing
exupery shelf
Exupery a little out of breath

As I was checking out their books I noticed a plaque on the wall that explained who John Henry Faulk was.

John Henry Faulk was one of the people instrumental in stopping the insanity of McCarthyism. Joseph McCarthy was a senator with a paranoid fear about Communists. He wanted to identify and remove Communists and their sympathizers from having any public influence. His primary targets were government employees, entertainers, union activists and educators. His fear was contagious and spread to all levels of society. Discourse became dominated by fear and as a result thousands of people lost their livelihoods and reputations based on nothing more than whispered accusations.

McCarthy was connected to a for-profit organization called AWARE. For a fee, AWARE could tell you if an employee or potential employee was a Communist or even a Communist sympathizer. Faulk was a radio show host at the time and one of the leaders of his union. When his union was offered the services of AWARE he declined. Faulk was immediately labelled a Communist and blacklisted.

McCarthy picked the wrong guy to mess with. Faulk came from a wealthy family here in Austin so unlike many of the other people suffering persecution he had better resources for fighting back. He rode out a lengthy court case: five years of Roy Cohn’s stalling tactics. In the end Faulk won the largest libel judgment in history to that date. That money mostly evaporated away on appeal but a clear message had been sent.

Persecution was going to be more costly than profitable from now on. Voila: the end of an era.



Faulk wrote a book about his experience: Fear on Trial.

A movie by the same name was also made.


John Henry Faulk is the one in the cowboy hat pictured left.


28 thoughts on “L is for Library and I Guess Libel Too

  1. very interesting. i met Faulk back in the Seventies, i think when they were dedicating the statue of him and a couple other writers, at Barton Springs. nice memory. thanks.


    1. It is funny what pieces of history we all learn and what is never really gets discussed. I swear I never understood why people bothered putting plaques on buildings or why they built monuments but I am started to get it.


  2. Libraries are wonderful places. In my local area there trying to get voters to pass a bond on building a new up to date library. They sure have changed over the years. When I was young everyone was super quite and load whisper wasn’t aloud.

    Stop in from A to Z challenge.
    Coffee is on


  3. Fascinating. I’m Canadian so I don’t feel so bad not having heard of Faulk, but it’s weird that you hear so much of the Communist Witch hunts over the years, but never much about how it ended. I guess I just assumed they got bored, or found someone else to persecute?


    1. That’s funny you would mention that. I was just writing a post about how labor history is taught in North America. Stay tuned.=)


  4. L is for Lifted! That photo at the end of your post holds some of my most favorite Texans, the ones I try to remember when certain current politicians are getting the negative attention they richly deserve. Once upon a time in Texas…sigh. Thanks for helping keep these memories alive.


  5. Thanks for the ever charming monkeys and for the history lesson. Those very dark days are disappearing from this nation’s collective conscience I fear, to our peril. It seems like the thought police are pretty busy these days.


    1. It kind of astonishes me that we don’t actually learn from history that we really do continue to repeat the same errors. =/


      1. Memories are short, especially with so many shiny baubles out there to pull our attention from the important things. Human beings are a curious lot.


        1. Bread and circus. An old trick, the internet is just a new spin.
          People really are fascinatingly frustrating sometimes but luckily just when you think you’ve got them all figured out they can do something surprising and wonderful.


  6. As usual a really interesting post. I had never heard about John Henry Faulk but you have stimulated my interest to learn more about him and McCarthyism generally. It is worrying that the lessons of history are never learnt and this sort of thing could happen again any time, perhaps with a different scapegoat.


    1. I had never heard of him either. I am sure there are many places named after people whose achievements are just forgotten. I think I might actually start reading the plaques posted to buildings more. haha


  7. I never heard of John Henry Faulk but I would like to check out the book and movie. We had a friend named Milt Cohen, now deceased, who fought the legal battle that finally put an end to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Milt actually was a big C Communist for a time. He was a child of the 30s, fought in the Spanish Civil War, etc. However, institutional Communisim was too cynical, rigid, and undemocratic for Milt. Milt went on to be a significant figure among those working for social justice in Chicago, and played an important role in the election of Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington. A gentle and self-effacing person who had iron in his soul, I wish someone would write a book about Milt.


    1. He sounds amazing! And so many people of that generation were. My ex-husband’s great grandfather was one of the behind the scenes guys who made national health care possible in Canada. He also was a gentle, caring and great soul.


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