- Harry, Tom, and Father Rice: Accusation and Betrayal in America's Cold War
Hoerr interweaves stories of three participants in the CIO's purge of leftist unions in the middle of the twentieth century: his uncle Harry Davenport, briefly a congressman from Pittsburgh; Thomas Quinn, a rising star of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America at the time of the purge; and the Reverend Charles Owen Rice, the "labor priest" of Pittsburgh. The value to historians of these discussions is decidedly mixed; so let us begin with the best. [End Page 299]
Hoerr interviewed Quinn and his family members extensively to compile a compelling portrait of one of the victims of the red-baiting era. An alumnus of a Catholic orphanage, Quinn had little use for organized religion, but became a solid labor leader known for his ability to find common ground with the other side. He was moving into the leadership of the left-dominated UE when the Red Scare broke out, and was "almost destroyed" (p. 221) by the hearings of the House Unamerican Affairs Committee and resulting criminal charges (later overruled by the Supreme Court). Hoerr concludes that Quinn was not a Communist (although UE leader James Matles was), engaged in no illegal activity or sabotage, but was persecuted mainly for associating with Communists who espoused political goals similar to his own (p. 218). By his sons' account, Quinn usually was quite tolerant of those with whom he disagreed, except for Father Rice, whose name would draw forth a string of profanities and charges that he had ruined a good union and many lives with his red-baiting (p. 227).
Rice seems not to have taken note of Tom Quinn in his writings, except for one piece in which he referred to him as "a Communist bully-boy" for initiating fisticuffs at a union meeting (p. 165). Hoerr's treatment of Rice (whose memory was fading by the time Hoerr interviewed him) generally relies on previously published works and adds little to our knowledge. An exception is a passage where Hoerr gives his own eyewitness account of Rice cooling the passions of demonstrators after the assassination of Martin Luther King and possibly preventing a bloody police action (p. 252). Based upon Rice's own later (mixed) regrets about his red-baiting phase, Hoerr concludes, "much of the accusatory activity and accompanying suffering should not have occurred" (p. 249). Quinn once vowed that he would outlive his enemies, and doubtless made good on that vow in many cases, living to February, 2005. But not Rice, who survived to November 13 of that year.
The least useful strand of the book concerns Uncle Harry. Davenport, espousing a highly liberal agenda and with the close support of Tom Quinn and other UE members, managed to win a seat from the Twenty-ninth Congressional District of Pittsburgh in 1948, to be defeated for re-election in 1950. But while he was in office, Quinn and other UE members came to Washington to testify before HUAC, only to have Davenport turn his back on them. After 1950, Davenport never again won office or held a regular job, and seems to have subsisted, in shirt and tie, on flophouses, alcohol, and the generosity of others. Treading his dreary path might have been worthwhile if it had shed some light on why he betrayed his friends or walked away from his family. The nephew, despite spending much time in bars with his subject, was too embarrassed to ask. Readers may find this part of an otherwise well-crafted and illuminating book a bit tedious.