Document 21: Mr. and Mrs. James Tell Why They Refused to Answer

27 July 1948, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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Mr. and Mrs. James Tell Why They Refused to Answer

In a statement issued yesterday, Florence and Burton James, directors of the Repertory Playhouse, set forth reasons why they refused to answer the question posed at the Canwell hearings: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?"

Another statement, bearing the names of 32 persons identified as members and associates of the Playhouse, protested what was termed "the unconstitutional procedure" of the committee and defended the theater's record.


The statement of Mr. and Mrs. James follows:

"Many people have wondered, and rightly so, why we failed to answer the so-called $64 question. We have been asked 'Why, if you have nothing to hide, do you refrain from answering this query?' Some people have misunderstood our action.

"The fact is we would be delighted to face our accusers in a court of law where we would have the opportunity to cross-examine and where evidence, not personal animus or political enmity, would reveal the truth. We do not propose, however, to dignify nor affirm the legality of this committee and its methods by replying to any questions which are an infringement upon our basic rights as established both by the courts and by the Constitution.

"We are risking a contempt charge in the hope that the legality of the Canwell committee and its procedures can be questioned under constitutional procedure.


It is our belief that no justice can be secured in an atmosphere where slander and fabrications are permitted to go unanswered, where counsel have no legal status or recourse to the usual safeguards against malicious and baseless personal attacks.

"Since we are not given the opportunity to disprove the testimony of our accusers, our only recourse is to challenge the legality of this committee and its procedures.

"Mr. Hewitt has asserted that he met Florence Bean James in Moscow in 1932. Mrs. James made a tour of the continent in 1934 with, the witnesses might be surprised to know, a politically conservative and thoroughly credible companion. . . .

"[This is] merely [a sample] of the irresponsible testimony permitted before the Canwell committee. We believe that this hearing is [part of] a series of attacks on all ideas contrary to the fixed notions of the members of the Canwell committee.


"Every school, church, newspaper, publisher, writer, union and group interested in progressive democracy may well be hauled in before the Canwell committee to stand the acid test of Canwellian orthodoxy. Someone, some-time had to take a stand. We have taken ours.

"We would like to know why 'friendly' witnesses are allowed to give vent to their personal opinions and feelings without check, while the 'unfriendly' witnesses are given virtually no latitude to reply to the calumny heaped upon them.

"Counsel have repeatedly asked, both orally and in writing, for the right to cross-examine and were ejected from the hearing. Is this democracy?

"By what right does Mr. Canwell act as both judge and jury. . . ?

"We want the informed judgment of our fellow citizens in this community. Has Canwell's hearing given you the basis for an intelligent decision about us? That is the $64 question Burton and Florence James pose for the people of Seattle."

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest