Document 5: Interview with James Sullivan

Albert Canwell, First Report: Un-American Activities in Washington State.
([Olympia]: Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities,1948), 61-69.

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Examination by Mr. Whipple:

Q. Will you state your name to the Committee?

A. James T. Sullivan.

Q. Mr. Sullivan, have you ever held any official position here with the State of Washington?

A. Yes. In '36 I was elected Speaker of the House, and served in the '37 session. In '38 I was elected a member of the Senate and served in the '39 and '41 sessions.

Q. Mr. Sullivan, have you ever held any official position with the Old Age Pension Union?

A. Yes. I was the first State President.

Q. Would you detail, please, Mr. Sullivan, a brief history of the organization of the Old Age Pension Union as you know it as its first State President?

A. Yes. The first time that any thought came of starting a pension organization in this state followed the return of myself and many others from King County from the 1937 session. At that time those of us elected here in this county who considered themselves liberals and progressives, were down trying to do something to clear up the mess in Social Security and to help the aged people of this state. . . . Sixty days of this session had passed and there was nothing done. We came home here to Seattle and I discussed it with Howard Costigan who was then on the radio . . . [We] conceived the idea then of forming a pension organization in this state for the purpose of forcing justice to be done for the old folks in this state. In a very short while, I might say that within a year's time, we possessed a membership better than thirty thousand. . . . In 1939 the Legislature met [and] done nothing. . . . [We decided we were] going to do our own legislating. [We wrote an initiative, Initiative 141, that was passed by the people of the State of Washington in 1940. This was the best Social Security law in the country at that time.] . . .

Q. Senator Sullivan, you testified . . . that N. P. Atkinson, who succeeded you as president of the Old Age Pension Union on one occasion solicited your membership in the Communist Party. When did that occur?

A. Just about a few weeks before the 1939 session of the Legislature convened. He called me up. I was working at the courthouse at the time—head of the electrical department—he called me up and wanted to know could he meet me and have a luncheon date. We had lunch across the street there in the hotel, the restaurant across the street, and we no more than sat down, in fact the waitress hadn't even taken our order yet, and he approached me with the idea that I join the Communist Party. I laughed at him and told him that he didn't make sense, for me with the beliefs I had, of being a Communist and he attempted to paint a picture of how the program would be taken care of and all I had to do was follow.

Q. Now was he president of the Pension Union at that time?

A. Oh, no.

Q. That was before he succeeded you as president of the Old Age Pension Union?

A. Yes. . . .

Q. Mr. Sullivan, after going back to the 1940 convention held here in the Moose Hall, that was the occasion when you more or less severed your connection with the Old Age Pension Union?

A. That is right—that is, as an organization.

Q. As an organization. Now, just state briefly to the Committee what took place there at the Moose Hall in 1940 . . .

A. The statement I made to the convention that Sunday morning was to the fact that the Pension Union had ceased to be an organization that was striving to help the aged people of this state, that it was more concerned in furthering the welfare of a particular European nation, namely Russia, and I walked out of the convention following my speech.

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