THE LOS ANGELES TEACHER PURGE:
THE STRUCTURES OF AN ANTI-COMMUNIST OFFENSIVE
In my PhD dissertation, I analyze the structures of an anti-communist assault on academic freedom. I explore the events surrounding the firing of progressive Los Angeles teachers in the 1950s – the local school board joining forces with the state legislature’s anti-communist investigative committee to develop a workaround to state tenure laws in order to fire teachers with histories of progressive activism; the court battles that enabled the purge and upheld the constitutionality of the Los Angeles firings and similar purges across the country; and ultimately the disintegration of that legal doctrine.
The research examines the Los Angeles teacher purge as an example of extrajudicial punishment. The case is unique among other anti-communist efforts for the extreme level of coordination involved by formal actors – from municipal and state government officials all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court – to subvert constitutionally protected civil liberties by carving out exceptions for teachers and public servants.
I expose the anti-communist attack on public school teachers as a collaborative effort by elected and appointed officials to dispossess progressive teachers of their livelihoods through a legal loophole, not for any type of criminal activity or deviant behavior, but for challenging the deprivation of their civil liberties. The movement against teachers coalesced relatively quickly, but the legal structure that was propped up to facilitate the purge collapsed with comparable celerity.
Though it is a unique case, the ease with which the anti-communist crusaders were able to mount a Court-sponsored offensive against progressive teachers, albeit short-lived, offers itself as a cautionary tale with implications for the present and future that are worthy of consideration.
Read an excerpt here.