Newell Sells

My father spent time in federal prison for seeking to overthrow the United States government pursuant to the Taft Hartley Act.

In 1952, it was against the law in this country to be an officer in a labor union and affiliate with the Communist Party in any way. At the age of 28, my father resigned from the Communist Party in Denver, Colorado, and ran for an officer position in a labor union. In 1956, at the age of 32, he was named as a Communist before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In those days, the FBI did not have to provide any material evidence in court or to Congress to prove that someone was a Communist. In 1957, at 33, my father stood before a federal grand jury for violating the Taft-Hartley Act. His appeal was denied a year later.

He was sentenced to federal prison for making a false statement because he presumably lied on his union affidavit.  (I guess he did sort of lie indirectly, but it’s complicated.) His version of the story is chilling; Patriot Act-level privacy invasion is nothing by comparison. He served his sentence in FCI Danbury, which housed conscientious objectors and political prisoners at the time, and which later became a women’s prison.

Eventually the Taft Hartley provision was overturned and some protections (like the Jencks Act) were put in place – acknowledging how utterly ridiculous it is to believe that just talking to a Communist means you’re a terrorist. Thank goodness the NSA is listening.

My gratitudes for daddy:

1. He was a supreme raconteur; I owe every story to him.

2. Whoever thought to put pears and cheese together? Whatever odd pairings in life, I got from him.

3. The persistent belief that cats know what you’re thinking despite your best efforts otherwise.

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