Communists in Minneapolis?
My former professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies, Wayne Wiegand recently wrote a great article in the Winter 2010-2011 Minnesota History Magazine. Titled “Books not Bullets,” the article chronicles Helen Allison Winter’s run for Minneapolis Library Board in 1941.
Helen Allison Winter and her husband Carl were active members of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). The views of the CPUSA were closely aligned to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. On August 23, 1939 the Soviet Union has signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. Therefore, the CPUSA was very much against war with Germany.
Helen Winter made the war a central part of her campaign for library board. As you can see from the flyer above, she asked if it should be books or bullets. In the May 12 primary to narrow the library board field, Winter got the 4th and last spot for the general election, beating a Republican candidate, Mac Martin by 496 votes and Farmer-Labor candidate by nearly 6000 votes. Winter did well throughout the city, even affluent areas that would not usually vote Communist. The FBI saw the victory as staggering and director J. Edgar Hoover recommended that Winter “be considered for custodial detention in the event of a national emergency.”
Mac Martin was curious how Helen Winter did so well. Although her message of peace and civil rights was very accessible, there was something else: her name. After Winter mentioned that maybe people liked her name when Martin asked why she thought she did so well, he acted. Alice Ames Winter, a popular woman active in Minneapolis social and patriotic circles was cabled by Mac Martin and he procured a statement from her disavowing any relation to Helen Winter and strongly condemning Communism.
On June 12th, Helen Winter again came in fourth (the top two candidates won the Library Board seats) but did gain 10,278 over her primary vote. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the peace platform of the CPUSA was dropped. The Winters stayed active in the CPUSA and moved to California shortly after the United States entered the war, where Carl became the executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Communist Party and Helen managed membership registration.