09 January 2012

Milton Rogovin, Dangerous Subversive? Ernest Withers, Shameful Collaborator?

Two news stories caught my eye this morning. The Associated Press has released here a new story - actually containing very little news, simply confirmation of what is common knowledge - about the U.S. government surveillance and hectoring of Milton and Anne Rogovin over the course of several decades. And here is a review of a just-opened exhibition of work by the late Ernest Withers who, it turns out, collaborated with the FBI in reporting on the civil rights movement while he photographed it.

The AP story makes clear that the Rogovins withdrew from active left-wing politics in large measure to insulate their family. My understanding is that Withers agreed to collaborate in hopes of doing the same. My point in drawing this contrast is not to cast a morality play of heroes and villains. Instead it is to suggest how pervasive and insidious red-baiting has been. The surveillance and hectoring infiltrated lives of decent people in destructive ways. And it now continues to do so. (Was it really an "accident" that the censors neglected to redact Withers' name from files released under FOIA requests?) There are pointed lessons here for the ongoing operation of the U.S. government in the area of "national security."

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