Blacklisting reached its height during the Cold War in the United States, but it has historically been used by governments, churches, and businesses to target dissidents. During World War I the U.S. government blacklisted businesses with suspected subversive connections. In 1947 the administration of President Harry S. Truman blacklisted ninety supposedly disloyal businesses as part of a “get tough with Russia policy” designed to halt communism. Truman’s Loyalty Review Board investigated three million federal employees, three thousand of whom resigned or were dismissed.
The 1950’s Red Scare, reminiscent of the 1919-1920 Red Scare, linked political radicalism with suspected foreign conspiracies. Conservatives, fearing that American communists (numbering about eighty thousand during the 1940’s) were conspiring to overthrow the government, united to blacklist suspects.
The 1950’s Hollywood blacklist originated during an industry-wide meeting in New York City on November 24-25, 1947. Bowing to political and economic pressure, film studios fired a group of allegedly procommunist employees and implemented the blacklist, a self-policing strategy to prevent government control and to avert costly public boycotts.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities (also known as the House Un-American Activities Committee, or the HUAC) targeted Hollywood because it considered movies, disseminated to millions, an ideal vehicle to spread...
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