Excerpts from The Preface

Though A Red Family was published in 2009, it is based on interviews conducted with the Scales beginning in March 1971. Except for a single session with Junius when Barbara was present, the interviews were conducted alone to preserve spontaneity, and to capture the separate and individual recollection of events. The sessions, recorded on a simple cassette machine, lasted three to four hours. And Junius, Gladys and Barbara were each interviewed three or four different times over the next many months.

Let me be very clear: I was not then, nor am I now, a historian. I was, and continue to be, a writer, and more recently a filmmaker, and a political activist. Perhaps a professional historian would have asked different questions and elicited different answers.

But I am, like Barbara, a “red diaper” baby. So the book was very important to me for reasons I thought I knew then, and, after a decade of therapy, for other reasons I better understand now.

Unlike Barbara, I always knew about my father’s politics. He took me to May Day parades in Union Square; I went with him to the Daily Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party, where he was an editor. If I was fairly obedient, I’d come home with a photo of Jackie Robinson, the Communist Party’s favorite ballplayer. It wasn’t by accident that even though I grew up in the Bronx, I rooted for the Yankees’ arch-rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team that integrated baseball.

I couldn’t escape the reality of my father’s politics: from the ever-present FBI men assigned to follow him on Kingsbridge Road, and their occasional attempts to get me to talk about my Dad, or our tapped telephone. But most of all, there was no getting off the extraordinary tightrope I had to walk. Proud, like most sons of their fathers, I had been sworn to secrecy. I could never talk about the Party or my father’s job. Printer – that was the magic answer to any question about what he did.

Children aren’t meant to live double lives, but I got to be good at it. Except for a first-grade slip that landed me on the wooden bench outside the Principal’s office, I kept the secret until college. My father, already out of the Party for four years, was called to testify before a congressional committee, HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee. And his appearance made it to the New York newspapers.

For me, the Cold War was anything but cold. It was ferocious and unrelenting. For most Americans, my father and Communists like Junius were the enemy. All you had to do was watch an episode of “I Led Three Lives” on television – and those were the days was when just about anything that made it to television was regarded as near-truth. Each new episode from 1953 to 1956 seemed more diabolical than the last. Those TV Communists were masters of deception, skilled in assassination, bomb-making, and industrial sabotage. When it came to insidious treachery, those guys would give Osama bin laden a run for his money.

Older readers might remember the movie, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with its evil, alien cadre whose pods grew replacement moms and dads and sisters and brothers. Younger readers have their own version: the synthetic Cylons of today’s “Battlestar Galactica.” Well, the Communists of the Cold War were Body Snatchers and Cylons, and unlike the swarthy “Islamo-fascist-extremists” of today’s terror nightmares, they looked like ordinary Americans. Communists could and would blend in, undetected: teach in local schools, work beside you in the office or factory, serve in the Army, go bowling. Yet, according to the myth, what they wanted most was to take away everything Americans loved best: liberty and freedom, the right to worship God, progress and individual initiative, and the opportunity to succeed.

Of course, as you will see, Junius and Gladys were nothing like those caricatures. Nor was my father.
And so, for both personal and political reasons, I wanted America, and the Americans who had seen “I Led Three Lives,” to hear another side of the story.

I knew I wanted A Red Family to be something other than traditional history: a conversational book, the sense and sound of life stories being shared, the Communist experience from the inside out.

I wanted Junius, Gladys, and Barbara to speak from the heart. I also wanted the feminine perspective. So often, at that time, books about politics and the political life came from men, and we didn’t often enough hear the voices of women. But most of all, I wanted, and needed, to make Communists real, to help a Red family make itself known to other American families. With plain talk I hoped to bridge the political divide, and move past a large backlog of ignorance and bias about the left.

At the time I was working full-time during the day as a file clerk for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and transcribed the interviews from seven to eleven each night. Listening to them speak over and over again, making sure I got it down right on paper, helped me to fully absorb the material, to learn and appreciate the unique rhythms of Junius, and Gladys and Barbara.

I had hundreds of pages of transcripts. I spent hours editing, dealing with the repetition that is so common to oral storytelling, finding ways to remove the questions and enable the answers to stand on their own, to build a narrative that moved from the page to the imagination. As I came closer to shaping each of the separate stories, I began to think more about family dynamics. I knew from my own family’s history during the 1950’s and McCarthyism that people under stress, family members besieged by powerful outside pressures, and unwilling to burden others, often can’t or don’t or won’t confide their fears to one another.

Because the interviews had been conducted separately, and because Junius, Gladys, and Barbara were each reaching back into time, often talking for the first time about some of their most difficult and complicated experiences, I began to appreciate that I knew things about each of them they probably hadn’t shared with the others. As I read, and re-read and re-read again the interviews with Junius and Gladys, I understood that they had been so overwhelmed with Junius’ capture and trials and imprisonment that they really hadn’t had a very clear idea of Barbara’s experience of those times.

This, of course, only impressed upon me more the large responsibility I had taken on as the temporary custodian of their life stories. As I began to think more about their family life, I thought about interweaving their stories. And while I was now recreating another form of duplication – and overlapping time – I was doing so to reveal how the same event may well be experienced in very different ways. I felt this added new and interesting perspectives to their histories; that the very form of A Red Family reflected that these were the intertwined strands of one family.

So, as you read this, you’re looking back into time times two. These are the recollections of Junius, Gladys, and Barbara as they poured out in 1971 of events spanning more than four decades. And you are reading them now in a world that has changed a great deal since I finished the book in 1973. Just the smallest, perhaps most insignificant example: the book was written at a time when cut and paste meant just that. Many a time I moved typewritten segments of the book from section to section, page to page by scotch-taping bits and pieces of paper together.


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