Jerry P. Shinley Archive:Origins of La. Un-American Activities Committee (LUAC)
Origins of Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee (LUAC)
The Louisiana Joint Legislative Committee on Un-American Activities (hereafter referred to as LUAC) has its origins in the First District of the Louisiana department of the American Legion. In April of 1957, the First District adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of permanent "un-American activities committees" in both the State House and Senate. The resolution pointed to other state HUACs and their effectiveness in gathering information "on Communists and Socialists and their activities." Festus J. Brown was identified as the chairman of the First District's committee on Americanism (NOTP; April 6, 1957; p17) The commander of the First District was James H. Pfister. (NOTP; October 23, 1958; p22)
James H. Pfister was a native of New Orleans and a graduate of "Notre Dame seminary." During World War II, Pfister served in the Army. In the mid-fifties, Pfister worked as an investigator for N.O. DA (and future Warren Commission counsel) Leon D. Hubert, Jr. In March of 1959, Pfister was named as an assistant warden at the Orleans parish prison by Sheriff Louis A, Heyd, Sr. (NOTP; March 18, 1959; p3) Pfister's jobs with the DA office and the Orleans prison were probably political patronage, suggesting that Pfister had some pull with the Morrison-CCDA political machine. Garrison worked as an assistant DA under Hubert during the same period. It is possible that Pfister and Garrison became acquainted at that time.
By 1960, Pfister had been elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. In May of that year, he introduced a bill calling for the creation of a 10 member, Joint Legislative Committee on Un-American Activities. The original bill granted the committee full subpena powers and the power to punish for contempt. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. George Tessier, also from N. O., and Algie D. Brown of Caddo Parish. (NOTP; May 19, 1960; s1, p4) After running through the legislative mill, the bill achieved final approval on June 14, 1960. The Senate had amendeded the bill to require the Committee to act through the State Attorney General to enforce any contempt actions. (NOTP; June 14, 1960; s3, p11)
The committee held its initial organizing meeting on September 21, 1960. Pfister was chosen as chairman. LUAC also took applications from "private investigators seeking committee assignments." Only one of these applicants was allowed to address the committee: Guy Banister. Banister took the opportunity to attribute the recent civil rights protests known as "sit-ins" to the leadership of white leftwingers. Banister reasoned that the "Negro race is not capable of the leadership or organization for sit-ins." He added that "there has been no real exposure of subversive influences in this state, although the joint committee on segration in the past did some work in that direction." The segregation committee had been headed by State Sen. Willie Rainach. (NOTP; September 22, 1960; s1, p28)
Another person at the meeting, State Senator Wendell Harris of Baton Rouge, who also served as vice-chairman of the recently created State Sovereignty Commission, offered the cooperation of that group, even extending to the use of the commission's staff. (ibid)
Representing the American Legion was Pfister's old subordinate, Festus J. Brown, now chairman of the Legion's own Committee on Un-American Activities. A letter he presented to the committee stated the following:
The informed and thinking citizens of Louisiana are prayerfully and anxiously looking forward to effective and determined operations by this splendid committee.
Brown's letter recommended several men as possible counsel or investigators: Guy Johnson, Guy Banister, attorney Jack N. Rogers of Baton Rouge, and George Schultz of the Caddo parish sheriff's office. (ibid)
LUAC met again two weeks later to view the film "Operation Abolition", dealing with protests against LUAC's national role model, the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The film was presented by Festus Brown and Jack N. Rogers, now identified as special counsel to the Legion's Un-American Committee. Pfister indentified the main purposes of the committee as locating any subversion in higher education or in "racial unrest." (NOTP; October 2, 1960; s1, p22)
Pfister's next step was to seek adequate funding for his Committee. $60,000 was the amount initially sought. (NOTP; December 21, 1960; s1, p6)
With funding in hand, LUAC began selecting its staff. As recommended earlier by Festus Brown, LUAC chose Jack N. Rogers as its chief counsel. Rogers was a partner in a Baton Rouge law firm. He had graduated from LSU law school. Holding the rank of Major, Rogers served in the U. S. Army Intelligence Reserve. His training included attendance at the Army's counter-intelligence and strategic intelligence schools. Rogers was also a graduate of a "special course on world Communist strategy offered at the foreign service institute of the U. S. Department of State." (NOTP; March 24, 1961; s2, p7)
Tapped as staff director was Col. Frederick B. Alexander, Jr., "one time Army intelligence officer in Austria and Korea." At the time his appointment was announced, Alexander was serving as ROTC commander and professor at LSU. Alexander was named in July of 1961, with the appointment becoming effective in December, when Alexander retired from the Army. (NOTP; July 12, 1961; s1, p2)
The background of Rogers and Alexander raise the question of what relationship may have existed between LUAC and Army Intelligence. One of a small number of LUAC documents available at the Louisiana State Archives in October of 1961 is a letter from Col. Alexander to a Lt. William K. Larson of Fort Polk. In this letter dated October 15, 1965, Alexander states "[t]he Committee maintains close liason ... with Army C. I. C. ... in the conduct of its business."
In August of 1961, Wade Mackie, Baton Rouge director of the American Friends Service Committee, discovered a tap on his telephone. He traced the wire to the home of Jack Rogers. This discovery resulted in a Federal Grand Jury Investigation and, ultimately, a trial involving Rogers, State Senator Wendell Harris, Baton Rouge DA Sargent Pitcher, and Guy Johnson in various roles.
The public announcement of the wiretap probe came in October of 1961 with the issuance of a Federal Grand Jury subpena for Frank Voelker, Jr., chairman of the State Sovereignty Commission. It was reported that the investigation "was personally ordered by U. S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy," and that it had been under way since about August 1 under U. S. Attorney M. Hepburn Many. The victims of the wiretapping were Wade Mackie, of the American Friends Service Committee; Rev. Irvin Cheney, the former pastor of the Broadmoor Baptist Church, who had resigned under pressure; and Rabbi Marvin Reznikoff of the Liberal Synagouge. All three were living in Baton Rouge. Cheney's problems were attributed to his signing of an affirmation which stated "discrimination on the basis of race is a violation of divine law." (NOTP; October 8, 1961; s5, p20)
On October 11, 1961, the Federal Grand Jury in Baton Rouge heard 11 witnesses in this case. The first witness was FBI agent Stuart Scheer. Mackie, Chaney and Reznikoff also testified. Frank Voelker was accompainied by Spencer Myrick, an investigator for the Sovereignty Commission. (NOTP; October 11, 1961; S1, p1)
Lamar Loe, chief of information for the Sovereignty Commission, and Jack N. Rogers of LUAC testified on October 11. Lawrence W. Hall, a Baton Rouge private investigator, was summoned but did not testify before the jury. (NOTP; October 12, 1961; s1, p1)
On November 15, Baton Rouge District Attorney Sargent Pitcher was granted an injunction by Federal Judge E. Gordon West requiring U. S. Attorney Many to show cause why a subpena issued for Pitcher should not be quashed. (NOTP; November 16, 1961; s2, p21) At a court hearing on November 20, Pitcher argued that, as a District Attorney, he was immune to a subpena by a Federal Grand Jury and that his office had nothing to do with any wiretapping. Many disputed his immunity claim, and said that the government could prove that Pitcher was present when tapes obtained by wiretapping were played. Judge West took the case under advisement. (NOTP; November 21, 1961; s1, p1)
While awaiting the Judge's decision, Pitcher offered Many information concerning the wiretap in exchange for an opportunity "to examine your [Many's] confidential files concerning the American Friends Service Committee..." Pitcher added that his office "has been deeply interested in the conducting of a continuous instigation" of the AFSC. (NOTP; November 25, 1961; s1, p1) Many declined comment and forwarded the proposal to the Justice Department in Washington. (NOTP; November 28, 1961; s1, p20)
On November 30, Judge West ruled that there was no basis to Pitcher's claim of immunity. Pitcher was ordered to appear. (NOTP; December 31, 1961; s2, p4)
Pitcher appeared before the Grand Jury on December 14, and, after an open court hearing before Judge Herbert Christenberry, turned over the wiretap recordings. Another witness was Baton Rouge business man Leon Patterson. (NOTP; December 15, 1961; s1, p1) On December 21, Pitcher's chief investigator, William Hawk Daniels, appeared before the Grand Jury. (NOTP; November 21, 1961; s1, p4)
On December 27, the Grand Jury returned indictments against three men:
State Senator Wendell Harris, "charged in one count which alleges that on March 20 he received an intercepted communication between Reznikoff and Mackie and made it public to Voelker, Deer, Pitcher, and others."
Lawrence W. Hall, a private investor, charged with two counts. The first count charged that Hall, during the third week of March, 1961 intercepted a communication between Reznikoff and Mackie, which he divulged to Voelker. The second count charged that Hall intercepted, during the same week, a conversation between Mackie and Chaney, which he divulged to members of Cheney's congregation.
Leon Patterson, head of a Baton Rouge equipment firm, charged with two counts. The first alleged on June 15 Patterson received an intercepted communication between Mackie and Cheney and divulged it to members of Cheney's church. The second alleged on July 11, Patterson received a communication between Reznikoff and Mackie and divulged it to members of the North Highland Baptist Church.
In a statement, Wendell Harris charged that he was a victim of a "politically motivated persecution", and that the goverment's purpose was to destroy the State Sovereignty Commission. (NOTP; December 28, 1961; s1, p1)
At their arraignment on January 17, 1962, Harris was represented by Guy Johnson, Lawrence Hall by Jack N. Rogers, and Leon Patterson by William Wray. (NOTP; January 18, 1962; s1, p20)
After nearly four years of legal maneuvering, which saw the charges against Patterson dropped, Harris and Hall came to trail on December 14, 1965 in Baton Rouge before Judge Christenberry. The irascible Christenberry declared a mistrial on the first day when he observed Halls' attorney, Jack N. Rogers, "walk close to the jury box and turn his head, and 'one of the jurors responded to Rogers' gesture smiling.'" Rogers admitted to being a personal friend of one of the jurors, Thomas Glaze. (NOTP; December 15, 1965; s1, p18)
The second trial of Harris and Hall opened on April 18, 1966 in Baton Rouge, again before Judge Christenberry. Wade Mackie testified to how he discovered, on August 1, 1961, that his phone was tapped and traced the wire to the home of Jack N. Rogers, again acting as Lawrence Hall's attorney. Lamar Loe, former director of investigations for the Sovereignty Commission, testified to a meeting involving defendants Harris and Hall and Frank Deer, the now deceased executive director of the Commission. Plans were discussed for Hall to intercept telephone conversations of the AFSC. Frank Voelker, former Commission chairman, identified checks made out to Hall. He also told of listening to intercepted conversions at Harris' home with Sargent Pitcher present. (NOTP; April 19, 1966; s1, p18)
The next day, Reznikoff and Cheney testified about their work on a declaration aimed at keeping the public school opens during the desegration crisis of 1961. FBI agent Stuart Scheer and telephone company investigator James Shelton testified about the physical phone tap on Mackie's line. Judge Chistenberry attempted to keep out questions about the alleged subversive nature of the AFSC. (NOTP; April 20, 1966; s1, p7)
E. L. Bordelon and Aaron V. Duke, two former employees of Lawrence Hall's detective firm, said that Hall had threatend them during the Grand Jury probe. Bordelon claimed he was told by Hall that Hall "had a friend on the Grand Jury and that the room was bugged." Out of fear, Bordelon said he testified "not truthfully" to the Grand Jury. After his testimony, Hall told Bordelon, "You done real well." Sargent Pitcher testified that he was investigating the AFSC in 1961 on the grounds that they were conducting integrated meetings in violation of state laws ultimately found unconstitutional. Pitcher's investigator, William Hawk Daniels, testified that he had copied wiretap tapes in the home of Wendell Harris and stored them at the DA's office. (NOTP; April 21, 1966; s1, p24)
Members of Chaney's Broadmoor Baptist church testified to hearing tapes of conversations between Mackie and Chaney. Some members were disturbed by the mention of integrated meetings on the tapes. Chaney resigned his pastorate two weeks after the tapes were played. Two FBI agents, George McNeill and Richard Bucaro testified, with the jury withdrawn, about an interview of Hall conducted on September 15, 1961. During the interview Hall admitted that Harris had hired him to tap Mackie's phone. (April 22, 1966; s1, p7)
The next day, the prosecution rested. Harris' attorney Guy Johnson moved for acquittal. (NOTP; April 23, 1966; s4, p4)
As the trial's second week opened, Christenberry denied the motion for acquittal. Harris and Hall tesified on their own behalf. Before resting, the defense built its case around the fact that Harris and Hall were working for the Sovereignty Commission and that the wiretapping was legal under Louisiana law. Under cross-examination, Hall testified about his past legal problems. (NOTP; April 26, 1966; s1, p20)
During closing arguments, Rogers called the case a "sordid mess" and said the government was spending 5 years and $200,000 to try Hall and Harris on a misdemeanor. U. S. Attorney Gene Palmisano told the jury that if divulgence could be proven, "Mr. Rogers would be sitting at that table as a defendant rather than as counsel." The case was sent to the jury. (NOTP; April 27, 1966; s1, p21)
After seven and a half hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Hall and Harris on one count and deadlocked on the remaining counts. At the time, the government attorneys promised to pursue a new trial. (NOTP; April 28, 1966; s1, p1) However, in December, the government dropped the remaining counts. (NOTP; December 21, 1966; s1, p10)
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