Oral Histories

Interview of Carey McWilliams

Author and editor of the Nation, known for writing on California politics and culture.
Honorable in All Things: The Memoirs of Carey McWilliams
Z: Orphan Interviews pre 1999
Social Movements
Civil Liberties
Sleepy Lagoon Case
Biographical Note:
Author and editor of the Nation, known for writing on California politics and culture.
Gardner, Joel
McWilliams, Carey
Persons Present:
McWilliams and Gardner. Rebecca Andrade, assistant editor, Oral History Program, operated equipment during the video session.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I to IX: Joseph Aidlin's home in Hollywood, California where McWilliams resided while visiting Los Angeles; Tape X: Room 134A Powell Library, UCLA.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Joel Gardner, senior editor, Oral History Program, UCLA; B.A., M.A., French, Tulane University; M.A., journalism, UCLA.Gardner prepared for the interview by researching at the Department of Special Collections and the Public Affairs Service analyzing archival materials, including those of the Haynes Foundation, pertaining to the life of McWilliams and to the Zoot Suit Riots. He also read McWilliams's works and reviewed twenty-five volumes of the Nation magazine.
Processing of Interview:
Editing was done by Andrade. She checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings and edited for punctuation, paragraphing, spelling, and verification of proper nouns. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed. The final manuscript remains in the same order as the original taped material.McWilliams reviewed and approved the edited transcript.The index and table of contents were prepared by Oral History Program staff.
12.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Birth--Family background--Father's move west in 1886--Steamboat Springs, Colorado--Caret' family in Wyoming--Gary family in Colorado--Open-range cattle industry in the west--Family's religious background--Childhood in Steamboat Springs- Ethnic and religious makeup of Steamboat Springs --Mother's education--Father's election to Colorado state senate--High school education-Early literary influences: Fitzgerald, Mencken --Cowhands' respect for father--University of Denver--Move to Los Angeles after father's death.
Job at the Los Angeles Times credit office-Enrollment at University of California, Southern Branch--Transfer to University of Southern California--Ambrose Bierce biography--Friendship with Helen Bierce--Friendship with George Sterling--Sale of Ambrose Bierce collection-Meeting Jake Zeitlin--Sam Clover and Saturday Night --Clover's criticism of Owens Valley project-- Opinion magazine--Los Angeles's first group of modern intelligentsia--S. MacDonald-Wright--Articles and pamphlets written in the thirties--Interest in regional and western literature--Friendship with Mary Austin-Graduation from law school, 1927--Black, Hammack and Black law firm--Interest in labor law--The literary radicals of the twenties become the political radicals of the thirties.
Friendship with Louis Adamic--Adamic's insight into "shadow America"--Upton Sinclair and labor in Southern California--Dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times --Marriage to Dorothy Hedrick, 1930--Discontent as a lawyer--Increasing political awareness and activism--Involvement with labor law--First attorney for the Newspaper Guild--Hollywood Citizen-News strike--The Labor for-Bowron Committee--Representing miscellaneous unions--Speaking on new labor legislation-Interest in Imperial Valley labor relations-Research into migratory farm labor in California-ACLU: Al Wirin, John Beardsley--Upton Sinclair and the EPIC campaign of 1934--Growth of Democratic party--Sinclair's loss of interest in his race for governor--Raymond Haight's involvement in the campaign--1934 San Francisco general strike --Role of Harry Bridges in strike--Increased labor membership in California.
Shaping of political philosophy--The twenties boom in Southern California-- Los Angeles Times management--The Chandlers--Adamic's political attitude in the thirties--The Left's role in the thirties--Anti-Semitism in Los Angeles-International situation in the thirties--End of the New Deal--Public reaction to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia--Mass meeting in support of Loyalist Spain--Impact of Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939--Writing feature articles for Westways --Culbert L. Olson's campaign for governor, 1938 --Appointment as commissioner of the Division of Immigration and Housing--Simon J. Lubin's work in farm labor, migratory labor, rural housing--Formation of the Division of Immigration and Housing--The La Follette Committee and farm labor in California--Reasons for accepting appointment to the Division--Reviving the Division's former activities--Reactions of organized farm groups--Charges of conspiring with John Steinbeck--Commission hearings on minimum wage for farm laborers.
Bill of attainder to abolish the Division of Immigration and Housing--La Follette Committee --Migratory labor in California-- Factories in the Field -- Ill Fares the Land , an analysis of migratory labor nationally--Lecture tour--The American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born--The Alien Registration Act, 1940--Role of liberals in the war--Roosevelt's considerations against a pro-Loyalist attitude --Tolan Committee--The evacuation of the Japanese from California in 1942--Marriage to Iris Dornfeld, 1941--Earl Warren's administration: farm labor, California Supreme Court appointments, evacuation of JapaneseAmericans--Warren's liberal tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court, 1953-1959.
Friendship with Robert and Sara Kenny--Kenny's campaign for governor against Warren, 1946-Writing speeches for "Pat" Brown and Will Rogers, Jr.--Reasons for the defeat of Brown, Kenny, and Rogers--Kenny's flair for efficient administration and his political expertise-Arthur Samish: skill in handling the legislature--Stanley Rose and his bookstore.Sleepy Lagoon murder trial--Defense Committee and its broad base of support--Role of Hollywood personalities in Defense Committee--Zoot-suit riots, 1943--Fund-raising activities for Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee--Committee's financial records--Circumstances of Sleepy Lagoon murder --Commission of inquiry to calm the press and law enforcement officials--Sympathetic newspapers --Amusing sidelights of Sleepy Lagoon.
Zoot-suit riots--Fund-raising benefits for Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee--Alice Greenfield McGrath--Involvement of unions in Defense Committee--Defense lawyers George Shibley and Ben Margolis-- PM magazine--The New Republic -- Brothers Under the Skin --Recommendation for a civil rights commission--Civil rights legislation in the sixties--Change in attitudes toward minorities-- Prejudice and the Japanese-American relocation program--End of the internment of Japanese-Americans.
Smooth operation of relocation program-- Southern California Country: An Island on the Land : its continuing success--C.C. Julian case-- Chinatown --The California State Water Project. The Associated Farmers and State Senator John Phillips--State Relief Administration--Liberal background of Tenney committee members--Committee hearings--The International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees and the movie industry strike of 1933--Indictment and conviction of George Browne and Willie Bioff.
Indictment of Frank Nitti and company--Bioff accuses Louis Mayer of initiating IATSE hearings--The Conference of Studio Unions strike--Confrontations with the Tenney committee --The role of ad hoc committees in American democracy--Report on Japanese-American relocation centers--Radio debate on Japanese-American assimilation--Tenure as contributing editor for the Nation , 1945--Writing schedule-- The Education of Carey McWilliams --Passive and active segregation--The Chicago Jewish Forum --Misjudgments of the Communist party in the United States--America's long-standing bias against socialism--Situation leading to the McCarthy phenomenon and the Cold War--The Hollywood Ten hearings and implications of the Fifth Amendment.
Hollywood Ten trials--Interest in Los Angeles cults--Formation of the Progressive party and the Progressive Citizens of America--A political diary--Americans for Democratic Action-Democrats-for-Wallace movement--Efforts to defeat Truman at the Democratic convention--Resignation from PCA--The Nation conference on liberal politics, 1946--Anti-Semitism in America; A Mask for Privilege --Minority groups in America--Lecture tours across the country-Loren Miller-- California: The Great Exception , 1949.
North from Mexico -- Witch Hunt --University loyalty oaths--Truman's lack of sensitivity-Oath mania--Left's inaction during crisis-Formation of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. First contact with the Nation ; Freda Kirchwey-Family's adjustment to New York City--Editorial and fund-raising responsibilities--the Nation 's financial straits--Circulation of the Nation ; comparisons with the New Republic .
The Nation 's book club--Uniqueness of the Nation 's readership--The Reporter and its pro-Cold-War policy--Freda Kirchwey: background and editorial policies--George Kirstein--Charges of conspiracy to undermine the informer system: Paul Hughes, Harvey Matusow--Relationship with the Nation 's publishers: George Kirstein, James J. Storrow, Jr., Gifford Phillips.
The Nation conference on "Reordering National Priorities"--Opposition to the Vietnam War-Martin Luther King, Jr.--Eugene McCarthy's primary campaign--The 1968 Democratic Convention --McCarthy's attitude-- Frontier magazine-Gifford Phillips--The Nation 's coverage of civil liberties issues--Information sources and contacts--Alger Hiss case--Fred Cook's investigative reporting--Contributions by former FBI and CIA agents--Coverage of civil rights movement in the South: Dan Wakefield, Martin Luther King, Jr.-- The Nation 's relationship with black leaders and writers--Coverage of events in Vietnam, China, and the Middle East.
The Nation 's foreign correspondents: Anne Tuckerman Alexanccer Werth, Jane Stolle, Raymond Williams, Geoffrey Barraclough, Jacob Bronowski, Claude Bourdet, C. Amery--Coverage of Cuban revolution and Bay of Pigs invasion--Henrique Galvao's reports on the Portuguese situation--Contacts in Africa--Vietnam war correspondents--China sources: Edgar Snow--Alvarez Del Vayo--Robert Sherrill.
The Nation 's contributors: Ralph Nader, Hunter Thompson, John Lindsay--Articles on the Pentagon and militarism--Crusade to revive the peace movement; supporting peace candidates--Young people's disillusionment with politics in the sixties--Liberal Republicans' opposition to Vietnam War--The need for a national political movement today--The Nation 's articles on youth in the fifties--Men in gray flannel suits and "Life in the Crystal Palace"--Temper of the sixties-Lyndon B. Johnson and a shift of priorities in 1965--Escalation of Vietnam War--The Nation 's disillusionment with Hubert H. Humphrey--The New Society's lack of determination--Enthusiasm of the New Deal in the thirties--WPA and Harry Hopkins--Endorsement for Stevenson--Differences with Robert F. Kennedy--Kennedy administration's stand on civil rights--Political impact of the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.--Stevenson's 1956 campaign.
Richard M. Nixon--The 1964 Republican convention in San Francisco--Casualties of liberal Republicanism--The two-party system--Continuation of McCarthyism--The radical Right's exertion of pressure on the Republican party--The need for a Leftist coalition--Labor as a potential for good leadership-- The lack of national politics in the U.S. today--The Nation 's editors and reviewers.
The Nation 's staff and contributors--The Nation 's centennial, 1965--More contributors to the Nation : Christopher Lasch, Theodore Roszak--Lack of time for reading--Accomplishments at the Nation ; major stories--Magazine's eastern-seaboard orientation-Resignation in 1975--Editorship of Victor Navasky-Role, function, and problems of small independent magazines.
ACLU: board members of the national and Southern California chapters--The National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee--Roger Baldwin--Activities since resignation from the Nation -- The Education of Carey McWilliams as a means of relieving ignorance--USC years--Ties with UCLA--Continuing success of McWilliams's books--Giving interviews-Future books--Impressions of changes in Southern California--Potential relationship between Australia and California--Edmund G. ("Pat") Brown --A cyclical theory of national politics.