Dean Edward Nicholson created his own report on radical organizations in April of 1935 at a moment of great political change on the campus and in the Minneapolis labor movement. He laid out in great detail how he believed left-wing activism developed at the University of Minnesota. He linked it to the arrival of two activists from New York, who he identifies as Jews, in the same way that other right-wing political partisans of the era did.
Nicholson’s perspective provided a distorted lens on political activism. He viewed all activism through the lens of communism. For example, Nicholson stated that left-wing students tried to convince “Negro” students to protest segregation, denying the strong leadership of African-American students. Or, he claimed that communists were behind student petitions for conscientious objection. Warner Shippee, one of those students, was a committed pacifist, Jacobin, and not a communist. He distorted student interests in Marxist thought as identical to membership in the party. Because several of these student activists documented their interests at the time, there is counter evidence to Nicholson’s assumptions.
Nicholson also bridled at students referring to their peace demonstrations because they called them “strikes,” echoing labor activism. He expressed great frustration over their insistence on the term.
These comments underline how deeply Nichlson’s own Law and Order League, Citizen’s Alliance, anti labor politics shaped his understanding of campus activism. There were certainly communists on the campus of the University of Minnesota as there were in all movements of the 1930s. Nicholson seemed to see them everywhere. Breslow, Scammon, Sevareid and others were attacked by him and Chase.
Interestingly, Nicholson seemed to know that one member of the Social Problems Club taught young children about communism. That obscure fact was included in a report found in Ray Chase’s files in a report by someone who passed as a member in order to spy. Was it Nicholson who urged Chase to be cautious not to out the source?
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