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Braden, Anne (1924—)

Braden, Anne (1924—)

American journalist and civil-rights activist. Born Anne Gamrell McCarty in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1924 into a financially comfortable Southern family; attended Stratford and Randolph-Macon colleges; married Carl Braden (1914–1975, a journalist), in 1948.

Grew up in Mississippi and Alabama; returned to Louisville (1947); met and married Carl Braden (1948); both involved in labor struggles for the CIO and the Progressive Party; arrested in Mississippi (1951) for protesting execution of a black man; arrested and blacklisted (1954); worked for the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF); opposed witch-hunting tactics of House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC, 1958); served prison term and helped launch National Committee to Abolish HUAC; made effective use of media to dramatize struggle for civil rights and racial justice; arrested for "sedition" in Kentucky (1967); retired from SCEF (1972); edited The Southern Patriot; continued political activism after husband's death (1975), creating the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice.

Born into an affluent white Southern family in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1924, Anne Gamrell McCarty was exposed to a number of influences that reinforced her inborn passion for fairness and justice. The Christian teachings she discovered through the Episcopal Church opened the door to the concept of a good society based on love and compassion, and a number of her professors at Stratford and Randolph-Macon colleges presented her with a historical and philosophical context useful for her intellectual growth. After graduation from college in 1947, she took a job as a reporter in Louisville, where she met and fell in love with Carl Braden, a fellow reporter ten years her senior. From a working-class background, Carl had been strongly influenced by the Socialist ideals of his father and the social gospel beliefs of his Roman Catholic mother. He had intended to prepare for the priesthood but, after a crisis of faith, became a newspaper reporter during the depression. Anne and Carl married in 1948, the same year they left reporting to work full-time for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which was attempting to unionize workers in the South. Also in 1948, they worked for the Progressive Party, whose candidate Henry A. Wallace was attempting to move the United States away from Cold War policies.

Despite the decisive defeat of the Progressives in the November 1948 elections, the Bradens remained committed to ending the segregationist system of Jim Crow in the Southern states. As one of a handful of liberal Southern women at the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism, Anne Braden was fearless in opposing injustice. She was jailed in Mississippi in 1951 for leading a delegation of women to the governor's office to protest the execution of Willie McGee, a black man charged with raping a white woman. In 1954, Anne and Carl were both arrested in Louisville, Kentucky, and charged with plotting to incite insurrection. The charge against them was highly questionable. Their real offense in the minds of the segregationist power elite was their purchase of a house in a white neighborhood in order to then sell it to a black family, that of Andrew Wade. To a society that regarded segregation as a way of life, such an action was deemed as profoundly treasonous. The local press blasted them, and they were blacklisted, unable to find employment. State prosecutors confiscated their library as "evidence" of subversive intent. The house in which Andrew Wade and his family lived was virtually destroyed by a bomb blast.

Held on extraordinarily high bail of $40,000, Carl Braden was found guilty of "sedition"; he had served eight months of his fifteen-year sentence when a higher court overturned his conviction. Anne brought the events to national attention with her book about the Wade case, The Wall Between. Despite Carl's release, the Southern establishment remained adamantly resistant to change, and neither Anne nor her husband could get jobs at their chosen profession of reporting. The couple became field organizers and writers for an organization dedicated to the cause of racial integration, the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). The work of this militant organization quickly came to the attention of Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, whose Senate Internal Security Subcommittee labelled SCEF an un-American Communist front.

In 1958, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) called both Bradens to testify at hearings in Atlanta. Carl Braden was adamant in defending his constitutional liberties as guaranteed by the First Amendment, telling the committee members: "My beliefs and my associations are none of the business of this committee." As a result of this and other confrontations, the Bradens became convinced that First Amendment liberties of freedom of belief and association, like the developing struggle for black rights, were integral to all other movements for social change. Fighting a regime of blacklisting and intellectual conformity, Anne Braden wrote and circulated a pamphlet, HUAC: Bulwark of Segregation, which played a significant role in bringing about the discrediting of this organization.

Trained as reporters, the Bradens used the media expertly to alert the public on issues of injustice and endangered civil liberties. Even though both state and federal officials tried to smear them as "reds," they fought back spiritedly and often with wit and sarcasm. In 1967, they were chosen as executive directors of SCEF. Their interracial agenda continued to infuriate diehard enemies of change, and the same year they were arrested on sedition charges for setting up a community organizing project among poor whites in Appalachia. In 1972, the Bradens retired as SCEF directors but remained active in a training institute for community activists. Much of Anne Braden's energy now went into editing the SCEF newspaper, The Southern Patriot.

Prior to Carl Braden's sudden death in 1975, conflicts within SCEF had led to their departure from the organization. Anne continued to crusade for racial harmony and social justice by working for the creation of effective interracial coalitions. Although they were members of a numerically tiny minority, the Southern white radicals, the Bradens refused to be intimidated by the forces of intolerance and privilege. After the heroic phase of the struggle for racial justice in the South had passed, she remained eloquent on behalf of her beliefs. Said Anne Braden in a 1978 interview with the Louisville Defender: "Our future and that of our children rides with the fate of the Black struggle for progress, and [we must] join in that struggle as if our very lives depend on it. For, in truth, they do."

sources:

Anne and Carl Braden Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison.

Braden, Anne. The Wall Between. NY: Monthly Review Press, 1958.

Fariello, Griffin. Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition, an Oral History. NY: W.W. Norton, 1995.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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