Institutional Damage

Institutional Damage

John Hoerr’s Harry, Tom, and Father Rice

Harry, Tom, and Father Rice:
Accusation and Betrayal
in America’s Cold War
by John Hoerr
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005
282 pp $29.95

On his first day as a congressional representative, January 3, 1949, Pittsburgh’s Harry Davenport made history by offering a resolution to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Previous HUAC opponents had tried merely to cut off the committee’s funding. Davenport sought to shame it out of existence for its “silly tactics” that had “smeared, maligned, slandered” so many good people while paying no attention at all to the real un-American activities of “anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-labor, anti-Negro, anti-foreign-born groups that infest . . . our country.”

Davenport blamed HUAC for “broken homes, broken lives, and shattered reputations.” By 1950 he was one of the broken and shattered—not because he opposed HUAC, but because he passively supported it and betrayed his friend and political ally Tom Quinn, legislative director of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 601. Previously a successful advertising entrepreneur, Harry lost his bid for reelection in 1950, as well as his wife and daughter, and never held a steady job again. Tom Quinn survived repeated appearances before HUAC, lived half a century in a strong and supportive family, and had a successful career as a union representative and labor mediator. Though he wouldn’t admit it until the Red Scare was over, Tom had never been a member of the Communist Party USA. Harry, once head of the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce, had been.

Harry was John Hoerr’s uncle, his mother’s brother; but though fascinated with Harry as a snappy-dressing, itinerant intellectual hanging out in industrial barrooms in the fifties and sixties, Hoerr never understood how Uncle Harry’s life had been broken. As a labor reporter, Hoerr knew Tom Quinn as a UE staff rep and officer, but he didn’t know until 2000 that Tom and Harry had been such good friends in the immediate postwar years, or how their friendship had ended so disastrously. Hoerr, like everybody from the Pittsburgh area, knew Monsignor Charles Owen Rice as an iconic, anticommunist “labor priest” who had battled for social justice in the labor, civil rights, and anti-shutdown movements across five decades. Harry, Tom, and Father Rice is Hoerr’s novelistic investigative report of these three men’s lives and how they intersected, and crashed, in 1949.

Hoerr’s Pittsburgh of the 1940s seems an ancient world, full of characters and institutions now nearly unimaginable—sturdy, rooted people living amid such epic dirt and grime that it would send parents and children to hospital emergency rooms today, yet cocky in its industrial might, which had slain fascism in Europe and Asia and tamed U.S. Steel and Westinghouse at home. At the heart of this wo...