Apr 8, 2013

Thu, Apr 8, 1943: poisoning the minds

"'America First' was the story of a typical, mid-western family who finds themselves involved in the activities of an espionage ring.  Lee Holmes, frustrated seventeen-year old, becomes a trusted member of an underground youth movement promising a race-free, unprejudiced postwar world.  Encouraged by his fast friend, Jim Banks, he is fascinated by the smooth promises of infatuous Ola Kring and her suave brother Franz.
"Lee's frustration soon turns to panic, as the story unfolds, when his uncle, Frank Griffith, a Federal man, arrives unexpectedly, telling them of his assignment to help track down a group of foreign agents who are poisoning the minds of young people against democracy, free speech, and all that America stands for."
-- El Dorado High School yearbook description of the junior play, presented Thursday, April 8, 1943.
My mother, Ruth Murray, appeared in the play as “Ann Holmes, Lee’s Mother.”  Ultimately, the play description notes, “Lee redeems himself...and sends Ola and Franz to the punishment they deserve.”   The play was written before the Pearl Harbor and its title suggests that it was a propaganda piece associated with the America First Committee, formed in September 1940 to oppose U.S. entry into World War II. 
I have not been able to find the text of the play or even who wrote it.  The summary reveals the racism (and suspicion of anti-racism) that was one element pushing America Firsters to oppose entering World War II.  Charles Lindbergh, the most prominent America Firster, wrote in 1939, "We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races."  It seems curious that such a play was still being performed in the midst of the war.

 (Sources: The El Doradoan [El Dorado, Kans., High School yearbook], 1943;  Thornton Fractional North High School, Chronoscope Yearbook [Calumet City, IL, Class of 1941], via e-yearbooks.com; Pinckney Dispatch, April 16, 1941 and April 23, 1941, available at http://pinckneylocalhistory.org/)

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