History Day award winner -- House UnAmerican Activities Committee: The Case of George Starkovich by Elliott Allen

  • By Elliott Allen
  • Posted 6/15/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9997

Elliott Allen, of Shorecrest High School, won a special HistoryLink award in the 2006 North Puget Sound History Day competition with this account of his grandfather George Starkovich's persecution by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) for Mr. Starkovich's lawful membership in the Communist Party. This occurred in the 1950s. Starkovich protested his harassment by asking the committee questions in answer to the questions the committee asked him. Starkovich was a professional gardener who served as the head gardener at the University of Washington for 20 years following his testimony before HUAC. At HistoryLink.org, we are proud to sponsor History Day and to offer a special prize of $100 each for winning junior and senior division state final essays if they choose subjects in Washington state history. We will renew this award in the 2007 state History Day program.

The Stand of George Starkovich

George Starkovich took a stand in history after being harassed for his perfectly lawful involvement in the Communist political party during the late 1940's and the early 1950's. He took a stand in history to preserve his civil rights, which were put in jeopardy when he was subpoenaed, and forced to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, also known as the HUAC. Taking a stand, not only for himself, but also for those around him whom were also unjustly persecuted, Starkovich alienated himself as well as his family and friends.

Mr. Starkovich believed, and still believes, that the United States government was using the HUAC hearings to scare the whole country into hating and fearing the Communists of the world, by making examples of countless individuals whom had done absolutely nothing illegal (Starkovich). Mr. Starkovich realized that this corrupt governmental wrong-doing needed to stop here, and he did his best to put a stop to it before it got even more out of hand. Before his hearing with the HUAC he made the very difficult decision to stand up against what he believed to be wrong. At his HUAC hearing he stood up for his endangered civil rights and repeatedly took the Fifth Amendment (Find Law) in response to the questions of the HUAC. George Starkovich took a stand to protect himself from the persecution that had been tearing at his life for years.

George Starkovich thought that the persecution of him and others like him wouldn't stop after one person or even a group of people "gave names" (Starkovich) of other Communists that they were associated with; many more would be questioned after them. George Starkovich knew that if he allowed himself to be wrongly harassed for doing something that he saw as right in every way, then he wouldn't be being honest with himself (Starkovich). He strove to change a point in history when his rights as an American citizen were put in jeopardy by the government of the United States of America. Starkovich realized that if he gave in to this corrupt "attempt to frighten the American people" into fearing and hating Communists (Starkovich), then it would always continue to occur. He knew that if he didn't fight this, then, for him, it would never change and he wouldn't be able to live with himself (Starkovich). During his HUAC hearings, Starkovich repeatedly took the Fifth Amendment (Find Law) and didn't "name names" as the committee members had wished for him to do. This action earned Mr. Starkovich a night in jail (Starkovich) and a life time of respect.

When George Starkovich, a decorated former member of the United States Army, began testifying at the HUAC hearings, he made the decision not to answer any of the questions that were asked of him by the Un-American Activities Committee. He came to this decision because he was aware that the right thing to do was not to name other Communists that he knew of, as the committee desired and asked of him, but instead in taking the Fifth Amendment, and not answering the committee's questions, he defied the committee, provoking them every chance he got (Starkovich). This, he thought would get the committee members as mad at him, as he was of them, and the organization that they represented.

He also used this situation to ask questions of the committee, which he wasn't supposed to do (Nguy). Every time he was questioned, he would respond with the stating of the Fifth Amendment and would then ask a question of the committee. This question would often be on an unrelated political topic. Most went like this; "Why are you worrying about me being a Communists in this country when you could be worrying about larger issues facing us from around the world." The committee later decided to hold him to be in contempt of court. Many other alleged Communists who were under investigation also used the Fifth Amendment (Find Law) as a way to not answer the HUAC questions. The Fifth Amendment states that "No person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself ..." (Find Law).

Before the hearings began, Mr. Starkovich had no idea what was going to happen to him when he responded to the committee members in the somewhat rude manner that he did. He just knew that if he didn't take a stand against a corrupt system of unlawful persecution, then this outrageous tactic to scare the American people would continue to harm the well being of the people of this country for a very long time to come (Starkovich).

From the time he was labeled a Communist, after his hearing for "un-American activities," it was extremely difficult for Mr. Starkovich to hold a job for more than a couple weeks (Starkovich). Starkovich would find a job, but soon afterward, the FBI would become aware of his employment and would notify his employers that they had a Communist working for them. After this occurred, he was told that he wasn't needed anymore, and he was fired. This continued for some two and a half years. After more than two years of no steady work, Mr. Stasrkovich was finally employed by an elderly gardener. This time when the FBI informed Starkovich's boss of his political background, the old man decided that he didn't care about Mr. Starkovich's political views, just that he was a good hard worker (Nguy).

By not giving up and not allowing himself to be intimidated, George Starkovich finally beat the governmental organization that had tried to intimidate Starkovich and his bosses for years. Starkovich held that job for more than five years before getting the job as head gardener at the University of Washington, a position that he held for more than twenty years (Starkovich).

The blacklisting of George Starkovich not only made his life difficult, but also created an unnecessary hardship for his friends, family, and neighbors (Nguy). By blacklisting George Starkovich, the Government was punishing a man and his relations, none of whom had done anything wrong or broken any laws. Starkovich's family all had trouble finding work, simply because of their association to a "dangerous Communist" (Starkovich). Everybody that knew George Starkovich or had known George Starkovich was questioned by the FBI. The FBI wanted to know the tendencies of a Communist; where he would hang out after work, where he went shopping, who his closest friends were, whether he went to church or not, and so on. Mr. Starkovich's wife was fired from several jobs during this trying time (Nguy).

One time Mr. Starkovich's mother-in-law received some visitors at her door, who asked her if she knew anything about her son-in-law's political aspirations. She replied with, "I've never heard of him before in my life," and promptly slapped the door in their faces. Of course, she had been in touch with him, but was just trying to protect herself from the demonizing effects that most of her family was experiencing at that time (Starkovich). Starkovich's friends also had trouble finding work; that is, unless they denied ever knowing him, which some of them did. Of course none of this was at all fair. None of his family members and most of his friends were not Communists, even though they were treated as such; all of them "guilty by association" (Starkovich).

George Starkovich took a stand in history to change something that he saw as wrong and immoral. Something had to be done. Mr. Starkovich stood before the HUAC because he was accused of being a Communist. He had done nothing wrong, he had broken no laws, and he hadn't forced his beliefs upon others. Starkovich hadn't been recruiting Communist party members, to join a revolt against the United States.

George Starkovich refused to answer the committee's questions in such a manner that some believe him to be the "most contemptuous witness" ever to appear in front of the HUAC (Nguy). He entered the hearings under the persecution of a government that he had pledged to protect while he was in the Army during World War II. When he walked away from the courthouse that day, he wasn't a feared Communist, but an average American family-man with a wife and kids. He had the freedoms that were ensured to him and every other American in the Bill of Rights. If that isn't worth taking a stand for, then there isn't anything worth having.

If nothing else, George Starkovich's fight and struggle for freedom, proves that by taking a stand for what someone thinks is right and just, then anyone can make a difference. They not only can make a difference in their life but in the lives of others as well. George Starkovich took a stand in history to preserve his civil rights and to ensure than never again would his given freedom as a United States citizen, be denied of him, as it was for so long.


Note: What follows is Elliott Allen's annoated bibliography of "Works Cited."

Primary Resources

Starkovich, George. An interview with Elliot Allen. 12 December 2005.
I interviewed my grandfather (George Starkovich) on his experiences with the harassment that took place in the 1950s, against accused Communists. I learned that my grandfather went through a lot to get where he is today. He told me that he was indeed a Communist, but if someone asked me if he was or not, to respond with, "Does it really matter?" He said this because it didn't have anything to do with whether he was a Communist or not; either way he wasn't doing anything wrong.

Secondary Resources

Einstein, Albert. Why Socialism?. Monthly Review May 1998.
This article was originally written by Albert Einstein for a 1948 issue of Monthly Review. It includes details about Socialism and how it would benefit American society. I used it to provide argument details about what black-listed Communists were fighting for.

Find Law: U.S. Constitution: Fifth Amendment. 2005. Find Law: For Legal Professionals. 12 December 2005. (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment05/).
The Fifth Amendment states that "No person shall ... be compelled in any criminal case llllto be a witness against himself ...," which is what George Starkovich responded to almost all of the House of Un-American Activities Committee questions. This is a secondary source, but I referred to the Fifth Amendment from the Constitution, which is a primary source.

In Contempt of McCarthyism and the Un-American Activities Committee. Dir. Nguy, D.K. Perf. LaFeber, Walter. Starkovich, George. Starkovich, Pat. 2005. DVD.
This is a documentary telling the story of George Starkovich after he returned from World War II, and his Communist activities at that time. This was co-produced and directed by a student at Shoreline Community College. It includes an interview of George Starkovich and his wife Pat in 2005. I learned of some of the hardships that they went through during this difficult time in their lives.

Schurr, Paul. "A Selected History of AFSCME, WFSE, and Local 1488." Paul Schurr. 15 May. 2002. University of Washington. 26 September 2005 (http://faculty.washington.edu/gregoryj/uwunions/schurr-wfse.htm).
This is a website that explains about how the union for the employees of the University of Washington got a lot better for union members after George Statkovich joined. I use this because my History Day topic is about labor unions and George Starkovich.

Simer, Jeremy. "La Raza Comes to Campus"   (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/la_raza2.htm).
This site goes into detail about many unions associated with the University of Washington. I found this site helpful because I need to find out as much as I can about the unions associated with George Starkovich.

Unknown Author. "US Senate Hearings Subject Of Address." The Odessey 15 March. 1955: 3.
This was an article from a 1950s school newspaper in Canada. I used this source because there was an article on the senate hearing of George Starkovich.

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