Title: Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 27, 1990. Interview L-0064-1.
Interviewer: McColl, Ann
Interviewee: Pollitt, Daniel H.
Abstract: This is the first interview in a nine-part series of interviews with civil liberties lawyer Daniel H. Pollitt. Pollitt begins the interview with a discussion of his family history. Born in 1921, Pollitt was the son of World War I veteran and lawyer Basil Hubbard Pollitt and Mima Riddiford Pollitt. After describing his father's career as a professor and lawyer, Pollitt explains his mother's pursuit of her own legal career. In 1938, Pollitt's mother earned her law degree and went to work for the Justice Department. Shortly thereafter, she divorced Pollitt's father and became the sole provider for her family, working as a civil liberties lawyer well into her eighties. Pollitt describes how he met his wife, Jean Ann Rutledge, and offers a brief overview of her family history, noting that both Jean Ann and her father were lawyers, as well. Pollitt then turns his attention to his own decision to pursue a degree in law. After serving in World War II, Pollitt—though not initially drawn to the legal profession—earned a law degree at Cornell University in 1949. Following his graduation, Pollitt worked for the law firm MacFarland and Sellers for one year, where he helped to represent the National Association of Manufacturers. In 1950, Pollitt went to clerk for Judge Henry Edgerton at the United States Court of Appeals, hoping to establish credentials appropriate for the pursuit of a career in legal education. After his clerkship, Pollitt went to work with Joseph Rauh, head of Americans for Democratic Action, and spent the next several years defending liberals accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of having communist ties. Pollitt devotes considerable time to a series of lively anecdotes regarding the loyalty and security cases he worked on during the early McCarthy era. In particular, he describes his work in defending the Brooklyn Eagle (a newspaper that HUAC accused of communist affiliations), playwright Lillian Hellman, and the United Auto Workers, and he briefly outlines the "passport hearings" of former communist Max Shachtman. The interview concludes with Pollitt's discussion of his decision to become a professor at the University of Arkansas in the mid-1950s, at which time he joined the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and also became involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1955, Pollitt refused to sign the state's required loyalty oath for educators because it asked teachers and professors to disclose involvement in groups like the NAACP.