Bill and Sylvia Meek met as members of The Progressive Party(not to be confused with Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 third party by the same name), a party that in the 1940s formed around issues addressing the oppression of Black people, universal healthcare, the rights of workers and anti-imperialism. My parents were organizers and spent hours organizing disenfranchised people on how to demand their rights. They worked to eliminate housing, education and employment discrimination based on race along with educating people about voting rights. Despite the fact that all these things meant they were simply working to make the United States Constitution apply to ALL citizens regardless of their race, they were labeled as Communists or Communist sympathizers and targeted as enemies of the State. What this meant in real time was they couldn’t find jobs despite being well educated, and had to work in a myriad of jobs well beneath their experience. It also meant having family members and friends shy away from them for fear of being guilty by association. It was a very painful time for many, my parents being a part of that many. My mom’s family distanced themselves from her and given that she only had one sister and one brother, it meant she lost her family during this period. My dad’s family was fully supportive of his activities, having been deeply entrenched in the civil rights battle for decades, so he didn’t experience family sanctions, but both my parents lost friends, or maybe I should say so-called friends, due to fear of reprisals.
The practice of pitting friends and neighbors against each other was a common one utilized by the US government in order to root out the “Communists”. People’s paranoia was exploited to encourage snitching. Many found themselves trapped in a web of lies and innuendos once they cooperated. Hearts were broken and so were spirits. I remember us being followed by FBI agents who would snap pictures of us, annoying the hell out of my mom. She finally decided to fight back by snapping pictures of them which is the only reason they stopped hounding us whenever we went out. We knew our phones were tapped and understood that despite the photos not being taken as close-ups, we were still under surveillance. The irony is that the very practices our government was demonizing because the Soviet Union used them to control its citizens, America was freely exercising.
Last year, my sister requested my parents’ FBI file in order for us to see what was collected and we were told there were over 1300 pages of documentation on them. The surveillance didn’t end until 1976, or at least that’s when the government formally stopped surveillance. In 2019 we are still experiencing government intervention into our right to free speech with the current occupant of The White House calling for persecution of anyone critical of his actions or those of his Party. We know that government surveillance of private citizens has never stopped and privacy being a fallacy. The actions of the House on Un-American Activities Committee are not a thing of the past. They have simply morphed into more covert activities but the intent remains the same: silencing dissent.