The anti-communist “Red Scare” of mid-20th century has been a stain on U.S. history, and one with roots in Wisconsin. Sen. Joseph McCarthy is often thought of as the face of the era, as a result of his claims that he had a list of communists that had infiltrated the U.S. government.
But McCarthy was just one part of the Red Scare. The House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, was one of the main tools used in the anti-communist campaign. It investigated Americans thought to have ties to the Communist party, most infamously, Hollywood celebrities. The investigations led to the Hollywood blacklists.
An exhibit at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee explores the impact of the blacklists on Hollywood films and the people who made them. It also dispels a significant myth about that time, specifically that there was one, centralized list of people thought to be involved with socialist causes.
"There is no singular blacklist. Each radio station, each television station, each movie studio has a whole department that is dedicated to making sure who’s working, who’s not," says Ellie Gettinger, the education director at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee and the force behind the exhibit.
"Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare," is currently open at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, and will be there through Feb. 10. The exhibit is also the subject of a feature in the November issue of Milwaukee Magazine.