If you have attended any cultural or political events in San Antonio, you’ve probably noticed John Stanford, the sparkly eyed 82-year-old with a childlike grin who hands out the People’s Weekly World, the Communist Party newspaper, to anyone willing to take a copy.
From the moment I laid eyes on him, I was intrigued: What drove him, in this age of capitalist supremacy, to continue in his mission (or obsession)?
We sat down recently for an interview at Bihl Haus Arts Gallery and it didn’t take long to discover that Stanford is a humble, unassuming man who cares deeply about the human condition, especially for working people and the downtrodden. He’s also an American hero, who paid dearly for freedoms we still take for granted: Across the table from me was the Stanford in Stanford v. Texas.
On December 26, 1963, after the Subversive Activities Control Board designated Stanford a communist, seven men from the district and state attorneys offices swooped down on his Beacon Hill home. They boxed up 2,000 books and various other items looking for Communist “Party lists and dues payments.” The judge who had issued the warrant for the seizures was also the sole authority to whom Stanford could appeal. When his appeal was denied, the only option left was the Supreme Court of the United States.
Representing Stanford before the Supreme Court was legal legend Maury Maverick Jr. Engraved on Maverick’s tombstone are the following words: “See Stanford v. Texas 379 U.S. 476 (1965) This Unanimous U.S. Supreme Court Decision Is Protective of all Americans Conservative and Liberal.”
You hand out the People’s Weekly World. How did you get involved with it?
“Well, the People’s Weekly World is a communist paper, the successor paper to the Daily Worker . . . I joined the Communist Party in 1946 and I’ve been involved with the communist presence here ever since . . . In ’46, when I joined the Communist Party, I was . . . let’s see, I was born in ’24, so I was 22-21. I joined in June, no March, the day after I got out of the service . . .”
You were in World War II?
Yes. Seabees ... from ’43 to ’46 ... I was in Hawaii and Iowa Jima ...
So, what drove you to join the Communist Party?
Well, it was the party that most opposed fascism most consistently. It was the party that opposed racism most consistently. It was the party that most consistently supported labors demands and the demands of the Mexican-American people.
Are there a lot of communists in Texas?
Well, it depends on what you mean by “communist.” ... back then the Weekly Worker had a circulation of about 1,000 subscribers ... in Texas ... in the late ’40s there was a Houston office and they had five employees. They didn’t pay much `he laughs heartily` ... Emma Tenayuca was the state chairman of the Communist Party and the party had a big boost in membership ... after the Pecan Strike ... there was a lot of membership then ... with the repression that came in the late ’40s and ’50s and the Stockholm Peace Pledge was circulated and, uh, you used to get arrested for circulating the Pledge. Even distributing the Daily Worker we had to have lookouts . . . the party declined after the eleven Communist Party leaders were jailed.
Hundreds of communists were jailed under the Smith Act ... and the Texas anti-communist laws were passed ... they used the Smith Act, which was actually a sedition act from World War I, to jail communists on false charges. The Smith Act decided that it was illegal to be a communist and the McCarran Act you had to register if you were a communist. Being a member of a communist-action organization, which was defined under the law as an organization that supported a foreign power, and so I was cited under the McCarran Act. I was the only person in Texas cited under the McCarran Act. Robert Kennedy petitioned the National Subversive Activities Control Board to declare that I was defined to be a member of a communist action committee of the Communist Party. So there was a hearing in Washington ... I didn’t go.”
What would you like the readers of the Current to know about you?
That’s a fair question: ... to find a way to get Congress to take a principled stand against the war. To get Congress to cut off the funding for the war. Cutting off the funding doesn’t show a lack of support for the troops. Bringing them home shows support for the troops.
The war to me is the number one issue and not to invade Iran ... I see it as a possibility. And the need for unity for all the democratic forces. The need for unity between trade unions, the Chicano movement, African-American movement, all the forces that have common interests.”