Help For Hell’s Kitchen Center

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

In New York, block letters on façades of buildings are often all that remains of the original occupants. The employees of Hartley House still proudly claim the masthead above the doors of their Hell’s Kitchen brownstone as their own. The non-profit organization, which offers the community afterschool programs, GED classes, and other recreational services, is located in the building in which it was founded a century ago. Hartley House recently got a helping hand from some neighbors.

Taking Stock of the New McDonald’s

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Earlier this month, Consumer Reports ranked McDonald’s basic burger as lowest in its class.  That apparently hasn’t hurt the company’s bottom line, though.  Last week, the fast-food giant announced that it would be boosting its stockholder dividends.  Meanwhile, the Golden Arches garnered some press by inviting reporters to a behind-the-counter tour of its newly renovated restaurants.

FBI Tracked Lena Horne’s Activist Life

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

The FBI tracked trailblazing entertainer Lena Horne for nearly 30 years because of her involvement with civil rights – and eyed her as a Communist sympathizer during the height of the McCarthy era, newly disclosed documents reveal.

“She is sympathetic to the Communist cause and is extremely race conscious,” reads a memo placed in Horne’s FBI file in 1948.

Horne, who vehemently denied any Communist leanings, ultimately defended herself in a handwritten letter contained in the 136-page file compiled on the renowned actress and singer.

The NYCity News Service obtained Horne’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows certain documents to be released after the subject’s death. Horne, perhaps best known for her signature tune, “Stormy Weather,” died in May at age 92.

Actress and Activist

The FBI began keeping a file on Horne in 1947 as she rose to fame, becoming one of the first African-American entertainers to hit the heights of Hollywood stardom.

Using her prominence as a celebrity, Horne advocated for civil rights – and caught the attention of the FBI.  Horne’s file contains a list of events she attended for organizations the Bureau considered “Communist-influenced.”

Much of the file focuses on her association with entertainer and activist Paul Robeson. The FBI documented appearances Horne, Robeson and others made at civil rights events with groups like the American Youth for Democracy, Civil Rights Congress and the Council on African Affairs. The FBI described the groups as “Communist front” organizations.

Internal FBI memos indicate Horne was not a Communist, but was “sympathetic to the Communist cause and is extremely race conscious.”  Confidential informants told the FBI that Horne “often cooperated with Communist groups if she believed that they were assisting in obtaining equality for the Negro people.”

In Her Own Defense

Horne felt the weight of those accusations and came to her own defense. The files include a letter she wrote in 1953 denying she was a Communist. The 12-page missive, handwritten on stationery from the Las Vegas Sands Hotel, is addressed to Roy M. Brewer, a member of the Motion Picture Industry Council.

Horne wrote, “If at anytime I have said or done anything that might have been construed as being sympathetic toward Communism, I hope the following will refute this misconception.”

In the letter, Horne describes her relationship with Robeson, who she said was a long-standing family friend. He encouraged her to “take an active interest in the problems of other people, generally, and in the Negro people, specifically.”

Horne wrote that Robeson suggested she help raise money for a milk fund being sponsored by the Council for African Affairs for the benefit of African mothers.

Seen as “Window Dressing”

Robeson, a former star athlete, scholar and internationally known performer, was active in a wide range of civil rights and humanitarian causes. He testified before Congress that he was not a member of the Communist Party, but was an advocate of socialism. He ultimately was condemned by both Congress and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for his beliefs.

Confidential informants described Horne as “window dressing” used by various Communist Party fronts to attract members. The informants, whose names were redacted, said that almost of her time was devoted to show business. Her supposed sympathy for the Community Party was based “solely upon her desire for racial equality for negroes [sic],” according to one document.

The Los Angeles Police Department added a memo to her file in 1947, about her and Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer. Mayer, head of studio productions at MGM, allegedly “visited Horne several nights a week, occasionally arriving early in the evening and not leaving until the next day.” According to the memo, Mayer provided Horne with a residence and “lavished expensive gifts on her.”

Horne’s file was last updated in 1976, when she was among those considered to serve as treasurer for a campaign to raise funds for the defense of Black Panthers member Angela Davis.

Solzhenitsyn Lived in Fear After Exile

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived in fear of the KGB for years after his exile from the Soviet Union – even as the FBI was secretly watching him, newly disclosed documents reveal.

The Nobel Prize-winning author’s FBI file shows that the U.S. law enforcement agency closely, but quietly monitored Solzhenitsyn for years, knowing the discovery of its surveillance would lead to political repercussions.

Solzhenitsyn, perhaps best known for writing “The Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which chronicled the brutality of Stalin’s labor camps, died in 2008 at age 89.

The NYCity News Service obtained the FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows certain documents to be released after the subject’s death. The FBI did not release all the documents in the file, citing national security issues and concerns about revealing sources. Forty-two pages were deleted and 46 pages were redacted.

The 95-page file shows FBI tracked the Nobel Laureate from 1968, the time of his first major protests against the Soviet regime, then followed his banishment and continued until 1976, as he settled in the U.S.

Political Concerns

A 1975 memo circulated in the FBI cautioned that investigating a prominent individual such as Solzhenitsyn could be politically sensitive. The documents instructed agents to limit coverage to established sources to minimize the risk of being discovered.

Solzhenitsyn eventually moved to Vermont, where he lived about 20 years.

During his first years in the United States, Solzhenitsyn still feared the KGB, the Soviet spy agency, and worried about attempts on his life, the documents show.

While working on a book in 1976 at the Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank, Solzhenitsyn felt so threatened that he wanted to obtain a gun permit, according to FBI memos and police reports. He was denied because he was not a U.S. citizen, and the FBI noted it would not intervene in his request.

Personal Fears

“Solzhenitsyn said he feels he is in imminent danger,” citing some “very disturbing events” in Switzerland, where he stayed before coming to the U.S., according to the file.  It’s not clear from the documents exactly what alarmed the writer.

Documents show the FBI tracked Solzhenitsyn on a 1975 visit to a Russian Orthodox monastery in Oregon. The author wanted the visit kept confidential because he feared the KGB would learn of the trip. The files include a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s temporary visa to the U.S. and details about his travel plans to Canada in search for an “Old Believer,” or a Russian Orthodox community, where he could settle.

There is no evidence he knew the FBI was monitoring him, though, a 1976 memo notes that Solzhenitsyn did not trust the U.S. State Department, and preferred using unofficial channels to make his travel plans rather than getting approvals from the U.S. agency.

The FBI monitored him using undisclosed sources who reported on his activities, relying on reports from local authorities and tracking news accounts of his activities. The Bureau amassed more than 40 clips on Solzhenitsyn from U.S. and international newspapers and wire services, most of them documenting the author’s 1974 arrest and exile from the Soviet Union.

Information about the writer was monitored by the FBI’s highest echelons, including one-time acting director Mark Felt, best known as Deep Throat during the Watergate scandal, and associate director Clyde Tolson.

The reports tracked Solzhenitsyn’s movements as he began his exile, from Russia to Germany and Switzerland. In 1976, Solzhenitsyn moved to Vermont, where he lived until he returned to Russia in 1994. He died on August 3, 2008 at the age of 89.

Bedbugs Go to School

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Ex-Cons Find a ‘Castle’ in Harlem

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Brooklyn’s Producing a Recovery

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Digging Into Community Garden Plan

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Hot Dog! Vendor’s an Open Champ

Monday, September 13th, 2010