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Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2002

KU student followed activist beliefs to his death in European battlefield

January 27, 2002

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The devastation of the Spanish Civil War hit home for the family of a Kansas University student.

Don Henry, who had been active in the Methodist Church, Boy Scouts and the high school debating team, enrolled in 1935 at KU.

As with other universities, the Lawrence campus was a hotbed for divergent political views. Henry became increasingly interested in radical and pacifist movements, and joined the Young Communist League.

"He was seemingly so straight, but was increasingly political," said Peter Carroll, chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and co-curator of the "Shouts from the Wall" exhibition at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.

"Social activism motivated him," he said. "It was the Depression, there was racism and a moral man had to take action."

In July 1937, Henry went to Spain and fought alongside volunteers from Canada and the United States in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, according to information compiled by the brigade archives. He was sent to the front line and was fatally wounded in September 1937.

When his father learned of his involvement in radical activities at KU, he demanded an investigation into communist activities at the university.

"His parents' accusation was that their son had been led astray by communist subversives," Carroll said. "KU denied they had any direct involvement. There were similar cases at other universities."

A report written by the chancellor was sent to the Board of Regents, who wrote another report and forwarded the documentation to the Kansas Legislature, according to the brigade archives.

The Kansas House of Representatives passed a resolution to investigate the case and other subversive activities at KU. The resolution failed in the Senate, but the Legislature did provide evidence to the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, which was led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The committee did not pursue the case.

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