Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too: Orange County's Backlash to "Communist" Textbooks (1945-1970)

Summer 2018

Emma Paulina Bianco : History and American Studies

Donor: Rice Fund
Mentor: Christine Palmer

No area is perhaps more synonymous with conservatism than Orange County, California. This region fell victim to Cold War paranoia of imposing Soviet threats and possible communist subversion. From the end of World War II to the late 1960s, Orange County residents engaged in local battles to “protect” their most precious individuals from socialist leanings: children. In an effort to reinforce American superiority, citizen organizations, parents, and school boards waged “textbook wars” to censure particular materials they believed subscribed to Soviet leanings. However, my study seeks to understand the viability of these claims of communist propaganda. Instead of dismissing these civilians’ discontent as a product of the second Red Scare, I will attempt to establish-with an examination of the contested textbooks themselves and the personal writings of these groups-if these texts did contain leftist leanings. Based on my conclusions, Orange County may have been unjustly labeled as a right-wing, chauvinistic, anti-communist stronghold; perhaps these Cold War warriors combated a legitimate, socialist threat, not one simply imagined by a group of fearful conservatives. I hope that my research will provide more context for understanding my home county, and if society has been too quick to judge people's political character (a realization we desperately need in the present day).

I cannot thank the Adam Rice family enough for this incredible opportunity. With the full knowledge that this sounds incredibly cliché, this summer research program allowed me to make the transition from a mere undergrad to an academic researcher. While there is still a long way to go and methods to perfect, this experience has provided some much needed confidence to convince myself that not only can I learn how to become a successful academic (specifically in grad school) but I can conduct research that carries both significance for me, and has the capacity to shape previous ways of thinking; this makes me particularly proud and excited of what I have accomplished over the summer, for knowing that perhaps my research stuck with just one person, or slightly changed someone’s perspective, makes all the labor and effort worth it. I am so excited to explore this topic in both my History and American studies theses (these are not just empty words-I genuinely enjoy what I study), and to hopefully have the chance to study cultural history and popular culture in my tenure as a graduate student. From talking to my American Studies professors, I know Adam was a pleasure to teach, and I can’t thank the family enough for preserving his legacy by providing chance for students like me to study what he loved to study. From someone that suffers from constant thoughts of “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t accomplish this,” SURF has become instrumental in boosting my confidence as a scholar and as a human being. Please don’t mistake my previous comments as mere platitudes-there is perhaps no way to express my appreciation in a convincing way, but please leave with the knowledge that I will sincerely never forget what this grant has done for me: as a student, as an academic, and as a person.