Dick Morford and Testifying

Bill Sr. (The Witness – Feb. 24, 1955):

The Rev. Richard Morford is one of the finest Christians I have ever known — so fine in fact that I suspect he will resent having me say so. I know of no better test than the Beatitudes and you would hunt a long time to find a man more concerned for the poor, for those that mourn, whoso hungers and thirsts after righteousness. And if to be a peacemaker and to be persecuted for righteousness sake is to be blessed, then Dick Morford is blessed indeed. He has been reviled and persecuted and had all manner of evil said against him falsely, for Christ’s sake. He may even rejoice and be exceeding glad, though I am sure few of us would under similar circumstances. Not me anyhow.

I knew him first as director of a Presbyterian settlement in Albany. While he was there the social action groups of ten or a dozen Churches formed the United Christian Council for Democracy, a federation of organizations that maintained their independence but united where joint action was possible. Dick was the volunteer secretary, putting in many hours of hard labor, with hardly enough money to pay the postage.

Later it became possible to hire an executive secretary and Dick gave up the settlement work and took the job. The story of his trials and tribulations would be a long one. Foremost perhaps was the task of getting Methodists, Baptists, Unitarians, Evangelical – Reformed, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, to work together. There were also the developing ideological differences –all this right, left, center business which grew like a balloon being inflated for a take-off.  With these troubles, inevitably, came financial worries until it became obvious to some of us that the money could not be found to pay even Dick’s modest salary.

It was at this time that the top executive job for the then popular National Council for American-Soviet Friendship became open. Corliss Lamont, whom I saw each Monday at the meeting of the directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked me if I knew anyone who would fill the spot. I strongly recommended Dick, one, because i knew he would do a swell job and, two, because it offered a way out of the U.C.C.D. difficulty.

He took the job. I am sure he has never regretted having done so. But I have. After all it is not particularly relaxing to have a friend shunted off to jail for standing up to the Committee on Un-American Activities, a thing he was in conscience bound to do because of the job I had recommended him for.

For the past year the National Council has been put through a grilling by the Subversive Activities Control Board –with Dick of course standing the brunt of it. When the time came for the defense to have its say, I asked him if it would help if I appeared as a volunteer witness. The answer was yes, so last July 9th, I was on the stand, under oath, for a day.

The official report of the proceedings I now have. The two government attorneys started with where I was born in New Hampshire and ended the session when I returned to Tunkhannock, Pa., where I now live. About everything that happened between those two events was brought out during the hearings — and quite a lot of stuff that never did happen. They took me through Trinity College; the Berkeley Divinity School; my teaching days at St. Paul’s School; my rectorship of St. George’s, Chicago, and later of Christ Church, Middletown, N.J.; my days as a labor manager in Chicago, my trip to Europe, including Russia, with Sherwood Eddy. The UCCD, the CLID, the Russian War Relief; the Spanish War Relief; THE WITNESS; activities of the General Convention; the American League for Peace and Democracy; speeches I had made, and some I had not made. A total of 128 pages in the record.

I rather enjoyed the day after the first half hour when I sat on the edge of my chair wondering what sort of trick questions would be pulled by a couple of clever lawyers. But, after I got the feeling that I could take care of myself, I enjoyed saying ‘yes’ to questions about past deeds designed to show me up as a bad character. That’s where we are today in the United States. Things that most of us did in our 30s and 40s of which we were proud, and still should be proud, are brought out today to prove that you are subversive.

After it was all over, the attorney for the National Council, David Rein, said to me: ‘Well, there it is, there isn’t any more.’ So I said, ‘There what is?’ And he replied, ‘The F.B.I. file on one Rev. William Benjamin Spofford.’

So after I got home I began mulling over that book I spoke about in a recent number. The book is out…for the reason I have stated…too busy. But I asked myself, and some friends, whether the questions asked at this hearing might not serve as pegs on which to hang a story of Christian Social Action in THE WITNESS.

Anyhow, I’m going to make a start, with the storyteller’s usual preliminary remark, ‘Stop me if you have heard this one.’

It ought to serve at least one useful purpose –reveal something of what the F.B.I. has in your file so that you can be prepared for your ordeal. For you can be sure that the gentlemen in Washington have their file on you –certainly if you have done anything in the past thirty years that could be remotely called Christian Social Action.”

Bill Jr:

I recall Dick Morford well, visiting in the New York offices on both Liberty and Washington Streets. He always carried a well-worn brief-case on which the leather was disappearing. Also, no matter how blustery the winds whirling off the bay there on lower Manhattan, he never had an overcoat. He would show up in the heart of winter, with a wind- blown red face and a drippy nose. But no overcoat!  My guess is that, if he had one, he had given it to someone who needed it worse than he did. I think Dad’s estimate of him in this article is based, not just on friendship and ‘beatitude theology’, but on recognition that, in many ways, Dick was being his ‘surrogate’ in going to trial and to jail. Although he was a Presbyterian, and not a Roman Catholic, he would fit well into the Catholic Worker Movement of Dorothy Day, those persons and groups of ‘grace’ who really judge us all.