Alan Nolan

Dateline: Mon 11 Aug 2008

First reported by NUVO Wednesday in David Hoppe's reflective column, and picked up three days later by the Star on Page 1, the life and death of Alan Nolan (1923-2008) deserves everyone's attention.

I am ashamed that I did not previously know this man's fascinating history -- that in 1953 he was one of a small group (lawyers, professors, doctors etc.) who wanted to found a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in this state. However, overwhelming, irrational fear of "communist plots" at the time led the American Legion and War Memorial board to deny the group a meeting place. Other venues also turned them down, including hotels, the library, the Knights of Columbus and the YMCA. Finally the priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church opened his doors, and thus the civil liberties group was birthed -- the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU), now called the ACLU of Indiana.

This chapter in our history was so notorious that it was featured in a 1953 TV program hosted by Edward R. Murrow called "The Argument in Indianapolis."

This I learned from reading former Star reporter Marc Allan's excellent story on the creation of the ICLU, published Oct. 7, 1999, on the front page of the paper. Allan kindly sent a copy. Here is some of what he wrote about those times:

"The country was prosperous, but the fear of the 'Red Menace' lingered. And so did fear of those who were seeing Communists around every corner.

"'There were loyalty oaths for teachers as well as city employees,' says Rebecca Shoemaker, an Indiana State University professor of U.S. history and author of an as-yet-unpublished book about the first 40 years of the ICLU.

"'There was an investigation at the state level to find Communists working for the state,' she says.

"Just before the ICLU began to organize, an Indiana woman was trying to get Robin Hood pulled from public-school libraries because taking from the rich and giving to the poor was a Communist theme.

"'It was absurd,' says Alan Nolan, one of two ICLU founders still

living.

"'Any sort of dissent from this incredible war-mongering anti-communism, or any sort of question you raised about a public

affair, you were immediately labeled as a Communist. And that was

believed,' Nolan says."

Nolan, who was 76 at the time Allan interviewed him, was a prominent attorney, Harvard-educated; he was with the firm that eventually became Ice Miller Donadio and Ryan, although when the ICLU controversy raged, he was just out of law school, in his 20s. His commitment to civil rights was forged early on, when as a small boy in Evansville, he and his siblings were threatened with drowning by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Nolan's family inspired such wrath because his mother, a Protestant, was married to a Catholic.

Nolan was also a historian who refused to sentimentalize the South. Thus, among his many other accomplishments, he also authored a book, "Lee Considered," about General Robert E. Lee.

Michael Gradison and Francis Quigley, former directors of the ICLU, attended today's memorial service for Nolan at St. Thomas Aquinas, where Nolan was a member.

It was Quigley who pointed me to Marc Allan for the "definitive history" of the founding of the ICLU here. Gradison recalled that his parents were among that group of early organizers and supporters.

"He was so eloquent," says Gradison, speaking of Mr. Nolan. "He loved to tell stories, and it was always marvelous to hear him talk."

Gradison recalls when the TV show about Indianapolis was aired. "It was 1953 and TV was brand new. Of course it was all black and white. Murrow did a great job, chain-smoking all through the telling..."

Allan's story also recounts Nolan's shock at how fearful people were then of Communists. Nolan told Allan that as a vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, "'I knew a few Communists....'The secretary of the Communist Party used to come to NAACP meetings, and these guys couldn't find their way to the washroom. They were the most inept, absurd people I ever saw. So I was never able to take the domestic Communist thing very seriously.'"

Other founding members of the ICLU mentioned in Allan's story include Robert Risk, a retired dentist, who was 90 when Allan interviewed him, and Merle Miller of the law firm bearing his name -- Ice Miller.

As for the priest who opened his doors, that was the Rev. Victor L. Goossens.

If anyone would like a copy of Allan's story, shoot me an email. And thanks to everyone who helped bring recent recognition to Mr. Nolan's life and times.

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