Milford's Red Scare
Milford's Red Scare
At 2PM on the day before Thanksgiving 1953, TV crews from Boston and the wire services raced for Milford where big news was breaking – the Chief of Police had just admitted to the state attorney general that he had been a communist. In the height of Senator Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, such an admission was front page news. Indeed, the Milford Cabinet’s headlines shouted: “Chief of Police: Says ‘I was a Communist;’ Town in Uproar” when the paper was published a full week after the admission. The man on the hot seat was Chief Oliver G. Williamson who came forward to say he had been a dues-paying communist party member between 1936 and 1943 while working at a General Electric plant in Fitchburg – the same plant which incidentally was being investigated by a 1953 McCarthy Congressional committee. After a meeting with the chairman of Milford’s Board of Selectman, Williamson was cornered by the press in the police station in a chaotic scene reminiscent of the Manchurian Candidate. Under the bright lights and microphones of New England TV news stations, reporters barked out questions in what became an impromptu 90-minute interview, some of which would appear nationwide.
It would not be the last frenzied meeting involving the chief. Two days later, after a lengthy closed door sit-down with the town’s selectmen, (in which the members issued a somewhat lukewarm endorsement - “no legal ground for his dismissal”), 300 townspeople clambered into the banquet hall for what became something resembling a spontaneous trial. Accusations flew at Williamson, who was declared “a loyalty and security risk” by opponents who contended that it was no coincidence that New Hampshire had launched a $10,000 investigation of “subversive activities” just before the chief came forward. Williamson said he did so as a public service, so that other former communists would have the courage to renounce. Opponents said he was about to be caught. “You knew they would find out…so you jumped the gun and made yourself known” one man shouted at him. Later when discussion turned to his family, Williamson bristled: “Do you think I am praying for the Communists to win and make my children suffer in war? Of course not!” But as one Cabinet reporter was to say years later, Williamson was not helped by a series of “no comments” to questions that ranged from whether he knew any communists to whether he knew of any planned meetings in Milford.
Although a majority of Milford residents seemed to want Williamson out, the selectmen stood by him, and with time, the controversy abated. In 1954, Tail-Gunner Joe overreached during the Army-McCarthy hearings and the nationwide fever over reds began to break. Williamson retired in 1957 having survived one of Milford’s wildest news events.