Abbot Scholar Polenz Discusses Free Speech

Speaking in front of an audience of students and faculty in the School Room of Abbot Hall, Jonathan Polenz ’03 delivered his Abbot Scholar presentation entitled, “A History of Free Speech at Phillips Academy: The Bernard Allen Case.” The presentation was the result of Polenz’s extensive research on the Bernard Allen case and how it related to the Red Scare after the First World War. Mr. Allan was a Latin instructor who in 1919 took part in a Lawrence textile workers’ strike and then received pressure from the Trustees to resign. Polenz came to the conclusion that Mr. Allan’s forced resignation was at least partially the result of American hysteria from the first Red Scare. According to Polenz, Andover students loved Mr. Allan. He not only took an interest in their progress as Latin students, but also felt that it was more important to relate to them as people. Mr. Allan was a liberal teacher, always leading campaigns for one cause or another. His friends called him idealistic, while many others thought him to be just plain foolish. In 1919, Mr. Allan participated in a strike with textile workers in Lawrence who wished to maintain their wages while working six hours less each week. The strike was deemed the 48/54 strike, or 48 hours of work for 54 hours of pay. As Polenz explained, the 48/54 strikes felt that “social change could be accomplished through non-violent means.” Unfortunately, Lawrence Police were not aware of their peaceful agenda, and believing Mr. Allan to be a communist, attacked him as he stepped off the train in Lawrence. The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune commended the police for their brave acts against “the enemy,” and most of the newspapers in the country, including The New York Times, ran a version of the Eagle- Tribune story. A New York Times editorial mentioned Bernard Allan as a “chief perpetrator of the mischief in Lawrence.” In his resignation letter, Mr. Allan told the headmaster that he was resigning to, “relieve Trustees of all further embarrassment.” According to Polenz, he was deeply saddened to leave the Academy, but decided to resign to salvage his career. The agreement between Mr. Allan and the Trustees included a clause that ensured him a teaching position elsewhere. After describing the Allan case, Polenz then spoke about how Americans’ hysteria in the first Red Scare affected the Allan case. He discussed how the government looked to lead through fear rather than reason and used the threat of communism to unite Americans. Polenz described how the media would take stories with a kernel of truth and exaggerate them to scare people.