Legacy of a False Promise: A Daughter's Reckoning


The compelling story of a teenage girl caught up in the throes of the McCarthy era.

Margaret Fuchs was thirteen in June 1955 when she learned that her parents had been Communists while working for the U.S. government in the 1930s and '40s. This book chronicles the years during which her parents were exposed and her father was subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Eventually he named names, and subsequently lost his job as a law professor at American ...

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The compelling story of a teenage girl caught up in the throes of the McCarthy era.

Margaret Fuchs was thirteen in June 1955 when she learned that her parents had been Communists while working for the U.S. government in the 1930s and '40s. This book chronicles the years during which her parents were exposed and her father was subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Eventually he named names, and subsequently lost his job as a law professor at American University, and was blacklisted from teaching ever again. Legacy of a False Promise also details the author's quest as an adult to learn whether or not her parents ever spied for the Soviet Union.

Based on eight years of research using family records, FBI files, American University archives, personal interviews, and the recently declassified Venona cables, Legacy of a False Promise offers unique insights into the McCarthy Era. Most "red-diaper babies" who have written on the subject had parents who refused to give in to HUAC's demands. Singer's work instead recounts the shame and series of betrayals that her father's decision to name names brought to her family. Furthermore, it explores the campaign of the liberal anti-Communist movement to publicize its political position while defending a fired ex-Communist professor, the nature and activities of secret Communist underground cells, and the motivation of New Deal government workers who spied for the Soviets.

This is a poignant meditation on family secrets, father-daughter relationships in times of crisis, teenage loneliness in the midst of trauma, and the effects of parents' actions on the lives of their children. It also serves as a timely reminder of the dangers of sacrificing civil liberties in the name of national security.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Although I may differ with her analysis here and there, I am in awe of Margaret Singer's brave and relentless attempt to disentangle and illuminate the complex ethical, moral, political and personal issues raised by her experiences growing up as the child of a Communist, turned ex-Communist, turned informer. One might have thought that enough has been written about lives mangled by, and principles betrayed, during the so-called McCarthy years. Legacy of a False Promise shows that one would have been wrong.”—Victor S. Navasky, author of Naming Names

“Lively, personal, and a nice read. . . . I’ve worked with a number of red diaper babies all trying to come to terms with their parents’ pasts, and I think Ms. Singer is to be congratulated for her persistence in writing this book and her forthrightness in telling her story and that of her parents.”

—R. Bruce Craig, Executive Director of the National Coalition for History in Washington, D.C., and author of Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case

“What a deep respect I have for this courageous and fascinating book. The daughter’s journey, driven by a need to know the truth, is told with understanding and compassion for her parents, yet never flinches in the face of the often troubling information that is being unearthed by her quest. It has the suspense line of a spy thriller and is also an important historic document about the cold war. I couldn’t put it down.”­—Kim Chernin, author of In My Mother’s House

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817316747
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 9/6/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret Fuchs Singer is retired from a 35-year career in special education, and she lives with her husband, Michael Singer, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    If you like history, politics and family stories, this book is for you

    Margaret Fuchs Singer was thirteen years old when her college law professor father was asked to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee regarding Communists working in the federal government. She did not know that both her parents used to be members of the Communist party.

    Legacy of a False Promise: A Daughter's Reckoning is her recounting of that period of her life. Sometimes books such as this tend to be not so well written, and a bit dry, but Fuchs writes a powerful, interesting story of her search for the truth about her parents.

    Fuchs' parents worked in the federal government in the 1930s and 1940s while members of the Communist party. While they believed in their cause, they still kept their politics hidden from their employers, something that I found intriguing. Singer writes
    My father did not see in his Party membership a conflict of loyalties or a threat to the United States, but, instead, a way to participate in the nation's economic and social recovery.(p. 117)
    That seems to me like a rationalization. If you believe you are truly doing good, you wouldn't have to hide your beliefs.

    The Fuchs attended meetings, recruited other Communist Party members as federal employees, and reported back to a man higher up in the Party. When they became discouraged by events in Russia, they left the party. While they thought they had left it behind, when the government held hearings before Congress in the 1950s, Herbert Fuchs was called as a witness.

    The government wanted Fuchs to name other Communists who worked in the federal government, but he did not want to betray his former friends. His employer, American University, promised him that he could keep his job if he cooperated. He was told that his wife would be called to testify if he did not cooperate.

    With the memory of the execution of accused Russian spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg fresh in his mind, Fuchs reluctantly appeared before the Committee and gave them the information they asked for, to protect his wife, his children and his job. He agonized over the decision, but felt he had no choice.

    The dean of American University reneged on his promise and forced Fuchs out of his job. Many people felt that Fuchs was a traitor to his country, and others felt that he betrayed his friends by naming names. It was a no-win situation for Fuchs.

    Singer vividly brings to life that time period in our history through her family's story. Her description of what it felt like as teenage girl, so confused by what was going on, her relationships with her family, and the fallout from her father's decision are heartfelt.

    As an adult, Singer works to find out the truth about her parents, seeking out documents and people who can help her. She is conflicted about this, even fearful about what she may find, but can't come to terms with what happened to her family until the truth is known.

    Legacy of a Promise will appeal to many different readers; fans of history and politics, as well as those who like personal stories about family and a search for identity.

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