Gus Hall speaks at UW YMCA on February 10, 1962.

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 3/23/2001
  • Essay 3062
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On February 10, 1962, Gus Hall (1910-2000), leader of the American Communist Party, speaks at Eagleson Hall, headquarters of the University of Washington Young Men's Christian Association, in an event that one YMCA official says "has brought the wrath of the town on us" (UW YMCA).

A communist activist since 1926, Hall had been elected president of the party in 1959, after serving an eight and a half year prison term for advocating the overthrow of the federal government. His appearance at Eagleson Hall, located off campus at 15th NE and E 42nd Street, was sponsored by a group of UW students, faculty, and staff rather than by the UW YMCA itself. Furthermore, the UW YMCA was not directly affiliated with the Seattle YMCA, having existed as a separate organization since its founding in 1888. Such disclaimers did little to deflect the critics who were, as one of them put it, "distressed the Y is letting the Commies speak out" (UW YMCA).

The repercussions continued throughout the year. An executive with United Good Neighbors (predecessor to United Way and a major source of funding for the Seattle YMCA) said contributors were "raising hell with us." Representatives of the Boeing Company asked that United Good Neighbors cut its allocation for the YMCA. The UW YMCA board reiterated its "open platform policy" despite the criticism, asking that "distinction be made between the views of the speakers or organizations using the facilities of Eagleson Hall and the views of the University YMCA," and pointing out that "The University YMCA serves as an important educational adjunct to the UW by making it possible for students and faculty to hear speakers and discussions of issues which cannot be scheduled in University facilities because of legal or other restrictions" (UW YMCA).

However, 21 years later, the YMCA took a less tolerant stance. When Hall's supporters sought to rent space in the East Madison Branch of the YMCA in April 1983, the executive committee of the YMCA of Greater Seattle rejected the application, saying the principles of the YMCA and the American Communist Party were "incompatible" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).



The University of Washington YMCA: 85 Years of Service: A Brief History (YMCA of Greater Seattle, undated pamphlet, in the YMCA Archives, Seattle, Washington); Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 1983.

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