While searching for information on Old Main in the Knox archives, recently retired Professor of Philosophy Lance Factor discovered three seemingly unrelated occurrences in the early 1960s. Once he linked these events together and used the Freedom of Information Act to look into FBI correspondences, he learned that in 1961 Professor of Political Science Rene Ballard was the subject of FBI investigation, with a side observation conducted on two TKS editors. On Feb. 19, Factor shared this story with the campus.
Those three events in the early 1960s were the visit of a communist speaker on campus, followed soon by an FBI visit facilitated by acting President Shary Umbeck and, a few months later, an article in the Chicago Tribune published to insinuate Knox had weak character that made it susceptible to communist infiltration. All this led back to Ballard, an outspoken professor who was known to say something along the lines of “If the FBI comes to my house, I have a baseball bat to use against them.”
It started innocently, with Umbeck’s invitation for the FBI to speak to students and talk to them about their work. One of the men who came was Agent Stokenbroeker. Stokenbroeker’s reaction to the event, as recorded in a memo back to their Springfield department, was displeasure at the critical and “hostile” way the FBI was treated by the students and Ballard.
The memo came into the hands of none other than FBI Director Edgar Hoover. Hoover, notorious for taking personal affront to insults to the FBI, wanted to act and personally wrote, as Factor showed in his presentation, that a “discrete line” should be created for Ballard. It wasn’t an investigation with incriminating evidence, but one driven by the retaliatory behavior signature to Hoover.
“The power to investigation radical organizations without specific law enforcement purpose came from [Hoover’s] directive,” Factor said. “ … After World War II … Hoover took up this idea that he had the power to investigate and classify individuals according to their political beliefs.”
The investigation into Ballard focused on the invitation of a communist to campus, Ballard’s signature against a program in Illinois that would have started a McCarthy-style investigation locally and the previous statement against the FBI Hoover found offensive.
A “general line” was put in place for two Knox students as well: The Knox Student Editor-in-Chief Ann Morgan ‘62 and a columnist for TKS, who were both considered leftist. They were to be observed for the actions they would take post-graduation.
The FBI made connections locally to get this information on Ballard and the students. They used the police, the Galesburg Register-Mail Editor-in-Chief Charles Morrow and one of his staff writers to aid in this information gathering.
The mission behind this was to “expose” Ballard as a communist and cause him to lose his job. They set the scene by gathering secondhand information on Ballard and then moving to get a general accusation against Knox published. This is where Chicago Tribune writer Willard Edwards came in with his unflattering piece on Knox centered on the showing of the film “Operation Abolition.” The next step after this would be to narrow in on Ballard as the perpetrator and conduct an official investigation into him. But this did not occur, as the college and students soon protested the article.
Writing to the Tribune on Dec. 13, 1961, Umbeck said in response, “It is regrettable that in reporting events surrounding the campus showing of the film ‘Operation Abolition,’ the Tribune story did not fairly present the fact that both sides of the issue were given representation and freedom to speak.”
The student columnist, who the FBI was monitoring, also spoke against the article and was backed up other students and members of the faculty.
Officially backing down from the issue of Knox’s supposed communist leanings, Edwards wrote the article “Edwards Finds Students at Knox Alert, Vigorous” on Dec. 17, 1961. With the Civil Rights Movement a greater issue than potential communist professors, the FBI moved away from the issue as well.
Among the students in attendance at Factor’s presentation was senior Nick Polizos.
“I thought it was really interesting,” Polizos said. “This is some really cool stuff and, who knows, maybe the archive says more.”