, Derry, New Hampshire


July 18, 2013

Column: When Derry saw 'red'

During my dad’s lifetime (1912-1999), he saw both the birth of modern communism (1917) and the collapse of Soviet communalism (1991).In between, he witnessed the red scare of the 1920s and the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

I grew up in an era when America saw itself as the world’s last great hope in containing the spread by the Soviet Union. In 1969, President Lyndon Johnson even sent me to Southeast Asia to help fight communism.

Today, it is hard to believe that Derry was once a battleground in the fight against the “red” menace. After all, Derry is considered to be one of the most conservative towns in New Hampshire. A century ago, however, Derry had a statewide reputation as being under the influence of Bolsheviks.

In the late 19th century, candidates from the Socialist Party were on the ballot in every election in Derry, but never received many votes. A typical year was 1892 when in the race for governor, the Republicans received 346 votes; the Democrats, 229 votes; the Prohibition Party, 20 votes; and the Socialist Workers Party, 6 votes.

The Socialists gave a lecture in the Derry Opera House in 1897 that equated socialism with Christianity. Afterward, an anonymous letter to the Derry News said (tongue in cheek) that when socialism took over the U.S.A., there would “be no tramps, no soup houses or poor houses, and no millionaires, no cheating and no swindling. Every man could sit under his own vine and fig tree and feel free from every kind of beggary and oppression.”

Doesn’t that sound like the standard political stump speech during the last presidential campaign? All you need to do is substitute “Democrats” or “Republicans” for the word “socialism.”

During the early years of the 20th century, Derry’s population doubled as the rapidly expanding shoe factories needed more and more workers. Soon, families from Canada, Russia, Poland and Italy were emigrating to Derry.

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