From the Archives: Bobby Squirrel, Billy James Hargis, and the Counter-Subversive Imagination

Quick: What’s the most anti-communist animal?  The ass-kicking bald eagle?  The industrious ant?

Fifty years ago, prominent Mississippi conservative leader Edna Whitfield Alexander lamented the subversive communist takeover of another likely forest-dwelling Cold Warrior: the nut-hoarding squirrel.

At the time, Alexander chaired the Mississippi Daughters of the American Revolution’s Committee on National Defense.  She complained that a story in one of Mississippi’s first-grade textbooks subverted the naturally capitalistic image of the squirrel.  In “Ask for It,” Alexander charged, “socialistic” authors used a tale of Bobby Squirrel insidiously to undermine the idea of hard work and thrift among Mississippi’s impressionable young school children.

In a pitch-perfect example of what historian Ellen Schrecker has called the “counter-subversive imagination,” Alexander blasted the textbook The New Our New Friends.  Among the seemingly innocuous just-so stories, Alexander sniffed out the “socialistic” message this book included about Bobby Squirrel.

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From “Ask for It,” The New Our New Friends, by William S. Gray, Marion Monroe, A. Sterl Artley, and May Hill Arbuthnot, (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1956). Adopted as a school textbook by the State of Mississippi, 1963.

As Alexander asked in the pages of the Monitor Herald (Calhoun City, MS), January 3, 1963, “Have you ever heard or read about a more subtle way of undermining the American system of work and profit and replacing it with a collective welfare system?”

From a twenty-first-century perspective, it is difficult to remember the prominent role anti-communism played in American conservatism throughout much of the twentieth century.  As historian George Nash has argued, anti-communism often served as the intellectual glue that held together a disparate conservative movement, linking free-market activists with libertarians, Catholic intellectuals, and Protestant social traditionalists.

I came across this story in the Billy James Hargis Papers at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  All historians interested in the history of conservatism in twentieth-century American education, religion, and culture should make this one of their first destinations.  Not only did the Reverend Hargis keep his own voluminous collection of small magazines, newsletters, and ephemera from various conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant and anti-communist sources, but he also apparently bought up other collections, such as Allen Zoll’s.  As a result, the Hargis Papers in Fayetteville provide a one-stop reading shop for a vast collection of rare archival gems.

Unfortunately, Hargis did not keep much personal material.  It is not easy to get a sense of Hargis’ own thinking.  But the many boxes of newsletters and clippings include a wide array of pieces like Mrs. Alexander’s attempt to purge Mississippi schoolbooks of creeping, hopping Squirrel socialism.

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1 Comment

  1. Kevin

     /  June 26, 2013

    Interesting that this was in the Hargis papers. I’m currently writing a book about the exploits of Alexander and her socialism-obsessed friends.

    Reply

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