|Fidel Castro and Malcolm X in Harlem, New York (September 1960)|
Enacted during the period of the Second Red Scare (1946–1954), and the darkest days of McCarthyism, the Act outlawed the Communist Party of the United States and criminalized membership in, or support for the Party or "Communist-action" organizations.
This blatant act of political repression and attack on the right to organize happened with the complicity of American liberals, who not only did not offer even token opposition, but instead ardently supported it. Senator Humphrey once remarked that “the amendment [was sought] to remove any doubt in the Senate as to where [Democrats and liberals] [stood] on the issue of Communism.” And historian Mary S. McAuliffe has cited the Act as an illustration of “how deeply McCarthyism penetrated American society.”
It is important to remember that the stranglehold of McCarthyism on American society was broken in large part thanks to the radicalizing effect of the Civil Rights Movement, a grassroots movement that arose from the desire to turn the anti-segregationist conclusions of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education into reality. Another important radicalizing influence that broke the stranglehold of anti-communism was the success of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, which also encouraged anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world but especially in the Americas.