Red Hunts, Black Lists, and Communists: Exploring the Politics of Fear

Red Hunts, Black Lists, and Communists: Exploring the Politics of Fear
Mamie Eisenhower: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Two class periods


The 1950s were a period of fear in the United States about the presence of Communist infiltrators in government.  Sen. Joseph McCarthy headed committee meeting in Congress to attempt to identify members of the communist party in our government, in our economy, and in the entertainment industry.  Many people’s reputations were ruined and their lives made miserable by the unfounded accusations that were made.  Mamie Eisenhower refused to entertain Sen. McCarthy in the White House because she disagreed with the bullying tactics he used in the committee hearings.


The purpose of this lesson is to acquaint students with the unsavory history of the hunt for communists in the United States during the 1950s.  

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print reference materials. McCarthy Era timeline link


1.  The class has been asked to create a short history of the search for communists in the United States during the 1950s.  This will be included in a book dealing with the history of that decade. 

2.  Divide the class into several groups.  The job of the first group is to briefly review (useing the websites listed below) the Red Scare of the 1920s (at the conclusion of World War I) as a backdrop to the McCarthy era.

3.  Again, using the websites listed below, other groups can research the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and then look at several topics in the McCarthy Era.   

  • Senator Joseph McCarthy
  • House Un-American Activities Committee
  • Black Listing (entertainers, writers)
  • Edward R. Murrow

4.  When the research is complete, have students write short essays on the topics they researched.  This may be shared by having each group "report out" their research, or by having them create PowerPoint presentations for the class.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by asking the class to consider whether there have been other "witch hunts" in American history (starting with a real one, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1620), and whether or not anything can be done to prevent them in the future.

Sources & Resources:



This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.