Students Allied Themselves With Robin Hood During This Anti-McCarthyism Movement

The students of the Green Feather Movement caused an on-campus controversy at Indiana University

Robin Hood in a modern production of a play. Wikimedia Commons

On this day in 1953, a member of the Indiana Textbook Commission unwittingly set off a political protest that involved, of all people, Robin Hood.

She had called on the commission to ban Robin Hood from all Indiana schools' teaching materials. “As a Republican member of the commission, Mrs. Thomas J. White (who is never referenced by her first name) defended her position by stating that 'there is a Communist directive in education now to stress the story of Robin Hood,’” writes Alison Kysia for the Zinn Education Project.

White went on to add: “They want to stress it because he robbed the rich and gave it to the poor. That’s the Communist line. It’s just a smearing of law and order and anything that disrupts law and order is their meat.” In opposition to this statement, the Green Feather Movement was born.

During 1950s McCarthyism, cultural products like comic books, novels and movies all came under scrutiny, in case they might be spreading what Senator Joseph McCarthy himself called the atheism and “immoralism” of Communism. Classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and 1984 were the subjects of local bans, and numerous other books were examined for their suitability to be used in school curriculums.

Robin Hood was not ultimately banned from Indiana’s schools, writes, though Indiana Governor George Craig did comment that “Communists have gove to work twisting the meaning of the Robin Hood legend.” (The Soviets thought the whole thing was laughable.) In fact, Mrs. White’s push to have the subject banned had pretty much the opposite effect of what was desired.

In early 1954, just months after her request, a group of five students from Indiana University obtained a sack of feathers from a local slaughterhouse and dyed them green. Then on March 1, they went public with their protest. “That morning, students came to their classes to find green feathers tacked to the bulletin boards in buildings all over campus,” writes John Branigin for Indiana Alumni Magazine. “Students walking to their classes were handed flyers explaining the feathers.”

Blas Davila, who had been one of the five students behind the movement, recalled to Branigin that the Green Feather Movement was investigated by the FBI. “We thought we were going to wind up dismissed.”

The local paper referred to the members of the Green Feather Movement in the parlance of the time, as “dupes” and “long-hairs.” What happened next at IU were the kind of campus politics anyone who has watched Community would be familiar with: The administration wouldn’t grant them “official association status” because they were partisan, though they did have the support of the psychology department. Pro-McCarthy students attempted to launch an opposing “Red Feather Movement.” Although Harvard among other schools attempted to pick up the cause, the Green Feather Movement faded into campus history. But there was plenty of protest to come, Davila said. The movement came to a definitive end in December 1954, Indiana History reports, "when Senator McCarthy was censured by the United States Senate." 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.