Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1952: Coleman A. Young tells congressional committee he’s no ‘stool pigeon’

By: - February 28, 2022 3:45 am

Laina G. Stebbins graphic

On Feb. 28, 1952, union activist Coleman A. Young testified before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a highly criticized congressional panel dedicated to identifying and rooting out communist sympathizers in America during the Cold War Era. The hearing was held in Detroit.

“I understood from your statement you would like to help us,” said committee legal counsel Frank Tavenner Jr. to Young during public testimony.

Coleman A. Young in 1964 | Detroit Federation of Teachers photo

“You have me mixed up with a stool pigeon,” responded Young, who was represented by attorney and future Democratic U.S. House member from Detroit George Crockett Jr.

Young was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1918. His family moved to Detroit in 1923 and lived in the city’s historic Black Bottom neighborhood. He graduated from Eastern High School in 1935 at age 16. Young became active in union politics and was an official with the National Negro Council, a left-of-center labor organization at the time of his HUAC appearance.

In a later exchange between the men, Tavenner asked Young whether he was a member of the Communist Party and whether he would give the committee names of Detroit-area residents who were communists. 

“I refuse to answer that question, relying upon my rights under the Fifth Amendment, and, in light of the fact that an answer to such a question, before such a committee, would be, in my opinion, a violation of my rights under the First Amendment, which provides for freedom of speech, sanctity and privacy of political beliefs and associates, and, further, since I have no purpose of being here as a stool pigeon, I am not prepared to give any information on any of my associates or political thoughts,” said Young.

Young later became an elected member to the Michigan Constitutional Convention in 1961, a member of the Michigan Senate in 1964, and mayor of Detroit in 1973 — the first African American to serve in the city post. 

He died in 1997 at age 79. His son, Coleman Young Jr, is a former state House and Senate member. He currently is a member of the Detroit City Council. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit.