Three Brave Men Movie and Discussion
Three Brave Men is a 1957 movie about a McCarthy era witch hunt which takes place in a cooperative community just outside of Washington, D.C. The movie is based on the story of Greenbelt’s own Abraham Chasanow who was suspended as a security risk from his job at the Navy and had to hire a lawyer to fight the charges. The Greenbelt community rallied to his support, and eventually he was able to get his job back. This was a significant chapter in Greenbelt’s history, and this movie showing is an official event of the Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Committee.
About fifty people are in attendance at today’s movie showing at Room 201 of the Community Center.
Jim Link is the moderator for today’s discussion and here he introduces the movie. He asks people to keep in mind the question, “who are the three brave men?”
Sitting in the front row is James Giese who was Greenbelt’s City Manager from 1962 to 1991.
The following summary is based on Cathy D. Knepper’s “Greenbelt, Maryland: A Living Legacy of the New Deal.”
Abraham Chasanow had worked at the Navy Hydrographic Office in Suitland, Maryland for 23 years when on July 29, 1953, he was suspended as a security risk from his job without pay. Chasanow lived in Greenbelt and was an active member of the town—he headed the Citizens Association and the Lions Club and he was an attorney for the Greenbelt Veterans Housing Corporation (GVHC, later renamed Greenbelt Homes, Inc.) which purchased the original homes from the government in 1952. It was this association with GVHC which brought Chasanow a great deal of resentment because a number of families who were enjoying government-subsidized rent and did not want to buy their homes were forced to move out.
As his rabbi was not available, Chasanow sought the guidance from the pastor of the Greenbelt Community Church, Eric Braund, who encouraged him to fight the charges. He then hired a well-known lawyer Joseph Fanelli to represent him and collected dozens of affidavits from co-workers and fellow Greenbelt residents to support him. However, even though the hearing board ruled in his favor, the board was overruled and Chasanow was fired.
Chasanow and Fanelli decided to hold a press conference and many Greenbelt community leaders attended including the mayor, the city manager, the city clerk, the police chief, and Eric Braund. Anthony Lewis, a reporter from the now defunct Washington Daily News, wrote a six-part series on Chasanow’s story which later earned him a Pulitzer Prize. The publicity worked in Chasanow’s favor, and after another round of investigations he was clearing of the charges and reinstated to his job. Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Smith issued him a formal apology.
Also charged with Chasanow were two other men: Isadore Parker and Mike Saltzman. All three worked at the Navy Hydrographic Office and lived in Greenbelt, and all three were Jewish. Parker also fought the charges and was reinstated. Saltzman did not and moved from Greenbelt to California.
The above summary is based on Cathy D. Knepper’s “Greenbelt, Maryland: A Living Legacy of the New Deal.”
The movie is based on Anthony Lewis’s reports and includes many elements from the Chasanow story: his daughter wins an essay contest shortly before he is charged; a Presbyterian minister visits him after he comes home dejected and encourages him; members of the community rally to his aid and testify on his behalf; and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy issues him an apology.
Janet Jacobs Parker, wife of the late Isadore Parker, one of the accused, cannot stand watching the movie but comes afterward to speak to the group. She says that her husband, when fighting the charges, went to work for a shoe store, and after he got his job back, he had to pay the government this money back. She says that those who were accused got a lot of support and George Panagoulis, the police chief, turned away Navy investigators when he understood that they were only interested in negative information. When they had a party, they felt necessary to inform people of the situation, but everybody still came.
Parker continues to say that as a result, Greenbelt changed. Here she shows people the “inclusive community partnership” button she received as a member of the Community Relations Advisory Board, and she reads aloud the Community Pledge: “The strength of Greenbelt is diverse people living together in a spirit of cooperation. We celebrate people of many cultures, faiths, and races living together. By sharing together all are enriched. We pledge to foster a community which is respectful, safe, and fair for all people.”
“I want you to understand how far we’ve come,” she says.
Parker concludes: “I can’t tell you about the movie. I don’t remember anything about it except there weren’t the right three brave men. A reporter doesn’t have to be brave. Woodward and Bernstein weren’t brave. They wanted a story. And the lawyer was so well known, and he didn’t have to be brave. So who were the three brave men? When we came out the movie that was what people wanted to know why they were upset.”
Jordan Choper, a Greenbelt resident for more than 50 years, says that ironically Mishkan Torah, Greenbelt’s synagogue, owes its existence to Joseph McCarthy. He tells that the Jewish community was divided, but after the three men lost their jobs, it decided to unite and build a building. He tells stories about building of the synagogue. They went to Howard University School of Architecture and got the plan of a senior project which saved them $60,000. They were accountants, lawyers, and merchants and knew so little about construction that they built the building to the roof but forgot to lay the slabs. They had to knock down a wall to do that.
A member of the audience asks whether a story she has heard is true that some Catholic men drove by the construction site and were so disgusted with the amateur effort that they got out and helped. Choper says that this is a true story.
Eva Choper adds: “When we were raising funds to replace the roof at the synagogue, we got a letter from someone that says, my dad helped to build the roof, and I’m sending you this check because I want to continue helping.”
Brenda Cooley adds that when St. Hugh’s Catholic School had a fire, the synagogue let the students to use its school. And she says she is always amazed by the community spirit in Greenbelt, of people helping each other. She tells that when she had a knee replacement and had to go for therapy six days a week, “six days a week I would have a different person driving me.”
Another lady tells that one of the altars at the Greenbelt Community Church was donated by the synagogue. “We still have very good interfaith relationships with the synagogue.”
Barry Moien tells a cautionary tale. He says that he has run a professional photo lab for 35 years. Once the association he belonged to had a dispute, and he, wishing to keep neutral, left a meeting when he realized it had become partisan. The next day, he received a phone call charging him for spying for the other side. “Just never know what opinions people form, what somebody are going to say, and how it’s going to be interpreted.”
After the program, Janet Parker, who is 91 and still lives in a GHI townhome, chats with the Chopers as Jim Link (left) looks on. Ms. Parker tells me that her husband was reinstated but he decided to leave the Navy soon afterward. He was a draftsman and worked on the design of the Capital Beltway. Isadore Parker (1919-2004), known as “Izzy,” was also a long-term cartoonist for the Greenbelt News Review.