Swimming Lessons and the Red Scare is an ongoing research project exploring my political inheritance and family history that began in 2011 during an artist residency at Philadelphia Art Hotel. In 1953, at the height of the McCarthy Era, my grandfather, Joseph Roberts, was arrested along with 8 other leaders of the American Communist Party in Philadelphia in violation of the Smith Act. They were tried and briefly incarcerated for conspiracy to overthrow the United States government by force or violence.
This project traces my lineage to Philadelphia and to this legacy of dissent and radicalism. Through archival research, interviews, letter-writing and visits to locations that were significant to my grandfather’s story, I construct an incomplete narrative of a political and familial history that remains largely unseen. In addition to presenting a history of socialism in Philadelphia, Swimming Lessons and the Red Scare raises questions about family inheritance; what is passed down through generations and migrations and what is not and place; how we are taught in which spaces we belong.
Swimming Lessons and the Red Scare takes the form of a performative lecture and accompanying publication based on The Daily Worker, the former Communist Party newspaper for which my grandfather worked.
Below is documentation of the project thus far and a clip from the slideshow that accompanying the performative lecture.