There is nothing quite like the experience of being in the beautiful, sunlit special collections reading room on the top floor of Bird Library—especially when one is about to dive into 86 meticulously cataloged boxes of family history. I was there to do research for a documentary about my grandfather, Earl Browder, as well as a joint biography of him and my grandmother, Raissa Berkmann Browder—a task that was almost overwhelming to contemplate.

After all, my grandfather Earl Browder was the head of the American Communist Party (CPUSA) during its most influential period—the Great Depression. He coined the slogan “Communism is 20th-century Americanism.” He ran for president twice against Roosevelt and appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1938. In 1946, on Stalin’s orders, he was expelled from the Communist Party for revisionism. During all of these years, he was tracked by both the FBI and the KGB, and in the mid-1990s, the VENONA project was published—a series of KGB cables that named my grandfather as a Soviet spy.

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Copyright © 2013 Syracuse University. This article first appeared in Syracuse University Magazine 30:2 (2013), 12-13.