Jack B. Tenney

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Jack B. Tenney

Jack Breckinridge Tenney (April 1, 1898 – November 4, 1970) was an American politician who was noted for leading anti-communist investigations in California in the 1940s and early 1950s. Tenney also took a strong position against Zionism and wrote several books on this subject. Tenney was a composer of several well-known songs, most notably "Mexicali Rose".


Early career

Tenney was born in 1898 in St. Louis, Missouri, but moved to California in 1909. After serving in the Army during World War I, he returned home and worked his way through law school. While a young attorney, he turned to songwriting and wrote such songs as "Mexicali Rose" and "On the Banks of the Old Merced".[1]

Tenney ran for the California State Assembly as a Democrat in 1936 and won; he then ran for the State Senate as a Republican, and served three four-year terms [1].

In 1938 Tenney was basically a liberal and spoke at rallies of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.[2]

He was also one of California's electors, casting his vote for Franklin Roosevelt, in 1940. In 1942, Tenney ran for State Senate as a Republican, and would serve three four year terms there.[1]

In 1942 Tenney, as a California state senator, investigated the subversive activities of Robert Noble and Ellis Jones, leaders of the nationalist group The Friends of Progress. It was also during this time Tenney had some harsh things to say about Gerald L.K. Smith calling him a rabble rouser and contributing to racial agitation.[3] Years later Tenney saw the light and realized the Jews were promoting the twin evils of Communism and Zionism. In 1952 Tenney agreed to be the Vice-Presidential candidate on Gerald Smith’s Christian Nationalist Party ticket.

The Tenney Committee

Tenney made his name in the State Senate as a foe of communism, and was chair of the State un-American activities committee from 1941 to 1949.[4] He stated, "You can no more coexist with communism than you can coexist with a nest of rattlesnakes."[1] The chairman of the Senate's Fact Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, which investigated alleged communists in California, Tenney "vigorously attacked everyone he believed to be a Communist or to have Communist sympathies".[1] Those investigated by Tenney's committee included:

Tenney ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for Senate in 1944, was removed from the chairmanship of his committee in 1949, and also that year ran for mayor of Los Angeles, placing fifth. The conduct of the hearings, by a later account, "egregiously violated due process"[9] and of the hundreds of people subpoenaed and interrogated in its eight years, not a single one had been indicted, much less convicted, of any sort of subversion[9].

In 1952, Tenney sought to move to the United States House of Representatives, accepting the help of anti-Semite Gerald L. K. Smith.[1] He lost to Joseph F. Holt, who won the general election. Tenney also produced a number of anti-semitic books, one called Anti-Gentile Activity in America[10], another called Zionist Network from 1953[11].

Tenney ran for Vice President on the Christian Nationalist Party ticket. In 1954, the head of the state Republican committee pointed to this race as a reason to oppose Tenney for renomination. He was defeated by Mildred Younger, who lost the general election to the Democratic candidate.[1] The New York Times saw his defeat as part of the ending for McCarthyism.[12]

Later life

Tenney moved to Banning, California in 1959, and worked as a part-time city attorney in nearby Cabazon, California. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1962. He died in 1970, survived by his wife and two children.[1]


  • "The CIA and FBI are Tinker Toys compared to the ADL"[13] (Tinker Toys were simple put-together toys of the 1950s made-up of wooden sticks and round pegs)



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 West, Richard (1970-11-06), "Jack B. Tenney ex-state sen., foe of communism, dies at 72", Los Angleles Times, http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/latimes/display_pdf.pdf?filename=/share4/pqimage/hnirs101/20090820033758589/3584/out.pdf, retrieved 2009-08-20  (fee for article)
  2. Cross-Currents by Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein, page 57
  3. Cross-Currents by Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein, page 56
  4. 4.0 4.1 Griswold del Castillo, Richard; Carlos M. Larralde (Summer 1997), "Luisa Moreno and the Beginnings of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement in San Diego", Journal of San Diego History (San Diego Historical Society) 43 (3), http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/97summer/moreno.htm, retrieved 2009-11-30. 
  5. Duberman, Martin. Paul Robeson, 1989, pg 307.
  6. Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics: Hispanic Americans and ... By Jeffrey D. Schultz page 518
  7. Houser: The Life and Work of Catherine Bauer By H. Peter Oberlander, Eva Newbrun page 257
  8. City of nets: a portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's By Otto Friedrich, page 380
  9. 9.0 9.1 Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950 By Kevin Starr, page 307
  10. American prophet: the life & work of Carey McWilliams By Peter Richardson page 131
  11. Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series: 1953: July-December By Library of Congress. Copyright Office, page 632
  12. "End in sight", The New York Times, 1954-06-13, http://select.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=FA0910F83558117A93C1A8178DD85F408585F9, retrieved 2009-08-20  (fee for article)
  13. David Duke website

See also

External links

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.
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