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The Sedition Trial of Western Pennsylvania: A sub-group of the Honorable Michael A. Musmanno Collection

 Record Group
Identifier: MSS 008

Scope and Contents

This collection is a part of a greater collection entitled The Honorable Michael A. Musmanno Papers. This collection deals primarily with the Sedition Trials of Western Pennsylvania, from the early 1950s. Musmanno was instrumental in the work against Communism, especially in Pittsburgh. After World War II Musmanno resumed his position within the court system, only to discover that the Communist Headquarters in Pittsburgh were directly across the street from the Court House. He raided the headquarters as a private citizen, which produced documentation that was used against the Communists in the trial. He worked to remove the party from Pittsburgh and served as a key witness in the trials against the high ranking members of the Communist Party. Musmanno also refused to allow members of the Communist party from serving on a jury, or in other areas of the public service. The Sedition Trials of Western Pennsylvania consists of 31 boxes, about 14 cubic feet of material, as well as one bound volume that is not located in a box, and an empty box in which documents were removed, but the decision was made to keep the box. The records date from 1926-1961 with the bulk dates ranging from 1950-1954. The collection contains documentation from each of the trials in which different members of the communist party were tried for sedition. The collection also contains documentation directly from Communist Headquarters, speeches, commentary about the trials, correspondence and news clippings as well as drafts of his work Across the Street from the Courthouse. The collection is broken up into 5 series, the first series containing Trial Materials, which is also broken up into 6 subseries. The first subseries deals with the Case that was against Steve Nelson individually, the next subseries is the trial against Steve Nelson as well as other Communist Members James Dolsen and Andy Onda. The following subseries includes the Nelson Appeal Case, the Hymen Schlesinger Case, The Alice Roth Case, and the Roy Harris Investigation. The next series in the collection contain personal writings and commentary, followed by the Ephemera from the Communist Headquarters. The last two series are made up of correspondence and clippings. There are no further restrictions on this collection.


  • 1926-1961
  • Majority of material found in 1950-1954

Biographical / Historical

Michael A. Musmanno was born April 7, 1897, in Stowe Township, Allegheny County, PA. In 1923, he was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar and worked several years as an attorney. He served 4 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and, in 1932; he began his lifelong career as a jurist. In 1951, he became a Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. During the World War II, Captain Musmanno served as naval aide to General Mark Clark, Fifth Army, during the Italian invasion. Musmanno led the U.S. investigation to determine if Adolf Hitler died at the end of the war. He served as a presiding judge at the Nuremberg War Crime trials and retired from active duty as a rear admiral. During his postwar career he was elected as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge, a position he held until his death. In 1964 Musmanno ran an unsuccessful campaign for United States Senate. Aside from his political career he was a prolific writer, publishing 16 books, including Ten Days To Die, Black Fury, Across the Street From the Courthouse, The Story of Italians in America, and Columbus Was First as well as a number of short stories and articles. Judge Musmanno passed away at the age of 71 on Columbus Day, October 12, 1968.


14 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Series 1: Trial Materials

This series makes up the largest portion of the collection. Series 1 contains the documents the Musmanno collected throughout the Sedition Trials of Western Pennsylvania. Documents within the series include transcripts from the trials, testimonies, subpoenas, warrants, opinions from other courts and additional commentary directly from the court rooms. Some of the information was used as evidence through the trial although most of it is the information that came out of the trials themselves. This series is broken up into 6 subseries, each one devoted to a separate case or investigation. Subseries 1 focuses on the case against Steve Nelson, including the opening and closing statements, indictments and transcripts from the trials. The dates of this subseries range from 1926-1957 with the bulk dates ranging from 1951-1952. This subseries takes up about two cubic feet and is located in 4 different half boxes. Subseries 2 makes up the biggest portion of this series. It is dedicated to the trial against Andy Onda, James Dolsen and Steve Nelson. It contains the documents from the trials including the indictments of all of the men, the opening and closing statements, opinions of the court, commentary and importantly the trial transcripts of the testimonies. The subseries is spread out over 8.5 boxes, and takes up about 4 cubic feet. The dates of this particular trial range from 1950-1951. Subseries three is dedicated to the Nelson Appeals Case. Steve Nelson was able to appeal his case to the State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and then eventually to the United States Supreme Court. It was in these collections of trials that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the decision in the belief that it could only be prosecuted on the federal Level. The United States Supreme Court said that the states laws against sedition were invalid because it was within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Eventually Steve Nelson walked free. This subseries contains documents from both the trials within the state and at the federal level. It has bound documentation regarding the decisions of the court as well as additional commentary from the courts about the future of decisions against sedition. The subseries is spread between two half boxes and takes up approximately .5 cubic feet of space. The dates of this grouping ranges from 1950-1956 Subseries four is focused on the case against Hymen Schlesinger. Hymen Schlesinger was a lawyer for a trial that Musmanno was judging. Musmanno asked Schlesinger if he was a communist, and Schlesinger refused to answer the question. Musmanno had Schlesinger thrown out of the court room for contempt. A trial followed between the two, this subseries houses the information devoted to this case against Schlesinger. Included in the subseries are trial transcripts, petitions for the case, memorandums and opinions of the court. The charges were eventually overturned. The information is housed in one box and take up less than .5 cubic feet of space. The dates for this trial range from May-July 1951. In addition to this case, subseries 5 is devoted to another civil case involving Musmanno. This time Musmanno accused a jurist of being a communist. Alice Roth was called out in the courtroom and asked if she was a Communist, she was a secretary to the Communist Party in Pittsburgh. Alice Roth refused to answer the question, although Musmanno had the word of Matt Cvetic and undercover agent in the FBI to back up his accusations. Alice Roth was dismissed from court, the State Supreme Court eventually ruled that communists were allowed to sit on Grand Juries. Subseries 5 has the documentation regarding the case against Alice Roth including the testimony of Matt Cvetic and statements from Musmanno. This subseries is located in one box and make up less than .5 cubic feet of space. The dates range from March-June 1950. The last subseries in this collection is dedicated to the documents collected regarding the Roy Harris Investigation. Roy Harris was a visiting composer and scholar to the Pennsylvania College for Women, he had written a couple of compositions that were dedicated to men fighting in Korea and the USSR. Musmanno perceived Roy Harris of being a Communist and subsequently spent time working against the threat or spread of Communism. Any charges against Roy Harris never amounted to much as nothing came out of the investigations. Much of the information for this subseries comes from the speeches that Musmanno and Matt Cvetic made. There is some additional commentary from members of the community in support of Roy Harris. The dates range December 1952-February 1953. The investigation is house in two different half boxes and takes up about .5 cubic feet of space. It is important to note that the series itself was left in the same order that the first archivist decided to place it in. That is why the dates appear out of order. This order also influenced the arrangement of the other series in this collection in order to mimic continuity. This series is spread between 15 boxes and takes up approximately 7.5 cubic feet of space. This series is useful for researchers as it further explains the issues that were sweeping the nation in this early Cold War Era, especially in against the Communist threat. It shows the researcher Musmanno’s unwavering determination to stop its spread.

Series 2: Writing

The second series contains the documents that relate to the writings of Musmanno as well as the writings from other outside sources, in regards to Communism and the Sedition Trial. The series is broken into two subseries. The first one is devoted to Musmanno’s work on his book Across the Street from the Courthouse. The book is about the Sedition Trials and his work to stop the spread of Communism in Western Pennsylvania. Musmanno had discovered that the Communist Headquarters were right across from the Courthouse. The book details the actions he took against this Communist Threat. This subseries includes early research and notes about and early drafts and manuscripts. There are no dates for the work that Musmanno had done for this subseries, the book was published prior to 1954 as there was one review regarding Across the Street from the Courthouse. Subseries two contains additional documentation and commentary regarding the Sedition Trial and Communism. The subseries contains Musmanno’s commentary as well as additional outside sources. Moreover, there is a folder devoted to the speeches that Musmanno made against Communism. The entire series takes up about 1 cubic foot of space, although it is located in three different half boxes. There is not explicit date range for this particular series. The series is useful for researchers because there are some important articles written by both Musmanno and other outside sources that detail different sentiments about the Sedition Trials in Western Pennsylvania.

Series 3: Ephemera from Communist Headquarters

Series three contains the publications and documents that were taken from the Communist Headquarters. The documents in this series were used in the Sedition Trials including those against the heads of the party. These publications were taken from the Communist headquarters by Musmanno. Acting as a private citizen he raided their headquarters and took the documents. The documents pointed to the public that the Communists had ideas to overthrow the government. Musmanno was met with support for his actions. There are not many dates, and much of the series was left in the boxes that the original processor had created. The series takes up about 3.5 cubic feet of space. This series is useful to researchers because it provides a new perspective into the documentation that the Communist Party was using to support their ideology. Furthermore, it helps the researcher better understand which documents were used to in the trials against the Communists.

Series 4: Correspondence

This series is devoted to the correspondence that Musmanno had in regards to the threat of Communism as well as the Sedition Trials in Western Pennsylvania. Musmanno had some correspondence with Steve Nelson, although much of the correspondence in this collection are from supporters voicing their opinions about the trials and Communism. This series takes up about .5 cubic feet of space, and is housed in one box. The dates of the series range from 1950-1954, with a large portion of the dates ranging from 1950-1951. This series has been organized to follow the first series, as it follows the trial order. This series is useful for researchers as it helps one to better understand Musmanno’s beliefs when it came to Communism and how he pursued the threat to prevent its spread.

Series 5: Clippings

This last series holds the clippings that Musmanno collected regarding the Sedition Trials of Western Pennsylvania. The series has been split between two half boxes. The dates range from 1943-1961. The series is arranged to mimic the order that was created for the first series starting with the information pertaining to Nelson and moving into the other trials in the series. The series ends with information regarding Roy Harris as well as subsequent information on Communism. This series is useful for researchers looking to understand what other newspaper publications were writing about Communism and the Sedition Trials that Musmanno was involved in. It is recommended that one be gentle with the clippings as many are old and fragile.

Related Materials

Musmanno Collection 10 The Mullen Case Musmanno Collection 9 Illegalization of the Communist Party


The personal papers and library of the former Pennsylvania State Supreme Court justice, congressman, and author Michael A. Musmanno are located in the University Archives at Duquesne University. Documents include papers from Musmanno’s time as a defense attorney in the Sacco & Vanzetti trial, judge in the Nuremburg Trials, witness in the case against Adolf Eichmann, and interviews with Hitler’s associates. The collection also covers papers related to campaigns to end the Sunday Blue Laws, illegalize the Communist Party and to disband the Coal and Iron Police. This particular collection is an extension of these holdings, containing the papers from Judge Musmanno and his work during the Sedition Trials of Western Pennsylvania in the middle 1950s. This collection contains some trail transcripts and documents pertaining to the multiple trials against high level members of the communist party. Moreover, there are publications taken directly from Communist headquarters, as well as Musmanno’s personal work with the book Across the Street from the Courthouse, which discus the events from the Sedition Trials and his effort in raiding the Communist Headquarters. The collection also contains correspondence, and newspaper clippings. The largest portion of the collection includes the documentation regarding the trials themselves, making up the first series.

Processing Information

Processing Information: Reprocessed and updated by Gina DelGreco, September-October 2016 Processed by Roberta Wiliamson in February 1998, updated by Paul Demilio in January 1999

The Honorable Michael A. Musmanno Papers Sedition Trial of Western Pennsylvania
Duquesne University Archives and Special Collection
Gina DelGreco
September-October 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Edition statement
Reprocessed and updated by Gina DelGreco, September-October 2016 Processed by Roberta Wiliamson in February 1998, updated by Paul Demilio in January 1999

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository