|LOUISVILLEIn the early 1950s, Alberta Ahearn was thrust into the
public spotlight in a series of events capped by her testimony that
helped send an alleged Communist to prison in a celebrated
sedition trial. But in her final four decades, Ahearn lived in obscurity
in the same white stucco cottage where she had lived in the 1950s.
Her body was found this month in her kitchen. She died of natural
causesweeks or even months earlier, authorities saidbut her
mentally ill daughter did not report the death, even covering the body
to keep it warm.
Police and social workers entered the house April 6 after repeatedly
getting no answer on the phone or at the door. The daughter was
taken to University of Louisville Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
Ahearn, 84, never talked about her earlier fame.
It seemed Ahearn wanted the low profile, having cut off contact with
people who cared about her over the past year. The only relative who
could be located, a sister-in-law, declined to comment.
But during Louisville's infamous encounter with the red-scare
McCarthyism of the 1950s, Ahearn was anything but obscure. In
1951, Ahearn and Anne Braden made headlines after being
arrested in Mississippi for protesting the planned execution of a
black man convicted of raping a white woman.
In 1952, Ahearn and Carl Braden were among four people who
spoke on WLOU radio, saying the Progressive Party's presidential
ticket was the only one working for civil rights, peace in Korea, lower
prices and higher wages.
And in 1954, Ahearn stunned her former friends as the surprise
government witness whose testimony as an FBI informant helped
send alleged Communist Carl Braden to prison. The next year, a
former FBI agent gave her $225, collected from unidentified
community leaders, and praised her "conspicuous patriotism" for
Anne Braden said in an interview last week that she was deeply hurt
by Ahearn's testimony. "We certainly thought she was a friend," she
said. Carl probably "would have been convicted anyway," because
of Marxist/Leninist literature found in his home, she said, but
Ahearn's testimony was damaging.
As the years passed, Braden, now 70, said, her feelings softened. "I
feel very sorry for her, really," she said. "I certainly don't have any
bitter feelings toward her. Those were different times. There were
such pressures on people to conform to the hysteria of the time. I
don't know that anybody came through that period unscathed."