Letters and Lawsuits

After Kenneth Graeber informed the parents of Don Henry that their young son was killed in battle, Ed Henry took multiple steps to find out how his son got across the ocean to fight in a war in another country. The only logical reason Ed Henry could think of was that it was the University of Kansas that taught his son Communist ideas, so Ed sued the university for killing his son. Ed claimed that a group at KU convinced his son to go to Spain and gave him the funds to travel to the war-ridden country. Everyone who ever saw Don on campus said that it was not the university that taught him communist ideals, but it was Don himself that promoted communist ideas throughout his time studying. During the time he was in Lawrence he had led multiple liberal groups and was very outspoken about what he thought was right (Hines, Don Henry Slain).


After his death it was revealed that Don told his parents he was going to the World Fair in Paris, so Don’s parents did not know that he went to Spain but Ed, “would have gone with him. [He’s] not doing anything in Dodge City” and he would have rather fought in the war with his son (Funds to Send). Even though Ed had the same beliefs that Don had, he still believed that it was the university’s fault for getting his son killed. The students at Kansas at this time believed that all of this was just a big misunderstanding because everyone on campus knew that Don was the most active communist in Lawrence.


Chancellor E. H. Lindley responded to Ed suing by starting a personal investigation throughout the university about liberal groups on campus. After the investigation Lindley found that there were no groups affiliated with the university that had communist inclinations. He did say that there were liberal groups, but there was no one working for the university that was in charge of the groups. Ed wanted Lindley to look into the YMCA and the American Student Union, two known left winged groups in Lawrence, but the leaders and members of the group told Lindley and Ed that they tried talking Don out of going to Spain. The students of the university also believed that Ed suing the university was just part of the red scare. The students of KU were ok with Ed suing, but were angered when the Kansas City Star made it actual news. They understood that the grief of losing a son led to Ed wanting to find out how his son got to Spain, but when a newspaper took the story to try and make the university look communist, that was taking it too far (Hines, Campus Opinion). Overall, the University of Kansas was found to have no university affiliated communist groups, and that Don received the funds to go to Spain from a group outside of Lawrence.

Kenneth Graeber also wrote multiple letters over the course of the war to his family as well as Don Henry’s when Don passed away. I examined the letter he wrote to Chancellor Lindley over the “Red Probe” occurring in his home (Graeber, 1937). The newspapers also provided pictures of the two boys before the war, in an attempt to provide “evidence” of Communist corruption during college, and to mislead the public about the boy’s intentions going into college versus while in college, which can be seen through the description provided from the Spencer Research Library (K.U. Boy In Spain, 1937).


The letter Graeber wrote emphasized his own as well as Don Henry’s values in regards to going to Spain to accurately reflect his own frustrations with the Communist witch hunt led by Henry’s father. Graeber spoke of himself and Don as “we,” which established a clear connection of thoughts and beliefs between the two, implying that they grew close and remained friends throughout the course of the war, up until the point of Don Henry’s death. In the letter, Kenneth says, “It seems utterly contemptible… to make use of his heroic death to conduct a ‘red inquiry.’ (Graeber, 1937)” This quote shows the sheer anger Kenneth was feeling about the investigation launched due to his friend’s death and how he felt about the nature of Don Henry’s heroism.


He did not only include Don Henry’s name in his letter to express his platonic love and respect for him. He did so to evoke a certain shame in those calling for an investigation against the University of Kansas and to argue that those implying Don Henry went to Spain for reasons other than his own beliefs and morals are insulting his intelligence and memory. This letter is an incredible example of Kenneth Graeber’s intellect and emotional capability. It reveals his relationship with his deceased friend as well as his rage towards those who question his heroic death, and I feel like it is an incredible testament to Don’s life and his death.

Ken Graeber Letter Analysis