HOLLIDAYSBURG — An Altoona man is launching an effort to garner support for removal of the Harry Anslinger recognition plaque at the Blair County Courthouse.
Ryan J. Hollingsworth told county commissioners this week that he is starting a petition to request the county take down the plaque in light of Anslinger’s lies, racist comments and policies that have adversely affected millions of lives.
Anslinger, an Altoona native, was the nation’s former longtime narcotics bureau chief, who in the 1930s, in speeches before lawmakers and in magazine articles, blamed marijuana for everything from irresponsibility to rage and murder.
Hollingsworth was among those campaigning locally in 2015 for reforms that introduced the state’s medical marijuana laws a year later.
During a courthouse ceremony in February 2015, county leaders accepted the plaque recognizing Anslinger, paid for by the Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents, to replace a plaque presented to the county in 1963, then lost.
The replica version is displayed on the rear wall of the first floor of the county courthouse.
Commissioners Bruce Erb, Laura Burke and Amy Webster, after hearing Hollingsworth’s request during the public comment portion of their weekly meeting, offered no response.
After the meeting, Hollingsworth told the Mirror that he is taking steps to set up a petition drive outside the courthouse where he also wants to educate people about Anslinger.
“Harry Anslinger and the policies he influenced destroyed countless lives and families, the effects which still continue to this day,” Hollingsworth told the commissioners when he addressed them. “The policies he advocated for and enforced did great damage to this nation, far from protecting the country from drugs.”
In February 2015, retired Drug Enforcement Special Agent Charles H. Lutz of Salem, S.C., traveled to Blair County for a ceremony where he presented the replacement plaque to county leaders and spoke of his organization’s support for Anslinger. He told the Mirror that he and other drug enforcement agents hold Anslinger in high regard.
Lutz acknowledged Anslinger’s longtime criticism of marijuana, which he said reflected a time when some states had marijuana laws and others didn’t. Anslinger’s statements, according to Lutz, mirrored what defense attorneys were saying in efforts to excuse the crimes of their clients.
Retired Penn State history professor John C. McWilliams, in a book about Anslinger and the narcotics bureau, also referenced a 1934 internal letter in which Anslinger used a racial slur.
The language drew objections and a call for Anslinger’s resignation by U.S. Sen. Joseph F. Guffey, but it was never heeded.
Hollingsworth said he doesn’t have a specific time frame for his pursuit or when the plaque should be taken down.
“It shouldn’t be hung in the courthouse,” Hollingsworth told the Mirror. “Maybe a museum, but not the courthouse.”
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.