1961 May 1

Frank Wilkinson, Anti-HUAC Activist, Sent to Prison for Contempt of Congress


Civil libertarian and anti-HUAC activist Frank Wilkinson was sentenced to prison on this day for contempt of Congress. Wilkinson had been called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, on July 30, 1958, and refused to answer its questions. He had been a leader of the national campaign to abolish HUAC, and organized the protests against the committee’s hearings in San Francisco on May 12, 1960, which were the largest public anti-HUAC protests in the committee’s history.

Contempt of Congress indictments became a heavy weapon against alleged subversives during the Cold War. While it had rarely been used before World War II, HUAC issued 21 contempt citations in 1946, 14 in 1947, and 56 in 1950. All other House Committees in those years issued a total of only 6 contempt citations.

Established on May 26, 1938, HUAC led a 37-year assault on freedom of belief and association, publicly pillorying people for their alleged Communist sympathies or associations, and regularly forcing people to degrade themselves by “naming names” of other alleged Communists. Frank Wilkinson reportedly had the largest FBI file that the Bureau accumulated on any single individual, about 132,000 pages. He died on January 2, 2006.

Read about Wilkinson: Robert Sherrill, First Amendment Felon: The Story of Frank Wilkinson, His 132,000 Page FBI File and His Epic Fight for Civil Rights and Liberties (2004)

Watch an interview with Frank Wilkinson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZoMUgatxrM

Frank Wilkinson’s work lives on at the Defending Dissent Foundationhttp://www.defendingdissent.org/now/

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