1952 August 29

Frank Wilkinson Declines to Answer Questions About Political Associations, Is Fired, Begins Civil Liberties Career


Frank Wilkinson, staff member at the Los Angeles Housing Authority, on this day spoke at hearings on the LAHA’s plan for developing the Chavez Ravine area (which eventually became the site of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ baseball stadium). Without warning, an attorney for the real estate interests pulled out a dossier, which probably came from the FBI, and asked him about what organizations he had ever belonged to since 1931. Wilkinson declined to answer. The next day he was fired.

Wilkinson had been a vigorous advocate of racially and ethnically public housing at the LAHA. The City Council hearings on this day involved plans for an area in LA known as Chavez Ravine. Real estate interests and others opposed the public housing plan for the area. Without warning, Wilkinson was asked whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. He refused to answer, claiming Fifth Amendment protection. (In fact, he had briefly been a member of the Communist Party during World War II before he quit, objecting to party officials attempts to control his thoughts and actions.) A few years later, the Chavez Ravine site became the location of the Dodger’s Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Within a year after Wilkinson was fired,, four other LAHA employees and five public school teachers had been fired for refusing to answer questions about their political activities. Many years later, Wilkinson admitted that he had joined the Communist Party in 1942, and was still a member in 1952.

In the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War, members of Wilkinson’s family also suffered. In Berkeley, California, his sister Clara Evans was expelled from the Berkeley Women’s Club because of him. At Glendale Hospital in the Los Angeles area, his sister Hildegarde and brother Alan, both of whom were doctors, were threatened with getting no more patient referrals (although apparently nothing came of the threat).

Unable to find work, Frank Wilkinson became a full-time political activist. His major focus was a campaign to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). As a result, he was called to testify before HUAC on July 30, 1958, and when he refused to answer questions on First Amendment grounds, he was cited for Contempt of Congress and eventually sentenced to prison (May 1, 1961). Before going to prison, he was the principal organizer of the anti-HUAC protests in San Francisco on May 12, 1960, the largest public protests ever against the committee.

Frank Wilkinson 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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