Frank Wilkinson, Takes the Fifth, Is Fired, Begins Civil Liberties Career
Frank Wilkinson, staff member at the Los Angeles Housing Authority, took the Fifth Amendment about his political associations at a hearing before Los Angeles City Council on this day and was promptly suspended from his job.
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.
Two months after being suspended from his job, Wilkinson was fired by the LAHA. Within a year, four other LAHA employees and five public school teachers had been fired for refusing to answer questions about their political activities.
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 Foundation: http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/