1938 August 11

“Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” First HUAC Hearings Begin; 37-Years of Inquisitions Follow

 

This day marked the first hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), launching a 37-year history of assaults on freedom of belief and association. The phrase “are you now or have you ever been,” was the question routinely asked of committee witnesses, as HUAC tried to force them into admitting they were members of the Communist Party. The phrase is now a part of American political folklore.

HUAC was created on May 26, 1938. Mainly targeting people and groups on the political left, the committee’s main tactic was “guilt-by-association,” accusing someone of having Communist sympathies because he or she belonged (or had once belonged) to a group with alleged Communist ties or who had been friends with someone who allegedly had Communist ties. In the context of the anti-Communist hysteria of the pre and post-Wold War II periods, merely to be called before HUAC and questioned about one’s political associations was tantamount to being found guilty of subversive activities.

Some of the famous people who ran afoul of the committee included the famous playwrights Arthur Miller (June 21, 1956) and Bertolt Brecht (October 30, 1947); folk singer Pete Seeger (August 18, 1955); and civil liberties activist Frank Wilkinson, leader of the movement to abolish HUAC in the 1950s and 1960s (July 30, 1958). Many people lost their jobs and were blacklisted because they refused to “name names” before HUAC. The House of Representatives abolished HUAC on January 14, 1975.

Learn more about the history of HUAC: Walter Goodman, The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (1968)

Watch a documentary on the history of HUAC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1Z5aYU6x0o

Learn more about HUAChttp://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/huac

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