1960 May 12

Major Anti-HUAC Protest Begins in San Francisco

 

This day marked the beginning of a major protest of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in San Francisco. The committee had scheduled three days of hearings on May 12-14, as part of its regular pattern of public hearings around the country to investigate alleged local subversive activities. In this case, however, Frank Wilkinson and his Citizen Committee to Preserve American Freedoms planned a well-organized protest of the hearings. The result was a major confrontation.

When protesters arrived at San Francisco City Hall on the first day, May 12th, most were not able to get into the hearing room at San Francisco City Hall because the committee had filled the room with its supporters, who had been given passes. The protesters began chanting “Let us in! Let us in!” Those protesters in the hearing room began singing the national anthem. The publicity brought even more protesters (some estimates said 3,500 people) to City Hall the next day, the 13th. Without warning, the San Francisco police turned fire hoses on the protesters in the rotunda. Some protesters were swept down the City Hall steps by the hoses; others were dragged down, bumping their heads on the steps.

The violent confrontation is probably the most famous anti-HUAC protest in the entire history of the committee. In response to the events that reflected badly on the committee, HUAC used newsreel footage of the demonstrations to produce a highly slanted film, Operation Abolition. The ACLU of Northern California replied with its own film, Operation Correction, pointing out the distortions in the HUAC film.

The demonstrations had been organized by Frank Wilkinson, leader of the national campaign to abolish HUAC (see April 4, 1960). Wilkinson himself had refused to answer questions when called by HUAC on July 30, 1958, and would be sentenced to prison on May 1, 1961 for contempt of Congress.

View the protests: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVQnFpzU5h8

View HUAC film Operation Abolition on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeiW63M3bcI

View ACLU rebuttal, Operation Correction on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeiW63M3bcI

Read the biography of Frank Wilkinson, organizer of the abolish HUAC movement: 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)

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