[Marxism] Frank Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91
walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Jan 4 04:28:44 MST 2006
(A wonderful man. Solid and principled in every respect. Frank was one
who always understood the importance of solidarity and the need for all
on the left and all who believe in civil liberties to cooperate in their
own common interest. There's a photo at the New York Times website. The
Bush administration won't regret Frank's death, that's for certain! Not
a word about Cuba in this, but he strongly supported the right to travel.
I don't know if he'd been to Cuba, but I know he was very supportive.)
Frank Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91
By RICK LYMAN Published: January 4, 2006
Frank Wilkinson, a Los Angeles housing official who lost his job in
the Red Scare of the early 1950's and later became one of the last
two people jailed for refusing to tell the House Un-American
Activities Committee whether he was a Communist, died Monday in Los
Angeles. He was 91.
Mr. Wilkinson, whose experiences inspired a half-century campaign
against government spying, had been ill for several months and was
recovering from surgery and a fall, said Donna Wilkinson, his wife of
40 years. "It was just the complications of old age, " Mrs. Wilkinson
In 1952, when Mr. Wilkinson was head of the Housing Authority of the
City of Los Angeles, he spearheaded a project to replace the
sprawling Mexican-American neighborhood of Chavez Ravine, home to 300
families and roamed by goats and other livestock, with thousands of
Real estate interests that viewed public housing as a form of
socialism accused Mr. Wilkinson of being a Communist. When asked
about this, under oath, he declined to answer, causing a furor.
After a City Council hearing, in which Mayor Fletcher Bowron punched
a man in the audience who had called him a "servant of Stalin," Mr.
Wilkinson was questioned by the California Anti-Subversive Committee.
Mr. Wilkinson was fired along with four other housing officials and
five schools employees, including his first wife, Jean.
The housing project was scuttled and much of the land eventually
turned over to the city, after which it became the site of Dodger
Stadium, new home to the former Brooklyn Dodgers.
The entire episode has inspired books, documentaries, a play and even
a recently released album by Ry Cooder called "Chavez Ravine." "Every
church has its prophets and its elders," one song goes. "God will
love you if you just play ball."
Mr. Wilkinson consistently refused to testify about his political
beliefs. He had, in fact, joined the Communist Party in 1942,
according to "First Amendment Felon," a 2005 biography by Robert
Sherrill. He left the party in 1975.
Mr. Wilkinson continued his antipoverty activities and, in 1955, was
called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which
wanted to know whether he was a Communist. This time, Mr. Wilkinson
used what he believed was a novel approach. Instead of claiming his
Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination, he
refused to answer on First Amendment grounds, saying the committee
had no right to ask him.
The committee requested that Congress cite Mr. Wilkinson for
contempt, but it was not until 1958 that he and a co-worker, Carl
Braden, became the last men ordered to prison at the committee's
behest. Mr. Wilkinson fought the contempt citation in the courts, but
the Supreme Court, by a vote of 5 to 4, affirmed it.
At a press conference after the decision, Mr. Wilkinson said: "We
will not save free speech if we are not prepared to go to jail in its
defense. I am prepared to pay that price."
In 1961, the year construction began on Dodger Stadium, Mr. Wilkinson
spent nine months at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. He came out
of prison, he said, determined to fight for the committee's
abolition. For the next decade, he traveled the country, speaking and
protesting, largely through his National Committee Against Repressive
Legislation, based in Los Angeles.
On Jan. 14, 1975, when the committee was finally abolished,
Representative Robert F. Drinan, Democrat of Massachusetts, paid
tribute to Mr. Wilkinson, saying, "No account of the demise of the
House Un-American Activities Committee would be complete without a
notation of the extraordinary work done by the National Committee
Against Repressive Legislation."
But Mr. Wilkinson was not finished with the federal government. When
he discovered, in 1986, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had
been compiling files on him, he filed a Freedom of Information Act
request for their release.
He was sent 4,500 documents. But he sued for more, and the next year
the F.B.I. released an additional 30,000 documents, and then 70,000
two years later. Eventually, there were 132,000 documents covering 38
years of surveillance, including detailed reports of Mr. Wilkinson's
travel arrangements and speaking schedules, and vague and mysterious
accusations of an assassination attempt against Mr. Wilkinson in
A federal judge ordered the F.B.I. to stop spying on Mr. Wilkinson
and to never do it again.
He is survived by his first wife, Jean, of Oakland, Calif.; their
three children, Jeffry Wilkinson, of Albany, Calif., Tony Wilkinson,
of Berkeley, Calif., and Jo Wilkinson of Tucson; and by his second
wife, Donna; her three children from a previous marriage, John,
William and Robert Childers; 19 grandchildren; and six
Frank Wilkinson was born Aug. 16, 1914, in a cottage behind his
family's lakeside retreat in Charlevoix, Mich. His father, a doctor,
came from a family that had lived in America since colonial days. His
mother was French Canadian. Mr. Wilkinson was the youngest of four
Mr. Wilkinson's father fell in love with Arizona while posted there
in World War I and moved the family to Douglas, Ariz., after the war.
The family lived there until Frank was 10, then moved to Hollywood
for two years while their permanent home was being built in Beverly
They were a devout Methodist family and firm Republicans. "Every
morning of my life, we had Bible readings and prayers at the
breakfast table," Mr. Wilkinson once said.
He attended Beverly Hills High School and then the University of
California, Los Angeles, graduating in 1936. He was active in the
Methodist Youth Movement, president of the Hollywood Young People's
chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and an organizer
for Youth for Herbert Hoover.
After college, considering a career in the ministry, he decided to
tour the Holy Land. On the way, along Maxwell Street in Chicago, the
Bowery in New York and later in the Middle East, he had his first
glimpse at wrenching poverty, and he described it as a life-altering
Mr. Wilkinson lost his faith and found himself adrift. "What do you
do if you have no religion?" he said. "What is the basis of your
ethics?" He chose to become active in efforts to eradicate the kind
of poverty he had seen in his travels.
In later years, he would spend months on the road, speaking to
whatever group would listen to him, usually telling his own story and
In 1999, he received a lifetime achievement award from the American
Civil Liberties Union. Four years earlier, the City of Los Angeles,
which had once fired him, issued a citation praising Mr. Wilkinson
for his "lifetime commitment to civil liberties and for making this
community a better place in which to live."
Frank Wilkinson, civil rights activist during 'Red Scare,' dies
LOS ANGELES - Frank Wilkinson, who became a prominent civil rights
activist after he was targeted in the 1950s "Red Scare" era over
plans for a public housing project in Chavez Ravine, has died. He was
Wilkinson was surrounded by family and friends Monday when he died at
his Los Angeles home from complications of an infection, said Kit
Gage, a longtime associate.
Wilkinson was an assistant director of the Los Angeles Housing
Authority when he backed plans in the 1940s and 1950s for a federal
housing project in the Chavez Ravine barrio, populated primarily by
But he was suspended from his job after a 1952 eminent domain
hearing, during which he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination when asked by company lawyers which groups he
belonged to. The question came at a time when Sen. Joseph McCarthy
was spearheading a nationwide anti-communist campaign.
After being called before California's equivalent of the House
Un-American Activities Committee, Wilkinson again asserted his
This time he was fired. The public housing project in Chavez Ravine
was later scrapped and the barrio razed to make way for Dodger
"It wasn't an accident that public housing got derailed in L.A.,"
said Gage, director of the Washington, D.C.-based First Amendment
Foundation. "The Red Scare was used not only to silence folks on the
left, but it was also used to destroy a whole range of progressive
Wilkinson became an activist opposed to Red Scare tactics. A
Communist Party member from 1942 to 1976, he twice asserted his First
Amendment rights in refusing to answer questions before the HUAC.
In 1958, he was cited for contempt of Congress but challenged the
case. Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in
the matter and he was jailed for nine months.
Upon his release, Wilkinson traveled across the country urging
citizens to stand up against the HUAC, which was effectively killed
after another committee took over its jurisdiction in 1975.
Wilkinson also co-founded the First Amendment Foundation in 1985 to
promote the right to dissent. This past fall, a biography was
published about him titled "First Amendment Felon: The Story of Frank
Wilkinson, His 132000-Page FBI File, and His Epic Fight for Civil
Rights and Liberties."
Wilkinson is survived by his second wife, Donna; children Jeffry,
Tony and Jo; stepchildren John, William and Robert; and his first
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be sent in his
name to the First Amendment Foundation.
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