Students protest HUAC hearings in San Francisco

HUAC history prior to 1960 hearings in San Francisco

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was created in 1938 to investigate and hold public hearings into "Communist influence" in American education, civil rights and peace organizations and labor unions.  Unable to uncover evidence of Communists committing crimes, HUAC satisfied itself with holding Party members and sympathizers up to widespread media exposure and public embarrassment, often resulting in the loss of jobs and community standing.

Hundreds of progressive citizens were hounded by the FBI for years after the 1947, 1951, 1956 and 1960 HUAC hearings in California.  The Hollywood film industry was a major HUAC target in 1947, costing writers and directors their jobs and reputations, due to the industry's willingness to do HUAC's dirty work.  The Hollywood "blacklist" lasted until 1960, robbing the public of many fine films that were never made.

The 1960 hearings

 

The 1960 HUAC hearings were held in San Francisco's imposing, baroque City Hall.   I was subpoeaned and refused to testify, citing the first and fifth amendments to the Constitution.  SLATE, the left-liberal UCB campus political party, led by Aryay Lenske, formed a Committee For The Abolition of the House Unamerican Activities Committee and organized a protest for May 14, 1960, the first day of the hearings.  Several hundred students from Cal, Stanford and other Bay Area colleges and universities showed up for a picket line in front of City Hall.  About 100 of these attempted to enter and attend the hearings, which were "open to the public." 

 

That day and the following, the Committee issued "passes" to Committee sympathizers, denying all but a few of the protesters entrance to the hearings.  On Friday, May 15, the Sheriff's Department had the SF Police Department barricade the entrance to the hearing room, and without warning, the police brought out fire hoses and washed the protesters down the marble steps of City Hall, arresting 68, injuring several demonstrators and hospitalizing four.  I had testified the previous day and joined the protesters at the barricades.  The photographs of the fire-hosing and arrests shown on this page were taken by local newspapers, as I was unavailable due to the "police riot."

The next day, Friday May 16 ("Black Friday"), several thousand demonstrators showed up in peaceful sidewalk protest against the police violence on Thursday.

The San Francisco HUAC debacle marked a period of steady decline of the Committee, which was rebranded as the House Internal Security Committee and disbanded in 1975.

Personal consequences 

 

For me personally, the hearings led to my being fired from a succession of jobs between 1960 and 1964, as the FBI visited my employers and worked to deprive me of my livelihood.  In addition, the FBI recruited my roommate at the time, Milan Melvin,  as a paid informant.   The combination of the FBI's persecution and the public exposure and embarassment of being hauled before HUAC at the age of 18 were traumatic for me, leading to several years of anxiety, depression and therapy.

 

HUAC's propaganda efforts and subsequent decline

 

After the 1960 hearings, HUAC made a "documentary" film falsely linking the Communist Party with the growing progressive student movement and the so-called "HUAC riots." "Operation Abolition" was distributed widely, at government expense, in America's public schools.  It is estimated that 15 million people saw this film.  This highly inaccurate propaganda effort had the unintended effect of recruiting many recent high school graduates and college students from all around the country to enter UCB to enjoy its non-conformist, anti-establishment atmosphere. 

To counter the lies of "Operation Abolition," HUAC opponents issued "Operation Correction," an ACLU-narrated documentary film using much of the same footage as "Abolition," but countering its lies with the facts of independent student organizing against HUAC and the unprovoked police attack at the 1960 HUAC hearings. 

Early on the first day of hearings.  A picket line begins to form in front of San Francisco City Hall.

Protesters gather on the City Hall steps, waiting for admission to the hearings

Sherriff Mathew Carberry speaks to the protesters trying to gainadmittance.  KPFA reporter Fred Haines (on left) records for rebroadcast

Protesters gather outside the HUAC hearing room.  Most are denied

entrance without HUAC's "passes"

The crowd in the City Hall Rotunda grows around Sheriff Carberry 

Sheriff Mathew Carberry talks to the protesters while KPFA correspondent Fred Haines records.  Carberry promises to try to open the hearing room to those without Committee "White Passes."

The crowd of protesters outside the hearing room grows, singing freedom songs and chanting "Let us in, Let us in!"

Sheriff Carberry neneges on his promise to admit more people without passes.    SF police erect street barricades in front of hearing room doors.  Tension increases, but police intentions are not revealed.

Still demanding entrance to hearing room, anti-HUAC demonstratprs sing protest songs as police bring out firehouses

Without warning, police turn fire hoses on HUAC protestors - newspaper photo

Water-soaked students holding their ground - newspaper photo

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That's me in front, well hydrated, yelling something at the police - newspaper photo

City cops and county sheriffs forcefully escorting us down the flooded marble steps of City Hall - newspaper photo.  68 people are arrested and jailed, released hours later.

This news photo was on the front page of newspapers across the country

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Hundreds of protesters and curiosity seekers milling about at City Hall.  Note the mounted city police

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On Saturday, May 26, several thousand protesters showed up at City Hall to protest HUAC and Friday's police violence and arrests.

Nice, big, peaceful picket line on Saturday along the side of City Hall.

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HUAC protesters arrested on Black Friday at arraignment.  All charges were dropped against the 68 arrestees except for Robert Meisenbach, who was later found innocent of violence against a SF police officer.