Students Protest HUAC 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 who had committed no crimes had their privacy invaded and were hounded by the FBI for years after the 1947, 1951, 1956 and 1960 HUAC hearings in California.  The Hollywood film industry was a noted HUAC target, with dozens of actors, screenwriters and directors subpoeaned to testify about their political ideas and organizational membership , as well as those of their friends and associates.  Most refused to testify, and a number were indicted for "contempt of Congress," and blacklisted from the industry.  The case of the "Hollywood Ten" was widely publicized and served the purpose of putting a chill on progressive participation in film, theatre, radio and television.

In 1959 HUAC subpoeaned a number of Bay Area journalists, college professors and 110 public school teachers.  The names of those to be called to testify were leaked to the press by the Committee.  Because of the hue and cry of protest against the planning hearings, they were cancelled, but the Committee made sure that the files on those subpoaened were sent to their employers.  Many of the teachers were probationary employees and subject to firing without cause, as was the case in several instances.

The 1960 HUAC hearings were held in San Francisco's baroque City Hall building.  Yours truly was subpoeaned tne refused to testify, the first and fifth amendments to the Constitution.  Slate, the left-liberal UCB campus political party, led by Aryay Lenske organized a Committee For The Abolition of the House Un-american 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 the hearings hall, 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 (literal) barricades.  The four photographs of the fire-hosing and arrests shown on this page were taken by newspaper photographers, as I was water-soaked and unavailable (my Nikon camera survived).

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 protests initiated the decline of the Committee, which was rebranded as the House Internal Security Committee and disbanded in 1975.

After the 1960 hearings, HUAC made a "documentary" film falsely linking the Communist Party with the burgeoning 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 from all around the country to enter UC Berkeley and participate in a series of UC student protests which culminated in the seminal Free Speech Movement (FSM) of 1964-5, and the struggle for Ethnic Studies - the "Third World Liberation Front Strike" (TWLF) of February and March of 1969.

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 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

Protesters gather outside the HUAC hearing room.  Most are denied


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

The crowd in the City Hall Rotunda grows as Sheriff Carberry talks to the protesters.

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."

Sheriff Carberry neneges on promise.  SF police erect barricade in front of hearing room doors.  Tension increases, but police intentions are not revealed.

Still demanding entrance to hearing room, protesters sing protest songs as police bring out firehouses

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

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