SLATE sponsors Frank Wilkinson on campus.
On March 22, 1961, 3500 UC Berkeley students rallied for speech by Frank Wilkinson, a well-known and charismatic progressive activist who had been recently indicted in a federal district court for refusing to give the House UnAmerican Activities Committee the names of his political associates and the organizations with which he and others were affiliated (technically, he had been cited by HUAC for "contempt of court," a violation of a federal statute). By the time of his Berkeley speech Wilkinson had become the most recognizable public opponent of HUAC. He was in the midst of a tour of campuses, where he talked to thousands about the dangers of HUAC's assault on free speech. Taking advantage of UC President Clark Kerr's relaxation of restrictions on political speech on campus, SLATE gave Wilkinson a podium in Sproul Hall, a venue that could not hold the number wanting to hear Frank. A loud-speaker was set up outside so the overflow crowd could hear him.
Frank Wilkinson's activist background in Southern California
Wilkinson had been a long-term and effective figure in L.A.'s Housing Authority, fighting for the construction of more public housing. He became caught up in the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy Era when he defended the plan for a new major public housing project, Elysian Park Heights, to be located in the Chávez Ravine section of Los Angeles. Many residents of this area had already been displaced due to the impending construction of Dodger Stadium, which was supported by Chavez Ravine's landlords and L.A's corrupt political machine.
In August, 1952, Frank was assigned by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles to testify as an expert witness in the condemnation proceedings against a group of property owners in the Chavez Ravine, then a predominantly Hispanic and impoverished community. Frank and the housing authority wanted to turn the area into integrated public housing. Frank testified at length on the slum-like conditions in the ravine.
The political attacks on Wilkinson
At the hearing about condemnation proceedings, the landlords' lawyer brought up a political dossier on Frank Wilkinson and other Housing Authority employees that had been given to him by LA Police Chief William Parker.
The lawyer asked "Mr. Wilkinson, will you now tell us of all the organizations, political or otherwise, with which you have associated?" Frank divulged a long list of the groups he had joined: religious, civic, his fraternity. When he stopped, he was asked if that was all. He refused to go on, as a "matter of personal conscience. And if necessary I would hold that to answer such a question might in some way incriminate me."
The court ruled him disqualified as an expert; his testimony was stricken from the record. The Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution deploring his refusal to answer and calling upon the House Un-American Activities Committee to come to L.A. to investigate the Housing Authority.
The California Senate's "little HUAC" (California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities) subpoenaed both Frank and his wife, Jean, a high school social studies teacher, for a closed session. By now it was clear the only purpose was the probe of the political associations of persons related to the Housing Authority. As a matter of personal conscience and social responsibility, Frank and Jean refused to answer. They were both fired immediately and Frank was indicted for contempt of Congress and . As the investigation of the Housing Authority continued, the program collapsed and Chavez Ravine became Dodger Stadium.