Frank Wilkinson

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Frank Wilkinson

Template:TOCnestleft Frank Wilkinson (August 16, 1914-January 2, 2006) was a "defiant figure of the Red Scare." He once served as the Executive Director Emeritus of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation and Executive Director of the First Amendment Foundation.[1]

In 1961, Wilkinson was jailed for defying the House Un-American Activities Committee--a body he spent years denouncing and was credited with helping abolish after its demise in 1975. One of the principal foes of J. Edgar Hoover, Wilkinson's FBI dossier was more than 130,000 pages long.[2]

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 Wilkinson; her three children from a previous marriage, John Childers, William Childers and Robert Childers.[3]

Early life

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 children.

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 Hills.

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 experience.

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.[4]

Communist Party

Wilkinson was a Communist Party USA member from 1942 through 1973.[5]

Chavez Ravine controversy

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 public-housing units.

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.[6]


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 fellow communist , 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.[7]

SCLC reception

Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., Frank Wilkinson, Carl Braden and Dr. James Dombrowski at the SCLC reception

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference hosted a reception honoring Frank Wilkinson and Carl Braden, April 30, 1961, the day before they went to jail for defying the House committee on Un-American Activities. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. James Dombrowski were present.[8]

National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee

Circa 1962, Frank Wilkinson was Executive Director-Field Representative of the Communist Party USA front, National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee were:[9]

Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights

In 1965 Congressman John Conyers was a guest speaker with Frank Wilkinson, Executive Director, National committee to Abolish HUAC. at a March 27 Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights supper-workshop-conference at McGiffert House in Chicago[10].

American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born

In the late 1960s Frank Wilkinson was listed as a Sponsor of American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born[11].

GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee

Circa 1969, Frank Wilkinson, National Committee to Abolish HUAC/HISC, Los Angeles , was listed as a sponsor of the Socialist Workers Party led GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee .[12]

HUAC's demise

On Jan. 14, 1975, when the HUAC 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 accusations of an assassination attempt against Mr. Wilkinson in 1964.[13]

Leaving the Party/NAM

In the early 1970s, Dorothy Healey, Ben Dobbs and a group of their former California comrades, including housing and civil-liberties activist Frank Wilkinson and attorneys Ben Margolis and John McTernan left the Communist Party USA. They later joined the New American Movement and eventually the Democratic Socialists of America.[14]

New American Movement

In 1981, Esther Herst, National Director; Frank Wilkinson, Executive Director Emeritus and Laura Berg, Portland Area NCARL Representative & Member, NAM's National Interim Committee of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation saluted NAM "for its commitment to democracy" on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.[15]

Tribute to Ben Dobbs

On Sunday, June 7, 1981, the Los Angeles Chapter of the New American Movement sponsored a Tribute to Ben Dobbs for "His lifelong commitment to socialism". The event was held at the Miramar-Sheraton Hotel, Santa Monica, California. Frank Wilkinson was listed on the Dinner Committee, "with special thanks".[16]

Los Angeles DSA potential donors list

On July 26 1992 California Democratic Socialists of America leader Steve Tarzynski wrote a draft "major donor letter" for Southern California DSA, inviting donors to join the Upton Sinclair Club of DSA[17]

We know you have been generous in supporting DSA's important work in the past. We'd like to develop a core of at least twelve people who will pledge 1,000 annually to keep our Organization working for Southern California DSA. We invite you to be one of those people. This select group of members and friends would have a key role in rebuilding a democratic left opposition in California.
This unique group of individuals would form the "Upton Sinclair Club" which will act in an advisory role meeting with the Southern California DSA leadership at an annual brunch. Sinclair Club members will receive a quarterly bulletin reporting on Southern California DSA's progress, and will have an opportunity to meet international DSA spokespeople and international guest speakers in more intimate small group settings. Admission to all local, statewide, and national DSA events in the Southern California would be complimentary with membership in the Sinclair Club.

The draft was accompanied by a "List of Potential major donors to DSA"

Upton Sinclair Club

In the early 1990s Frank Wilkinson and Donna Wilkinson of Los Angeles, were members of the Upton Sinclair Club, of Democratic Socialists of America. The club consisted of wealthy Californians able to contribute significant donations to DSA.[18]

National Committee Against Repressive Legislation

Circa 1965, Frank Wilkinson was listed as the Executive Director, Field Representative for the National Office of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation.[19]

As of April 2006 Frank Wilkinson was listed on the Steering Committee of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation.[20]

Endorsed Frontline


In 1987 Frank Wilkinson endorsed Frontline, newspaper of Line of March.

External links



  1. Wilkinson's obituary
  2. Defending Dissent Civil Liberties Hall of Fame, accessed May 12, 2010
  3. [1] Frank Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91, January 4, 2006 by the New York Times
  4. [2] Frank Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91, January 4, 2006 by the New York Times
  6. [3] Frank Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91, January 4, 2006 by the New York Times
  7. [4] Frank Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91, January 4, 2006 by the New York Times
  8. Defending Dissent Civil Liberties Hall of Fame, accessed May 12, 2010
  9. National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee letterhead circa 1962
  10. CCDBR letterhead Feb 1965
  11. ACFPFB Letterhead, undated Hugh DeLacy paper Acc 3915,Box 3 Folder 20
  12. Undated, GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee letterhead circa 1969
  13. [5] Frank Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91, January 4, 2006 by the New York Times
  15. 10th Anniversary Booklet for the New American Movement, 1981
  16. Tribute to Ben Dobbs program, June 7, 1981
  17. Steve Tarzynski DSA major donor letter draft July 26, 1992, Tarzynski papers, Southern California Library for Social Change
  18. Sinclair Club membership list, Steve Tarzynski papers
  19. NCARL letter, circa October 1965