Scope and Content
Title: Frank Wilkinson Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1929-1999
Collection number: MSS 087
26 legal size boxes, 12 letter size boxes, 1 oversize box;
15 linear feet
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
Abstract: This is a collection of materials created and/or collected by Frank Wilkinson during the period 1929-1999. The bulk of the
collection is comprised of correspondence, photographs and newspaper clippings. Frank Wilkinson has spent the better part
of his life directly involved with the issues and movements surrounding civil liberties and first amendment freedoms. The
materials in this collection reflect many of these activities.
The collection is available for research only at the Library's facility in Los Angeles. The Library is open from 10 a.m. to
4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Researchers are encouraged to call or email the Library indicating the nature of their research
query prior to making a visit.
Copyright has not been assigned to the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Researchers may make single
copies of any portion of the collection, but publication from the collection will be allowed only with the express written
permission of the Library's director. It is not necessary to obtain written permission to quote from a collection. When the
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research gives permission for publication, it is as the owner of the physical
items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Frank Wilkinson Papers, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Los Angeles,
Donated to the Library by Frank Wilkinson
Background and Education
Frank Wilkinson was born in Charlevoix, Michigan, in 1914, to Ada and A.M. (Allan) Wilkinson. His father was a physician and
Methodist lay minister. The family moved west, first to Douglas, Arizona, and then, when Frank was ten, to Beverly Hills,
California. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Wilkinson went on to UCLA, where he majored in Political Science.
He was active in fraternity life, student affairs, and "Youth for Herbert Hoover". Upon graduation in 1936, Wilkinson had
plans to become a minister and was preparing to begin graduate work in Religious Studies. However he and a friend, Delbert
Harter, decided first to take a year off to travel the world.
During his year abroad, Wilkinson and his friend traveled to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. They budgeted to live
on $1.00 a day, .30 cents of which they spent on postage, often traveling by bicycle and sleeping outdoors. This trip provided
Wilkinson his first exposure to real poverty and he was deeply moved by this. He was equally struck by what he saw of organized
religion and religious rivalry. In his eyes, it was doing a disservice to these people and he abandoned his plans to enter
Instead when Frank Wilkinson returned to California, he began a lecture series designed to educate civic organizations about
what he witnessed during his travels. In 1939, Mnsgr. Thomas O'Dwyer, President of the Citizens Housing Council (CHC), an
organization that promoted slum clearance and low-rent integrated public housing, selected Wilkinson as Secretary.
Housing Authority Years
Remaining an active member of the CHC, in 1942 Wilkinson went to work for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles
(HACLA) and was appointed manager of the first integrated project in Los Angeles, located in Watts. Over time he served as
manager of Hacienda Village, Avalon Gardens and Ramona Gardens. In 1945 he was appointed Special Assistant to the Executive
Director, and later was promoted to Director of the Office of Information.
During a routine condemnation action in 1953, in which the City Housing Authority was seeking to acquire lands for the Chavez
Ravine-Elysian Park Heights housing site, Frank Wilkinson appeared as an expert witness. On cross-examination, in an attempt
to discredit him and the Housing Authority, he was asked questions of a personal nature, including to which organizations
he belonged, other than those which qualified him as an expert witness. Upon even further questioning, Wilkinson gave the
I believe that I shall be compelled by matters of personal conscience to refuse to answer the question and state that I am
doing so because of personal conscience, and I'd like to assure you that there is nothing that I have belonged to that I am
not completely proud and that my personal record wouldn't make me proud to state, but I do not feel that I want to answer
this question and, if necessary, I would hold that to answer such a question might in some way incriminate me.
Wilkinson was immediately suspended from his position in the Housing Authority and was later fired.
After Frank Wilkinson's dismissal from the Housing Authority, he was named secretary of the Los Angeles-based Citizens Committee
to Preserve American Freedoms, an organization founded to defend the victims of the State and House Committees on Un-American
Activities. His life for the next half-century would be devoted to advancing civil liberties, most notable as executive director
of the National Committee to Abolish HUAC, an organization founded in 1960 by civil libertarians Alexander Meiklejohn and
Aubrey Williams. Based in Los Angeles for virtually his entire career, Wilkinson also worked briefly (1958) for the emergency
Civil Liberties Committee in New York.
Wilkinson traveled the country organizing support for those subpoenaed by HUAC. While in Atlanta in 1958, working on a campaign
with the Southern Conference Educational Fund, Wilkinson found himself faced with a subpoena. Greatly influenced by the writings
of Alexander Meiklejohn, and represented by Rowland Watts of the ACLU, Frank decided to make a First Amendment challenge of
HUAC. Refusing to answer questions on First Amendment grounds, Frank Wilkinson was cited for contempt of Congress and, along
with Carl Braden, another civil liberties organizer, lost a five-to-four decision before the U.S. Supreme Court. Both he and
Braden served one-year prison sentences in 1961.
Upon his release from prison, Wilkinson returned to organizing, working for the National Committee to Abolish HUAC. Over the
next decade the power of HUAC waned and it was eliminated by Congress completely in 1975.
NCARL and Beyond
As HUAC's authority began to crumble, the National Committee to Abolish HUAC began to change and expand it focus, renaming
itself the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation (NCARL). NCARL helped to organize a campaign to repeal the 1950
Emergency Detention Act, dismantle the Subversive Activities Control Board and since 1973, NCARL has worked tirelessly to
reorganize the federal criminal code.
In 1980, NCARL filed suit against the FBI for years of illegal wiretapping surveillance of staff members and illegal entry.
Wilkinson v. FBI was settled in 1987, with a declaration from the Court that any further violations of NCARL leadership's
First Amendment rights would result in monetary damages without further litigation.
In 1985, the First Amendment Foundation was established and Frank Wilkinson served as its first Executive Director. In August
2004, he celebrated his 90th birthday with his second wife Donna (whom he married in 1966), and his extended family of children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At that time he was still assisting in the development of films, books, articles, seminars
and research projects in the defense of civil liberties. Under the auspices of the First Amendment Foundation, political write
Robert Sherrill is completing a biography of Wilkinson with publication anticipated for 2005.
Scope and Content
This collection is comprised of materials created and/or collected by Frank Wilkinson including correspondence, personal items,
press clippings, ephemera, photographs and videocassette tapes. These items span the years 1929-1999 and serve to provide
a detailed picture of the life and work of Frank Wilkinson. Of particular interest are the materials relating to Frank's years
with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, (1942-1952), his correspondence regarding his First Amendment challenge
of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and his correspondence during his incarceration. Also of note are the
materials related to his activities in the struggle to preserve civil liberties, his efforts to abolish HUAC, and his direct
involvement in various nonprofit organizations, such as the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, National Committee Against
Repressive Legislation (NCARL), and the First Amendment Foundation.
The collection is divided into 7 series:
1. Biographical Materials, 1934-1999,
2. Legal Materials, 1950-1962,
3. Organizations, 1942-1996,
4. Correspondence, 1934-1985,
5. Photographs, 1929-1991,
6. Newspaper Clippings, 1961-1962 and
7. Videocassette and Audiocassette Tapes, 1975-1999.
Every effort has been made to keep these materials in their original order; however where no original order was evident, the
materials have been placed in chronological order.
Several videocassette tapes were separated and placed into the Library's Video Collection.
Related Material at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
Citizens Committee to Preserve American Freedoms Records,
Date (inclusive): 1947-1950s
1 2/3 linear feet
A.A. Heist Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1910-1965
1 linear foot
National Committee Against Repressive Legislation Records,
Date (inclusive): 1980s-1990s
3 linear feet
[The Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin, is the major repository for the records of the National Committee to
Abolish HUAC and the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation]