Collection Scope and Content Summary
Title: California Un-American Activities Committees records,
Date (inclusive): 1935-1977
Inventory: 93-04-12, 93-04-16
California Un-American Activities Committees
80 cubic feet
California State Archives
Abstract: Collection contains the investigative files, hearing transcripts, and working papers of several committees (Assembly Relief
Investigating Committee on Subversive Activities, Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in California, and
Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities) created by the California Legislature to investigate subversive activities.
Collection is open for research.
For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication
is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility
for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives
[Identification of item], California Un-American Activities Committees Records, 93-04-12, 93-04-16, California State Archives,
Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California.
These records were transferred to the California State Archives from the Senate Rules Committee in 1971.
The growth of international communism in the 1930s had an enormous impact on American politics. Coupled with the rise of Nazi
Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, the threat of communism during the period leading up to World War II was very
real and pervasive. In response to allegations that communists had infiltrated the State Relief Administration, the California
Legislature created in 1940 what was to become a thirty-one year investigation into un-American activities in California.
The first investigating committee, chaired by Los Angeles Assemblyman Sam Yorty, was called the Assembly Relief Investigating
Committee on Subversive Activities. A report of the Committee's work was issued in late 1940. This short-lived body devoted
its attention solely to the State Relief Administration.
A second committee was created in 1941 as a joint body of the State Senate and Assembly and was named the Joint Fact-Finding
Committee on Un-American Activities in California. It consisted of three senators and four assemblymen and was chaired by
Assemblyman Jack Tenney of Los Angeles. This Joint Committee received widespread, wartime support from the general public.
It divided its investigations between the activities and organization of pro-Axis and communist groups.
In 1947, the Assembly withdrew from the Committee. The Senate took control and renamed it the Senate Fact-Finding Committee
on Un-American Activities. Tenney, now a Senator, remained as chair. The Senate Committee focused its attention largely on
identifying and exposing communists, and many hearings were held on this subject. In particular, the Committee investigated
labor unions, universities and colleges, public employees, liberal churches, and the Hollywood film industry. In 1949, Senator
Tenney, under pressure from fellow legislators, resigned as chair and was replaced by Senator Hugh Burns of Fresno.
The name of the Committee was changed once again in 1961, this time to the Fact-Finding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities.
Senator Burns remained as chair. During the 1960s, the Committee shifted its emphasis to investigating communist influence
in racial unrest, street violence, anti-war rallies, and campus protests. Instead of hearings and staff field investigations,
the Committee reports were based more on information gathered from newspapers and police files. Senator James Mills of San
Diego became chair in 1970. At the initiative of Senator Mills, the Committee was abolished in 1971 and the records were transferred
to the State Archives.
Collection Scope and Content Summary
The California Un-American Activities Committees (CUAC) files (identification numbers 93-04-12 and 93-04-16) span the period
1935-1977 and consist of eighty cubic feet. Over this period, the Committees produced or received thousands of documents,
including fifteen published reports, unpublished reports and studies, newspaper clippings, photographs, hearing transcripts,
correspondence, publications (books, magazines, pamphlets), depositions, audio tapes, approximately 125,000 index cards tracking
an estimated 20,000 individuals or organizations, and Dictaphone audio disks.
The CUAC files represent one of the most significant collections for a study of modern California history and politics. Indeed,
given the scope and breadth of the materials, the collection has importance for American and international history. It is
interesting to note that California's attention to un-American activities predates McCarthyism by a decade. As the files reveal,
however, there was a close and ongoing relationship between state and federal efforts.
As with most historical collections, the files are especially rich in certain subjects. Topics of major focus include: labor
and labor unions; public schools and education; Hollywood and the motion picture industry; civil rights; universities and
colleges, in particular, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Los Angeles, and San Francisco
State University; political parties, including the California Democratic Party, the American Communist Party, the Los Angeles
County Communist Party, and the Black Panther Party; the Soviet Union and Soviet-American relations; communism in China and
Vietnam; fascist and nazi movements in America; and the anti-war and peace movements. Particular events that attracted the
Committees' attention include the Alger Hiss trial, the Watts riots, the King, Ramsey, and Connor case, and the Sleepy Lagoon
event. Great attention was devoted to a number of ethnic and occupational groups in society, including students, teachers,
scientists, women, African-Americans, lawyers, clergy, musicians, writers, actors, Jews, Hispanics, Japanese, reporters, union
activists, and public employees. Well-known people are found throughout the files. Privacy laws do not permit the listing
of most individuals; however, some names are already known to be in the collection, including Cesar Chavez, Henry Wallace,
Harry Bridges, Paul Robeson, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Earl Browder.
Additionally, special note should be given to records that relate to the development of the American labor movement and its
activity in party politics, the role of the motion picture industry in shaping public perceptions, the growth of militant
activities in universities during the 1960s, in particular, as related to the protest against the Vietnam War, the development
of the farm labor movement in California, life in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and Soviet-American relationships during the
Cold War, the emergence of civil rights politics as a response to the investigations, and the evolution of anti-Semitic thought
and practice and its relationship to public perceptions of Jewish life and culture.
Unfortunately, little is known about the structure of the Committees and how they operated. In addition to Senators Tenney
and Burns, two other figures dominated the work of the Committees for most of the period of activity. Richard E. Combs, chief
counsel, directed the investigations and conducted most of the questioning during depositions and public and executive hearings.
Thomas L. Cavett, chief investigator, was the "eyes and ears" of the body, and gathered information from a wide network of
local operatives, mostly unnamed.
A researcher would benefit by first turning to the fifteen published reports (also known as the "red books"), which have long
been available at a number of repositories, including university, college and public libraries. Several sets may be found
in the collection. The reports combine a wealth of data from Committee files and, in many ways, summarize its work.
The records are divided into six principal series, several of which may be subdivided into smaller sections. (See the next
section, "Series Descriptions", for greater detail.) The "F number" (a designation created by the Committee) series consists
of twenty-eight boxes. These materials are predominantly from the 1940s and 1950s and, unquestionably, are the most important
part of the collection. It is within this series that the researcher will find nearly all the topics noted above.
The hearing transcripts, boxes 29-34, provide documentation of formal hearings conducted by the Committees. In response to
a court order, the majority of transcripts were released to the public in November 1999. There are two boxes of duplicate
The index cards, boxes 35-66, are crucial to understanding and using the collection. This portion of the collection is divided
into three separate parts. The largest division consists of 24 boxes and provides indexing to the F number series. The other
two divisions total eight boxes and principally cover Committee work during the 1960s, in particular, the Bay Area reports.
Bay Area reports, boxes 67-71, represent a major effort by the Committee in the 1960s to investigate suspected subversive
activities in the greater San Francisco Bay region. The incomplete and unpublished manuscripts include reports numbered three
through seven with supporting information, and some general office files from the period. Reports number one and two, though
reflected in the index and background files, are missing from the collection.
The records contain a wide variety of publications. Although newspapers, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, books, and other
published forms may be found throughout the collection, a significant grouping is contained in boxes 72-76 and box 29 of accession
number 93-04-16. The publications span the entire period of the Committees' activities.
The office files, boxes 77-78 and box 30 of accession number 93-04-16, are various materials, principally correspondence and
reports, that were never cataloged into the Committees' filing system. Most are from the 1960s and early 1970s.
Note: The author would like to acknowledge his use of information contained in a 1998 guide to the CUAC files prepared by
staff of the Senate Rules Committee. Under the direction of Virgil Meibert, Committee Consultant, the staff produced a folder-level
summary of the contents of the collection.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Archives online finding aids.