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Frank Wilkinson Papers, 1929-1999
MSS 087  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Frank Wilkinson Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1929-1999
    Collection number: MSS 087
    Creator: Wilkinson, Frank
    Extent: 26 legal size boxes, 12 letter size boxes, 1 oversize box; 15 linear feet
    Repository: Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
    Los Angeles, CA 90044
    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.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    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.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Frank Wilkinson Papers, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Los Angeles, California.


    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 the ministry.
    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 following answer:
    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.
    Civil Liberties
    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.

    Administrative Information

    Separated Material

    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

    Title: Citizens Committee to Preserve American Freedoms Records,
    Date (inclusive): 1947-1950s
    Physical Description: 1 2/3 linear feet

    Title: A.A. Heist Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1910-1965
    Physical Description: 1 linear foot

    Title: National Committee Against Repressive Legislation Records,
    Date (inclusive): 1980s-1990s
    Physical Description: 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]