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Members of HUAC
Members of HUAC including Richard Nixon (right), 1948
Photo: Library of Congress

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

In the Cold War years, the U.S. government and political dissent run a dangerous collision course. The HUAC is typical of several government institutions (e.g., COINTELPRO) aiming to investigate and neutralize "subversive" groups and individuals. As the 1960s open, this definition includes free-speech advocates and academics.

On April 26, 1960, the HUAC issues subpoenas for a series of hearings to be held in San Francisco. Those called to appear include left-leaning members of the media, university faculty (roughly a quarter of those subpoenaed), and a U.C. Berkeley student who belongs to a politically active organization.

As hearings approach, the local press and regional free-speech advocates condemn the HUAC and its objectives. Student groups band together to organize a protest.

...now they had 150 people wet, angry, and injured, most of whom were rooted to the spot and determined to make as much noise as ever before.

Fred Haines, radio reporter

The hearings are held at San Francisco City Hall on May 13. The HUAC stacks the audience by issuing white admission cards only to approved persons. Police bar the way of student protestors. In response, hundreds of students sit down in the hallways, singing protest anthems and blocking access to the hearings. Police use batons and fire hoses to push the crowd down a flight of 36 marble stairs. Many protestors are seriously injured; 68 are arrested, including 31 U.C. students.

The next day, thousands of people arrive on the scene, daring the police to repeat the violence. Several hundred protestors picket the hearings, while another 3,500 demonstrators amass outside the building. The HUAC hearings close down. In early June, a judge dismisses the charges against arrested protestors.

The entire episode lays the foundation for subsequent eruption of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964.

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