HUAC City Hall Protests Forum & Film Viewing

May 13, 2010

The NLGSF is hosting a forum on film viewing on May 13, 7:30 PM at UC Hastings, 198 McAllister in San Francisco, Room A, with special guests, to discuss the HUAC City Hall Protests from 50 years ago. More details to come.

Current Speakers Include

Becky Jenkins, a 1960's demonstrator and student leader from SF State.

Marshall Krause, the only attorney arrested at the demonstration and currently a lawyer with the ACLU.

Bob Meisenbach, a demonstrator charged with felony assault on a police officer, represented at trial by an NLG team led by Charles Garry, and acquitted of all charges.

Attorney Rai Sue Sussman moderating.

Operation Abolition Film

After the 1960 demonstrations and arrests, HUAC produced the film Operation Abolition, a 42 minute attempt to "expose" the communist plot to abolish HUAC. Complete with footage of "red dupe" demonstrators being dragged down the Rotunda steps in City Hall, the film was widely shown by the John Birch society and ring-wing groups and was met with hostile questions from the emerging student left. It was called both "raucous" and "boffo" by Time magazine on 5/17/61, which added, "Operation Abolition stirs up some kind of trouble nearly everywhere it goes."

Additional Background

In 1959 a coalition of left, labor, education, and religious groups tried to put an end to HUAC, but had a short-lived effect. Fifty years ago, on May 13, 1960, thousands of students and community members came to San Francisco City Hall to protest the hearings being held by The House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC). HUAC had subpoenaed teachers and workers, journalists and secretaries, longshoremen and clerks, salesmen and writers to question them about their loyalty to the US. This was an extension and continuation of the witch hunts and numbing influence of McCarthyism that had dominated the politics of the 50s.

The students organized a large picket line outside City Hall. Many came inside and up the stairs, outside the doors of the Supervisor's Chambers, and asked and then clamored to be let in. The Committee had jammed the hearing room with their 'friends'. Police finally aimed fire hoses at the demonstrators, washing them down the long marble staircase of the Rotunda inside City Hall. They arrested 64 and hauled them off in Paddy Wagons. The students were acquitted of all charges promptly except but for one, Robert Meisenbach, a UC Berkeley student, who stood trial on false changes and was later acquitted and completely exonerated.

The story hit the national press. Thousands of people came to City Hall on Saturday, the next day, to protest the Committee and the conduct of San Francisco's Police Department. Longshoremen arrived in great numbers in their white hats with their work hooks in their pockets.

This demonstration did several things: It sounded the death knell of the Committee and the end of the stifling 50s and the anti-communist hysteria that had injured so many. It helped to revitalize the student movement that had been silenced during the 50s encouraging students to work for social change around the country, adding impetus to the already stirring Civil Rights Movement and inspiring the soon to follow Free Speech Movement, the Anti-War Movement and the Women's Movement.

In 1990 the San Francisco Human Rights Commission proclaimed the 30th Anniversary of the May 13 Demonstration, and concluded, "Our city has come a long way in 30 years, and has fought to maintain those civil liberties which are so important to the functioning of a free society. We must remain vigilant in protecting these freedoms, and educate present and coming generations about the struggles undertaken to secure and maintain them." Mayor Art Agnos issued an official City apology to the demonstrators.