Oral Histories

Interview of Frank Wilkinson

Civil liberties activist. Executive director of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation and the First Amendment Foundation.
Matters of Conscience
Interviews not in a series, part one
Social Movements
Civil Liberties
Biographical Note:
Civil liberties activist. Executive director of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation and the First Amendment Foundation.
Treleven, Dale E.
Wilkinson, Frank
Persons Present:
Wilkinson and Treleven.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I to XXVI: Wilkinson's office in Los Angeles, California; Tapes XXVII to L: Wilkinson's home in Santa Monica, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Dale E. Treleven, Director, UCLA Oral History Program; B.S., secondary education, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh; M.A., United States history, University of Wisconsin-Madison.Treleven prepared for the interview by consulting personal letters, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, and other materials in Wilkinson's possession; the records, 1952-1980, of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation (Collection MSS 558) at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison; selected portions of the United States Department of Justice FBI 132,000 page file on Wilkinson, obtained by him and his legal counsel through citizen rights provided by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or secured by Wilkinson and counsel over the course of Frank Wilkinson, etc., et. al., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, etc., et. al, Case No. CV-80-1049 AWT (Tx), United States Dictrict Court, Central District of California.
Processing of Interview:
In 1983, at the urging of the UCLA Oral History Program’s previous director, Ronald J. Grele, Oral History Program director Dale Treleven extended an invitation to Wilkinson to be interviewed for the program’s collection. Simultaneously, Douglas E. Mirell and Paul L. Hoffman, Wilkinson's lead counsel in the lawsuit he had initiated against the FBI in 1980, desired a comprehensive Wilkinson interview to gather more information for possible use in Wilkinson v FBI. Treleven thus agreed to prepare for and conduct the interview sessions on his own time, working as a pro bono interviewer for Wilkinson's legal counsel. He then worked out a legal agreement with Wilkinson, his attorneys, and UCLA officials stipulating that the interview would remain sealed until five years after Wilkinson's death, at which time it would be available to researchers through the UCLA Oral History Program. In December of 1984, Treleven and Wilkinson than began taping, and the interview sessions continued until February of 1986. By that time, in response to Wilkinson’s lawsuit, FBI investigators had sought access to the Anne and Carl Braden papers, which were housed at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and which contained information related to the National Committee against Repressive Legislation (NCARL), the organization for which Wilkinson had served as the long-term executive director. The papers were sealed and could not be viewed without Anne Braden's permission, which she refused to grant. The FBI thus subpoenaed the papers and ultimately subpoenaed UCLA Oral History Program files pertaining to the Wilkinson interview as well. The interview tapes, as a privileged client-attorney work product, remained with Wilkinson's attorneys. Given the Justice Department's quest for access to the tapes, however, and given federal judge A. Wallace Tashima's decision that the Braden papers in Madison must be opened to the Justice Department, Wilkinson and Treleven agreed to suspend taping until litigation concluded. Only after settlement of the lawsuit (the terms of which included Tashima's order that monetary damages would be awarded with no further litigation if evidence ever again surfaced that the FBI surveilled Wilkinson's or NCARL's activities) did Wilkinson and Treleven decide to return to taping, and the sessions resumed in 1992.Once the interview sessions were completed and transcribed, Treleven did the editing and indexing of the transcript. Wilkinson reviewed the transcript, and his corrections and additions were incorporated into the final manuscript.
58.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Family background, childhood, and education in Michigan and Arizona and in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, California; undergraduate education and student leadership at UCLA; post-graduation trip to the Holy Land and Europe; post-trip lectures in and around Los Angeles; positions and activities as a public housing leader and racial integration advocate with the Citizens Housing Council of Los Angeles and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles; dismissal from the housing authority after testifying to support eminent domain action for Chávez Ravine and Rose Hill proposed projects; position as secretary of the Citizens Committee to Preserve American Freedoms; one-year stint as national field organizer for the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in New York; leadership in the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee and its successor organization, the National Committee to Abolish Repressive Legislation; First Amendment challenges to the legality of the inquisitorial Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) of the United States House of Representatives; Wilkinson's and Carl Braden's nine-month imprisonment for contempt of Congress while using First Amendment challenges to HUAC; the 1992 rebellion in Los Angeles after a Simi Valley jury's acquittal of Los Angeles Police Department officers for violating the rights of Rodney G. King; Wilkinson's continued heavy nationwide speaking schedule up to the present; establishment of First Amendment Foundation; Wilkinson's current participation in the American Bar Association's Law-Related Education Program for educators and students; today's "anti-terrorism" akin to "anti-communism" during the Joseph R. McCarthy-J. Edgar Hoover-HUAC era.