House Un-American Activities Committee
House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC, or House Committee
on Un-American Activities, or HCUA) was an investigative committee of
the United States House of Representatives. The HUAC was created in
1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on
the part of private citizens, public employees, and those
organizations suspected of having communist ties. In 1969, the House
changed the committee's name to "House Committee on Internal
Security". When the House abolished the committee in 1975, its
functions were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.
The committee's anti-communist investigations are often associated
with those of Joseph McCarthy who, as a U.S. Senator, had no direct
involvement with this House committee. McCarthy was the chairman of
the Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Subcommittee on
Investigations of the U.S. Senate, not the House.
1 Precursors to the committee
Overman Committee (1919)
1.2 Fish Committee (1930)
1.3 McCormack-Dickstein Committee (1934–1937)
1.4 Dies Committee (1938–1944)
2 Standing Committee (1945–1975)
Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss
4 Notable members
5 See also
6.1 Works cited
7 Further reading
8 External links
Precursors to the committee
Overman Committee (1919)
Lee Slater Overman
Lee Slater Overman headed the first congressional investigation of
American communism in 1919.
Overman Committee was a subcommittee of the Committee on the
Judiciary chaired by
North Carolina Democratic Senator Lee Slater
Overman that operated from September 1918 to June 1919. The
subcommittee investigated German as well as
Bolshevik elements in the
This committee was originally concerned with investigating pro-German
sentiments in the American liquor industry. After
World War I
World War I ended in
November 1918, and the German threat lessened, the committee began
investigating Bolshevism, which had appeared as a threat during the
First Red Scare
First Red Scare after the
Russian Revolution in 1917. The committee's
Bolshevik propaganda, conducted February 11 to March 10,
1919, had a decisive role in constructing an image of a radical threat
to the United States during the first Red Scare.
Fish Committee (1930)
Hamilton Fish III (R-NY), who was a fervent
anti-communist, introduced, on May 5, 1930, House Resolution 180,
which proposed to establish a committee to investigate communist
activities in the United States. The resulting committee, commonly
known as the Fish Committee, undertook extensive investigations of
people and organizations suspected of being involved with or
supporting communist activities in the United States. Among the
committee's targets were the
American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union and
communist presidential candidate William Z. Foster. The committee
recommended granting the
United States Department of Justice
United States Department of Justice more
authority to investigate communists, and strengthening of immigration
and deportation laws to keep communists out of the United States.
McCormack-Dickstein Committee (1934–1937)
From 1934 to 1937, the
Special Committee on Un-American Activities
Authorized to Investigate Nazi
Propaganda and Certain Other Propaganda
Activities, chaired by
John William McCormack
John William McCormack (D-MA) and Samuel
Dickstein (D-NY), held public and private hearings and collected
testimony filling 4,300 pages. The committee was widely known as the
McCormack-Dickstein committee. Its mandate was to get "information on
how foreign subversive propaganda entered the U.S. and the
organizations that were spreading it", and it was replaced with a
similar committee that focused on pursuing communists. Its records are
held by the
National Archives and Records Administration
National Archives and Records Administration as records
related to HUAC.
The committee investigated allegations of a fascist plot to seize the
White House, known as the "business plot". Although the plot was
widely reported as a hoax, the committee confirmed some details of the
It has been reported that while Dickstein served on this committee and
Special investigation Committee, he was paid $1,250 a
month by the Soviet NKVD, which hoped to get secret congressional
information on anti-communists and pro-fascists. It is unclear whether
he actually passed on any information.
Dies Committee (1938–1944)
Conservative Texas Democrat Martin Dies served as chair of the Special
Committee on Un-American Activities, predecessor to the permanent
committee, for its entire 7-year duration.
On May 26, 1938, the House Committee on Un-American Activities was
established as a special investigating committee, reorganized from its
previous incarnations as the Fish Committee and the
McCormack-Dickstein Committee, to investigate alleged disloyalty and
subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public
employees, and those organizations suspected of having communist or
fascist ties; however, it concentrated its efforts on
communists. It was chaired by
Martin Dies Jr.
Martin Dies Jr. (D-Tex.), and
therefore known as the Dies Committee.
In 1938, Hallie Flanagan, the head of the Federal Theatre Project, was
subpoenaed to appear before the committee to answer the charge the
project was overrun with communists. Flanagan was called to testify
for only a part of one day, while a clerk from the project was called
in for two entire days. It was during this investigation that one of
the committee members,
Joe Starnes (D-Ala.), famously asked Flanagan
Elizabethan era playwright
Christopher Marlowe was a
member of the
Communist Party, and mused "Mr. Euripides" preached
In 1939, the committee investigated leaders of the American Youth
Communist International affiliate organization[citation
The committee also put together an argument for the internment of
Japanese Americans known as the "Yellow Report". Organized in
response to rumors of Japanese Americans being coddled by the War
Relocation Authority (WRA) and news that some former inmates would be
allowed to leave camp and
Nisei soldiers to return to the West Coast,
the committee investigated charges of fifth column activity in the
camps. A number of anti-WRA arguments were presented in subsequent
hearings, but Director Dillon Myer debunked the more inflammatory
claims. The investigation was presented to the 77th Congress, and
alleged that certain cultural traits - Japanese loyalty to the
Emperor, the number of Japanese fishermen in the US, and the Buddhist
faith - were evidence for Japanese espionage. With the exception of
Rep. Herman Eberharter (D-Pa.), the members of the committee seemed to
support internment, and its recommendations to expedite the impending
segregation of "troublemakers", establish a system to investigate
applicants for leave clearance, and step up Americanization and
assimilation efforts largely coincided with WRA goals.
In 1946, the committee considered opening investigations into the Ku
Klux Klan, but decided against doing so, prompting white supremacist
John E. Rankin
John E. Rankin (D-Miss.) to remark, "After all, the
KKK is an old American institution." Instead of the Klan, HUAC
concentrated on investigating the possibility that the American
Communist Party had infiltrated the Works Progress Administration,
Federal Theatre Project
Federal Theatre Project and the Federal Writers'
Project. Twenty years later, in 1965–1966, however, the committee
did conduct an investigation into Klan activities under chairman Edwin
Standing Committee (1945–1975)
Francis E. Walter
Francis E. Walter of Pennsylvania was chair of HUAC from 1955
until his death in 1963.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities became a standing
(permanent) committee in 1945. Democratic Representative Edward J.
Hart of New Jersey became the committee's first chairman. Under
the mandate of Public Law 601, passed by the 79th Congress, the
committee of nine representatives investigated suspected threats of
subversion or propaganda that attacked "the form of government
guaranteed by our Constitution".
Under this mandate, the committee focused its investigations on real
and suspected communists in positions of actual or supposed influence
in the United States society. A significant step for HUAC was its
investigation of the charges of espionage brought against Alger Hiss
in 1948. This investigation ultimately resulted in Hiss's trial and
conviction for perjury, and convinced many of the usefulness of
congressional committees for uncovering communist subversion.
In 1947, the committee held nine days of hearings into alleged
communist propaganda and influence in the
Hollywood motion picture
industry. After conviction on contempt of Congress charges for refusal
to answer some questions posed by committee members, "The Hollywood
Ten" were blacklisted by the industry. Eventually, more than 300
artists - including directors, radio commentators, actors, and
particularly screenwriters - were boycotted by the studios. Some, like
Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Paul Robeson, and Yip Harburg, left the
U.S or went underground to find work. Others wrote under pseudonyms or
the names of colleagues. Only about ten percent succeeded in
rebuilding careers within the entertainment industry.
In 1947, studio executives told the committee that wartime films –
such as Mission to Moscow, The North Star, and
Song of Russia
Song of Russia –
could be considered pro-Soviet propaganda, but claimed that the films
were valuable in the context of the Allied war effort, and that they
were made (in the case of Mission to Moscow) at the request of White
House officials. In response to the House investigations, most studios
produced a number of anti-communist and anti-Soviet propaganda films
such as The Red Menace (August 1949),
The Red Danube
The Red Danube (October 1949),
The Woman on Pier 13
The Woman on Pier 13 (October 1949),
Guilty of Treason
Guilty of Treason (May 1950,
about the ordeal and trial of Cardinal József Mindszenty), I Was a
Communist for the FBI (May 1951, Academy Award nominated for best
documentary 1951, also serialized for radio),
Red Planet Mars
Red Planet Mars (May
1952), and John Wayne's
Big Jim McLain
Big Jim McLain (August 1952).
Universal-International Pictures was the only major studio that did
not produce such a film.
Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss
Whittaker Chambers (1948)
On July 31, 1948, the committee heard testimony from Elizabeth
Bentley, an American who had been working as a Soviet agent in New
York. Among those whom she named as communists was Harry Dexter White.
The committee subpoenaed
Whittaker Chambers for August 3, 1948.
Chambers, too, was a former Soviet spy, by then a senior editor of
Alger Hiss (1950)
Chambers named more than a half dozen government officials including
White as well as
Alger Hiss (and Hiss' brother Donald). Most of these
former officials refused to answer committee questions, citing the
Fifth Amendment. White denied the allegations, and died of a heart
attack a few days later. Hiss also denied all charges; however, doubts
about his testimony, especially those expressed by freshman
Congressman Richard Nixon, led to further investigation that strongly
suggested Hiss had made a number of false statements. Hiss challenged
Chambers to repeat his charges outside of a Congressional committee,
which Chambers did. Hiss sued for libel, leading Chambers to produce
copies of State Department documents which he claimed Hiss had given
him in 1938. Hiss denied this before a grand jury, was indicted for
perjury, and was convicted and imprisoned. The present-day
House of Representatives website on HUAC states that, "In the 1990s,
relying on Soviet archives and records from the
Venona project - a
secret U.S. program that decrypted Soviet intelligence messages - some
scholars argued that Hiss had indeed been a spy on the Kremlin's
Richard Howard Ichord Jr.
Richard Howard Ichord Jr. of Missouri was chair of the
renamed House Internal Security Committee from 1969 until its
termination in January 1975.
In the wake of the downfall of McCarthy (who never served in the
House, nor HUAC), the prestige of HUAC began a gradual decline
beginning in the late 1950s. By 1959, the committee was being
denounced by former President
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman as the "most un-American
thing in the country today".
In May 1960, the committee held hearings in San Francisco City Hall
that led to the infamous "riot" on May 13, when city police officers
fire-hosed protesting students from UC Berkeley, Stanford, and other
local colleges and dragged them down the marble steps beneath the
rotunda, leaving some seriously injured. Soviet affairs expert
William Mandel, who had been subpoenaed to testify, angrily denounced
the committee and the police in a blistering statement which was aired
repeatedly for years thereafter on
Pacifica Radio station
Berkeley. An anti-communist propaganda film, Operation
Abolition, was produced by the committee from
subpoenaed local news reports, and shown around the country during
1960 and 1961. In response, the Northern California
ACLU produced a
film called Operation Correction, which discussed falsehoods in the
first film. Scenes from the hearings and protest were later featured
in the Academy Award-nominated 1990 documentary Berkeley in the
The committee lost considerable prestige as the 1960s progressed,
increasingly becoming the target of political satirists and the
defiance of a new generation of political activists. HUAC subpoenaed
Jerry Rubin and
Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies in 1967, and again in the
aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The Yippies used
the media attention to make a mockery of the proceedings. Rubin came
to one session dressed as a United States Revolutionary War soldier
and passed out copies of the United States Declaration of Independence
to people in attendance. Rubin then "blew giant gum bubbles, while his
co-witnesses taunted the committee with Nazi salutes". Hoffman
attended a session dressed as Santa Claus. On another occasion, police
stopped Hoffman at the building entrance and arrested him for wearing
the United States flag. Hoffman quipped to the press, "I regret that I
have but one shirt to give for my country", paraphrasing the last
words of revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale; Rubin, who was wearing a
Viet Cong flag, shouted that the police were communists for
not arresting him also.
Hearings in August 1966 called to investigate anti-Vietnam war
activities were disrupted by hundreds of protesters, many from the
Progressive Labor Party. The committee faced witnesses who were openly
According to The Harvard Crimson:
In the fifties, the most effective sanction was terror. Almost any
publicity from HUAC meant the 'blacklist'. Without a chance to clear
his name, a witness would suddenly find himself without friends and
without a job. But it is not easy to see how in 1969, a HUAC blacklist
could terrorize an SDS activist. Witnesses like
Jerry Rubin have
openly boasted of their contempt for American institutions. A subpoena
from HUAC would be unlikely to scandalize
Abbie Hoffman or his
In an attempt to reinvent itself, the committee was renamed as the
Internal Security Committee in 1969.
The House Committee on Internal Security was formally terminated on
January 14, 1975, the day of the opening of the 94th Congress. The
Committee's files and staff were transferred on that day to the House
Martin Dies Jr., (D-Tex.), 1938-1944
Edward J. Hart (D-N.J.), 1945-1946
J. Parnell Thomas
J. Parnell Thomas (R-N.J.), 1947-1948
John Stephens Wood (D-Ga.), 1949-1953
Harold H. Velde (R-Ill.), 1953-1955
Francis E. Walter
Francis E. Walter (D-Pa.), 1955-1963
Edwin E. Willis
Edwin E. Willis (D-La.), 1963-1969
Richard Howard Ichord Jr.
Richard Howard Ichord Jr. (D-Mo.), 1969-1975
For a complete list of members, see List of members of the House
Un-American Activities Committee.
Gordon H. Scherer
Karl E. Mundt
Felix Edward Hébert
John E. Rankin
Richard B. Vail
Donald L. Jackson
Noah M. Mason
Samuel Dickstein (congressman)
J. Edgar Hoover
California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities
Defending Dissent Foundation
Communist Registration Bill
McCarran Internal Security Act
United States Senate
United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on
Subversive Activities Control Board
Wilkinson v. United States
^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York: Basic
Books. p. 265. ISBN 0-465-04195-7.
^ For example, see Brown, Sarah (2002-02-05). "Pleading the Fifth".
BBC News. McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee
^ Patrick Doherty, Thomas. Cold War, Cool Medium: Television,
McCarthyism, and American Culture. 2003, pages 15-16.
^ Schmidt, p. 136
^ Schmidt, p. 144
^ "Complete Digitized Testimonies: The U.S. Congress
Communist Activities in Washington State Hearings (1930)".
Communism in Washington State History and Memory Project. Retrieved 21
^ Memoirs, pp. 41-42
^ To Added Law for Curb on Reds The New York Times, November 18, 1930
^ Weinstein, Allen; Vassiliev, Alexander (2000-03-14). The Haunted
Wood: Soviet Espionage in America - The Stalin Era. New York: Modern
Library. pp. 140–150. ISBN 0-375-75536-5.
^ Finkelman, Paul (2006-10-10). Encyclopedia of American Civil
Liberties. CRC Press. p. 780. ISBN 978-0-415-94342-0.
Retrieved 25 May 2011.
^ "House Un-American Activities Committee". Eleanor Roosevelt National
Historic Site. National Park Service. Archived from the original on
2010-05-29. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
^ Nightingale, Benedict (September 18, 1988). "Mr.
Euripides Goes To
Washington". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
^ a b Myer, Dillon S. Uprooted Americans. Tucson: U of Arizona P,
1971. p. 19.
^ a b Niiya, Brian. "Dies Committee". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved
August 21, 2014.
^ Newton, Michael. The
Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi A History.
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co, 2010, p. 102.
^ Newton, p. 162.
^ Walter Goodman, The Committee, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
^ Doug Linder, The
Alger Hiss Trials - 1949-50 Archived 2006-08-30 at
the Wayback Machine., 2003.
^ Dan Georgakas, "
Hollywood Blacklist", in: Encyclopedia Of The
American Left, 1992.
^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House.
^ Weinstein, Allen (2013). Perjury. Hoover Institution Press.
^ "Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives". Archived
from the original on 16 September 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
^ Stephen J. Whitfield. The Culture of the Cold War. The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1996
^ "The Sixties: House Un-American Activities Committee" at PBS.org
^ Carl Nolte (May 13, 2010). "'Black Friday', birth of U.S. protest
movement". San Francisco Chronicle.
^ "Operation Abolition", 1960 on YouTube
^ "Operation Abolition", Time magazine, 1961.
^ Operation Abolition (1960) on YouTube
^ "Operation Abolition", video.google.com and Time magazine, Friday,
Mar. 17, 1961.
^ Youth International Party, 1992.
^ Jerry Rubin, A Yippie Manifesto.
^ John Herbers (August 17, 1966). "War Foes Clash With House Panel in
Stormy Session After Judges Lift Hearing Ban". The New York Times.
Retrieved December 11, 2016.
^ Jim Dann and Hari Dillon. "The Five Retreats: A History of the
Failure of the Progressive Labor Party CHAPTER 1: PLP AT ITS PRIME
1963-1966". Marxists.org. Marxists.org. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
PLP brought 800 people for 3 days of the sharpest struggle that
Capital Hill had seen in 30 years. PL members shocked the inquisitors
when they openly proclaimed their communist beliefs and then went on
into long sharp detailed explanations, which didn't spare the HUAC
Congressmen being called every name in the book.
^ The Harvard Crimson: Thomas Geogheghan, "By Any Other Name. Brass
Tacks", February 24, 1969, accessed March 6, 2011
^ Staples 2006, p. 284.
^ a b Charles E. Schamel, Records of the US House of Representatives,
Record Group 233: Records of the House Un-American Activities
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1969-1976. Washington, DC: Center for Legislative Archives, National
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Staples, William G. (2006). Encyclopedia of Privacy. Greenwood Press.
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Special Committee on Un-American Activities,
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Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration.
Washington, D.C., July 1995.
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1969-1976. Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and
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Ship, Reuben (2000). "From the Archives: The Investigator (1954): A
Radio Play by Reuben Ship". The Journal for MultiMedia History.
Bentley, Eric, ed. (2002) [1971, Viking Press]. Thirty Years of
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Un-American Activities, 1938-1968. Nation Books.
Buckley, William F. (1962). The Committee and Its Critics; a Calm
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Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House.
Donner, Frank J. (1967). The Un-Americans. Ballantine Books.
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Hollywood and Anticommunism: HUAC and
the Evolution of the Red Menace, 1935-1950. Routledge.
Goodman, Walter (1968). The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the
House Committee on Un-American Activities. Farrar Straus & Giroux.
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Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi: a history.
McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-4653-7.
O'Reilly, Kenneth (1983). Hoover and the Unamericans: The FBI, HUAC,
and the Red Menace. Temple University Press.
Schmidt, Regin (2000). Red Scare: FBI and the Origins of Anticommunism
in the United States, 1919-1943. Museum Tusculanum Press.
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Bogart, Humphrey (March 1948). "I am no communist". Photoplay.
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