Anti-HUAC demonstrators dragged down wet stairs in San Francisco's City Hall
by city police on Friday, May 13, 1960.
The Forgotten Spark
That Set the Sixties Aflame
San Francisco police use fire hoses on peaceful demonstrators
On “Black Friday,” May 13, 1960, San Francisco police attacked hundreds of Bay Area students with fire hoses and Billy clubs. Sixty-four young people were dragged and shoved down City Hall's majestic marble stairwell, thrown into paddy wagons and packed into jail cells.
I was one of them.
We were protesting the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in the home port of the militant International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) and just across the San Francisco Bay from the Berkeley campus of the University of California.
The next morning the press accounts labeled our protest a “Communist-led riot.” However, black-and-white TV footage showed well-dressed, non-violent youngsters tossed down unyielding stairs glistening with rivulets of water.
FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, in a well publicized report, smeared us as “Communist dupes.” HUAC widely distributed its propaganda film, Operation Abolition, with the same outrageous message. Imagine the present FBI chief on Fox News attacking today's student demonstrations against tuition hikes, layoffs and cuts as youngsters brainwashed by al-Queda operatives!
Here we were; a handful of idealistic but unorganized college kids up against America’s Cold War heavy hitters. Bob Meisenbach described the feeling in his poem “Einstein's Granddaughter”:
It was the cops, the Committee
and J. Edgar Hoover
Not a fair contest.
We formed the Bay Area Student Committee for the Abolition of the House Un-American Activities Committee and mailed thousands of copies of our factual rebuttal—the pamphlet In Search of Truth. We gave national interviews, spoke to college and civic groups all over the country, and debated ex-Congressmen and John Birchers.
I even debated William F. Buckley!
Youngsters in their teens and twenties passionately committed to the Bill of Rights dealt the committee a mortal blow. HUAC's well-funded cinematic counterattack backfired. Newly politicized students from across the nation cheered the spunky kids in Operation Abolition and flocked to Berkeley, eager to change the world.
Much to our surprise, our spontaneous, spirited and courageous defense of civil liberties changed America forever. Our political baptism changed our lives forever.
Albert Einstein's 18-year old granddaughter Evelyn was the only celebrity arrested, but veterans of Black Friday later went on to become prominent professionals, teachers, filmmakers, writers, mediators and, above all, fully engaged citizens.
Because of May 13, I became an activist for life. It was a blessing to have been arrested, to experience youthful righteous solidarity, to plead a just cause against mass media lies, to challenge the FBI and Congress—and win.
Wordsworth's words captured our exhilaration:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
Had we not skipped classes that day, protested in the City Hall rotunda against our exclusion from the hearings, and had we not spontaneously responded with non-violence when the police attacked, my life would have taken a completely different course.
What if I had stayed at home? Or not participated in the empowering national writing and speaking campaign that disgraced the most powerful man in America, J. Edgar Hoover, and placed under permanent house arrest the most tyrannical committee of Congress?
Certainly, I never could have written an inspiring, optimistic novel in which Evelyn Einstein serves as the heroic role model for Albert's three brilliant great-great granddaughters. In The Einstein Sisters Bag the Flying Monkeys sixteen-year-old Maxine, Norma 14 and Tina 7 unite their Christian classmates to foil the Cheney gang’s plot to steal the 2000 presidential election in Florida.
Talk about changing history!
This site commemorates the historical event and celebrates those whose choices assured its success.
To join our mailing list, click the icon below and e-mail us your request:
Ending of the Frightened Fifties
January 1960. The United States' GNP hit $400 billion. Doctors transplanted the first human kidney. John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for president. Few Americans had heard of Viet Nam.
February 1960. The U.S. Army unveiled the M14 automatic rifle that fired 250 shots a minute. Do-it-yourself nuclear bomb shelters were marketed for $105. Four Negro students launched the first Woolworth lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina.
March 1960. 1000 Negro youngsters peacefully protested Jim Crow segregation in Montgomery Alabama, the capital of the Old Confederacy. Dozens of Blacks were gunned down by police in South Africa in the Sharpeville Massacre. 100,000 Afghans cheered visiting Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Kabul.
April 1960. Kennedy defeated Hubert Humphrey in the Wisconsin Democratic primary. Republican candidate Richard Nixon assured newspaper editors he was a "progressive conservative." 75,000 London demonstrators marched for unilateral British nuclear disarmament.
Communists Ninety Miles Away!
Fidel Castro's popular new revolutionary government nationalized foreign-owned banks, industry and farmland, and began to replace Havana's slums with new housing for the working poor.
May 1960. The FDA approved the first contraceptive for American women. Israeli commandos kidnapped Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Argentina for trial in Israel. The Soviet Union shot down a U-2 spy plane embarrassing President Eisenhower, breaking up a meeting of world leaders and torpedoing nuclear disarmament talks in Geneva.
Despite the success of Martin Luther King's Montgomery Bus Boycott and the growing lunch counter sit-in movement, segregation still ruled the South in 1960.
Mississippi's population was two million, 47% were African-Americans, but only 20,000 were registered—a half million were barred from voting. The state was represented in Washington by white racists like Congressman Edwin Willis.
The Mobilization That Sent
On May 12, 1960 three Congressional members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) began three days of hearings in San Francisco's City Hall. Mississippi's Edwin Willis chaired the meetings.
Although Joseph McCarthy had been censored by his Senate colleagues in 1954 and died an alcoholic in 1957, HUAC continued his work by staging periodic "road shows" around the country. The stated purpose of the May 1960 San Francisco hearings was to "expose" the "subversive" role of the Communist Party in Northern California.
At the time the Communist Party USA was too weak to subvert a garden club and HUAC knew it. In San Francisco the Congressional interrogators knew more about the party than the subpoenaed witnesses because the FBI had planted informers in the party's national leadership.
The Committee's real purpose was to smear as "subversive" the area's small peace, civil rights and civil liberties movements, and to attempt to weaken the bargaining power of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) led by militant Harry Bridges. The colleges and universities? As strange as it may seem today, the nation's campuses had long been largely devoid of political activity.
For decades HUAC and its media parrots and "patriotic" supporters had dictated to the citizenry which ideas were "American" and which were "Un-American". The McCarthyites imposed a subtle thought control that stifled creativity in culture and silenced voices critical of the corporate-imposed Cold War consensus.
The military-industrial complex had gained control of the economy. Big business "anti-communists" had housebroken the powerful post-World War II labor movement. Tens of millions of disenfranchised Americans lived in abject poverty. The republic had become an empire, but “imperialism” was a word that only “commies” used.
Based on past road show victories, the House Committee expected to leave San Francisco triumphantly with the local press intimidated, the community polarized, and liberal groups demoralized and divided. Its favored right-wing fans like the John Birch Society, Anti-Communist Crusades and Young Americans for Freedom would be energized to launch their own witch hunts in local workplaces, school boards and public libraries.
That's not what happened.
Citizens from all over the Bay Area drove up freeways and across bridges to San Francisco's civic center to attend the widely publicized hearings. To everyone's surprise politically independent students organized the demonstration and thousands of young people turned out from dozens of Bay Area high schools and colleges.
During the first day, the Committee was challenged by eloquent "hostile" witnesses inside the hearing room and disrupted outside the metal doors by a growing non-violent protest by young people arbitrarily excluded from the "public" hearings.
Like a tree, standing by the water,
We shall not be moved.
— May 1960 San Francisco “rioters”
We're Not in Kansas Anymore!
On the second day, May 13, later called “Black Friday” by the local press, sixty-four college and high school students and their supporters were arrested. On Saturday, the final day of the hearings, the McCarthyites were met by five-thousand longshoremen, outraged citizens and young picketers who encircled the city's classic landmark.
HUAC's 1960 San Francisco junket turned out to be its last. Although Black Friday is barely remembered today, a new generation had fearlessly confronted McCarthyism and courageously freed American politics from its deadening grip.
On May 13, the Fifties' gray social conformity was transformed into the pyrotechnic Sixties. The decade of rigid national thought control and the marginalization of dissent faded into history. On Black Friday, the vibrant energy of America's youth was liberated by high-powered fire hoses.
My students sometimes ask me
what I did during the sixties.
I tell them I started the sixties.
“Einstein's Granddaughter” by Bob Meisenbach
Thanks to Operation Abolition, the students' valiant defense of freedom of speech and association sent sparks across America. The protest led directly to Berkeley's Free Speech Movement four years later when 800 peaceful students were arrested in the Sproul Hall sit-in for campus freedom of political speech. The ILWU is the union of choice for the striking Borax workers confronting the Rio Tinto mining giant in California's Mojave Desert today.
The May 1960 demonstrators inspired a fearless, selfless and creative generation whose survivors—now in their sixties and seventies--still serve society today.
Black Friday was the forgotten spark that set the Sixties aflame. We remember here its heroes and heroines and salute the rewarding lives of social engagement that they've lived.
— Irving Wesley Hall
We commemorated the
of this watershed event
on May 13, 2010,
in the San Francisco City Hall Rotunda.
In addition to the following photo from the event, we have provided a history and some remembrances of the 1960 demonstrations and surrounding struggle against the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Photo by Valerie Samson
Bob Meisenbach speaks to the crowd gathered for the 50th anniversary of “Black Friday.” Also pictured, from left, are Evelyn Einstein (partly out of view in wheelchair), Marty Hittleman, Burton White, Irving Wesley Hall, Marshall Krause (partly obscured by podium) and Nancy Schimmel.
Arrestee Becky Jenkins interviewed on NPR station KQED in San Francisco.
This is the video of the interview on You Tube:
May 13, 2010
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California
American Federation of Teachers Local 2121
California Federation of Teachers
Center for Constitutional Rights
Episcopal Diocese of California
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
International Longshore and Warehouse Union
Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10
National Lawyers Guild
San Francisco Labor Council
Dennis Kelley, President, United Educators of San Francisco
Who Was Who?
In case you forgot—
Officer Michael Maguire
turned on the fire hoses.
Chairman Edwin Willis
from the witness
Bob Meisenbach was the only
demonstrator tried for the protest.
Attorney Charles Garry defended Bob and obtained an acquittal—putting the final stake
in the heart of HUAC and its lies.
The following organizers made May 13, 2010, a huge success:
Alvin Camidge, Daniel del Solar, Peter Franck, Fred Glass, Irving Wesley Hall, Marty Hittelman,
Becky Jenkins, Muata Kenyatta, Marshall Krause, Bob Meisenbach, Mathew Rinaldi, Barbara Toby Stack, Marvin Sternberg and Burton White.
Special Thanks to Barbara Toby Stack, Peter Franck, Jerry Gray and the Free Speech Movement Archives for their material support for this website.
Long-time Berkeley activist Michael Rossman served as the recording secretary for the Bay Area Student Committee for the Abolition of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Michael and Fred died in May 2008 a week apart.
Evelyn Einstein 1941-2011
Evelyn Einstein, the grandaughter of Albert Einstein, who was able to participate in the 50th anniversary observance, died April 13, 2011, at her home in Albany, Calif., according to the obituary in The New York Times, which can be read by following this link.
Also missed: Frank Wilkinson, Charles Garry, Ernest Besig, Charlie Muscatine, and Rick Chesney.
The following have contributed material and ideas: Judy Baston, Bruce Benner, Lincoln Bergman, Geoffrey Berne, Art Bierman, Mal Burnstein, Susan Chesney, Floyd Conaway, Roger W. Davis, Bogdan Denitch, Alan Eshleman, Per Fagereng, Peter Franck, Kathleen Fraser, Jo Freeman, Paula Friedman, Jim Gallagher, Suzanne Goldberg, Jerry Gray, Irving Hall, Conn Hallinan, Terrence Hallinan, Becky Jenkins, Kenneth Kitch, Marshall Krause, Nora Lapin, Albert F. Lannon, Art Lipow, Bill Mandel, Phyllis Mandel, Mary McIntosh, Hannah Meara, Bob Meisenbach, Jack Radey, Mike Miller, Ellen Anderson, Michael Nagler, Jim Petras, Charlotte Krause Prozan, Kenneth J. Purcell, Howard Reiss, Joan Keller Selznik, Ken Spiker, Barbara Stack, Mike Tigar, Burton White, Maurice Zeitlin, Matt Morgan and Lyndon Smith (Quality Information Publishers), and Harry Miller (Wisconsin Historical Society Archives). These archives contain the BASCAHUAC and other anti-HUAC collections.
Webmaster Bruce Henderson, comrade for 40 years, inspired this project and has just published his first novel with a former newspaper colleague, George L. Duncan. (Hoofbeats of the Devilis available from amazon.com and other online booksellers.)
Lost arrestees with estimated ages: Miriam Abromovitsch, 68; Mathais L. Ayon, 74; Luretta Arms, 66; Christopher L. Bacon 74; Harbans S. Bhalla, 78; Richard D. Boyle, 68; Giacomo Busetto, 81; Martin Prentiss Choate, 77; Thomas L. Coddington, 71; Karen B. Croft, 68; Karl Delrup, 66; William D. Etheredge, 70; Mark A. Eudy, 66; David H. Findlay, 73; John B. Hutchins, 74; Chris B. Jacobson, 69; Charles Junior, 75; Jerry Kamstra, 75; John L. Kelley, Jr., 69; Nora Kleinman, 70; Curtis E. Mason, 69; Thomas F. Mason, 88; Kelvyn L. McGaughy, 69; Albert McPherson, 82; Gerald P. Miller, 70; Seth E. Moebs, 73; Carolyn J. Mullen, 68; George F. Murray, 76; Jane S. O’Grady, 73; Caroline Pozos, 69; Robert D. Purrington, 74; Carol J. Roach, 68; Elizabeth J. Robertson, 72; Daniel Seigel 67; Ronald P. Sweet, 71; Richard Toomis, 69; Eric Weber, 70; Ronald L. Weitz, 73; Ralph Allen Williams. 85; Donna R. Worth, 72.
Arrestees: Ruth Bown, Vernon Bown, Bruce Butta, Frank J. Kofsky, Sujenna Kofsky and Raymond F. Thompson
Please contribute to our work. Funds will be used to research, collect, digitalize and post information about "The Forgotten Spark That Set the Sixties Aflame" and to focus public attention to the fiftieth anniversary of the event. We are also eagerly looking for documentary and video clip makers.
Email us for payment instructions.
click the icon below:
If you like what you see, please link to our site.
Sadly, we lost Evelyn Einstein April 13, 2011. See above.
Einstein’s Granddaughter by Robert Meisenbach
I was in jail once
well, actually, more than once
but this time with Einstein's granddaughter.
Not in the same cell of course.
They wouldn't allow that—
guys and girls in the same cell
wouldn’t be jail!
But in the same collective slammer.
She was arrested for rioting.
I was arrested for being
the ringleader of the riot.
It was all very confusing.
The press got it all wrong—
they weren’t pundits back then.
In the spring of 1960
the House UnAmerican Activities Committee
brought their road show to San Francisco
looking for UnAmericans
and cheap publicity,
rounded up the usual suspects
and put then on display.
A little public scorn never hurt anybody
and nailing commies can get you re-elected
to the Lower House of Reprehensibles
especially down South.
It was bad timing.
We in the Silent Generation
suddenly got loud
and demanded to be heard
in the hearings.
The committee heard us
singing in protest "We shall not be moved"
and called the cops. They moved us.
A riot ensued.
Bedlam broke out at City Hall
firehoses, bruises, and banged heads
and a lot of screaming
kind of like a hockey game.
She and I were arrested
along with 62 other soggy students.
I didn’t think the singing was that bad.
I considered dating her
but I’m shy around smart women
and she had a lot of Albert's genes
more or less in a relative way.
And besides even if we did hit it off
she’d likely leave me one day
claiming she needed her space—
time continuum too—
something I’d never understand
not being female or a quantum physicist.
So here’s the deal—
she goes Scot free
and I go to trial.
It was the cops, the Committee
and J. Edgar Hoover
Not a fair fight.
And became a passing celebrity
in the fickle press.
They got it wrong again.
When first I was charged
I was a devil, guilty as sin
but when the “not guilty” verdict came down
an angel of innocence I became.
That was the onset
of the wild sixties
and like much of history
illusion, confusion were everywhere.
Who had a clue of the madness to come?
Camelot died with Kennedy.
Tough times if your name began with K.
Bobby and Martin went down too.
The decade of hope turned to decay—
a dichotomy of cynicism ruled the day
flower children Manson family
hippies street people
free love STDs
passive resistance bombs
and the Viet Nam war just wouldn’t go away
and just got worse and worse every day.
Half blind back then, now I see
we were treading on the edge of history
and never looked over to the abyss below.
We paid then and are paying still.
That decade is with us today.
Newer weapons; same old wars.
Kids desperate for excitement
for a walk on the wild side
are fascinated with those hippie days.
My students sometimes ask me
what I did during the sixties.
I tell them I started the sixties.
They don’t believe that
so I tell them about the time
I was in jail with Einstein’s granddaughter.
They don’t believe that either.
Good thing they weren't on my jury.
Maxine Einstein Praises Her Aunt Evelyn
In October 2000, fictional sixteen-year-old Maxine Einstein pays tribute to “Grandpa Albert” and “Aunt Evelyn” in this conversation about Jewish-American history with African-American school bus driver Angela Jordan.
— From Chapter 10. “Empire and New Clothes” in The Einstein Sisters Bag the Flying Monkeys by Irving Wesley Hall.
Maxine exclaimed, “That’s it! Some future president might say, ‘scrap the Constitution, and I’ll protect you from bad people.’ Empires encourage dictatorships. Jews thrive in democracies. We suffer under dictatorships, because we are such easily identifiable targets. Especially in the United States, where we hold power and influence beyond our numbers.”
She explained that the German people weren’t all anti-Semitic and didn’t want to rule over Europe. The Nazi leaders had to wage a massive fear campaign to convince them of the necessity. Hitler staged the 1933 Reichstag Fire—Germany’s ‘Pearl Harbor’ (or 9/11)—to frighten them. He justified attacking Poland and France with the lie that those countries threatened Germany with dangerous weapons of mass destruction. He claimed Jews and communists—and especially Jewish communists—threatened Germany from within.
“Empires require a fear of both outsiders and ‘enemies inside’. Empires destroy democracy and feed intolerance. That’s why Grandpa Albert supported peace with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He denounced McCarthyite attacks on our Constitutional freedoms.
“Our great aunt, Evelyn Einstein, was arrested forty years ago for protesting the House Committee on Un-American Activities in San Francisco a few months after the first Southern lunch counter sit-ins. Both events helped to inspire the sixties student protest movement. Like Grandpa Albert, she’s one of our role models.”
Maxine pointed out that Senator McCarthy and his white racist supporters charged that Jewish communists were behind Martin Luther King.
Angela nodded. “Seems like some folks can’t imagine us standing up for ourselves without white folks putting us up to it. I learned from Rosa Parks to take a stand if you know you’re right—even if you’re all alone. If one person takes a stand, others will follow.”
“Really!” Maxine exclaimed. “I feel the same way.” For the first time, she realized Angela was no ordinary bus driver.
Angela added, “I only hope I have the courage if my time ever comes.”
Maxine said, “It’s not as hard as it seems. In Grandpa Albert’s time, the communists were supposedly the hidden danger. Tomorrow it could be Middle Easterners, Muslims, or Jews. The imperialists will invent some ‘ist’ scare word. Jews always get dragged in eventually.”
† † †
TRUTH LEAPS THE BARRICADES
By Burton White
In “War is Declared” sized type, the front-page headline of the San Francisco Chronicle dated Saturday, May 14, 1960, read:
City Hall Battle—400 Cops vs. Mob
Dozen Injured, 64 Are Arrested
The arrested demonstrators were taken to City Prison. I was one of them. The influx created bedlam. Wet, bedraggled arrested protestors were brought back and forth from room to room as the booking process went on. In addition to the police and the demonstrators, there were reporters, attorneys, bondsmen and, almost forgotten in the chaos, people who had been arrested for normal criminal behavior. A story made the rounds. A call had come in from the administrator at the University of California, Berkeley, who was in charge of student activity. “This is Alex Sheriffs. The University would appreciate it if the police would keep the story out of the papers.” However, there was no holding the story back. It had massive local interest; indeed, it had received international attention.
The Official Story
The Chronicle devoted the remainder of its front page to one of those rare news photographs that had balance, beauty, excitement and grace. It took up over half of the page. The photograph, taken from across the building showed the scene as protesters were hauled down the steps and off to jail. The marble floor of City Hall was awash and water had begun to flow back into the corridors. On the staircase, positioned as if in an Eisenstein movie, were photographers, police and a half-dozen seated people. To the left and right above the first floor-arches, balanced in composition as if posed, were more police and more demonstrators. These seemed almost casual in contrast to their counterparts on the stairs. The story ran inside:
POLICE, CROWD BATTLE OUTSIDE RED HEARING: 12 HURT, 64 ARRESTED
400 Officers Rush to City Hall Riot; Hoses Drench MOB
Riot raged in San Francisco's famous City Hall rotunda yesterday.
A shouting-crowd of 200 persons demanding entrance to a hearing of the house Subcommittee on Un-American Activities was dispersed with police clubs and fire hoses after a policeman had been trampled and clubbed with his own billy.
The rioting began a few minutes after 1:15 p.m. The crowd realized that there were no more seats available inside the chambers of the Board of Supervisors, where the committee sessions are being held.
Most of the seats that were available had gone to the holders of invitations issued by the committee's chief investigator. Mutterings of dissatisfaction swept the crowd.
Only a rope barricade and a half-dozen policemen separated the crowd from the big carved-oak doors of the Supervisors' chambers.
"First come, first served," a man shouted.
Police told the men and women to move back and be quiet . . . and Inspector Maguire of the police Intelligence unit ordered fire hoses unrolled.
“You want this?” he demanded.
“Go ahead,” somebody cried.
While the hose was being turned on, the crowd surged against the ropes and there were more cries for admission to the hearing.
Official accounts, as if compiled by a committee and carefully scripted, were almost identical across the board: police action was necessitated when a demonstrator grabbed a policeman's club and beat him with it. Then two hundred shouting demonstrators surged against the police lines. In response to violence, the police used fire hoses against the mob.
The official police reports agreed. Michael Maguire, the officer in charge, wrote:
I noticed certain agitators waving their arms and shouting, “We better be let in or else,” and with that began shoving and pushing. I heard one of the group shout, “Let’s get the cops and take the doors,” and with that they stormed the barricades knocking an officer, Ralph Schaumleffel to the floor with his own club. Many of the students were using their fists and feet and acting in a highly hysterical manner. To bring this situation under control, water was used and the fighting was stopped.
Police Inspector Cecil Pharris, second in command, wrote:
[When the hall was filled] we informed them that there was no more room, but the crowd continued to press forward and pushed back our barricades. We were able to re-establish our original lines with the help of additional officers but by this time the crowd had turned into a mob. They were shouting at the top of their lungs and a few of the agitators were hollering, “Get the Cops,” and “Crash the doors.” Also many of the mob were cursing us and the Committee. At this time the fire hoses were taken off the racks and laid on the floor. The officers that were outside of the barricades and on the sides were particular targets of abuse, and at approximately 1:20 PM Off. Ralph Schaumleffel, Co. E, was attacked by the crowd and had his Police baton taken from him. This baton was used to strike the officer in the head by one ROBERT J. MEISENBACH. This seemed to arouse the crowd and they tried to get through our barricades and lines to force their way into the Hearing Room. General rioting then ensued.
J. Edgar Hoover wrote:
With the tension growing, the inevitable happened. Violence flared that afternoon. One of the judges in a municipal courtroom in City Hall ordered the mob dispersed because the noise made it impossible for him to hold court. When an attempt was made to carry out the order, the crowd responded by throwing shoes and jostling the officers. An officer warned that fire hoses would have to be used if the crowd did not disperse, but the crowd, instigated by Communists who had maneuvered themselves into strategic positions became more unruly.
One of the demonstrators provided the spark that touched off the flame of violence. Leaping a barricade that had been erected, he grabbed an officer's night stick and began beating the officer over the head. The mob surged forward as if to storm the doors, and a Police Inspector ordered the fire hose turned on.
The HCUA(1) agreed. After it was all over, the Committee issued 0peration Abolition, a report to Congress in the form of a documentary film. In script and in narration, it closely mirrored Hoover’s account.
The event is important as much for what happened afterward as for what happened on May 13th. The demonstration against the HCUA was the first major political activity by students outside the deep South. It gave a foretaste of a new politics of protest. It served as a rallying point for students all over the country partly because of the dramatic impact, largely because of the controversy.
The official reports were blatantly false. There had been no Communist instigation, no attempt by the police to clear the building, no attack upon a police officer. There had been no surge to the door. The police had simply turned high-pressure fire hoses on a group of seated demonstrators. They arrested 64 people and then lied about what happened.
Because of this, the story of what happened at City Hall and the controversy surrounding those events needs to be retold. Had the events been truthfully reported, May 13, 1960, may have become but a footnote to history. Student activism in the decade would have developed in any case, but it is unlikely that it would have evolved with the speed that it did and with the militancy.
The commitment, tenacity and unity of purpose shown by the demonstrators at City Hall would come to characterize the first stage of student activism—1960 to October 1964-and the development of the Free Speech Movement.(2) In one sense, the movement was born on May 13, 1960 at 1:18 P. M. After its birth, a student wrote four lines to explain:
Hosing the crops.
Don't they know
They'll make them grow?
A Pause For Background
What happened in the sixties cannot properly be understood without an understanding of the previous decade; the very forces that helped to cause silence in one decade helped to create activism in the next.
Students of the 1950s were known as the “Silent Generation.” They were quiet, seemed content, and, along with the rest of American society, looked with disfavor upon those few persons who were involved in “causes.” Students were concerned with the jobs they hoped to get upon graduation. Anything that would endanger success—and being different seemed to endanger it most—was studiously avoided. Conformity was embraced.
In retrospect, it was a strange time to be complacent. The Korean War was on. Joseph McCarthy held the nation in terror. The trials of the leaders of the American Communist Party were underway. The Communist Control Act of 1950 was amended in 1954 to make it even stronger. The Hydrogen Bomb was developed and the Soviet Union soon developed an arsenal of total destruction to compete with that of the United States. Internal subversion was feared; many citizens were suspect, and, in the peculiar logic of the times, the loyalty oath was deemed to be one of our national protections.
The federal government—both cause and victim of anti-communist hysteria—set the standard that the rest of the country followed. Those who did not conform were suspect; those who were suspect were excluded. The broadcast and movie industries instituted a blacklist with great fervor and little justice. The times were such that to be safe, one had to be a cipher.
As in all history, periods overlap. During the 1950s, there had been activism. While the decade deserves to be labeled “silent,” a foundation for the activism of the sixties was being laid. In 1954 the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1956, there was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1958, left-wing student groups began to organize at the Universities of California, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Three events took place as 1959 became 1960 that are key to understanding what happened at San Francisco City Hall on May 13, 1960.
• On October 19, 1959, Fred Moore—the son of an Air Force colonel—a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, started a fast to protest compulsory ROTC. He placed himself on the steps of the main administration building on campus and day after day sat there with a quiet dignity that won the admiration of a large number of Berkeley students.
• On February 1, 1960, four African-American students sought service at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina.(3) Their non-violent conduct—as well as their willingness to be arrested—had had great impact upon those who gathered at San Francisco City Hall on May 12, 13 and 14, 1960.
• On May 1, 1960, a group of students from San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge to join the vigil at San Quentin protesting the execution of Caryl Chessman.
The Past that was Prelude
The House Committee on Un-American Activities had never been held in high regard in the San Francisco Bay Area. In all likelihood, the most controversial committee of Congress, its record in Northern California was particularly shoddy. Its last foray there had been in 1959 when it issued subpoenas to 110 public school teachers. The papers were served at school and the next day the names, addresses, positions and biographies of the teachers were published in selected newspapers. The hearings were twice postponed and finally cancelled. Congress's Committee then announced it was going to turn over the files to the state's Boards of Education. When the teachers sought an injunction to prevent any release of the files, the Committee turned the records over to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He asked the Attorney General for guidance and was told to keep the files confidential—the matter was before the courts.
The Committee then instructed William Wheeler, its chief investigator on the west coast, to give the files to local officials. The Superintendent of the San Mateo Schools found the information in the files to be of "no consequence." His counterpart in nearby Belmont called the files “a tempest in a teapot.”
Thus the Committee's own record was of recent memory, and when it announced public hearings in San Francisco for May 1960, opposition already existed and came from a wide variety of groups including the Episcopal Diocese of California, the Northern California Board of Rabbis, the San Francisco Central Labor Council, as well as faculty groups from such institutions as the University of California and Stanford.
The main protest to the impending hearings began on the Berkeley campus of the University of California on April 23rd when the press first reported that the committee had issued subpoenas for a public hearing. Some members of an inactive student group that had been affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union called a meeting to discuss the matter. Out of that meeting came the decision to hold a picket on the first day of hearings as a means of voicing opposition to them.
The students constituted themselves an ad hoc committee and took the name Students for Civil Liberties (SCL). An alliance for the purposes of the demonstration was formed with two other groups, SLATE, and the anti-communist Young Peoples’ Socialist League (YPSL).(4) Together they circulated a petition opposing the Committee and they developed plans for a protest rally at Union Square in addition to the picket line at City Hall. Within three days 1000 students had signed the petition.
Arrangements for the rally were made with the San Francisco Police Department. In testimony before the Committee on May 14th, Chief of Police Thomas Cahill told of these preparations:
Sir, when we have any proceedings of this type anticipated, the men in my department make contact with members of the committee … and it is ascertained what, if any, trouble may be anticipated.
We … attempt to set up an orderly and an organized protest system.
That was done by some of the men in my bureau of detectives in dealing with the civil liberties student groups.
And as a result of that work which was done over a period of possibly a week the demonstration at the Union Square, the march to the City Hall, and the conduct of the students of that group, or identified with that crowd outside of City Hall, was carried on in an orderly manner and we did not have any trouble.
In spite of its care, the SCL alliance and its protest was eclipsed by an unplanned and spontaneous demonstration, a demonstration that, at first, the alliance opposed. All together there were three types of anti-Committee demonstrations. One was that organized by the alliance. Another was a series of protests made by people who had been subpoenaed by the Committee. The third was the protest that made the difference.’
What Really Happened
People were drawn to the hearings for a variety of reasons. While some came to support the Committee and some came out of a desire to attend the public hearings and make their own assessment of the controversy, most came to protest.
The three days of hearings began on Thursday, May 12, 1960. From the first moments of the session, pickets paraded in front of City Hall. The building fills a complete city block and at first the line was not long enough to cover even one side. It was still early. The protest was slated to start at noon; the hearings convened at 9:33.
Inside, a cluster of people waited at the top of the main staircase in front of the Supervisors Chambers while others came up the stairs and went directly into the hall. The people who had been waiting in the rotunda were admitted last and they took places where space was available on the rear benches and against the walls. The partisanship of the audience was evident. The times when the anti-Committee portion of the audience reacted openly provide an insight into the developing conflict between the Committee (and its allies) and its student foes. Included among the criticisms later leveled against the students was their disruptive behavior during the sessions.
The session was opened by Chairman Edwin Willis who read a statement giving the purpose of the hearings. He spoke of the threat from the Communist Party, claimed that it constantly changed its tactics to avoid the law, and concluded that it was the responsibility of the Committee to continue to investigate it. In his remarks, Mr. Willis appeared to acknowledge one of the criticisms that had been directed at the Committee. "May I emphasize," he said, " that the purpose of the subcommittee here is to sample factual material with reference to types and patterns of activity and not to exhaust the subject matter. We have not subpoenaed witnesses for these hearings merely to put on a show…. "
The hearing was held, at least in part, to put on a show. It followed a typical pattern. Friendly witnesses were called first. One of these was Barbara Hartle an ex-Communist; another was Karl Prussion, also an ex-Communist and an ex-FBI informant. Both had appeared before the Committee on several occasions.
The Committee's first witness was Irving Fishman, Deputy Collector of Customs at the Port of Entry in New York. The Committee had brought Fishman from the east coast, already aware of what he would say. He would testify that propaganda material from Communist countries was sent through the mail to persons residing in this country.
When Mr. Fishman entered the room to testify, he brought with him two assistants and several sacks of mail. Committee Counsel Richard Arens asked, “Mr. Fishman, I see you have some mail sacks which you have brought in…. Can you tell us what these mail sacks are? If we are not violating some regulation, is there a sack which you could open at random to determine the nature of the contents of the sacks?”
There was no violation involved, as the Committee well knew. A sack was emptied onto a table; its contents were pieces of mail from Communist countries addressed to people in the western United States. One was extracted from the pile as a sample. It was Evergreen, a magazine for Chinese youth. After the performance of this set-piece, Arens posed a question that seemed somewhat simple-minded to the students in the audience. He asked about the magazine that had been published in Peking, “Is there any advertising in these magazines you are displaying which would give any indication that they are paid for by advertisers or sustained in any businesslike manner?”
There were no such indications. A segment of the audience snickered.
At about 10:30 on the morning of May 12th, Richard Arens interrupted the testimony by Fishman and said, “I have just been advised by some of our staff members that there is a demonstration going on around this building by people—.” He was interrupted by applause. This news, alarming to the Committee, was audibly welcomed by one part of the audience.
One might expect an investigative committee to pose short questions so the witness could supply new facts. This was not this Committee's style. The following is from Richard Arens’ colloquy with Mrs. Hartle:
Q. Before we proceed further in the specifics, I should like to ask you, were you arrested as a one time hard-core member of the Communist Party?
Q. Were you actually sentenced under the Smith Act as a hard-core conspirator of the Party itself?
Q. You have, have you not, broken irrevocably from this conspiratorial force?
A. That I certainly have.
Q. You have found your way back to God and patriotism, is that correct?
Some in the audience laughed.
The reaction was not lost upon Richard Arens. In the midst of later testimony from Karl Prussion, he asked:
Q. Mr. Prussion, earlier in these hearings, I was interrogating a lady, Mrs. Barbara Hartle, who had been in the conspiracy, but who broke with the conspiracy, and in the course of the interrogation I observed that in finding her way out of the conspiracy back as an anti-Communist, she had found her way back to God, and I heard snickering and loud laughter here by those young people.
Q. Within the framework of the Communist operation, is there room for concepts of God and spiritual values as we are taught them at our mother's knee?
A group of fundamentalist ministers who had been present at the session later wrote, “We shall never forget the hiss and boos that greeted Mr. Arens when he first mentioned the name of God in connection with one who broke from the Party.” (The students would agree there was blasphemy here, but they found it in the ministers’ drafting of the deity for America.)
During the appearance of Barbara Hartle, Arens asked:
“Is there any monolithic force in this Nation, unified, disciplined force in this Nation, of comparable numerical strength to the numerical strength of that monolithic, unified force known as the Communist operation? Is there any competing force that is monolithic, unified, subject to a single direction, that is actually resisting and meeting the Communist onslaught?”
Mrs. Hartle did not know of any, but she did know what had forced her out of the Party, “The most important thing that began to take me out of the Communist Party was the constant factionalism . . .. They were just fighting all the time.”
The students laughed again.
The Chairman called a brief recess during the morning session. Upon reconvening the hearing, he repeated an earlier warning against demonstrations. A man rose from the audience and approached the railing that divided the room. Chairman Willis continued his warning, “I certainly do not want to do anything to alter that privilege of being our guests, but I must repeat that we cannot afford to have demonstrations.” The man shouted, “Well, why did you send cards only to your friends? Why didn't you send cards to our friends? Why didn't I get some cards to send to my friends here? There isn't a Negro person in this hall. There are only white people. How come you didn't give me cards to give to my friends?” Upon orders from the chair, the man was ejected from the hall.
He was Archie Brown, one of the “unfriendly” witnesses. While many in the audience did not know who he was, Archie Brown was a San Francisco character. A longshoreman and open Communist, Brown had often run for public office. In an election held shortly before the hearings, he had polled 10,000 votes in a race for supervisor. While he was quite likeable personally, he was considered to be somewhat of a feisty Marxist Quixote.
The audience was clearly divided. Those who had been admitted first fervently supported the Committee; those who had come into the room last fervently opposed it. Brown's objection to the cards was the first public mention of a Committee policy that became central to the protest—the policy of preferential admissions. The Committee had distributed passes to organizations that supported it. After it became a matter of controversy, William Wheeler, chief investigator for the HCUA on the west coast, admitted that he had issued the passes to friends of the Committee. He said that he had distributed the cards to prevent stacking of the audience by foes of the Committee. “We wanted decent people in there,” he said. He emphasized that he had distributed only 100 passes, but this was misleading because each pass could admit as many as five persons.”
While about 75 students were allowed into the first session, fewer were able to attend the afternoon session. By this time the Committee had discontinued standing room and the number of Committee supporters who attended grew with each session. Session by session, as the use of white passes increased the seats available for others dwindled in number.
There was a second vocal demonstration in the hearing room on Thursday. As the Committee prepared to reconvene for the afternoon session, some of the people who had been subpoenaed lined up at the railing that separated them from the Committee. Couching their protest in the form of a petition that admission be open to all, they attacked the white cards and voiced other anti-Committee views. The Committee ordered their ejection. ”
Deputy sheriffs responsible for internal order kept a wary eye upon that portion of the audience that had supported the outburst. From time to time as one person or another became too disorderly, she or he was ejected.
Although the students in the hearing room were to laugh some more at the Committee’s questions and answers, the vocal protest building outside the massive wooden doors had already taken the focus away from the hearings.
Since a significant number of students had been admitted for the first session, the issue of the passes did not assume serious proportions until the afternoon. What students had observed of the testimony confirmed their opposition to the Committee and the use of the white cards involved them personally as Committee “victims.” Shortly after 1:00 p.m., when the time came for the doors to be opened, the tension heightened. By now, everyone knew about the white cards. The doors were opened and the people with passes were admitted first. When they all had entered, the police admitted about 40 students. A vocal protest started among those left outside.
Cohesion characterized the people who came to San Francisco City Hall to join the picket line; most, if not all, had participated in the planning meetings held on the Berkeley campus. That was not necessarily true of those of us who engaged in the vocal protest in front of the closed doors of the hearing room.
The singing and chanting became one of the most controversial aspects of the hearing. For the most part, those of us who gathered before the closed doors of the hearing room did not know one another. Cohesion developed among us, but that came from the fact that we perceived ourselves to be victims of the Committee’s action. By stacking the hearings, the Committee had deprived us of a fair opportunity to attend. It was not enough to wait until the hearings were over to make our protests through conventional channels. We wanted fair admission to the hearings then being held. We felt that our protest was justified. It was a demand for redress of grievances. We wanted an unfair practice stopped, and it was this common purpose that turned a group of individuals into a unified body.
We were angry with the Committee in general and in particular were irate at the policy of preferential admissions. We hoped our vocal demonstration would be heard inside the hearing room. When we were told that at moments the demonstration had drowned out the testimony, we were pleased. In this sense, then, the vocal demonstration had as one of its purposes the disruption of the hearings.
All the official reports emphasized that the singing was for the purpose of creating disorder. However, during a radio program broadcast almost a year after the event, Sheriff Mathew Carberry of San Francisco gave his view of the singing:
“During great stress on Thursday afternoon, I told the student leaders; the participants--I'm very careful about who were there, don't want anyone offended. We made it very clear that their rights would be protected as much as the Committee's if they were outside. As a matter of fact, we suggested that they sing well; sort of break the tension. There was general compliance with that, but the noise and the boisterous conduct, the loud conduct, which we call disturbing the peace, did persist throughout the building until closing time and then ensued again on Friday morning.”
The Birth of a Movement
On Friday, May 13th, the picket line was large enough to encircle the building as soon as the session began. Through the good offices of the Sheriff, loudspeakers had been set up so that those who could not attend could hear the sessions. The demonstration inside the building also had grown. As had happened the day before, the card-carrying friends of the Committee were admitted first. The vocal protest started at about 10:00.
Somehow, on Thursday, one of the inside demonstrators had obtained a Committee pass. He took it home and, by use of a photocopying machine, made a supply of very reasonable facsimiles. He brought these with him on Friday morning. Passes were now available for the students and, as a result, an internal controversy developed. Many of the demonstrators felt that the use of the copies was dishonest; they thought that it would make those who used them as morally culpable as the Committee and would blur the clarity of the protest. While most refused to use the passes, a handful did. Consequently, students formed a small part of the white card audience on Friday. The use of the passes by a few students had blunted the moral issue, but did not remove it.
Shortly before noon, Sheriff Carberry came to speak to the people who were prominent in the vocal demonstration. He was invited to address the entire group. “I’m Matthew Carberry,” he said, “Sheriff of San Francisco.”
Unexpectedly, in the midst of protest and anger, a question and answer session developed. Contrary to the allegations made by the Committee, there was neither disrespect nor heckling.
The first question focused on the major issue, “If you don't want us out here, are the white cards still going to be let in first?” The Sheriff’s answer indicated his difficult position. The Committee had set the rules; he was merely trying to keep order in a situation in which he had limited control. “My dear young lady, I explained yesterday and today, as far as white cards, I knew nothing, did not know anything about it. As far as I'm concerned, it’s the people who are here who will be admitted by the Committee . . . . They have been spoken to about it.”
After a brief exchange, the Sheriff went on, “Let me ask you again—I suggest respectfully that you … come back in an orderly manner this afternoon and wait to get in. I'm certain that a representative group—sufficient number—will get in. I'm asking you to do that. We are concerned with the preservation of law and order, and I'm telling you now what the police responsibility is this afternoon is in protecting the due process for all these other civil courts in this building.”
The Sheriff was working under a handicap. He was not fully aware of the reasons that the Committee had issued the white cards and he did not recognize the full impact this practice had had upon the students. He did recognize that the students had a grievance, and he wanted to preserve order. He was interrupted during his exchanges with the students, but each time it was when there was a fact in dispute.
One moment early in the meeting was typical. The Sheriff was asked, “I’d like to know why you threw us out?” The girl who asked the question had been ejected from the hearing when she had laughed at something funny.
The Sheriff replied, “No one has thrown you out.” There was a chorus of disagreement. “We were thrown out,” the girl said and several of the other students confirmed her charge.
The Sheriff responded, “I don’t know a thing about your being thrown out…. I’ll find out; I’ll ask the questions. At two o’clock, I’ll know.”
He went on, “A lot of questions that I hear, and a lot of the answers I don’t know. I told you what we’re trying to do within our legal responsibility in law enforcement, preserving the peace. I am suggesting to you that this Committee will adjourn in a matter of a few minutes now. They stop for lunch. I suggest that if you would like to come back and wait in an orderly manner and act in an orderly manner this afternoon, you may wait here. But if you act in a disorderly manner to the disturbance of the peace, you are placing yourself subject to arrest.”
The Sheriff was doing his best. He had to maintain order, but he also wanted to be fair. Before he left, he had another exchange with the students and it led to a serious misunderstanding. In the process of protest, I had come to be a leader of the demonstration in the rotunda and began to serve as the ad hoc moderator of the discussion:(5)
“Could I suggest that we keep it orderly. If the Sheriff will be kind enough to stay around and answer questions and not make it necessary for us to act in any arbitrary way, either at his suggestion, as he admits, in some cases uninformed, or in ours, which may be uninformed. Can we have hands, and if the Sheriff will be so kind, will he answer to the best of his ability?”
When the Committee published portions of this statement, it edited these remarks and attributed them to a police officer. To have correctly identified the source as a leader of the demonstration would have admitted what the Committee could not admit: that the students were desirous of order. Had they reported correctly, it would have disproven the Committee’s contention that the Sheriff was rudely treated.
The Sheriff replied, “I’ll be here all day.”
Later, as the final crisis neared, when leaders of the SCL alliance attempted to contact the Sheriff, he was not in his office. He had promised to find out what had happened and so he had lunch with the chairman of the Committee. He prevailed upon the Committee to discontinue the preferential admissions policy, but he arrived back at City Hall after the police had acted. The Sheriff thought he had until 2:00. The police began admitting people to the hearing room shortly after 1:00. The students ultimately found out the reasons for the Sheriff’s absence, but that knowledge came too late. At the time they viewed his absence from City Hall in the worst possible light—they felt that the Sheriff had set them up for what was to happen.
In view of what soon did happen, the last portion of the discussion with the Sheriff became the most important. In response to the Sheriff’s assertion that he would find the answers to the students questions by 2:00, I said, “We shall cooperate with you until 2:00, and if you keep your promise and let everybody go into that hall on a first-come, first-served—.” Members of the protest interrupted me. I had misinterpreted the Sheriff and was misstating the conversation. The Sheriff had made no such promise and he set the record straight, “I have nothing to do with admissions, I told you that.”
I got the point. “I know that. I'm sorry. If, at that time, we find out that all law enforcement agencies, including the Committee which says it is a law enforcement agency, will allow people to go into that hall on a free and democratic basis—that is, first come and first served—we will cooperate with the law enforcement agencies. However, I suggest to the group—”
The Sheriff feared what might be coming next and tried to hold it off. “I don't think it's necessary to go beyond that. I promise you full cooperation.”
I went on: “If the law enforcement agencies, either true [pointing to the Sheriff] or not so true [pointing to the hearing room] do not cooperate with us, that we do organize, we do use our free assembly, our right to petition. We do it orderly, but we do it loudly.” I asked the group. “Are you with me?”
From the time the Sheriff left the rotunda at noon until the doors of admission were closed at 1:10, we kept our promise. There was no vocal protest. When the doors closed for the last time, we discussed what to do next. In the middle of a demonstration, when the moment of tension was highest, the demonstrators held a discussion of tactics. Between the time that the doors closed and the vocal protest started, the issue was put to the demonstrators.
Leaders of the picket line urged the vocal protestors to move outside. This suggestion was countered by the argument that the proper place for the protest against the admissions policy was inside where the violation had occurred. The question was put to a vote. The overwhelming decision was to remain. The final statement made to the demonstrators was, “All right. Let's move away from the police. Our quarrel is not with them.”
The demonstrators moved into the center of the rotunda, away from the police lines. The focus was now in the center; those closest to the police had their backs to them. The vocal protest started, a bit ragged at first, then with increasing volume.
The police began to unroll fire hoses from the wall cabinets installed at intervals along the corridors of the building. Realizing what was about to happen, leaders of the SCL alliance called for all to sit-down, with hands in pockets, to demonstrate the group’s intention to be non-violent.
There was no warning, no order to disperse. Since the Sheriff had left over an hour before, no law enforcement official had spoken to the students. Finally this silence was broken. Inspector Michael Maguire of the Police Intelligence Unit, the officer in charge of the police, pointed one of the hoses at the seated demonstrators.
“Do you want some of this?” he asked. Only the few people nearest him heard him.
Someone said, “Go ahead.”
And he did.
That was what really happened in San Francisco. But, in a report to Congress entitled The Communist-Led Riots Against the House Committee on Un-American Activities in San Francisco, Calif., May 12-14, 1960, the Committee drew its own conclusions based upon its version of what had happened:
… By means of a carefully organized campaign, the Communist Party enlisted the aid of thousands of demonstrators to protest the committee hearings. To accomplish this the party had the assistance of a number of Communist fronts, as well as some non-Communist groups and individuals. Further, on the very first day of the hearings, the Communist Party succeeded in taking virtual control of the hearing room, . . . On the second day of the hearings the party agitated hundreds of their sympathizers into mob violence. An extraordinary and shocking situation was created. An air of lawlessness prevailed…. This spirit of lawlessness the Communists are attempting to communicate to large sections of the public. The eventual result, hoped for and planned by the Communists could be the breakdown of the investigative processes, whether in committees of the Congress or even in the courts of the land.
The Immediate Aftermath
The first news reports were based on the police accounts and the first news reports shaped the first reactions from the Bay Area community.
The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California was a stranger neither to controversy nor to press releases. As Dean of the cathedral in the nation's capitol, James Pike had been one of the few national figures who opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy. As Bishop, he had been outspoken in his opposition to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In advance of the Committee's San Francisco hearings in May 1960, both the Bishop and the Diocese had taken stands against the Committee and its hearings. Bishop Pike was in his office on Friday, May 13 when news reports reached him that students had “rioted” against the Committee and that scores had been arrested. He was appalled. Rioting was not civil disobedience. Violence was not the way to end the Committee.
The Diocese had been involved in the protest rally held on the first day of the hearings. One of the speakers had been Canon Richard Byfield, an assistant to the Bishop. Not wishing to be associated with the tactics he deplored, the Bishop moved to protect his flank. He issued a press release.
“I believe that all of our citizens in this part of the state should deplore the disorderly and obstructive activity of the hundreds of persons who demonstrated in a riotous manner at the City Hall during the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee….
“The Department of Social Relations of our Diocese has twice in the past protested against the Un-American Activities of the Un-American Activities Committee, but we have no part—and will have no part in the disorderly or violent methods of raising this or any other issue.”
The American Legion, hardly a regular ally of the Bishop, agreed. Louis Drago, Commander of the Seventh District American Legion expressed his disgust at the demonstrators’ “disgraceful display of disloyalty.” He stated, even before those arrested had been booked, that he had been instructed by his 6,000 members to “condemn those who have so little respect for the American system of justice.” The speed with which the members of the Legion issued instructions to their leaders was even more astonishing than was the temporary alliance between the Legion and the Bishop.
In Berkeley, Robert Pickus, head of the Western Regional office of Turn Toward Peace, prepared a press release condemning the riots and drawing attention, as he often did, to what he deemed to be Communist influence.
Ernest Besig, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, refused to accept cases arising from the demonstrations. Rioting, he felt, had no relation to free speech.
Clearly, false reports in the media and the untruthful “official” accounts splintered the opposition to the HCUA and turned potential allies against the students—until the version of events argued by the protesters was proven to be true.
In contrast to the official story based upon seemingly overwhelming authority, the demonstrators maintained their version throughout. Confirmation came from eyewitnesses who were not participants in the demonstration and from the on-the-spot recordings made by KPFA reporter Fred Haines. However, the issue was not laid to rest until the trial of Robert Meisenbach, charged by the police as the person who started the violence by assaulting a police officer. Meisenbach was brought to trial in May 1961. He was acquitted.(6)
In every way, the testimony in the Meisenbach trial confirmed the students’ version of what had happened. The confirmation came not only from a showing of proof by the defense, but from the testimony of the police and the remainder of the prosecution’s case. In the trial, the police retreated from their earlier version of the events and, in the process, repudiated the versions of the HCUA, the FBI and the press.
The official reports asserted that the students had been ordered to leave. The officer who was in charge of admissions was Ralph Schaumleffel, the man who allegedly had been beaten by Meisenbach. In cross-examination the defense asked, “Was an order ever given to push and clear the lobby?” Schaumleffel answered, “I wouldn't call it an order. A statement was made by an officer or officers, who I cannot identify, to clear the lobby.”
In its report to Congress, the HCUA said that with regard to the Friday afternoon session, “Officials admit over 200 of the crowd to the hearing room until it is once again filled to capacity.” During cross-examination, the question was put to Officer Schaumleffel. He said, “It was general knowledge to all of us on duty at the time who was to be admitted, so I just don't recall where I obtained that knowledge.”
“Were those orders given to you by Mr. Wheeler, who is an investigator for the House Un-American Activities Committee?” Schaumleffel's answer implicitly confirmed the source, “Not to me directly, no sir.” The cross-examination continued:
Q. What were those orders?
A. To allow no one in except the bearers of white passes which were issued by the Committee.
Q. Now in truth and in fact, is that what happened?
A. Yes, until there were no more of those persons coming in.
Q. Were in fact any spectators other than those holding white cards admitted?
A. Yes, sir, there were.
Q. How many?
A. Fifteen or twenty
The official reports said the students had stormed the doors and were in the process of other violence before the police turned on the hoses. According to these reports, Meisenbach assaulted Schaumleffel before the hoses were turned on. The report by the HCUA was typical:
One student provides the spark that touches off violence when he grabs a police officer's night stick and begins beating the officer over the head. As the mob surges forward to storm the doors, a police inspector orders that the fire hoses be turned on. . . . The Communist agitators give new orders now to the students to sit down with their backs to the fire hoses and put their hands in their pockets after interlocking arms….
During his testimony at the Meisenbach trial, Officer Schaumleffel was shown a picture taken the moment the hoses had been turned on. In that picture, most of the demonstrators are shown seated and dry. The only persons standing near the front are moving away from the police. Farthest away from them stands Robert Meisenbach. He is shown leaning calmly against a pillar. Officer Schaumleffel was asked about the scene and the water. The hoses were, he said, “shooting into perhaps the center of the lobby or towards the center or the lobby.”
He was asked, “At this point, is it not true that everyone in the front of that hose and in front of the barricade is sitting down immediately in front of it?”
Schaumleffel replied, “The ones immediately to the foreground? Yes, that’s true. Most of them. There are a couple standing to the sides . . .but immediately to the foreground they are sitting, yes.”
During this cross-examination, a key question was put to the police officer:
Q. Well, we do know that the incident between you and Meisenbach took place after the water was turned on, not before, don't we?
Q. Of that we're certain?
The HCUA tried to minimize the significance of the verdict and the reversal in the police story. All the trial proved, they contended, was that it was not Meisenbach who leapt the barricade and assaulted the police officer.
The trial proved that no one had leapt the barricade.
It proved that no one had attacked the police officer—the jury concluded that he hurt his head when he slipped on the floor, which had been made wet by the police wielding fire hoses.
The trial proved that the students never attacked the police; never stormed the doors.
The trial proved that the students had been seated on the floor with their arms folded or hands in their pockets when the police turned on the fire hoses and many were still seated when the police attacked them.
Even before the Meisenbach trial began, the press had begun to doubt the official version of events. That doubt was strengthened by the verdict. The San Francisco Examiner, which had been strongly critical of the students, editorialized:
While the jury found in effect that Meisenbach did not assault a police officer, of larger importance was the fact established early in the trial, the District Attorney concurring, that Meisenbach did not leap a barricade and wrest the police officer's baton from him.
This alleged incident is important because it had been cited in official records both here and in Washington as the event that triggered the riot violence. As it was understood by most of the country on the authority of the police, the press, HCUA and the FBI, the students had broken the law, had engaged in “mob violence,” had attacked the police and had created “disgraceful and riotous conditions.” The trial evidence established that none of this had taken place.
The Search for Truth
The demonstrators had a strong respect for civil liberties. It was this that provided the ideological basis for the picket line protest. Those of us who were arrested had had no prior opportunity to articulate our views in this regard, but we had to counter the official accounts of our action. We formed the Bay Area Student Committee for the Abolition of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (BASCAHUAC) “to work for the preservation of Civil Liberties for all and to fight any abridgement of freedoms guaranteed all citizens under the United States Constitution.” This statement was much more than a rhetorical claim. One of the key issues that distinguish the democratic from the non-democratic left has been disagreement over civil liberties. We knew this and the statement that advocated civil liberties for all, political opponents as well as political allies, was solidly in the democratic tradition. The undemocratic forces of both left and right have consistently contended that free speech cannot be granted to those who would “misuse” it.
The philosophy of civil liberties for all, coupled as it was with the demand that participation be open to all, defined the basic politics of student activists from 1960 through 1964, the year of the Free Speech Movement. It defined the direction without using tactics of labeling, excluding or maligning. It noted essentials, not labels. We were greatly concerned about this issue. This position brought us into conflict with some who might have supported us. Shortly after the arrests, one Professor of Sociology who had been prominent in defending the arrested students made a demand of us based upon the views of an earlier generation. He wanted us to issue a declaration condemning communism and asserting that membership by communists in our organizations was unwelcome. This demand was refused even though it was coupled with a threat that refusal would mean a falling off in faculty support.
The Professor and the faculty members who agreed with him could not understand the reasons behind our refusal. We would willingly adopt a policy statement opposing totalitarianism, but we would not adopt an anti-communist statement. We were opposed to membership exclusion; we were opposed to the assumption that communism was the only force we should guard against; we rejected the view that the values of McCarthyism could be defeated by their adoption.
When, in June, 1961, the California Un-American Activities Committee issued a report reiterating all the old charges, the three major student organizations active in Berkeley at that time issued a joint response. Signed by the Young Peoples’ Socialist League and SLATE—the two groups that with the SCL had sponsored the picket protest—and by BASCAHUAC, the statement addressed itself to the political issues:
We have concentrated our efforts on the defense and extension of democratic rights in the United States. We are, however, equally committed to the support of the struggles for democratic rights everywhere. Our organizations are against abridgements of civil liberties and freedom in the Soviet Union, the United States or elsewhere in the world. We stand opposed to those organizations which defend such abridgements and defend violations of democracy in either power bloc.
Today we find it essential to stress that the rights of the Communist party itself to function as a political movement, gain adherents, and act on the campus must be defended if civil liberties are to have any meaning. We reject the view . . . that political activities are legitimate when engaged in by some and illegitimate when engaged in by others.
Up to this point, passive and non-violent resistance had been the tactic of choice by persons engaged in protests against the status quo. For this reason, perhaps the most controversial aspect of our behavior at City Hall was the willingness to disrupt, although in the controversy that followed the demonstration, we tended to deemphasize this point. With the use of the white cards by a few, this marked the two instances in which we deviated from an open position. During the first part of the post-demonstration debate, our spokesmen played down the issue of disruption without actually denying it. We contended that it was our indignation over the stacked hearing that was paramount in causing the vocal protest. While this was true, it was also true that we wanted to harass the Committee and the hearings. The flaw came not so much in the willingness to harass a government operation we felt to be immoral—that willingness increasingly characterized student activism—but in the initial lack of candor in dealing with the question.
Although it was underplayed in the early days, from the very beginning of student activism in the sixties there has been an acceptance of the disruption of “immoral” practices as a valid tactic of political protest. At first it was a direct confrontation against that which was considered to be bad; later it changed. Disruption became used against more abstract targets. At City Hall it was direct action against an agency of government that was at the time engaged in practices the demonstrators found to be unfair and which they wanted stopped. Later, at the trial of the crew of Everyman II,(7) it became protest through disruption of an agency of government (the Post Office) that was related to the object of protest only by virtue of being part of the federal government and sharing a building with the court trying the case. Still later it became the disruption of society: in the case of the demonstration at the Oakland Induction Center by persons opposed to the war in Vietnam, the protestors escalated their tactics so that by the end of a week of protests against the draft, the demonstrators—in retaliation against police violence earlier in the week—moved benches, cars and other obstacles into the streets to block the intersections surrounding the Induction Center.
What developed spontaneously in May 1960 eventually became characteristic of tactics of student activism up to (and including) the Free Speech Movement. It was from these beginnings that the decade of the sixties developed. Although there had been the protest to the point of disruption at San Francisco City Hall, there had been debate and voting about the direction of the protest even at the protest's peak. There was, in the midst of all this, an overriding desire to be fair. The students negotiated with the Sheriff and kept their part of the bargain. When we renewed our protest against the Committee—including a willingness to disrupt its procedures—we accepted the threat of jail.
The exchange with the Sheriff revealed much about values the demonstrators shared. The threat of arrest had no deterrent force. While the demonstrators were willing to cooperate with the Sheriff, they were doing this in respect to him as a person and in recognition of the way in which he was handling the situation. The mere fact that he was the Sheriff was not the consideration on which things turned. Later, when discussing the demonstration, San Francisco Mayor George Christopher made the observation that when he was a boy, he was taught to respect the police and to move when told to by a policeman. In this remark the Mayor unwittingly pointed out a major difference between generations with regard to public protests. To the activist, mere obedience to police authority was unthinkable. The activist will cooperate with the police only in respect to a proper goal and only when the police methods are just. In any case, it will be the activist, not the police, who will determine the propriety of the goal and the justice of the methods.
The City Hall demonstration also showed the new relationship between leaders and followers. While leaders did exist, the rank and file were neither silent nor were they subordinate. They made up their own minds and expressed their own views. When I misinterpreted the Sheriff, the demonstrators interrupted me to set the matter straight.
The conversation with the Sheriff indicated that the demonstrators were not creating disturbance for its own sake. We had a grievance but were willing to suspend our protest—even though it meant stopping our harassment of the Committee—so long as there was an indication that someone was listening and so long as there was hope there could be redress.
Who’s in Charge Here?
In spite of their common opposition to the Committee, there was serious dispute between the leaders of the two student demonstrations. The original plan of the SCL alliance did not call for a protest on the second day of the hearings. However, the students who had planned the picket worried about the protests inside City Hall.
On several occasions they spoke to the group in the rotunda and urged everyone to go outside. The alliance leaders did not approve of the tactics of the group inside City Hall and they did not know those who were leading that demonstration. Few of the persons who were prominent inside had been active in student politics before. The picket line people were suspicious of “spontaneous” leaders.
They thought the singing would take the focus of the press away from their “responsible” protest and feared that the demonstration inside would get out of hand. In view of all this, the alliance leaders changed their plans. They correctly guessed that the news stories about Thursday that were certain to appear would increase the number of persons who would come to protest on Friday. There was no assurance that the same people would lead the vocal protest that was sure to recur on Friday or that moderation would again be used. The SCL alliance called a picket for the next day; its leaders met on Thursday night to develop emergency plans for all possible contingencies.
The two protests provide a convenient opportunity for comparison and contrast. The debate by the alliance about the nature of the protest took place in open campus meetings before the event. On one occasion a suggestion was made that demonstrators be urged to attend the sessions and to "laugh out loud when things got ridiculous." This suggestion was voted down and never became a part of the planned protest. Disruption was rejected by the SCL alliance as a tactic. The policies of their protest were determined by democratic decision, but the actual administration of the picket line was to be through a steering committee of monitor captains representing the three coalition groups. Decisions on the line were to be made by a chosen cadre of monitors. This was not the place for debate over tactics.
The alliance set rules based upon its concept of protest and distributed them to all who joined the line:
The purpose of the picket line is to protest the invasion by the HUAC of privacy of individual belief and its free expression, and to gain support from the public for the abolition of this Committee. We strive to achieve respect far the dignity of man. Thus we must act in accordance with this ideal if we want others to respect it. All persons who participate in this line are expected to show good-will and to be polite, calm, and reasonable to everyone, including police, hecklers, the public and other picketers. Do not show anger and do not use abusive language; do not respond to hoots, jeers, or derogatory language. Do not debate with the public. Questions about the group and its activities, especially from the press, should be directed to monitors, who are wearing white armbands initialed with a black "M". Monitors are in charge of maintaining the order of the picket line, and you are expected to carefully follow their directions. If you cannot abide by the decisions of the monitors or if you cannot remain nonviolent in character and in deed, please withdraw quietly from the line. All who wish to demonstrate against the HUAC are welcome to join the line. Remember, your conduct must reflect the ideals for which we are demonstrating.
The spontaneous demonstration that developed inside the building had many values in common with those held by the groups in the alliance, but it also had differences. This demonstration did not have the careful planning of the picket line protest; it developed on the spot and in response to specific pressures. Consequently, what it revealed in style and attitude came not from chosen tactics, but out of a direct expression of the values of the persons who participated.
The students inside the hearing room were not concerned with decorum as was the alliance. They had little patience with what they thought was wrong. There was little hesitation on their part to laugh when things got ridiculous, but this was the very tactic that had been rejected by the groups in the alliance. For the students in the hearing room, it was not a matter of tactics at all, but a human reaction to absurdity.
They were impatient and this quality of impatience was an important and a new characteristic. In their view, gradualism and social evolution too often had resulted not in change but in a perpetuation of the status quo. Their values were based upon the conviction that if something is wrong—segregation was one such wrong, political persecution another—it must be stopped. The method was direct confrontation.
Equally new was a disregard for “respectability.” The students felt that the concern to be proper, to be acceptable, was one of the major reasons compromise is made with immorality. Many considered that the actions of exclusion that had been taken by liberals and labor in the fifties came not so much out of principle as it did from their concern for their own image. In this view, the sponsorship by liberals of the Communist Control Act Amendment of 1954 had been motivated by a selfish concern for image. In a like manner, the actions and decisions of the administration and the regents during the loyalty oath controversy at the University of California did not come from principle but out of a concern about image. As a result, the central issue had been submerged and a bit of freedom had been lost.
Initially there was a difference among the students on this question. The SCL and its allied groups had made its position clear:
The purpose or the picket line is. . . to gain support from the public for the abolition of this Committee. We strive to achieve respect for the dignity of man. Thus we must act in accordance with this ideal if we want others to respect it.
The alliance opposed the HCUA, but the main purpose of its picket line was to educate the public; it sufficed to make a statement of opposition in the hopes of bringing about an enlightened day when the Committee would be abolished. This was not the case with the group inside. Something was going on that they thought to be wrong and they were not satisfied merely to protest, they wanted to stop it.
After the demonstration, the debate went on. One position came from the adult liberal community and was soon rejected by the students. The liberals argued that all activity by students should avoid offending the general public in the hope that such an approach would have the greatest possibility of educating those who were not sympathetic. It should be noticed that this was the position adopted by the SCL alliance before the event.
However, the situation on campus had been so changed by the impact of the events inside City Hall that this view did not prevail. Those who participated in the demonstrations inside City Hall argued that the unsympathetic would not understand in any case—the events of the previous few days were summoned as examples. We argued that any program that had a possibility of gaining support from the unsympathetic public would, by definition, fail to attack the central issues. Moreover, any such adjustment of behavior for the sake of enticing the general public was to be condemned as dishonest and manipulative in the same way that advertising was dishonest.
The debate and the series of events on the Berkeley campus was important because—other than the Civil Rights Movement—the direction of student activism in the very start of the sixties still came mainly from the activists on the Berkeley campus. As a result of the City Hall demonstration and its subsequent history, student activism came to be characterized almost exclusively by the new politics of protest undiminished by such concerns as image and respectability.
There were two police authorities at City Hall and they represented two divergent views of police responsibility. The Sheriff of San Francisco (it is the City and County of San Francisco) maintains the county jail and administers order in the city's courts. Since the hearings were at City Hall, his involvement in the matter was an accident of geography. Had the hearings been conducted in another building, it is likely that the Sheriff would not have been concerned. He was concerned, however, and his goals and conduct significantly differed from those of the San Francisco police.
The Sheriff had two related goals. He had to keep order; and he wanted to achieve fairness. When the demonstration broke out in the rotunda, the Sheriff attempted to achieve both of his goals at once. Each time he spoke to the demonstrators, he emphasized the necessity to keep the peace; each time he spoke, he was concerned about alleviating the situation. He set up loudspeakers on Friday so that those who could not enter could hear; he allowed the singing to continue on Thursday and on Friday forenoon as a means of breaking the tension; he persuaded the Committee to discontinue the use of white passes.
His conduct in the pursuit of these goals was in the highest tradition of law enforcement. Had he arrived with his concessions from the Committee in time, the protest would have ended. Had he arrived with no concession but had been present when the doors closed for the afternoon session on Friday, it is likely things would have ended differently. Either there would have been no police action or, if such action did take place, it would likely have been conducted without violence and, perhaps, without arrests.
The Sheriff did not return in time. The San Francisco police were the sole police authority at the crucial moment. They looked upon the events with little understanding and with increasing anxiety and hostility. They did not approve of what was going on. They saw a disobedient mob. They were concerned with imposing order and punishing the demonstrators who had for so long flaunted authority. They experienced fear because they did not understand what was happening. They thought the “mob” would engage in violence and, if that did occur, it could mean police injuries. This fear, however, came from prejudice, for there had been no hint of violence from the demonstrators—in fact, the opposite had been in evidence. Some few scattered voices did call out insults against the police but in all cases these taunts were immediately silenced by the other demonstrators. The conversation with the Sheriff had clearly indicated the willingness of the demonstrators to cooperate with requests for order that did not involve retreat from the issues, and the final remark to the demonstrators before they reinstituted their vocal protest was. “All right. Let's move away from the police. Our quarrel is not with them.”
Contact with law enforcement officials had been a function of the leaders of the picket line. It was they who had planned their protest in advance; it was they who established liaison with the police. The leadership of the inside demonstration had no similar relations with police authority.
The leaders of the SCL alliance were concerned with the crisis they knew would come when the doors would open for the afternoon session on Friday and so they kept in contact with the police. About noon on Friday, the police attitude suddenly changed. The police had been cooperative before; now they were annoyed. Michael Maguire, the man in charge of the police inside City Hall refused to identify himself to those alliance leaders who were in search of the highest police authority present. When they did identify him and pointed out to him that a crisis was impending, he responded, “Are you threatening me? Get the hell out of here.”
Maguire had a quick temper. He had received a psychological discharge from the armed services and, as an aftermath of the action at City Hall, he resigned from the force for similar reasons. Thus, he not only shared the “routine” police hostility toward demonstrations, he succumbed to his own anger against these particular demonstrators.
The police had had no training in crowd control. They had watched with growing concern and ill-concealed apprehension the attempts or the Sheriff to "appease" the demonstration. When the protest was renewed after the lunch recess on Friday, the matter was up to them—the Sheriff had not yet returned to the building. They responded with force even without following the most rudimentary police procedure. They did not inform the assembly that it had become illegal. They did not ask the crowd to disperse, nor did they warn them that they were subject to arrest. In every subsequent demonstration in San Francisco in which the police became involved, similar mistakes were avoided. In fact, shortly after the events at City Hall, the police department inaugurated training in crowd control. The police had learned a lesson.
At City Hall, the police had reacted typically to a situation involving activities of which they disapproved, but seldom before had they done it to so many people before so many witnesses. To tell what had happened would have been to condemn themselves. So they lied.
This is a harsh accusation, but it is the only way one can explain the police reports that were filed. These reports did not err in a detail or two—they were structured fabrications. They reported that they had ordered the crowd to disperse, that there had been an attack on the police, that a policeman had been assaulted with his own nightstick, and that they had turned hoses on a rioting mob. There had been no order to disperse, no attack by the crowd, no assault upon a policeman, and there had been no riot. They arrested Robert Meisenbach for a felony—assault with a deadly weapon—and changed their story after the defense had obtained photographs that proved that there had been no attack.
This had been no ordinary crowd. It was a group of demonstrators who had established their own discipline from internal conviction. Our model had been the Civil Rights Movement. It had impressed us with its non-violence and its dignity. We could do no less. Thus, even through the police had acted with force and with violence against us; the demonstrators did nothing to justify the attack or to substantiate the police reports.
Although the official reports alleged a set of facts to justify the police action, subsequent events and trial evidence—including police testimony at the trial—established that the demonstrators were seated on the floor when the police made the first of a series of physical attacks upon them. The very fact that the police found it necessary to manufacture a story was a confession that they acknowledged their violence was not justified by what really happened. If the police had been attacked, they would have been justified in using force. They were not attacked.
At worst, we had been wrong in criticizing a committee of Congress and in noisily disturbing City Hall business. If every value we were championing in the demonstration were a false value, the most that we were guilty of was a political mistake and the disturbance of the peace. If the police purpose had been to clear the area and put an end to the disturbance, they had enough officers present to issue to each demonstrator a personal invitation to leave. Instead they responded to the protest with a punitive attack using high-pressure hoses and clubs.
Unlike the police, the press had been a victim. Few reporters were present when the police attacked. Most were inside the hearing room waiting for the session to begin. In their eyes the demonstrations were a mere sidebar to the main story that was the hearing. When the police turned on the hoses, the press tried to get to the scene of action, but the police had closed the hearing room doors and, for a while, no one could leave.
When the reporters were able to get out, the action was nearly over. Most reporters, therefore, were dependent for information upon sources other than themselves. They did what reporters usually do when they need to get information for a story in which there has been police action—they went to the police. The reporters faced their usual pressures. The event was major news, deadlines were approaching and accuracy fell victim to speed. The coverage of the event by the press was merely an extension of the story the police had constructed.
For most of the press, it was not a hard decision to make. Most of the coverage had already been critical of the demonstrators. The San Francisco Examiner for example, had called the vocal protest of the day before a "riot," and had described the protest as, “riotous demonstrators…, 200 student partisans massed in the corridor outside were working themselves into a frenzy.”
The press did blanket the area on the day after the arrests in an attempt to get the student side of what had happened. The student version was in serious disagreement with that given the press by the police. For the reporters to believe what the students contended, they would have to acknowledge that the police reports had been false and their own stories incorrect. Their traditional practices and their own prejudices made them accept the police version.
Perhaps the greatest villain was the competitive deadline. Had there not been the need to get the story on the street as soon as it broke, preferably before anyone else published it, the reporters may not have had the time or the inclination to find out what had happened. By the time they had to file the stories, all possible sources for the demonstrators had dispersed or been arrested. The press corps returned the next day to seek out the student story but they had already published the police version as fact; they now published the student version as allegation. In any case, national opinion had already been formed by the first reports and the students' denials could not easily catch up.
After the event, when controversy continued, the press tried to set matters right. The News-Call Bulletin assigned two reporters to investigate and their four-part series substantially supported the demonstrators’ version. The Associated Press assigned a reporter to investigate and his three-part report gave equal weight to both the official version and to the protestors’ case. After the trial of Robert Meisenbach, even the newspapers that had been most critical of the demonstrators editorialized in their support. But the "riots" had occurred on May 13, 1960. The News-Call Bulletin series was published in January 1961. The AP published its series two months later. The trial took place in May 1961.
While the press was more sinned against than sinning, this was not true of the Committee or the FBI. They eagerly accepted the police reports. Even when it had been proven that their versions were false, they refused to alter their line because it was essential that their reports conform to their picture of Communist danger. The police lied because they had maneuvered themselves into an untenable position; the Committee lied because the police reports fit into their peculiar version of reality and served their propaganda purposes. Both the HCUA and the FBI recognized that there was increasing student dissent, and both sought to abort the incipient movement by discrediting it.
What Hoover and the HCUA were up to is clear. The pamphlet Communist Target—Youth was signed by Hoover and published by the Committee at government expense. It was addressed to young people and made no pretense at being anything other than an attempt to discredit the developing student movement. The first paragraph made the author's concern clear:
The successful Communist exploitation and manipulation of youth and student groups throughout the world today are a major challenge that free world forces must meet and defeat. Recent world events clearly reveal that world communism has launched a massive campaign to capture and maneuver youth and student groups.
Hoover went on to review his understanding of world-wide examples of the communists’ “massive campaign” and finally turned to San Francisco:
It is vitally important that not only the students involved in that incident, but also students throughout the Nation whom Communists hope to exploit in similar situations, recognize the Communist tactics which resulted in what experienced West Coast observers familiar with Communist strategy and tactics have termed the most successful Communist coup to occur in the San Francisco area in 25 years.
The reason that he had written the report, Hoover wrote, was that the students involved in the demonstration had written, "nobody incited us, nobody misguided us. We were led by our own convictions and we still stand firmly by them.” It was an indication of the misunderstanding that Hoover and the HCUA had of the incipient movement that Communist Target—Youth and the movie Operation Abolition, the very instruments they produced to stop student activism, became major organizing instruments for it.
Activity in the Sixties
There is a great irony here. The police lied about what had happened and—at the beginning—the press published the police version. The movie Operation Abolition produced by the Committee presented a distorted view of what had happened in San Francisco on May 12, 13, and 14, 1960. But these acts gave tremendous impetus to the “Student Movement” and in this one sense widespread student activism in the sixties was a creation of the police, the press, and the HCUA.
The demonstration and what followed foreshadowed many of the attitudes, tactics and values that came to characterize student political activity during the first years of the sixties. The students' determined counterattack against the official reports caused liberals to retract their earlier condemnation. Nevertheless, the initial willingness of the liberal establishment to accept the official story did help to form the students' view of liberals.
Faced by two police authorities and two differing concepts of police responsibility, students’ behavior toward the police and toward the Sheriff of San Francisco shaped the views held by future student activists of police and their authority. The press coverage, although later modified, called into question the reliability of the news media. All this was part of the sense that the demonstration was important not so much for what happened then as for what happened afterward. Those who had demonstrated and been arrested were mobilized; we organized in preparation of our defense in court, to continue our opposition to the Committee, and to promulgate our version of events. Out of this controversy (and the earlier civil rights struggles by students in the south), students on campuses throughout the country began to form their opinions about liberals, protest, about the police and the press, and about the way such institutions function in our society.
Much concern has since been voiced about students and their protests. They have, it is said, no respect for law and order. The Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities called the San Francisco demonstrations part of a “drive to destroy the House Committee on Un-American Activities, weaken the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to discredit its great director, J. Edgar Hoover. … ”
The reporter who covered the Meisenbach trial for the Hearst Examiner listened to the police testimony and said, “I’m not upset about the fact that the police lied and tried to send an innocent guy up on a felony charge. I know they have done that in the past. I'm not upset to find out bad things about HUAC—it's a cheap Committee. What I am upset about is the fact that Hoover and the FBI lied. If you can't believe Hoover, whom can you believe?” He was only half-serious when he made the remark, but it does suggest an answer about the origins of the lack of respect for law and order that some critics say characterized student activism in the early sixties.
Author’s note: I wrote the original version of this article sometime in the last years of the sixties; it remained among my notes and clippings about the controversy until I learned of Irving Wesley Hall’s plans to create a commemorative website. The quotations from the hearings are from the Committee’s reports; quotations from newspapers were transcribed from the sources, although not all the clippings remain in my possession. The quotations from the conversations with Sheriff Carberry during the demonstrations come from the tape recordings made by Fred Haines, of KPFA radio; the quotations from the Meisenbach trial are from the transcripts of that event.
I would like to express my thanks to Irving Wesley Hall, Judy Baston, and Pat Gallagher, who read my resurrection of this piece for the commemorative website and offered invaluable suggestions that served to improve my efforts.
(1) A note about nomenclature:
The official name of the legislative committee was the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA). Opponents often referred to it as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) both because the modification subtly modified the “force” that was deemed to be “Un-American,” and because that acronym is easier to pronounce. Both sets of initials are used in this discussion, based upon the context.
(2) I make this demarcation because—in my view—after the FSM, leaders of student activism began less and less to involve all participants in the formation of policy.
(3) James Farmer, head of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) has written:
The sit-ins were very significant to the [civil rights] movement. They symbolized a change in the mood of African-American people. Up until then, we had accepted segregation—begrudgingly—but we had accepted it. We had spoken against it, we had made speeches, but no one had defied segregation. At long last after decades of acceptance, four freshman students at North Carolina A&T went into Woolworth and at the lunch counter they “sat-in.” When told they would not be served, they refused to leave and this sparked a movement throughout the South.
And … so it swept across the South like the proverbial wildfire, with students rejecting segregation. With their very bodies they obstructed the wheels of injustice.
The students sat in. Went to jail, came out, sat in again. Marched. Picketed. Sat in again. And went to jail again. They simply would not stop.
It meant to black people that segregation could be defeated. Segregation persisted only because we allowed it to persist. We obeyed segregation; we did not go to these stores that segregated the lunch counters and so forth. We were reminded of Thoreau's essay of “Civil Disobedience.” In that essay Thoreau said “Most of all I must see to it that I do not lend myself to the evil which I condemn.”
(4) SLATE had been formed by Berkeley students to run a slate in elections for student government to counter those candidates supported by fraternities and sororities.”
(5) “As any viewer of Operation Abolition will readily recognize, I also engaged in leading the chants and the songs of protest.”
(6) The charges against the others who had been arrested on May 13 were dismissed by San Francisco Municipal Judge Albert Axelrod on June 1, 1960. The judge’s remarks included the following: “I stated in open court and I repeat that I believe the defendants have been punished sufficiently already. I am hopeful that they have learned the error of their type of conduct. *** I am convinced that they are not engaged in subversive activities nor in spreading subversive propaganda. They wanted to exercise their prerogative of protesting what they believed to be an undemocratic hearing. However, they chose the wrong means to accomplish their purpose and let themselves become victims of those who profit by creating unrest, riots and the type of conduct which is outlawed by the penal sections I have quoted.”
(7) Persons opposed to nuclear testing attempted to sail into the area of the Pacific that had been defined as “off limits.”
From Civil Liberties Docket of the National Lawyer’s Guild:
In 1959 I had been teaching philosophy at San Francisco State College (now University) since 1952. But I never taught summers, unless at a college outside San Francisco. Sure I needed money; my initial salary was $250 a month, part time for one semester. When I began work as a full-time Lecturer, I still received a poor salary, I didn't teach summer school because I didn't want to get burnt out, so I painted houses inside and out, instead. Physical labor restored my energy and also made me a keener student of philosophy and a more enthusiastic teacher. I found it easier to separate the dross from the philosophical kernels after a vacation away from it.
But the summer of 1959 was different. That was the summer when I dedicated myself full-time to opposing the House Committee on Un-American Activities, whose acronym became HUAC instead of HCUC for ease of pronunciation. It had announced hearings to determine Communist influence in the San Francisco Bay Area public schools. To this end, they released the subpoenaed teachers‘ names, employers’ names, and their home addresses. Doing so before the planned hearings was against Congressional rules. Naturally, they denied doing so, and, naturally, selected newspapers duly printed the list and the ancillary information.
I knew some of the subpoenaed teachers. They were among the best there were. And I wondered how the congressman thought teachers could influence third-graders’ minds with subversive Communist ideology. The subpoenaed felt endangered, angry, and afraid, but were resistant. They knew HUAC’s desired endgame: get them fired. That was the point of releasing their names before their “investigation.” The subpoenees gathered for a planning meeting at the Friends Service Committee office on Lake Street. I think it was Herb Williams, an anthropology professor at San Francisco State College, who called me, rather than vice versa; he thought we should go to the open meeting. I agreed. Herb had this habit of prodding me to action.
We found a dispirited, unorganized group of designated victims. They were wounded. Herb poked me and said, “These people can't fight HUAC. They're under suspicion. We gotta do something to help.” We both felt above suspicion. HUAC, I was sure, didn’t know I’d been a Socialist and went to the party’s Nebraska nominating convention in ’48.
Norman Thomas was its perennial candidate for president of the United States. It was such a small gathering, maybe seventy of us, that HUAC wouldn't waste an infiltrator on us. We met in the pig barn at the State Fairgrounds in Lincoln. Thomas spoke, auspiciously setting aside the microphone. His voice swelled, filling the near empty barn with a confident message and sardonic wit, exemplifying why professional rhetoricians decreed him the best orator in the United States, better even than Franklin Roosevelt, who’d urged the Democratic Party to lard its 1932 platform with many of the Socialists’ long-standing demands for social justice and equal opportunity.
Later, in 1959, I called friends, colleagues, and Democratic political activists to help form a committee opposing HUAC’s planned witch hunt. They responded enthusiastically. We met at Marshall and Beverly Axelrod’s house. Marshall was an activist in the San Francisco teacher’s union and lived on Carmel Street, just around the corner from our house; Beverly was a politically active attorney. We pooled some money that night and called ourselves SAFE—San Franciscans Against . . . I can't remember “FE” abbreviated! And I don't have the stationery here in Rome that I designed and ordered the next day at a fine print shop on Larkin Street in the Tenderloin district.
The plan of action was initially simple: Get some of the city’s private organizations and prominent, well-known citizens to oppose HUAC’s faux hearings scheduled for the regal Supervisors’ chamber in City Hall. The themes: first, HUAC’s purpose and deeds were an attack on the U. S. Constitution’s First Amendment; and, second, San Francisco could take care of its own governance; we didn't need Federal circuit riders from Texas and Georgia to put on their road show here. In all its many years, it had not produced a single law.
We decided that the most promising organization to approach first was the San Francisco Labor Council. Most of the subpoenaed teachers were members of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. Dan Jackson was the president of the local and its representative at the Labor Council. Marshall was an active leader in it and so was Maurice Englander, an English teacher at Lowell from whom my children later took classes. Dan and Maury were both anti-HUAC. We had a solid base from which to start.
“Herb and I went to see George Johns, the secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council. He had no love for HUAC but knew his Council’s representatives. They were mostly anti-communist and conservative AFL affiliates. I told him our aim was to make the Committee call off the hearings. They'd never done so before. He didn’t think the Council would vote for a resolution asking for that, but they might vote for a softer line: The Council is concerned for the teachers, many of whom are members of the Council’s AFT affiliate; and we authorized an investigation by the Council officers to determine if HUAC’s visit to San Francisco is necessary or useful. Herb and I trusted Johns’ judgment. He'd been part of San Francisco’s 1934 General Strike. The Council passed his proposal. Now we had something from a respected and powerful segment of the political players in San Francisco with which to approach other organizations. The Council’s advisement made it safe to question HUAC’s legitimacy.
Meanwhile, SAFE activists were contacting people they knew and getting organizations to which they belonged, such as churches, professional groups, and social clubs, to come out against the looming hearings. They spread the word.
I recall the Junior Chamber of Commerce vividly. I’ve forgotten the names of the editor and its monthly magazine. The Chamber was very conservative. Re-viewing its past publications, I divined strong whiffs of libertarianism. This suited SAFE’s themes very well: It prized local freedom, especially from federal intrusions. The editor asked me to write a piece for them with this theme. Now if this conservative and influential corps was opposed to HUAC’s invasion of our city, the Committee had better think twice about cutting our teachers’ throats. I admired the editor’s perspicuous and courageous invitation. Right and left were together now in opposition. Amazing!
I turn now to some prominent citizens whose support I sought. If they opposed HUAC, we would have punctured its hot-air balloon and exposed them to more general ridicule.
Between the time that HUAC announced it’s visitation and its planned visit, there was a hot mayoral race between Russell Wolden, Jr., tax assessor of San Francisco, a post he and his father had held for fifty years—it didn't end well for him—and George Christopher, milkman to the city. This was too rich a target to pass up. I savored pitting them against each other.
My end game in prominent personality recruitment was the Episcopalian Bishop of Northern California, the outspoken, engaged liberal, James A. Pike, who reigned at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. If he came out against the hearings, it would represent the dissent of the rich, influential, conservative diocese of Northern California. The members of Grace Cathedral’s congregation were a formidable force of the center-right. It didn’t end well for Bishop Pike, either. He died in the Israeli desert. His body was found in Wadi Duraja.
I contacted Wolden’s and Christopher’s campaign master minds and asked them how their candidates stood on HUAC’s planned hearings. Both hedged; this was an unexpected factor in their campaign strategies. “Please call later.” I did.
Wolden’s campaign manager, Harry Lerner, was a crafty professional with lots of campaigns under his belt; he usually favored very conservative candidates, which Wolden was not. Although indicted for lowering property assessments of businesses for a price; he also favored homeowners and small-apartment-house owners with modest assessments. He was a good assessor for the “little guys.” When I called back, Lerner wanted to know what position Christopher took. I told him I didn't know, and, if I did, I wouldn’t tell him until he gave me Wolden’s position. I gave the same message to Christopher’s camp when it asked for Wolden’s stand. I made it clear I wouldn’t make any announcements until I had answers from both.
Their wanting to know the other’s position was a good sign. It meant SAFE was making headway. I inferred that they thought their stands could make or break their candidate's election victory. I got messages from both camps at the right time: They were opposed to the hearings and would release public statements to that effect. Momentum was building.
Meanwhile, I was using my college phone quite a lot—only local calls of course—but I was untenured, an assistant professor, and the college president was Glenn Dumke, a rock-ribbed Republican with connections. He and I had clashed often enough for each of us to know each other’s politics. I was vulnerable. I called Phillip Burton, one of the two most powerful men in the California Assembly. Phil was as viscerally opposed to HUAC as I. I explained my situation, and asked if he could do anything. He wanted Dumke's phone number. I gave it to him. Within ten minutes he called back. He’d told Dumke that if he gave me trouble, San Francisco State could expect a 50% budget cut the following year. I said, “Thanks,” and he hung up. Did I tell you Mr. Burton was a man of action?
The college took no reprisals, but HUAC’s chief honcho on the West Coast, William Wheeler, had learnt who I was. At the next year’s (1960) reprisal hearings, we passed each other in front of the supervisor’s chamber before I left for a scheduled class. The protesters, mostly university students, were singing, demanding admittance to the chamber, shouting critiques, that sort of thing—peaceful, lovely chaos. He stopped in front of me, and, eyes blazing, announced, “I’m going to get you, you son-of-a-bitch.” They'd been stung in ’59. Welcome to Government 101.
Phil Burton’s office had scheduled meetings with unions affiliated with the Labor Council. He and I met with their officers and delegates at their spartan quarters to pitch what was at stake and ask for their support against HUAC. Many of these unionists were immigrants, mostly from Mittel Europa and Mexico. These meetings were intended to strengthen the tentative, earlier resolution George Johns had fashioned, without straight-out opposition. I don't recall if that ever happened. I was mostly a spectator at these gatherings.
Phil would enter, go around the table where six to twelve persons were seated, greet each by their name, and say something to them in their native language, ask about their family members by name, in at least six languages. He would introduce me as “Professor” Bierman, a philosophy teacher who was worried about attacks on loyal, hard-working, underpaid teachers. He was a big man, filled with explosive energy, positive in his anti-HUAC position, and so well informed that it would have been difficult for anyone to challenge him. Many of these men, and a few women, had experienced harsh treatment by Stalinist governments, or had relatives who were still smarting under them. Their first reaction would be in favor of anti-communist hearings. But tidal-wave Burton carried all before him as he reminded them that HUAC was just as oppressive as Stalinist communism. “It's threatening the reason you came to America—to be free.” He never failed. We were getting growing support from labor. HUAC’s taken-for-granted anti-communist base was turning against it.”
And, now, let me pick up the Bishop Pike thread. The Catholic Church in San Francisco was and is much more powerful than the Episcopal diocese. But it had no one as flamboyant, nor as well-known as Pike. He always created headlines, which is what we wanted and needed.
I had called Pike’s office, identified myself and SAFE, and said I’d like to have the Bishop's support in opposition. Given his progressive positions on numerous social justice issues, well ahead of the times (check Wikipedia), I thought he would favor opposition to the dog-and-pony show that was about to lift its curtain.
I was told that the Bishop had asked one of his canons to be my contact person. Pike, for all his pyrotechnics and challenging stands, was a cautious, astute actor. His appointed canon, whose name I won’t reveal here, was a gracious, cultivated man, courteous without being demeaning, well-educated and discrete, and a confidante. I was straightforward with him, showing my cards and intents. I don’t think he compromised me, but represented me faithfully to Pike. I knew Pike was taking the issue seriously, because he’d picked an exceptional man to check me out, and, by association, SAFE. Pike had had many battles in the Episcopal and theological ring; he was wary and, therefore, careful. But I suspected that he wanted a new unorthodox issue to keep his public image front and center. He liked fights and he liked to win.
My chief duty with Canon X was to inform him of what we’d done and what organizational and personal endorsements we had. This was obviously to check out their credentials and make sure they weren’t red-influenced or red operatives. I knew my supporters and knew he wasn’t likely to find any “red” stains on them. That would have wiped away any chance of wide support in those fearful days.
HUAC’s main purpose was to instill fear and mistrust of each other in order to maintain conservatives’ power in U.S. politics. The same story had played out after World War I, when there was still a significant left political movement in our country. The aim of post-WW I and post-WW II witch hunts was to destroy left political thinking and activity. I recall people asking me if I wasn’t afraid for me and my family because of my battle against such dangerous and vindictive legislators.
I said honestly, and still do, that I was not. I was more afraid that my childhood ideals for America would be destroyed. What would be the point of being here if we all turned into stool pigeons for HUAC and Senator Joe McCarthy? As an ex-Lutheran, I was acquainted with the feeling of just righteousness. However, I didn’t welcome the martyr role. I wanted to win.
I got a call from Pike’s office, asking me to meet with him at his Grace Cathedral office one early afternoon, shortly before the scheduled hearings. I accepted. It was just the two of us. Canon X wasn’t there. The bishop’s office had English walnut walls, bookshelves, a massive desk, carved comfortable chairs, and a thick carpet. It was a pleasant place to work, with bustling offices around him, tended by handsome men and women. He was gracious and told me straight off that he’d made up his mind, but that I had to read tomorrow’s news to find out what it was. I surmised that he’d decided to oppose. Why call me in if he had decided against my request? Canon X would have delivered the “No” if it was “No.” End of conversation. I left and had only to wait. Win or lose?
Win we did. Frank Brann, an early endorser of our fight, called me at 6:00 AM, exultant. He was an early riser and avid reader of the morning’s first editions. “You won,” he shouted. “Pike came out against the hearings. And HUAC's cancelled!” Wow!
I learned later just how careful Pike was. Canon X told me he'd been asked to have the FBI check me out. Apparently that Lincoln, Nebraska, pig barn convention wasn’t in bright lights on its “Considered Dangerous” screen.
This summer of ’59 was the prelude to HUAC's 1960 return to San Francisco. It had been repulsed for the first time and wanted revenge. In the meantime, it had aroused a defiant spirit among the university and college students who continued to organize and gain confidence. The 1959 campaign against HUAC had shown "you can beat City Hall.” It had salted the cloud of fear under which citizens had cowered. Without our hard work the previous year, the students’ peaceful, but vigorous opposition during the 1960 hearings would not have mortally weakened HUAC. Inter its bones in the tomb of Eternal Silence.
The following article brilliantly presents the big picture and the two broad options for humanity: police state fascism or international democratic socialism. The outcome depends on what each of us does and what we do together — beginning with mutual education and bold, sustained, collective non-violent action. Read and be intellectually armed! Global Rebellion: The Coming Chaos?
By William I. Robinson Common Dreams
Irving Wesley Hall facilitated two workshops on Christian Zionism, Zionism and Islamophobia during the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America’s Summer Conference for Peacemakers at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., USA
July 4-9, 2011.
Irving Wesley Hall replies to Bart Gingerich
"Anti-Zionism Escalates at BPFNA Conference"
and Mark D. Tooley "Baptist Pacifists Trash Israel" Follow this link.