The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) became a permanent) committee in 1945 to investigate suspected threats of Communist subversion or propaganda by people of influence in American society. HUAC mounted investigations into the Hollywood movie industry that resulted in a blacklist and conviction on contempt of Congress charges for the "Hollywood Ten". Publicity surrounding HUAC increased with the cases involving Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was formally terminated on January 14, 1975.
Facts about HUAC
What does HUAC stand for? HUAC stands for the House of Un-American Activities Committee and investigated suspicions of Communist subversion or propaganda by influential people in American society.
Although the House Committee on Un-American Activities was established in 1938, it became a permanent committee in 1945.
World War 2 (1939 - 1945) ended the threat of Fascism and Nazism when another threat to the stability of the West was sparked by fears of the spread of Communism which led to the second Red Scare and the start of the Cold War.
President Truman issued Executive Order 9835 on November 25, 1946 which established the Loyalty Review Program that required government employees to be screened in order to root out Communist influence in the federal government.
The Loyalty Review Program required government employees screened in order to root out Communist influence in the federal government and added increased the fear of Communism that was sweeping the nation. The "Communist Witch Hunts" started and saw the rise in power and prominence of HUAC and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was not satisfied with screening government employees and in 1947 he went before HUAC to urge them to hold public hearings on people and celebrities suspected of being involved in Communist infiltration and subversion.
J. Edgar Hoover insisted that the open hearings would highlight the activities of those engaged in un-American activities and also expose Communist sympathizers. Once exposed these people would lose their influence with the American public.
J. Edgar Hoover sent out FBI agents who wiretapped thousands of telephones and infiltrated suspicious groups.
The first wave of hearings began in 1947 and the House of Un-American Activities Committee started investigations into the Hollywood movie industry. Ronald Reagan, who at this time was head of the Screen Actors Guild, testified that there were Communists working in Hollywood. Under the new leadership of Ronald Reagan, the Screen Actors Guild required all members to take an oath of loyalty to the US government.
Ten screenwriters, who would become known as the "Hollywood Ten", refused to operate with the committee and used the Fifth Amendment to protect themselves from self incrimination.
The names of the "Hollywood Ten" included writers John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Ring Lander Jr., Albert Maltz, Sam uel Ornitz, and Dalton Trumbo. Writer and producer Adrian Scott and writer and director Herbert Biberman were also called to testify.
The House of Un-American Activities Committee failed to treat the "Hollywood Ten" with respect and refused to allow most of them to speak for more than a few words, whilst the friendly witnesses who cooperated with the Committee were allowed to speak at length.
The “Hollywood Ten” refused to answer questions and vehemently denounced the committee. The writers were held in contempt of Congress which led to brief prison terms for all ten
Ant-communist hysteria in Hollywood led to influential movie producers drawing up a blacklist agreeing not to hire anyone believed to be a communist. People could be added to the blacklist for criticizing the HUAC or making chance remarks.
A number of Hollywood actors and actresses went to Washington to protest against the activities of the HUAC. The celebrities included Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart and Danny Kaye, who organized the Committee for the First Amendment
On June 22, 1950, a pamphlet entitled Red Channels (Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television) was published by former FBI agents. Focused on the field of broadcasting, Red Channels identified 151 entertainment industry professionals in the context of "Red Fascists and their sympathizers." Soon most of those named Red Channels, along with a number of other artists, were barred from employment in most of the entertainment field.
Some of the first celebrities blacklisted included Paul Robeson, Larry Adler, Leonard Bernstein, Will Geer, Lena Horne, Langston Hughes, Burl Ives, Burgess Meredith, Dorothy Parker, Edward G. Robinson and Orson Welles.
In 1951 a second round of hearings was televised across the nation, reopening the investigation into communist activity in Hollywood and even more entertainers were implicated.
In all, a total of 324 people were blacklisted and prevented from working in Hollywood.
Charlie Chaplin was such a concern to the FBI that J. Edgar Hoover attempted to have him deported. When Charlie Chaplin left the US in 1952 to promote his movie Limelight, J. Edgar Hoover collaborated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to revoke his re-entry permit. Charlie Chaplin decided to stay in Europe and only returned for a brief visit in 1972 to collect an Honorary Oscar
Most of the major movie studios produced anti-communist movies and anti-Soviet propaganda films such as The Red Menace, Big Jim McLain, Guilty of Treason, The Red Danube, I Married a Communist, Red Planet Mars, and I Was a Communist for the FBI.
The anti-communist hysteria led other investigations as J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI became suspicious of minority groups. In 1949 the HUAC subpoenaed Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball’s first African American player, who had ties with the NAACP, to testify about the infiltration of Communism into Minority Groups.
In 1948 a Time Magazine editor called Whittaker Chambers testified to the HUAC that several government officials were Communists or spies. His allegations against a diplomat named Alger Hiss resulted in a much publicized libel case.
The actions and publicity surrounding the HUAC increased the fear of communism and the Red Scare escalated as members of universities were required to take loyalty oaths and Catholic groups encouraged its members to identify Communists in the church. The Taft-Hartley act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1947 that required Union leaders to take oaths that they were not Communists
In addition to the publicity surrounding the activities of the House of Un-American Activities Committee there were sensational, high profile Communist spy cases such as the Rosenberg case in which Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were charged with heading a Soviet spy ring and were executed in June 1953.
In 1952 Senator Joseph McCarthy became chairman of the Senate sub-committee on investigations. McCarthy's tactics of damaging reputations of Americans with vague and unfounded charges, taken from the investigation model used by HUAC, became known as McCarthyism.
The actions of the HUAC therefore became associated with McCarthyism, although Joseph McCarthy had no direct involvement with the House of Un-American Activities Committee.
In 1956, playwright Arthur Miller was required to testify before HUAC about his political leanings. Suspicions were aroused due to Arthur Miller's play The Crucible which was about the witch hunts that took place in Salem, Massachusetts but also subtly referred to the 'communist witch hunts' in America in the 1950s.
The downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the late 1950s led to a decline in the prestige of the HUAC. By 1959, the HUAC was denounced by former President Harry S. Truman as the "most un-American thing in the country today..."
In 1969 in an attempt to reinvent itself, the HUAC was renamed as the Internal Security Committee. The House Committee on Internal Security, previously known as the House of Un-American Activities Committee, was formally terminated on January 14, 1975.
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