National Committee Against Repressive Legislation Records, 1948-2003



In many respects, the story of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation is that of its leader, Frank Wilkinson. The son of a prominent Methodist layman in Charlevoix, Michigan, Wilkinson received his B.A. degree at UCLA, after which he abandoned his early intention of studying for the ministry and entered the field of public housing in the 1930s as an official in the Los Angeles Housing Authority. In 1952, in the course of a slum housing project hearing, Wilkinson refused to answer political questions put to him. Upon later interrogation by the California Committee on Un-American Activities, he again refused to answer and was dismissed from his job. He then accepted the position of secretary of a newly formed Citizens Committee to Preserve American Freedoms. When subpoenaed by a Los Angeles hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Wilkinson was asked in 1956 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to make a constitutional challenge on First Amendment grounds. In 1957, in cooperation with the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, Wilkinson launched the initial campaign to abolish HUAC, the Senate Internal Security Committee, and state “little HUACs.” In 1958, Wilkinson and Carl Braden challenged HUAC at its Atlanta hearings, and both were convicted for contempt of Congress and served one-year sentences.

The National Committee itself, originally known as the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee, was created in 1960. Founded by Professor Alexander Meiklejohn and Aubrey Williams, the National Committee relied heavily upon the organizational skills of Frank Wilkinson, executive director, as well as the contributions of Donna Allen, Carl and Anne Braden, Sylvia Crane, Richard Criley, James Imbrie, Clarence Pickett, and others. In its approach to legislative action, the National Committee departed from the traditional by concentrating upon the district-by-district, grass-roots organization of anti-HUAC sentiment to influence congressmen rather than exclusively lobbying. Also, in contradiction to many other civil-liberties organizations, the National Committee refused to screen participants for suspected Communist affiliation or sympathies.

Rising opposition to HUAC, with the National Committee in the forefront, resulted in HUAC changing its name in 1969 to the House Internal Security Committee (HISC). Pressure continued, however, and in 1975, as part of a structural reorganization of the House of Representatives, HUAC/HISC was abolished as a permanent standing committee. As the power of HUAC diminished, the National Committee took on other legislative goals and changed its name to the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation. In 1968, it joined with the Japanese-American Citizens League in a successful three-year campaign to repeal the Emergency Detention Act, Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950. Two years later, NCARL activity contributed to the abolition of the Subversive Activities Control Board, and in 1974 it won another victory when Congress repealed the “No Knock” statute in narcotics investigations. Since 1973, NCARL's major legislative goal has been the defeat of various versions of the criminal code revision bill, commonly known as Senate Bill 1.