Wilkinson, Defiant Figure of Red Scare, Dies at 91
Frank Wilkinson, a Los Angeles housing official who lost his job in the Red Scare of the early 1950's and later became one of the last two people jailed for refusing to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee whether he was a Communist, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
Mr. Wilkinson, whose experiences inspired a half-century campaign against government spying, had been ill for several months and was recovering from surgery and a fall, said Donna Wilkinson, his wife of 40 years. "It was just the complications of old age, " Mrs. Wilkinson said.
In 1952, when Mr. Wilkinson was head of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, he spearheaded a project to replace the sprawling Mexican-American neighborhood of Chavez Ravine, home to 300 families and roamed by goats and other livestock, with thousands of public-housing units.
Real estate interests that viewed public housing as a form of socialism accused Mr. Wilkinson of being a Communist. When asked about this, under oath, he declined to answer, causing a furor.
After a City Council hearing, in which Mayor Fletcher Bowron punched a man in the audience who had called him a "servant of Stalin," Mr. Wilkinson was questioned by the California Anti-Subversive Committee. Mr. Wilkinson was fired along with four other housing officials and five schools employees, including his first wife, Jean.
The housing project was scuttled and much of the land eventually turned over to the city, after which it became the site of Dodger Stadium, new home to the former Brooklyn Dodgers.
The entire episode has inspired books, documentaries, a play and even a recently released album by Ry Cooder called "Chavez Ravine." "Every church has its prophets and its elders," one song goes. "God will love you if you just play ball."
Mr. Wilkinson consistently refused to testify about his political beliefs. He had, in fact, joined the Communist Party in 1942, according to "First Amendment Felon," a 2005 biography by Robert Sherrill. He left the party in 1975.
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