Saturday, January 07, 2006

Clinton Jencks and Frank Wilkinson, RIP

Two of the last fighters against the Red Scare passed away recently.

Clinton Jencks was a union organizer for Mine, Mill, one of the unions expelled by the CIO for its communist ties. Jencks was working in southwestern New Mexico when blacklisted Hollywood workers decided to make a movie based on the struggles of these largely Hispanic miners. This movie of course became Salt of the Earth. Almost all of the actors in the movie were non-professionals playing themselves, including Clint Jencks who played the organizer Fred Barnes in the film.

Jencks later fought for the rights of people, such as himself, to exam the evidence used against them when they were accused of being communists. The 1957 Jencks Act was the result of this fight. He then went on to gain a PhD in economics and be a professor at San Diego State University where he fought for worker and civil rights on that campus.

Frank Wilkinson was a Los Angeles housing official who was one of the last 2 people jailed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He worked to start public housing projects in Los Angeles, particularly in Chavez Ravine, a traditional working-class Hispanic community. His advocacy of public housing was viewed as communistic by the ultra-conservative Los Angeles establishment, particularly the Los Angeles Times. The housing project was ended and the land given to Brooklyn Dodgers owner Frank O'Malley to build the new Dodger Stadium at. Wilkinson was called before HUAC to answer about his communist activities in 1955. His refusal landed him in jail and inspired Wilkinson to spend the rest of his life fighting against government spying programs against its own citizens, something much needed today. Much of this story is told in a very interesting way in the new Ry Cooder album Chavez Ravine.

The world will miss Clint Jencks and Frank Wilkinson. May they both rest in peace and may the rest of us not forget the examples they set for us.