In June 1930, the US House of Representatives created a special committee to police Communist activities in the United States.
On January 3, 1945, the opening day of the 79th Congress, John E. Rankin (D-Mississippi), the Chairman of the powerful Veterans Committee, proposed that the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) be reactivated as a standing committee of the House of Representatives. The motion passed. HUAC was funded with $50,000 and given latitude to investigate in any direction it saw fit.
The committee soon gained notoriety for its Hollywood hearings, focusing on the real and purported infiltration of Communists into the film industry. Many Hollywood personalities were blacklisted.
Another well publicized event was the July 1948 hearing involving the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley, an American whohad been working as a Soviet agent in New York. Among those whom she named as communists were Harry Dexter White and Whittaker Chambers.
HUAC subpoenaed Chambers for early August 1948. Also a former Soviet spy, Chambers was editor of the foreign desk at Time Magazine. He, too, named communists — more than a half dozen government officials including White, Alger Hiss, and Hiss’s brother Donald. The majority of these former officials refused to answer committee questions citing the Fifth Amendment.
In 1969, the House changed the committee’s name to “House Committee on Internal Security.” The House abolished the committee in 1975 and its functions were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Important Note: The committee’s anti-Communist investigations are often confused with those of Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy, as a US Senator, had no direct involvement with the House committee. He was the Chairman of the Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the US Senate, not the HUAC.
Photo courtesy of Jacob Enos (Flickr).