What is the House Un-American Activities Committee?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
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  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2019
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The House Un-American Activities Committee was a panel established in the United States House of Representatives during the middle of the 20th century. It was set up in 1938 to investigate the activities of Americans viewed as a threat to the way of life of the populace and government operations. Much of the time, the committee subpoenaed individuals thought to have connections with fascists, communists and counterculture. The House Un-American Activities Committee was eventually changed to the House Committee on Internal Security in 1969 and disbanded altogether in 1975.

Precursors to the committee were instituted in the House as early as 1918. In response to the potential activities of German-Americans during World War I as well as the rising fear of communism caused by the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, North Carolina Representative Lee Slater Overman established a subcommittee to investigate domestic threats. In 1930, further investigations into communist activities were launched by New York Representative Hamilton Fish III. His main target was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This was followed by the creation of a Special Committee on Un-American Activities designed to look into Nazi propaganda in the US, most notably a plot to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.


During World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee was primarily concerned with Nazi and Ku Klux Klan actions. As the war progressed, however, the committee became increasingly concerned with communist influence in government and popular culture. The main targets of the panel became the American Communist Party as well as New Deal commissions like the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Theatre Project.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the committee became interested in alleged subversive activities by numerous organizations. The main target was to find communist activities conducted by the government and members of the media. Of particular note was the questioning of Hollywood professionals by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Over 300 different directors, actors and screenwriters were subpoenaed, many of which were blacklisted by studios, effectively ending their careers in Hollywood. Notable examples include Charlie Chaplin and Zero Mostel.

A similar committee was established during this period in the Senate, headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy's public position against communism during the Cold War eventually won scrutiny from the rest of the Senate. This began the long downfall of the House Un-American Activities Committee. During the 1960s, it mainly investigated political activists such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who turned much of the proceedings into social commentary by dressing in various costumes.


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Post 4

Although most people associate Senator Joseph McCarthy with the House Un-American Activities Committee, his group was totally different and sought to eradicate communist entities within the government. The House Un-American Activities Committee was seen as not being as intrusive to the rights of American citizens and sought to eradicate actual threats as opposed to McCarthy who looked to create a witch hunt for political gain.

Post 3

It seems to me that these particular un-American Activities committees that have been mentioned seem to follow a pattern in that they target certain groups.

I can see that there was a fear of Communists during this time but what was the need to target labor unions and activist groups such as the NAACP?

I guess the NAACP could be seen as a potentially radical group that could promote revolution and uprising, considering that it was the first group of its kind and people were not very aware of what exactly it was at the time, but labor unions had been around for a few decades and I do not see how communists are associated with labor unions. I know in China, which is a communist state, they do not allow labor unions and this has been something that is very unclear to me.

Post 2

It must have been such a scary thing to get investigated by the HUAC. What I wonder is how many average people really supported it and the tactics the HUAC used. Did anybody reading this have any first-hand experience with this time in history, can you tell us some more about it?

Post 1

The House Un-American Activities Committee was established during the 1930's as a way for the government to investigate and scare United States citizens from engaging in actions that were seen as un-American.

Although times are different today, back then it was an absolute no no for someone to even begin to talk about communism and this led to many organizations, mostly labor unions, being investigated. Most of the time these investigations were simply witch hunts for the sole purpose of public perception to led the public know that the government wanted people to not give into the ideas that were going on in Europe.

What should also be kept in mind is that this committee was established during the latter

half of the Great Depression and this pro-American committee could have been established as a distraction to the problems the country had faced in the previous decade and to force people to still believe in the present form of government until better times came.

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