Frank Wilkinson Tribute

This blog is dedicated to Frank Wilkinson. Frank's family wanted to have a place where the people who knew Frank would have a place to share their thoughts, remembrances, and feelings about Frank. Please post text, photos, drawings, or anything else you'd like to express yourself.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Tribute to Frank from Pearl Hirshfield

When I read some of the tributes given at his memorial, notably son Tony's and friend Sarah's, and saw and heard those who talked about their memory of Frank on the DVD made at the event, it was clear that almost everything I would have wanted to say was already said, most eloquently and beautifully.

So I will share just a few personal observations and memories.

We first met Frank in 1959 through our mutual friend and fellow activist, Richard Criley, who was living in Chicago at the time. Dick brought Frank to our house to talk to Hy, my husband, and to me about helping form a Chicago committee as part of the national effort. They had established the national Committee to Abolish HUAC the year before and Frank was facing time in prison for defying them.

A year later the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights was organized.

To say we were impressed with Frank is an understatement. Here was a man, sincere, warm, charismatic, who was dedicating his life to those principles most of us are only able to work toward.

Through the following years Frank's speaking tours around the country brought him to the Chicago area and gave us the opportunity of hosting a fund-raising event and great pleasure of Frank staying over as house guest.

Over time Frank became part of our family. We grew to know and love this gentle, kind man who shared tender stories about his children, his life and work.

We learned Frank liked lime (we had only lemon on his first visit) in his drink. We learned to wake him in the morning with a touch on the shoulder since he took his hearing aid out at night. Other than those delicate requests I don't recall anything that Frank took for granted. He was the best of guests and the most delightful. Our only complaint was the visits weren't long or frequent enough.

Frank called our home his "home away from home." I suspect he had a "home away from home" in every state in the Union. But ours was the most authentic proved by the fact that even his dog Pepper acknowledged it. When Frank drove from L.A. and visited our home in 1967 with his wife Donna and Pepper, (neither of whom we'd met), Pepper trotted in, took one look around and marked his territory -- on our new couch! Frank was mortified! The onus was on poor Donna when Frank turned and said, "I told you we should have left him in the car!"

Frank was a fascinating storyteller. Everyone who knew him knew how much he loved good listeners and we were the best. He would ferret out our interests, engage us in conversations about art, literature, music, whatever (he especially loved Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and dance music of the era) and somehow, invariably, and before we knew it, we were discussing "issues." I don't know how he did it.

When Frank was guest speaker at the Unitarian Church in Evanston, across from our house, the meeting was broken up be strategically placed agents in the audience, shouting, engaging in physical confrontations, and totally preventing Frank from continuing.

Imagine our surprise to find out one evening when Frank asked us to turn on the TV so he could see one of his favorite shows, that this show was a weekly series that glorified --- The F.B.I.!!!

But it was Frank's disarming honesty and passionate care for the ideals on which this country was founded, and his love and concern for others that set him apart. He was a true patriot. He will always be a hero to me and I'll always remember to have a lime in the refrigerator when mixing his favorite drink. Here's to you, Frank!!

--- Pearl Hirshfield

Saturday, May 06, 2006

South Central Farmers-A Message to the Mayor

From Jason Wilkinson regarding a problem in Los Angeles and a sample letter that can be used to send to our mayor to let him know there is opposition.

Hi Michael,

Please post the following to Frank's Blog, I bet he would have wanted people to know about whats going with the South Central Farmers. The city is poised to take away land from the largely immigrant community who have been farming the land.


Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa
Mayor of Los Angeles
200 N. Main St. Rm 303
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Dear Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa:

We have been recently informed of the decision of the California Supreme Court to deny review of the South Central Farmers’ petition for review. We understand that this situation leaves the South Central Farmers in a very vulnerable situation. They have been left at the mercy of a real estate developer who has demonstrated an intense desire to destroy 13 years worth of a successful community farm.

We call upon you to reconsider this calamity. When Mayor Bradley mitigated this land to the community after the 1992 uprisings it was to address the economic inequities. This project has been able to do this for this community. It is an essential safety net for the working poor of South Central Los Angeles. For the last 13 years it has helped to alleviate the effects of poverty and malnutrition in our low-income communities. These farmers have been able to help themselves at no expense to the taxpayers, aside from the land use.

Why would the City of Los Angeles be interested in destroying such a successful project? This is the fundamental question that we would like to pose your administration. On the contrary, this model should be replicated across the City of Los Angeles, and every other highly densely populated city. People who help themselves are of a greater value to our communities. It demonstrates a greater commitment to better community building.

We are calling upon you to reconsider the legacy of Mayor Bradley. Please do not destroy this 13-year project that has become an asset in South Central Los Angeles. We call upon you to reconsider the destruction of the 14-acre community farm in South Central Los Angeles. We feel that there can be an alternative for Mr. Ralph Horowitz along the Alameda Corridor.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Frank, Jeffry, Joshua and Benji, 2005

Taken at a SEARS phtography studio. Josh asked Frank,
"Have you ever taken a portrait like this?"
"A what?!" Frank asks with a stern voice.
JOSH again: "Have you ever taken a family portrait like this one?"
FRANK: "Of course not!" Then an awkward silence. "I want a copy of it, though!"
We all laughed.

FRANK, JEFFRY, BENJI & ME documentary Premiere! -- Free Admittance!

Hi Everyone!

You are all cordially invited to see a student-produced documentary short:
"Frank, Jeffry, Benji and Me," a film about fatherhood, compassion, and
one filmmaker's attempt to mend deep wounds between four generations.

There are two screenings this month, as part of the USC First Look Festival:

-Wednesday, April 19th at 7:30pm -- DIRECTOR'S GUILD OF AMERICA
7920 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90046

- Saturday, April 22nd at 2pm -- NORRIS THEATRE, USC
3507 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, California 90089

There will also be also be five other short films, all fiction.

For DGA screening - please RSVP at 213-740-1153.

Hope to see you there!
-Josh Wilkinson, (Franky's grandson)

Joshua A. Wilkinson
310.531.6567 for more
information on other films in the April 2006 USC First Look Festival.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Frank and Allen, in Douglas, Arizona (circa 1920)

Frank and Jo, July 1948.

Jo, "Now I know why I'm addicted to Coca-Cola!"

Oliver Haskell of "Haskell's Rascals," and Frank, Jo, and Tony Playing "Choo-Choo," Post-Firing.

Christmas After Being Fired from Housing Authority

This is one of Jo's favorite photos. It's Christmas after Frank was fired from the Housing Authority. "Dad is assuring me (Jo) that everything is okay after my mother Jean broke into tears after receiving check from Hildegarde and Allen Wilkinson."

Frank and his Sisters and Brother (circa 1980)

Left to right: Frank, Margrethe Petersen, Dr. Hildegarde Wilkinson, Clara Evans, and Dr. Allen Wilkinson.

"Grandpa Frank" (circa 1984)

Frank with Daughter Jo at his 75th Birthday Party.

Frank Receiving ACLU Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award, Dec. 1997, with Richard Criley in San Francisco

Frank and Pete Seeger (circa 2000)

Frank and Pete Seeger at the Seeger Home on the Hudson River (circa 2000)

Frank with son Jeffry at 90th Birthday Party

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Letter to Jo

From Bob McCormick --

Jo: Thank you for your email. Yes, I was very sad indeed today to learn of your dad's death on Monday. I heard about it on NPR and it was also on Democracy Now, (as well as in the NY Times). What an incredible fighter for human rights, especially First Amendment rights! American history will remember Frank for his courageous fight against those abuses and for his contribution to constitutional rights. I will also remember his life-time commitment and fight for equality and economic justice for everyone.

He was a real hero for me when I first began to understand the forces that were at work in our "free and democratic society." His courageous stand against HUAC was an early object lesson for me, a very young, and still "innocent" political novice fresh from Grosse Pointe. I followed both Frank and Carl Braden's courageous stand that earned them a jail sentence, and I read Anne's wonderful, empowering book. That was all just around the time of my first real political action...collecting money with a few socialist friends in Detroit to buy a car to send to Montgomery to support Rosa Park's fledgling bus boycott. I was learning about the suppression of rights and oppression in America. In those days, there were few real public heroes for someone young and new to the struggle like me, still in high school, but your dad was a huge and very important one. I will never forget him for his great courage and contributions to the struggles for human rights...and to my own personal growth.

I know you must be very sad, but it was great that you were able to be with him when he died.

Love to you,


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Frank on Film...

When I was going to film school at UCLA in 1979, I made a documentary for my master’s thesis about the lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles. I compared Chavez Ravine to Pico Union where they were tearing down low-income housing and using federal funds from the CRA to expand Pep Boys Corporate headquarters. Frank narrates the section about Chavez Ravine, he gave me access to his press clippings to video tape and we shot him sitting on hillside overlooking Dodger Stadium. Consequently Frank helped me get my MFA! As a surprise and a thank you, my father-in-law, Dr. Robert Einstein, rebound all his huge clipping books because they were falling apart when he lent them to me.

Marsha Goodman

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Note From Jo Wilkinson

Edited slightly...Here's a note from Jo...

I think it would be a great idea to put up the link for folks to hear "Ocean of Love," referred to by Tony, as well as in the LA Times article in the Sunday paper. By the way, is there a way to get that link up --- the Henry Weinstein article on Frank's memorial, dated January 29th? (Yup. Done. See the next post below...)

Anyway, "Ocean of Love" came about when I was asked to participate with other women singer/songwriters from Tucson in a fundraising cd of lullabies --- for a non-profit group called New Beginnings. New Beginnings is an organization and place for homeless women and children in Tucson. A cd was released recently called "Lullabies For New Beginnings" and is available over their internet website,

Robert Miranda and I co-wrote the song --- and I sang it to my dad when he was in the emergency room one night --- and we played the cd for him the night before he passed away. It's a beautiful song, and if people want to hear it, it's a great way to support a wonderful cause --- carrying on in the Frank Wilkinson tradition ---.


L.A. Times Article on Frank's Memorial

Rich Life on Behalf of Poor
1st Amendment activist Frank Wilkinson, once imprisoned for his views, is memorialized.

Click here to view the article on the LA Times web site

By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer

National civil liberties leader Frank Wilkinson, who died Jan. 2, was remembered Saturday as "the Johnny Appleseed of the 1st Amendment" at a packed memorial service at Holman United Methodist Church.

Wilkinson "sowed seeds of liberty in every city of the country," said Kit Gage, director of the First Amendment Foundation, one of several groups her former colleague launched in his 91 years. Well into his 80s, Wilkinson gave nearly 200 speeches a year on 1st Amendment issues, fair housing and civil rights.

The son of a physician, he was born in Michigan and came to Los Angeles when he was 11. He graduated from Beverly Hills High School and UCLA and considered becoming a Methodist minister. But after seeing extreme poverty during a trip around the world, Wilkinson became an advocate of affordable, high-quality public housing.

A member of the Communist Party for more than 30 years, Wilkinson lost his job at the Los Angeles Housing Authority in the McCarthy era after refusing to answer questions about his political affiliations during a city hearing concerning housing in Chavez Ravine. But he continued his anti-poverty work and was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1958.

Rather than assert his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, as others did, he refused to answer questions citing the 1st Amendment. His case went to the Supreme Court, where he lost, 5-4. He spent nine months in prison for contempt of Congress.

After his release in 1962, he dedicated himself to abolishing the House committee, which he considered un-American. The campaign succeeded — in 1975.

Wilkinson played a key role in other civil liberties battles over the next 30 years.

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), a leader of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, praised Wilkinson as man "who inspired people because he was courageous."

"It's important to remember his life, but it's also important to pick up the torch," she said. "We should have a Frank Wilkinson Memorial Brigade. No meetings. Just a large e-mail list to do outrageous actions."

Although he achieved a great deal, including successfully suing the FBI for its 132,000-page file on him, "Frank had one unachieved goal at the end of his life — to chisel J. Edgar Hoover's name off the FBI building," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, referring to the late FBI director.

Wilkinson loved music, a gift he passed to his children. At the service Saturday, his daughter, Jo, sang "Amazing Grace" and his son, Jeffrey, sang "Softer Than a Song," a tune by Wilkinson's grandson Joshua.

Several speakers emphasized that Wilkinson loved to interact with young people.

Andrea McEvoy, a high school history teacher from Culver City said that when she first brought Wilkinson to one of her classes a few years ago to discuss his experiences, she was concerned about how a man in his 80s would do with a group of "16-year-olds with the attention span of a music video." Within moments, though, Wilkinson had her students "on the edge of their seats," McEvoy said.

"He taught them what fear can do to a country. They really listened. Frank took over the semester. We never made it to Reaganomics," the teacher said, drawing laughter.

Wilkinson's family — including his stepchildren from his marriage to his second wife, Donna, who arranged Saturday's program — presented the personal side of a man they clearly loved and admired. They recounted that he gave them back rubs, sang lullabies — some with a distinctly political tilt — and typed their school papers.

Perhaps the most poignant remarks were offered by Wilkinson's 60-year-old son, Tony, who recalled when the family was trailed by federal agents and their house was firebombed.

But his father, "with thousands of others, helped to create this ocean of love that sustained us and carried us all, up and over our fears."

Monday, January 30, 2006

Tony Wilkinson’s Remarks
At Frank Wilkinson’s Memorial

Tony Wilkinson’s remarks at Frank Wilkinson’s memorial, Saturday, June 28, 2006, Holman United Methodist Church, Los Angeles, California

I like to think that Frank is present.
That he is here with us.
If he is, I think he’s happy and surprised and disappointed.
Happy to see all of us gathered here.
Surprised because he really wasn’t expecting an after life,
And disappointed – really disappointed because he’s not the one speaking.

But we all know his voice.
That voice that starts off quietly, sometimes with a joke - it grows with urgency, passion straining.
We all know that voice.
We all know his story –
We’ve all been moved – and sometimes bored.
The story told over and over – almost biblical.
That pounding voice.

For me, as a little boy, that big powerful voice coming down from the podium had an impact on me, physical and emotional, even though I didn’t always understand what he was talking about.
It was clear that there was a battle raging.

He had another, quieter voice.

On the nights he wasn’t out of town or at a meeting he would rub our backs and in a soft, gentle whisper, sing a lullaby but always a lullaby with a message …
“I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me…”
Together we would say good night to the moon and the stars and the children of the world.

There were other voices in our childhood.
The Weavers, Paul Robeson, Earl Robinson –
Music and words- woven into our hearts –strengthened us.

Gave us a sense of what “building a better world” meant.
It helped us begin to understand what our parents were trying to do.
Voices of song that made us want to lean into the struggle instead of pull away.

We knew we were for peace and against war,
Integration and not segregation, we were for quality, integrated, public housing.
We were for the miners and not the mine owners.
I knew all this but I never met a miner and we lived a basically segregated life.

When I was small enough to curl up and sleep in the back window of our car.
I liked to cling to my father’s neck like a little monkey.

When he was driving I would sit behind him and wrap my arms around his neck.
For me as a child the only way to get in under his words, to get in close, past the armor of his mission or his story, was with my arms.

Sometimes that gap was too great, sometimes he was beyond my reach.

I had watched him preparing for a meeting – emerging from his shower, he had gone from a naked man, layer by layer, starched white shirt – cuff links, suit and tie, tight shiny shoes till he disappeared behind his clothes.

This funny, silly, loving, deaf man, my father was ready for a battle.

Driving to a meeting where he was going to speak he became grim – silent.
I would sit back in my seat –no one spoke, no one joked, no messing around.

For Frank, the battle was in the “market place of ideas.”

He was nourished by the struggle to reach and move people.
He talked with anyone and everyone, often to our embarrassment!

He was always ready to talk to a waiter, the dry cleaners, the toll taker;
“Hello, I’m Frank Wilkinson from Civil Liberties.”
He was always trying to push the circle wider – never content with preaching to the choir.

He lived a life of speaking tours. We shared our father with the rest of the country.
So many familiar, loving faces, so many strangers, who would look down on me and say: “You must be so proud of your father!”

When he was away – my mother kept us going – doctor’s appointments, cub scouts, girl scouts, as well as teachers union, committee meetings, Unitarian church responsibilities.

Even now there is still power in that simple question. Yes or No? -
50 years ago that simple question destroyed lives, wiped out careers, broke up families and tore friendships apart.

It was something that you could not hide from your children.

We knew our phone was tapped.
We knew about the phone calls of silence from, the funny man.
We knew about the parked cars with men in suits.
There were Newspapers thrown against our front door with photos of our mother, Jean and her friends.
Fellow Los Angeles school teachers covering their faces from the flash bulbs --
Their CRIM – sending letters in support of Frank, protesting his dismissal from the Los Angeles Housing Authority.

Our mother Jean was fired and accused of “sowing the dragon seeds of treason” in the class room. William Randolph Hearst wrote an editorial praising the judge for her dismissal and for standing up against the “Communist infiltration” of America’s schools.

Later, we heard the explosion of the firebomb on our front stairs.
We saw the painted swastika.
We knew about the death treats; one that was signed warned Frank to “make your final preparations…” The response from LA County Sheriff was: “That’s not a threat that’s just good advice…”

It was frightening and confusing as a child.

I remember watching an episode of “I Led 3 Lives” where a scary woman named “Comrade Wilkinson” crept up the stairs to the attic, while the hero Philbrick, an undercover FBI agent, was desperately trying to memorize names.
I remember thinking, Comrade Wilkinson - is that supposed to be my mother?

The only way Jeff and I could go to the YMCA Summer Camp was if our parents agreed NOT to come visit us.

When I got there one of our cabin mates was a boy named, “Conrad”
I couldn’t believe it – I thought I had problems!
I remember thinking how could his parents make him go through life with the name “Comrade?”

Our mother and father were brave – they were courageous and that bravery helped to keep us whole and secure.

They fought back and they helped others fight back.

They helped people over come their fears and they in turn, they were sustained by the courage and sacrifice of their family and friends and strangers throughout the county.

In a way we lived in the eye of the hurricane– we were embraced by a movement.

But there were many people, like Frank’s brother and sisters who took a stand without the support of a movement.

They put everything they had on the line, they risked it all: for love and a deep sense of patriotism.
They were Republicans who believed in the Bill of Rights and Freedom of Speech…

My aunt, Dr. Hildegarde Roxanna June Wilkinson, was the first women elected to Chief of Staff at Glendale Memorial Hospital.

In 1961, she announced on the loud speaker:
“This Dr. Wilkinson speaking, I will be away from the hospital for approximately one week. I am going to visit my brother, who is in a federal penitentiary for exercising his First Amendment rights.”

They never wavered. And in many ways this is why McCarthyism was defeated-- because people like my uncle and aunts refused to be stampeded by fear and hysteria.
It is these individual, small but powerful, everyday choices, these personal acts of resistance that together can change history.

And the truth is the FBI didn’t FEAR my father because he was a Communist.
It did not matter whether he was or he wasn’t.
It did not matter who he was.
What mattered was who he was talking to.
And who was listening.
And who was being moved by his words.

What they really feared were the people he was talking to!
He was dangerous!
Because he knew that people – regular, everyday people, even Republicans –
Given a clear choice would respond and would break through their fear.

It still amazes me the amount of time, money and resources the FBI spent following Frank and how little they knew!
An FBI file seven stores high, 132,000 pages and they didn’t know that Frank had a built in lie detector.

When we were little we discovered that if our father said something that wasn’t true his hearing aid would let out a squeal!

They really didn’t know who Frank was.

He was a snuggler – a cuddler – an affectionate, loving and gentle man –

He was a chocoholic, who ate raw salted onions like they were apples – who liked sweet pickles and drank the juice, loved Bob’s Big Boys, gin and tonics and Benny Goodman.

I was with him in his last week – this big man, my papa who used to carry me from the car asleep in his arms – who was now so much smaller.

My father, who had sung to us and comforted us, was struggling to find his comfort and rest.

It is hard to let go –hard to lie silent when you’ve lived to speak.

The night before he died we played him a song my sister, Jo wrote, a lullaby:
“I want to sail on an ocean of love.”

It was a wonderful moment.
Awards and plaques and family photos filling the wall – above him, a picture of Hildegard his oldest sister, who had been like a mother to him – smiling down on him.

He had lived a full life – really several full lives.

He had, with thousands of others, helped to create this ocean of love that sustained us and carried us all, up and over our fears…

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Some reflections about Frank

It was wonderful to be with so many friends and Frank-lovers at yesterday's memorial service. Here is a link to what I posted about Frank on my own blog a few days after he died.

Click here to view the posting about Frank

Gara LaMarche

Frank's Memorial and my good luck

Hi all. Lenny Stein here. For those of you who missed Frank's memorial, it was a warm, wonderful and inspiring tribute to a Real American Hero. We all laughed and wept and were uplifted by all of those that spoke and sang their tribute to him.

As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the Wilkinson household having met Tony in Jr Hi. Two loners meeting from opposite ends of the bleachers drawn together, as Tony said to me yesterday, by some "it had to be" force.
I consider myself extremely lucky that that occured. My life was, and still is being enriched knowing the ever expanding and extended dear, loving and talented Wilkinson family.

In addition, I just want to say how glad I was to see Jean at the memorial. If I could have voted for a second Mom, it would have been her (although, given Tony's and my sometime slightly impish ways, she may have chosen not to run).
With loving regards,
Leonard Stein

P.S. A videographer from videographed the event. Copies are available for $3/per DVD. Go to the above site and click on "online order form". You pay After delivery.

Or you can click here for the order form.
(No, I have not been compensated for this announcement).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Frank's 90th Birthday Video

Take a look at a video from Jason Wilkinson of Frank's 90th Birthday Celebration. Here's the link to view it. If you have any difficulties, let me know.

Click here to view the video.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another photo of Frank

Here's a more recent photo of Frank. If you have any others and can't figure out how to get them posted or if you have other artwork, feel free to send it to me and I'll make sure they get posted.


Welcome to the Frank Wilkinson
Tribute Page

Hello all,

This blog is dedicated to Frank Wilkinson. Frank's family asked to have it created so that the people who knew Frank would have a place where they could share their thoughts, remembrances, and feelings about Frank. Feel free to post text, photos, drawings, or anything else you'd like to express yourself.