GK: Theatre Artists and the House of Un-American Activities

House of Un-American Activities


House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, established in 1938 under Martin Dies as chairman, that conducted investigations through the 1940s and ’50s into alleged communist activities. Those investigated included many artists and entertainers, including the Hollywood Ten, Elia Kazan, Pete Seeger, Bertolt Brecht, and Arthur Miller. Richard Nixon was an active member in the late 1940s, and the committee’s most celebrated case was perhaps that of Alger Hiss.


House Un-American Activities Committee

After World War II the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves on opposite sides of a “Cold War,” which pitted the democratic United States against the Communist Soviet Union. As the Cold War intensified, the frenzy over the perceived threat posed by Communists in the U.S. became known as the Red Scare. The United States government responded by creating the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was charged with identifying Communist threats to the United States. HUAC often pressured witnesses to surrender names and other information that could lead to the apprehension of Communists and Communist sympathizers. Committee members branded witnesses as “red” if they refused to comply or hesitated in answering committee questions.

HUAC was created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and rebel activities on the part of private citizens, public employees and organizations suspected of having Communist ties. Citizens suspected of having ties to the communist party would be tried in a court of law. Also during this time, Senator Joseph McCarthy began a campaign against alleged communists in the U.S. government and other institutions. From 1950-1954 “McCarthyism” described the practice of accusing Federal Government employees of having affiliations with communism and leaking information. Government employees could be blacklisted (viewed as untrustworthy or someone to avoid) and could lose their jobs. The threat of Communism was a driving force that created a wedge between society and the United States government.

During this time period the lines of civil liberties and national security began to blur, and U.S. citizens felt a sense of uncertainty. Some Americans felt that their personal freedoms were being taken away, while others believed HUAC and McCarthyism were necessary to secure national security. Government officials felt the same types of pressures on the home front.

Un-American Activities Committee hearing Novemebr 3rd, 1947

Crash course on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

Hollywood Ten Explained


 1. House Un-American Activities Committee. House Un-American Activities Committee | Harry S. Truman. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/education/presidential-inquiries/house-un-american-activities-committee. 

2. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). House Un-American Activities Committee. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/House-Un-American-Activities-Committee. 

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