The American Civil Liberties Union’s Early History in Documents

Today, we begin a series of blog entries in a new category American Civil Liberties Union History covering the ALCU’s early history.  Written by Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the author of the only comprehensive history of the ACLU, each entry contains many digitized documents along with Walker’s commentary.  These documents are part of 20 reels of microfilm that we digitized recently with Walker’s generous support and can be accessed here.

A note on the citations to the ACLU Records:  The location of each document is indicated by the microfilm reel number, the original Volume number in the ACLU Records, and the page number(s) within each volume. Locating particular documents should be fairly easy, although it will often require moving back and forth between reels and volumes.

Documents on particular topics are often scattered among different microfilm reels and volume numbers. This is believed to be a result of the disorganization of the records that occurred when the U.S. Justice Department raided the offices of the National Civil Liberties Bureau on August 30, 1918.

Despite the disorganization of the documents, however, most are grouped together in a logical fashion. As a result, readers who access a document related to the founding of the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), for example, will find related documents on that subject nearby, and these documents may be of interest to readers.

A disclaimer: the text is Professor Walker’s interpretation of ACLU history and some will not agree with it. This is the nature of historical scholarship, but we encourage you to comment and, where possible, cite other ACLU documents that you find online.