The founding of the American Civil Liberties Union, 1920

by: Professor Samuel Walker
School of Criminal Justice
University of Nebraska at Omaha

This is the first part in a series that was introduced earlier.

World War I ended on November 11, 1918, but the repression of civil liberties continued unabated. The most well-known event was the so-called “Palmer Raids,” which actually involved two sets of federal mass arrests of alleged radicals, in November 1919 and early January 1920. The leaders of the NCLB began thinking about transforming the organization into a permanent one devoted to the defense of civil liberties. The key person was Roger Baldwin, who was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act in October 1918 and sent to prison. After his release in the summer of 1919, he made a cross country trip to work as an industrial laborer. Upon his return to New York in late 1919 he began the planning for the new organization, which was established as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in January 1920. 

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This undated and unsigned memorandum, Suggestions for Reorganization of the National Civil Liberties Bureau, was probably written by Roger Baldwin (see his initials in the upper right hand corner), probably in late 1919. It represent his thoughts on reorganizing the National Civil Liberties Bureau into a permanent civil liberties organization. Note that in the first paragraph the primary focus is on working people (“the cause we serve is labor”). No name for a permanent organization is suggested at this time. When the ACLU is officially constituted, it is evident that discussions about the agenda for a national organization had expanded to include a broader range of civil liberties issues.

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This undated memorandum by Roger Baldwin was probably written in early January 1920 and summarizes the work of the NCLB from October 1917 to January 1920. It was undoubtedly written as part of the discussions to reconstitute the NCLB into a permanent civil liberties organization.

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The decision to create the American Civil Liberties Union is recorded in these Minutes of the Conference to Reorganize the National Civil Liberties Bureau, January 12, 1920. Note the concern (Item #3) about including the names of Roger Baldwin and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn because they had been prosecuted and convicted of federal crimes during the war. The objections were rejected, and their names were included. The first action by the new ACLU was to protest the proposed peacetime sedition law being considered by the House of Representatives (Item #7). The 1918 sedition law had expired with the end of the war, but the proposed peacetime law did not pass.

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Applying “More Product, Less Process” to very large collections: Mudd archivist presents at professional conference

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Recently project archivist Adriane Hanson participated in a panel at the recent spring conference of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) in Cape May, NJ. The topic of her talk was how she is handling the size of her current project, processing 2,500 linear feet of the records of the American Civil Liberties Union Records in a two-year project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
In a nutshell, this feat is accomplished by:
1. Stay on top of the schedule through careful project management, collecting metrics to have realistic data on how long each task requires, and frequently revisiting and adjusting the timeline of the project.
2. Be flexible about the workflow, examining the way you have always done things and adjusting as needed to better work with a massive collection.
3. Think of it as data management. Use tools to repurpose data from one step of the project to another, and to analyze and transform the data once the box inventories are complete.
4. Spend extra time writing descriptions about each part of the collection to provide the researcher with important keywords to search for and context to understand the significance of the section. But do not spend time on description that is not aiding in searching, such as lists of document types in the collection inventory. Time should be spent on value-added description.
The slides and text for her presentation are available here.
If you have any questions for her, you can reach her by email: ahanson@princeton.edu

Additional ACLU Collections Available

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There are now 3 more American Civil Liberties Union finding aids available online and accessible to the public:

Series 2: Project Files
The Project Files series contains the records of twelve of the ACLU’s projects, which each addressed an area of civil liberties violations. Project records typically consist of case files, research files, project publicity correspondence. The best documented projects are the Children’s Rights Project Women’s Rights Project, to a lesser extent the Arts Censorship Project, Capital Punishment Project, Reproductive Freedom Project.
Series 3: Subject Files
The Subject Files series contains articles, reports, court documents, and other materials collected by the ACLU during the course of their work. The main subjects are drugs, homelessness, and Supreme Court nominations, largely of Robert Bork. Other significant subjects in the series include campaign finance, discrimination, environmental equity and racism, school pension plans, state constitutions, and welfare.
Series 4: Legal Case Files
The Legal Case Files series documents the ACLU’s involvement in litigation, ranging from files collected on cases for research purposes to records of cases they were significantly involved in. The records include documents filed with the court, correspondence, lawyer’s notes, depositions and expert testimony, transcripts of the trials, newspaper clippings, and research materials on the background of the case and legal precedent.
The Legal Case Files series contains records about over 1,500 cases, with the majority being files collected on non-ACLU cases for research on the broad range of civil liberties which the ACLU investigates. Common subjects include the separation of church and state, public education, racial and sexual discrimination, injustice in the legal system, illegal surveillance and search, and protecting the freedom of speech and expression, as well as politics and voting, information access and privacy, fair employment and health care practices, and immigration. Cases which are particularly well documented include Carlos Rivera v. John Rowland about the public defender system in Connecticut and three cases about public education: Brown v. Board of Education, Charlet v. Legislature of Louisiana, and Harper v. Hunt.

For more information about the ACLU collections check out our recent post:
http://blogs.princeton.edu/mudd/2012/03/american-civil-liberties-union-records-new-series-available.html

-Adriane Hanson

American Civil Liberties Union Records: First New Series Available

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Researchers can start using some newly open American Civil Liberties Union Records ahead of schedule!

Series 1: Organizational Matters is now open for research by using the following finding aid. http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/x346d492c

This series is part of an ongoing two-year project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to process 2,500 linear feet of ACLU records, largely from 1970 to 2000. Each series will be made available as processing is completed, with the entire project scheduled to end on July 1, 2012. Look for Series 2: Project Files and Series 3: Subject Files to be made available in April.

Series 1: Organizational Matters documents the inner workings of the ACLU. These records take you behind the scenes as individuals at the national office, regional offices, and affiliates negotiate the ACLU’s official position on emerging civil liberties issues. Executive Director Ira Glasser’s papers shed light into the complicated management of one of the nation’s preeminent civil liberties organizations. Within the correspondence, meeting minutes, and position papers, you can see the ACLU shape strategies to try cases, combat restrictive legislation, and mobilize public opinion to support the ACLU’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. At 472 linear feet, this series holds a wealth of potential for anyone looking at a late 20th century civil liberties issue or the U.S. policy-making process.

The public is welcome to visit the Mudd Library to conduct research within these materials. For more information on the ACLU collections, search our finding aids, and you can always get help by emailing us at mudd@princeton.edu.

–Adriane Hanson

American Civil Liberties Union Records Processing Project Update

The Mudd Library has reached an important mile stone in the ACLU Records Processing Project: completing the collection inventories. We now have a list of what is in each of the 2,500 boxes in the collection. These boxes remain closed to research until July 1, 2012 pending a review for restricted materials. However, researchers wishing to access the collection before that date may request up to ten boxes be reviewed for immediate release. For further information, please contact the Mudd Library at mudd@princeton.edu For more information on the project, you can read our previous blog entries
DAVE
We also welcomed a new staff member to the project this summer, David Gillespie. Dave has a background in American and military history, with varied archival experience including research assistant at the Strategic Studies Institute, intern at the Gettysburg National Military Park Archives, and intern on the House Divided project creating a digital collection on Dickinson College during the Civil War Era. On the ACLU project, he is responsible for reviewing the legal case files within the collection for any restricted materials, which account for about 65% of the records. Through this review, we expect to be able to open the majority of these materials on July 1.

ACLU Archivists Across Time

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Paula Jabloner (left) and Adriane Hanson meet for the first time at the 2011 Society of American Archivists meeting in Chicago. Jabloner managed Mudd Library’s first ACLU records processing project in the mid-1990s that addressed 1,200 linear feet of records and identified additional historical records. Hanson is now addressing 2,400 l.f. of ACLU records, including those identified by Jabloner. Both projects were supported by the NHPRC.

The ACLU Records: Tips for processing 2400 feet in two years

The following entry relates to our ongoing American Civil Liberties Union processing project previously described here and here.

Processing, regardless of the size of the collection, has many common features: In almost all cases, you survey the boxes to see what is there, decide what to keep and how it will be organized, arrange the boxes, create folder or box lists (inventories), and write descriptive information. Sheer size does pose some challenges, however. Below are some of the strategies I have implemented for the ACLU processing project, which consists of approximately 2,400 linear feet of records.
1. Repurpose data. The information I received from ACLU, both from inventories and from the box labels, was inputted into a spreadsheet and formed the basis of my collection survey. The survey data, after some clean up, formed the basis of the inventories created by my student assistants. And those inventories are now being used to adjust the arrangement of the records. This allowed me to do less survey work, knowing that the inventories would provide more information, and increased my students’ speed from an average of 1 foot an hour to 3-6 feet an hour for creating inventories.
2. Flexibility with inventory detail. It is at least twice as fast to make an inventory at the box level, so whenever access would be sufficient at the box level, or with a few sections per box, we stopped there. This was most apparent with legal case files, which are found throughout the collection. For each case, the records were in folders by the type of document (i.e. transcripts or briefs). Rather than type this list of documents for each case, we can summarize that in the series descriptions and simply make a list of cases. This saved significant time without sacrificing accessibility.
3. Work in iterations. While it may seem more efficient to look at each box only once, I found that repeated passes allowed me to spend just as much time as needed with each box. For the survey, I first looked at each box briefly, and then analyzed that information to see if I could place the box within the arrangement. For the remaining boxes, I went through this process a few more times, spending more time with the remaining boxes on each pass, until at the end of three months I knew where each box belonged in the organization. We also plan to make additional passes through boxes likely to contain restricted records.
4. Find ways to manipulate data. Whatever means you use to create descriptive information, you should find ways to analyze and manipulate the data. In our case, we are using Microsoft Excel. The sorting and filtering functionalities have been critical for understanding and re-ordering the survey and inventory data, and other functions and formulas have assisted in checking student work for accuracy and data clean up. We have also developed some simple macros to allow us to calculate date restrictions and prepare the data for EAD encoding, which allow the finding aids to be delivered and searched online.
5. Prioritize time. Since the primary goal of processing is to improve accessibility, the vast majority of our time is being spent on gaining intellectual control over the records: creating inventories, description, and reviewing materials for restrictions. Most of the physical work associated with processing, such as replacing boxes and folders, will not be done at all since the existing housing is sufficient, except for the replacement of damaged boxes. This is also the first collection I have processed where we are waiting until the end of the project to physically arrange the boxes. With the data from the completed inventories, I can adjust the arrangement, and only then will anything be moved so we only have to move the boxes once.

New Public Policy Accessions: April 2011

As organizations grow and change through time, so do their archives.The Mudd Manuscript Library collects the records of the American Civil Liberties Union [ML.2011.011], the Association on American Indian Affairs [ML.2011.005], and Americans United for Separation of Church and State [ML.2011.003], among many other organizations. In the last few months, we’ve had the pleasure of receiving a new cache of materials from each of these organizations and adding them to existing collections. Although some materials from both the ACLU and AAIA may be restricted for some time to comply with legal and privacy concerns, the remainder will be valuable to researchers hoping to learn about the recent history of these important organizations.

In addition to these organization records, we have also received an accrual of papers from James A. Baker III, former Chief of Staff to President Reagan and Secretary of State to President George H.W. Bush [ML.2011.002]. These records, mostly from his post-Washington career, include research files created during the writing of his memoir, correspondence, events files, and a small number of financial files. They also include his “desk drawer” files, letters and notes from important figures in his career, including Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and Karl Rove. Please consult the finding aid for this collection for access restrictions.

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Are Wiretapping Laws Helping Criminals?

The recent debates over wiretapping are not new, as this film “Are Wiretapping Laws Helping Criminals?” demonstrates. Broadcast as an episode of All America Wants to Know, this segment features a debate about an issue that is as relevant to the ACLU today as it was during this 1962 broadcast.

All America Wants to Know was a monthly debate show which focused on current events and legal issues. Presented by The Reader’s Digest and the Freedoms Foundation, this program was created and moderated by Theodore Granik, best known for creating several other radio and television panel discussion programs including “Youth Wants to Know,” “Women Want to Know,” and perhaps most famously, “American Forum of the Air.”

The inspiration for this episode was the March 1962 Reader’s Digest article by Senator Kenneth Keating (R-NY), called “Change the Law that Fosters Crime.” Keating, a long time advocate of expanding federal surveillance powers, was known for having introduced a 1954 bill that sought to allow the FBI and military intelligence services to intercept telephone conversations in national-security cases, as well as Senate bill S. 3340 (86th Congress, 1960), which aimed to make it easier for state law enforcement to place taps.

In addition to Senator Keating, this episode’s panel featured Senator John A. Carroll (D-CO), Virgil W. Peterson, the Operating Director of the Chicago Crime Commission; Frank O’Connor, Queens County District Attorney; and Lawrence Speiser, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington, D.C. office.

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ACLU Records Processing Project Progress

The Mudd Manuscript Library has finished the first phase of an NHPRC-funded project to process the most recent records of the American Civil Liberties Union. After an extensive survey, we have a record of the contents of each of the 2,461 boxes. This is an increase of nearly 500 linear feet of materials from what we had initially estimated would be included in the project. To put that in perspective, instead of a project the length of 5.5 football fields, it is closer to 6.8 football fields. Many of the additional materials are case files and project files, but there is also a significant increase in the number of organizational records.

Emma Watt ’13 with 1200 boxes of ACLU Records

The records will be divided into the six series, closely following the arrangement of the earlier ACLU records to aid researchers in transitioning between the two sets:

Series 1: Organizational Matters
Series 2: Project Files
Series 3: Subject Files
Series 4: Legal Case Files
Series 5: Regional Offices

Series 6: Printed Materials and Audiovisual Materials

The next phase in the project is to create an inventory of the collection, which will be the main tool for researchers to locate relevant documents. Work began in September with the return of the Princeton University undergraduates to campus who will do the actual work of typing the inventories. The able assistants on this project are Jamie LaMontagne (Class of 2011), Brandon Joseph (Class of 2012), and Emma Watt (Class of 2013). Simultaneously, project archivist Adriane Hanson will be reviewing the records for materials that should be restricted due to legal requirements, ensuring that the maximum number of records can be opened at the completion of the project.

Despite the additional linear feet involved, the project is still scheduled to be completed on time in Summer 2012. We will publish a traditional finding aid online to describe the contents of these records and also create a guide to link together the numerous collections related to the American Civil Liberties Union at the Mudd Manuscript Library. In addition to the records for earlier periods in the ACLU’s history, some of these include the personal papers of: