Contents and Arrangement

Subseries 3C.2: Equality Before the Law: Civil Rights, 1943-1990

28 boxes

Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The Civil Rights subseries (11.76 linear feet) contains legal, administrative, and correspondence files relating to the ACLU's involvement in the protection of individual liberties. The subseries is organized chronologically with various headings for each year (though not all headings appear in every year) and contains newspaper clippings, correspondence, memoranda, and background papers. While the bulk of materials deals with the rights of African-Americans, several files contain material related to the liberties of Jews, Mexican-Americans, aliens, and the disabled.

The modern civil rights movement began with the 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate public schools, Brown v. Board of Education. As with many other important cases of the time, the ACLU filed an amicus curiae brief in the Brown case (see Series 4, Legal Case Files). The Brown decision triggered a maelstrom of opposition from conservative white politicians, particularly in the South. Hence, many of the files from the 1950s and even the 1960s are related to the unwillingness of various school districts to grant African-American students the rights which were guaranteed by the Brown decision. In addition to public schools, university and parochial school issues are also documented.

The ACLU took an extremely active role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Its direct involvement in sit-ins and other protests harkened back to the organization's intense activity in defense of workers' rights during the 1920s and 1930s. As the protest movement grew increasingly more radical--from the Freedom Riders early in the decade to the Black Panther Movement of the late 1960s--the ACLU's support for the doctrine of equal protection under the law did not wane, nor did the Union restrict its support to any one area of the far-flung civil rights quest. This subseries documents the ACLU's fight to gain equal access for all citizens in employment in both the public and private sector (and details the internal debate concerning affirmative action and quota-based hiring), housing, public accommodations (including restaurants, businesses, community swimming pools, and local parks), transportation, and at the polls (including fair representation in Congressional re-districting).

Documents under the housing heading detail discriminatory practices by neighborhoods and builders attempting to keep African-Americans out of their communities through restrictive covenants, or mortgage or insurance restrictions. The interracial issues heading contains background information and correspondence related to local and state miscegenation ordinances. This subseries also documents changes in federal and state legislation concerning civil rights; most notable are folders related to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The private organizations heading includes background documents and correspondence concerning discriminatory practices, as well as many documents from private organizations that supported the ACLU's fight for the protection of civil liberties, including the American Jewish Congress, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The peaceful and violent protests that marked the civil rights movement are documented as well in this subseries under the protest movements heading, which contains notable papers and records of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, the Alabama bus boycott, the sit-in movement, the Freedom Riders, and the Black Panther organization.


No arrangement action taken or arrangement information not recorded at the time of processing.

Collection History


During the processing of this collection, many items were discarded, including newspaper clippings from the New York Times and other major newspapers, government publications, well- known serial publications, and publications and large distribution memoranda from well-known and well-documented organizations such as the American Jewish Committee or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.


These papers were processed with the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Fund.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Paula Jabloner in 1994-1996 with the assistance of Assistant Archivist for Technical Services Daniel Linke, Special Collections Assistants Amy Escott, Claire Johnston, Alison McCuaig, and Tom Rosko, and students Laurie Alexander, Christina Aragon, Laura Burt, Jue Chen, Clement Doyle, Joe Faber, Said Farah, Boyd Goodson, Naomi Harlin, Janet Hine, Matthew Honahan, Katherine Johnson, Damian Long, Theresa Marchitto, Laura Myones, Olivia Kew, Grace Koo, Dan Sack, Bijan Salehizadeh, Tina Wang, Kyle Weston, and Elizabeth Williamson.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Subgroup 2 is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Subseries 3C.2: Equality Before the Law: Civil Rights; American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Subject Files Series, MC001-02-03, Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (rcpph): Box 1099-1126

Find More

Existence and Location of Copies

American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Subject Files Series, Boxes 704 through 1192 are stored offsite. The records in these boxes have been digitized and are available online to members of the Princeton University Community, or visitors to campus, through the Princeton University Library's subscription to the Gale database American Civil Liberties Union Papers, 1912-1990.

Public records of the ACLU from 1917 to 1989, have been microfilmed by the Microfilming Corporation of America (MCA) and University Microfilms International (UMI). These records include minutes of the board of directors, mailings to the board of directors, biennial conference papers, policy guides, the national legal docket, organization manuals, constitution and bylaws, legal briefs, and publications. The microfilm may be requested through this finding aid, in the second series.

Related Materials

American Civil Liberties Union, Washington, D.C. Office Records

American United for the Separation of Church and State Records

Roger N. Baldwin Papers

Osmond K. Fraenkel Diaries

Fund for the Republic Records

Arthur Garfield Hays Papers

Peggy Lamson Collection on Roger N. Baldwin

Law Students Civil Rights Research Council Records

PEN American Center Records (at Firestone Library)

Other Finding Aids

This finding aid describes a portion of the American Civil Liberties Union Records held at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. For an overview of the entire collection, instructions on searching the collection and requesting materials, and other information, please see the Guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records.


Historical sketch based on In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU by Samuel Walker. See also Samuel Walker's The American Civil Liberties Union: An Annotated Bibliography.

American Union Against Militarism
United States. | Constitution. 1st-10th Amendments
Marshall Civil Liberties Trust Fund
National Civil Liberties Bureau (U.S.)
New York Times company
Baldwin, Roger N. (Roger Nash), 1884-1981
Dorsen, Norman
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959.
Ennis, Bruce J., 1941-
Epperson, Susan
Escobedo, Danny
Everson, Arch R.
Gault, Gerald Francis, 1949 or 50-
Gideon, Clarence Earl
Griswold, Estelle
Hays, Arthur Garfield, 1881-1954
Holtzman, Elizabeth.
Jacobellis, Nico
Levy, Herbert Monte, 1923-
Malin, Patrick Murphy, 1903-1964
Miranda, Ernesto
Neier, Aryeh, 1937-
Neuborne, Burt, 1941-
Nixon, Richard M. Richard Milhous 1913-1994
Pemberton, John de J., Jr., 1919-2009
Perry, Richard L.
Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972.
Powell, John A. (John Anthony)
Reitman, Alan
Schempp, Edward L.
Schwarzschild, Henry
Scopes, John Thomas, 1900-1970
Seeger, Daniel A.
Tinker, John Frederick
Wulf, Melvin A.