American Civil Liberties Union

Alternative names
Dates:
Active 1989
Active 1991

History notes:

Founded in 1920 in New York City by Roger Baldwin and others; the ACLU was an outgrowth of the American Union Against Militarism's National Civil Liberties Bureau, which in 1920 changed its name to the American Civil Liberties Union.

From the description of Collection, 1917- (Swarthmore College, Peace Collection). WorldCat record id: 42740878

The Southern Women's Rights Project (SWRP) located in Richmond is affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union. The project deals with issues of special concern for women. Topics include: abortion, employment discrimination, ERA, education discrimination, prisoner's rights, children's rights, sexual harrassment, and spouse abuse.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union--Southern Women's Rights Project, 1976-1981, (Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University)

The Washington, D.C. Office of the American Civil Liberties Union was established in 1938 by the National Office, based in New York City. The ACLU is a leading defender of civil liberties in the United States. Founded in 1920, it has been the recipient of sharp criticism for its willingness to defend unpopular causes and has participated in a majority of the landmark cases to come before the Supreme Court in the twentieth century.

In the 1950s the office worked against abuses caused by McCarthyism, including loyalty and security concerns, powers of legislative investigating committees, and censorship of free speech and expression. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the office focused on civil rights issues and the defense of alternative means of self expression, including rights of conscientious objectors and protestors; freedom of expression; freedom of movement; and rights within the court system. The Washington Office was also deeply involved with defending the civil liberties of those associated with the federal government and its agencies.

From the description of American Civil Liberties Union Washington, D.C., office records, 1948-1970. (Princeton University Library). WorldCat record id: 80713111

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, Organizational Matters Series, 1919-2006, 1970-2000, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, Printed and Audiovisual Materials Series, 1918-2006, 1978-2006, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, 1864-2006, 1970-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was established in 1920 to protect the specific constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights. In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director.

For the history of the ACLU during the Baldwin years, see the history in the ACLU finding aid, 1912-1950.

The ACLU, 1950-1995: The Trials of Growth

The forty years between 1950 and 1990 were a time of significant growth for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Membership increased twenty-five times, and the Union's impact on the legal landscape was broad and deep. One historian decreed that the decade after 1954 witnessed “the greatest advances in civil liberties in American history,” with significant gains for African-Americans, women, students, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and others previously denied the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This period also saw the end to much censorship and the decoupling of church/state activity. The ACLU's boom was not without the threat of bust, however. The organization restructured itself several times as it wrestled to reflect internally the principles it espoused publicly. Its expansion into new areas of civil rights along with its firm stand on the First Amendment produced episodes that threatened the ACLU's viability.

Organizational Expansion

In the years immediately following World War II, younger, non-founding members of the ACLU Board pressed for and eventually achieved a structural reorganization that led to the Union's present configuration. In 1950, Roger Baldwin's role changed from administrator to ambassador, in which he toured, lectured, and wrote on civil liberties issues. While at the helm of the ACLU, Baldwin preferred that the ACLU remain a small, centrally-controlled unit with himself at the helm, something that changed under the administration of his successor, Patrick Murphy Malin. A Swarthmore economist, Malin lacked Baldwin's charm and speaking skills, but he was a successful administrator who oversaw the growth of the organization from 9,000 members in 1950 to over 60,000 by the time of his departure in 1962.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the expansion of local affiliates at the state and regional level that had their own boards and acted upon local civil liberties issues. Many served as watchdogs--ensuring that civil rights victories won by the national ACLU in the high courts were enforced at the local level--while other affiliates were active in initiating cases, often with more absolutist positions than the national office. Though the affiliates had a voice in deciding the national chapter's direction and policy since 1954, the organizational mechanism by which this was accomplished was cumbersome, changing several times. A workable method was found in 1967 with the creation of an 80-member board of directors comprised of representatives from all the affiliates and thirty at-large members. In addition, starting in 1959 and continuing to the present, the ACLU held biennial conferences to inform membership on pertinent topics, and to gather their views on civil liberties issues.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties

Historian Samuel Walker divides the ACLU's area of activity between 1950-1990 into four broad areas: Cold War issues, censorship, church/state, and civil rights. The beginning of the Cold War, the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the re-emergence of the House Committee on Un- American Activities (HUAC) created an atmosphere of intolerance and suspicion that not only posed a threat to individual civil liberties, but also destroyed the lives of many caught in the web spun by the Wisconsin Senator and his minions. The ACLU challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principle.

While the ACLU had not always lived up to these same principles (in 1940 it ousted board member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her membership in the Communist Party), by the early 1950s the ACLU did not hesitate to aid in the publication of Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged . The book detailed HUAC's and McCarthy's red-baiting tactics, such as the prevalent use of unnamed (and hence unreliable or unanswerable) sources, guilt by association or exercise of one's Fifth Amendment rights, and other questionable means that resulted in blacklistings and firings of many in unions, the film industry, and the teaching profession. The ACLU called for the abolition of HUAC, attacked any measure that punished Communist Party members or denied them rights based solely on party membership ( Kent v. Dulles, for example), and sought fair and open investigations for the accused. In testament to its strict adherence to principle, the ACLU reminded the United States Senate of its obligation to provide McCarthy a fair hearing when it began censure proceedings against him in 1954.

The ACLU may have stood up for the rights of the accused more readily in 1950 than it did in 1940 because Roger Baldwin had developed a quid pro quo with J. Edgar Hoover in which the ACLU did not publicize FBI civil rights violations, and high-level Union officers cooperated with the Bureau. Baldwin and others thought that this cooperation, in conjunction with the Flynn resolution, inoculated the Union against attack as a Communist-front organization, freeing it to spend its energies defending constitutional principle, not itself. This arrangement, shocking when revealed in later years, did not prevent the FBI from continuing its massive surveillance of the ACLU and its members.

Red hunters cited national security as the basis for their actions, a justification that the government would continue to invoke and one that the ACLU contested in such cases as the Pentagon Papers ( U.S. v. New York Times ), Watergate ( U.S. v. Nixon ), and Iran-Contra. In 1969, 13 years after Joseph McCarthy's death, the ACLU's vigilance bore the ultimate fruit in Brandenburg v. Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government only could punish direct incitement to lawless action, thereby invalidating the Smith Act and all state sedition laws that restricted radical political thought.

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

The cousin to McCarthyism's national security cause was the drive to protect people from printed materials and movies that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. Censorship attempts were, from the ACLU's point of view, a fundamental attack on free speech, and over the course of three decades, the Union came to adopt an absolutist position, suffering no infringement in any form. Beginning with a 1952 Supreme Court victory in Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey in which the high court declared that states cannot prohibit the screening of films based on state-based standards, the ACLU rang up a string of court victories. These, combined with changing market pressures, brought a complete end to many common censorship practices by the 1960s ( Jacobellis v. Ohio ), including the sharp curtailment of post office censorship ( Hannegan v. Esquire ).

In a related decision, the Supreme Court gave a boost to freedom of the press in New York Times v. Sullivan which declared that public officials could not sue for defamation unless they proved “actual malice,” thereby providing the media with heretofore unknown freedom to report critically. Freedom of speech was extended, with the ACLU's assistance, by placing it above property rights in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, with the high court deciding that a shopping center could not forbid the distribution of political pamphlets on its premises.

Perhaps the most famous free speech issue of the ACLU's history, and certainly one that had the greatest impact on the organization, was the pitched battle over American Nazis' right to parade through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. Half the town's 70,000 citizens were Jewish, and about 1,000 were Holocaust survivors, but this did not dissuade the ACLU (then headed by Aryeh Neier who was Jewish) from taking on the Nazis' cause in what the ACLU considered a “classic First Amendment case.”

What the Union did not count on was a vigorous counter-argument by the Jewish Defense League, nor the loss of the support of its long-time ally, the American Jewish Congress. The ACLU won the court case, though the Nazis never marched in Skokie (ultimately parading at a site in downtown Chicago), but the highly-publicized case caused a backlash resulting in a large drop in membership. Neier, who had assumed the executive director's post after the departure of John de J. Pemberton in 1970 and was accustomed to growing membership rolls and increasing budgets, found himself unable to reconcile the organization's activities with available funds and resigned. His successor, Ira Glasser, initiated an emergency appeal to supporters and raised over $500,000, allowing him to re-structure organizationally and financially, placing the ACLU back in the black and ready for the looming trials of the Reagan Revolution.

Church/State

The ACLU earned the enmity of many for its efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, predominantly mainstream Protestantism, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, and other connections between government and religious activity. Starting in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education, the court delineated the Establishment Clause and the ACLU began to challenge long-entrenched government support for religious activity. Assailing school prayer, the ACLU won high court decisions to end it ( Engel v. Vitale and Abingdon School District v. Schempp ). It also re-fought the Scopes trial ( Epperson v. Arkansas ) in Arkansas which had required the teaching of creationism as well as evolution.

Frequently working in conjunction with Protestants United for the Separation of Church and State (later Americans United…) and the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU repeatedly clashed with the desires of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as censorship, birth control, or school aid, often with the ACLU the victor. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, as many mainstream churches accepted the delineation. However, fundamentalist religions continued challenging laws on public prayer issues into the 1990s, with little effect ( Wallace v. Jaffree ). Often, the affiliates bore the brunt of enforcement on church/state separation, acting to check sometimes frequent local infringements, thus proving Roger Baldwin's assertion that “no victory ever stays won.”

Civil Rights

The First Amendment clearly delineates free speech protection and church/state separation, and it was easy for the ACLU to pick up the banner for these causes. However, most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involved the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. In this multifaceted arena, the ACLU found itself embroiled both internally and externally, as the national organization sought to define its mission even as state affiliates and regional offices acted on their own accord, usually pushing further and harder than the national organization planned to go.

For example, during the Vietnam War ACLU moderates clashed with anti-war activists over the issue of representing Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician and prominent anti-war activist accused of interfering with the functions of government when he organized a “Stop the Draft” Week in 1968. Legal director Melvin Wulf first announced that the ACLU would represent Spock, only to be overruled by the national board, prompting the Massachusetts affiliate to take up Spock's cause. Though ultimately the government would drop its case, pro- Spock members saw the case as an opportunity to raise questions about the Vietnam War's legitimacy (as well as freedom of speech), while moderates viewed that issue as outside the ACLU's scope. It also brought to the fore a long-simmering debate over whether the ACLU should participate directly in lawsuits or contribute amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs to other cases. After reviewing its most recent past activity, the Union decided that they had de facto become directly involved in cases and would continue as such.

Despite the organizational turmoil, a discussion of the ACLU's legal success under the civil rights rubric threatens to become a numbing list of historic Supreme Court decisions. Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and tolled the end of government-endorsed segregation was one of many cases in which the ACLU worked together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to win rights for African-Americans. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement.

Other famous high court cases in which the ACLU partook include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy, thereby laying the foundation for future abortion rights decisions; Tinker v. Des Moines and In re Gault, two cases recognizing that minors enjoyed some Constitutional protection, especially in regard to freedom of speech and due process; and Miranda v. Arizona, Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois, and Gideon v. Wainwright, all of which expanded the rights of the accused, mandating an explanation of their rights and access to counsel, and placing limits on police action. (While these last cases caused many police groups to view the ACLU with hostility, the Union also defended a police officer's right to belong to conservative political organizations such as the John Birch Society.)

As the concept of civil rights expanded, the ACLU started several special projects designed to focus solely on specific topics, including the Mental Health Law Project, the Project on Amnesty, the Privacy Project, the Women's Rights Project, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Prisoners' Rights Project. Each project worked not only to change the law, but to educate the public and raise their own funds.

Expansion Issues

The Children's Rights Project is an example of how the ACLU changed itself from a small, centrally-controlled organization to an expansive confederacy of groups working to advance the goal of civil liberties. With its roots in the 1970s and located at the national organization's office in New York City, it was one of the focused projects financially seeded by the national organization. In 1995, it had become successful enough to incorporate itself and separate from the ACLU organizationally, physically, and financially. Another sign of growth was the start of the regional offices. In addition to the Washington, D.C. office (established 1938) the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta was organized in 1964 and the Mountain States Regional Office in Denver a few years later. Each handled cases particular to their geographic areas, as well as the usual range of cases that interested the ACLU. This led to varying interpretations of ACLU policy which resulted in the creation of the ACLU's official policy guides, issued first in 1966 and revised periodically. These represented the ACLU's attempt to coordinate and control the types of cases the Union would take on and to shepherd resources along coordinated lines.

Unfortunately, the national organization had trouble determining what path to take, as many individuals within the organization pulled in different directions. Exacerbating this problem was the ACLU's re-structuring which attempted to reconcile the many voices in the civil liberties debate. After the first re-organization which opened up policy making to affiliates in 1954, the ACLU re-organized again in 1964, establishing a two-tiered system of governance in which affiliate representatives met twice a year and the board of directors in between. The dichotomy did not provide any stability and three years later, the Union re-organized once again, establishing its one-body 80-member board. Throughout this time, the ACLU continued its board committees--some standing, others ad hoc--which focused on particular issues such as academic freedom or due process. In later years, the rise of the special projects would overtake some of the committees' work and the role of the committees would be reduced, though not eliminated.

The establishment of the Roger N. Baldwin/ACLU Foundation in 1967 was another major organizational change for the ACLU. The Union created the charitable fund-raising arm to pay attorneys to work on the ACLU's behalf, signalling the end of the national organization's long- standing reliance on volunteer lawyers. Though volunteer attorneys continued to play a significant role in many of the affiliates, even there some groups, such as the New York and Southern California affiliates, had a history of paying for legal representation. The Foundation's purpose was to solicit funds from, among other places, other foundations, and during its early years much of its resources supported civil rights work in the South. In later years, it would provide initial funds for many of the special projects, gather any legal fees won by the project lawyers, applying the funds against the project's overhead costs.

These changes reflected not only the organization's growth, but also its expanding interpretation of what constituted civil liberties work. Starting with the civil rights movement and continuing on through the Vietnam War and Watergate, the ACLU fought internally, often bitterly, over the scope and nature of its work. In this battle, the broad interpreters of the Union's mission won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas, far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the Union was founded.

The 1980s and early 1990s

The ACLU emerged from the 1970s a victor of many legal battles and organizationally strong. However, despite its track record and strength, the ACLU would not ring up a string of Supreme Court victories in the 1980s and 1990s as it had in the previous two decades. Public sentiment, long an ally in many areas, had shifted against the organization, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream. In the 1988 presidential election, GOP candidate George Bush, willfully unaware of nearly fifty years of Supreme Court decisions, echoed the phrase of Joseph McCarthy in calling his opponent, Michael Dukakis, a “card- carrying member of the ACLU” for his opposition to a flag-salute requirement. The Bush accusation reflected the state of public awareness of civil liberties in the 1980s as the ACLU re- fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In the area of censorship, the Union withstood challenges from both right and left, the latter trying to censor publications under the rubric of protecting women. However, the ACLU stood firm in its belief in the absolute freedom of speech.

The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee that the rights of the minority would not be infringed upon by the majority; the ACLU's accomplishments during the twentieth century helped to ensure that unpopular views would be tolerated, and indirectly, to remind people that it is an uncommon nation that commonly tolerates challenges to the majority view.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Organizational Matters Series, 1947-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The ACLU is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States. The ACLU describes itself as "our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country." Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th century. This includes important work in the areas of civil rights, children and women’s rights, freedom of speech (and all First Amendment questions), and due process, among many others.

For a more detailed history of the ACLU, please see the history in the finding aid for the processed portion of the records.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 4, 1933-2002, 1970-2000, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was established in 1920 to protect the specific constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights. In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director.

For the history of the ACLU during the Baldwin years, see the history in the ACLU finding aid, 1912-1950.

The ACLU, 1950-1995: The Trials of Growth

The forty years between 1950 and 1990 were a time of significant growth for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Membership increased twenty-five times, and the Union's impact on the legal landscape was broad and deep. One historian decreed that the decade after 1954 witnessed “the greatest advances in civil liberties in American history,” with significant gains for African-Americans, women, students, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and others previously denied the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This period also saw the end to much censorship and the decoupling of church/state activity. The ACLU's boom was not without the threat of bust, however. The organization restructured itself several times as it wrestled to reflect internally the principles it espoused publicly. Its expansion into new areas of civil rights along with its firm stand on the First Amendment produced episodes that threatened the ACLU's viability.

Organizational Expansion

In the years immediately following World War II, younger, non-founding members of the ACLU Board pressed for and eventually achieved a structural reorganization that led to the Union's present configuration. In 1950, Roger Baldwin's role changed from administrator to ambassador, in which he toured, lectured, and wrote on civil liberties issues. While at the helm of the ACLU, Baldwin preferred that the ACLU remain a small, centrally-controlled unit with himself at the helm, something that changed under the administration of his successor, Patrick Murphy Malin. A Swarthmore economist, Malin lacked Baldwin's charm and speaking skills, but he was a successful administrator who oversaw the growth of the organization from 9,000 members in 1950 to over 60,000 by the time of his departure in 1962.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the expansion of local affiliates at the state and regional level that had their own boards and acted upon local civil liberties issues. Many served as watchdogs--ensuring that civil rights victories won by the national ACLU in the high courts were enforced at the local level--while other affiliates were active in initiating cases, often with more absolutist positions than the national office. Though the affiliates had a voice in deciding the national chapter's direction and policy since 1954, the organizational mechanism by which this was accomplished was cumbersome, changing several times. A workable method was found in 1967 with the creation of an 80-member board of directors comprised of representatives from all the affiliates and thirty at-large members. In addition, starting in 1959 and continuing to the present, the ACLU held biennial conferences to inform membership on pertinent topics, and to gather their views on civil liberties issues.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties

Historian Samuel Walker divides the ACLU's area of activity between 1950-1990 into four broad areas: Cold War issues, censorship, church/state, and civil rights. The beginning of the Cold War, the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the re-emergence of the House Committee on Un- American Activities (HUAC) created an atmosphere of intolerance and suspicion that not only posed a threat to individual civil liberties, but also destroyed the lives of many caught in the web spun by the Wisconsin Senator and his minions. The ACLU challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principle.

While the ACLU had not always lived up to these same principles (in 1940 it ousted board member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her membership in the Communist Party), by the early 1950s the ACLU did not hesitate to aid in the publication of Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged . The book detailed HUAC's and McCarthy's red-baiting tactics, such as the prevalent use of unnamed (and hence unreliable or unanswerable) sources, guilt by association or exercise of one's Fifth Amendment rights, and other questionable means that resulted in blacklistings and firings of many in unions, the film industry, and the teaching profession. The ACLU called for the abolition of HUAC, attacked any measure that punished Communist Party members or denied them rights based solely on party membership ( Kent v. Dulles, for example), and sought fair and open investigations for the accused. In testament to its strict adherence to principle, the ACLU reminded the United States Senate of its obligation to provide McCarthy a fair hearing when it began censure proceedings against him in 1954.

The ACLU may have stood up for the rights of the accused more readily in 1950 than it did in 1940 because Roger Baldwin had developed a quid pro quo with J. Edgar Hoover in which the ACLU did not publicize FBI civil rights violations, and high-level Union officers cooperated with the Bureau. Baldwin and others thought that this cooperation, in conjunction with the Flynn resolution, inoculated the Union against attack as a Communist-front organization, freeing it to spend its energies defending constitutional principle, not itself. This arrangement, shocking when revealed in later years, did not prevent the FBI from continuing its massive surveillance of the ACLU and its members.

Red hunters cited national security as the basis for their actions, a justification that the government would continue to invoke and one that the ACLU contested in such cases as the Pentagon Papers ( U.S. v. New York Times ), Watergate ( U.S. v. Nixon ), and Iran-Contra. In 1969, 13 years after Joseph McCarthy's death, the ACLU's vigilance bore the ultimate fruit in Brandenburg v. Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government only could punish direct incitement to lawless action, thereby invalidating the Smith Act and all state sedition laws that restricted radical political thought.

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

The cousin to McCarthyism's national security cause was the drive to protect people from printed materials and movies that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. Censorship attempts were, from the ACLU's point of view, a fundamental attack on free speech, and over the course of three decades, the Union came to adopt an absolutist position, suffering no infringement in any form. Beginning with a 1952 Supreme Court victory in Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey in which the high court declared that states cannot prohibit the screening of films based on state-based standards, the ACLU rang up a string of court victories. These, combined with changing market pressures, brought a complete end to many common censorship practices by the 1960s ( Jacobellis v. Ohio ), including the sharp curtailment of post office censorship ( Hannegan v. Esquire ).

In a related decision, the Supreme Court gave a boost to freedom of the press in New York Times v. Sullivan which declared that public officials could not sue for defamation unless they proved “actual malice,” thereby providing the media with heretofore unknown freedom to report critically. Freedom of speech was extended, with the ACLU's assistance, by placing it above property rights in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, with the high court deciding that a shopping center could not forbid the distribution of political pamphlets on its premises.

Perhaps the most famous free speech issue of the ACLU's history, and certainly one that had the greatest impact on the organization, was the pitched battle over American Nazis' right to parade through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. Half the town's 70,000 citizens were Jewish, and about 1,000 were Holocaust survivors, but this did not dissuade the ACLU (then headed by Aryeh Neier who was Jewish) from taking on the Nazis' cause in what the ACLU considered a “classic First Amendment case.”

What the Union did not count on was a vigorous counter-argument by the Jewish Defense League, nor the loss of the support of its long-time ally, the American Jewish Congress. The ACLU won the court case, though the Nazis never marched in Skokie (ultimately parading at a site in downtown Chicago), but the highly-publicized case caused a backlash resulting in a large drop in membership. Neier, who had assumed the executive director's post after the departure of John de J. Pemberton in 1970 and was accustomed to growing membership rolls and increasing budgets, found himself unable to reconcile the organization's activities with available funds and resigned. His successor, Ira Glasser, initiated an emergency appeal to supporters and raised over $500,000, allowing him to re-structure organizationally and financially, placing the ACLU back in the black and ready for the looming trials of the Reagan Revolution.

Church/State

The ACLU earned the enmity of many for its efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, predominantly mainstream Protestantism, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, and other connections between government and religious activity. Starting in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education, the court delineated the Establishment Clause and the ACLU began to challenge long-entrenched government support for religious activity. Assailing school prayer, the ACLU won high court decisions to end it ( Engel v. Vitale and Abingdon School District v. Schempp ). It also re-fought the Scopes trial ( Epperson v. Arkansas ) in Arkansas which had required the teaching of creationism as well as evolution.

Frequently working in conjunction with Protestants United for the Separation of Church and State (later Americans United…) and the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU repeatedly clashed with the desires of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as censorship, birth control, or school aid, often with the ACLU the victor. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, as many mainstream churches accepted the delineation. However, fundamentalist religions continued challenging laws on public prayer issues into the 1990s, with little effect ( Wallace v. Jaffree ). Often, the affiliates bore the brunt of enforcement on church/state separation, acting to check sometimes frequent local infringements, thus proving Roger Baldwin's assertion that “no victory ever stays won.”

Civil Rights

The First Amendment clearly delineates free speech protection and church/state separation, and it was easy for the ACLU to pick up the banner for these causes. However, most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involved the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. In this multifaceted arena, the ACLU found itself embroiled both internally and externally, as the national organization sought to define its mission even as state affiliates and regional offices acted on their own accord, usually pushing further and harder than the national organization planned to go.

For example, during the Vietnam War ACLU moderates clashed with anti-war activists over the issue of representing Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician and prominent anti-war activist accused of interfering with the functions of government when he organized a “Stop the Draft” Week in 1968. Legal director Melvin Wulf first announced that the ACLU would represent Spock, only to be overruled by the national board, prompting the Massachusetts affiliate to take up Spock's cause. Though ultimately the government would drop its case, pro- Spock members saw the case as an opportunity to raise questions about the Vietnam War's legitimacy (as well as freedom of speech), while moderates viewed that issue as outside the ACLU's scope. It also brought to the fore a long-simmering debate over whether the ACLU should participate directly in lawsuits or contribute amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs to other cases. After reviewing its most recent past activity, the Union decided that they had de facto become directly involved in cases and would continue as such.

Despite the organizational turmoil, a discussion of the ACLU's legal success under the civil rights rubric threatens to become a numbing list of historic Supreme Court decisions. Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and tolled the end of government-endorsed segregation was one of many cases in which the ACLU worked together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to win rights for African-Americans. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement.

Other famous high court cases in which the ACLU partook include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy, thereby laying the foundation for future abortion rights decisions; Tinker v. Des Moines and In re Gault, two cases recognizing that minors enjoyed some Constitutional protection, especially in regard to freedom of speech and due process; and Miranda v. Arizona, Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois, and Gideon v. Wainwright, all of which expanded the rights of the accused, mandating an explanation of their rights and access to counsel, and placing limits on police action. (While these last cases caused many police groups to view the ACLU with hostility, the Union also defended a police officer's right to belong to conservative political organizations such as the John Birch Society.)

As the concept of civil rights expanded, the ACLU started several special projects designed to focus solely on specific topics, including the Mental Health Law Project, the Project on Amnesty, the Privacy Project, the Women's Rights Project, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Prisoners' Rights Project. Each project worked not only to change the law, but to educate the public and raise their own funds.

Expansion Issues

The Children's Rights Project is an example of how the ACLU changed itself from a small, centrally-controlled organization to an expansive confederacy of groups working to advance the goal of civil liberties. With its roots in the 1970s and located at the national organization's office in New York City, it was one of the focused projects financially seeded by the national organization. In 1995, it had become successful enough to incorporate itself and separate from the ACLU organizationally, physically, and financially. Another sign of growth was the start of the regional offices. In addition to the Washington, D.C. office (established 1938) the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta was organized in 1964 and the Mountain States Regional Office in Denver a few years later. Each handled cases particular to their geographic areas, as well as the usual range of cases that interested the ACLU. This led to varying interpretations of ACLU policy which resulted in the creation of the ACLU's official policy guides, issued first in 1966 and revised periodically. These represented the ACLU's attempt to coordinate and control the types of cases the Union would take on and to shepherd resources along coordinated lines.

Unfortunately, the national organization had trouble determining what path to take, as many individuals within the organization pulled in different directions. Exacerbating this problem was the ACLU's re-structuring which attempted to reconcile the many voices in the civil liberties debate. After the first re-organization which opened up policy making to affiliates in 1954, the ACLU re-organized again in 1964, establishing a two-tiered system of governance in which affiliate representatives met twice a year and the board of directors in between. The dichotomy did not provide any stability and three years later, the Union re-organized once again, establishing its one-body 80-member board. Throughout this time, the ACLU continued its board committees--some standing, others ad hoc--which focused on particular issues such as academic freedom or due process. In later years, the rise of the special projects would overtake some of the committees' work and the role of the committees would be reduced, though not eliminated.

The establishment of the Roger N. Baldwin/ACLU Foundation in 1967 was another major organizational change for the ACLU. The Union created the charitable fund-raising arm to pay attorneys to work on the ACLU's behalf, signalling the end of the national organization's long- standing reliance on volunteer lawyers. Though volunteer attorneys continued to play a significant role in many of the affiliates, even there some groups, such as the New York and Southern California affiliates, had a history of paying for legal representation. The Foundation's purpose was to solicit funds from, among other places, other foundations, and during its early years much of its resources supported civil rights work in the South. In later years, it would provide initial funds for many of the special projects, gather any legal fees won by the project lawyers, applying the funds against the project's overhead costs.

These changes reflected not only the organization's growth, but also its expanding interpretation of what constituted civil liberties work. Starting with the civil rights movement and continuing on through the Vietnam War and Watergate, the ACLU fought internally, often bitterly, over the scope and nature of its work. In this battle, the broad interpreters of the Union's mission won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas, far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the Union was founded.

The 1980s and early 1990s

The ACLU emerged from the 1970s a victor of many legal battles and organizationally strong. However, despite its track record and strength, the ACLU would not ring up a string of Supreme Court victories in the 1980s and 1990s as it had in the previous two decades. Public sentiment, long an ally in many areas, had shifted against the organization, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream. In the 1988 presidential election, GOP candidate George Bush, willfully unaware of nearly fifty years of Supreme Court decisions, echoed the phrase of Joseph McCarthy in calling his opponent, Michael Dukakis, a “card- carrying member of the ACLU” for his opposition to a flag-salute requirement. The Bush accusation reflected the state of public awareness of civil liberties in the 1980s as the ACLU re- fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In the area of censorship, the Union withstood challenges from both right and left, the latter trying to censor publications under the rubric of protecting women. However, the ACLU stood firm in its belief in the absolute freedom of speech.

The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee that the rights of the minority would not be infringed upon by the majority; the ACLU's accomplishments during the twentieth century helped to ensure that unpopular views would be tolerated, and indirectly, to remind people that it is an uncommon nation that commonly tolerates challenges to the majority view.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Legal Case Files Series, 1947-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was established in 1920 to protect the specific constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights. In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director.

For the history of the ACLU during the Baldwin years, see the history in the ACLU finding aid, 1912-1950.

The ACLU, 1950-1995: The Trials of Growth

The forty years between 1950 and 1990 were a time of significant growth for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Membership increased twenty-five times, and the Union's impact on the legal landscape was broad and deep. One historian decreed that the decade after 1954 witnessed “the greatest advances in civil liberties in American history,” with significant gains for African-Americans, women, students, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and others previously denied the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This period also saw the end to much censorship and the decoupling of church/state activity. The ACLU's boom was not without the threat of bust, however. The organization restructured itself several times as it wrestled to reflect internally the principles it espoused publicly. Its expansion into new areas of civil rights along with its firm stand on the First Amendment produced episodes that threatened the ACLU's viability.

Organizational Expansion

In the years immediately following World War II, younger, non-founding members of the ACLU Board pressed for and eventually achieved a structural reorganization that led to the Union's present configuration. In 1950, Roger Baldwin's role changed from administrator to ambassador, in which he toured, lectured, and wrote on civil liberties issues. While at the helm of the ACLU, Baldwin preferred that the ACLU remain a small, centrally-controlled unit with himself at the helm, something that changed under the administration of his successor, Patrick Murphy Malin. A Swarthmore economist, Malin lacked Baldwin's charm and speaking skills, but he was a successful administrator who oversaw the growth of the organization from 9,000 members in 1950 to over 60,000 by the time of his departure in 1962.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the expansion of local affiliates at the state and regional level that had their own boards and acted upon local civil liberties issues. Many served as watchdogs--ensuring that civil rights victories won by the national ACLU in the high courts were enforced at the local level--while other affiliates were active in initiating cases, often with more absolutist positions than the national office. Though the affiliates had a voice in deciding the national chapter's direction and policy since 1954, the organizational mechanism by which this was accomplished was cumbersome, changing several times. A workable method was found in 1967 with the creation of an 80-member board of directors comprised of representatives from all the affiliates and thirty at-large members. In addition, starting in 1959 and continuing to the present, the ACLU held biennial conferences to inform membership on pertinent topics, and to gather their views on civil liberties issues.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties

Historian Samuel Walker divides the ACLU's area of activity between 1950-1990 into four broad areas: Cold War issues, censorship, church/state, and civil rights. The beginning of the Cold War, the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the re-emergence of the House Committee on Un- American Activities (HUAC) created an atmosphere of intolerance and suspicion that not only posed a threat to individual civil liberties, but also destroyed the lives of many caught in the web spun by the Wisconsin Senator and his minions. The ACLU challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principle.

While the ACLU had not always lived up to these same principles (in 1940 it ousted board member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her membership in the Communist Party), by the early 1950s the ACLU did not hesitate to aid in the publication of Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged . The book detailed HUAC's and McCarthy's red-baiting tactics, such as the prevalent use of unnamed (and hence unreliable or unanswerable) sources, guilt by association or exercise of one's Fifth Amendment rights, and other questionable means that resulted in blacklistings and firings of many in unions, the film industry, and the teaching profession. The ACLU called for the abolition of HUAC, attacked any measure that punished Communist Party members or denied them rights based solely on party membership ( Kent v. Dulles, for example), and sought fair and open investigations for the accused. In testament to its strict adherence to principle, the ACLU reminded the United States Senate of its obligation to provide McCarthy a fair hearing when it began censure proceedings against him in 1954.

The ACLU may have stood up for the rights of the accused more readily in 1950 than it did in 1940 because Roger Baldwin had developed a quid pro quo with J. Edgar Hoover in which the ACLU did not publicize FBI civil rights violations, and high-level Union officers cooperated with the Bureau. Baldwin and others thought that this cooperation, in conjunction with the Flynn resolution, inoculated the Union against attack as a Communist-front organization, freeing it to spend its energies defending constitutional principle, not itself. This arrangement, shocking when revealed in later years, did not prevent the FBI from continuing its massive surveillance of the ACLU and its members.

Red hunters cited national security as the basis for their actions, a justification that the government would continue to invoke and one that the ACLU contested in such cases as the Pentagon Papers ( U.S. v. New York Times ), Watergate ( U.S. v. Nixon ), and Iran-Contra. In 1969, 13 years after Joseph McCarthy's death, the ACLU's vigilance bore the ultimate fruit in Brandenburg v. Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government only could punish direct incitement to lawless action, thereby invalidating the Smith Act and all state sedition laws that restricted radical political thought.

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

The cousin to McCarthyism's national security cause was the drive to protect people from printed materials and movies that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. Censorship attempts were, from the ACLU's point of view, a fundamental attack on free speech, and over the course of three decades, the Union came to adopt an absolutist position, suffering no infringement in any form. Beginning with a 1952 Supreme Court victory in Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey in which the high court declared that states cannot prohibit the screening of films based on state-based standards, the ACLU rang up a string of court victories. These, combined with changing market pressures, brought a complete end to many common censorship practices by the 1960s ( Jacobellis v. Ohio ), including the sharp curtailment of post office censorship ( Hannegan v. Esquire ).

In a related decision, the Supreme Court gave a boost to freedom of the press in New York Times v. Sullivan which declared that public officials could not sue for defamation unless they proved “actual malice,” thereby providing the media with heretofore unknown freedom to report critically. Freedom of speech was extended, with the ACLU's assistance, by placing it above property rights in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, with the high court deciding that a shopping center could not forbid the distribution of political pamphlets on its premises.

Perhaps the most famous free speech issue of the ACLU's history, and certainly one that had the greatest impact on the organization, was the pitched battle over American Nazis' right to parade through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. Half the town's 70,000 citizens were Jewish, and about 1,000 were Holocaust survivors, but this did not dissuade the ACLU (then headed by Aryeh Neier who was Jewish) from taking on the Nazis' cause in what the ACLU considered a “classic First Amendment case.”

What the Union did not count on was a vigorous counter-argument by the Jewish Defense League, nor the loss of the support of its long-time ally, the American Jewish Congress. The ACLU won the court case, though the Nazis never marched in Skokie (ultimately parading at a site in downtown Chicago), but the highly-publicized case caused a backlash resulting in a large drop in membership. Neier, who had assumed the executive director's post after the departure of John de J. Pemberton in 1970 and was accustomed to growing membership rolls and increasing budgets, found himself unable to reconcile the organization's activities with available funds and resigned. His successor, Ira Glasser, initiated an emergency appeal to supporters and raised over $500,000, allowing him to re-structure organizationally and financially, placing the ACLU back in the black and ready for the looming trials of the Reagan Revolution.

Church/State

The ACLU earned the enmity of many for its efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, predominantly mainstream Protestantism, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, and other connections between government and religious activity. Starting in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education, the court delineated the Establishment Clause and the ACLU began to challenge long-entrenched government support for religious activity. Assailing school prayer, the ACLU won high court decisions to end it ( Engel v. Vitale and Abingdon School District v. Schempp ). It also re-fought the Scopes trial ( Epperson v. Arkansas ) in Arkansas which had required the teaching of creationism as well as evolution.

Frequently working in conjunction with Protestants United for the Separation of Church and State (later Americans United…) and the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU repeatedly clashed with the desires of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as censorship, birth control, or school aid, often with the ACLU the victor. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, as many mainstream churches accepted the delineation. However, fundamentalist religions continued challenging laws on public prayer issues into the 1990s, with little effect ( Wallace v. Jaffree ). Often, the affiliates bore the brunt of enforcement on church/state separation, acting to check sometimes frequent local infringements, thus proving Roger Baldwin's assertion that “no victory ever stays won.”

Civil Rights

The First Amendment clearly delineates free speech protection and church/state separation, and it was easy for the ACLU to pick up the banner for these causes. However, most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involved the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. In this multifaceted arena, the ACLU found itself embroiled both internally and externally, as the national organization sought to define its mission even as state affiliates and regional offices acted on their own accord, usually pushing further and harder than the national organization planned to go.

For example, during the Vietnam War ACLU moderates clashed with anti-war activists over the issue of representing Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician and prominent anti-war activist accused of interfering with the functions of government when he organized a “Stop the Draft” Week in 1968. Legal director Melvin Wulf first announced that the ACLU would represent Spock, only to be overruled by the national board, prompting the Massachusetts affiliate to take up Spock's cause. Though ultimately the government would drop its case, pro- Spock members saw the case as an opportunity to raise questions about the Vietnam War's legitimacy (as well as freedom of speech), while moderates viewed that issue as outside the ACLU's scope. It also brought to the fore a long-simmering debate over whether the ACLU should participate directly in lawsuits or contribute amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs to other cases. After reviewing its most recent past activity, the Union decided that they had de facto become directly involved in cases and would continue as such.

Despite the organizational turmoil, a discussion of the ACLU's legal success under the civil rights rubric threatens to become a numbing list of historic Supreme Court decisions. Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and tolled the end of government-endorsed segregation was one of many cases in which the ACLU worked together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to win rights for African-Americans. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement.

Other famous high court cases in which the ACLU partook include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy, thereby laying the foundation for future abortion rights decisions; Tinker v. Des Moines and In re Gault, two cases recognizing that minors enjoyed some Constitutional protection, especially in regard to freedom of speech and due process; and Miranda v. Arizona, Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois, and Gideon v. Wainwright, all of which expanded the rights of the accused, mandating an explanation of their rights and access to counsel, and placing limits on police action. (While these last cases caused many police groups to view the ACLU with hostility, the Union also defended a police officer's right to belong to conservative political organizations such as the John Birch Society.)

As the concept of civil rights expanded, the ACLU started several special projects designed to focus solely on specific topics, including the Mental Health Law Project, the Project on Amnesty, the Privacy Project, the Women's Rights Project, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Prisoners' Rights Project. Each project worked not only to change the law, but to educate the public and raise their own funds.

Expansion Issues

The Children's Rights Project is an example of how the ACLU changed itself from a small, centrally-controlled organization to an expansive confederacy of groups working to advance the goal of civil liberties. With its roots in the 1970s and located at the national organization's office in New York City, it was one of the focused projects financially seeded by the national organization. In 1995, it had become successful enough to incorporate itself and separate from the ACLU organizationally, physically, and financially. Another sign of growth was the start of the regional offices. In addition to the Washington, D.C. office (established 1938) the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta was organized in 1964 and the Mountain States Regional Office in Denver a few years later. Each handled cases particular to their geographic areas, as well as the usual range of cases that interested the ACLU. This led to varying interpretations of ACLU policy which resulted in the creation of the ACLU's official policy guides, issued first in 1966 and revised periodically. These represented the ACLU's attempt to coordinate and control the types of cases the Union would take on and to shepherd resources along coordinated lines.

Unfortunately, the national organization had trouble determining what path to take, as many individuals within the organization pulled in different directions. Exacerbating this problem was the ACLU's re-structuring which attempted to reconcile the many voices in the civil liberties debate. After the first re-organization which opened up policy making to affiliates in 1954, the ACLU re-organized again in 1964, establishing a two-tiered system of governance in which affiliate representatives met twice a year and the board of directors in between. The dichotomy did not provide any stability and three years later, the Union re-organized once again, establishing its one-body 80-member board. Throughout this time, the ACLU continued its board committees--some standing, others ad hoc--which focused on particular issues such as academic freedom or due process. In later years, the rise of the special projects would overtake some of the committees' work and the role of the committees would be reduced, though not eliminated.

The establishment of the Roger N. Baldwin/ACLU Foundation in 1967 was another major organizational change for the ACLU. The Union created the charitable fund-raising arm to pay attorneys to work on the ACLU's behalf, signalling the end of the national organization's long- standing reliance on volunteer lawyers. Though volunteer attorneys continued to play a significant role in many of the affiliates, even there some groups, such as the New York and Southern California affiliates, had a history of paying for legal representation. The Foundation's purpose was to solicit funds from, among other places, other foundations, and during its early years much of its resources supported civil rights work in the South. In later years, it would provide initial funds for many of the special projects, gather any legal fees won by the project lawyers, applying the funds against the project's overhead costs.

These changes reflected not only the organization's growth, but also its expanding interpretation of what constituted civil liberties work. Starting with the civil rights movement and continuing on through the Vietnam War and Watergate, the ACLU fought internally, often bitterly, over the scope and nature of its work. In this battle, the broad interpreters of the Union's mission won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas, far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the Union was founded.

The 1980s and early 1990s

The ACLU emerged from the 1970s a victor of many legal battles and organizationally strong. However, despite its track record and strength, the ACLU would not ring up a string of Supreme Court victories in the 1980s and 1990s as it had in the previous two decades. Public sentiment, long an ally in many areas, had shifted against the organization, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream. In the 1988 presidential election, GOP candidate George Bush, willfully unaware of nearly fifty years of Supreme Court decisions, echoed the phrase of Joseph McCarthy in calling his opponent, Michael Dukakis, a “card- carrying member of the ACLU” for his opposition to a flag-salute requirement. The Bush accusation reflected the state of public awareness of civil liberties in the 1980s as the ACLU re- fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In the area of censorship, the Union withstood challenges from both right and left, the latter trying to censor publications under the rubric of protecting women. However, the ACLU stood firm in its belief in the absolute freedom of speech.

The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee that the rights of the minority would not be infringed upon by the majority; the ACLU's accomplishments during the twentieth century helped to ensure that unpopular views would be tolerated, and indirectly, to remind people that it is an uncommon nation that commonly tolerates challenges to the majority view.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Audiovisual Materials Series, 1947-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records, 1864-2011, 1917-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was established in 1920 to protect the specific constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights. In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director.

For the history of the ACLU during the Baldwin years, see the history in the ACLU finding aid, 1912-1950.

The ACLU, 1950-1995: The Trials of Growth

The forty years between 1950 and 1990 were a time of significant growth for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Membership increased twenty-five times, and the Union's impact on the legal landscape was broad and deep. One historian decreed that the decade after 1954 witnessed “the greatest advances in civil liberties in American history,” with significant gains for African-Americans, women, students, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and others previously denied the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This period also saw the end to much censorship and the decoupling of church/state activity. The ACLU's boom was not without the threat of bust, however. The organization restructured itself several times as it wrestled to reflect internally the principles it espoused publicly. Its expansion into new areas of civil rights along with its firm stand on the First Amendment produced episodes that threatened the ACLU's viability.

Organizational Expansion

In the years immediately following World War II, younger, non-founding members of the ACLU Board pressed for and eventually achieved a structural reorganization that led to the Union's present configuration. In 1950, Roger Baldwin's role changed from administrator to ambassador, in which he toured, lectured, and wrote on civil liberties issues. While at the helm of the ACLU, Baldwin preferred that the ACLU remain a small, centrally-controlled unit with himself at the helm, something that changed under the administration of his successor, Patrick Murphy Malin. A Swarthmore economist, Malin lacked Baldwin's charm and speaking skills, but he was a successful administrator who oversaw the growth of the organization from 9,000 members in 1950 to over 60,000 by the time of his departure in 1962.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the expansion of local affiliates at the state and regional level that had their own boards and acted upon local civil liberties issues. Many served as watchdogs--ensuring that civil rights victories won by the national ACLU in the high courts were enforced at the local level--while other affiliates were active in initiating cases, often with more absolutist positions than the national office. Though the affiliates had a voice in deciding the national chapter's direction and policy since 1954, the organizational mechanism by which this was accomplished was cumbersome, changing several times. A workable method was found in 1967 with the creation of an 80-member board of directors comprised of representatives from all the affiliates and thirty at-large members. In addition, starting in 1959 and continuing to the present, the ACLU held biennial conferences to inform membership on pertinent topics, and to gather their views on civil liberties issues.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties

Historian Samuel Walker divides the ACLU's area of activity between 1950-1990 into four broad areas: Cold War issues, censorship, church/state, and civil rights. The beginning of the Cold War, the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the re-emergence of the House Committee on Un- American Activities (HUAC) created an atmosphere of intolerance and suspicion that not only posed a threat to individual civil liberties, but also destroyed the lives of many caught in the web spun by the Wisconsin Senator and his minions. The ACLU challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principle.

While the ACLU had not always lived up to these same principles (in 1940 it ousted board member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her membership in the Communist Party), by the early 1950s the ACLU did not hesitate to aid in the publication of Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged . The book detailed HUAC's and McCarthy's red-baiting tactics, such as the prevalent use of unnamed (and hence unreliable or unanswerable) sources, guilt by association or exercise of one's Fifth Amendment rights, and other questionable means that resulted in blacklistings and firings of many in unions, the film industry, and the teaching profession. The ACLU called for the abolition of HUAC, attacked any measure that punished Communist Party members or denied them rights based solely on party membership ( Kent v. Dulles, for example), and sought fair and open investigations for the accused. In testament to its strict adherence to principle, the ACLU reminded the United States Senate of its obligation to provide McCarthy a fair hearing when it began censure proceedings against him in 1954.

The ACLU may have stood up for the rights of the accused more readily in 1950 than it did in 1940 because Roger Baldwin had developed a quid pro quo with J. Edgar Hoover in which the ACLU did not publicize FBI civil rights violations, and high-level Union officers cooperated with the Bureau. Baldwin and others thought that this cooperation, in conjunction with the Flynn resolution, inoculated the Union against attack as a Communist-front organization, freeing it to spend its energies defending constitutional principle, not itself. This arrangement, shocking when revealed in later years, did not prevent the FBI from continuing its massive surveillance of the ACLU and its members.

Red hunters cited national security as the basis for their actions, a justification that the government would continue to invoke and one that the ACLU contested in such cases as the Pentagon Papers ( U.S. v. New York Times ), Watergate ( U.S. v. Nixon ), and Iran-Contra. In 1969, 13 years after Joseph McCarthy's death, the ACLU's vigilance bore the ultimate fruit in Brandenburg v. Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government only could punish direct incitement to lawless action, thereby invalidating the Smith Act and all state sedition laws that restricted radical political thought.

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

The cousin to McCarthyism's national security cause was the drive to protect people from printed materials and movies that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. Censorship attempts were, from the ACLU's point of view, a fundamental attack on free speech, and over the course of three decades, the Union came to adopt an absolutist position, suffering no infringement in any form. Beginning with a 1952 Supreme Court victory in Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey in which the high court declared that states cannot prohibit the screening of films based on state-based standards, the ACLU rang up a string of court victories. These, combined with changing market pressures, brought a complete end to many common censorship practices by the 1960s ( Jacobellis v. Ohio ), including the sharp curtailment of post office censorship ( Hannegan v. Esquire ).

In a related decision, the Supreme Court gave a boost to freedom of the press in New York Times v. Sullivan which declared that public officials could not sue for defamation unless they proved “actual malice,” thereby providing the media with heretofore unknown freedom to report critically. Freedom of speech was extended, with the ACLU's assistance, by placing it above property rights in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, with the high court deciding that a shopping center could not forbid the distribution of political pamphlets on its premises.

Perhaps the most famous free speech issue of the ACLU's history, and certainly one that had the greatest impact on the organization, was the pitched battle over American Nazis' right to parade through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. Half the town's 70,000 citizens were Jewish, and about 1,000 were Holocaust survivors, but this did not dissuade the ACLU (then headed by Aryeh Neier who was Jewish) from taking on the Nazis' cause in what the ACLU considered a “classic First Amendment case.”

What the Union did not count on was a vigorous counter-argument by the Jewish Defense League, nor the loss of the support of its long-time ally, the American Jewish Congress. The ACLU won the court case, though the Nazis never marched in Skokie (ultimately parading at a site in downtown Chicago), but the highly-publicized case caused a backlash resulting in a large drop in membership. Neier, who had assumed the executive director's post after the departure of John de J. Pemberton in 1970 and was accustomed to growing membership rolls and increasing budgets, found himself unable to reconcile the organization's activities with available funds and resigned. His successor, Ira Glasser, initiated an emergency appeal to supporters and raised over $500,000, allowing him to re-structure organizationally and financially, placing the ACLU back in the black and ready for the looming trials of the Reagan Revolution.

Church/State

The ACLU earned the enmity of many for its efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, predominantly mainstream Protestantism, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, and other connections between government and religious activity. Starting in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education, the court delineated the Establishment Clause and the ACLU began to challenge long-entrenched government support for religious activity. Assailing school prayer, the ACLU won high court decisions to end it ( Engel v. Vitale and Abingdon School District v. Schempp ). It also re-fought the Scopes trial ( Epperson v. Arkansas ) in Arkansas which had required the teaching of creationism as well as evolution.

Frequently working in conjunction with Protestants United for the Separation of Church and State (later Americans United…) and the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU repeatedly clashed with the desires of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as censorship, birth control, or school aid, often with the ACLU the victor. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, as many mainstream churches accepted the delineation. However, fundamentalist religions continued challenging laws on public prayer issues into the 1990s, with little effect ( Wallace v. Jaffree ). Often, the affiliates bore the brunt of enforcement on church/state separation, acting to check sometimes frequent local infringements, thus proving Roger Baldwin's assertion that “no victory ever stays won.”

Civil Rights

The First Amendment clearly delineates free speech protection and church/state separation, and it was easy for the ACLU to pick up the banner for these causes. However, most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involved the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. In this multifaceted arena, the ACLU found itself embroiled both internally and externally, as the national organization sought to define its mission even as state affiliates and regional offices acted on their own accord, usually pushing further and harder than the national organization planned to go.

For example, during the Vietnam War ACLU moderates clashed with anti-war activists over the issue of representing Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician and prominent anti-war activist accused of interfering with the functions of government when he organized a “Stop the Draft” Week in 1968. Legal director Melvin Wulf first announced that the ACLU would represent Spock, only to be overruled by the national board, prompting the Massachusetts affiliate to take up Spock's cause. Though ultimately the government would drop its case, pro- Spock members saw the case as an opportunity to raise questions about the Vietnam War's legitimacy (as well as freedom of speech), while moderates viewed that issue as outside the ACLU's scope. It also brought to the fore a long-simmering debate over whether the ACLU should participate directly in lawsuits or contribute amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs to other cases. After reviewing its most recent past activity, the Union decided that they had de facto become directly involved in cases and would continue as such.

Despite the organizational turmoil, a discussion of the ACLU's legal success under the civil rights rubric threatens to become a numbing list of historic Supreme Court decisions. Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and tolled the end of government-endorsed segregation was one of many cases in which the ACLU worked together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to win rights for African-Americans. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement.

Other famous high court cases in which the ACLU partook include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy, thereby laying the foundation for future abortion rights decisions; Tinker v. Des Moines and In re Gault, two cases recognizing that minors enjoyed some Constitutional protection, especially in regard to freedom of speech and due process; and Miranda v. Arizona, Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois, and Gideon v. Wainwright, all of which expanded the rights of the accused, mandating an explanation of their rights and access to counsel, and placing limits on police action. (While these last cases caused many police groups to view the ACLU with hostility, the Union also defended a police officer's right to belong to conservative political organizations such as the John Birch Society.)

As the concept of civil rights expanded, the ACLU started several special projects designed to focus solely on specific topics, including the Mental Health Law Project, the Project on Amnesty, the Privacy Project, the Women's Rights Project, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Prisoners' Rights Project. Each project worked not only to change the law, but to educate the public and raise their own funds.

Expansion Issues

The Children's Rights Project is an example of how the ACLU changed itself from a small, centrally-controlled organization to an expansive confederacy of groups working to advance the goal of civil liberties. With its roots in the 1970s and located at the national organization's office in New York City, it was one of the focused projects financially seeded by the national organization. In 1995, it had become successful enough to incorporate itself and separate from the ACLU organizationally, physically, and financially. Another sign of growth was the start of the regional offices. In addition to the Washington, D.C. office (established 1938) the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta was organized in 1964 and the Mountain States Regional Office in Denver a few years later. Each handled cases particular to their geographic areas, as well as the usual range of cases that interested the ACLU. This led to varying interpretations of ACLU policy which resulted in the creation of the ACLU's official policy guides, issued first in 1966 and revised periodically. These represented the ACLU's attempt to coordinate and control the types of cases the Union would take on and to shepherd resources along coordinated lines.

Unfortunately, the national organization had trouble determining what path to take, as many individuals within the organization pulled in different directions. Exacerbating this problem was the ACLU's re-structuring which attempted to reconcile the many voices in the civil liberties debate. After the first re-organization which opened up policy making to affiliates in 1954, the ACLU re-organized again in 1964, establishing a two-tiered system of governance in which affiliate representatives met twice a year and the board of directors in between. The dichotomy did not provide any stability and three years later, the Union re-organized once again, establishing its one-body 80-member board. Throughout this time, the ACLU continued its board committees--some standing, others ad hoc--which focused on particular issues such as academic freedom or due process. In later years, the rise of the special projects would overtake some of the committees' work and the role of the committees would be reduced, though not eliminated.

The establishment of the Roger N. Baldwin/ACLU Foundation in 1967 was another major organizational change for the ACLU. The Union created the charitable fund-raising arm to pay attorneys to work on the ACLU's behalf, signalling the end of the national organization's long- standing reliance on volunteer lawyers. Though volunteer attorneys continued to play a significant role in many of the affiliates, even there some groups, such as the New York and Southern California affiliates, had a history of paying for legal representation. The Foundation's purpose was to solicit funds from, among other places, other foundations, and during its early years much of its resources supported civil rights work in the South. In later years, it would provide initial funds for many of the special projects, gather any legal fees won by the project lawyers, applying the funds against the project's overhead costs.

These changes reflected not only the organization's growth, but also its expanding interpretation of what constituted civil liberties work. Starting with the civil rights movement and continuing on through the Vietnam War and Watergate, the ACLU fought internally, often bitterly, over the scope and nature of its work. In this battle, the broad interpreters of the Union's mission won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas, far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the Union was founded.

The 1980s and early 1990s

The ACLU emerged from the 1970s a victor of many legal battles and organizationally strong. However, despite its track record and strength, the ACLU would not ring up a string of Supreme Court victories in the 1980s and 1990s as it had in the previous two decades. Public sentiment, long an ally in many areas, had shifted against the organization, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream. In the 1988 presidential election, GOP candidate George Bush, willfully unaware of nearly fifty years of Supreme Court decisions, echoed the phrase of Joseph McCarthy in calling his opponent, Michael Dukakis, a “card- carrying member of the ACLU” for his opposition to a flag-salute requirement. The Bush accusation reflected the state of public awareness of civil liberties in the 1980s as the ACLU re- fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In the area of censorship, the Union withstood challenges from both right and left, the latter trying to censor publications under the rubric of protecting women. However, the ACLU stood firm in its belief in the absolute freedom of speech.

The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee that the rights of the minority would not be infringed upon by the majority; the ACLU's accomplishments during the twentieth century helped to ensure that unpopular views would be tolerated, and indirectly, to remind people that it is an uncommon nation that commonly tolerates challenges to the majority view.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Subject Files Series, 1947-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was established in 1920 to protect the specific constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights. In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director.

For the history of the ACLU during the Baldwin years, see the history in the ACLU finding aid, 1912-1950.

The ACLU, 1950-1995: The Trials of Growth

The forty years between 1950 and 1990 were a time of significant growth for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Membership increased twenty-five times, and the Union's impact on the legal landscape was broad and deep. One historian decreed that the decade after 1954 witnessed “the greatest advances in civil liberties in American history,” with significant gains for African-Americans, women, students, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and others previously denied the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This period also saw the end to much censorship and the decoupling of church/state activity. The ACLU's boom was not without the threat of bust, however. The organization restructured itself several times as it wrestled to reflect internally the principles it espoused publicly. Its expansion into new areas of civil rights along with its firm stand on the First Amendment produced episodes that threatened the ACLU's viability.

Organizational Expansion

In the years immediately following World War II, younger, non-founding members of the ACLU Board pressed for and eventually achieved a structural reorganization that led to the Union's present configuration. In 1950, Roger Baldwin's role changed from administrator to ambassador, in which he toured, lectured, and wrote on civil liberties issues. While at the helm of the ACLU, Baldwin preferred that the ACLU remain a small, centrally-controlled unit with himself at the helm, something that changed under the administration of his successor, Patrick Murphy Malin. A Swarthmore economist, Malin lacked Baldwin's charm and speaking skills, but he was a successful administrator who oversaw the growth of the organization from 9,000 members in 1950 to over 60,000 by the time of his departure in 1962.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the expansion of local affiliates at the state and regional level that had their own boards and acted upon local civil liberties issues. Many served as watchdogs--ensuring that civil rights victories won by the national ACLU in the high courts were enforced at the local level--while other affiliates were active in initiating cases, often with more absolutist positions than the national office. Though the affiliates had a voice in deciding the national chapter's direction and policy since 1954, the organizational mechanism by which this was accomplished was cumbersome, changing several times. A workable method was found in 1967 with the creation of an 80-member board of directors comprised of representatives from all the affiliates and thirty at-large members. In addition, starting in 1959 and continuing to the present, the ACLU held biennial conferences to inform membership on pertinent topics, and to gather their views on civil liberties issues.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties

Historian Samuel Walker divides the ACLU's area of activity between 1950-1990 into four broad areas: Cold War issues, censorship, church/state, and civil rights. The beginning of the Cold War, the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the re-emergence of the House Committee on Un- American Activities (HUAC) created an atmosphere of intolerance and suspicion that not only posed a threat to individual civil liberties, but also destroyed the lives of many caught in the web spun by the Wisconsin Senator and his minions. The ACLU challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principle.

While the ACLU had not always lived up to these same principles (in 1940 it ousted board member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her membership in the Communist Party), by the early 1950s the ACLU did not hesitate to aid in the publication of Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged . The book detailed HUAC's and McCarthy's red-baiting tactics, such as the prevalent use of unnamed (and hence unreliable or unanswerable) sources, guilt by association or exercise of one's Fifth Amendment rights, and other questionable means that resulted in blacklistings and firings of many in unions, the film industry, and the teaching profession. The ACLU called for the abolition of HUAC, attacked any measure that punished Communist Party members or denied them rights based solely on party membership ( Kent v. Dulles, for example), and sought fair and open investigations for the accused. In testament to its strict adherence to principle, the ACLU reminded the United States Senate of its obligation to provide McCarthy a fair hearing when it began censure proceedings against him in 1954.

The ACLU may have stood up for the rights of the accused more readily in 1950 than it did in 1940 because Roger Baldwin had developed a quid pro quo with J. Edgar Hoover in which the ACLU did not publicize FBI civil rights violations, and high-level Union officers cooperated with the Bureau. Baldwin and others thought that this cooperation, in conjunction with the Flynn resolution, inoculated the Union against attack as a Communist-front organization, freeing it to spend its energies defending constitutional principle, not itself. This arrangement, shocking when revealed in later years, did not prevent the FBI from continuing its massive surveillance of the ACLU and its members.

Red hunters cited national security as the basis for their actions, a justification that the government would continue to invoke and one that the ACLU contested in such cases as the Pentagon Papers ( U.S. v. New York Times ), Watergate ( U.S. v. Nixon ), and Iran-Contra. In 1969, 13 years after Joseph McCarthy's death, the ACLU's vigilance bore the ultimate fruit in Brandenburg v. Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government only could punish direct incitement to lawless action, thereby invalidating the Smith Act and all state sedition laws that restricted radical political thought.

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

The cousin to McCarthyism's national security cause was the drive to protect people from printed materials and movies that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. Censorship attempts were, from the ACLU's point of view, a fundamental attack on free speech, and over the course of three decades, the Union came to adopt an absolutist position, suffering no infringement in any form. Beginning with a 1952 Supreme Court victory in Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey in which the high court declared that states cannot prohibit the screening of films based on state-based standards, the ACLU rang up a string of court victories. These, combined with changing market pressures, brought a complete end to many common censorship practices by the 1960s ( Jacobellis v. Ohio ), including the sharp curtailment of post office censorship ( Hannegan v. Esquire ).

In a related decision, the Supreme Court gave a boost to freedom of the press in New York Times v. Sullivan which declared that public officials could not sue for defamation unless they proved “actual malice,” thereby providing the media with heretofore unknown freedom to report critically. Freedom of speech was extended, with the ACLU's assistance, by placing it above property rights in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, with the high court deciding that a shopping center could not forbid the distribution of political pamphlets on its premises.

Perhaps the most famous free speech issue of the ACLU's history, and certainly one that had the greatest impact on the organization, was the pitched battle over American Nazis' right to parade through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. Half the town's 70,000 citizens were Jewish, and about 1,000 were Holocaust survivors, but this did not dissuade the ACLU (then headed by Aryeh Neier who was Jewish) from taking on the Nazis' cause in what the ACLU considered a “classic First Amendment case.”

What the Union did not count on was a vigorous counter-argument by the Jewish Defense League, nor the loss of the support of its long-time ally, the American Jewish Congress. The ACLU won the court case, though the Nazis never marched in Skokie (ultimately parading at a site in downtown Chicago), but the highly-publicized case caused a backlash resulting in a large drop in membership. Neier, who had assumed the executive director's post after the departure of John de J. Pemberton in 1970 and was accustomed to growing membership rolls and increasing budgets, found himself unable to reconcile the organization's activities with available funds and resigned. His successor, Ira Glasser, initiated an emergency appeal to supporters and raised over $500,000, allowing him to re-structure organizationally and financially, placing the ACLU back in the black and ready for the looming trials of the Reagan Revolution.

Church/State

The ACLU earned the enmity of many for its efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, predominantly mainstream Protestantism, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, and other connections between government and religious activity. Starting in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education, the court delineated the Establishment Clause and the ACLU began to challenge long-entrenched government support for religious activity. Assailing school prayer, the ACLU won high court decisions to end it ( Engel v. Vitale and Abingdon School District v. Schempp ). It also re-fought the Scopes trial ( Epperson v. Arkansas ) in Arkansas which had required the teaching of creationism as well as evolution.

Frequently working in conjunction with Protestants United for the Separation of Church and State (later Americans United…) and the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU repeatedly clashed with the desires of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as censorship, birth control, or school aid, often with the ACLU the victor. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, as many mainstream churches accepted the delineation. However, fundamentalist religions continued challenging laws on public prayer issues into the 1990s, with little effect ( Wallace v. Jaffree ). Often, the affiliates bore the brunt of enforcement on church/state separation, acting to check sometimes frequent local infringements, thus proving Roger Baldwin's assertion that “no victory ever stays won.”

Civil Rights

The First Amendment clearly delineates free speech protection and church/state separation, and it was easy for the ACLU to pick up the banner for these causes. However, most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involved the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. In this multifaceted arena, the ACLU found itself embroiled both internally and externally, as the national organization sought to define its mission even as state affiliates and regional offices acted on their own accord, usually pushing further and harder than the national organization planned to go.

For example, during the Vietnam War ACLU moderates clashed with anti-war activists over the issue of representing Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician and prominent anti-war activist accused of interfering with the functions of government when he organized a “Stop the Draft” Week in 1968. Legal director Melvin Wulf first announced that the ACLU would represent Spock, only to be overruled by the national board, prompting the Massachusetts affiliate to take up Spock's cause. Though ultimately the government would drop its case, pro- Spock members saw the case as an opportunity to raise questions about the Vietnam War's legitimacy (as well as freedom of speech), while moderates viewed that issue as outside the ACLU's scope. It also brought to the fore a long-simmering debate over whether the ACLU should participate directly in lawsuits or contribute amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs to other cases. After reviewing its most recent past activity, the Union decided that they had de facto become directly involved in cases and would continue as such.

Despite the organizational turmoil, a discussion of the ACLU's legal success under the civil rights rubric threatens to become a numbing list of historic Supreme Court decisions. Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and tolled the end of government-endorsed segregation was one of many cases in which the ACLU worked together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to win rights for African-Americans. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement.

Other famous high court cases in which the ACLU partook include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy, thereby laying the foundation for future abortion rights decisions; Tinker v. Des Moines and In re Gault, two cases recognizing that minors enjoyed some Constitutional protection, especially in regard to freedom of speech and due process; and Miranda v. Arizona, Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois, and Gideon v. Wainwright, all of which expanded the rights of the accused, mandating an explanation of their rights and access to counsel, and placing limits on police action. (While these last cases caused many police groups to view the ACLU with hostility, the Union also defended a police officer's right to belong to conservative political organizations such as the John Birch Society.)

As the concept of civil rights expanded, the ACLU started several special projects designed to focus solely on specific topics, including the Mental Health Law Project, the Project on Amnesty, the Privacy Project, the Women's Rights Project, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Prisoners' Rights Project. Each project worked not only to change the law, but to educate the public and raise their own funds.

Expansion Issues

The Children's Rights Project is an example of how the ACLU changed itself from a small, centrally-controlled organization to an expansive confederacy of groups working to advance the goal of civil liberties. With its roots in the 1970s and located at the national organization's office in New York City, it was one of the focused projects financially seeded by the national organization. In 1995, it had become successful enough to incorporate itself and separate from the ACLU organizationally, physically, and financially. Another sign of growth was the start of the regional offices. In addition to the Washington, D.C. office (established 1938) the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta was organized in 1964 and the Mountain States Regional Office in Denver a few years later. Each handled cases particular to their geographic areas, as well as the usual range of cases that interested the ACLU. This led to varying interpretations of ACLU policy which resulted in the creation of the ACLU's official policy guides, issued first in 1966 and revised periodically. These represented the ACLU's attempt to coordinate and control the types of cases the Union would take on and to shepherd resources along coordinated lines.

Unfortunately, the national organization had trouble determining what path to take, as many individuals within the organization pulled in different directions. Exacerbating this problem was the ACLU's re-structuring which attempted to reconcile the many voices in the civil liberties debate. After the first re-organization which opened up policy making to affiliates in 1954, the ACLU re-organized again in 1964, establishing a two-tiered system of governance in which affiliate representatives met twice a year and the board of directors in between. The dichotomy did not provide any stability and three years later, the Union re-organized once again, establishing its one-body 80-member board. Throughout this time, the ACLU continued its board committees--some standing, others ad hoc--which focused on particular issues such as academic freedom or due process. In later years, the rise of the special projects would overtake some of the committees' work and the role of the committees would be reduced, though not eliminated.

The establishment of the Roger N. Baldwin/ACLU Foundation in 1967 was another major organizational change for the ACLU. The Union created the charitable fund-raising arm to pay attorneys to work on the ACLU's behalf, signalling the end of the national organization's long- standing reliance on volunteer lawyers. Though volunteer attorneys continued to play a significant role in many of the affiliates, even there some groups, such as the New York and Southern California affiliates, had a history of paying for legal representation. The Foundation's purpose was to solicit funds from, among other places, other foundations, and during its early years much of its resources supported civil rights work in the South. In later years, it would provide initial funds for many of the special projects, gather any legal fees won by the project lawyers, applying the funds against the project's overhead costs.

These changes reflected not only the organization's growth, but also its expanding interpretation of what constituted civil liberties work. Starting with the civil rights movement and continuing on through the Vietnam War and Watergate, the ACLU fought internally, often bitterly, over the scope and nature of its work. In this battle, the broad interpreters of the Union's mission won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas, far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the Union was founded.

The 1980s and early 1990s

The ACLU emerged from the 1970s a victor of many legal battles and organizationally strong. However, despite its track record and strength, the ACLU would not ring up a string of Supreme Court victories in the 1980s and 1990s as it had in the previous two decades. Public sentiment, long an ally in many areas, had shifted against the organization, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream. In the 1988 presidential election, GOP candidate George Bush, willfully unaware of nearly fifty years of Supreme Court decisions, echoed the phrase of Joseph McCarthy in calling his opponent, Michael Dukakis, a “card- carrying member of the ACLU” for his opposition to a flag-salute requirement. The Bush accusation reflected the state of public awareness of civil liberties in the 1980s as the ACLU re- fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In the area of censorship, the Union withstood challenges from both right and left, the latter trying to censor publications under the rubric of protecting women. However, the ACLU stood firm in its belief in the absolute freedom of speech.

The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee that the rights of the minority would not be infringed upon by the majority; the ACLU's accomplishments during the twentieth century helped to ensure that unpopular views would be tolerated, and indirectly, to remind people that it is an uncommon nation that commonly tolerates challenges to the majority view.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, 1947-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, Legal Case Files Series, 1864-2001, 1965-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was established in 1920 to protect the specific constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights. In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director.

For the history of the ACLU during the Baldwin years, see the history in the ACLU finding aid, 1912-1950.

The ACLU, 1950-1995: The Trials of Growth

The forty years between 1950 and 1990 were a time of significant growth for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Membership increased twenty-five times, and the Union's impact on the legal landscape was broad and deep. One historian decreed that the decade after 1954 witnessed “the greatest advances in civil liberties in American history,” with significant gains for African-Americans, women, students, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and others previously denied the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This period also saw the end to much censorship and the decoupling of church/state activity. The ACLU's boom was not without the threat of bust, however. The organization restructured itself several times as it wrestled to reflect internally the principles it espoused publicly. Its expansion into new areas of civil rights along with its firm stand on the First Amendment produced episodes that threatened the ACLU's viability.

Organizational Expansion

In the years immediately following World War II, younger, non-founding members of the ACLU Board pressed for and eventually achieved a structural reorganization that led to the Union's present configuration. In 1950, Roger Baldwin's role changed from administrator to ambassador, in which he toured, lectured, and wrote on civil liberties issues. While at the helm of the ACLU, Baldwin preferred that the ACLU remain a small, centrally-controlled unit with himself at the helm, something that changed under the administration of his successor, Patrick Murphy Malin. A Swarthmore economist, Malin lacked Baldwin's charm and speaking skills, but he was a successful administrator who oversaw the growth of the organization from 9,000 members in 1950 to over 60,000 by the time of his departure in 1962.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the expansion of local affiliates at the state and regional level that had their own boards and acted upon local civil liberties issues. Many served as watchdogs--ensuring that civil rights victories won by the national ACLU in the high courts were enforced at the local level--while other affiliates were active in initiating cases, often with more absolutist positions than the national office. Though the affiliates had a voice in deciding the national chapter's direction and policy since 1954, the organizational mechanism by which this was accomplished was cumbersome, changing several times. A workable method was found in 1967 with the creation of an 80-member board of directors comprised of representatives from all the affiliates and thirty at-large members. In addition, starting in 1959 and continuing to the present, the ACLU held biennial conferences to inform membership on pertinent topics, and to gather their views on civil liberties issues.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties

Historian Samuel Walker divides the ACLU's area of activity between 1950-1990 into four broad areas: Cold War issues, censorship, church/state, and civil rights. The beginning of the Cold War, the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the re-emergence of the House Committee on Un- American Activities (HUAC) created an atmosphere of intolerance and suspicion that not only posed a threat to individual civil liberties, but also destroyed the lives of many caught in the web spun by the Wisconsin Senator and his minions. The ACLU challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principle.

While the ACLU had not always lived up to these same principles (in 1940 it ousted board member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her membership in the Communist Party), by the early 1950s the ACLU did not hesitate to aid in the publication of Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged . The book detailed HUAC's and McCarthy's red-baiting tactics, such as the prevalent use of unnamed (and hence unreliable or unanswerable) sources, guilt by association or exercise of one's Fifth Amendment rights, and other questionable means that resulted in blacklistings and firings of many in unions, the film industry, and the teaching profession. The ACLU called for the abolition of HUAC, attacked any measure that punished Communist Party members or denied them rights based solely on party membership ( Kent v. Dulles, for example), and sought fair and open investigations for the accused. In testament to its strict adherence to principle, the ACLU reminded the United States Senate of its obligation to provide McCarthy a fair hearing when it began censure proceedings against him in 1954.

The ACLU may have stood up for the rights of the accused more readily in 1950 than it did in 1940 because Roger Baldwin had developed a quid pro quo with J. Edgar Hoover in which the ACLU did not publicize FBI civil rights violations, and high-level Union officers cooperated with the Bureau. Baldwin and others thought that this cooperation, in conjunction with the Flynn resolution, inoculated the Union against attack as a Communist-front organization, freeing it to spend its energies defending constitutional principle, not itself. This arrangement, shocking when revealed in later years, did not prevent the FBI from continuing its massive surveillance of the ACLU and its members.

Red hunters cited national security as the basis for their actions, a justification that the government would continue to invoke and one that the ACLU contested in such cases as the Pentagon Papers ( U.S. v. New York Times ), Watergate ( U.S. v. Nixon ), and Iran-Contra. In 1969, 13 years after Joseph McCarthy's death, the ACLU's vigilance bore the ultimate fruit in Brandenburg v. Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government only could punish direct incitement to lawless action, thereby invalidating the Smith Act and all state sedition laws that restricted radical political thought.

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

The cousin to McCarthyism's national security cause was the drive to protect people from printed materials and movies that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. Censorship attempts were, from the ACLU's point of view, a fundamental attack on free speech, and over the course of three decades, the Union came to adopt an absolutist position, suffering no infringement in any form. Beginning with a 1952 Supreme Court victory in Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey in which the high court declared that states cannot prohibit the screening of films based on state-based standards, the ACLU rang up a string of court victories. These, combined with changing market pressures, brought a complete end to many common censorship practices by the 1960s ( Jacobellis v. Ohio ), including the sharp curtailment of post office censorship ( Hannegan v. Esquire ).

In a related decision, the Supreme Court gave a boost to freedom of the press in New York Times v. Sullivan which declared that public officials could not sue for defamation unless they proved “actual malice,” thereby providing the media with heretofore unknown freedom to report critically. Freedom of speech was extended, with the ACLU's assistance, by placing it above property rights in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, with the high court deciding that a shopping center could not forbid the distribution of political pamphlets on its premises.

Perhaps the most famous free speech issue of the ACLU's history, and certainly one that had the greatest impact on the organization, was the pitched battle over American Nazis' right to parade through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. Half the town's 70,000 citizens were Jewish, and about 1,000 were Holocaust survivors, but this did not dissuade the ACLU (then headed by Aryeh Neier who was Jewish) from taking on the Nazis' cause in what the ACLU considered a “classic First Amendment case.”

What the Union did not count on was a vigorous counter-argument by the Jewish Defense League, nor the loss of the support of its long-time ally, the American Jewish Congress. The ACLU won the court case, though the Nazis never marched in Skokie (ultimately parading at a site in downtown Chicago), but the highly-publicized case caused a backlash resulting in a large drop in membership. Neier, who had assumed the executive director's post after the departure of John de J. Pemberton in 1970 and was accustomed to growing membership rolls and increasing budgets, found himself unable to reconcile the organization's activities with available funds and resigned. His successor, Ira Glasser, initiated an emergency appeal to supporters and raised over $500,000, allowing him to re-structure organizationally and financially, placing the ACLU back in the black and ready for the looming trials of the Reagan Revolution.

Church/State

The ACLU earned the enmity of many for its efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, predominantly mainstream Protestantism, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, and other connections between government and religious activity. Starting in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education, the court delineated the Establishment Clause and the ACLU began to challenge long-entrenched government support for religious activity. Assailing school prayer, the ACLU won high court decisions to end it ( Engel v. Vitale and Abingdon School District v. Schempp ). It also re-fought the Scopes trial ( Epperson v. Arkansas ) in Arkansas which had required the teaching of creationism as well as evolution.

Frequently working in conjunction with Protestants United for the Separation of Church and State (later Americans United…) and the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU repeatedly clashed with the desires of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as censorship, birth control, or school aid, often with the ACLU the victor. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, as many mainstream churches accepted the delineation. However, fundamentalist religions continued challenging laws on public prayer issues into the 1990s, with little effect ( Wallace v. Jaffree ). Often, the affiliates bore the brunt of enforcement on church/state separation, acting to check sometimes frequent local infringements, thus proving Roger Baldwin's assertion that “no victory ever stays won.”

Civil Rights

The First Amendment clearly delineates free speech protection and church/state separation, and it was easy for the ACLU to pick up the banner for these causes. However, most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involved the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. In this multifaceted arena, the ACLU found itself embroiled both internally and externally, as the national organization sought to define its mission even as state affiliates and regional offices acted on their own accord, usually pushing further and harder than the national organization planned to go.

For example, during the Vietnam War ACLU moderates clashed with anti-war activists over the issue of representing Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician and prominent anti-war activist accused of interfering with the functions of government when he organized a “Stop the Draft” Week in 1968. Legal director Melvin Wulf first announced that the ACLU would represent Spock, only to be overruled by the national board, prompting the Massachusetts affiliate to take up Spock's cause. Though ultimately the government would drop its case, pro- Spock members saw the case as an opportunity to raise questions about the Vietnam War's legitimacy (as well as freedom of speech), while moderates viewed that issue as outside the ACLU's scope. It also brought to the fore a long-simmering debate over whether the ACLU should participate directly in lawsuits or contribute amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs to other cases. After reviewing its most recent past activity, the Union decided that they had de facto become directly involved in cases and would continue as such.

Despite the organizational turmoil, a discussion of the ACLU's legal success under the civil rights rubric threatens to become a numbing list of historic Supreme Court decisions. Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and tolled the end of government-endorsed segregation was one of many cases in which the ACLU worked together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to win rights for African-Americans. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement.

Other famous high court cases in which the ACLU partook include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy, thereby laying the foundation for future abortion rights decisions; Tinker v. Des Moines and In re Gault, two cases recognizing that minors enjoyed some Constitutional protection, especially in regard to freedom of speech and due process; and Miranda v. Arizona, Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois, and Gideon v. Wainwright, all of which expanded the rights of the accused, mandating an explanation of their rights and access to counsel, and placing limits on police action. (While these last cases caused many police groups to view the ACLU with hostility, the Union also defended a police officer's right to belong to conservative political organizations such as the John Birch Society.)

As the concept of civil rights expanded, the ACLU started several special projects designed to focus solely on specific topics, including the Mental Health Law Project, the Project on Amnesty, the Privacy Project, the Women's Rights Project, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Prisoners' Rights Project. Each project worked not only to change the law, but to educate the public and raise their own funds.

Expansion Issues

The Children's Rights Project is an example of how the ACLU changed itself from a small, centrally-controlled organization to an expansive confederacy of groups working to advance the goal of civil liberties. With its roots in the 1970s and located at the national organization's office in New York City, it was one of the focused projects financially seeded by the national organization. In 1995, it had become successful enough to incorporate itself and separate from the ACLU organizationally, physically, and financially. Another sign of growth was the start of the regional offices. In addition to the Washington, D.C. office (established 1938) the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta was organized in 1964 and the Mountain States Regional Office in Denver a few years later. Each handled cases particular to their geographic areas, as well as the usual range of cases that interested the ACLU. This led to varying interpretations of ACLU policy which resulted in the creation of the ACLU's official policy guides, issued first in 1966 and revised periodically. These represented the ACLU's attempt to coordinate and control the types of cases the Union would take on and to shepherd resources along coordinated lines.

Unfortunately, the national organization had trouble determining what path to take, as many individuals within the organization pulled in different directions. Exacerbating this problem was the ACLU's re-structuring which attempted to reconcile the many voices in the civil liberties debate. After the first re-organization which opened up policy making to affiliates in 1954, the ACLU re-organized again in 1964, establishing a two-tiered system of governance in which affiliate representatives met twice a year and the board of directors in between. The dichotomy did not provide any stability and three years later, the Union re-organized once again, establishing its one-body 80-member board. Throughout this time, the ACLU continued its board committees--some standing, others ad hoc--which focused on particular issues such as academic freedom or due process. In later years, the rise of the special projects would overtake some of the committees' work and the role of the committees would be reduced, though not eliminated.

The establishment of the Roger N. Baldwin/ACLU Foundation in 1967 was another major organizational change for the ACLU. The Union created the charitable fund-raising arm to pay attorneys to work on the ACLU's behalf, signalling the end of the national organization's long- standing reliance on volunteer lawyers. Though volunteer attorneys continued to play a significant role in many of the affiliates, even there some groups, such as the New York and Southern California affiliates, had a history of paying for legal representation. The Foundation's purpose was to solicit funds from, among other places, other foundations, and during its early years much of its resources supported civil rights work in the South. In later years, it would provide initial funds for many of the special projects, gather any legal fees won by the project lawyers, applying the funds against the project's overhead costs.

These changes reflected not only the organization's growth, but also its expanding interpretation of what constituted civil liberties work. Starting with the civil rights movement and continuing on through the Vietnam War and Watergate, the ACLU fought internally, often bitterly, over the scope and nature of its work. In this battle, the broad interpreters of the Union's mission won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas, far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the Union was founded.

The 1980s and early 1990s

The ACLU emerged from the 1970s a victor of many legal battles and organizationally strong. However, despite its track record and strength, the ACLU would not ring up a string of Supreme Court victories in the 1980s and 1990s as it had in the previous two decades. Public sentiment, long an ally in many areas, had shifted against the organization, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream. In the 1988 presidential election, GOP candidate George Bush, willfully unaware of nearly fifty years of Supreme Court decisions, echoed the phrase of Joseph McCarthy in calling his opponent, Michael Dukakis, a “card- carrying member of the ACLU” for his opposition to a flag-salute requirement. The Bush accusation reflected the state of public awareness of civil liberties in the 1980s as the ACLU re- fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In the area of censorship, the Union withstood challenges from both right and left, the latter trying to censor publications under the rubric of protecting women. However, the ACLU stood firm in its belief in the absolute freedom of speech.

The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee that the rights of the minority would not be infringed upon by the majority; the ACLU's accomplishments during the twentieth century helped to ensure that unpopular views would be tolerated, and indirectly, to remind people that it is an uncommon nation that commonly tolerates challenges to the majority view.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Project Files Series, 1947-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was established in 1920 to protect the specific constitutional freedoms in the Bill of Rights. In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director.

For the history of the ACLU during the Baldwin years, see the history in the ACLU finding aid, 1912-1950.

The ACLU, 1950-1995: The Trials of Growth

The forty years between 1950 and 1990 were a time of significant growth for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Membership increased twenty-five times, and the Union's impact on the legal landscape was broad and deep. One historian decreed that the decade after 1954 witnessed “the greatest advances in civil liberties in American history,” with significant gains for African-Americans, women, students, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and others previously denied the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This period also saw the end to much censorship and the decoupling of church/state activity. The ACLU's boom was not without the threat of bust, however. The organization restructured itself several times as it wrestled to reflect internally the principles it espoused publicly. Its expansion into new areas of civil rights along with its firm stand on the First Amendment produced episodes that threatened the ACLU's viability.

Organizational Expansion

In the years immediately following World War II, younger, non-founding members of the ACLU Board pressed for and eventually achieved a structural reorganization that led to the Union's present configuration. In 1950, Roger Baldwin's role changed from administrator to ambassador, in which he toured, lectured, and wrote on civil liberties issues. While at the helm of the ACLU, Baldwin preferred that the ACLU remain a small, centrally-controlled unit with himself at the helm, something that changed under the administration of his successor, Patrick Murphy Malin. A Swarthmore economist, Malin lacked Baldwin's charm and speaking skills, but he was a successful administrator who oversaw the growth of the organization from 9,000 members in 1950 to over 60,000 by the time of his departure in 1962.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the expansion of local affiliates at the state and regional level that had their own boards and acted upon local civil liberties issues. Many served as watchdogs--ensuring that civil rights victories won by the national ACLU in the high courts were enforced at the local level--while other affiliates were active in initiating cases, often with more absolutist positions than the national office. Though the affiliates had a voice in deciding the national chapter's direction and policy since 1954, the organizational mechanism by which this was accomplished was cumbersome, changing several times. A workable method was found in 1967 with the creation of an 80-member board of directors comprised of representatives from all the affiliates and thirty at-large members. In addition, starting in 1959 and continuing to the present, the ACLU held biennial conferences to inform membership on pertinent topics, and to gather their views on civil liberties issues.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties

Historian Samuel Walker divides the ACLU's area of activity between 1950-1990 into four broad areas: Cold War issues, censorship, church/state, and civil rights. The beginning of the Cold War, the rise of Joseph McCarthy and the re-emergence of the House Committee on Un- American Activities (HUAC) created an atmosphere of intolerance and suspicion that not only posed a threat to individual civil liberties, but also destroyed the lives of many caught in the web spun by the Wisconsin Senator and his minions. The ACLU challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principle.

While the ACLU had not always lived up to these same principles (in 1940 it ousted board member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her membership in the Communist Party), by the early 1950s the ACLU did not hesitate to aid in the publication of Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged . The book detailed HUAC's and McCarthy's red-baiting tactics, such as the prevalent use of unnamed (and hence unreliable or unanswerable) sources, guilt by association or exercise of one's Fifth Amendment rights, and other questionable means that resulted in blacklistings and firings of many in unions, the film industry, and the teaching profession. The ACLU called for the abolition of HUAC, attacked any measure that punished Communist Party members or denied them rights based solely on party membership ( Kent v. Dulles, for example), and sought fair and open investigations for the accused. In testament to its strict adherence to principle, the ACLU reminded the United States Senate of its obligation to provide McCarthy a fair hearing when it began censure proceedings against him in 1954.

The ACLU may have stood up for the rights of the accused more readily in 1950 than it did in 1940 because Roger Baldwin had developed a quid pro quo with J. Edgar Hoover in which the ACLU did not publicize FBI civil rights violations, and high-level Union officers cooperated with the Bureau. Baldwin and others thought that this cooperation, in conjunction with the Flynn resolution, inoculated the Union against attack as a Communist-front organization, freeing it to spend its energies defending constitutional principle, not itself. This arrangement, shocking when revealed in later years, did not prevent the FBI from continuing its massive surveillance of the ACLU and its members.

Red hunters cited national security as the basis for their actions, a justification that the government would continue to invoke and one that the ACLU contested in such cases as the Pentagon Papers ( U.S. v. New York Times ), Watergate ( U.S. v. Nixon ), and Iran-Contra. In 1969, 13 years after Joseph McCarthy's death, the ACLU's vigilance bore the ultimate fruit in Brandenburg v. Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government only could punish direct incitement to lawless action, thereby invalidating the Smith Act and all state sedition laws that restricted radical political thought.

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

The cousin to McCarthyism's national security cause was the drive to protect people from printed materials and movies that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. Censorship attempts were, from the ACLU's point of view, a fundamental attack on free speech, and over the course of three decades, the Union came to adopt an absolutist position, suffering no infringement in any form. Beginning with a 1952 Supreme Court victory in Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey in which the high court declared that states cannot prohibit the screening of films based on state-based standards, the ACLU rang up a string of court victories. These, combined with changing market pressures, brought a complete end to many common censorship practices by the 1960s ( Jacobellis v. Ohio ), including the sharp curtailment of post office censorship ( Hannegan v. Esquire ).

In a related decision, the Supreme Court gave a boost to freedom of the press in New York Times v. Sullivan which declared that public officials could not sue for defamation unless they proved “actual malice,” thereby providing the media with heretofore unknown freedom to report critically. Freedom of speech was extended, with the ACLU's assistance, by placing it above property rights in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, with the high court deciding that a shopping center could not forbid the distribution of political pamphlets on its premises.

Perhaps the most famous free speech issue of the ACLU's history, and certainly one that had the greatest impact on the organization, was the pitched battle over American Nazis' right to parade through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. Half the town's 70,000 citizens were Jewish, and about 1,000 were Holocaust survivors, but this did not dissuade the ACLU (then headed by Aryeh Neier who was Jewish) from taking on the Nazis' cause in what the ACLU considered a “classic First Amendment case.”

What the Union did not count on was a vigorous counter-argument by the Jewish Defense League, nor the loss of the support of its long-time ally, the American Jewish Congress. The ACLU won the court case, though the Nazis never marched in Skokie (ultimately parading at a site in downtown Chicago), but the highly-publicized case caused a backlash resulting in a large drop in membership. Neier, who had assumed the executive director's post after the departure of John de J. Pemberton in 1970 and was accustomed to growing membership rolls and increasing budgets, found himself unable to reconcile the organization's activities with available funds and resigned. His successor, Ira Glasser, initiated an emergency appeal to supporters and raised over $500,000, allowing him to re-structure organizationally and financially, placing the ACLU back in the black and ready for the looming trials of the Reagan Revolution.

Church/State

The ACLU earned the enmity of many for its efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, predominantly mainstream Protestantism, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, and other connections between government and religious activity. Starting in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education, the court delineated the Establishment Clause and the ACLU began to challenge long-entrenched government support for religious activity. Assailing school prayer, the ACLU won high court decisions to end it ( Engel v. Vitale and Abingdon School District v. Schempp ). It also re-fought the Scopes trial ( Epperson v. Arkansas ) in Arkansas which had required the teaching of creationism as well as evolution.

Frequently working in conjunction with Protestants United for the Separation of Church and State (later Americans United…) and the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU repeatedly clashed with the desires of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as censorship, birth control, or school aid, often with the ACLU the victor. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, as many mainstream churches accepted the delineation. However, fundamentalist religions continued challenging laws on public prayer issues into the 1990s, with little effect ( Wallace v. Jaffree ). Often, the affiliates bore the brunt of enforcement on church/state separation, acting to check sometimes frequent local infringements, thus proving Roger Baldwin's assertion that “no victory ever stays won.”

Civil Rights

The First Amendment clearly delineates free speech protection and church/state separation, and it was easy for the ACLU to pick up the banner for these causes. However, most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involved the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. In this multifaceted arena, the ACLU found itself embroiled both internally and externally, as the national organization sought to define its mission even as state affiliates and regional offices acted on their own accord, usually pushing further and harder than the national organization planned to go.

For example, during the Vietnam War ACLU moderates clashed with anti-war activists over the issue of representing Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician and prominent anti-war activist accused of interfering with the functions of government when he organized a “Stop the Draft” Week in 1968. Legal director Melvin Wulf first announced that the ACLU would represent Spock, only to be overruled by the national board, prompting the Massachusetts affiliate to take up Spock's cause. Though ultimately the government would drop its case, pro- Spock members saw the case as an opportunity to raise questions about the Vietnam War's legitimacy (as well as freedom of speech), while moderates viewed that issue as outside the ACLU's scope. It also brought to the fore a long-simmering debate over whether the ACLU should participate directly in lawsuits or contribute amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs to other cases. After reviewing its most recent past activity, the Union decided that they had de facto become directly involved in cases and would continue as such.

Despite the organizational turmoil, a discussion of the ACLU's legal success under the civil rights rubric threatens to become a numbing list of historic Supreme Court decisions. Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and tolled the end of government-endorsed segregation was one of many cases in which the ACLU worked together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to win rights for African-Americans. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement.

Other famous high court cases in which the ACLU partook include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy, thereby laying the foundation for future abortion rights decisions; Tinker v. Des Moines and In re Gault, two cases recognizing that minors enjoyed some Constitutional protection, especially in regard to freedom of speech and due process; and Miranda v. Arizona, Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois, and Gideon v. Wainwright, all of which expanded the rights of the accused, mandating an explanation of their rights and access to counsel, and placing limits on police action. (While these last cases caused many police groups to view the ACLU with hostility, the Union also defended a police officer's right to belong to conservative political organizations such as the John Birch Society.)

As the concept of civil rights expanded, the ACLU started several special projects designed to focus solely on specific topics, including the Mental Health Law Project, the Project on Amnesty, the Privacy Project, the Women's Rights Project, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Prisoners' Rights Project. Each project worked not only to change the law, but to educate the public and raise their own funds.

Expansion Issues

The Children's Rights Project is an example of how the ACLU changed itself from a small, centrally-controlled organization to an expansive confederacy of groups working to advance the goal of civil liberties. With its roots in the 1970s and located at the national organization's office in New York City, it was one of the focused projects financially seeded by the national organization. In 1995, it had become successful enough to incorporate itself and separate from the ACLU organizationally, physically, and financially. Another sign of growth was the start of the regional offices. In addition to the Washington, D.C. office (established 1938) the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta was organized in 1964 and the Mountain States Regional Office in Denver a few years later. Each handled cases particular to their geographic areas, as well as the usual range of cases that interested the ACLU. This led to varying interpretations of ACLU policy which resulted in the creation of the ACLU's official policy guides, issued first in 1966 and revised periodically. These represented the ACLU's attempt to coordinate and control the types of cases the Union would take on and to shepherd resources along coordinated lines.

Unfortunately, the national organization had trouble determining what path to take, as many individuals within the organization pulled in different directions. Exacerbating this problem was the ACLU's re-structuring which attempted to reconcile the many voices in the civil liberties debate. After the first re-organization which opened up policy making to affiliates in 1954, the ACLU re-organized again in 1964, establishing a two-tiered system of governance in which affiliate representatives met twice a year and the board of directors in between. The dichotomy did not provide any stability and three years later, the Union re-organized once again, establishing its one-body 80-member board. Throughout this time, the ACLU continued its board committees--some standing, others ad hoc--which focused on particular issues such as academic freedom or due process. In later years, the rise of the special projects would overtake some of the committees' work and the role of the committees would be reduced, though not eliminated.

The establishment of the Roger N. Baldwin/ACLU Foundation in 1967 was another major organizational change for the ACLU. The Union created the charitable fund-raising arm to pay attorneys to work on the ACLU's behalf, signalling the end of the national organization's long- standing reliance on volunteer lawyers. Though volunteer attorneys continued to play a significant role in many of the affiliates, even there some groups, such as the New York and Southern California affiliates, had a history of paying for legal representation. The Foundation's purpose was to solicit funds from, among other places, other foundations, and during its early years much of its resources supported civil rights work in the South. In later years, it would provide initial funds for many of the special projects, gather any legal fees won by the project lawyers, applying the funds against the project's overhead costs.

These changes reflected not only the organization's growth, but also its expanding interpretation of what constituted civil liberties work. Starting with the civil rights movement and continuing on through the Vietnam War and Watergate, the ACLU fought internally, often bitterly, over the scope and nature of its work. In this battle, the broad interpreters of the Union's mission won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas, far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the Union was founded.

The 1980s and early 1990s

The ACLU emerged from the 1970s a victor of many legal battles and organizationally strong. However, despite its track record and strength, the ACLU would not ring up a string of Supreme Court victories in the 1980s and 1990s as it had in the previous two decades. Public sentiment, long an ally in many areas, had shifted against the organization, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream. In the 1988 presidential election, GOP candidate George Bush, willfully unaware of nearly fifty years of Supreme Court decisions, echoed the phrase of Joseph McCarthy in calling his opponent, Michael Dukakis, a “card- carrying member of the ACLU” for his opposition to a flag-salute requirement. The Bush accusation reflected the state of public awareness of civil liberties in the 1980s as the ACLU re- fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In the area of censorship, the Union withstood challenges from both right and left, the latter trying to censor publications under the rubric of protecting women. However, the ACLU stood firm in its belief in the absolute freedom of speech.

The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee that the rights of the minority would not be infringed upon by the majority; the ACLU's accomplishments during the twentieth century helped to ensure that unpopular views would be tolerated, and indirectly, to remind people that it is an uncommon nation that commonly tolerates challenges to the majority view.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, Printed Materials Series, 1947-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, Subject Files Series, 1969-1996, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

The ACLU During the Baldwin Years, 1917-1950

The American Civil Liberties Union has for the last seventy-five years been the principal defender of the rights that citizens can assert against government. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law and privacy rights of all citizens. The organization has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless and the despised.

Origins of the ACLU

The ACLU began as a part of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) which had been formed in New York in 1914 to oppose American entry into World War I. Following the declaration of war in 1917, Crystal Eastman, AUAM's Executive Secretary, and Roger Baldwin, a social worker involved in juvenile justice, established a Bureau of Conscientious Objectors to oppose the new draft law and to advise conscientious objectors. On July 1, 1917, the AUAM created a Civil Liberties Bureau that became an independent organization known as the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) on October 1, 1917. Once Eastman and Baldwin took their efforts to this new organization, the AUAM quickly folded.

The NCLB had two main tasks: to defend the rights of conscientious objectors imprisoned in camps around the country and to fight the increasing suppression of free speech by both government officials and conservative patriotic societies. Its leadership came from a mix of social workers like Baldwin and Eastman, Protestant clergy (Norman Thomas, Harry F. Ward and John Haynes Holmes) and lawyers (Walter Nelles, Albert DeSilver, L. Hollingsworth Wood and Clarence Darrow).

The NCLB sponsored three tests of free speech rights during wartime, all of which ended in failure for the organization. Socialist Party leader Charles T. Schenck was denied the right to mail antiwar and anti-draft literature in a case which established Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' “clear and present danger” test. Also upheld were convictions of Eugene Debs for condemning war and capitalism in a speech and Jacob Abrams for distributing leaflets opposing the American intervention in Russia.

By late 1918 Roger Baldwin had come to lead the organization due to Eastman's ill health. Baldwin was gifted with the ability to build an organization due to his effectiveness as a publicist, fundraiser and administrator. While Baldwin favored public education and reasoning with public officials, he soon became a target. The NCLB's defense of the Industrial Workers of the World led to investigations by army intelligence and the Bureau of Investigation and to phone taps. On August 31, 1918, federal agents seized the NCLB's files which were eventually to be used by New York State's Lusk Committee prior to their return to the NCLB.

When Congress extended the draft to age 35 late in the war, Baldwin notified his draft board he would refuse induction. Imprisoned in November 1918, Baldwin used the time until his release the following July to read, write, create a prisoners' self-help group, issue a mimeographed newsletter on life in prison and organize the NCLB's records.

The postwar Red Scare, the Palmer raids, new laws on criminal syndicalism and use of red flags, and the need to repeal the Espionage Act and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents led to calls for a permanent organization after the war. On January 19, 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union received its charter in New York.

ACLU During the 1920s

The ACLU started its career with a bang, issuing a Report upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice written by twelve prominent lawyers, including Zechariah Chaffee and Felix Frankfurter. In these early years, Baldwin generally favored working for the cause of labor as a more effective means for obtaining desired changes in society. The failure of litigation efforts during the war probably influenced this early course. Thus during the 1920s the ACLU was substantially involved in efforts to strengthen the labor movement. The ACLU also continued to work for amnesty, to repeal criminal syndicalism laws, to oppose compulsory military training on campuses, and to ward off attacks by right wing groups. It fought book bans by the Customs Service and Post Office. It promoted racial justice while also defending the Ku Klux Klan's right to march and opposing NAACP attempt to ban Birth of a Nation . It defended the rights of Communists to free speech and applied the same standard to Henry Ford's anti-Semitic works.

The ACLU remained a relatively small organization throughout this period with 2500 members in 1930 and a budget of only $25,000 annually. While there was a National Committee--a letterhead group of sixty persons which met annually--decisions were made by a small Executive Committee that met weekly and by a governing Board. The heart of the leadership consisted of Baldwin and his fellow pacifists--Norman Thomas, John Haynes Holmes, L. Hollingsworth Wood and John Nevin Sayre. Baldwin tended to be an autocrat who did not easily share power. Only three of the twenty executive committee members were lawyers and the position of General Counsel was not created until 1929. The organization did not seek a broad constituency and found recruiting labor leaders and conservatives to its board a difficult task. Baldwin recruited most local correspondents during his annual tours around the country. During the 1920s most financial support came from Albert DeSilver (and his widow following his death) and from the American Fund for Public Service (generally known as the Garland Fund), a private foundation to support social reform which the ACLU basically administered until it failed during the stock market crash.

Throughout the 1920s labor and political speech issues predominated. The organization remained silent on such issues as the Volstead Act, the Olmstead wiretapping case, and other due process or privacy law questions. ACLU's greatest claim to fame during this decade was its offer to defend anyone willing to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding teaching the theory of evolution. Clarence Darrow and Arthur Hays, backed by the ACLU, defended John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Live radio coverage and an enormous press cadre (led by five Baltimore Sun reporters, including H. L. Mencken) made the public aware of the ACLU and helped the organization raise funds.

Other major activities prior to the New Deal included a defense of picketing by laborers in Paterson, New Jersey, establishment of the principle of the incorporation of free speech and press freedoms under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment in Gitlow v. U.S., the unsuccessful appeal of Charlotte Whitney's conviction for organizing on behalf of the Communist Labor Party in California, a reversal of Harold Fiske's conviction as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer in Kansas, and foundation of the right to counsel in capital cases in the “Scottsboro Boys” appeals.

In the area of censorship, the ACLU led a march to protest a Boston ban of Mencken's American Mercury, defended Margaret Sanger's right to deliver a speech on birth control, stopped a Post Office ban on Mary Ware Dennett's pamphlet The Sex Side of Life, supported a case that ended a Customs Service prohibition on the importation of James Joyce's Ulysses, aided Yetta Sternberg in a California case banning display of a red flag and established limits on prior restraint of the press in the Near v. Minnesota case.

In 1929 Baldwin proposed a broad expansion plan for the organization to include increased interest in civil rights, Native Americans, police brutality, and alien rights; opposition to compulsory military training and censorship; and extension of civil liberties efforts to the international arena. The result was an increase in subject committees (for instance Labor Injunctions and Indian Civil Rights) and a larger network of regional affiliate organizations.

Baldwin continued to try to work from within the government. The Wickersham Commission hired Walter Pollak, Zechariah Chaffee and Carl Stern on Baldwin's recommendation, and its report Lawlessness in Law Enforcement was a major bombshell. The Indian Civil Rights Committee held a day-long conference in 1933 which helped to shape the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In 1931 the ACLU published Black Justice and Morris Ernst as chair of the Garland Fund's Committee on Negro Work issued the Margold Report suggesting the need for a legal attack on segregation.

Throughout these years and later, the ACLU was by no means monolithic and vigorous debates raged over many of the policy decisions within the organization. For example, the religious element in the organization was not unalterably opposed to Bible reading and release time in schools. While some favored turning to the courts to effect changes, others believed public education, strikes and working for legislative and administrative change would prove more effective. Some preferred broad legal challenges while others wanted narrower tests designed to achieve the desired result in particular cases. The debates in the records of committee and board meetings provide lively and rich documentation of the activities and struggles of the organization.

The New Deal

Given its history of opposition to government power, the ACLU viewed Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal with misgivings. The economic situation had led to increased repression of labor, lynchings and deportations, but the notion of granting more power to the same government that had been the cause of repression during World War I did not sit well with many in the organization.

Throughout the 1930s the ACLU continued to defend free expression, asserting the rights of the German-American Bund in Shall We Defend Free Speech for Nazis in America (1934) and commissioning two studies of Nazis in America ( Shirts! ) and of the effects of anti-Fascist laws in Europe. The ACLU opposed Catholic efforts to censor printed works, movies and information on contraception, leading to the resignation of Rev. John Ryan from the National Committee in 1934. Baldwin also appeared regularly on a CBS radio program, “Let Freedom Ring,” during the 1930s. Other important activities included opposition to Boss Frank Hague's limits on union activities in Jersey City, cases to extend free speech rights to Communists, a series of Jehovah's Witnesses cases involving flag salutes and permits for literature distribution, and the National Labor Relations Board's attacks on Henry Ford's free speech rights.

The most difficult aspect of the New Deal years for the ACLU was its relationship to the Communist Party. The ACLU's bail fund had been seriously affected when five Communist Party members jumped bail and fled to the Soviet Union in 1930. Yet the two organizations had worked together on Scottsboro, the DeJonge and Herndon free speech cases, and in the International Juridical Association. Thus when the Popular Front was organized by the Communist Party in the 1930s, ACLU and Baldwin joined the effort since he was ever a coalition builder. Opponents continued to allege that the ACLU was a Communist front, especially since Harry Ward chaired both the ACLU and the American League for Peace and Democracy, the largest of the Popular Front organizations.

Communist Party attacks on a Socialist Party rally in Madison Square Garden in 1934 led Norman Thomas and John Haynes Holmes to call for banning Communists from ACLU leadership. In this same decade, the Dies Committee (the House Committee on Un-American Activities, popularly known as HUAC) concluded after its first hearings that one could not say with certainty whether or not the ACLU was a Communist organization. The ACLU responded by leading efforts to abolish the Dies Committee, assigning Abraham Isserman to write the first systematic analysis of the rights of witnesses before investigative committees (a report which Baldwin suppressed, perhaps in an agreement with HUAC) and working to clear the ACLU name. HUAC raids beginning in 1939, passage of the Smith Act in 1940 and state laws banning the Communist Party from the ballot served to increase concern about totalitarian organizations. In response to these growing concerns, the ACLU in 1940 adopted a policy barring Communist Party members from official positions in the organization, leading to the ouster of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the board and to the resignations of several others, including Harry Ward.

The 1930s witnessed an expansion of ACLU affiliates to St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Iowa, Indiana and Texas. By 1939 five affiliates had paid staff. At the New York headquarters, the ACLU hired its first staff counsel in 1941.

Civil Liberties During Wartime

Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the ACLU organized a conference on Civil Liberties in the National Emergency which was keynoted by Attorney General Frank Murphy. Lucille Milner wrote popular articles on conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime which carried the ACLU message to the general public. When war came in 1941, President Roosevelt pledged to continue constitutional freedoms even in a state of war, a policy generally followed except for one glaring exception.

Immediately after Pearl Harbor Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which created military zones to be run by the War Relocation Authority to intern Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens. The ACLU denounced the order as contrary to liberty and due process and as racially-motivated since it applied only to Japanese.

While western affiliates sought test cases, an activity made difficult by Japanese acquiescence, the ACLU split on the question of what were the limits of government power during wartime. A resolution approved the President's order in principle, but provided four technical bases for bringing challenges to the order. Similarly the ACLU voted not to oppose a peacetime draft that included good protections for conscientious objectors (although the law did not provide political grounds for objection) and adopted the Seymour resolution not to defend individuals charged with sedition when no due process violations were involved. The national organization's willingness to compromise on civil liberties issues during wartime led to considerable opposition from affiliates, especially those on the West Coast. Eventually the ACLU handled two leading cases involving the internment camps, Korematsu and Hirabayashi .

The ACLU also created new committees during the war, a National Committee on Conscientious Objectors headed by Ernest Angell who met with President Roosevelt on the matter, a Committee Against Racial Discrimination chaired by Pearl Buck, and a Committee on Discrimination Against Women led by Dorothy Kenyon. ACLU's strong support for civil rights led to a split with some of its old labor allies. ACLU supported a bill of rights for union members and the growing movement for democracy in trade unions. The ACLU also aided the NAACP in cases that overthrew the white primary and restrictive covenants, and even took on a test of the segregated draft in the Winfred Lynn case which the NAACP would not accept.

Post-War Problems

The ACLU's long-standing debate regarding its relationship to the Communist Party in many ways limited its response to the Cold War anti-Communist crusade that followed the war. One faction on the board, led by Norman Thomas and Morris Ernst, was strongly anti-Communist. Others, led by Arthur Garfield Hays, Osmond Fraenkel and Walter Gellhorn, opposed any attempt to restrict political beliefs and associations.

The basic elements of the post-war attack on civil liberties were already in place even before the war began: HUAC, the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths and FBI surveillance of individuals and organizations. When President Truman issued E.O. 9835 establishing the federal loyalty program, the ACLU opted for quiet court tests and lobbying of Attorney General Tom Clark instead of a public opposition to the basic tenets of the order.

Baldwin, an activist throughout his life, had associations with many of the organizations found on the Attorney General's list of Communist Party affiliates, so he protected himself by regular attacks on the Communist Party which only served to limit his ability to oppose the internal security crusade. The ACLU sought to protect the rights of HUAC witnesses rather than take on HUAC itself.

The Smith Act cases which Judge Harold Medina presided over in New York led to convictions of the defendants for membership in the Communist Party. Moveover, Medina's contempt citations put a chill on lawyers who might have defended clients. When the Supreme Court's Dennis decision sustained the Smith Act, a dissident group of ACLU members, led by Corliss Lamont, left to form an Emergency Civil Liberties Committee to pay more attention to trial-level support rather than waiting for the appeals process which had been ACLU's forte. The ACLU also refused to pursue allegations of FBI abuse, often providing an active apology for the Bureau.

Even in this era, the ACLU remained a small organization with a membership of fewer than 10,000. Of its affiliates, only Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles had paid staff. In response to the need for a stronger national organization, to the criticism of the Lamont faction, and to the perception that the ACLU had not responded effectively to the attacks of the anti-Communist crusade, in 1948 a Special Committee on Policy Planning under Walter Gellhorn urged that the ACLU become less involved in litigation and provide more public education. The Committee named civil rights and the fight against censorship as the key issues for the future and downplayed old causes like church-state questions and defense of minority parties. Finally, the Committee recommended that Roger Baldwin be relieved from executive responsibilities and given an ambassadorial role of speaking, writing and maintaining relations with other organizations. As a result of this recommendation, Roger Baldwin retired as executive director in 1950, at the close of the organization's first thirty years which is the period covered by this microfilm edition.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 1, The Roger Baldwin Years, 1917-1950, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial." Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty." Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, Project Files Series, 1877-2000, 1970-1995, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens.

The ACLU was established in 1920 to protect the constitutional freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. It grew out of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which defended the rights of conscientious objectors and the free speech rights of war protesters. In October 1917, this group became an independent organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), led by Roger Baldwin and Crystal Eastman. They formed the ACLU on January 19, 1920 to address postwar civil liberties violations and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents, with Baldwin serving as executive director.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, labor and political speech issues predominated, along with resisting all forms of censorship and working for amnesty and the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws. Its highest-profile case during this time was to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution by defending John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, its focus returned to conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, and to condemning the internment of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens, and then to combating postwar attacks on civil liberties through the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance. The ACLU also established committees to address racial discrimination and discrimination against women during this period.

Beginning in 1950, the ACLU experienced significant growth and change. Roger Baldwin, who fostered a small, centrally-controlled unit, retired as executive director in 1950 to take a more ambassadorial role. His successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, oversaw a change in the ACLU's structure to a strengthened network of affiliates at the state and regional levels, which monitor for civil liberties infringements and initiate cases in their geographic areas. Largely due to the stronger affiliates, the ACLU grew significantly and reached over 60,000 members by 1962, when John de J. Pemberton became executive director. During this period, the ACLU was also continuously renegotiating the scope and nature of its work, reconciling the multitude of views from affiliates and members. Starting with the civil rights movement, those that favored a broad definition of what constituted civil liberties work won out, as the organization took on cases involving abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, and other areas far from the basic principle of protecting First Amendment rights on which the ACLU was founded.

During the 1950s, the ACLU came to the defense of Communists as it challenged the actions of McCarthy and HUAC on the tenet that only peoples' acts, not their beliefs, should be penalized; anything less infringed on First Amendment principles. A related battle was fought over censorship and freedom of speech, as national security concerns led to the desire to protect people from materials that promoted Communism or were perceived to erode community morals. The ACLU challenged any censorship attempts as a fundamental attack on free speech and accepted no infringement in any form. This absolutist stance resulted in one of its most controversial cases, defending the right of American Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, in 1977. The ACLU won the court case but lost a large portion of its membership who resigned in protest. Executive director Aryeh Neier, who had assumed the post in 1970, stepped down and was replaced by Ira Glasser, who stabilized the organization through an emergency appeal to supporters that raised over $500,000.

Another significant, and sometimes controversial, area of work for the ACLU in the 1950s was its efforts to enforce the separation of church and state. Working to end state-sanctioned forms of religion, the ACLU sought to abolish school prayer, various government subsidies for religious education, teaching religious concepts such as creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes, and other connections between government and religious activity. By the late 1960s, changes in public attitude toward church/state issues cemented the organization's gains, although fundamentalist religions continue challenging the laws.

Most of the ACLU's work from the 1950s onward involves the more ambiguous and complex realm of civil rights, helping secure the rights or expanding the concept of those same rights for those who had been denied them in the past such as African-Americans, women, students, homosexuals, children, the mentally-ill, prisoners, and the accused. Projects were established to address each issue through changing the law, educating the public, and raising their own funds. The ACLU participated in all the major civil rights cases, arguing for freedom of speech and association rights that allowed the sit-ins, freedom rides, and other methods employed by the movement, and won many important cases before the Supreme Court.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the ACLU faced a shift in public sentiment against its views, to the point that ACLU membership was identified as out-of-the-mainstream, and it became more difficult to secure Supreme Court victories. The ACLU re-fought a number of battles over such issues as censorship, school prayer, creationism, and abortion rights. In 2001, Anthony D. Romero succeeded Glasser as executive director. As of 2012, the ACLU continues its program of litigation, lobbying, and public education to protect Americans' Constitutional rights, focusing on First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy, and working to extend rights to minorities that have traditionally been denied them. The ACLU handles close to 6,000 cases annually and appears before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80% of the landmark cases in the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.

From the guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, Regional Offices Files Series, 1894-2005, 1970-1990, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.)

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Subjects:

  • Freedom of movement--20th century
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  • Homosexuality--Government policy--History--United States--20th century
  • Race discrimination--United States
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  • Freedom of the press--Minnesota--20th century
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  • Sacco--Vanzetti Trial, Dedham, Mass., 1921
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  • United States. Supreme Court--Officials and employees
  • World War I
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  • Public policy/20th century
  • Freedom of speech--States
  • Conscientious objectors--United States--20th century
  • Draft resisters--United States--20th century

Occupations:

not available for this record

Functions:

not available for this record

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Michigan--Kalamazoo (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)