Looking to deepen your understanding of the history of American civil liberties?
E-RESOURCE: American Civil Liberties Union Papers, 1912-1990
Students and researchers can immerse themselves in civil rights history like never before with the new archive American Civil Liberties Union Papers, 1912-1990. Drawing from the records of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this collection offers an array of primary source materials on civil rights, race, gender and issues relating to the U.S. Supreme Court — topics intensely relevant to today’s curriculum and debates at both national and local levels. This UW-restricted resource is provided by UW Libraries.
Some brief information about the history and mission of ACLU, from their website:
“In the years following World War I, America was gripped by the fear that the Communist Revolution that had taken place in Russia would spread to the United States. As is often the case when fear outweighs rational debate, civil liberties paid the price. In November 1919 and January 1920, in what notoriously became known as the “Palmer Raids,” Attorney General Mitchell Palmer began rounding up and deporting so-called radicals. Thousands of people were arrested without warrants and without regard to constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure. Those arrested were brutally treated and held in horrible conditions.
In the face of these egregious civil liberties abuses, a small group of people decided to take a stand, and thus was born the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU has evolved in the years since from this small group of idealists into the nation’s premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. With more than 750,000 members, nearly 200 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation, the ACLU of today continues to fight government abuse and to vigorously defend individual freedoms including speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy and much more. The ACLU stands up for these rights even when the cause is unpopular, and sometimes when nobody else will. While not always in agreement with us on every issue, Americans have come to count on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle. The ACLU has become so ingrained in American society that it is hard to imagine an America without it.
The ACLU today is the nation’s largest public interest law firm, with a 50-state network of staffed, autonomous affiliate offices. We appear before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice. About 100 ACLU staff attorneys collaborate with about 2,000 volunteer attorneys in handling close to 2,000 cases annually.The ACLU is non-profit and non-partisan. We do not receive any government funding.
The ACLU is frequently asked to explain its defense of certain people or groups—particularly controversial and unpopular entities… We do not defend them because we agree with them; rather, we defend their right to free expression and free assembly. Historically, the people whose opinions are the most controversial or extreme are the people whose rights are most often threatened. Once the government has the power to violate one person’s rights, it can use that power against everyone. We work to stop the erosion of civil liberties before it’s too late.
Since we can’t take on every worthy case, we usually select lawsuits that will have the greatest impact, cases that have the potential for breaking new ground and establishing new precedents that will strengthen American freedoms.”