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Civil Rights Research Collections: Black Freedom Struggle

Collections of primary sources of the abolitionist and civil rights movements, accessible at the FAMU College of Law.

Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century, Part 1

Search the entire series here. For more detailed information on the subjects included in this series, see the Guide to the Black Freedom Struggle, part 1.

Part 1: Federal Government Records

   Collections in this series include:

African Americans in the Military

Organized alphabetically by subject, this collection contains a rich record of the personal struggles faced by African Americans as they attempted to contribute to the war effort during World War II.

Black Workers in the Era of the Great Migration, 1916-1929

 Records relate to agricultural labor, industrial work, unionism, housing, race relations, returning veterans and their search for employment, and the process of migration from the South to the North.

Centers of the Southern Struggle: FBI Files on Montgomery, Albany, St. Augustine, Selma, and Memphis

FBI headquarters files on five of the most pivotal arenas of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. These files provide a day-by-day, and frequently an hour-by-hour, record of the activities, strategies, and alliances of the civil rights movement.

Civil Rights during the Bush Administration

While most of the collection focuses the civil rights of African Americans during the Bush administration, there is also material on Latin Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, international human rights violations, religious freedom, and the civil rights of people in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Civil Rights during the Carter Administration

Between 1978 and 1981, the Carter administration attempted to confront issues facing African Americans by bringing on Louis Martin as the president’s special assistant for black affairs. Martin’s papers document the major issues he addressed as Carter’s Special Assistant and also reveal Carter administration policy toward African Americans.

Civil Rights during the Eisenhower Administration

The emphasis of this collection is on the desegregation of public schools, especially in the South after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of May 17, 1954. The majority of documents consist of letters to the president or other officials with responsibility for directing or implementing civil rights policies, and answers to these letters.

Civil Rights during the Johnson Administration

Part I. White House Central Files and Aides Files
Part II. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative History
Part III. Oral Histories
Part IV. Papers of the White House Conference on Civil Rights
Part V. Records of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission)

Civil Rights during the Kennedy Administration

The records in this series document a broad range of key topics and events: specific federal civil rights programs and activities; meetings with civil rights leaders; civil disturbances and the use of federal troops; the crises at the University of Mississippi, Birmingham, and the University of Alabama; the Freedom Rides; unequal educational opportunities; the Anti-Poll Tax Amendment and voter registration activities; the 1963 March on Washington; and the development of legislative programs, including the legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Civil Rights during the Nixon Administration

This publication of Nixon administration files relating to civil rights covers a wide range of issues, including school desegregation and busing, Nixon's nomination of southern jurists Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court, women's rights, and persons with disabilities. The White House Special Files on human rights are also included.

Civil Rights Movement and the Federal Government

Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission on Discrimination in Transportation, 1961-1970
Records of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, 1958-1973
Records of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Police-Community Relations in Urban Areas, 1954-1966
Records of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, School Desegregation in the South, 1965-1966
Records of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Special Projects, 1960-1970

Department of Justice Classified Subject Files on Civil Rights, 1914-1949

This collection of Department of Justice files on civil rights offers a glimpse into the minds of ordinary men and women, both black and white, in the first half of the twentieth century. Ranging from 1911 until 1943, the documents center broadly on the practice of lynching and specifically upon the thousands of letters written to protest this form of extralegal "punishment." The core of the collection consists of two bundles of letters to the president, covering 1911-1941 and 1921-1940. Interspersed with the letters are clusters of documents on a variety of related topics: race riots, lynching investigations, press reports and meeting records from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), personal letters of complaint and requests for assistance, and newspaper clippings and memorandums concerning antilynching bills.

East St. Louis Riot of 1917

Because the riot resulted in the virtual suspension of commerce between the neighboring states of Illinois and Missouri for up to ten days in July, the U.S. congressional committee that conducted an investigation was formally called the House Select Committee to Investigate Conditions in Illinois and Missouri Interfering With Interstate Commerce Between These States. This collection consists of  transcripts of the hearings and related records.

FBI Files on Black Extremist Organizations

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was very concerned about the organizing potential, influence, and strength of black power and black nationalist organizations. In an attempt to limit the power of these groups, the FBI implemented a surveillance program of so-called black nationalist hate groups. This COINTELPRO (counterintelligence program) was launched in August 1967 on direct orders from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. This collection consists of the COINTELPRO black nationalist hate groups files, as well as a separate series of materials from the FBI investigation of the Deacons for Defense and Justice.

Federal Surveillance of Afro-Americans (1917-1925): The First World War, the Red Scare, and the Garvey Movement

The value of this collection can be charted in several respects. First, it is a vast treasure of largely untapped source materials for the major social movements and key figures in early twentieth century black history. Second, it provides a window into the development of America's first systematic domestic surveillance apparatus. Finally, it illuminates the enduring conflict in American history between the need of society to protect basic freedoms and the equally legitimate need to protect itself from genuine threats to its security and existence. Unfortunately, during the First World War and the Red Scare period, a careful balance between freedom and restraint was not maintained.

Martin Luther King Jr. FBI File

The 17,000-page file on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., compiled by headquarters officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, details the heavy surveillance and painful harassment that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI directed against America's foremost civil rights leader throughout the 1960s. Most of this file has never been published until now, and it should not be confused with other less comprehensive collections of FBI material on King. This file contains hundreds of substantive documents and is an essential source for the study of Dr. King and his role in the civil rights movement.

New Deal Agencies and Black America

New Deal Agencies and Black America consists of documents from federal agencies and departments that either participated in New Deal programs or were created as a result of them. Correspondence of "The Black Cabinet," a network of black advisors and administrators, figures prominently in the collection.

Peonage Files of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1901-1945

When the federal government began enforcing the peonage statute in 1898, the Justice Department accumulated records from U.S. attorneys and other federal officials in the field. It also received complaints directly from those who believed themselves held in peonage, or, when debt was not a factor, in slavery. Citizens who observed such forced labor also appealed to the Justice Department for relief. Thus, the files not only show Justice Department lawyers going about their work, but also U.S. attorneys and federal agents in the field investigating complaints and bringing cases (or dropping them). The files also illuminate the uses of power, especially of local law enforcement officials who often sided with employers to compel workers to pay off their debts or remain at work.

President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights

Correspondence consists of internal, administrative matters; outreach to and response from consultants and potentially interested parties and organizations; intra-government communications between the Committee, the White House, the Department of Justice, various federal departments and agencies, and Congress; and citizen and media response to the Committee's work and Truman's programs on civil rights.

Records of the Committee on Fair Employment Practices, Part 1: Racial Tension File, 1943-1945

This collection consists generally of newspaper clippings, statistical reports, memoranda, and correspondence. Materials in this collection mostly date from 1943 to 1946 with some documents going back to 1935.

Records of the Tuskegee Airmen, Part 1: Records of the Army Air Forces

This collection reveals the heroic combat record of the Tuskegee Airmen as well as the discrimination and segregation faced by these same soldiers in the United States. The collection consists of combat reports, correspondence, and reports on discrimination faced by African American military personnel and conditions at the Tuskegee Army Air Field. 

Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century, Part 2

Search the entire series here. For more detailed information on the subjects included in this series, see Guide to the Black Freedom Struggle, part 2.

Part 2: Organizational Records and Personal Papers

Collections in this series include:

Bayard Rustin Papers

As an organizer, strategist, and pioneer in the use of Gandhian tactics, Bayard Rustin (1910-1987) was one of the most influential black protest leaders of the twentieth century. Although he deliberately maintained a low profile throughout his fifty years of social activism, his skill at conceiving and planning protest demonstrations and his perceptive analysis of movement trends earned him the respect of wide sectors of the civil rights (and pacifist) movements. Moreover, his role as a behind-the-scenes adviser to both A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr., allowed him to help shape the course of the post-World War II civil rights struggle.

Mary McLeod Bethune Papers

During four decades of the twentieth century, Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was "exhibit No. 1 for all who have faith in America and the democratic process." She occupied a dominant position in significant developments impacting the common welfare at the community, state, regional, and national levels. These included the evolution of the black college, the community social services of voluntary women's associations, the anguished passage of ebony women to visibility in national affairs, the regeneration of a black political presence in the federal government, and interracialism. 

Papers of A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979) was one of the leading black protest leaders of the twentieth century. He was best known as the editor of the Messenger (a radical Socialist journal), as organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and as the leader of the 1941 and 1963 Marches on Washington. The Papers of A. Philip Randolph at the Library of Congress document several important aspects of Randolph's career. They are particularly strong for the period since the Second World War. They illuminate Randolph's role in the Socialist Party and in creating coalitions with other groups on behalf of labor, civil rights, and civil liberties. The collection also supplies important documentation for subjects such as Randolph's role both in combating Communist influence in the black community and in opposing on principle the red-baiting of the American left. Finally, the collection is an important source for Randolph's efforts in working to eliminate racial discrimination in the trade union movement.

Records of the American Committee on Africa

The Records of the American Committee on Africa provides a comprehensive overview of the committee's establishment, growth, and development from 1953 into the mid-1970s. The minutes of board of directors meetings (archived as Executive Committee Minutes) provide summary documentation on the American Committee on Africa's programs, fundraising, lobbying, staffing, and relations with other groups. The minutes also provide summaries of ACOA's extensive research work on African problems as well as on political events in Africa and events in America affecting Africa. The minutes of ACOA standing committees, especially those of the Steering Committee, with the Interoffice Memoranda provide a deeper level of detail on most of the issues covered in the minutes of the board. Because they are parallel and complementary sources, researchers are advised to use each of the three separate series--Interoffice Memoranda, Executive Committee Minutes, and standing committee minutes, especially Steering Committee Minutes, interdependently.

Records of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

Organized in three parts, these records provide extraordinary documentation that scholars might use to help us understand further the significant history of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and the men who built it into the first national union of black workers officially affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and later with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The Records are, as well, a revealing source on the activities of the Ladies Auxiliary of the BSCP and its colorful president, Helena Wilson. Moreover, we can learn much from this collection about the wartime March on Washington Movement and the resultant Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), the postwar antecedents of the civil rights movement, and the relationships between black workers and the general organized labor movement. In Part 3, there is also documentation of the relationship between the BSCP and the Pullman Company, especially for the period during which the Brotherhood formally represented the porters in negotiations with the company.

Records of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs

The National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, Inc. (NACWC) is the oldest African American secular organization in existence today. This collection documents the founding of the organization and the role that it has played in the political, economic, and social development of the modern African American community, as well as its involvement in national and international reform movements.


Records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1954-1970

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) profoundly affected the modern civil rights movement as well as the course of American political history in the second half of the twentieth century. The organization's records provide researchers with a treasure of primary source material on the complexities of organizing a successful mass protest movement. Organizational working papers, internal memoranda, correspondence, minutes of meetings, field reports, press releases, pamphlet publications, questionnaire replies, statistical compilations, and many other types of documents bring to light the struggle for civil rights. 

The Black Power Movement

Papers of the Revolutionary Action Movement: This collection of RAM records reproduces the central writings and position statements of RAM and its leaders. It also covers organizations that evolved from or were influenced by RAM and persons that had close ties to RAM. The main organization that evolved from RAM was the African People's Party. Organizations influenced by RAM include the Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Youth Organization for Black Unity, African Liberation Support Committee, and the Republic of New Africa. Individuals associated with RAM and documented in this collection include Robert F. Williams, Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, General Gordon Baker Jr., Yuri Kochiyama, Donald Freeman, James Boggs, Grace Lee Boggs, Herman Ferguson, Askia Muhammad Toure (Rolland Snellings), and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). The League of Revolutionary Black Workers: This collection consists of the personal files collected by General Gordon Baker Jr., one of the founding members of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) in 1968 and the LRBW in 1969.

The Claude A. Barnett Papers

Claude A. Barnett founded the Associated Negro Press (ANP) in March 1919 and remained its director through nearly half a century of enormous social change. The ANP was the largest and longest-lived news service to supply black newspapers in the United States with news of interest to black citizens, opinion columns, reviews of books, movies, and records, and occasionally poetry, cartoons and photographs. It thereby helped create a national black culture and increased black awareness of national news. It also provided a national forum for black leaders, helped set professional standards of news writing for the black press, aided many small black newspapers to survive, and enabled black journalists to gain reporting experience.