By Sam Walker
The ACLU was born out of World War I and the repression that resulted when the U.S. joined the fight.
In 1917, war fever was sweeping the country. So was anti-dissent hysteria. Opponents of America’s entry into World War I — along with socialists and suspected draft evaders — faced prosecution, censorship, and violence.
It was in this climate that Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin created the Civil Liberties Bureau as part of the American Union Against Militarism. Three years later, in 1920, that small committee within an anti-war organization would evolve into the American Civil Liberties Union.
Since its founding, the ACLU has operated under Eastman and Baldwin’s guiding star: the principled defense of civil liberties without compromise based on political considerations. That principle has led us through a series of monumental events and policy decisions in the last century.
On the occasion of the ACLU’s centennial, this essay collection will explore many of those critical moments in the organization’s history. Together, it tells not only the ACLU’s story, but America’s as well.
By Susan N. Herman
A preeminent organizer of her day, Eastman was a fierce champion of most of the major movements for social change in the early 20th century.
By Judy Kutulas
In the early days of the ACLU, the California branches helped maintain the organization’s radicalism as the national organization became more and more mainstream over the decades.
By Robert C. Cottrell
ACLU founder Roger Baldwin always wanted to promote civil liberties overseas. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur came calling, it was with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
By Steve Shapiro
A former ACLU legal director explains how the ACLU’s broad mission and long history became a source of strength after 9/11 and the government’s assault on civil liberties.
By Burt Neuborne
The inside story of an ACLU lawyer’s cross-country Hail Mary to persuade the Supreme Court that Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia was unconstitutional.
By Aryeh Neier
In the early 1970s, ACLU lawyer Bruce Ennis successfully reformed New York City’s infamous institution for people with developmental disabilities, the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island.
By Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi
The government’s World War II-era incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry sparked bitter disputes within the ACLU. They hold important lessons on the danger of wartime deference to government, and on holding fast to principle.
By Gara LaMarche
As a young part-timer during the summer of 1977, I went through the FBI’s ACLU files. My colleagues and I discovered that prominent ACLU leaders had worked secretly with the FBI.
By Aryeh Neier
In May 1971, the Nixon administration cracked down unconstitutionally on a massive anti-Vietnam War protest with the largest mass arrests in U.S. history, but it was soon repudiated by the quick response of the ACLU of D.C.
By David Goldberger
In 1977, the ACLU of Illinois received a call from a Nazi leader complaining that his planned demonstration had been blocked. The ensuing legal battle, and the controversy around it, would test the organization’s commitment to the First Amendment.
By Philippa Strum
Murray battled discrimination on the basis of sex and race throughout her personal and professional life, carving an intersectional approach to civil rights discourse that still shapes the ACLU’s work today.
By Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
As a young activist fighting against racial segregation, Eleanor Holmes Norton embraced the power of the First Amendment. That passion took her to the ACLU, and all the way to Congress, where she represents the District of Columbia today.
By Susan N. Herman
After fleeing persecution, a Hungarian anti-war activist sought refuge in the United States, only to be rejected and scorned for her pacifism. Ever a friend to conscientious objectors, the ACLU came to her aid.