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Preliminary Inventory of the National Lawyers Guild Records, 1936-1999
BANC MSS 99/280 cz  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Organizational Information
  • Organizational Chronology
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: National Lawyers Guild Records,
    Date (inclusive): 1936-1999
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 99/280 cz
    Creator: National Lawyers Guild and individual members of the Guild
    Extent: Number of containers: 65 cartons, 87 boxes, 9 oversize boxes Linear feet: 119.65
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
    Abstract: National Lawyers Guild Records, 1936-1999, contains the organizations founding documents and annual convention records; national, regional and chapter publications, amicus briefs, and executive, legal and committee documents and correspondence. Also, eighteen NLG attorney's correspondence, legal case and office files. Reports and publications of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the American Association of Jurists, 1971-1998.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research with the exception of cartons 33-38, 43, 48-49, 52-56, 59, 61-62, 85, 87 and box 31, which are unprocessed and unavailable.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the appropriate curator or the Head of Public Services for forwarding. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], National Lawyers Guild Records, BANC MSS 99/280 cz, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1999.074

    Related Collections

    • Title: National Lawyers Guild photograph collection [graphic] ca. 1901-ca. 1975,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1999.074-PIC
    • Title: Meiklejon Civil Liberties Institute Records, 1940's-ongoing,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 99/281 c
    • Title: Robert W. Kenny Papers, 1920-1947,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS C-B 510,
      Electronic location of finding aid: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/cgi-bin/oac/berkeley/bancroft/kenny 
    • Title: Robert Walker Kenny papers : additions, 1902-1961,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS C-B 1073
    • Title: Kenny, Robert W., Earl Warren's campaigns : oral history transcript,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 77/70
    • Title: Kenny, Robert Walker, 1901- [interviewee],
      Identifier/Call Number: Phonotape 1270 A
    • Title: Leonard, Norman, Life of a leftist labor lawyer: oral history transcript,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 88/8 c

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The National Lawyers Guild Records were given to The Bancroft Library on May 1, 1999 by Ann Fagan Ginger, founder and Executive Director of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute in Berkeley, California, and Jim Syfers, representing the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Board of Directors. The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute is a designated repository for the National Lawyers Guild organizational records.

    Organizational Information

    The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the conservative and racially segregated American Bar Association. NLG is an organization that utilizes the legal and political skills of its members to serve the basic principle set out in its constitution: to function as "an effective political and social force in the service of the people... to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests" and to support the movement for progressive social change. Currently, active membership is composed of lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers. As of 1999, approximately 5,000 NLG members support 56 chapters nationwide. The NLG website is at http://www.nlg.org 
    The Guild is a member of the American Association of Jurists and of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. These organizations provide legal assistance in the struggle for self-determination, economic independence, and action against discrimination internationally.
    Lawyer Ann Fagan Ginger served as NLG Administrative Secretary between 1955-1959. Ginger founded the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute in Berkeley, California, in 1965. Soon after, NLG passed a resolution designating the Institute's Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Library as the official repository for its records. With a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission in Washington, D.C., Ginger and her staff compiled an inventory of NLG's significant historical documents and in 1980 published two annotated guides to the records and publications of the National Lawyers Guild: Inventory #1 is titled, The Legal Struggle to Abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities: The Papers of Jeremiah Gutman. Inventory #2, The National Lawyers Guild: An Inventory of Records 1936-1976, An Index to Periodicals 1937-1979.
    The National Lawyers Guild produced many publications on the national, regional and chapter levels beginning with a periodical in 1937, National Lawyers Guild Quarterly, now called the Lawyers Guild Practitioner. Other publications include, amicus briefs for key cases, legal guides, reports, and books, such as Civil Liberties Docket v. 1-13, Citizens' Guide to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Minimizing Racism in Jury Trials. Among the richest sources of information on the activities of the NLG are the newsletters of the National Office and the New York City Chapter which were distributed nationally under various mastheads including, National Lawyers Guild News-letter, The Guild Lawyer, and Guild Notes.
    The National Lawyers Guild was influential in shaping the social legislation the characterized the New Deal era. The Guild defended workers and their trade unions and Guild attorneys fought the battles of pickets, strikers, and union organizers in the courtroom in the 1940s.
    During the 1950s, NLG fought political repression. Guild members represented the Hollywood 10 and virtually every other person subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, among other now infamous McCarthy-era investigative bodies. Guild lawyers argued landmark cases such as Dennis v. U.S. and Bailey v. Richardson before Supreme Court. The Guild filled dozens of amicus briefs in opposition to the Smith Act, the Loyalty Program, HUAC, and to the deportation of aliens or denial of citizenship based on political beliefs.
    The National Lawyers Guild opposes all forms of racial discrimination, from anti-Klan and anti-lynching legal work, to supporting affirmative action and diversity both in the work force and throughout society. In 1964, a campaign was organized to focus national attention on the struggles in Mississippi. Guild lawyers' represented hundreds of "freedom riders" and civil rights activists. NLG was deeply involved in the Black and Puerto Rican liberation movements, and the founding of several public interest law firms, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, in New York, and the Instituto Puertorriqueño De Derechos Civiles, in San Juan.
    Throughout the Vietnam War, the Guild offered legal assistance to people opposed to the war for political, religious, or moral reasons. They published The New Draft Law: A Manual for Counselors and Lawyers. During the 1970's the Guild was also actively involved in the struggles for affirmative action and women's and gay rights, and organized defense teams for Wounded Knee and Attica.
    In the 1980s the Guild was a leader in organizing demands for affirmative action in law schools and defending gains when courts became vehicles of organized backlash. A new generation of legal activists organized support for the anti-nuclear movement and for groups opposing U.S. intervention in Central America. It also forged innovative strategies for advancing domestic and international human rights.
    The decade of the 1990s has seen NLG at the helm of the fight for workers rights both in the United States and abroad. The Guild has responded to the challenges of the right and the growing anti-poor and anti-immigrant sentiment in this country by providing legal advice and support to the progressive movement on these issues.
    Portions of organizational information and organizational chronology excerpted from: National Lawyers Guild website: http://www.nlg.org  "A National Lawyers Guild Chronology: 1937-1987", National Lawyers Guild 50 th Anniversary Commemorative Journal.

    Organizational Chronology

    Feb. 21-22, 1937 Six hundred attorneys attend the founding convention of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in Washington, D.C., to form an integrated association of liberal and progressive lawyers as an alternative to the conservative and racially segregated American Bar Association. Guild lawyers assist in creating legislation of the New Deal; the National Labor Relations Act, social security, and unemployment insurance, helping to win many advances for working people.
    1939 Guild members lobby against the Smith Act (outlawing organizations presumed to be "conspiring to advocate and overthrow the U.S. government by force and violence"), and the Voorhis Registration Act and poll tax used against blacks in the South.
    1940-1943 The Guild fights against fascism. Guild members lead nationwide protests to quash indictments of Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who served in Spain; mount assault on racism in the armed services; pledge full support to President Roosevelt's measures to resist fascism and defeat Hilterism. Lawyer Carol King spearheads efforts to protect the rights of the foreign born; major campaign for rent control legislation; endorsement of the Social Security Bill.
    1944 House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) cites NLG as a Communist-front organization. The Guild formulates legal framework for the trial and punishment of war criminals. Also investigates racial disturbances in labor situations; the "zoot suit" riots, and housing projects.
    1945 Guild invited by State Department to act as advocate/consultant to the U.S. delegation at founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco. The Guild criticizes secrecy regarding atomic bomb urging control be placed with U.N. Security Council. Guild sends official observers to Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. Mary Kaufman and Abraham Pomerantz serve on team of lawyers prosecuting individual Nazi collaborators.
    1946 NLG represents the United Mine Workers' fight against labor injunction; Guild Lawyer Leonard Boudin testifies against passage of Taft-Hartley Bill; Guild sponsors National Negro Congress, assists in the movement for Puerto Rican independence. The International Association for Democratic Lawyers (IADL) is founded in Paris to strengthen Nuremberg Principals and U.N. Charter.
    1947 NLG convenes Conference on Federal Power to Protect Civil Rights to address epidemic of lynching in the South. NLG members provide pro bono counsel to Trenton 6, six black men convicted of murder on the basis of coerced confessions. Guild members represent the Hollywood Ten, called to testify in front of HUAC.
    1948 Guild testifies against Truman's loyalty oath program. Some Guild members are subpoenaed to testify before HUAC having been named by Whittaker Chambers as members of the Communist Party. Law Student division of the NLG is formally established. Guild defense team in the Smith Act Trial are jailed on contempt charges.
    1950 HUAC issues a publication entitled "The National Lawyers Guild: Bulkwark of the Communist Party" designed to show a relationship between the two. Only 4 out of 3,800 members are actually accused of being Communists. In response to attacks the Guild publishes, "National Lawyers Guild, Legal Bulkwark of Democracy." NLG condemns invasion of South Korea by the North and supports U.N. intervention.
    1951-1953 Guild disassociates from IADL due to exclusion of Yugoslav members. Guild members lead defense in espionage trials of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobell. Guild attorneys seek a stay of the Rosenberg's execution and volunteer to draft 2255 motions to free Morton Sobell. NLG holds "Conference on Threats to Independence of the Bar" in response to continuing attacks by HUAC. At ABA Convention Attorney General Brownell announces his intent to include the Guild on the Attorney General's list of subversive organizations. The announcement initiates five years of legal struggle. In Sept. 1958, the attempt is dropped by Attorney General Rogers.
    1955-1959 Because of anti-Communist sentiment and attacks on the Guild, many members leave the organization; membership drops to 500. David Rein appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in opposition to proposed legislation restricting the passports of U.S. citizens because of their political beliefs. Linus Pauling addresses convention in Detroit on Nuclear Test Ban. Only 4 Guild chapters retain membership: New York City, Detroit, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
    1960-1963 NLG sponsors a mass swearing in to the Supreme Court in an effort to increase public support and confidence in the Guild. NLG's 25 th Anniversary Convention held in Detroit. Guild creates the Committee to Aid Southern Lawyers (CASL), co-chaired by Ernest Goodman and George Crockett. CASL attorneys go South and represent civil rights activists. The Guild, the National Bar Association, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference sponsor civil rights law conference in Atlanta, the first integrated bar association meeting in the South.
    1964 A working convention is held in Detroit on, "The Negro Revolt - Challenge to the Bar."Guild members vote to move the National Office from New York to Detroit. Committee for Legal Aid in the South, opens an office in Jackson, Mississippi. In cooperation with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Guild sends many lawyers and law students south to provide support to civil rights activists. San Francisco Guild lawyers organize the Council for Justice. Council later assists Vietnam Day Committee.
    1965 Guild defense team is victorious in Dombrowski v. Pfister, which holds that federal courts can enjoin state proceedings that interfere with the exercise of constitutionally protected rights. Los Angeles chapter organizes defense for mass arrests resulting from the Watts rebellion. Lawyers Committee on American Foreign Policy Towards Vietnam file affirmative federal lawsuits challenging the undeclared war raging in Vietnam. Ann Fagan Ginger founds the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute. The first student chapter since 1953 is formed at UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall). Guild convenes conference commemorating the 20 th Anniversary of Nuremberg Tribunal judgements. Guild member Catherine Roraback is counsel for Griswold v Connecticut, which establishes personal, marital, familial, and sexual privacy is protected by the Bill of Rights.
    1967-1969 Guild membership increases and members vote to move the National Office back to New York. Guild concentrates resources on opposition to the draft; co-sponsors the nation's first conference on the draft with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. NLG Regional Offices with full-time staff are established in every major city. NLG law students organize defense for the mass arrests at the Democratic National Convention. Mass Defense Office opens in NYC to provide legal services for Columbia University demonstrators and students on other campuses.
    1970 Doris Brin Walker is elected first female National president. Guild members vote to admit law students as full members; women challenge structure and focus of Guild at National Convention in Washington DC; a new generation of women, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers increase Guild membership. The Guild re-affiliates with the IADL. New York City members file suit against the NY City Police Department's "Red Squad." The first panel on Gay Liberation is offered. The Guild opens Military Law Offices in Philadelphia, Japan, and Okinawa. All offer free legal counsel to G.I.'s opposed to the Vietnam War. A Guild defense team goes to Buffalo, NY to represent inmates at Attica.
    1972-1974 Philippine authorities raid the Guild's Military Law Office, arrest and deport staff. A revitalized Guild opens chapters in Chicago, Portland, Houston, Washington D.C. and Denver. Grand Jury Defense Office opens in San Francisco. National Labor Committee is re-established. National Immigration/Deportation Project and the Guild Men's Caucus formed. Guild sends 14 members to Cuba in first official Guild delegation since 1961 blockade. Guild members visit Chile to observe trials and represent key Allende officials, and investigate status of human rights. Women's Labor Project starts. The Guild, La Raza Law Students Assoc. Asian Law Collective and Nat'l Conference of Black Lawyers form the People's College of Law, run by students and the community.
    1975-1977 The National Committee on Women's Oppression (NCWO) is established and later evolves into the Anti-Sexism Committee. Guild establishes first union oriented labor law firm in Puerto Rico. Guild members debate the position of the United Farmworkers Union regarding undocumented workers brought into the U.S. to break strikes. Guild sends delegations to People's Republic of China (following a resolution to normalize relations between U.S. and China) and to the Middle East to examine the status of Palestinian people. Guild establishes the Puerto Rico Legal Project. Guild contributes paper to Geneva conference on Native American Rights.
    1978-1979 Guild members meet with Justice Dept. to demand prosecution of persons recruiting mercenaries in U.S. to fight for Somoza regieme in Nicaragua. Huey Newton is successfully acquitted. His Guild attorneys successfully fight contempt charges. Guild member travels to South Africa on an IADL fact-finding tour. Guild files report, "Violations of Human Rights in Guatemala." A resolution is passed in support of Leonard Peltier committing the Committee on Native American Struggles (CONAS) to his defense. People's Energy Project (operating a clearinghouse for anti-nuclear materials) is established and the Affirmative Action Coalition in Washington D.C. is formed. In San Francisco the Guild's National Prison Committee is re-organized, the task force on Anti-Semitism and the National Committee Against Government Repression and Police Crimes are established.
    1980-1981 Central America Task Force is organized to challenge growing U.S. intervention. Guild debates role it should take vis-à-vis Nazi and Klan activity. Guild's Puerto Rico Legal Project addresses the United Nations Decolonization Committee. National Labor Law Center is opened in Washington, D.C. Vicki Erenstein delivers "Guild Statement on the Status of the Apartheid Regime in South Africa", to U.N. Special Political Committee. Guild sends delegation to Northern Ireland that calls for end to British domination and supports demands of hunger strikers. Guild files amicus brief on behalf of a lesbian mother fighting for custody of her child.
    1982 Guild provides legal contingent and observers to massive June 12 March for Nuclear Disarmament and submits petition to Freeze and Reverse Nuclear Arms Race to U.N. Through Guild's Selective Service Law Panel young men indicted on charges of failure to register for the draft are given legal assistance. With other organizations, the Guild files a lawsuit challenging constitutionality of U.S. Treasury Dep't regulations restricting travel to, and flow of literature from Cuba. CONAS provides legal support and staff for the Big Mountain Defense/Offense Project in Arizona helping Navaho and Hopi with land claims against U.S. government.
    1983 Guild and Center for Constitutional Rights file precedent-setting lawsuit in federal court aimed at stopping the U.S.-sponsored secret war against Nicaragua in Sanchez-Espinoza v Reagan. Guild members adopt resolution calling for affirmative action at Guild firms and offices. Guild (with other agencies) files lawsuit on the illegality of the U.S. invasion of Grenada.
    1985 Guild helps form Lawyers Against Apartheid. The Guild's Military Law Task Force files suit on behalf of a U.S. Navy hospital man discharged from the service because of AIDS. Guild receives documentary proof from discovery, in NLG vs. FBI, that for 40 years the FBI secretly provided information on the political activities of bar applicants to judge fitness for admission to legal practice; motion filed to compel full disclosure. Guild helps form Lawyers Committee to Free Nelson Mandela. Guild team assists in representing persons arrested for providing sanctuary to Central American refugees.
    1986 The Guild is instrumental in forming the Right to Counsel Network to combat current attacks on lawyers. Guild Toxics Committee is formed to co-ordinate legislative initiatives and litigation around toxic waste issues. Guild Rural Justice Committee assists farmers in crisis. Guild assists in the acquittal of Stephen Bingham, member accused of bringing a gun to prison activist George Jackson. Guild sends delegation to Soviet Union led by President Haywood Burns.
    1987 NLG 50 th Anniversary Convention held in Washington, D.C. The Committee on Democratic Communications is formed focusing on the right of all peoples to a world-side system of media and communications based upon the principle of cultural and informational self-determination.
    1990-1999 This decade the NLG held the line against right-wing attacks upon civil rights. Guild lawyers created innovative defense strategies for Central American and Haitian refugees, protected the pro-choice and gay rights movements from the tactics of Operation Rescue and the far right, and challenged restrictions on artistic expression put forth by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Guild agenda has responded to growing anti-poor and anti-immigrant sentiment, investigated corporate crime, and worked to end sweat-shop exploitation. The NLG/Maurice Sugar Law Center (a national non-profit public interest law center) is founded upon the principle that economic and civil rights are inseparable; that one group of rights cannot truly exist in the absence of the other. The National Executive Committee, after a month of debate, passed a resolution opposing the US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. The National Police Accountability Project is dedicated to curtail police abuse of authority through coordinated legal action and through the support for grassroots and victims' organizations combating police misconduct. To stop a miscarriage of justice, the Guild fights for a new trial and a stay of execution for Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American journalist on death row in Pennsylvania. Abu-Jamal is a jail-house lawyer and past Vice-President of the National Lawyers Guild.

    Scope and Content

    The National Lawyers Guild Records, 1937-1999, consists of the organizational records of the National Office of the NLG, formerly in Detroit and now in New York City, and individual lawyers' files. Included in the files are the correspondence and resolutions generated by NLG governing boards and committees, legal documents, newsletters, books, NLG convention and conference materials, a complete set of the Guild Practitioner and the files of eighteen individual Guild attorneys, including Ann Fagan Ginger, Robert W. Kenny, Maurice Sugar, Rubin Tepper, and Doris Brin Walker.
    The bulk of the National Office Files are described in the guide published by the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute titled, The National Lawyers Guild: An Inventory of Records 1936-1976, An Index to Periodicals, 1937-1979. The inventory is an annotated and thoroughly indexed guide to the NLG's principle documents and is attached to the Bancroft's NLG temporary finding aid as Supplement #2. The National Lawyers Guild Records are incomplete after 1976. Many records and photographs remain in the National Office in New York City.
    The Jeremiah Gutman and Robert Kenny files document the NLG's struggle to maintain the viability of the Guild and it's lawyers during the McCarthy era. The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute's inventory of this material is published in an annotated guide, The Legal Struggle to Abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities and is attached to the Bancroft's NLG temporary finding aid as Supplement #1.
    Other particularly well-documented NLG supported trials and issues represented in the collection include: the Smith Act; the Rosenberg-Sobell; Wesley Robert Wells; voter registration in the South in the early 1960s; defense cases of professionals called before the Dies Committee and HUAC in the McCarthy era; Communist Party USA trials; the lawyer's loyalty oath; Chicago Eight; anti-Vietnam War draft resister, sit-in, and conscientious objection cases; and the Bakke reverse discrimination case.
    See the chronology section of the Bancroft temporary finding aid for a thorough outline of the issues, events, and cases relevant to the collection. The Ann Fagan Ginger and Doris Brin Walker files include material from the American Association of Jurists and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, 1971-1998.
    The National Lawyers Guild Records have been through a preliminary processing and arrangement process. See individual GLADIS catalog records for availability of papers in Series 1-19.