1940 May 7

ACLU Expels Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from Board of Directors


The expulsion of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from its Board of Directors on this day is one of the most controversial actions in the history of the ACLU, and arguably the one case where the ACLU violated its own principles. The ACLU had recently adopted a new policy barring members of totalitarian organizations from leadership positions in the organization.

The policy provoked a bitter fight within the ACLU, as many members believed it violated the organization’s own principles on freedom of speech and association. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a member of the ACLU National Board of Directors and an acknowledged member of the Communist Party. (There were also several Board members who were secret members of the party.) Virtually everyone believed the policy was mainly directed at her.

Flynn’s expulsion created a controversy that dogged the reputation of the ACLU for many years. The Board of Directors posthumously reinstated her in April 1976. The ACLU was founded on January 19, 1920.

Read about the affair: Corliss Lamont, ed., The Trial of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn by the American Civil Liberties Union (1968)

Read about the history of the ACLU (including the Flynn affair): Samuel Walker: In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Learn more about Flynn:  Rosalynn Baxadall, eds., Words on Fire: The Life and Writings of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1987)

And more at the National Women’s History Museum: https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/elizabeth-gurley-flynn/

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