1951 October 8

Emergency Civil Liberties Committee Formed


Corliss Lamont, a long-time civil libertarian and ACLU Board member, founded the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee on this day. (It was usually referred to as the ECLC.) Lamont felt that the ACLU was not taking a strong enough position challenging anti-Communist measures in the Cold War. During its existence, the ECLC remained a small organization, without a strong national presence, taking a number of important and often highly publicized cases. Lamont, the son of a wealthy New York banker, remained the controlling force in ECLC throughout its history.

Lamont was denied a passport by the State Department on October 15, 1951, although he later received on after challenging the denial. And on May 24, 1965, he won an important First Amendment case against the Post Office which had been conducting surveillance of mail he received from overseas.

Two of the more famous ECLC cases involved Kent v. Dulles (June 16, 1958), in which it represented the noted artist Rockwell Kent and won a Supreme Court decision affirming the right to travel, and winning a $25,000 damage award against the FBI for Jim Peck (December 9, 1983), who was brutally beaten by racists on May 14, 1961 in Anniston, Alabama, as a member of the 1961 Freedom Ride while the FBI took no action even though it had advance knowledge of the attacks. The famous Freedom Ride began on May 4, 1961.

After Lamont’s death in 1995, ECLC in January 1998 merged with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Learn more about Corliss Lamont: http://www.corliss-lamont.org/

On the ACLU in the Cold War, read: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Learn more about the Center for Constitutional Rights: http://ccrjustice.org/

Read: Corliss Lamont, Freedom is as Freedom Does (1956)

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