1981 August 26

Roger Baldwin, ACLU Founder, Dies


Roger Baldwin, founder of the ACLU, died on this day at the age of 97. Baldwin’s career in civil liberties began in April 1917, when he and Crystal Eastman co-founded the Civil Liberties Bureau as a committee of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM). The Civil Liberties Bureau began assisting young men facing the draft who were seeking status as conscientious objectors during World War I. The Civil Liberties Bureau separated from the AUAM after a few months because some AUAM leaders were uncomfortable with the Bureau’s opposition to the government’s policies. As a result, the Bureau became the National Civil Liberties Bureau (see July 4, 1917; November 1, 1917).

After the war, Baldwin reorganized the NCLB into the American Civil Liberties Union, on January 19, 1920, and served as its director until 1950. In the 1920s and 1930s, he became the national symbol of the fight for civil liberties. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter on January 16, 1981.

Five days after Baldwin’s death, the New York Times, on August 31, 1981, published a posthumous op-ed piece by him, “Assert Your Rights or Lose Them.”

Read: Robert C. Cottrell, Roger Baldwin and the American Civil Liberties Union (2000)

Watch a documentary on Baldwin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND_uY_KXGgY

Learn more about Baldwin and the ACLU: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

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