1884 January 21

Roger Baldwin, Founder of the ACLU, is Born


Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and for 30 years its executive director, was born on this day. The ACLU was an outgrowth of the Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), which Baldwin co-founded in April 1917 with Crystal Eastman as a committee of the American Union Against Militarism to assist young men who sought to be conscientious objectors during World War I. (The AUAM, had been founded on November 15, 1915.)

As President Woodrow Wilson’s administration immediately became intolerant of dissent, the Civil Liberties Bureau also took up the defense of freedom of speech. Because of differences of opinion within the AUAM, Baldwin and Eastman’s committee became a separate organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau. See July 4, 1917 and November 1, 1917. The NCLB itself experienced repression by the Wilson administration, and on August 30, 1918 the Justice Department raided its offices and seized all of its records. For a few weeks it appeared that all the NCLB’s leaders would be arrested and indicted under the Espionage Act. They were not, however.

After World War I ended, Baldwin and others in the NCLB decided that a permanent civil liberties organization was needed, and the ACLU was established on January 19, 1920. Baldwin led ACLU until 1950 and established himself as the most famous advocate of civil liberties in America during those years.

Baldwin was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter on January 16, 1981.

Read Baldwin’s famous statement, “The Individual and the State,” on being sentenced to prison:

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

Learn about the ACLU today: https://www.aclu.org/

Read: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Watch a news report about Baldwin’s birthday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwIrxD7ovEc

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