Collection News / Penn Libraries

Africana and Civil Rights Primary Documents

The Libraries have purchased a collection of primary source sets focusing on specific people, events and movements that were central to the African American social movements in the 20th century.  These sets along with many others can be accessed here:

African America, Communists, and the National Negro Congress, 1933-1947


“The National Negro Congress was established in 1936 to “secure the right of the Negro people to be free from Jim Crowism, segregation, discrimination, lynching, and mob violence” and “to promote the spirit of unity and cooperation between Negro and white people.” It was conceived as a national coalition of church, labor, and civil rights organizations that would coordinate protest action in the face of deteriorating economic conditions for blacks…This collection comprises the files of John P. Davis, Edward Strong, and Revels Cayton, as well as financial records.”


Black Nationalism and the Revolutionary Action Movement: The Papers of Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford)


“This collection of RAM records reproduces the writings and statements of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and its leaders. It also covers organizations that evolved from or were influenced by RAM and persons that had close ties to RAM. The most prominent organization that evolved from RAM was the African People’s Party.”


Bush Presidency and Development and Debate Over Civil Rights Policy and Legislation


“This collection contains materials on civil rights, the development of civil rights policy, and the debate over civil rights legislation during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and during his tenure as vice president. Contents of this collection includes memoranda, talking points, correspondence, legal briefs, transcripts, news summaries, draft legislation, statements of administration policy (SAP’s), case histories, legislative histories and news-clippings covering a broad range of civil rights issues.”


Fannie Lou Hamer: Papers of a Civil Rights Activitist, Political Activist, and Woman


“Fannie Lou Hamer was an voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party…Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights… The Fannie Lou Hamer papers contain more than three thousand pieces of correspondence plus financial records, programs, photographs, newspaper articles, invitations, and other printed items.”


Fight for Racial Justice and the Civil Rights Congress


“The Civil Rights Congress (CRC) was established in 1946 to, among other things, ‘combat all forms of discrimination against…labor, the Negro people and the Jewish people, and racial, political, religious, and national minorities…’ The records in this collection represent the files of the national office of the Congress, based in New York City, including several hundred case files”


Grassroots Civil Rights & Social Activism: FBI Files on Benjamin J. Davis, Jr.


“The FBI files on Benjamin J. Davis, Jr. that make up this collection were assembled by Dr. Gerald Horne, author of Black Liberation/Red Scare: Ben Davis and the Communist Party…Davis served as a leader in local, district, and national leadership bodies of the Communist Party USA and thus concerned himself with a broad range of organizational, political, and theoretical questions. There is news of grassroots organizing successes and failures, minutes from meetings held on all the levels on which Davis engaged, and reports from member-informers on all the major political and theoretical debates.”


Integration of Alabama Schools and the U.S. Military, 1963


“The dramatic confrontation between the governor of Alabama and the president of the United States in June 1963 resulted in the federalization of the entire Alabama National Guard. The imposition of federal law allowed two black students admission into the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. This archive details Operation Oak Tree, the codename for the Army’s plans to intervene in Alabama in the event of civil disturbances related to school integration in May 1963. Operation Palm Tree extended the operation over a wider area. The documents in this collection are sourced from the Records of the Department of the Army, in the custody of the National Archives of the United States.”


James Meredith, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Integration of the University of Mississippi


“This collection contains extensive FBI documentation on Meredith’s battle to enroll at The University of Mississippi in 1962 and white political and social backlash, including his correspondence with the NAACP and positive and negative letters he received from around the world during his ordeal.”

Southern Negro Youth Congress and the Communist Party: Papers of James and Esther Cooper Jackson


“James E. and Esther Cooper Jackson are African American communists and civil rights activists, best known for their role in founding and leading the Southern Negro Youth Congress (1937-48)…The papers contain clippings (articles by and about Jackson), correspondence of both Esther and James Jackson, including the Jacksons’ voluminous World War II correspondence with each other, James Jackson’s lectures (typescripts and audiocassettes), research notebooks, speeches, and writings (published and unpublished), subject files, correspondence, internal documents and printed ephemera pertaining to the Southern Negro Youth Congress, and to Freedomways, legal and other materials pertaining to the Smith Act indictments of Jackson and other communists, Communist Party internal documents, many of a programmatic nature, and memorabilia and other biographical materials.”


The Greensboro Massacre, 1979: Confrontation between the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Workers Party


“On November 3, 1979 a rally and march of black industrial workers and Communists was planned in Greensboro, North Carolina against the Ku Klux Klan. The “Death to the Klan March” was to begin in a predominantly black housing project called Morningside Homes. Communist organizers publicly challenged the Klan to present themselves and “face the wrath of the people”. During the rally, a caravan of cars containing Klansmen and members of the American Nazi Party drove by the housing projects where the Communists and other anti-Klan activists were congregating. What then occurred is in dispute, from rock-throwing and taunts on both sides to the sound of gunfire and deaths of five protest marchers. This collection of FBI, local and state police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, shed new light on the motivations of the Communist organizers, the shootings, subsequent investigations, and efforts to heal the Greensboro community.”


“We Were Prepared for the Possibility of Death:” Freedom Riders in the South, 1961


“Freedom Riders were civil rights activists that rode interstate buses into the segregated South to test the United States Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia. Boynton had outlawed racial segregation in the restaurants and waiting rooms in terminals serving buses that crossed state lines…The Freedom Rides, and the violent reactions they provoked, bolstered the credibility of the Civil Rights Movement and called national attention to the violent disregard for the law that was used to enforce segregation in the southern United States. Riders were arrested for trespassing, unlawful assembly, and violating state and local Jim Crow laws, along with other alleged offenses.”

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