January 20, 2011

Turbulent times

The American Civil Liberties Union, that wonderful institution that manages sooner or later to offend every faction, was founded on this date in 1917.

Three people were involved – Crystal Eastman, William Fuller and Roger Baldwin, good lefties all. Eastman was married to British anti-war activist Fuller;  they and Baldwin were members of the American Union Against Militarism – Eastman was, in fact, Executive Director of the AUAM.

Baldwin urged the group to create a legal arm to defend conscientious objectors, so the National Civil Liberties Bureau was created, with Baldwin as director and Eastman as legal counsel. In 1920, the NCLB changed its name to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Crystal Eastman had graduated from Vassar in 1903, got her master’s from Columbia in 1904 and graduated  second in her class from New York University Law School in 1907.

She was also Max Eastman’s sister.  Max, as you may recall from Reds, was a friend of John Reed’s and a socialist, pacifist and editor of The Masses, which railed against war in general and WWI in particular.

And now we’re about to become lost in the thicket of political life in New York during and after WWI – we’re talking women’s suffrage, socialism, labor history, the IWW, John Reed, communism, the Red Scare, pacifism, Palmer Raids, birth control, Eugene V. Debs. . .

So let us just note that Max Eastman eventually renounced socialism and became editor of Reader’s Digest.  Roger Baldwin ran the ACLU until 1950 and got a Medal of Freedom from President Carter.

Crystal Eastman did not live to see her brother’s repudiation of all that she held dear – she died in 1928.  She did see the passing of the women’s suffrage amendment, but not of the legislation she and three others wrote, the Equal Rights Amendment.

To find out what the ACLU is currently involved in, you can check here.


1 Comment »

  1. A card carrying member myself loved this blog, and LOL the readers digest shift. GOOD STORY JEAN


    Comment by avery — January 20, 2011 @ 9:11 am | Reply

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