By Charles D. Johnson
Creator: B'nai B'rith. Anti-defamation League (1913-)
Extent: 10.8 Linear Feet
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith Race Relations Work records provide documentation of the organization's work in human and race relations. The ADL was founded in 1913 "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all." Although the organization was founded to primarily combat anti-Semitism, it grew defend the civil rights of all people and to promote relations between groups. The records in this collection contain correspondence, research data, unpublished and published reports of the ADL and of other organizations, and other collected items about Afro-Americans, Hispanics, white Americans, and Jewish Americans and the relations among them. Records include documentation of the formulation of ADL programs, principally education based on scholarly research and publications. The collection also contains correspondence from ADL representatives active during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, providing firsthand accounts of conditions in the South at that time. Amistad's manuscript holdings are complemented by a large run of the periodical ADL Bulletin.
The records of the Anti-Defamation League comprise approximately 10 linear feet. The bulk of the collection is made up of reports, pamphlets, and other publications of the ADL, as well as reports the ADL collected from other organizations. The correspondence comprises approximately 0.4 linear feet.
The correspondence consists primarily of intramural letters and memoranda. Most of the letters are communications between Oscar Cohen, who served as Program Director of the ADL during the majority of the period the collection covers, and the various people who maintained the ADL's regional offices. Other prominent ADL correspondents include A.I. Botnick, head of the South Central office in New Orleans; Betty Cantor, education director of Atlanta's southeastern office; Benjamin Epstein, National Director of the ADL; Murray Friedman; Irwin Schulman; and Arthur Spiegel. Prominent non-ADL correspondents include Julian Bond, Lew L. Callaway Jr., Hodding Carter III, Leslie W. Dunbar, James Forman, Frank P. Graham, Floyd McKissick, Henry Lee Moon, and Louis H. Pollack.
Reports produced by the ADL demonstrate its efforts to promote brotherhood through education and understanding. The reports included in this collection cover a range of topics, including anti-Semitism, the Black Power Movement, desegregation, and the radical right in the United States. The joint memoranda of the ADL and the American Jewish Committee are a valuable source of information on desegregation, anti-Semitism, and economic issues important to race relations.
The serial publications of the ADL, including The Facts, Law & Law Notes, and Research & Evaluation Reports, are devoted to increasing public awareness of the events and issues involved in the civil rights movement and in race relations in general. The ADL's widely distributed pamphlets served to disseminate information, but often included children's stories, reprints of important speeches, and history lessons. As part of its educational efforts, the ADL also reprinted articles form leading American periodicals, such as the New York Times, Newsweek, McCall's, and Reader's Digest.
The ADL records also contain collected reports produced by various organizations. Among the more prominent institutions represented in this collection are the United States Government, the University of Maryland Cultural Study Center, Tuskegee Institute, and the University of California.
The Anti-Defamation League traces its origins to the fraternal society, B'nai B'rith, which was founded in New York City on October 13, 1843, by Henry Jones and eleven other German-American Jews. The B'nai B'rith, or Sons of the Covenant, was the first Jewish fraternal society in the United States and became one of the largest, wealthiest, and most conservative Jewish fraternal orders. In 1908, amongst a rising tide of popular anti-Semitism, Sigmund Livingstone and Julius Meyer proposed that B'nai B'rith create "a new standing committee whose business it shall be to see to it that the cause of the Jews shall be everywhere properly championed, and the name of the Jew shall everywhere be upheld as synonymous with a high sense of moral obligation." This proposed committee would attempt to unify and lead American Jews as well as combat popular anti-Semitism. Five years later, in 1913, then B'nai B'rith president, Adolph Kraus created the Anti-Defamation League, inaugurating representatives in major cities throughout the country. Livingston became the League's initial chairman and Leon Lewis the first national director.
The 1920 B'nai B'rith convention marked a turning point for the Anti-Defamation League within its parent organization. The ADL's aggressive stance against anti-Semitism proved to be a more popular and pressing cause than the B'nai B'rith's original core mission of philanthropy and Americanization. The membership at the convention, in recognizing the value of this new mission, freed the ADL from financial dependence on the B'nai B'rith organization by authorizing a special fund-raising appeal.
Boris Bogen became the ADL national director in 1925, and by 1933, the organization relocated its headquarters from Cincinnati to Chicago, in a move to further distance itself from B'nai B'rith. The Anti-Defamation League again changed leadership in 1935, as Richard Gutstadt became the national director. In 1937, the ADL opened an office in New York City, headed by Benjamin Epstein who insisted, "The attack on Americans of the Jewish or any other persuasion is in the end an attack on all America." The ADL joined the National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC) in 1944, in order to coordinate spending in Jewish "defense activities" and prevent duplication of effort.
In 1946, the organization again moved its headquarters, from Chicago to New York City. Meir Steinbrink became chairman and Benjamin Epstein became the national director. Under the leadership of Steinbrink and Epstein, the ADL developed a program of defending civil liberties and securing civil rights for all, as opposed to the previous commitment to combating anti-Semitism alone. This new commitment led the ADL to withdraw from the All-American Conference to Combat Communism in 1949, on the grounds that the organization threatened civil liberties. The same year, the ADL also withdrew from NCRAC, in opposition to NCRAC's recommendation that defense activities be centralized and redistributed to member organizations based on accomplishment. In the 1950s the ADL initiated the use of legal battles as an instrument of popular education, filing briefs in court arguing against racial segregation and discrimination. Henry Edward Schultz became chairman in 1952 and the convention of the following year passed a resolution protesting McCarthyism's "flagrant abuse of the classic American safeguards of human liberty."
The ADL leadership changed hands twice in the 1960s, with Dore Schary becoming chairman in 1963, and Samuel Dalsimer in 1969. In 1970, Seymour Graubard became ADL chairman and the decade saw the organization break with most organizations active in the Civil Rights Movement as the ADL publically opposed affirmative action programs in business and education. In 1978, Maxwell E. Greenberg became chairman and Nathan Perlmutter became national director. Since 1987 Abraham Foxman has been the national director with Robert Sugarman acting as national chairman.
The Anti-Defamation League continues today as one of the nation's premier civil rights agencies in its mission to fight anti-Semitism and "all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens."
Use Restrictions: Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collectio
Preferred Citation: Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Race Relations Work records, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Processing Information: The processing of this collection was completed in September of 1983.