John LeFlore's career as a community leader and civil rights activist spanned fifty years (1925-1975). He was the most significant figure in the struggle for black equality in Mobile, throughout the southern part of Alabama and Mississippi, and along the Florida Gulf Coast. The John L. LeFlore papers tell important stories about the civil rights movement in the urban South, document the development and early work of the NAACP in Mobile, and provide insight into his life and aspirations.
A branch of the NAACP was organized in Mobile, Alabama, in 1919 but became inactive in the early 1920s. In December 1925 John LeFlore began corresponding with the national office about reorganizing the branch, and by March 1926 had mobilized enough people to apply for a new charter. LeFlore served as executive secretary for the branch from its inception to 1956. He also served as chairman of the organization's Regional Conference of Southern Branches from 1936 to 1945, a critical period in its development, and was vice-president of the Alabama Conference from 1945 to 1951. Unfortunately, the NAACP correspondence in the LeFlore papers does not begin until 1930, but information about the early years of the Mobile branch and Regional Conference may be found in the NAACP papers at the Library of Congress (Group 1, Series G, Branch File).
In 1956 when the NAACP was outlawed in Alabama, LeFlore and others in Mobile shifted their civil rights work to the Non-Partisan Voters League. LeFlore remained with the League even after the ban was lifted in 1964 and the Mobile branch of the NAACP was reorganized. Researchers may want to consult the records of the Non-Partisan Voters League to follow LeFlore's civil rights activities as director of casework for that organization. We hold these records, which have been microfilmed. The McCall Library has also transcribed taped interviews of John LeFlore made in 1970 and 1972 by Dr. Melton McLaurin, then a professor in the USA History Department. The transcription has been microfilmed with the John LeFlore papers.
Other papers in the collection document LeFlore's prolific work in both public and private life. He served in leadership positions in many organizations ranging from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to the Mobile Committee for the Support of Public Education. The papers contain records relating to his involvement in these organizations as well as his service on the Mobile Housing Board and in the Alabama House of Representatives. He was the first African American appointed to the Housing Board and, with J. Gary Cooper, was the first elected to the state legislature from Mobile since Reconstruction. Personal records include correspondence and materials relating to his employment and conflicts with the U.S. Postal Service, his business interests in the Azalea Homebuilders Association, and his journalistic work.
Many of the materials in this collection, particularly some of the NAACP documents, have been damaged as a result of unsatisfactory storage. According to his family, LeFlore feared that the NAACP records might be seized and hid them under a church in 1956. The original order of the materials could not be determined. Also many personal papers were found among the Non-Partisan Voters League records and transferred to this collection.
After careful examination, the documents have been arranged into nine series:
Chronology of John L. LeFlore
1903 -- Born in Mobile on
May 17 to Dock and Clara LeFlore.
Please click here for a complete inventory of the collection
Series I: NAACP (Boxes 1-4)
The Mobile branch records cover the period from 1930 to 1956. They include correspondence, affidavits, financial and membership records, minutes, miscellaneous notes, and promotional materials. The files of the Alabama Conference of the NAACP contain correspondence, minutes, and membership records from 1945 to 1953. Materials relating to the Regional Conference of Southern Branches include correspondence, press releases, and miscellaneous reports from 1936 to 1945. Publications and campaign materials from the National office of the NAACP comprise the remainder of this series.
Early regional and branch correspondence show that LeFlore and the NAACP were primarily concerned with employment opportunities and public accomodations. However, the focus shifted to political rights after the Supreme Court ruled in 1944 that white primaries were unconstitutional. For example, there are affidavits of twelve registered black voters who were denied the right to vote in the 1944 Alabama Democratic primary. Other affidavits filed in 1946 indicate that registrars were using a variety of tactics to stall black voter registration.
Series II: Mobile Housing Board (Boxes 5-6)
Appointed by Mayor Joseph N. Langan to the Board of Commissioners of the Mobile Housing Authority in 1966 to fill an unexpired term, LeFlore remained on the board until 1970. This was a period of considerable activity in low-income housing projects and urban renewal in Mobile, both areas of concern to LeFlore. The series contains correspondence, minutes, newspaper articles, complaints, financial records, U.S. Housing and Urban Development publications, personnel records, and reports.
Series III: Other Committees and Organizations (Box 7)
LeFlore participated in many organizations and served on various state committees. In addition to civil rights, these groups represent public work in areas such as prison reform, health and family planning, veterans' rights, labor unions, public education, and general charity. In addition, he was on the editorial staff of the Mobile Beacon and was a radio commentator for a public service program, Today's World, for many years.
The series includes extensive correspondence, minutes, grant applications, and financial records for the Committee for the Support of Public Education, a group organized by LeFlore and Fr. Foley of Spring Hill College in 1973. This committee received federal funds to mount an intensive ad campaign against racial disturbances in the public schools. Between 1956 and 1959 LeFlore was briefly associated with several civic organizations through which he attempted to carry on his civil rights activities after the NAACP was outlawed in Alabama.
Researchers will also find related material on organizations etc., in LeFlore's personal correspondence (Series V). From 1959 to 1975 he served as director of case work for the Non-Partisan Voters League. The records of this organization form a separate collection, which is housed here at The MCall Library.
Series IV: Editorials and Articles (Box 7A)
LeFlore was a news correspondent for the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Associated Negro Press and covered many of the civil rights violations that occurred in the South. The Defender awarded LeFlore a citation for covering the lynching of four black people in Monroe, Georgia, in 1946. The editorials and articles in this series are dated from 1940 to 1952.
LeFlore later became associate editor of the Mobile Beacon and wrote many editorials and features for this weekly newspaper. These may be found in the Non-Partisan Voters League records.
Series V: Personal Correspondence and Records (Box 8-8A)
LeFlore sent and received a great deal of correspondence over the years. Many of these letters (1940-1976) relate to civil rights issues, but are personal rather than official correspondence. There are also numerous letters of appreciation from LeFlore to those who expressed concern over the fire-bombing of his home in 1967.
This series includes a thesis concerning institutional racial discrimination in Mobile written in 1975 by Joe Ramon Whatley Jr., a student at Harvard and dedicated to John LeFlore. The series also contains financial records (not microfilmed), legal documents, LeFlore's postal employee records, correspondence relating to his employment as a sales representative during the 1930s, and materials relating to his unsuccessful run for the United States Senate in 1972. The biographical file should prove helpful for the researcher interested in the chronology of LeFlore's activities and accomplishments.
Series VI: Azalea Home Builders, Ltd. (Box 9)
A partner in the Azalea Home Builders, Ltd. from 1973 to 1975, LeFlore retained papers from this business venture. The group acquired properties outside urban renewal areas to rehabilitate, sell, or lease. The series includes correspondence, minutes of the partners' meetings, and financial reports. Appraisals, floor plans, contracts, and bills for building supplies have not been microfilmed.
Series VII: Alabama State Legislature (Box 10)
LeFlore was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1974, a year before his death. The records include new clippings, campaign materials, correspondence (1974-1975), and bills.
Series VIII: Published and Legal Materials (Box 10A)
This series contains publications from various organizations concerned with civil rights, black veterans, politicians, congressional records, health, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, and the United Seaman's Service. Only the title page of some of these publications has been microfilmed. There are also miscellaneous newsclippings and articles.
John LeFlore is not named in any of the legal materials in the series, and there is no correspondence to indicate the nature of his connection with them. They include a guardianship case, a contested will, a university faculty contract, by-laws for a health service, and postal employee records. None of these materials have been microfilmed.
Series IX: Photographs (Box 10A)
The photographs in this series include victims of lynchings at Monroe, Georgia, examples of police brutality, and union strikes. There are also photographs of black firemen, policemen, and other groups, and of John LeFlore himself.
Dr. Melton McLaurin's interviews with John LeFlore, made in 1970 and 1972, supplement the NAACP materials in this collection. Topics of discussion include efforts to increase employment opportunities for blacks in the railroad and shipyards; the right of African Americans to serve on ships and receive equal treatment in port; efforts to open vocational training for blacks in the 1940s; LeFlore's investigations of lynching attempts; voter registration, Alabama's white primaries, and the Boswell amendment; civil service jobs at the federal, state, and local levels. The interviewer asks LeFlore to comment on specific documents which are in the Leflore papers. The full text of the McLaurin interviews is available on this website.