As the historiography of the civil rights movement has shifted from analysis of broad themes and events to the study of the grassroots level, the significance of the records of groups such as the Non-Partisan Voters League has increased. Scholars are now focusing on the local dimensions of the post-1965 period, when strategies shifted and civil rights organizations turned to a variety of issues that differed from the targets of the 1950s and early 1960s. While scholars have focused on activities in Birmingham and Montgomery, this collection opens a wider study into the activities of another Alabama city, one with a unique ethnic mix as well as a unionized work force that rivaled that of Birmingham.
The Non-Partisan Voters League was organized in Mobile, Alabama, in 1956, the same year that the attorney general of the State of Alabama and the state court system forced the NAACP to cease all operations in the state. The League carried on the local civil rights struggle in Mobile during the eight years that the NAACP was outlawed and continued to function long after the injunction was overturned. The records in this collection span thirty years (1956-1987), with the bulk of the materials between 1961 and 1975. During that time the League demanded and obtained the hiring of more black municipal employees, sued to force desegregation of the Mobile school system, filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice to open public accommodations to all, launched massive voter registration campaigns to bring large numbers of African Americans into the political process, and challenged the constitutionality of Mobile's commission form of municipal government. All of these activities are documented in this collection.
Further information on the history of the Non-Partisan Voters League may be found in Keith Nicholls's article "The Non-Partisan Voters League of Mobile, Alabama: Its Founding and Major Accomplishments," Gulf Coast Historical Review, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 1993). Researchers may also wish to consult several other related collections we hold, including the John L. LeFlore papers, which provides insight into civil rights activities in Mobile prior to the organization of the League. LeFlore helped to found the Mobile branch of the NAACP in 1926, and his papers include minutes and correspondence of the local chapter (1930-1956). Other collections researchers may find useful on the subject of civil rights in Mobile or that further the study of what the Non-Partisan Voters League accomplished in Mobile are the Vernon Z. Crawford Records, the NOW Oral History and FBI Files, and the Blacksher, Menefee & Stein Records.
Unfortunately, the physical condition of the materials reflects several years of unsatisfactory storage, and some of the documents are damaged. In addition, the records were in a disorganized state when they were given to us, and their original order could not be determined.
After careful examination over a period of nearly two years, the records have been arranged in six series:
Please click here for a complete inventory of the collection
Series I: Casework
In 1959 the Non-Partisan Voters League amended its constitution to create an office of director of casework "to make investigations and surveys related to social, political and economic questions, or other issues affecting the civil rights of or justice for all citizens," and "to institute court proceedings or otherwise direct such activities of the Non-Partisan Voters League as will assure the organization's position as an integral entity of the civil rights movement." The administrative responsibilities of the director of casework also included issuing public statements on behalf of the organization, holding conferences, and retaining an accurate record of all meetings and finances of the League (See NPVL Operating Files, Box 12, File 8).
John L. LeFlore was the director of casework from 1959 until his death in 1976. The constitution was amended in 1976 reestablishing the office of executive secretary who also served as the director of casework for the League. However, there are very few casework files after 1976.
The casework files have been grouped under six headings: 1) Major Legal Cases; 2) Civil Rights Violations; 3) Discrimination in Public Accommodations; 4) Discrimination in Employment; 5) Discrimination in Education; and 6) Civil, non-discrimination, casework.
1. Major Legal Cases
In 1975 League lawyers filed a civil
action suit in federal court contesting the use of at-large elections on the grounds that
they unconstitutionally diluted black voting strength. Wiley Bolden, et al. v. City of
Mobile, directed at the city commission, involved lengthy court proceedings, but was
ultimately successful. In 1985 three of the seven city council members elected were
The League also defended Nathaniel Taylor, who was charged with the murder of Lillian B. Kohorn in 1964. Taylor faced a death sentence, which was reduced on account of his diminished mental capabilities.
2. Civil Rights Violations
Most of these files deal with allegations of police harassment and brutality. Some contain only brief notes or a letter describing an incident. Others contain formal complaints and related correspondence. The files are arranged alphabetically under the name of the complainant. Also included is a civil suit brought by John LeFlore and others against the Mobile Police Department in 1969, and miscellaneous correspondence (1960-1975) concerning use of undue force by Mobile police officers.
3. Discrimination in Public Accommodations
Before 1964 discrimination complaints involved businesses under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Act. The 1964 Civil Rights Act enabled the Non-Partisan Voters League to conduct 225 desegregation "test-ins" at restaurants, motels, drive-ins, and other establishments subject to Title II of the act. These resulted in seventy-five Justice Department complaints and seven successful lawsuits. The League also successfully challenged several "private clubs" that were designed and established to perpetuate segregation (figures cited in the NPVL Memorial and Anniversary Program, August 20, 1976, Box 16). The League filed petitions with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare against hospitals in Mobile, Baldwin, and other counties that were not in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The files contain petitions, affidavits, and related correspondence and are listed alphabetically under the name of the business.
4. Discrimination in Employment
League efforts resulted in the integration of the Alabama National Guard, Mobile's police and fire departments, and helped open job opportunities for African Americans in city and county governments. The League acted formally as third party intervenors in job discrimination complaints against local branches of the U.S. Postal Service and instituted successful job discrimination actions in the private sector as well. The files are arranged alphabetically under the name of the employer and contain employee complaints and related correspondence.
5. Discrimination in Education
The League initiated the Mobile County public school desegregation suit, commonly known as the Birdie Mae Davis case, in U.S. District Court on March 27, 1963, and it became the cornerstone of the League's efforts to integrate the county public school system. The files on this case only cover the years 1963-1983, although the legal battle continued into the 1990s. The League also initiated the suit which resulted in the admission of the first black student, Vivian Malone, to the University of Alabama in 1963. Files are arranged alphabetically under either the name of an individual, a school in Mobile County, other counties in Alabama, or by subject. They include complaints, petitions, depositions, surveys, transfer requests, correspondence, and some news clippings.
6. Civil Case Work
In addition to his anti-discrimination casework, John LeFlore helped individuals and groups with a variety of other civil matters, such as loan applications, public housing requests, and insurance and social security claims. These files are arranged alphabetically under the name of the individual or organization and contain correspondence and related documents.
Series II: Education and Employment Services
The office of the Director of Casework also served as a clearing house for persons seeking employment. LeFlore maintained files on civil service, Mobile County personnel board, and private sector job listings. Applicants were asked if they would be willing to file a discrimination complaint if they were refused employment for racial reasons. The files contain resumes, test results, referrals and other correspondence. There are also job surveys of the retail sector conducted by the League in 1974, which detail the number and race of employees and the type of work done by these employees. Also included is information about various affirmative action programs, college admissions, and scholarships.
Series III: Voter Registration
Protected by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the League sponsored massive voter-registration campaigns that brought large numbers of African Americans into the political process. Starting in 1970 the League also issued "pink sheets" which endorsed candidates for public office, a practice that came under criticism in 1976 (see Special Committee Report, Box 12). The files in this series are arranged alphabetically by subject and include registration applications, political handbills, voter registration surveys, registered voter lists, ward voting lists, sample ballots, general election information, and correspondence.
Series IV: Outside Agencies and Organizations
The League was in contact with numerous legislators and civic organizations as well as local, state, and federal government agencies. The files in this series are arranged alphabetically and contain correspondence and information about the goals and services of the various organizations and agencies. The League had a representative on the board of the Mobile Area Community Action Committee. The MACAC files contain by-laws, minutes, monthly reports, programs, and correspondence (1966-1981). Also included in this series are the notes and correspondence of Ike Madison, a Howard University law student. In 1965 Madison conducted workshops sponsored by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund concerning fair employment practices in Mobile.
Series V: NPVL Operating Files
These boxes include materials relating to the daily operation of the organization, such as general correspondence, log sheets, meeting announcements, press releases and editorials, special events, and financial records. Bills, invoices, and canceled checks have not been microfilmed. Most of the editorials were written by John LeFlore for the Mobile Beacon & Alabama Citizen. The series also contains incomplete minutes of the League meetings (1956-1987), the constitution and by-laws, and membership lists. The records in each category have been arranged chronologically.
Series VI: Printed Materials
This series contains news clippings and publications relating to civil rights issues. The clippings (1963-1985) were taken primarily from local papers and refer to state and local events and are filed chronologically. The other publications include subscriptions and resource materials used by the League. These are grouped by publication source (e.g., U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Southern Regional Council) or by subject (e.g., Military, Prisons, Education). Only the title page, and occasionally the table of contents, of most of these publications has been microfilmed.
Additional Non-Partisan Voters League materials were given to us by the LeFlore family in 1995 after the collection had already been microfilmed. These materials have been arranged in the same series described above.