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Fighting for Votes - The US Presidential Elections and the Civil Rights Movement

This is an online version of an exhibition at the Modern Records Centre to mark the 2008 US Presidential election and the victory of President Barack Obama. The documents are divided into two sections: 'US Presidential Elections' and 'The Fight for Civil Rights'.

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of each document.

Documents relating to the Black Power movement are included in the online resources for the History module 'The Politics of Protest: Social movements in Western Europe since the 1960s'.

 

 

US Presidential Elections

Letter regarding the re-election campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 12 September 1936 
Letter regarding the re-election campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 12 September 1936

Letter written by Aaron Levenstein, the editor of "the militant labor and socialist weekly" 'Socialist Call'. He explains why many socialists will not vote for Roosevelt as he runs for a second term in office - "support for Mr Roosevelt is a great mistake which will prove costly to American workers".

[Included in a file on the United States, from the records of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/973/1]

Information on the state of the US and the progress of the Presidential elections, 30 July 1952Information on the state of the US and the progress of the Presidential elections, 30 July 1952
Information on the state of the US and the progress of the Presidential elections, 30 July 1952

The author, William K. Russell, a minister in Missouri, comments that "we in America, in our really new position in the world, don't quite know how to use our power". He also talks about the "revolutionary" effect of television on the nomination process and elections.

[Included in a file on the United States, from the records of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/973/4]

'How the American President is elected', 1952
'How the American President is elected', 1952

Pages from a booklet issued by the American Embassy in London, explaining the process of the US presidential elections. This section explains how the votes of citizens are recorded.

[Included in the records of the Union of Post Office Workers; document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/17/56]

Election leaflet for John F Kennedy, 1960
Election leaflet for John F Kennedy, 1960

This leaflet outlines Kennedy's policies for the elderly, including "the Democratic Medical Care Insurance Plan for Aged".

[Included in a file on American trade union support for Richard Nixon, from the papers of Clive Jenkins, trade union leader; document reference: MSS.79/6/CJ/3/22]

'The face that Jack built': text of a Teamsters Union pamphlet attacking John F Kennedy, 1960
'The face that Jack built': text of a Teamsters Union pamphlet attacking John F Kennedy, 1960

Document sent by the Hawaii branch of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) to their local colleagues in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. It was accompanied by a covering letter explaining that the Teamsters' leadership was opposing Kennedy's candidature "with all its energy" because of his pledge to remove and gaol their national president, James Riddle Hoffa.

[Included in a file on American trade union support for Richard Nixon, from the papers of Clive Jenkins, trade union leader; document reference: MSS.79/6/CJ/3/22]

'President Nixon's cabinet', 1968

'President Nixon's cabinet', 1968

'President Nixon's cabinet', 1968

Booklet issued by the United States Information Service, based at the American Embassy in London. It contains profiles of the new President, Vice-President, and heads of the Departments of Federal Government.

[Included in the records of the Union of Post Office Workers; document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/17/59]

Official text of Ronald Reagan's victory speech and Jimmy Carter's concession speech, November 1980Official text of Ronald Reagan's victory speech and Jimmy Carter's concession speech, November 1980 
Official text of Ronald Reagan's victory speech and Jimmy Carter's concession speech, November 1980

Reagan pays tribute to his family and running mate (George Bush), and cites the example of Lincoln and the idea of the American frontier spirit.

[Included in a file on the United States, from the records of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292D/973/9]

 

The Fight for Civil Rights

'Brief story of the Negro Race Repatriation Movement', 1956
'Brief story of the Negro Race Repatriation Movement', 1956

Leaflet advocating the voluntary "repatriation" of "the Negro race" to Africa. It asks for support from white people for the Langer Bill (then before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations), which would "grant Federal aid for volunteer migrants to Liberia".

[Included in a file on immigration, from the papers of Maurice Edelman MP; document reference: MSS.125/1/3/33]

'...cruel and unusual punishments (shall not be) inflicted - Constitution of the USA', 1953
'...cruel and unusual punishments (shall not be) inflicted - Constitution of the USA', 1953

Leaflet from the Trade Union Committee to Save the Life of Wesley Robert Wells. Wells, a prisoner "provoked and enraged by his guard", reacted by throwing a cuspidor [spittoon] at the officer. He was tried for the offence in a California court and sentenced to death. The death sentence was eventually commuted and Wells was finally released from prison in the mid-1970s.

[Included in a file on the United States, from the records of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/973/5]

Fundraising letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, 1963
Fundraising letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, 1963

The ACLU claimed to be "the only permanent national non-partisan organization devoted solely to defending the Bill of Rights for everybody". This letter argues that "our grandchildren will look back on 1963 as the year in which Negro Americans rose up and claimed for themselves the rights promised to all by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution".

[Included in a file on the United States, from the records of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292B/973/2]

Letter from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 29 May 1968
Letter from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 29 May 1968

The letter pays tribute to the work of Martin Luther King following his murder, and expresses fears that his death will lead to more young people turning away from methods of non-violent protest.

[From a file on the United States, included in the records of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292B/973/4]

'Cogito', journal of the Young Communist League', c1968
'Cogito', journal of the Young Communist League, c1968

Issue profiling the Black Power movement, which an editorial claims "has provided for the first time in US history a militant and nation-wide reply to racial persecution".

[Included in a series of documents on Black Power, from the papers of Bob Purdie; document reference: MSS.149/2/2/12]

Leaflet from the Angela Davis Defence Committee, London, c1971
Leaflet from the Angela Davis Defence Committee, London, c1971

In 1972, Angela Davis, a member of the Black Panther Party for Self Defence, was acquitted of involvement in the murder of a judge during a jail-break. This leaflet outlines her case and argues that "for decades, the lynch rope, the policeman's gun and gaol has been the lot of Black America. The story of Angela Davis is the story of the new generation of Black people in the US, at the forefront of the struggle for equality and freedom and against the cancer of racism".

[Included in a file relating to the Angela Davis Defence Committee, from the records of the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants; document reference: MSS.39/NAT/3/31/1]