ROGER BALDWIN: Founder of the American Civil Liberties Union: A Portrait by Peggy Lamson

ROGER BALDWIN: Founder of the American Civil Liberties Union: A Portrait

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Expert organizer Roger Baldwin, director of the ACLU from its inception in 1920 until his retirement in 1949, put himself and his files at the author's disposal; the resulting interrogation shows neither to advantage though it does throw light on a life devoted to liberal leftist causes. For all his championship of the underdog, Baldwin comes across as a Boston Brahmin still impressed in his nineties by ""the topnotch rich of the country"" and consistently disparaging of minorities, i.e. almost everyone but the Protestant elite. No, ""there weren't"" many Jews on the first ACLU board (successor to a WW I pacifist-rights body), he avers: ""they were all for the war"" and ""they were not pro-labor either."" He excepts a few lesser lights--two of whom had ""strong accents""--and ignores such eminences as Felix Frankfurter; attorney Arthur Garfield Hays, ""the most civil libertarian among us'; and Morris Ernst, with Hays ""the ACLU's most durable lawyers""--omissions the author passes over (along with many small errors of fact). Other personal peculiarities--Baldwin's strong relationships with older women, his adoption of unfortunate youths--are disclosed but not examined. Public lapses surface too: Baldwin's pro-Soviet excesses of the Twenties, his persistent Popular Front affiliations in the Thirties, his militant anti-Communism after the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact (climaxing in the notorious dismissal of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the ACLU board), his failure to fight WW II Japanese internment, his infatuation with General MacArthur (who sought his help in extending Japanese civil liberties), his quiesence during the McCarthy era. . . which together comprise an indictment (unawares) of left liberal behavior through four decades, and give the book substance if not stature. Pitting the natural vanity of an elderly subject against the TV-style thrusts of a broadly uninformed author yields a skewed and fragmented portrait of a man in whom even his critics found much to admire.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1976
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin