Category Archives: Special Collections

Reflections on a Bibliography, Fifty Years Later

[Reposted from the NEJL blog]

By Elisa Minoff

“Selected Readings in Law and Poverty” is a remarkable document. bellow_titleGary  Bellow compiled the bibliography with the help of several law students in 1964, for a course he was teaching at Georgetown Law called Poverty and the Administration of Justice. At the time, Bellow was a young public interest lawyer working at the Legal Aid Agency of the District of Columbia. Bellow would later work at two other organizations funded the United Planning Organization (a community action agency in DC) and California Rural Legal Assistance (a pioneering legal services organization serving California’s farm workers)—before leaving legal practice for academia, where he helped found modern clinical legal education.

In 32 well-organized and quickly-digestible pages, the bibliography transports us back in time to those heady early days of the War on Poverty. It reminds us that what we have come to think of as the intellectual influences on the War on Poverty amount to only a sliver of the popular and scholarly writing on poverty at the time. And it gives us a taste of the ambition of practitioners like Bellow who were considering how to use the law in the fight against poverty.


Ben Bagdikian. In the Midst of Plenty: The Poor in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

Part I of the Bibliography, “The Elements of Poverty,” is most interesting to the general historian and reader. In it, Bellow and his fellow contributors list some of the most influential works on poverty from the early 1960s. Notably, the list does not stop at Michael Harrington’s The Other America or Ben Bagdikian’s In the Midst of Plenty. Bellow wanted to stimulate “law students in becoming more concerned with the legal problems of the poor and the urban condition,” as he wrote in the introduction. Accordingly, the selections tend to focus on the underlying causes of poverty, especially urban poverty, and the structural conditions that account for its persistence. Subsections on politics, race, class structure, and psychology include works by Saul Alinksy, Seymour Martin Lipset, Herbert Gans, Oscar Lewis, Ralph Ellison and Charles E. Silberman. These books were not low-circulation editions read by a handful of academics and poverty experts, but trade (and in some cases mass-market) paperbacks that became part of the larger public discourse about contemporary social problems.


Oscar Handlin. The Newcomers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959.

As a historian of migration and social welfare, I was particularly excited to see Oscar Handlin’s The Newcomers listed among the “General Considerations.” Handlin was a prolific historian of immigration who had written the pulitzer-prize winning The Uprooted in 1951. In the late 1950s, he had turned to the study of contemporary internal migration. In The Newcomers, Handlin chronicles the experiences of Puerto Ricans and African Americans who had recently moved to New York City. When Handlin published The Newcomers, popular commentators had begun to blame migrants for the struggles of America’s inner cities, and social workers had come to believe that helping migrants “adjust” or “assimilate” to urban life was a prerequisite to solving urban poverty. Migration, in other words, was very much a part of the debate about poverty in the years leading up to Lyndon Johnson’s declaration, and Bellow’s bibliography manages to capture this too.

Considering the trends in anti-poverty research over the last several decades, the subsection on “The Psychology of Poverty” is particularly interesting. Psychology is yet another subject that has been largely missing from discussions of poverty, but was very much a part of the debates in the 1960s. Historian Alice O’Connor describes the “behavioral sciences revolution” that infused poverty research in the 1950s and 60s.  During these years, the National Institute of
Mental Health funded a number of influential studies and conferences on poverty. Bellows himself admitted to being especially concerned with the psychology of the poor. As he observed in a fascinating interview in 1964: ”It seems to me that poverty is something more than just economic deprivation. It seems to be characterized by a psychological dimension,
a feeling of hopelessness, of powerlessness, of an inability among the poor as we call them to belong to any institution or feel a part of our society.” (Bellows and others involved in the legal services movement, believed that the law could help the poor combat this feeling of
powerlessness bring them into the fold of American society.) In later years, anti-poverty activists became disenchanted with psychology as a subject that could help explain poverty’s persistence and gravity. After decades of marginalization, however, psychology is once again a part of
the discussion, as researchers have started to unveil the long-lasting repercussions of phenomena like poverty-induced toxic stress in early childhood.


Oscar Lewis. The Children of Sanchez: Autobiography of a Mexican Family. New York: Random House, 1964.

(As a footnote on the subject of psychology and poverty, Bellow includes Oscar Lewis’ book, The Children of Sanchez, in the list of works on psychology. In this book, Lewis develops his idea of a culture of poverty—another concept that has recently enjoyed something of a rebirth).

What is most notable about Part II of the bibliography, “The Legal Problems of the Poor,” is how broadly Bellow conceived these problems. Among the legal problems of the poor highlighted in the bibliography are housing issues, such as urban renewal and relocation, zoning, and landlord tenant disputes; consumer protection issues, such as loan and debt problems and purchasing on credit; criminal justice issues, such as arrest and the right to counsel; as well as, to randomly select just a few: juvenile delinquency, unemployment compensation, and discrimination. Part II, which primarily consists of law review articles, includes much more technical works than Part I, which is populated with books by academics, journalists, and activists written for a general audience. But the technicality does not suggest narrow or small mindedness. Poverty law, a la Bellow, addressed any and all issues that arose in the everyday lives of America’s poor. It was far more than the law of public assistance benefits.

Bellow’s bibliography poses something of a challenge to scholars concerned with poverty today: to think broadly, and ambitiously, about the problems of the poor, and to circulate our ideas widely so that they too may become part of the public discourse—fifty years after the War
on Poverty.


About the author: Elisa Minoff is a political and legal historian, who will be teaching as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Florida beginning in the fall of 2014. She has  conceptualized and developed the collaborative War on Poverty bibliography, which is available as a google doc.

More information about the bibliography can be found on NEJL’s War on Poverty — Legal Services Resources Center website.

Related resources:

Selected Readings in Law and Poverty,” prepared by Gary Bellow for a seminar at Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and the Administration of Justice taught in 1964-1965.

Interview with Gary Bellow on the “Role of the Lawyer and the Problem of Poverty” by Richard D. Capparella, District Roundtable, WWDC, May 9, 1964. Gary Bellow collection, NEJL. The reformatted vinyl recording is available as a streaming mp3 file at:

NEJL Launches Blog Marking 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty

Fifty years ago, in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional War on Poverty in America.” To mark this year’s anniversary of the federal anti-poverty policy initiative, the National Equal Justice Library has set up a new blog, Right On. A particular focus of the blog will be on providing information about the history and critical role of the civil legal aid programs, which eventually became part of the federal anti-poverty efforts. The blog aims to be a combination of historical reflections and analyses, entries featuring relevant resources, collections, and scholarly publications, and announcements of events and programs relating to the 50th anniversary that will be held during this year and beyond.

The first blog entry by Earl Johnson, Jr. begins as series on the emergence of the legal services program as a component of the War on Poverty during 1964 and 1965.   Earl Johnson Jr. highlights that President Johnson did not mention the denial of justice to poor and low-income people in his speech, and writes that it was to prove difficult to introduce a legal services component as part of the “War on Poverty.” Further postings by Johnson will trace the slow movement to establish a viable legal services program over the course of 1964. The entries will be combined with links to selected relevant historical sources and resources from the NEJL and other collections.

Right On, the NEJL blog.

A Rare Book for Thanksgivukkah

Although the first occurrence of Thanksgivukah would not be until 1888, the first Jewish Thanksgiving sermon was preached a century earlier on Nov. 26th, 1789, by the Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas (1746-1816)  in New York City at the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation Shearith Israel. To mark Thanksgivukkah 2013, Georgetown Law Library Special Collections has acquired a copy of a scarce 1977 Jewish Historical Society of New York reprint of this landmark in American Judiaica.

Seixas 1977r

This 1977 reprint of the exceedingly rare 1789 pamphlet included an introductory historical essay by the long-time Editor and Librarian of the American Jewish Historical Society, Isidore S. Meyer. Dr. Meyer notes Rev. Seixas’ strong exhortation to the small community of Jewish Americans in 1789 (“0.04 percent of the country’s total population”, Meyer at xiii) – “If to seek the peace and prosperity of the city wherein we dwell be a duty [Jeremiah XXIX:7] even under bad governments, what must it be when we are situated under the best of constitutions?”(Seixas at 13-14) – as “an expression of civic responsibility” inspired by having become full citizens of a country “for the first time, since 212 C.E. when the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla… had given all Jewish freemen of the Roman Empire the rights and duties of Roman citizenship,” (Meyer at xii); an apt reminder of the inclusive aspirations of American constitutionalism for Thanksgivukkah 2013.

The full text of the 1789 Thanksgiving Day Sermon is available through the library’s Early American Imprints subscription.

To view these and other recent rare and historical acquisitions, contact Erin Kidwell or Special Collections, or visit us in Williams 210 M-F from 10am to 6pm.

Featured Collection in Honor of World Refugee Day: Haitian Refugee/Alien Rights Collection

In honor of World Refugee Day, the National Equal Justice Library is highlighting its Haitian Refugee/Alien Rights collection.

In the summer of 1981, the U.S. government implemented a policy to detain all undocumented Haitians in the United States in detention centers in six states and in Puerto Rico. In a national class action suit filed by the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, U.S. District Judge Eugene P. Spellman held that the governmental policy was not adopted in accordance with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. The court then invalidated the detention policy [Louis, et. al. v. Nelson, Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service, et al., Case No. 81-1260-CIV-EPS (S.D. Fla. 1982)]. The approximately 2,000 Haitian refugees who were held in detention centers were then released. While the government announced it would appeal the decision, human rights and refugee rights groups – including the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for International Human Rights —  organized a campaign to secure pro bono legal representation for the refugees. Lawyers helped at three stages of the process: to prepare asylum requests, to prepare and conduct hearings, and to prepare appeals. The Haitian Refugee/Alien Rights collection documents this significant collective effort. Publicly available materials include newspaper articles, reports, memos, as well as pleadings, briefs and other documents that were filed with the courts. We are currently working on an inventory of the collection. For access to the collection, please contact the NEJL.

Blog entry prepared by Courtney Snelling, LL.M., and Katharina Hering.


A New Collection Coming Soon….

Carl A.S. Coan, Sr. and Lyndon Johnson

The Law Library is working with Georgetown Law alumnus Mr. Carl Coan, Jr. (L’1958) to bring together the papers of two generations of the Coan family and their fight to bring to reality the Declaration of National Housing Policy, set out in the Housing Act of 1949, of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.

Inspired by the Georgetown mission to engender social justice, Mr. Coan, Jr. has spent his entire career as a housing attorney and as an advocate for the principles espoused in the National Housing Policy.  Part of his legacy will be his work to help draft the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Act, which also became law in 1968.

Carl Coan, Jr.
His work complements Georgetown’s existing collection of his father’s papers, the Carl A.S. Coan, Sr. Collection.  The Carl A.S. Coan, Sr. Collection chronicles his work on the issues of public housing, after the Great Depression brought it into the national spotlight.  Mr. Carl A.S. Coan, Sr. is well known for his work as Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Housing for 16 years.  Prior to his work on the Senate Subcommittee he began his career of public service in 1939 working with the Works Progress Administration, where he specialized in housing research.  Housing issues were the focus of Mr. Coan, Sr.’s career during which he spent many years at the U.S. Census Bureau, including helping to develop the first Census of Housing, and with the U.S. Public Housing Administration.  His efforts can be seen through the legislation and policies that grew out of his tenure.  His papers paint the story of housing development over the period of 1954-1976.  It records the intimate details of leading reforms in providing Federal assistance to the development of affordable housing.

For more information on the Carl A.S. Coan, Sr. Collection, please contact Special Collections

Featured collection: NEJL oral histories; Gideon v. Wainwright interviews

Among the unique resources in the National Equal Justice Library are 74 oral histories of lawyers and other advocates who helped found and sustain criminal and civil legal services programs for the indigent. The goal of the oral history project is to capture the experiences of these lawyers and other advocates so that future generations can learn from these experiences. It is also designed to help inspire and guide lawyers to take on the goal of fighting for equal justice under law.

Since this is the 50th Anniversary of the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright case, we would like to highlight the video recordings of three critical figures in the Gideon case: Abe Krash, Bruce Jacob, and Anthony Lewis. Victor Geminiani conducted each interview as part of the 1993 celebration of the 30th anniversary of the case. Videos of all interviews as well as transcripts are available on the NEJL website.

Abe Krash, a Georgetown Law faculty member, worked for Arnold, Fortas & Porter at the time, and assisted Abe Fortas in researching the issues and writing the brief for the case. In the interview, Krash recalled his extraordinary experience of working for Fortas.

Bruce Jacob argued the case on behalf of the State of Florida as a young Assistant Attorney General. In the oral history interview, Jacob recalls the “brutal” oral argument in front of the Supreme Court. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Florida created its own public defender system, and Jacob volunteered as a special assistant public defender in Florida.

Another interview available in our collection is that of the late Anthony Lewis. He died just days after the 50th Anniversary of the Gideon’s case. Lewis covered the Gideon case as a Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times. He then went on to write the definitive history of the litigation. Gideon’s Trumpet, published in 1964 was also the basis of the film of the same name. The library screened the film during the recent Georgetown Law Library Equal Justice Film Festival. In the oral history, Lewis recalls how he became involved in the case after seeing Gideon’s petition in the Supreme Court file room on the day the Court agreed to hear the case. He also recalled the experience of meeting Clarence Gideon in the prison library of the Raiford Penitentiary.

War Criminals and Cherry Blossoms?

Washingtonians and tourists alike make a pilgrimage every year to view the National Cherry Blossoms. The marvel of the delicate blossoms is not a recent phenomenon. The forefathers of our National Cherry Blossoms, which were gifted to United States in 1912 by the Mayor of Tokyo, came from the banks of the River Arukawa in Tokyo.  The blossoms gracing the banks of Arukawa River also caught the eye of John G. Brannon, a defense attorney appointed by MacArthur to defend Class A Japanese War Criminals at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.  As he remarks in his March 19, 1947 letter to his brother in Washington, DC,

“To fully understand the intimate love of the Japanese for their traditional national flower, I need only say that many persons contemplating suicide will put off the accomplishment of their intention until they again can view this abundant wealth of nature next month… the famous “Gosiki sakura” or fine colored cherry trees still found on this embankment[River Arukawa] well these gift trees were planted in your fair abode along the tidal basin of the Potomac River stretching about six miles.  To be popular in the crowd you must know these sources of light conversation and I assure you the ole professor gives it to you accurately.  Ah! I love the cherry blossoms.  But, lo! There are few cherries—since the G.I.s invaded Japan.”  (John G. Brannon, March 19, 1947)

One can wonder about his last comment, if he is still truly discussing cherry blossoms.  Apart from remarking about the splendor of cherry blossoms, Brannon does eventually discuss the trial and more important legal matters in his letter going on to state, “The pace of the trial—now ten months—, the poor whiskey, the ever decreasing caliber of food and the what-nots of overseas life have put many defense lawyers on the ropes.” 

Good thing he had the cherry blossoms to look at in all their splendor!

For more information on the unique collection of the John G. Brannon Papers please contact Special Collections at .

Special Collections Finding Aids Now Available Online

Special Collection now has PDFs of select Manuscript Collection Finding Aids available online through our database Eloquent.

 To Access Eloquent:

To Retrieve a Finding Aid:
1) Go to the above link for Eloquent
2) Search for a Collection in the Main Search Box (Example:  “Adkins”)
3) Click on the paper icon next to the Collection Level record to download the PDF or
4) Click on the Collection Level record to view more about the Collection (this record is highlighted in red) then
5) Scroll down to Documents and click on the paper icon labeled “Finding Aid”

Screen shot of Eloquent

If you have any questions or need further assistance please feel free to contact Special Collections at .

Women’s History – Equal Rights – Opposition?

“Dear Felix,
About a month ago I wrote Mrs. Florence Kelly giving the reasons for my opposition to the Women’s Party amendment to the Constitution.  I agree with you that it is a dangerous amendment, particularly at this time when the swing of the pendulum is away from legislation like the Minimum Wage Law. 
With Kindest regards and best wishes for the holiday, I am Sincerely yours,
Jesse Adkins ” 

Jesse Corcoran Adkins

The above is a letter to Felix Frankfurter by Jesse Corcoran Adkins (pictured), on December 19, 1921.  The letter is from the Judge Jesse Corcoran Adkins Papers in Special Collections.  In 1921 Felix Frankfurter was a professor at Harvard Law School and Jesse Adkins was a Georgetown Law faculty member and a member of the DC Minimum Wage Board.  It is unclear from the letter if Jesse Adkins is talking about the 19th Amendment to the Constitution or the Equal Rights Amendment, but what is clear is that both men saw it as taking the focus away from more important matters.   The Equal Rights Amendment was drafted by Alice Paul in or around 1923 and had been tested on the state level early in 1921, but would never make it to Congress until 1972. 

Both Alice Paul and Florence Kelley were very active in the women’s suffrage movement. In 1920 the 19th Amendment to the U.S Constitution passed.  The women’s suffrage movement had finally won women the right to vote.  Following the victory of the 19th Amendment, the National American Woman Suffrage Association transforms into the League of Women Voters and the National Woman’s Party established by Alice Paul.  Paul was able to garner substantial financial support for the National Woman’s Party and established their headquarters in Washington, DC.  She was a graduate of American University, receiving her JD in 1922 and her LLM in 1928.  She was the driving force in the continuation of women’s rights through the ongoing work of the National Woman’s Party and the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Select correspondence from Alice Paul and material on the National Woman’s Party can be found in the George Finch Collection, also available in Special Collections or more information can be found at the Library of Congress in the National Woman’s Party Records.  For more information on Felix Frankfurter, Jesse Adkins and Minimum Wage, see this great blog post by Dan Ernst on the Legal History Blog. Or for a closer look at either the George Finch Collection or the Judge Jesse Corcoran Adkins Papers, please contact Special Collections at .

Now Open: Equal Justice Collection- General Charles L. Decker Papers

Justice for All Booklet cover

 “For nearly two centuries the lawyers of America have been donating free services to defendants in criminal cases who could not afford lawyers. I submit to you that we have been trying too long in vain to prove the falsity of the old adage ‘you get what you pay for.’ The only way to provide competent representation is to pay for it, and I suggest that the principal source of these funds should be the governmental source.”

(Retired General Charles L. Decker, quoted from handwritten notes for his remarks to the National Defenders Conference, on May 16, 1969.)

The above speech to the National Defenders Conference later prompted testimony to the House Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, which sought to amend the Criminal Justice Act of 1964. General Decker’s testimony highlighted the early disparities in treatment between Federal Public Defenders and Federal Prosecutors under the original Criminal Justice Act of 1964. The Criminal Justice Act of 1964 arose out of the need to provide public defenders which was epitomized in the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963).The act originally presumed that defense of the indigent would occur out of the generosity of the members of the Federal Bar and all remuneration under the act was considered to be token at best, resulting in widely disproportionate salaries and fees. General Charles Lowman Decker (L’ 1942), as Director of the National Defender Project, testified before congressional committees to the radical concept that if the level of justice was to be equal and fair, that a public defender would need to be offered a salary comparable to that of a prosecutor.

General Charles L. Decker

This testimony is part of the General Charles L. Decker Collection, a collection containing papers related to the National Defender Project, which ran from 1963 through 1971. This project was a Ford Foundation grant to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and was intended to improve the quality and quantity of public defender offices and to research best practices in this area. The collection includes original documentation regarding grant inquiries, proposals, reports, presentations, congressional testimony, personal correspondence, research materials, brochures and seminar materials, budgetary documentation, journal and newspaper articles, legislative and regulatory materials, and other documentation. Specific topics include public defenders, student defense clinics, the 1964 Criminal Justice Act, prisoner representation, and other indigent defense topics. This collection was donated by General Decker, a Georgetown law alumnus and adjunct faculty member. The collection is available for research and a display of materials will be coming soon. For more information, please contact Special Collections at

Prepared by Erin M. Page, Esq.