National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1907-1930: We are a diverse nation, confronting our differences

October 1, 1917
Roger Baldwin founds the National Civil Liberties Bureau, precursor to American Civil Liberties Union

Roger Baldwin

As founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, Roger Nash Baldwin shaped the modern understanding of individual rights and freedom of speech.

In 1917, Baldwin and other social activists established the National Civil Liberties Bureau, forerunner of the ACLU, to support the Bill of Rights.

Led by Baldwin, ACLU lawyers, beginning in the 1920s, used First Amendment cases to reshape constitutional law. They halted censorship of James Joyce’s Ulysses. They challenged Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution in the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” and participated in the trials of the Scottsboro Boys, and Sacco and Vanzetti. They fought for free speech for Ku Klux Klansmen and communists, even after Baldwin - who once supported Soviet communism - changed his thinking and banned sympathizers from the ACLU board.

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