Scope and arrangement
Divided into four series, CORRESPONDENCE, the SMITH ACT TRIAL, WRITINGS, and PRINTED MATTER, the Benjamin Davis Papers document Davis's life and political career from 1949 to the time of his death. Some personal items are filed at the beginning of the collection.
The Benjamin J. Davis papers are arranged in four series:
The CORRESPONDENCE series is grouped into General Correspondence,arranged chronologically, and Condolence Letters,arranged alphabetically. Letters received at the Allegheny Jail, are also arranged alphabetically by first or last names, when available. Many correspondents did not sign their full name for fear of government persecution. Unsigned letters are filed separately. Several letters bear brief notations and directives from Davis to his fiancee and future wife Nina Stamler. A two page letter signed “Steve” and dated March 30, 1955, carries on its verso a penciled statement by Davis, to be released through his attorney, in response to the decision by the District of Columbia Federal Court to his suit against segregation in the federal prison system. Correspondents include William Z. Foster, fellow Smith Act defendants Eugene Dennis and Claudia Jones, Harvard's Law School Dean Erwin N. Griswold, Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Robeson, Roy Wilkins, William Patterson, Chairman of the Civil Rights Congress, author Walter Lowenfelds, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Herbert Aptheker, Cyril Briggs, Eslanda Robeson, Communist Party members Sid Resnick and Esther Jackson, and several supporters and friends.
The SMITH ACT TRIAL series documents Davis's trial for sedition, his imprisonment at Terre-Haute and Pittsburgh, and his challenge of racial segregation in federal prisons in the United States. It consists of legal correspondence between Davis, his lawyers and supporters on the one hand, and the Bureau of Prison, the Parole Board and the warden at the Terre-Haute penitentiary on the other, in addition to briefs, affidavits, petitions, court rulings and printed matter.
WRITINGS consist of a 1,038 page, handwritten autobiography written while in detention at the Terre-Haute penitentiary, and typescripts of articles and speeches by Davis, along with clippings of articles by and about the author. The autobiographical manuscript was confiscated by the Terre-Haute warden daily as it was being written by the author. Released to his family after 1965, it was published posthumously in a shortened edition under the title Communist Councilman from Harlem(New York: International Publishers, 1969). Writings by Davis also include the typescripts of several articles and drafts of speeches and inner party documents written after 1956. Published works in this series consist of clippings of Davis's column “Face to Face” and other articles published in The Worker.Writings about Davis include obituaries and articles by a variety of columnists, including J.A. Rogers, George Schuyler, Lester B. Granger, James L. Hicks, Chester Higgins. Several articles by Eslanda Robeson, Walter Lowenfels, Henry Winston and Paul Robeson are also part of this series.
Davis's 1949 reelection campaign is documented in the PRINTED MATTER series with campaign announcements, petitions, press releases, brochures, handbills and newspaper articles. Other articles detail his struggle for free speech and against discrimination by insurance companies. Also included are several pamphlets and single issues of Political Affairswith articles written by or about Davis.