Scope and arrangement
The William Pickens Papers (Additions) encompass the years from 1909 to 1950. Pickens had a long and active career, and for most of his life he was on the fringe or near the center of most political activities in the black community, fighting for the cause of black advancement and the improvement of race relations in the United States. These additions to the William Pickens Papers span the period in his professional life when he was affiliated with both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United States Treasury Department. The bulk of the material relates to his activities with them. Also included are his writings: mainly his Associated Negro Press (ANP) editorials and newspaper columns, manuscripts for articles, typescripts of speeches, and correspondence requesting his services as a speaker. In addition, the papers document his interest in organizations concerned with national and international political issues and humanitarian causes, such as the Scottsboro Case, the American Civil Liberties Union, the League for Industrial Democracy, the Council for Pan American Democracy, the Anti-Imperialist World Congress, and the Ethiopian World Federation.
The Pickens papers are divided into seven series: Personal Papers; General Correspondence; General Subject Files; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; United States Treasury Department; Writings; and Printed Material.
- Baldwin, Roger
- Barnett, Claude
- Bethune, Mary McLeod
- Bolin, Jane
- Bunche, Ralph
- Burroughs, Nannie
- Cunard, Nancy
- Dewey, Thomas E.
- DuBois, W.E.B.
- Edwards, Thyra
- Fauset, Jessie
- Handy, William C.
- Hastie, William
- Holmes, John Haynes
- Hoover, Herbert
- Hughes, Langston
- Hunter, Nell
- Imes, William L.
- Johnson, James Weldon
- Jones, E. Kinkle
- Lehman Herbert
- Marshall, Thurgood
- Morgenthau, Henry
- Murray, Pauli
- Nail, John E.
- Ovington, Mary White
- Pankhurst, E. Sylvia
- Parker, Dorothy
- Powell, Adam Clayton, Sr.
- Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr.
- Prattis, Percival L.
- Randolph, A. Phillip
- Rogers, J.A.
- Roosevelt, Eleanor
- Schomburg, Arthur A.
- Schuyler, George
- Spingarn, Arthur B.
- Spingarn, Joel E.
- Stone, Irving
- Tobias, Channing
- Thomas, Jessie O.
- Thomas, Norman
- Vincent, Stenio
- Weaver, Robert C.
- White, Walter
- Woodson, Carter G.
- Work, Monroe
The following items were removed from:
Name of Collection/PapersWilliam Pickens Papers (Additions)
Donor:Harriet Pickens, Mrs. Ruby Pickens Holbrook, and William Pickens III
Date received:July 1982
Date transferred:July 1982
The item(s) listed below have been sent to the division indicated, either to be retained or disposed of there. Any items that should receive special disposition are clearly marked.
See List of Books in Accession Record
Schomburg Art and Artifacts Division:
George W. Carver Savings Bond Poster; NAACP Anti-Lynching Meeting Poster
Schomburg Photographs and Print Division:
1 Box of Photographs
Processed by:B. Robinson/D. Lachatanere
Date:July 12 1982
The William Pickens papers (Additions) is arranged in seven series:
The PERSONAL PAPERS,1929-1950, n.d., series focuses on the Pickens family and personal business correspondence (e.g. banking, house rentals and maintenance, and income taxes). Business correspondence includes letters from the influential Harlem realtor and businessman, John E. Nail, brother-in-law of James Weldon Johnson.
There is a small amount of correspondence between Pickens and his wife and other family members. Highlighted in this series is correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt concerning his daughter, Harriet's accomplishments as one of the first black naval officers in World War II.
Biographical and autobiographical sketches of his life are included. Additionally, there is information relating to the sale of, and critical reactions to his writings.
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE,1925-1950, n.d., the largest of the series in this collection, is comprised of incoming and outgoing correspondence between Pickens and his friends, acquaintances, fellow scholars and business associates. Included is correspondence with many organizations with which Pickens was involved, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, League for Industrial Democracy, Socialist Party of America, National Council of the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Association, American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, and the Council for Pan American Democracy.
Pickens corresponded with a wide range of notable figures in government, education, and other fields. He also received, and did not stint in acting upon and answering, requests from strangers seeking help concerning education or jobs. In addition, he maintained correspondence with a number of African students.
The series contains revealing correspondence concerning Pickens' feelings about the treatment of blacks in the areas of public transportation and accommodations. He wrote many letters, particularly to railroad lines, complaining about his treatment at the hands of their employees and received a number of apologetic replies.
A large amount of correspondence passed between Pickens and Claude A. Barnett and Percival L. Prattis, his associates at the Associated Negro Press. He also corresponded frequently with E. Kinkle Jones of the National Urban League, with two New York clergymen--John Haynes Holmes of the Community Church, and William L. Imes of St. James Presbyterian Church. In the field of politics he corresponded with Roger Baldwin (ACLU), and Norman Thomas.
Correspondence for 1930 through 1940 was voluminous and varied. After Pickens' confrontation with the House Un-American Activites Commitee and during his later years as a government employee, Pickens curbed his correspondence with “controversial” organizations.
The correspondence is filed chronologically and, therein, alphabetically by person or institution, and in a few instances, topically. Thus, letters from individual correspondents may be found in more than one location within the series.
GENERAL SUBJECT FILES,1926-1945, are divided into three subseries. The first subseries contains correspondence and other material primarily relating to Pickens' early travels abroad to attend conferences, his trip to Cuba with Mary Mcleod Bethune in 1930, his service on draft and appeal boards during World War II, and the damaging effect on his career of charges brought against him by the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. Correspondents of note in this subseries are Helen Keller, Dorothy Parker and Thyra Edwards. Subjects files in this subseries are arranged chronologically according to topic or organization.
Speaking Engagements,1926-1944, are covered in the second subseries. Pickens was an extremely popular speaker and was in constant demand to fulfill speaking engagements for organizations throughout the country from 1926 until 1950, when he retired from the Treasury Department. Full documentation for the speaking engagements after he joined the Treasury Department is scant. Within the Treasury Department series, however, there is a file entitled “U.S. Treasury Department Travel Receipts, 1946-1947,” from which it can be ascertained that Pickens traversed the United States twice, during the latter portion of 1946 and 1947, making speeches for sales of U.S. savings bonds.
While many of Pickens' speaking engagements related to his work with the NAACP and the Treasury Department, he was also popular as an individual speaker with such organizations as the Y.M. and Y.W.C.A., churches, colleges, charities, and political organizations. There was a considerable drop in demand for his services after his confrontation with the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee in 1942-1943. The correspondence in this sub-series is filed chronologically (commencing when correspondence was first generated by an organization to secure Pickens' services) and arranged by organization.
The third subseries, Forums,has been treated as a separate category from Speaking Engagements because of the nature of the sponsoring organizations for the Forums. Included in this subseries are the Federal Forums Project which was government sponsored and funded, and two private forum bureaus, the Adult Education Council of Chicago and the Open Forum Speakers Bureau, which were both non-profit organizations that acted as agents for organizations requiring speakers. The Federal Forums Project material has been arranged according to administrative files concerning the entire forum format throughout the country, and then by individual cities and states in which Pickens was directly involved. Forums are filed by state, in chronological order.
The material found in the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE - ADMINISTRATIVE FILES(NAACP) 1925-1945, n.d., series documents Pickens' long and distinguished career with the organization. The NAACP records have been organized into two subseries; Administrative Files, and Department of Branches files.
Included in the subseries are correspondence, files of the board of directors, memoranda, reports, and conference-related materials. A good picture of the overall goals and the day-to-day workings of the NAACP are provided by the material in this subseries. Of particular interest are letters documenting the contentious relationship between Walter White and Pickens, and Pickens' stormy severance from the NAACP. Both issues are well documented in the correspondence and the board of directors minutes.
The second subseries, the Department of Branches,contains plans, itineraries and reports for field work in the branches. Pickens' extremely active role as Field Secretary - traveling cross-country, visiting and making speeches at branches all across the United States - is reflected in the itineraries. The number of branches increased significantly under Pickens' directorship.
Correspondents of particular importance in this series are James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, Mary White Ovington, Arthur B. Spingarn, Joel E. Spingarn, Roy Wilkins, Thurgood Marshall and W.E.B. DuBois.
The NAACP correspondence is arranged chronologically, then alphabetically within each year. The remainder of this series is arranged chronologically.
The UNITED STATES TREASURY DEPARTMENTmaterial, 1941-1950 is divided into official and general correspondence, reports and meetings. At some points the official and general correspondence overlap, because much of the general correspondence is with his fellow workers in the Treasury Department. The reports and meetings categories are scant but clear-cut in nature, providing an adequate picture of Pickens' activities with the Department.
In arranging the WRITINGSseries the identification or labeling of the writings as “Manuscript”or “Editorial”established by Pickens has been maintained. Manuscripts form the bulk of the writings, although it is not clear in what form, or if, the manuscripts were published. The writings have been arranged alphabetically by title; inclusive dates are also given.
The PRINTED MATERIAL,1923-1944, n.d., series includes articles and clippings about Pickens as well as miscellaneous clippings on a variety of subjects that were collected by him. The clippings about Pickens are of articles mainly dealing with his numerous speaking engagements. These are arranged in chronological order, and the inclusive dates are given. Articles collected by him are arranged similarly.
Also included in this series are two scrapbooks that contain items collected by Pickens. Some of the material is about him, but the bulk of the scrapbook material involves issues of the day of interest to him and pertinent to blacks. A small amount of manuscript material concerning his encounter with the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee is also included in volume two of the scrapbooks.