Black history at the United Nations revisited in the Library on April 29

Several years ago, Professor Susan Gzesh discovered a rare legal document in the Regenstein Library bookstacks. For her Practice of Human Rights course, she had read Carol Anderson’s book, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Ms. Anderson’s book mentioned that African-Americans had petitioned the United Nations for redress against U.S. human rights violations. Being a lawyer, she wanted to review the text of that petition. It was not online. Someone suggested the DuBois papers at UMass Amherst for the full petition, but her class was beginning in a few days.

"Eyes Off the Prize" book

“Eyes Off the Prize” book

It then occurred to Ms. Gzesh to look in the library catalog. The Library owned a copy! She found the petition in the Regenstein stacks. It was a snowy day with puddles all around. Afraid of damaging her valuable find, she placed the petition in a plastic sandwich bag when she got it safely home.

The petition turned out to be the following: 

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. An Appeal to the World! A Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress (New York: NAACP, 1947) (prepared under the editorial supervision of W.E. Burghardt Du Bois, with contributions by Earl B. Dickerson, Milton R. Konvitz, William R. (Robert) Ming, Jr., Leslie S. Perry, and Rayford W. Logan). Regenstein, Bookstacks. JK1924.N3

There are only 55 libraries that own print copies of this 94-page document.

Table of contents from "An Appeal to the World! A Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress"

Table of contents from NAACP’s “An Appeal to the World!”

When Ms. Gzesh later told me about her find, I was thrilled to discover that Dr. W.E. B. DuBois had enlisted two esteemed graduates of the University of Chicago Law School (Earl B. Dickerson, J.D. ’20, and William R. Ming, Jr., J.D. ’33.) to help draft the NAACP petition. This story appears in my 2012 “Black History at the United Nations” blog post along with a bibliography of related works. After checking with the University legal department to ensure there were no copyright issues, the Human Rights Program posted each chapter of the petition online:

Carol Anderson

Carol Anderson

In 2014, over a decade since Eyes Off the Prize was published, the book has been very influential among human rights activists and advocates. The history it tells of the post-World War II activism of DuBois, Dickerson, Ming, Paul Robeson, and others has had a particular impact on African-Americans involved in NGO human rights networks.

On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, this story will come full circle. The author of Eyes Off the Prize, Carol Anderson, will be speaking in Regenstein Library, Room 122, from 4:30-6 p.m. on “When the Levees Broke: A History of Un-Civil Rights in America” as part of the “Hard Times: Black Appeals, Local and Global” lecture series, sponsored by the Human Rights Program and the Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture. In honor of this occasion, the print copy of the 1947 NAACP petition will be transferred from the Regenstein bookstacks to the Library’s Special Collections, where it will be preserved to be discovered by future generations of human rights researchers.

About Lyonette Louis-Jacques

Foreign and International Law Librarian and Lecturer in Law, D'Angelo Law Library, University of Chicago Law School
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