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Guide to the Steve Nelson Papers ALBA.008

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Jessica Weglein

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 20, 2017
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

Series I, Spanish Civil War, 1937-1938. Included are incoming and outgoing correspondence and other materials that relate to Nelson's activities in France and Spain, and his national speaking tour shortly after his return to the United States. Among the correspondence is a letter received by Nelson in the hospital while he convalesced from his wounds signed by over 60 members of the MacKenzie-Papineau battalion; a letter from Joseph Dougher (an organizer in the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania who went to Spain with Nelson) written on a leaflet from the Socorro Rojo International (the International Red Aid); and a note from Canadian author Ted Allan jotted on the back of a Christmas greeting card from the Friends of the MacKenzie-Papineau battalion.

Twenty-five letters (photocopies) written by Nelson to his wife Margaret can also be found in this series. These letters document Nelson's views on the political scene in Paris; his imprisonment in Perpignan; reports on the devastation of cities and villages of Spain; and his great regard for the volunteer forces. Throughout he remains guarded on revealing details of military campaigns and minimizes the extent of his wounds. A small portion of these letters were written after his return to the United States and cover his movements during his speaking tour rallying support for Republican Spain. Other notable materials are Nelson's battle citations; annotated maps of battle campaigns; and background notes on the Spanish politics jotted in his capacity of political commissar.

Series II, General Correspondence, 1952-1991, consists of Nelson's incoming and outgoing correspondence as well as third party letters forwarded to Nelson. These letters reflect the close interconnection between Nelson's political and personal life. Nowhere is this more evident than in Nelson's correspondence with Abraham Lincoln Brigade veterans. In his capacity as National Commander of VALB many of Nelson's fellow volunteers wrote to him directly on both private and organizational matters; mail was also forwarded to Nelson from the VALB office. There are also letters from a range of political figures, writers, historians, and trade union workers who maintained their friendships with Nelson from his years as an organizer. Notable correspondents include: Howard Fast, who corresponded with Nelson during the 6 years of trials and imprisonment; Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, one of the few CP colleagues who did not sever contact with Nelson after he left the Party; Joseph North offering extensive advice on writing the  The Thirteenth Juror; Benjamin J. Davis, offering praise and criticism on this work; and journalist and cartoonist Robert Minor, who wrote regularly during Nelson's seven-month imprisonment. Of particular interest is a hand-written letter (in Spanish) to Nelson from Spanish Communist leader Dolores Ibarruri.

The preponderance of the material is from VALB members who formed the core of his colleagues and friends during the last forty years of his life. Among the VALB members who corresponded with Nelson regularly are: Bill Bailey, Alvah Bessie, Robert Colody, Moe Fishman, Carl Geiser, Manny Harriman, Fredericka Martin, Abe Osheroff, Albert Prago, Abe Smorodin, Irving Weissman, Saul Wellman, and Milton Wolff. There is also extensive correspondence from Fredericka Martin who volunteered as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War. Also in this series is correspondence between Nelson and historians James Barrett and Robert Ruck (who transcribed and edited Steve Nelson: American Radical); Rosalyn Baxandall; Cedric Belfrage; Vivian Gornick; Howard Zinn; and a letter from Michael Meeropol (son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg) apologizing for a mischaracterization of Nelson's behavior during the Rosenberg Trials.

Series III, Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, 1950-1991 (bulk 1975-1987). These papers document the major activities of VALB during the 1970s and 80s and consist of general records pertaining to national conferences, anniversary celebrations, and elections. Also included are minutes of board and committee meetings, general correspondence, the organization's constitution and bylaws, and promotional material on the documentary "The Good Fight: the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War."

Notable are manuscripts by Bill Bailey, Alvah Bessie, Arthur Landis, Norman Dorland, and Herbert Burton related to American participation in the Spanish Civil War; transcriptions of Spanish Civil War era letters written by African-American volunteer Canute Frankson; documents concerning the death of Oliver Law; guidelines for countering questions pertaining to George Orwell and the Spanish Civil War; correspondence related to VALB's support of Nelson during his trials and imprisonment; and the establishment of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA).

VALB's activism is well represented in the files relating to topics that preoccupied the membership, including the protest against the establishment of U.S. military air bases in Spain (Madrid Pact); the campaign to solicit support for the Nicaragua Ambulance Fund; and a birthday tribute for Nelson which raised close to $15,000 to aid political prisoners in Spain. Also of interest are clippings, travel materials, and correspondence related to veterans' trips to Spain; and the unveiling of the International Brigade monument in Barcelona.

Series IV, Trials and Imprisonment, 1951-1955, consists of court records of Nelson's sedition and Smith Act trials. The material contains a full transcript of the sedition trial, in which Nelson served as his own counsel, along with the notes he took in preparation for the trial, and a draft of the appeal in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, written by National Lawyers Guild attorney Victor Rabinowitz. This series also includes incoming and outgoing correspondence from these years, much of which deals with Nelson's defense and his attempts to secure legal counsel. In addition to regular communication from the Civil Rights Congress and Rabinowitz, Nelson was also the recipient of letters of support from friends and admirers. Among the correspondence is a scattering of postcards from Nelson's young son and daughter. Also in this series are leaflets and letters for public appeals campaigns on behalf of Nelson and other Smith Act defendants who were being tried and imprisoned.

Series V, Writings, 1953-1988 (bulk 1977-1984), contains drafts and promotional materials for Nelson's three books:  Steve Nelson: American Radical,  The Thirteenth Juror, and  The Volunteers. Much of it pertains to the preparation of  Steve Nelson: American Radicaland includes transcriptions of taped interviews of Nelson conducted by co-authors James Barrett and Robert Ruck, as well as promotional materials and reviews. [Note: Correspondence from Barrett and Ruck is located in Series II, filed by correspondent.] Publication and promotional materials for Nelson's other books are also located here and include brochures and original book jackets for  The Thirteenth Juror. Of particular note among the other writings is an essay titled "Leaving the Party" about Nelson's decision to resign from the Communist Party.

Series VI, Subject Files, 1937-1990 (bulk 1975-1987). Among the notable material in this series is a portion of Nelson's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records, which include correspondence between Nelson and the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency; pamphlets, handbills and other material related to other sedition trial defendants including Harry Bridges and James Dolsen; information on the International Brigades arranged by country; biographical material on Jack Shirai, a Japanese volunteer in the International Brigades; writings of friends and colleagues including Carl Marzani's unpublished manuscript on Orwell; program notes and papers related to a symposium on Malraux and Hemingway; clippings on Nelson; and transcriptions of oral histories with Nelson that are not associated with  Steve Nelson: American Radical. These files also include extensive material on Spanish politics, poems and clippings on the Spanish Civil War, and clippings on individual veterans. Of particular interest is a 1937 souvenir program commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union, which pictures Nelson on the cover, and a series of poems inspired by Steve Nelson including efforts by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Howard Fast.


Series I is arranged alphabetically. Series II is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, with unidentified correspondence arranged chronologically at the end of the series. Series III is arranged alphabetically by subject. Series IV consists of two sections: the legal proceedings are arranged chronologically, followed by subject files, which are arranged alphabetically. Series V is arranged in two sections: materials related to Nelson’s three books are arranged alphabetically by title followed by additional writings arranged alphabetically by genre (i.e. articles, essays, speeches). Series VI is arranged alphabetically by subject.

The files are grouped into 6 series:

Missing Title

  1. I. Spanish Civil War Materials
  2. II. General Correspondence
  3. III. Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
  4. IV. Trials & Imprisonment
  5. V. Writings
  6. VI. Subject Files