Practicum Experience: David Carliner Papers

Posted: December 10, 2015 by saacua in Sharing

Guest Post by: Lindsey Bright

David Carliner Papers

            The David Carliner Papers is a collection of 29 boxes (12 linear feet) of personal and professional documents and correspondence. David Carliner (1918 – 2007) was a prominent immigration and civil rights attorney in Washington, DC, and founded the DC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Beginning his practice in the 1940s after being denied an army commission, Carliner gained notoriety for his position as a civil rights activist through his work as an attorney on the 1955 Naim v. Naim and 1967 Loving v. Virginia cases. He was well known throughout Washington’s Jewish community, and he was a driving force behind the movement for home rule in the District. Major cases of note which he participated in include a 1965 representation of a government employee who sued the government after being fired for being gay and the 1979 – 1980 fight against the deportation of Iranian students.

The first chairman of the DC chapter of the ACLU, many of the boxes in this collection contain correspondence, memoranda, member lists, and event information regarding the chapter and its activities and governance. Additionally, even more than his ACLU activities, the boxes contain paraphernalia from his legal career. Court briefings, depositions, congressional records, and legal correspondence are interspersed with more mundane documents, invoices from a landscaper or birthday cards from friends and family. Mainly unprocessed, the bulk of work on this collection was geared towards grasping the scope and content of the boxes amassed as the collection arrived at the DC Public Library’s Washingtoniana Room over the past few years. Maintaining original order as best as possible, the contents of each box were re-foldered, with staples, paperclips, and other detritus removed. Folders were labeled, newspaper clippings separated out for photocopying, and a running list of folders was created. Special care and note were taken with many of the papers, as poor storage conditions prior to accession left parts of the collection water damaged and fragile. Folders containing these items were also labeled as damaged, indicating a priority for photocopying or digitizing and potential discarding depending on the severity of the damage.

Notable items within the collection include letters from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Bill Clinton, invitations to the 1963 March on Washington, and a large number of turn of the century German and German-Jewish legal documents. A significant subset within the collection regards Carliner’s wife Miriam née Kalter, who fled Germany in 1930 to avoid persecution as a Jew under the Nazi regime. Correspondence and filings by her and on her behalf for the restitution of her family’s German property make up the contents of almost one entire box, and other folders contain birth and citizenship papers for her and other family members, as well as her naturalization papers. A significant collection for many reasons, a highlight is specifically its relationship to the recent anniversary of DC home rule, and the impact made by Carliner on that legislation.

My work on this collection over around 50 hours was mostly in a processing capacity. I brought to light and made notes on the condition of many of the items involved, but performed little preservation activity due to time and material constraints. Generally processing on a folder level, some item-level work was necessitated by the presence of staples, paperclips, and other non-archival detritus present on and among already fragile or damaged papers. Just over half of the collection, 17 of the 29 boxes, is now rehoused and those boxes each have a complete folder list. Future work is still needed, to both complete the processing and deal with the damaged items and fragile newsprint materials.

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