Three letters from the American Bar Association written in 1923. Two of these 1923 letters from the American Bar Association to Honorable Christopher T. Callahan of Holyoke, Massachusetts, were written by John E. Hannigan, Boston, MA, State Director, First District. Mr. Callahan was Judge of the Superior Court of Massachusetts. The first letter, dated January 26, 1923, is an invitation to Callahan to join the American Bar Association.
-- The second letter in response evidently to queries from Callahan about colored men being excluded from the Bar Association. Mr. Hannigan answers: "There is no law of the American Bar Association excluding colored men. There is a law requiring applicants to state their color. The purpose of this is to inform the Executive Committee. Probably no colored man will pass this committee. The reason is not political but social. The annual meeting of the Association is attended by many Southern lawyers and their families. There are numerous receptions and social foregatherings, culminating in a grand banquet. White men and women of the South will not accept the society of black men and women, though brunette delegates from Porto Rico and the Philippines and yellow-skinned men from the East are usually present. There were bitter controversies in 1913 and 1914 over the admission of W.H. Lewis and one or two other colored men. The Southern members made it plain that, frankly conceding all legal rights to negroes, social intercourse was impossible. There seem to be imperative matters of which they will not or cannot speak which control this issue for them. The rule, an expression of which you found on the application card, requiring statement of color, was the result. Personally I am color blind. I hate prejudice, but am tolerant of men with prejudice. I may be one myself. My dissenting from the other fellow's judgment may be prejudging on my part. I appreciate the instinct of justice manifested in all your acts as judge and in the sentiments of your letter to me. I beg leave to renew my invitation to you, and hope you will authorize me to strike out the qualification. I am sending your letter and a copy of this to the Membership Committee and to the Citizenship Committee. Believe me, Very sincerely, John E. Hannigan. P.S. I enclose copy of my letter to Mr. Wadhams, Secretary of the Membership Committee, accompanying your letter. A similar one goes to Mr. Saner of Dallas, Texas, Chairman of the Citizenship Committee."
-- The third letter is a copy sent to Mr. Callahan by Hannigan, of a letter Hennigan wrote to a Mr. Wadhams, secretary of the Membership Committee - "March 12, 1923. Dear Mr. Wadhams, I am enclosing letter (copy) from Mr. Justice Callahan, a distinguished member of our Superior Court, together with a copy of my reply. This Southern ex-slave question is certainly embarrassing. On the one hand the Citizenship Committee is seeking to reaffirm the Constitution and its great principles of vested and guaranteed legal equality for all men, and the Membership Committee is pointing with pride to the Association's ideal of the dignity and trained patriotism of the American lawyer; on the other hand every application for membership carries a warning of caste inequality, and a notice that honorable members of the bar, if colored, may not be admitted to the Association." He goes on to state a quote from Lincoln and ends with "Well, I wonder if we can't plow round our log any better than we're doing."
These letters are historic examples of great prejudice against blacks by some members of the American Bar Association in the 1920's.They were purchased in a paper/letter lot at an estate auction. None of the letters have envelopes. All have age coloring, some wear, some edge tears and edge pieces missing, some creases and marks, rusty marks from a paper clip.