American Veterans Committee records
Collection Scope and Content
The records of the American Veterans Committee document the organization's 60-year history advocating for peace and social justice. This collection contains a wide variety of formats, including correspondence, minutes, newspapers and newsletters, programs, official statements and testimonies, reports, membership data, legal documents, financial statements, photographs, audio reels, and artifacts. The bulk of the material dates from 1946 through 2001, with some select items dating back to the 1930s and early 1940s.
Activities involved in the creation of the records include lobbying Congress, conducting legal aid on behalf of veterans, administering a membership organization, publishing an in-house newspaper, conducting research, hosting conferences, holding annual conventions, and forming partnerships with likeminded organizations. Records were primarily produced by AVC's headquarters in Washington, D.C., but also include information from local chapters across the country.
AVC's work encompassed a range of domestic and international issues, primarily but not exclusively related to veterans' affairs. Topics of particular concern to veterans included veterans' education and employment, the draft, veterans' health, women veterans, and legal aid for veterans. Broader topics represented in the collection include civil rights, human rights, desegregation, Communism, the Vietnam War, and international organizations for peace such as the United Nations and the World Veterans Federation.
As AVC prepared to cease operations, Executive Director June Willenz and National Board Member Paul P. Cooke sought out material documenting AVC's history from members across the country for donation to Gelman Library's Special Collections Department. Material that would come to form this collection arrived at Gelman Library in several different accretions from 2000 to 2006.
Because material from a variety of different individuals and time periods had been aggregated into the boxes that arrived at Gelman, it was often a challenge to establish the material's provenance and original order. When these were in doubt, archivists relied upon grouping materials by their format, subject, and the activities that they documented.
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for reearch.
Restrictions on Use
Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.
Biographical / Historical
The American Veterans Committee (AVC) was an organization of American veterans that formed during World War II and disbanded in 2003. While many other veterans' groups represented veterans' interests during this period, AVC positioned itself as an alternative veterans' organization with the motto "Citizens first, veterans second." Based in Washington, DC, with chapters across the country, the group advocated for peace and social justice for all Americans while also championing the needs of returning veterans. Branded as a Communist front in its early days, AVC survived significant organizational turbulence to become a small, yet internationally oriented, advocacy organization -- the American veteran's voice for civil rights and equal rights.
For more than half a century, AVC pressed for solutions to some of the most urgent issues of the day, including: reform of the Selective Service system; judicial review of VA benefits decisons; support for a minimum wage and universal health insurance; enfranchisement of 18-year-olds; U.S. ratification of the Genocide Convention and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; opposition to the Taft-Hartley Act; and statehood for Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.
The idea for the American Veterans Committee was hatched in 1942, when Sgt. Gilbert A. Harrison and a small group of friends in military service began to correspond. They determined that there was a need for a new type of veterans' organization that would not be concerned solely with special privileges for veterans, but would strive for peace and justice. In 1943, the University Religious Conference at UCLA became a center for these corresponding servicepersons. Then in 1944, Charles Bolté, who had served with the British in Africa, joined forces with the UCLA group to create the AVC and begin publishing "The AVC Bulletin". The new group focused on immediate problems of housing, jobs, and education benefits, as well as broader issues of reform such as ending racial discrimination and supporting the United Nations. From its inception, AVC was racially integrated. Bolté's 1945 book "The New Veteran" inspired members of this motivated generation of veterans with its philosophy of "Citizens first, veterans second." Bolté became the first Chairman of AVC, and participated in the signing of the UN Charter in 1945 in San Francisco.
Many veterans who went on to high-level political careers originally honed their skills in the early days of AVC, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr., James Roosevelt, G. Mennen Williams, Orville Freeman, Henry Cabot Lodge, Oren Root, Jr., Jacob Javits, Warren Magnuson, Richard Bolling, Abe Fortas, Henry Reuss, Claiborne Pell, Harold Stassen, Endicott Peabody, and Ronald Reagan. Other AVC members made significant contributions in other fields, including: Thornton Wilder, Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Will Rogers, Jr., Melvin Douglas, Sen. Paul Douglas, and Adam Yarmolinsky.
Membership growth in AVC's first several years was sudden and dramatic. From 5500 members in 1945, AVC grew to 18,000 members in 1946, then to approximately 100,000 in 1947. During this period, AVC merged with the American Veterans Association (AVA), a group that had formed in 1932 to lobby for veterans' bonuses and pensions.
Though essentially progressive-leaning, AVC members represented a wide spectrum of viewpoints. But early on, a group of activist Communist sympathizers well versed in parliamentary procedures played a divisive role in taking over some chapters and infiltrating AVC leadership positions. After intensive controversy at the first conventions, the liberal caucus managed to successfully oust the Communist members and chapters, and subsequently voted to close its membership to members of all totalitarian parties. This bitter struggle resulted in a decline in membership, with AVC rolls falling to 20,000 by 1948. Yet AVC was one of the few organizations infiltrated by Communists to survive the onslaught and continue to be an effective force for the non-Communist left.
Though it would never recapture the significant numbers of its earliest years, AVC would persevere for more than a half century, lobbying on issues of concern to its members in the areas of national affairs (especially civil rights and civil liberties), veterans affairs and international affairs. AVC testified frequently before Congress and, thanks to longtime National Counsel Phineas Indritz, filed amicus briefs in many major court cases, particularly those involving racial and gender discrimination. In the District of Columbia, Dr. Paul P. Cooke and Judge John Fauntleroy were actively engaged in ending discrimination in all aspects of community life.
AVC lawyers in the Washington, D.C., area provided legal aid to minority veterans in the South -- veterans who were shut out by the segregated veterans' organizations -- by representing them in their appeals to the Veterans Administration. AVC also joined forces in coalitions of likeminded institutions (such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights) to lobby for civil rights and civil liberties. Well represented in campuses all over the country in the early post-war years, AVC members continued to organize local chapters to pursue their goals at the grassroots and worked closely with the labor movement in lobbying for civil rights and civil liberties.
As the only integrated veterans organization in the post-war years, AVC led the fight for equal treatment of minorities in the military and helped modify the Uniform Code of Military Justice. AVC campaigned for desegregation in the South, conducting studies showing that black veterans were not receiving the benefits to which they were entitled. During the 1960s, AVC's chairman John Stillman marched in Mississippi and AVC members around the country participated in demonstrations for desegregation. Slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers was a member of AVC's National Board and AVC members served as pallbearers at his funeral at Arlington Cemetery and set up a fund for his wife and children. AVC lawyers led the way in desegregating accommodations and recreational and educational facilities in the District of Columbia.
Beginning in the 1960s, AVC assumed the role of watchdog in military and veterans affairs, convening national conferences to bring attention to problem areas such as: the Draft (1966), the Human Rights of the Man in Uniform (1968 and 1970), the Educational Problems of Returning Vietnam Veterans, (1972), and National Service (1989). These conferences served as organizational policy forums during which legislation and initiatives were developed. In the 1970s, AVC launched a program to address the needs of Vietnam veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, providing legal aid and advice. AVC leaders worked with Congress and the executive branch to provide targeted programs for minority and female veterans, to expand the available representation available to veterans, and to institute a Court of Veterans Appeals.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, prompted by the research of Executive Director June Willenz, AVC turned its attention to women veterans, who had been underserved by government agencies. Willenz's book, "Women Veterans: America's Forgotten Heroines," published in 1983, led to the first congressional hearings on women veterans and spurred the creation of a women veterans Advisory Committee at the Veterans Administration and a separate department to focus solely on women veterans' needs. AVC's leadership on behalf of women veterans was instrumental in the creation of a national monument to women veterans at Arlington Cemetery. In the 1980s and 1990s, issues of concern to AVC included Gulf War veterans, national service, and gays in the military. In addition to its domestic work, AVC was also involved in significant collaborations with veterans internationally. In 1950, AVC played a role in the founding of the World Veterans Federation (WVF), a still-extant international membership organization of veterans and war victims that seeks to bring former adversaries together to pursue peace, disarmament, the rule of law, and human rights. A strong supporter of the United Nations, the WVF is an accredited non-governmental organization (NGO) with the UN. AVC Executive Director June Willenz helped create a WVF committee on women and served as Chair of that committee from its founding in 1984 until 2006. Willenz also served as a WVF representative to the UN in New York.
AVC chronicled its activities by publishing the "AVC Bulletin" regularly from 1944 until 2000. It also produced studies and testimonies for government agencies and congressional committees. The amicus briefs written by AVC Counsel Phineas Indritz and other AVC lawyers contributed a significant body of jurisprudence to the civil rights movement and, later, to the equal rights movement.
June Willenz was the AVC's Executive Director from 1965 to its dissolution in 2003, and was also elected Chairperson of the Committee on Disabled Veterans of the President's Committee on Persons with Disabilities. She also headed the first Task Force on Military and Veterans Issues of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The longest serving Chairman of AVC was Gus Tyler, the former Assistant President of the ILGWU, who served from 1978 until AVC became inactive. Other chairmen included: Charles Bolté, Gilbert Harrison, Chat Paterson, Michael Straight, Curtis Campaigne Jr, Dr. Paul P. Cooke, Murray Gross, Sam Byer, Raymond Bramucci, Bill Mauldin, W. Robert Ming,Jr., Mickey Levine , Arthur S. Freeman, Dr. Eugene Byrd, F.J. Pepper, M.D., Saul Rosen and John Stillman. Former executive directors Louis Pakiser, Jr. and J. Arnold Feldman also contributed significantly.
In addition to the National Board, AVC created an Advisory Council that it called upon for advice and counsel. Judge Hubert L. Will (a federal judge) led AVC's National Advisory Council as well as the U.S. Council for the WVF, later becoming a WVF Vice President. The Advisory Council included Cong. Jonathan Bingham, Dr. Elmer Ellis, Dean Russell L. Fairbanks, Hon. Abe Fortas, Dr. Harry Marmion, Hon. Endicott Peabody, Claiborne Pell, Henry Reuss, Cong. James Roosevelt, Thornton Wilder, Hon. G. Mennen Williams, Senator Ralph Yarborough, Adam Yarmolinsky and Cong. Sidney Yates. Other notable AVC leaders included: Michael Beasley, Bernard Bellush, Henri Fluchere, Tibor Heisler, Lincoln Lauterstein, Sonny Le Glaire, Lothar Nachman, Ben Neufeld, Andrew E. Rice, Martin Sandler, Chester Shore, Ralph Spencer, Frank E. G. Weil, and Ruth Young.
128.5 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
The records of the American Veterans Committee document the organization's 60-year history advocating for peace and social justice. This collection contains a wide variety of formats, including correspondence, minutes, newspapers and newsletters, programs, official statements and testimonies, reports, membership data, legal documents, financial statements, photographs, audio reels, and artifacts.
Organized into 16 series: Subjects; Official statements; AVC Bulletins; Minutes; Early history and founding documents, Financial, legal, and operational records; Correspondence; Events; Local chapters; Membership; Clippings; World Veterans Federation; Photographs; AVC publications; Audio/visual; and Artifacts.
The collection was donated by AVC leaders Dr. Paul Cooke and June Willenz in several accessions between 1999 and 2009.
Reparative Description Projects
This finding aid was revised in 2022 to address harmful descriptive language. During that revision staff edited the aggrandizing description in the Collection Biographical/Historical Note, as well as the individual Scope and Contents notes for Series 15 and 16. To view the finding aid prior to this revision work please use American Veterans Committee records
Also in 2022 as part of a different remediation related to mental illness and disability terminology this finding aid was revised to address derogatory descriptive language identified in numerous folder titles. As this description was provided by the record creator(s) the description was not edited or removed, but additional information was provided in an Historic Context note at each folder level in order to add context. A copy of the finding aid prior to these reivsions was retained. To view that finding aid please use Pre-revision Feb. 2022 finding aid of American Veterans Committee records
- American Veterans Committee
- Civil rights Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Photographs Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Political activists Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Veterans Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Videotapes Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Washington (D.C.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Guide to the American Veterans Committee records, 1942-2002
- Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English