JUNE 1, 1964

Ruby Hurley, youth secretary of NAACP, between 1943 and 1950. Credit: NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (113.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned Alabama’s ban on the NAACP, allowing the NAACP to operate in the state for the first time in eight years. 

NAACP leader Ruby Hurley set up the office in Birmingham in 1951, only to be forced to flee the state five years later after Alabama authorities aggressively investigated the NAACP and tried to seize membership records. 

After the NAACP refused, an Alabama judge levied a fine against the organization and threatened more penalties by refusing to comply. The NAACP sued, only to have the Alabama Supreme Court dismiss the litigation. NAACP lawyers argued that the release of such records could invite reprisals and attacks on their members. 

In 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the right of association and assembly under the First Amendment is protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. If the high court had upheld the state’s attempts to seize membership records, it would have dealt a serious blow to the organization, its members and the movement itself.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.