JUNE 30, 1958

Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in Montgomery during the 1955 bus boycott. Credit: National Archives

In NAACP v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state could not compel the NAACP to release its membership lists. 

The lawsuit arose out of a lawsuit filed by Alabama Attorney General John M. Patterson, who claimed the civil rights organization had harmed the state’s reputation by promoting the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the admission of Autherine Lucy to the University of Alabama. 

Justices wrote that requiring the NAACP to turn over membership lists would violate the First Amendment, which promises the freedom of association. 

“It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as [other] forms of governmental action,” the justices wrote. In the past, such exposures had led to members suffering “economic reprisals, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion and other manifestations of public hostility,” the justices wrote. 

The ruling proved a great victory for the civil rights organization, which enabled it to continue operating in Alabama.

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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.