Descriptive inventory for the Max Naiman papers, 1923-1975

Max Naiman papers

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Descriptive inventory for the Max Naiman papers, 1923-1975

Prepared by Lee C. Fosburgh, 1994; rev. by Christopher Tounsel, 2000; Gretchen Neidhardt, 2017.
Processed with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Title II-C Program.
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Instructions for accessing this collection

Collection Overview +/-

Title: Max Naiman papers, 1923-1975 (inclusive)
Creators: Max Naiman
American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born
Civil Rights Congress (U.S.)
Civil Rights Congress of Illinois
Cook County Bar Association
Illinois Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
International Labor Defense
Jewish Cultural Club of Chicago
Midwest Committee for Protection of Foreign Born (Chicago, Ill.)
National Lawyers Guild
Progressive Party of Illinois
Dates: 1923-1975 (inclusive)
Bib number: 00066462
Call number: MSS Lot N
Size: 9 linear feet (22 boxes)
Language of material:Collection is written in English.

Provenance statement:

Gift of Max Naiman (M1975.0235).

Terms governing use:

Copyright may be retained by the creators of items, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law, unless otherwise noted.


This collection is open for research use.

Please cite this collection as:

Max Naiman papers (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and box/folder number of a specific item.

Additional Materials +/-

Separated material:

Separated materials at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include the Max Naiman photograph collection (M1975.0235). Publications and a Max Naiman 39th ward aldermanic campaign poster were transferred to the Library. Miscellaneous political campaign buttons; including several from the Communist Party and the Illinois Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade; plaques; and stickers were transferred to Decorative and Industrial Arts.

Collection Summary +/-

Correspondence and career papers of Max R. Naiman, and a much larger lot of topical files that contain reports, fliers, brochures, mailings, and some correspondence relating to Naiman's role as a lawyer and staff member of the International Labor Defense (ILD); and to his participation or interest in the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, Cook County Bar Association, Communist Party, Jewish Cultural Club of Chicago, National Lawyers Guild, Progressive Party of Illinois and other leftist, labor, and Jewish organizations in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States. Topics include Naiman's unsuccessful campaign for alderman of Chicago's 39th ward (1947, 1950) and the time he served on the resolutions committee and continuation committee of the Illinois Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (1938). Other topics include Naiman's tenure as president of the Jewish Cultural Club of Chicago from 1964-1970.

Biographical/Historical Note +/-

Max R. Naiman, a labor attorney, one-time Communist Party member, and leftist activist in Chicago (Ill.), characterized himself as "among the first and foremost in the most advanced outpost in the forward vanguard of the progressive movement and among the last in its rear guard." He was born on March 15, 1903, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Naiman. Jacob Naiman (d. February 13, 1964) immigrated to the United States from Grodno, Poland, and was joined in 1906 by his wife and son. The family settled on the northwest side of Chicago, where Jacob founded Northwest Rug and Carpet Cleaners. Jacob Naiman was a founder of the Congregation of Ezras Israel in Chicago, an Orthodox Jewish congregation.

Max Naiman did not complete high school. He left Chicago in 1918 and lived a vagabond life in the western United States. During these years, he was influenced by labor activists such as the Wobblies. Naiman told Studs Terkel: "I was a restless youth. In 1918, at the tender age of fourteen, I shocked and thrashed grain. I made three treks to the Western states. I worked the harvest fields of the Dakotas, Montana, and so on. I used to ride the rods and the blinds. I was a hostler in the freight yards of Idaho [where he serviced engines at the end of a run]. I met the Wobblies. I lived in jungles. They were great education centers."

Naiman resumed his formal education at the age of twenty-one and soon acquired the equivalent of a high school education through self-study and night classes at Hoffman Preparatory School. He passed a qualifying examination and was admitted to John Marshall Law School in June of 1932. He received his law degree and passed the federal and Illinois bar exams in 1933.

Interested in labor law, Naiman volunteered his legal services and later joined the paid legal staff of the International Labor Defense (ILD) in the spring of 1933. The ILD consist of twenty-eight attorneys who aided people penalized for working for workers' rights. Naiman said "The ILD would defend anyone engaged in struggle. As far as I know, it did not discriminate concerning one's politics. They would often refer to them as Communists. I never stopped to ask". As a lawyer and later chairman for the ILD, Naiman defended the rights of workers to organize, speak, publish freely, and assemble. Naiman stated that he "It was my practice in those days, trusting very few judges, to always demand a jury trial. The jury found my clients not guilty."

In 1938, Naiman was elected to the Resolutions Committee of the Illinois Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He later served on the Continuation Committee, which worked with trade unions in order to get jobs for volunteers returning from the Spanish Civil War.

Naiman served from 1946 to around 1951 as committeeman for the Progressive Party in Chicago's 39th ward. In 1947, he ran for alderman of the 39th ward and was defeated. In 1950, Naiman again ran, later withdrawing and casting his support for the incumbent alderman H.L. Brody.

Naiman was an active figure within Chicago's Jewish community. From 1964 to 1970 he was president of the Jewish Cultural Club of Chicago. For his dedicated service, Naiman received the Jewish Cultural Club of Chicago's Award of Honor in 1967.

Naiman was also a founding delegate to the Civil Rights Congress as well as a member of the Congress's legal staff and executive board. Lawyers' organizations in which Naiman participated included the National Lawyers Guild and the Cook County Bar of Illinois. It is also said that Naiman was the original after whom Richard Wright created the lawyer, Max, in his novel, Native Son. Naiman died ca. 1975.

Catalog Subject Headings +/-

Communism--United States--20th Century
Election districts--Illinois--Chicago--39th Ward
Jewish leadership--Illinois--Chicago--20th Century
Jews--Illinois--Chicago--20th Century
Lawyers--Illinois--Chicago--20th Century
Polish Americans--Illinois--Chicago--20th Century
Prisoners--Civil rights
Radicalism--20th Century
Working Class--Illinois--Chicago--20th Century
Davis, Angela.
Lightfoot, Claude M.--1910-1991
Naiman, Max, 1903-[1975]--Archives
American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born
Civil Rights Congress (U.S.)
Civil Rights Congress of Illinois
Communist Party of the United States of America
Cook County Bar Association (Ill.)
Illinois Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
International Labor Defense
Jewish Cultural Club of Chicago
Midwest Committee for Protection of Foreign Born (Chicago, Ill.)
National Lawyers Guild
Progressive Party of Illinois
Smith Act Families Committee (Chicago, Ill.)
Spain--Ejercito Popular de la Republica--Abraham Lincoln Battalion
United States--Alien Registration Act, 1940.
United States--Congress--House--Committee on Un-American Activities
Newspaper clippings
Albany park (Chicago, Ill.: Community area)
Chicago (Ill.)--Politics and government--20th Century
Spain--History--Civil War, 1936-1939--Participation, American
United States--Politics and government--20th Century

Organization and Arrangement of Collection +/-

The collection is arranged in 2 series.

Click on heading to view series description.

Series 1. Career papers, 1923-1974 (boxes 1-2)
Series 2. Topical files, 1929-1975 (boxes 3-22)

About This Finding Aid +/-

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Stephanie Wilson and Dana Lamparello using Oxygen Editor, 2016.
Language: Finding aid is written in English.
Other Finding Aids: Finding aid also submitted to the Explore Chicago Collections portal.
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