Arthur Brann Caldwell served in several capacities with the federal government over nearly four decades, including as an assistant to a U.S. senator and a U.S. vice president and as an officer in the Department of War. He also had a long career as a lawyer and administrator with the Department of Justice.
A. B. Caldwell was born on September 1, 1906, in Mammoth Spring (Fulton County) to John Caldwell and Margaret Sterling Caldwell; he had one sibling. Caldwell’s father served as assistant attorney general of Arkansas before he became librarian of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Caldwell attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where he was very active in Glee Club and other musical groups and served in campus leadership roles. Arkansas’s senior U.S. senator, Joe T. Robinson, gave the commencement address when Caldwell graduated in 1929 with a BA in law. At a reception on the Old Main lawn, Robinson asked Caldwell to come to Washington DC to work in his office and suggested that, while there, Caldwell could attend law school night classes. Caldwell became an employee of the U.S. Senate two weeks later.
After Sen. Robinson became majority leader after the election in 1932, Caldwell became an administrative aide in Vice President John Garner’s office near the Senate chamber. There, Caldwell witnessed many of the seminal discussions that led to passage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative agenda. While working for the vice president, Caldwell completed his law studies at George Washington University Law School and then joined the Department of Justice.
Caldwell married Mary Erickson; the couple had three children.
During World War II, Caldwell served in the Japanese Section within the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department. He helped coordinate intelligence efforts relating to Japan under the direction of the chief of staff and assessed Japanese Americans’ loyalty for possible service in the U.S. war effort. Caldwell attained the rank of major in the U.S. Army and was awarded the Legion of Merit. Caldwell wrote a manuscript history of the Japanese Section before leaving the War Department; it is available in the Special Collections department of the University of Arkansas Libraries. After the war, Caldwell returned to the Department of Justice and also briefly served as the assistant district attorney for the District of Columbia.
Caldwell was head of the Civil Rights Section of the Department of Justice from 1952 to 1957 under the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower administrations. He often worked behind the scenes on these issues, including integration controversies in his home state of Arkansas. While Caldwell was with the Civil Rights Section, the Justice Department intervened for the first time in a school integration suit when it aided the school board of Hoxie (Lawrence County) with implementing an injunction against segregationist groups that were intimidating school board members and other citizens. By October 1957, Hoxie had successfully and permanently integrated its schools.
Caldwell represented the federal government in conferences with Governor Orval Faubus during the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis of 1957 and 1958. Caldwell was also closely involved in efforts to prepare the civil rights legislation of 1957 and 1960. Caldwell completed much of the initial drafts of the 1957 Civil Rights Act and advised congressional leaders and members of the Justice Department throughout the process of creating more federal authority to enforce civil rights laws. At speaking engagements and in interviews about his work as part of the Civil Rights Section, Caldwell often said, “Freedom is everybody’s business.”
Caldwell was instrumental in the efforts of the Civil Rights Section in directing J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to pursue criminal allegations of civil rights violations. Caldwell then served as assistant to the assistant attorney general of civil rights in the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations until he retired as senior staff attorney in 1968.
An expert on numerous aspects of domestic and international law and policy, Caldwell was a lecturer for the Department of Justice for several years. He spoke and provided instruction to the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, the Fulbright Scholar orientation programs, the Agency for International Development, the Brookings Institution, and numerous other organizations and universities. Caldwell frequently corresponded with elected officials and other members of government service at every level, from county and city administrations to U.S. senators and ambassadors. In 1974, Caldwell contributed memoranda and served as an expert witness to the Watergate hearings.
As his career with the Department of Justice ended, Caldwell was able to serve his local community and pursue his interest in history and genealogy. Caldwell was elected to the Citizens’ Committee of Martin’s Additions to the Village of Chevy Chase, Maryland. He was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Society of Colonial Wars, and the Jamestown Society. His support for the County Line School and Lodge in Fulton County, Arkansas, where his father had attended school, helped in its addition to the National Register of Historic Places. Caldwell published a genealogical study of his family in 1978 titled Leonard Farrar, 1761–1836: Some Ancestors and Some Descendants.
Caldwell died on June 18, 1987, in Maryland; his wife died in 2003. In 1991, law professor Michal R. Belknap published portions of Caldwell’s archives of the early civil rights era as Justice Department Civil Rights Policies Prior to 1960: Crucial Documents from the Files of Arthur Brann Caldwell.
For additional information:
Arthur Brann Caldwell Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“Arthur Caldwell, Retired Justice Attorney, Dies.” Washington Post, June 21, 1987.
Caldwell, Arthur Brann. Justice Department Civil Rights Policies Prior to 1960: Crucial Documents from the Files of Arthur Brann Caldwell. Introduction by Michal R. Belknap. New York: Garland, 1991.
———. Leonard Farrar, 1761–1836: Some Ancestors and Some Descendants. Chevy Chase, MD: A. B. Caldwell, 1978.
Carpenter, Elizabeth. “Native of State Doing Good Job for Civil Rights.” Arkansas Gazette, September 8, 1957, p. 5F.
Joshua Cobbs Youngblood
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville