Raymond Pace Alexander Papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center [Contact Us]3401 Market Street, Suite 210, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
A native Philadelphian, he was born in 1897 into a large working class family. His mother died shortly after the birth of his youngest sibling, and Raymond was self-supporting from the age of twelve. He graduated from Central High School in 1917; entered the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1917; graduated from the Wharton School in 1920 and from Harvard Law School in June 1923.
He was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar and entered practice in August 1923, specializing in criminal law. He began his career in the office of John R.K. Scott, a successful trial lawyer. In November, 1923, he married Sadie Tanner Mossell. Mrs. Alexander joined her husband's practice after she obtained her law degree in 1927. In the late 'twenties, Raymond established his own offices in rented quarters on Chestnut Street, remaining there until 1935, when he moved into the new building he had built at 1900 Chestnut Street in Center City. Between 1924 and 1950, he served as an advocate in a number of important civil cases involving issues of racial discrimination and segregation in public accommodations. He was also a defense attorney in numerous criminal cases, many of which involved a racial aspect or civil rights issue. Some of his cases were highly sensational and his success in litigation brought him a great deal of publicity.
From 1949 to 1951, he was active in the Clark- Dilworth reform democratic movement, supporting the Home Rule Charter for Philadelphia. In 1951, he won election to City Council under the new charter. He was re-elected to Council in 1955. From 1952 to 1956, he chaired the Committee on Recreation, and from 1956 to 1959, the Committee on Public Property and Public Works. In January, 1959, he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Court of Common Pleas No. 4 by Governor George M. Leader. He was elected to a full ten-year term on the Court in the following November. After his term expired in 1970, he continued in the capacity of Senior Judge until his death in 1974.
RPA I: Biographical and Autobiographical. (5 cu. ft. and oversized items.) The first two subseries include a number of articles and resumes which review RPA's career, including important cases (see, in particular, "A Short Summary of the Life and Activities of Raymond Pace Alexander"). A third subseries provides documentation of RPA's international travels (1931- 1973). The bulk of the series (over 4 cu. ft.) consists of boxed clippings and other scrapbook material (bulk dates 1959, 1973-5). In addition, there are a number of oversized scrapbooks (1917-70 with gaps).
RPA II: Personal Correspondence. (3 cu. ft.) Correspondence with STMA (mostly mid-1950s), other family members (1940s-60s), and J. Turner Layton, who was probably RPA's closest friend (1940-70), make up about 1 cu. ft. The remainder of the series is made up of miscellaneous and unsorted correspondence (1 cu. ft.; 1935-74) and greeting cards (1 cu. ft.; late 1930s- 74).
RPA III: General Correspondence. (8 cu. ft.; 1935-74.) Primarily miscellaneous and unsorted correspondence. The series includes some correspondence with family members and papers pertaining to professional and civic activities; a preliminary cross-referencing of this material has been provided. The material is arranged in preliminary chronological order without subseries divisions. At the end of the series are several folders of condolences received by the family after RPA's death.
RPA IV: Professional Correspondence. (2 cu. ft.; 1935-70.) Primarily material pertaining to RPA's management of his professional and political career, including his early efforts to secure a judicial appointment (1937 and 1949-52) and his campaigns for City Council (1951) and the Court of Common Pleas (1959), and his retirement from the bench and continuation as Senior Judge (1969-70). The series also contains papers pertaining to clerkships and masterships in the law and various other activities related to the legal profession but not directly related to RPA's practice, his position on the bench, or his membership in professional organizations.
RPA V: Financial Records. (6 cu. ft.; 1926-76.) Primarily material pertaining to personal finances as opposed to those of the law practice, which are housed in RPA VII.C and D. Miscellaneous records (brokerage statements, mixed receipts, bank statements and canceled checks, tax returns, insurance, and expenditures for the children), together with a number of general ledgers, account for a little over 3 cu. ft. The years between about 1940 and 1974 appear to be covered fairly well, with some records going back as early as 1926. The series also contains records pertaining to Skywater Farm, the Alexanders' country home near Coatesville (1944-1962; approx. 2/3 cu. ft.); 1900 Chestnut Street, the building built by RPA which his office were located after 1935, when it was completed (1934-1972; 1/2 cu. ft.); miscellaneous real estate, mostly mortgages and investment property (1926-59; 1/2 cu. ft.); and wills, estate, and trust (1960-1983, bulk dates 1974-76; 1/2 cu. ft.)
RPA VI: Education. (1/2 cu. ft.; 1917-74.) Material pertaining to Central High School, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard Law School. The bulk of the series pertains to Harvard Law School. A few items date from RPA's years as a student; the bulk of the series pertains to RPA's activities as an alumnus, in particular, to contributions, fundraising, and reunions. The series also includes a number of articles by and about RPA published in the alumni journals of his alma maters.
RPA VII: Law Practice and Related Professional Papers. (6 cu. ft.) The bulk of the series is made up of financial records (2 cu. ft.; 1926-74; bulk dates 1935-59) and office diaries, appointment books, message books, and the like (4 cu. ft.; 1924-52). The series contains a number of summary records (internal memoranda, dockets, ledgers, etc.) that may be useful in gaining an overview of the history of the practice (see also RPA I).
RPA VIII: Legal Issues and Actions. (30 cu. ft.; bulk dates 1940-58.) This is the largest series in the collection. Almost half its bulk is in the miscellaneous category (a few folders at most per client). The most significant cases represented here are the Girard College case (4 1/2 cu. ft.; bulk dates 1942-67), which led to the desegregation of a privately endowed free school for white orphan boys; and the Trenton Six case (3 cu.; 1948- 51), in which six black men stood trial for five and a half months in what was then the longest murder trial in American history. The AME Bishops case (1 1/2 cu. ft.; bulk dates 1946-47) involved the ouster of an AME Bishop by certain of his colleagues. Pearl and Benjamin Mason (approx. 3 2/3 cu. ft.; 1939-71) were Irish Sweepstakes winners who, under RPA's management, financed mortgages and built the Frances Plaza Apartments, a pioneering privately-financed low-income housing project, at 20th and Lombard Streets. Rose Carina 1/4 cu. ft.; 1939-40) was the "Arsenic Widow" whom RPA successfully defended in a sensational trial involving a murder- by-contract racket. Other clients represented in individual subseries include RPA's close friend, the popular songwriter J. Turner Layton 1/4 cu. ft.; 1939-60), and STMA's uncle, the painter Henry O. Tanner (less than 1 cu. ft.; 1924-29, 1937).
RPA IX: City Council. (6 cu. ft.; 1952-59.) Contains a large number of subseries pertaining to a variety of specific issues. The largest cluster of subseries relates to the business of the Committee on Recreation, which RPA chaired from 1952 to 1956 (approx. 2 cu. ft.). A number of other subseries(incinerator; municipal facilities; transportation; zoning, planning, and development) probably relate to the Committee on Public Property and Public Works, which RPA chaired from 1956 to 1959.
RPA X: Court of Common Pleas. (10 cu. ft.; 1959-74.) The major part of this series (6 cu. ft.) consists of records and papers relating to judicial issues and actions; the remainder is made up primarily of administrative papers and financial records (2 cu. ft.) and message books and office diaries (3 cu. ft.). The most significant of the issues and actions files are the grand juries of 1961-62 dealing with the City Hall payola scandals, and the Community Legal Services case (1966-67), a landmark case in establishing government- supported legal services for the poor.
RPA XI: Other Government Service. (3 cu. ft.; 1944-68.) RPA was named Honorary Consul of Haiti in Philadelphia in 1946 and represented Haiti in the settlement of its war debt and in other litigation. The papers relating to the Haitian Consulate (2/3 cu. ft.; 1946-56) consists primarily of correspondence, with some clippings and ephemera. In 1949-50, RPA was sent to Germany by the Department of Defense to report on the situation of black soldiers in the occupation forces. He reported again on blacks in the armed forces in 1963 (3 folders). During the 1960s, he made several international goodwill tours (of Scandinavia , India and Southeast Asia , Vietnam , and the Middle East  under the auspices of the State Department (approximately 1 1/2 cu. ft, more than half of which relates to the Middle East tour).
RPA XII: Legal Organizations. (6 cu. ft.; 1929-73.) RPA was active in World Peace through Law (3 1/2 cu. ft.) from 1963 until 1973. The WPTL subseries contains primarily material pertaining to the several WPTL international conferences RPA attended during these years. About half the WPTL papers relate to the 1973 conference in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, when RPA was active in organizing the International Legal Education Section. RPA's papers relating to the National Bar Association (2 cu. ft.; 1929-74 but dropping in bulk after 1943 and showing gaps and clumps thereafter) should be of considerable historical interest. The NBA was the black parallel organization to the American Bar Association, which did not admit blacks until 1952. RPA served the NBA as its president from 1930 to 1934. He was also co-founder of the National Bar Journal and its associate editor for four years (ca. 1936). A smaller subseries devoted to the American Bar Association (12 folders) includes correspondence relating to the ABA's rejection of RPA's application for membership in 1947 and leading to his eventual admission (ca. 1952).
RPA XIII: Civic Organizations. (4 2/3 cu. ft.) RPA belonged to and took a more or less active interest in a large number of civic organizations. This series is composed of sixteen subseries devoted to individual organizations (3 2/3 cu. ft.) and one miscellaneous subseries (1 cu. ft.). Most of the organizations RPA was most active in were exclusively black. A number of them, such as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, were primarily concerned with promoting awareness of the cultural heritage of African-Americans. To single out one other organization, the papers relating to the Philadelphia Cotillion Society should be of interest to researchers interested in the social world of the black elite.
RPA XIV: Clubs and Social Groups. (2 2/3 cu. ft.) One subseries dominates this series -- that of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, Alpha Boule. RPA at one time served as National Vice President of Sigma Pi Phi (n.d.). He also held an annual summer entertainment for the Alpha Boule at Skywater [1945-57]. See RPA XVIII for photographs. RPA was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, perhaps the most prestigious black fraternal organization.
RPA XV: Writings, Publications, and Speeches. (5 1/2 cu. ft.; 1923-73.) The inventory for this series itemizes a large number of individual writings and speeches, including many published articles. A number of folders containing source materials are also interfiled here, in keeping with RPA's practice. The series is arranged in chronological order without subseries divisions.
RPA XVI: Certificates, Honors, and Awards. (3 1/2 cu. ft. and additional oversized objects; 1912-75; initial bulk date 1950.) Diplomas and law credentials (1912-47); citations, awards and testimonials with related papers (approx. 2/3 cu. ft.; 1939-1975); plaques, trophies, and presentation flatware (3 cu. ft.; 1932-75). Among the most significant honors awarded to RPA was the testimonial banquet given in his honor by the John M. Langston Law Club and the Barristers Law Club in 1951.
RPA XVII: Memorabilia and Regalia. (1 cu. ft.) Lodge regalia (n.d.), judicial regalia and accouterments (1959 and after), and other memorabilia.
RPA XVIII: Audio-Visual Material. (7 cu. ft.; ca. 1880-1974.) The Alexander Papers include a large number of photographic prints, color transparencies, and 16 mm film. Many items were found undated and unlabelled. An effort has been made to identify and date this material as specifically as possible. The subseries are arranged in preliminary chronological order. There are many good portraits and occasional scenes (many of them taken professionally), as well as candid and posed snapshots, among the photographs.
RPA XIX: Family and Genealogy. (1 cu. ft.) Papers relating to various members of the Alexander family.
RPA XX: Books, Journals and Magazines. (5 cu. ft.) Material pertaining to RPA's alma maters, the legal profession, and African-American history and affairs, including 27 issues of the Journal of Negro History.
The Raymond Pace Alexander Papers are organized into twenty series:
Gift of the Alexander family, 1987.
- National Bar Association
- Philadelphia Fellowship Commission
- Girard College -- Form subdivision--Trials, litigation, etc.;
- Mount Lawn Cemetery (Sharon Hill, Pa.)
- Sigma Pi Phi
- World Peace Through Law Center
- African Methodist Episcopal Church
- Attorney and client -- United States
- African Americans -- Social life and customs -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- Practice of law -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- History -- 1964 -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- History -- 1877-1964 -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- Segregation -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- Professional education -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African American judges -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- Civil rights -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- Trenton Six Trial, Trenton, N.J., 1948-1951
- Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Social life and customs
- Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Politics and government -- 1865-
- Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History
- University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Thomas G. Potterfield, Maureen B. Spectre, and Theresa R. Snyder, assisted by Susan M. Jenkins
- Finding Aid Date
- November 2015
- Access Restrictions
Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Center.