James A. Dombrowski Papers, 1918-1983


James Dombrowski was born in Tampa, Florida in 1897. After serving in France in World War I, he attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he graduated in 1923. At Emory Dombrowski organized the Alumni Association, served as its executive secretary, and edited the Emory Alumnus. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York with a bachelor of divinity degree and received a Ph.D. in philosophy at Columbia University. Dombrowski's doctoral dissertation, The Early Days of Christian Socialism in America, was published by Columbia University Press in 1940. He did graduate work at the University of California and Harvard, was a Rosenwald Fellow and Kent Fellow of the National Council on Religion in Higher Education, and taught Christian ethics at Union.

During his education, Dombrowski became active in social causes. He went to Elizabethton, Tennessee, and Gastonia, North Carolina, during textile strikes and was jailed as a suspect and later released in the killing of the Gastonia chief of police. From 1934 to 1941, Dombrowski served as staff director of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, and then joined the staff of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare as executive secretary. When this organization went out of existence after World War II, Dombrowski and others continued its educational wing, the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). During his tenure as executive director, he was active in the struggle against segregation and helped hold the organization together through the McCarthy era. Troubled by painful arthritis, Dombrowski hoped to retire in 1963, but in that year the New Orleans offices of SCEF were raided by state and local police and the organization's records were confiscated. Dombrowski and other SCEF officials were charged with violating Louisiana's anti-subversive law. Dombrowski and SCEF filed suit on the grounds that their first amendment rights had been violated. After several years of litigation, the organization's files were released by court order in April 1965. Dombrowski and SCEF won a legal victory in 1968 when the Supreme Court struck down large sections of the Louisiana law.

Dombrowski retired as SCEF executive director early in 1966 and was replaced by Carl and Anne Braden. He remained active in SCEF, however, in the post of special consultant. After his retirement, Dombrowski pursued his love of art. He attended the John McCrady Art School and produced paintings, drawings, and posters. His work, which reflected his interests in social causes, was exhibited at the University of New Orleans in 1976. From 1974 to 1978, Dombrowski held annual distributions of his artwork at which friends were invited to choose a Dombrowski piece to display in their homes for one year. Dombrowski died in April 1983.