The late Gordon D. Hall did not have the sort of privileged youth from which great things were anticipated to emerge. Born the youngest of nine children in an impoverished Queens family. Hall’s father passed away when he was less than a year old. His older siblings fled home as soon as they were able, leaving Gordon behind to care for their alcoholic mother. He left school at 15 to get a job, and never had the opportunity to finish high school or attend college. His first encounter with the larger world was during his Army service in the Aleutians during World War II, where he met writer Dashiell Hammett and other left-leaning intellectuals. Exposure to their ideas on society and governance both repelled him and made him curious to know more about the world, and he began to read voraciously.
The Hall-Hoag collection, as such, began when Hall returned home from the war and first encountered U.S. domestic hate groups. Appalled by their ideology and beliefs Hall came to the determination that groups at both the far left and far right of American society were a danger to democracy and good government, and he set out on a plan to combat them. Hall began to infiltrate and investigate these groups and actively collected their printed propaganda After a few years as an investigator for the Friends of Democracy, an anti-totalitarian group, he was struck out on his own as a freelance researcher. He supported this research by giving public lectures about the dangers posed by radical extremist and hate groups in which he used their propaganda as evidence of their ideology and activities. A firm believer in the Constitutional framework of American governance and the open society it created, Hall took it as his mission to educate ordinary Americans about extremist groups and their activities so they they could make informed decisions about them. Collecting and lecturing on these groups became Gordon Hall’s life work. By the late 1960’s he had recruited a circle of like-minded volunteers to help in his collection efforts.
Grace Hoag, an alumna of Smith College and mother of five, was among those helpers and collaborators. After attending one of Hall’s lectures in the late 1960s, Hoag signed up to volunteer. She and others attended meetings and rallies of various groups and brought back their literature. Some volunteers took photographs for Hall to add to his research files. Hoag also assisted Hall in sorting and organizing the materials retrieved by the helpers from the meetings they attended. Although the original focus was on extremist groups, during the most active years of collecting Hall and Hoag began to see another trend emerge: groups that were not yet extremist, but might at some point turn in that direction. They labeled these groups “dissenting” and began to add their literature to the collection. As Hoag would later write,
“This change in collection strategy became necessary as we came to understand how tricky it was to determine where a group was heading politically and where its ultimate destination might lie. A seemingly innocuous pro-life organization could turn disturbingly violent, threatening to firebomb clinics or assassinate medical professionals; an antiwar group might vent frustrations through physical showdowns with local police or attacks on private property. As a consequence we expanded our focus to encompass more than just the far right and extreme left.”
In the mid-1980s, as he reached retirement age, Hall approached Brown seeking to sell his collection. Brown agreed to a long-term purchase arrangement, in which Hall would be paid in quarterly installments over a period of ten years. In return, Hall agreed to organize and arrange the collection according to a schema he had developed for categorizing the groups from which he had collected the propaganda over the proceeding four decades. Hoag play an instrumental role in this process, helping Hall pour over the materials, weed duplicates and make lists. In this process, she created a database that became the nucleus for the collection’s existing online find aid for Part I of the collection.
The work involved to complete the contracted task was detailed and exhausting, and Hall, now in ill health, soon feel far behind schedule in making deliveries to Brown. At the time of his death in 2002, 150,000 pieces had been delivered to Brown, representing only a third of the collection. Brown completed the task of arranging and describing the materials that Hall and Hoag had delivered, and converted Hoag’s database into an extensive online finding aid for the collection. However, the remaining two-thirds of the collection lay, unsorted, in 800 moving boxes stored at the Univeristy of Akron. In 2006, these unsorted boxes were brought to Brown, and the process of sorting, documenting and organizing the materials began.
Biographical note by Holly Snyder.
- Atkin, Stephen. “From Chirstian Identity to Neo-Nazi Extremism” (Introduction to the guide for Part II of the Primary Source Microfilm set drawn from the Hall Hoag Collection at Brown), pp.xi-xv.
- Atkin, Stephen “Politics on the Fringe” (Introduction to the guide for Part I of the Primary Source Microfilm set drawn from the Hall Hoag Collection at Brown), pp.xi-xvi.
- Hall, Gordon D. “Extremism: Sickness of the Sixties,” reprinted from Boston Magazine (October 1964).
- Hall, Gordon D. The Hate Campaign Against the U.N.: One World Under Attack (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952).
- Hoag, Grace Griffith. “Collecting at the Extremems” (Foreword to the guides for Parts I and II of the Primary Scource Microfilm set drawn from the Hall Hoag Collection at Brown), pp. vi-x.
- Tunley, Raoul. “Battler Against Bigotry,” Saturday Evening Post. no. 44 (December 8, 1962), pp. 28-35.