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David S. Burgess Papers

Identifier: LP001610

Scope and Content

The David S. Burgess Collection consists of correspondence, reports, speeches, published and unpublished articles and other material related to Mr. Burgess's careers in the ministry, the labor movement and the U.S. Foreign Service and UNICEF in Asia.

Important subjects in the collection:

Church and labor--United States City churches--New Jersey--Newark Board of Home Missions of the Congregational and Christian Churches Congress of Industrial Organizations--U.S.--Southern States Delmo Labor Homes Project Fellowship of Southern Churchmen India--Economic conditions, 1947- India--Foreign relations--United States India-Pakistan Conflict, 1971 Metropolitan Ecumenical Ministry Migrant agricultural laborers--United States Newark (N.J.)--Social conditions Peace Corps (U.S.)--Indonesia Sociology, Christian Southern Tenant Farmers Union UNICEF--Thailand United Church of Christ

Important correspondents in the collection:

Chester Bowles Reinhold Niebuhr Victor Reuther Walter Reuther

Series Description: Series I, Personal Files, 1937-1994: Family and other personal correspondence, biographical information and published and unpublished articles authored by Mr. Burgess. Much of the record of his life is contained in his correspondence with his mother, especially during his years of U.S. government service in Asia.

Series II, Career Files, 1936-1992: Correspondence, reports, daily journals, flyers, pamphlets and other publications documenting Mr. Burgess's education and career in the ministry, labor movement, U.S. foreign service, UNICEF and related organizational affiliations.


  • 1936 - 1944


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


David S. Burgess was born June 15, 1917 in New York City, but spent his childhood in China with his missionary parents, John Stewart Burgess and Stella Cornelia Fisher Burgess. He received a B.A. from Oberlin College in 1939 and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in 1944, where he studied with Reinhold Niebuhr.

While at Union in 1941, he met and married Berea College student and National Intercollegiate Christian Council co-chair Alice Stevens. Together they spent a year ministering to migrant workers in New Jersey and south Florida and after Burgess's ordination into the Congregational and Christian Churches (later the United Church of Christ) in 1944 and his posting as chaplain to the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, to poor farmers and agricultural workers in Arkansas and southeast Missouri. In 1947 Burgess resigned from the CCC Board of Missions to go directly into labor organizing for the CIO in the South.

In 1955, on Walter Reuther's recommendation, Burgess was appointed labor attache at the American Embassy in India, where he remained until 1960. Over the next seventeen years he held senior positions with the Indonesia-Burma Division of USAID, the Peace Corps program in Indonesia and with UNICEF in Thailand.

Returning to the United States in 1977, Burgess was hired two years later as joint pastor of two struggling Newark, New Jersey UCC churches, Zion and St. Stephan's. Until his retirement in 1990, he also headed up the Metropolitan Ecumenical Ministry, a multi-denominational organization advocating for community improvement in Newark. His autobiography, Fighting for Social Justice, was published by Wayne State University Press in 2000.


3.25 Linear Feet (6 MB, 1 folder)


Originally serving as a minister to migrant workers through the Congregational and Christian Churches (CCC) Board of Missions, David Burgess became a labor organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), where he was appointed labor attaché to India’s American Embassy in 1955. This appointment led to various senior positions with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Peace Corps program in Indonesia and with the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Thailand. Mr. Burgess’ papers relate to his work in the ministry, the labor movement and the U.S. Foreign Service and UNICEF in Asia.


Arranged in 2 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-3), and Series 2 (Boxes 3-6). Folders are arranged alphabetically.


The papers of David S. Burgess were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs between 1994 and 2001 by Mr. Burgess.

Related Materials

CIO Political Action Committee; George L-P. Weaver; CIO Washington Office; Morris Weisz; Franz Daniel; Claude Williams; Charles Orr [Part 2]; Victor Reuther; UAW International Affairs Department: Victor Reuther and Lewis Carliner


Some photographs received with the collection have been transferred to the Archives Audiovisual Department and a copy of David Burgess's autobiography, Fighting for Social Justice, has been placed in the Archives Library.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in 2002.
Guide to the David S. Burgess Papers
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA