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Buck Dinner Committee Records

Identifier: LR001830

Scope and Content

This collection consists of the records of the Buck Dinner Committee, which organizes the annual Buck Dinner and reviews grant applications for the distribution of raised funds to organizations who advocate peace, justice and civil rights. The bulk of the records pertain to the planning of dinners, donation requests, distribution of funds and committee finances from 1966 to 2002. A few records originate from the committee’s partner organizations such as the National Lawyers’ Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union. Documents include meeting agendas and minutes, dinner guest lists, correspondence, expense and budget reports, donation requests, fund distributions to organizations and invitation forms. Donation requests are often attached to reports that detail the recent activities of the requesting organization. Folder 1-18 contains a photograph of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi meeting with representatives from Empty Bowls and Oxfam America. The collection is organized into one series, General Files, 1966-2002.


  • 1966 - 2002



Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Originating as a spontaneous evening meal in the winter of 1929, labor lawyer Maurice Sugar and wife, Jane Sugar, gathered their friends and served venison, sang songs and paid fifty cents each to a fund for the unemployed. The event developed into an annual meal with the purpose of supporting organizations dedicated to equality and social justice. Maurice Sugar described the purpose of the Buck Dinner as providing financial support to organizations that are unlikely to receive help from conventional sources. Continuing as of 2018, the procedure for these dinners involves “Head Hunters” inviting guests and encouraging them to donate. During the Great Depression, unemployment and hunger were the two main causes for donations. The Buck Dinner’s number of participants grew as unionization struggles and the rise of fascism in the 1930s influenced workers, teachers and labor organizers to join. Some prominent labor organizers who were Buck Dinner guests included George Addes, Dick Frankensteen, Percy Lewellyn and Leo LaMotte.

In the post-World War II years, entertainment at the dinner included political skits featuring George Shapiro and folk dancing led by Blanche Shafarman. In 1949, the cast of the Broadway musical "Finian’s Rainbow" joined the Buck Dinner following a show at the Cass Theater. Entertainment during the 1950s often included political humor in the form of songs such as "I want a job in the Cabinet, I’ve got a Million Dollars."

The 1950s was a time of crisis for the Buck Dinner as attendance and contributions from its members declined due to Congress's House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, job firings and deportation proceedings. Recipients of Buck Dinner contributions included the Michigan Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. As McCarthyism waned, support from the Buck Dinner shifted more toward organizations involved in the Civil Rights Movement at the end of the 1950s. Among the supported organizations were the Southern Conference Education Fund, the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As the United States became increasingly involved in Vietnam, organizations opposed to the war such as Women Strike for Peace received contributions. By 1966, some organizations such as the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) were ongoing recipients. These two organizations continue to receive annual funding as of 2018.

Following Maurice Sugar’s death in 1974, Ernest Goldman and Michael Miller were made dinner chairman and co-chairman respectively. By the fiftieth anniversary of the Buck Dinner (1979), participants included Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Ed Sadlowski of the United Steelworkers of America, and Chilean freedom fighters Luis Meneses and George Frias. By 1991, the Buck Dinner had grown to twenty headhunters bringing in three hundred guests. The headhunters would sit with ten to twenty guests at a table and compete with other tables to donate the largest amount. Typical recipients of donations include organizations advocating civil rights, women’s issues, and peace and justice in Central America.


3 Linear Feet (3 SB)


Labor lawyer Maurice Sugar established the Buck Dinner in 1929. Meeting annually in locations throughout metropolitan Detroit, the Buck Dinner Committee provides financial support to advocacy groups involved in civil rights, equality and social justice. Each year the committee picks “Head Hunters” to invite guests to these dinners to donate money. After they collect funds, the committee meets to decide which organizations need money to continue their activities. A sampling of recipient organizations includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Congress of Racial Equality and the National Lawyers Guild. The committee remains active as of 2018 and continues to provide financial support to social advocacy groups.


The collection is arranged in 1 series (Boxes 1-3). Folders in the series are arranged chronologically, except for the folders related to partner organizations, which are grouped together and are arranged alphabetically.


Collection was donated by Leonard Grossman to the Walter P. Reuther Library in January and April 2004.

Related Materials

Maurice Sugar Papers

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Nathaniel Arndts on March 14, 2018.



Guide to Buck Dinner Committee Records
Nathaniel Arndts
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