[Return to the Table of Contents]

Register of the Papers of



10 inches

MSS 32


Shawn Weldon

January 1981


Edwin J. Lukas was a lawyer, author, criminologist, college lecturer, and civil rights activist.  He engaged in private law practice in New York City from 1924 to 1941.  In 1942 he joined the New York Society for the Prevention of Crime, where he served as executive director and general counsel.  He left the Society in 1950 to join the American Jewish Committee (AJC), serving as general counsel and heading the civil rights and social action department.  Lukas retired from the AJC in 1968.  While with the American Jewish Committee, Lukas was an early advocate of the involvement of Jews in the civil rights movement.  Throughout his career, and after his retirement from the AJC, Lukas served as a lecturer at various colleges and universities on the subjects of criminology, law, and social legislation.  He also wrote extensively on the subjects of crime and civil rights.

Edwin Lukas was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on 25 January 1902, the son of Samuel William and Anna L. (Jacobs) Lukas.  He attended the University of Pittsburgh and then the Brooklyn Law School of St. Lawrence University, where he received his law degree in 1923.  He was admitted to the New York bar in 1924.  He married Elizabeth Schamberg in 1931 and had two sons, J. Anthony and Christopher William.  During the period lie was in private practice, Lukas was very active socially; however, the sudden death of his wife in 1941 triggered a profound change in his life.  During a period of isolation, in which he suffered from tuberculosis and underwent eighteen months of psychoanalysis, Lukas made the decision to abandon his private practice and devote his life to public service.

In 1942 Lukas joined the New York Society for the Prevention of Crime.  While there, he held the positions of executive director and general counsel.  He was credited with changing the direction of the Society's program from one of prevention by detention to one of prevention by concentrating on the psychological, economic, social, and political factors that lead to crime.  In the late 1940's Lukas conducted two radio programs, I Was A Convict and Criminal Case Book.  These programs used actual testimony of convicts to reveal why they turned to crime.  During his years at the Society, Lukas also wrote and coauthored several books on criminology and the youthful criminal: The Adolescent's Court Problem in New York City (1941), Probation and Psychiatric Care for the Adolescent Offender in New York City (1942), and Crime Takes But A Moment to Commit (1947).  He also coedited Contemporary Criminal Hygiene (1946).  In addition to his books, Lukas wrote many articles and pamphlets on crime and crime prevention.

In 1950 Lukas left the Society and joined the American Jewish Committee.  He served as general counsel and head of the civil rights and social action department until his retirement in 1968.  Lukas joined the AJC just as the U.S. Senate anti-Communist investigations were getting underway, and he inspired the Committee to take a hard line against this development.  He was also said to have played an important role in the commitment of the AJC to the protection of the civil rights of all citizens and not just those of the Jewish community.  He also involved the AJC in the Black civil rights movement long before many similar groups developed an interest in racial issues.  During this period, Lukas was involved professionally with civil rights cases throughout the country and personally in many of the confrontations of the 1960's.  He also helped found the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights in 1964.  This group was designed to involve lawyers in the civil rights movement, and its main purpose was to provide free legal aid to civil rights activists, especially those working in the Deep South.

Throughout his career, Lukas served as a lecturer at colleges and universities.  He was a lecturer in criminology and social legislation at City College of New York and New York University, 1948 to 1950, and at the Columbia School of Social Work, 19491958.  After his retirement from the American Jewish Committee, Lukas moved to San Francisco and became a lecturer in social science at San Francisco State College, 1968 and 1969, and at Golden Gate Law School, 1969.

Lukas was a member of the board of directors of various organizations in New York City.  Among them were the Citizens Committee on Children, the Child Adoption Committee, the Public Affairs Committee, and the Lavanburg Corner House.  He also served as president of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, 1939-1940, and was a member of the Association of the Bar of New York City.

Lukas was married a second time in the early 1950's but was divorced after about six months.  In 1957 lie married actress Betty Fields.  The couple separated in 1967 and were later divorced.  After his retirement in 1968, Lukas moved to California, where he was working on a civil rights case book for the American Jewish Committee until his death in August, 1973.


Presented by Christopher Lukas, 11 March 1975.  Accession #M7516.


The Edwin Lukas papers cover the years 1937-1973 and, though small in number, are very rich in content.  Especially well documented are certain aspects of Lukas' personal life and his work with the American Jewish Committee.  Included in the collection are correspondence, speeches, articles, book reviews, drafts from his civil rights case book, disc recordings, and photographs.  The collection is divided into three sections: general papers, writings, and photographs.

The GENERAL PAPERS section covers a variety of aspects of Lukas' personal life and career.  The correspondence files consist primarily of personal correspondence with family members and relatives.  Included is material pertaining to Lukas' sons; Betty Field; May Schamberg, the mother of Elizabeth Schamberg; and Lukas' cousin, the actor Paul Lukas.  There is also a file of general correspondence with relatives, friends, and professional colleagues.  The correspondence files reveal much about Lukas' personality and motivations, and contain considerable biographical information.  The May Schamberg file gives great insight into the pivotal years following the death of Lukas' first wife, Elizabeth Schamberg, in 1941.

Lukas' work with the Society for the Prevention of Crime is represented by only one folder containing an undated program for the Society and a report by Lukas on juvenile justice, 1945.  However, the correspondence files also contain some letters pertaining to this period of his career.

There is a fair amount of material relating to Lukas' work with the American Jewish Committee and his interest in civil rights in general.  Besides that contained in the correspondence files, there are two speeches made by Lukas which reveal much of his thinking on civil rights and the work of the AJC.  One speech was given at a testimonial dinner for Lukas in 1953; the other was given in 1967.  A file on his retirement in 1968 contains correspondence and testimonials which provide information on Lukas' work at the AJC, as well as insight into his thoughts on civil rights.  A file on social discrimination and civil rights, 1963-1969, contains material relating to cases of interest to Lukas and also a file of newspaper clippings announcing Lukas' appointment to the American Jewish Committee in April, 1950.

Documentation of other aspects of Lukas' life and career can be found in the correspondence files in this section.  There is a file on the 1968 funeral service for Jay Lavenson, a good friend of Lukas, at which Lukas delivered the memorial speech.  A disc recording of this speech as well as the transcript are located here.  There is also a disc recording containing a segment by Lukas from the radio show This I Believe, which was hosted by Edward R. Murrow and ran during the early 1950's on the CBS radio network.  On this program, individuals in various walks of life discussed their personal philosophies.

The WRITINGS section contains four articles written by Lukas while with the Society for the Prevention of Crime: "We Don't Want to Prevent Crime," "Can Psychiatry Prevent Crime," "Alcoholism and Crime," and "Shall We Prevent Crime Or The Criminal."  There are also reviews by Lukas of books related to crime and juvenile delinquency.  Most prominent in this section is correspondence about the civil rights case book Lukas was working on while in retirement and a considerable number of drafts of the individual cases to be contained in the book.  Most are on the national level, though some pertain to international cases; the majority are cases in which Lukas was personally involved.

The PHOTOGRAPHS section is not extensive.  A file on his retirement consists of photographs of Lukas and his coworkers at the American Jewish Committee, probably from 1968, as well as some from the testimonial dinner given in honor of his retirement.  There is a folder of photographs taken by Lukas during an around the world trip he took in 1970, and a group photo of Lukas, his son J. Anthony, his granddaughter Megan, and May Schamberg, 1968.

The box list of the register of the papers of Edwin Lukas is four pages long.