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Estes Kefauver confers with chief counsel Rudolph Halley during Senate crime committee hearings. (Estes Kefauver Papers, University of Tennessee Libraries)

US Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee gained national attention in the early 1950s when he chaired congressional investigations into organized crime in America. Kefauver’s records of those inquiries form the basis of Crime Documents from the Estes Kefauver Collection, one of the newest digital collections of The University Libraries at UT.

The crime documents were digitized from materials in the Estes Kefauver Papers, the largest collection in UT’s Modern Political Archives, which are housed in the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

In 1950 and 1951, the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce held hearings in major cities across the US, interviewing hundreds of witnesses and exposing the intrusion of organized crime into business and government.

“This country cannot afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror, and violence,” according to this summary of findings on Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency. (Estes Kefauver Papers, University of Tennessee Libraries)

The new medium of television brought the Kefauver hearings, as they were popularly known, into millions of American living rooms. The public was captivated by the spectacle of senators grilling mobsters on live TV and shocked by revelations that public officials were guilty of collusion in criminal activities.

The hearings propelled Kefauver to national prominence, making him a serious contender in the 1952 presidential campaign.

Crime Documents from the Estes Kefauver Collection includes press releases, speeches, article drafts, and government publications. Also included are materials documenting another crime probe chaired by Kefauver: the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency in the United States. Seeking causes for the growing national crisis, Kefauver’s committee blamed crime movies, lurid comic books, and pornographic literature for the moral corruption of American teenagers.

Carey Estes Kefauver (1903–1963) was a Madisonville, Tennessee, native and a graduate of UT and Yale Law School. He practiced law in Chattanooga before representing Tennessee in the US House of Representatives from 1939 to 1949. He served in the US Senate from 1949 to 1963 and twice ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.


Kris Bronstad, Modern Political Archives (865-974-3749,