Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: LAW-MMC-300

Cecil F. Poole papers

Content Description

The Cecil F. Poole papers contain a wide swath of personal and professional material from Poole’s earliest career in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Price Administration to his appointment as Judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The entire collection spans from 1935 until Poole’s death in 1997 and primarily consists of correspondence, memoranda, case files, personnel files, newspaper and magazine clippings, speeches, photographs, date books and personal ephemera.


  • Creation: 1935 - 1997


Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. Most of the collection is in the process of being digitized, and digital content will be released on a rolling basis. Closed material has been removed from the digital content due to the presence of one or more of the following: restricted personal, financial, or health information, Harvard university records, and/or to protect attorney-client privilege. Physical access to the majority of the collection is restricted for preservation purposes. A small portion of physical material that is not being digitized is open to the public but is housed off-site at the Harvard Depository and requires 2 business-day advance notice for retrieval. See the "Conditions Governing Access" note for individual folders for more specific information, when it is available. Please consult the Historical & Special Collections staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Law School Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Historical & Special Collections staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Harvard Law School Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.


33 linear feet (31 boxes)

Biographical Note

Cecil Francis Poole (1914-1997) was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He received his A.B. and LL.B from the University of Michigan and LL.M from Harvard University. Poole went on to a fifty-seven-year career in the law which included significant appointments as the first African American United States District Attorney in the continental United States, the first African American to be appointed District Court Judge for the Northern District of California, and a nineteen-year career as District Court Judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Shortly after Poole was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar (1940) and began his own private practice he was drafted in WWII. He was commissioned as an officer of the U.S. Army Air Corps assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group in Tuskegee, Alabama. While serving in the Army, Poole was an assistant trial judge advocate.

Once discharged, Poole and his wife Charlotte moved to San Francisco where he worked as Assistant District Attorney under Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and later was appointed by Governor Brown to Clemency Secretary and Legal Counsel and by President John F. Kennedy to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. The two decades Poole spent in the District Attorney and Governor’s offices were tumultuous ones for California and San Francisco in particular. His time in the California government saw Viet Nam War protests, draft card burnings and much political and social upheaval. An ardent defender of the right to peaceful protest, Poole refused to prosecute hundreds of draft dodgers and publicly opposed the prosecution of David Hilliard, a Black Panther party leader accused of threatening the life of President Nixon during a protest, causing intense backlash from the public. Poole was frequently met with racial discrimination, including a 1969 cross burning incident on the front lawn of his home.

In 1970, Poole went into private practice in San Francisco working for Jacobs, Sills and Coblentz becoming lawyer to the stars. Clients included Jefferson Airplane, The Doobie Brothers, Janis Joplin and famous concert promoter Bill Graham. He was appointed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California by President Gerald Ford in 1976 after nomination to the court by President Lyndon B. Johnson had failed twice already in the 1960s because Poole was perceived as being too liberal. Within four years of his appointment to the Court he was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Throughout his career Poole was an active member of the ABA and the NAACP, championing diversity in the workplace. He served as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund director from 1971 through 1976.

July 25, 1914
Born in Birmingham, Alabama to William and Eva Poole
Received an A.B. from the University of Michigan
Received an LL.B. from the University of Michigan Law School
Received an LL.M. from Harvard Law School
Private practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Worked in the National Labor Relations Board
drafted and commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps
Chief, Regional Appellate Division, U.S. Office of Price Administration, San Francisco, California
Private practice in San Francisco, California
Assistant District Attorney, San Francisco, California serving under district Attorney’s Edmund G. Brown and Thomas C. Lynch; 1953-58 served as chief court deputy
Instructor in evidence, Golden State University Law School
Clemency and Extradition Secretary and Legal Counsel to Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Sacramento, California
United States Attorney for the Northern District of California by appointments of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966; served under President Richard M. Nixon until 1970
Regents Professor of Law, University of California School of Law, Berkeley, California
Fellow in residence, Yale Law School, New Haven, Conn.
Private practice in San Francisco, CA with Jacobs, Sills & Coblentz
Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California nominated by Gerald Ford to a seat vacated by Oliver J. Carter
Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit nominated by Jimmy Carter to a new seat; assumed senior status in 1996
November 12, 1997
Died in San Francisco, CA


The collection is intellectually arranged into the following four series:

  1. Judicial, 1966-1996: Clerk files, case files and administrative files, and some photographs related to Cecil Poole’s work as District Court Judge for Northern California and Appellate Court Judge for the Ninth Circuit. The majority of the clerk material are personnel files, including reference letters, transcripts, resumes, and correspondence, and are mostly closed. The case files consist of opinions, memoranda, transcripts and handwritten notes. A substantial portion of the case files are inter-office forms for appellate court panels dating from the 1980s and 90s. Administrative files in this series include material related to Judge Poole’s nomination and appointment, retirement, internal memoranda and correspondence, office financials, and judicial misconduct accusations.
  2. District Attorney, 1960-1982: Correspondence, memoranda, case files, transcripts and clippings related to Judge Poole’s work as US Attorney for the Northern District of California. Files in this series range from specific investigations into individuals and organizations, to District Attorney Conventions and Department of Justice handbooks. This material also documents the fractious nature of political and social movements between the 1960s and 1970s in San Francisco. Large portions of the material deal with Draft Card and other Viet Nam War protests. Other topics of note include the Patricia Hearst case, which Poole worked on for a short time before leaving the office of the District Attorney, drafts of the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee Studying Racial Imbalance in Schools in San Francisco, and the indictment of members of the Black Panther party in 1969.
  3. Professional, 1937-1997: Professional correspondence, memoranda and case files from Poole’s early career before taking the post of United States District Attorney. This series also includes a substantial amount of case files from Poole’s private practice, particularly in the late 40s and early 70s. Additional material represents Poole’s active participation in professional and charitable organizations, in particular the ABA and NAACP, and to a smaller extent, files on Poole’s speaking engagements and his teaching and writing activities.
  4. Personal, circa 1935-1996: Personal correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, bound volumes of daily calendars and ephemera, and photographs. Much of the correspondence are personal well wishes for Poole’s various career appointments and the passing of his wife, Charlotte. Files labeled ‘personal’ generally contain correspondence, clippings and other ephemera. Some of this material also documents Charlotte Poole’s life and work. Small portions of this series were created during and after Poole’s education at Harvard Law School as a student and at the University of Michigan as an alumnus.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society in August, 2019

Processing Information

Originally processed and described by Rachel Parker in 2019, with additional processing and description by Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections and Digitial Initiatives staff from 2020-2023.

In an effort to make material open and available to as many users as possible, work on the collection is utilizing a minimal processing and mass digitization workflow initiated by Harvard Law School Library staff. The ultimate goal of the project is to digitize as much of the collection as possible, so that it is open for free to anyone with internet access. In accordance with the project plan, all of the material was appraised for content, restrictions, condition issues, and its overall suitability for digitization.

All material in the collection was re-boxed due to the condition of the original containers and select material was re-foldered, with original order maintained as closely as possible. Description of the collection is at the folder level using the original folder titles whenever possible.

Staff at Harvard Library Imaging Services began scanning material in the collection in summer 2022, and digital objects are being created at the folder level. Once digitized, every item is reviewed by HLSL staff for quality and content before it is made available to the public. Digital content will be released online on a rolling basis until the project is complete.

Funding to digitize this collection was made possible by Harvard Library's EDIBA (equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging, and anti-racism) Digitization Program.

Harvard Law School Library
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections Repository

Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections (HSC) collects, preserves, and makes available research materials for the study of the law and legal history. HSC holds over 8,000 linear feet of manuscripts, over 100,000 rare books, and more than 70,000 visual images.

1545 Massachusetts Avenue
Langdell Hall
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-4550