Library collection exhibits fascination with politics

Few people experience the honor of having a university library collection named for them.

Laird Wilcox is among those few.

The 60-year-old writer from Olathe has for decades been donating his collection of extremist political memorabilia and literature to Kansas University’s Spencer Research Library.

“We are so lucky somebody was willing to collect the material,” university archivist Kathleen Neeley said. “There aren’t a whole lot of collections that are as big or as comprehensive as ours.”

“I don’t really think about it much,” Wilcox said. “I thought sooner or later it would get recognized.”

Wilcox has been collecting memorabilia, pamphlets and literature about and from extremist or fringe political groups since the 1960s.

The topics include Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan and tumultuous civil rights struggles.

Wilcox attended KU from 1963 to 1966 before dropping out to pursue work as a carpenter. His collecting began with a curiosity about what motivated people’s beliefs about politics. While a KU student, he collected all sorts of political materials from rallies and campaigns. He also subscribed to various political journals such as The Nation, The American Opinion and The World Socialist.

“It has been a lifelong research project,” Wilcox said.

Olathe writer Laird Wilcox looks through his personal collection of political papers and paraphernalia at Kansas University's Spencer Research Library. Wilcox has been writing about and collecting materials on political extremists since the 1960s.

In 1965, KU purchased a portion of his collection for $1,200.

“It was getting too big, and I sensed that there would be some real interest in it, so I decided to just add to what was purchased,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox still donates about six boxes of material a year to the library collection.

The collection contains more than 5,600 books and pamphlets, more than 4,100 serial titles, about 1,000 audiotapes, and various posters, brochures and videos. It covers political beliefs that range from the radical left to the radical right and material about groups whose ideas began on the fringe but later moved into the political mainstream.

Wilcox said his favorite part of the collection reflected the student movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Most of his collection surrounds that time period.

Wilcox remains a staunch supporter of free speech and is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He’s a past winner of the Mencken Award from the Free Press Assn., a libertarian journalists organization that encourages freedom of expression and courageous journalism, and the Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in the United States from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights at Simmons College in Boston.

Wilcox also has written numerous books including, “Be Reasonable: Selected Quotations for Inquiring Minds,” “American Extremists,” “The Writer’s Rights,” and “The Watchdogs.”