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Benjamin A. Banks Papers

Collection ID: MG 6

Scope and Contents

The papers of Benjamin Banks include letters to the editor, speeches, and literary materials. Political papers span Banks' political career (1908-1913) and his continuing involvement in political issues through the 1940's. Also included in the collection are scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, photographs, memorabilia, and Manuals of the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia.


  • 1855-1974
  • Other: Date acquired: 05/18/1976



10.20 Linear Feet

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Biographical or Historical Information

Benjamin A. Banks (original family name Bonk) was born, according to his own testimony, on May 18, 1884, in Baltimore, Maryland. Soon after his father's death his family moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where they had relatives living. Banks received his only formal education in Norfolk's public schools. He then studied law on his own and was admitted to the Virginia Bar in November 1909. He continued to practice law until his death on April 27, 1974. From 1908 through 1913, Banks served as editor and publisher of The Galaxy, a literary magazine which he hoped would enjoy critical and financial success not only in Norfolk but throughout the South. His colleague in this unsuccessful effort was local poet George Viett, who remained Banks' close friend until his death in 1943. Banks' first forays into the political arena in Norfolk were quite successful. He served on the Norfolk Board of Alderman from 1908 to 1911 at which point he resigned to take up the seat he had recently won in the Virginia House of Delegates. Banks did not run for reelection however, and all his subsequent attempts to return to public office: Virginia State Senate (1923); Commonwealth's Attorney for Norfolk (1925); House of Delegates (1933, 1937) ended in defeat. Nonetheless, he played an active role in Norfolk's Democratic politics from the 1900's through the 1940's. He participated in most local election campaigns and was frequently called on to make radio speeches on behalf of the candidates. For example, he successfully supported Norman Hamilton against Colgate Darden for Congress in 1936 and then aided Darden to defeat Hamilton in 1938. Banks was elected Norfolk chairman of the Virginia Liberal League in 1918 and, in 1937, he helped found the Citizen's Democratic League, a group that supported candidates against the dominant local Democratic organization, with only limited success, until its demise in the early 1940's. Banks was also an active campaigner for Democratic presidential candidates from Woodrow Wilson to George McGovern. He was particularly active in the Roosevelt clubs that developed in the 1930's. Banks was a prominent member of the Norfolk Jewish community and was especially interested in promoting better understanding among Christians and Jews. He worked toward this goal in many letters written to local newspapers, especially in his annual Christmas "epistles." His numerous letters to the editors of the leading Norfolk and Richmond newspapers dealt with many topics, more often with political issues - local, state, and national. Their range-from Prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan to Vietnam and Watergate - symbolize the length of his concerns with political issues. Bank's letters also won him plaudits from many members of the Tidewater community and from political figures throughout the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

Note written by James F. Walsh

Language of Materials




Lawyer and prominent member of the Norfolk Jewish community. Served on the Norfolk Board of Aldermen (1908-1911) and in the Virginia House of Delegates (1911-1913). Active in local, state and national politics. Includes personal and political correspondence, scrapbooks, letters to the editor, and photographs.

Arrangement Note

The materials are arranged chronologically and are organized into six series: Series I: Personal Papers; Series II: Political Papers; Series III: Scrapbooks; Series IV: Photographs; Series V: Books; and Series VI: Memorabilia.

Source of Acquisition

Helen G. Banks

Method of Acquisition

Gift. Accession #A76-15

A Guide to the Benjamin A. Banks Papers
James F. Walsh
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the ODU Community Collections Repository

3000 Perry Library
4427 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk VA 23529 US