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Vincent Godfrey Burns papers


Vincent Godfrey Burns papers
Burns, Vincent Godfrey
Collection number:
0.50 linear feet
Bulk dates:
Inclusive dates:
Collection Area:
Literature and Rare Books
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

Vincent Godfrey Burns, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1893, was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1962 until his death in 1979. He was ordained as a minister and later published poems, television scripts, plays, and a novel, often expressing his conservative political and religious convictions. He and his brother Robert collaborated on I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang, which was made into a movie in 1932. Burns's papers include correspondence, poems, manuscripts, galleys, newspaper clippings, and essays documenting his literary production and political concerns.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

Vincent Godfrey Burns papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

Vincent Godfrey Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1893. He served in the Field Artillery in World War I. Ordained as a Congregational minister, he worked at churches in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., and gained brief fame in 1935 during the Lindbergh kidnapping trial when he shouted, "If it please your honor, I have a confession that was made to me by the man who committed this crime" in the courtroom (and not the popular misconception: "This man is innocent!"). He published his account of the Lindbergh case, New Light on the Lindbergh Kidnapping (New World Books), in 1973.

In collaboration with his older brother, Robert Burns, he wrote I Am a Fugitive From a Georgia Chain Gang (Vanguard, 1932) detailing his brother's experiences as a convict in the Georgia penal system and his subsequent escape. It was made into a movie by Warner Brothers later that year. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards and was credited with helping to abolish chain gangs in Georgia. Vincent Burns wrote a sequel, Out of These Chains (New World Books, 1942), and continued the story of his brother's prison-reform legacy in The Man Who Broke a Thousand Chains (Acropolis Books, 1963).

Burns's writing often expressed his conservative political and religious convictions. He published collections of his poetry, as well as essays, plays, anthologies, and novels, including The Master's Message for the New Day (Association Press, 1926), The Red Harvest, a Cry for Peace (Macmillan, 1930), I'm in Love with Life (Dutton, 1932), America I Love You (New World Books, 1957), Flame Against the Night (New World Books, 1959), An American Poet Speaks (New World Books, 1960), Memories and Melodies of Maryland (New World Books, 1964), Maryland's Revolutionary Hero (New World Books, 1965), The Four Tests of a Loyal American (Patriotic Women's Clubs of America, 1966), Ballads of the Free State Bard (New World Books, 1967), Heart on Fire (New World Books, 1969), World on Fire (New World Books, 1969), Red Fuse on a World Bomb (New World Books, 1969), The Sunny Side of Life (New World Books, 1970), Poetry is Fun (New World Books, 1971), and The Story of Old Glory (New World Books, 1972). His bestselling work, Female Convict (Macauley, 1932; Pyramid, 1959), sold more than a million copies in paperback. He was designated Poet Laureate of Maryland in 1962 by Governor J. Millard Tawes. Despite a controversial tenure and attempts to unseat him, he remained Poet Laureate until his death in 1979.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Papers of Vincent Godfrey Burns span the years from 1939 to 1970. The collection is comprised of correspondence; poems; essays; issues of the Maryland State Poetry Society magazine, The Rainbow; newspaper clippings concerning Burns; and publicity materials for his speaking engagements and tours.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Vincent Godfrey Burns gave his papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in 1969-1970. The Utah State University Libraries transferred its holdings of Burns's papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in July 2003. An additional signed typed manuscript of Burns's "Bring Us Together, Mr. President" was transferred from the Authors and Poets Collection in May 2010. This copy had been located in a volume of Burns's poetry that he had given to Spiro T. Agnew. In April 2011, the Burns holdings of the Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh, were transferred to the University of Maryland Libraries.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed in July 1973. Reprocessed by Elisabeth Cohen, November 2005. Revised in January 2006, May 2010, May 2011.

Processing note:

Before reprocessing in 2005, both the University of Maryland Libraries' collection and the Utah State University Library accretion were arranged alphabetically by subject in single series. In 2005, the Utah State University collection was incorporated into the collection, which was rearranged into four series: Correspondence, Writings, The Rainbow, and Clippings and Publicity Materials. Duplicate copies of letters, clippings, typescripts, and publicity materials were discarded. In 2010, an additional manuscript of "Bring Us Together, Mr. President" was incorporated into the collection. In 2011, University of Pittsburgh materials were incorporated into the collection.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Elisabeth Cohen, December 2005.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Correspondence, 1956-1970 and undated (1 folder)

This series consists primarily of facsimiles of outgoing correspondence from Vincent Godfrey Burns to political figures, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Spiro Agnew, and to the editorial pages of the Washington Post, Time, and Life. Most of the letters concern Burns's opposition to Communism and support for the Vietnam War. They are arranged chronologically by date.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence, 1956-1958, 1961, 1962, 1967-1970 and undated series 1box 1folder 1

Series 2: Writings, 1966-1970 and undated (11 folders)

The series comprises poems, essays, manuscripts, galleys, gubernatorial proclamations, a television drama script, a songbook, and a copy of Female Convict (1959). Copies of manuscript or printed poems are arranged alphabetically by title or publication in which they appeared. Copies of Burns's essays, both printed and in manuscript, are arranged chronologically within their grouping. Most of these appeared in the Annapolis Evening Capital and included a profile of a local person or event and concluded with a related poem by Burns. The series also includes proclamations establishing October 15 as "Poetry Day" in Maryland; a manuscript for Memories and Melodies of Maryland; a copy of "Thirteen Songs," featuring Burns's poems set to music; and a script for a television drama called "World on Fire." The series is arranged alphabetically by subject or title.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Essays, 1963-1968 series 2box 1folder 2
Essays, undated series 2box 1folder 3
Essays, undated series 2box 1folder 4
Female Convict, 1959 series 2box 1folder 5
The Man Who Broke a Thousand Chains -- Galleys, 1963 series 2box 1folder 6
Memories and Melodies of Maryland -- Manuscript, undated series 2box 1folder 7
Poems - General -- A-I, undated series 2box 1folder 8
Poems - General -- J-O, undated series 2box 1folder 9
Poems - General -- P-Z, undated series 2box 1folder 10
Poems - True News, 1966-1968 series 2box 1folder 11
Proclamations, 1965, 1968 series 2box 1folder 12
Thirteen Songs, 1966 series 2box 1folder 13
World on Fire, undated series 2box 1folder 14

Series 3: The Rainbow: A Magazine of Poetry, 1964-1966, 1968-1969 and undated (1 folder)

The series contains issues of The Rainbow, the magazine of the Maryland State Poetry Society, of which Burns was president. The issues are arranged chronologically by date.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
The Rainbow: A Magazine of Poetry, 1964-1966, 1968-1969 series 3box 1folder 15

Series 4: Clippings and Publicity Materials, 1939-1970 and undated (3 folders)

The series contains clippings from the Annapolis Evening Capital and the Anne Arundel Times about Burns and the activities of the Maryland State Poetry Society while he headed it. It also contains playbills, posters, programs, and broadsheets related to his speaking tours, readings, and radio appearances. The material is arranged alphabetically by category and chronologically within each.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Clippings, 1964-1970 and undated series 4box 1folder 16
Publicity materials, 1939, 1940, 1943, 1966, 1969 and undated series 4box 1folder 17
Publicity materials, undated series 4box 1folder 18

Related Material

The University of California, Santa Barbara, holds a collection of Vincent Godfrey Burns's papers, as does Columbia University. The Maryland Historical Society Library holds a collection of photographs of Burns. Indiana University's Orson Welles manuscript collection includes correspondence with Burns. The University of Maryland Libraries' Nonprint Media Services has a sound recording of Burns defending and reading from his poetry. There are copies of Burns's published works in the University of Maryland Libraries' collection of Marylandia.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.

Selected Search Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.