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Vincent Godfrey Burns papers

 Collection 0017-LIT

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.


  • 1939-1970
  • Majority of material found within 1964-1970

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


0.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

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.

Biographical / Historical

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.


The collection is divided into four series.

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.

Related Material

Recordings of Burns defending and reading his poetry are availabe at the University of Maryland Library Media Services and copies of Burns's published works are cataloged and availabe at the University of Maryland.

Additionally, the University of California, Santa Barbara holds a collection of Vincent Godfrey Burns's papers, as does Columbia University. Photographs of Burns are availabe at the Maryland Historical Society Library.

Processing Information

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.

Guide to the Vincent Godfrey Burns papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742