Uncle Dave's book

Sunday, August 10, 2014

52 Ancestors # 30: David Dellinger, Pacifist, Activist, Chicago 7 member and my Uncle Dave

     My Uncle Dave was famous for being a Pacifist, an Activist and one of the Chicago 7. You can read quite a bit about him and his life including his autobiography, "From Yale to Jail". However, this blog post is about him as a member of my family and thus, much more subjective.

     David Raymond Dellinger was born 22 Aug 1915 in Wakefield, Massachusetts. (I recall seeing that Raymond was his middle name because I recognized it as the name he gave his second son and as his father's name.  However, I can't find any document which has the name as his middle name right now. I'm including it as I remember seeing it but it could be wrong.) He was the son of Raymond Pennington Dellinger and Marie Elizabeth Fiske. His father was a prominent Republican lawyer, a friend of Calvin Coolidge and a member of the Masons in Wakefield. One of his obituaries calls David "a child of patrician privilege". His father was born in North Carolina and came from a long line of men of that state, starting with Johannes P. Dellinger who immigrated there from Wurttemburg, Germany in 1750. His ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and three of his grandfather's older brothers fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. An interesting lineage for one who dedicated his life to anti-war causes.

     David was an outstanding long distance runner and high school athlete and enrolled in Yale in 1933. It was the height and he was embarrassed by the elitism there.  He spent his vacations traveling as a hobo which he considered on the job training. He graduated Yale Phi Beta Kappa and won a scholarship to Oxford University.  He attended there and then returned to Yale for graduate study and thence to Union Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. On his way to Oxford he went to Spain and drove an ambulance behind Loyalist lines, he also toured Germany under Hitler. His personal commitment to non-violence came during his time at Yale.  The story is that during an after-football game melee he hit a young man and knocked him unconscious. He pledged that "he would never hit anyone again and forswore all violence"(New York Times Obituary 2004/05/27). So the scene was set for his career as a pacifist.

     In 1940 as WW II was beginning in Europe, the U.S. ordered men to register for the draft.  Dave with seven other seminary students refused.  This is even though they were assured that they would receive ministerial deferments. The eight men were expelled from the seminary and Dave was tried for draft evasion, convicted and sent to Danbury prison for a year.

     Not long after his release he met Frances Elizabeth ("Betty") Peterson at a Christian "Peace and Justice Conference". According to Elizabeth it was love at first sight. They shared a life commitment to work for social justice and they were married by her father, Presbyterian Minister, Walter L. Peterson at his church in Seattle, Washington on 4 Feb 1942. My father, her brother Jack, and mother signed their marriage certificate. After the wedding they hitch-hiked cross country to live in a Christian Community in Newark, New Jersey. That is pretty radical for a honeymoon!

     In 1943, with America at war, David again refused to report for pre-induction physical. He was arrested, convicted and sent to Lewisburg, a maximum security prison.  Elizabeth was pregnant with their first child, Evan Patchen, who was born 2 Jan 1944. He was released three years later and continued to protest, against the bomb, against the Korean War and eventually against the War in Vietnam. In the late 40's to early 50's he was part of a radical commune in New Jersey where he published the magazine Liberation. I remember my father visiting there and saying that his sister was living without modern conveniences and working hard there. They had four more children born in 46, 49, 52 and 56.

     In 1967, I was going to Antioch College which was full of people against the War.  That summer I went to my Grandparents' 50th Wedding Anniversary. My Uncle Dave and his family were there. He was charming and everyone loved him (except my father who said he disagreed with his politics and the way he had made his sister's life unnecessarily hard). In October 1967 I went to a major peace march called in Washington, D.C. I was standing in a crowd of thousands of young people to listen to speakers.  Suddenly the speaker was my Uncle, Dave Dellinger. I  was a little surprised, the charming Uncle I had met was telling the crowd to burn their draft cards and march on the Pentagon. I marched to the Pentagon and there met my cousin Raymond who was a marshal, controlling the crowd.

     In 1968, Dave was one of the organizers of the protests outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago. As is well known this turned into armed battles in the streets. Dave and six others were arrested and charged with "conspiring to start riots". They became known as the"Chicago Seven". All were young except Dave. There was a famous point in the trial whee he was being silenced by the Judge and his daughters (my cousins Tasha and Michelle) screamed "Leave my Daddy alone". The Marshals then started to carry them out of the courtroom at which point Dave broke free, sprang through the crowd and put himself between the Marshals and his daughters. You can read all about this trial elsewhere, suffice it to say, it was shocking to the family. However, for years whenever anyone from the 60's found out that he was my uncle they were always impressed!

     After this he continued to publish magazines, write. lecture and carry on protests. He went to China, North Vietnam and Czechoslovakia. In the 70's he moved to Peacham, Vermont and wrote several books, taught and lectured. At the age of 85 he hitchhiked to Quebec to participate in the protest against the North American Free Trade Agreement. He died in Vermont on 25 May 2004.

     As a note, in 1988 Dave and Elizabeth came to the Bay Area for the funeral of their son, Raymond, who had died of cancer.  They came to visit at the Church of Scientology in San Francisco where I worked as a Minister. As we talked Dave mentioned that they had met L. Ron Hubbard when they were living in New Jersey around 1950 and they had a copy of Dianetics, his book. I think he said that he had autographed it for them. But they hadn't read the book. Mr. Hubbard has said that you can't disseminate to someone with a solution and Dave had one, a political solution.

     On October 23, 2004, a memorial service was held for Dave at St. John the Divine in New York City. My sister and I and my two children attended. There were over 1000 people there (top estimate was 1500) with such people as Pete Seeger, Ossie Davis and Tom Hayden speaking as well as many family and friends. It was very moving and Pete Seeger led us in singing We Shall Overcome. My children were surprised that I knew all the words but I still remembered them. We saw the family many of whom we had never or only rarely met. Dave was famous in his public life, in his private life he was a loving husband, father, grandfather and uncle.

     In his biography, The Life and Times of a Non Violent Revolutionary, by Andrew E. Hunt, he quotes Dave as answering the question "What would you like to be remembered for?" as saying "...I would like my children to feel they were glad I was their father. I would like some people to remember me for having taught them...that the things that seem to separate us from our fellows are nothing compared to the things that unite us with all humanity. I would like if anything to think that maybe somebody learned that from me, because to the best of my ability I refused to be a star or a hero."

1 comment:

  1. My grandmother was in the same Wakefueld high school class as David. Anna Finn. I have their yearbook. I wonder if they knew each other. My grandmother grew up poor and was Catholic. I am sure they had very different upbringings.