Arlington Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts

October 16, 1967

 

From Michael S. Foley's Confronting the War Machine:

"Williams then asked the resisters to come forward, and he stepped down from the pulpit to the edge of the chancel, where the Reverends Mendelsohn and Coffin, Father Cunnane, and Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam (who had been recruited to accept cards from the nonreligious resisters) joined him. Each held an offering plate for the collection of draft cards.

All eyes (and cameras) turned toward the forward pews. Flashes popped as the first man rose, jiggled the stubborn latch on the old door at the end of the pew, and stepped out into the aisle. As he walked forward, several other men stood and began moving toward the aisle and their moment of truth.

Members of the New England Resistance in the Arlington Street Church, Oct 16, 1967. WCD (holding hymn book) and Linda Dowling (l., partly obscured) are singing James Russell Lowell's great antiwar hymn "Once to Every Man and Nation." The turning in of draft cards took place immediately afterwards.

(Photo by Bob Hohler)

Although the promotional leaflets predicted that 500 men would turn in their draft cards and join the Resistance in Boston, organizers had commitments from only about 20 to 25 men. They were hopeful for maybe 50.

It soon became apparent that many, many more would resist on this day. The first trickle of men quickly became a stream that continued to swell for over 20 minutes. They came not just from the pews reserved for resisters but from all corners of the church. At one point, someone pushed open the massive church doors to let resisters in from outside.

At least one woman, the Reverend Nan Stone, joined the long line as it moved slowly, quietly. When she reached the altar, she burned Steve Paillet's card in the flame of a candle held by one of William Ellery Channing's own candlesticks.

As they turned over or burned their draft cards, some of the men smiled. Others wept softly. No one spoke above a whisper. The loudest sounds came from the TV cameras whirring away in the balcony. It seemed like the procession would never end.

There were brief exchanges of encouragement between the resisters and their older accomplices holding the plates. When a student he recognized from the law school at Yale handed him his card, though, Coffin tried to give it back. 'Don't be a fool,' he said. 'With this on your record you would destroy a law career.' The resister replied, calmly, 'I don't care. I know I'm not going to become a lawyer.' He then broke the law.

Michael Foley's superb book Confronting the War Machine, the first to tell the story of how the gathering momentum of the draft resistance movement broke the will of the Johnson administration to pursue the Vietnam War.

When the last man placed his card on top of the pile sprouting from one of the collection plates, elated Resistance organizers hugged one another. 'The most irreligious of us,' William Dowling later said, 'perhaps, are ready now to believe in miracles.'

After the service ended, they counted 214 cards turned in with another 67 burned at Channing's flame.

NBC News correspondent Sander van Ocur, tears in his eyes, descended from the balcony to speak to his friend Bill Coffin. 'What a country this would be,' he said, 'if something like this were to take place now in every church'."

-- Michael S. Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 107-108