While an undergraduate at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, I confronted Jim Crow discrimination in Texarkana during a bus trip to a Quaker work camp in Mexico. During a subsequent holiday, a friend and I hitchhiked around the south, visiting a classmate at Tougalou College; meeting in Mississippi with Medgar Evers and Ross Barnet; in Georgia with SNCC staff and Staughton Lynd and Howard Zinn and the axe handle guy with the restaurant who later became governor; and having lots of conversations with the mostly white folks who gave us rides.
As a result I did SNCC support work at Carleton for my last two years, organizing fund raising activities, leafleting at polling places and bringing in speakers and the Freedom Singers. I organized a large group of Carleton students who went to Mississippi for Freedom Summer after graduation. Because of a conflicting obligation, I missed Oxford and instead went through a briefer training a week later, I think in Nashville.
Originally I was assigned to Vicksburg, but after an intense conversation with Bob Moses was transferred to the more "challenging" delta area, focusing on voter registration and the Freedom Democratic Party in Shaw and then in Cleveland in Bolivar County. At different times Iworked with Stokely Carmichael and Ivanhoe Donaldson. I stayed in Mississippi during the FDP challenge at the Democratic Convention. But after much internal debate left for Peace Corps training and then service in rural Peru.
When I returned to the US in 1966, the war in Vietnam had escalated dramatically and I successfully filed for conscientious objector status because of my strong opposition. I became involved in anti-war activity in the Washington area and spent a year at an experimental graduate program of the Institute for Policy Studies. When one of the directors, Marc Raskin, was indicted for counseling draft resistance, I turned in my draft cards and refused to do alternative service.
For several years I headed a national organization of former volunteers opposed to the war and we participated in most of the major anti-war demonstrations. I became part of the national leadership of the evolving anti-war coalitions, and was arrested three times for non- violent civil disobedience, with all charges dismissed. After I agreed to do alternative service, an indictment for draft resistance was dropped.
While carrying out alternative service in Indianapolis, I also worked on an "underground" newspaper and remained active in the national anti-war leadership, meeting the Vietnamese for the first time at a conference in Stockholm.
From 1972 to 1982 I was on the staff of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia and headed its Indochina program In 1985 I founded the US-Indochina Reconciliation Project, an independent non governmental organization working for normal relations with Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and to address the consequences of war. Several years ago we expanded our agenda to include normalization with Cuba and became the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.
Along the way I explored my Irish roots, both culturally and politically, discovering in Protestant-Catholic relations in northern Ireland the closest parallel I have ever found to white-black relations in Mississippi, and in Sinn Fein a more successful version of SNCC..
Mississippi taught me that there is a usually hidden unjust and violent underside of American history and politics that can be overcome with determination, courage and support from the better side of our national character. Arrogance and ignorance in US international behavior can lead to even more violent and unjust actions but they also can be overcome when Americans recognize their common identity and fate with other peoples and nations.