David Dellinger

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David Dellinger
David Dellinger mug shot.jpg
Dellinger after his arrest for failing to report for his World War II draft physical (August 31, 1943)
Born David T. Dellinger
August 22, 1915[1]
Wakefield, Massachusetts
Died May 25, 2004(2004-05-25) (aged 88)[1]
Montpelier, Vermont
Nationality USA
Alma mater Yale University (B.A., Economics, 1936)[1]
Occupation Writer, activist, pacifist
Known for political activisim, one of the Chicago Seven
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Peterson[2]
Parent(s) Raymond Pennington Dellinger
Marie Fiske Dellinger[3]

David T. Dellinger (August 22, 1915 – May 25, 2004) was an influential American radical, a pacifist and activist for nonviolent social change.

Chicago Seven

Dellinger achieved peak notoriety as one of the Chicago Seven, anti-war protesters whose activities at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to charges of conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting a riot. The ensuing court case was turned by Dellinger and his co-defendants into a nationally-publicized platform for putting the Vietnam War on trial. On February 18, 1970, they were acquitted of the conspiracy charge, but five defendants, including Dellinger, were convicted of individually crossing state lines to incite a riot.

Judge Hoffman's handling of the trial, along with the FBI's bugging of the defence lawyers, resulted, with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in the convictions being overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals two years later, on 21 November 1972. Although the contempt citations were upheld, the appeal court refused to sentence anyone.[4][1]

Early life and career

Dellinger was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts to a wealthy family. His father, Raymond Dellinger, a graduate of Yale University, was a lawyer and a prominent Republican and friend of Calvin Coolidge.[2] His maternal grandmother, Alice Bird Fiske, was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution.[2][3][5]

A Yale University and Oxford University student, David Dellinger also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary with the intention of becoming a Congregationalist minister.[6] At Yale he had been a classmate and friend of the economist and political theorist Walt Rostow. Rejecting his comfortable background, he walked out of Yale one day to live with hobos during the Depression. While at Oxford University, he visited Nazi Germany and drove an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War. Dellinger, who opposed the war's victorious Nationalist fraction led by Francisco Franco, later recalled “After Spain, World War II was simple. I wasn't even tempted to pick up a gun to fight for General Motors, U.S. Steel, or the Chase Manhattan Bank, even if Hitler was running the other side.”[7]

During World War II, he was an imprisoned conscientious objector and anti-war agitator. In federal prison, he and fellow conscientious objectors — including Ralph DiGia and Bill Sutherland — protested racial segregation in the dining halls, which were ultimately integrated due to the protests.[8] In February 1946, Dellinger helped to found the radical pacifist Committee for Nonviolent Revolution.[3]

During the 1950s and 1960s, Dellinger joined freedom marches in the South and led many hunger strikes in jail. As US involvement in Vietnam grew, Dellinger applied Mohandas Gandhi's principles of nonviolence to his activism within the growing anti-war movement, of which one of the high points was the Chicago Seven trial. He travelled to both North and South Vietnam in 1966 to learn first-hand the impact of American bombing, and later recalled that critics ignored his trip to Saigon and focused solely on his visit to Hanoi.[9]

In 1956, he and A. J. Muste founded the magazine Liberation as a forum for the non-Marxist left, similar to Dissent.[10]

Dellinger had contacts and friendships with such diverse individuals as Eleanor Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abbie Hoffman, A.J. Muste, Greg Calvert, James Bevel, David McReynolds and numerous Black Panthers, including Fred Hampton, whom he greatly admired. As chairman of the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee he worked with many different anti-war organizations, and helped bring King and Bevel into leadership positions in the 1960s anti-war movement. He sat on the executive committee of the Socialist Party of America and the Young People's Socialist League, its youth section, until he left in 1943, and was also a long-time member of the War Resisters League. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[11]

Dellinger appeared at the December 1971 gathering of music and political views in favor of the then-jailed John Sinclair.[12]

When his Yale class of 1936 held its fiftieth reunion, Dellinger wrote in the reunion book: "Lest my way of life sounds puritanical or austere, I always emphasize that in the long run one can't satisfactorily say no to war, violence, and injustice unless one is simultaneously saying yes to life, love, and laughter."[13]

In the late 1970s, Dellinger spent two years teaching at Goddard College’s Adult Degree Program.[14] In 2001, he was invited back to give the commencement address to the graduating class of Goddard's Residential Undergraduate Program. Watch the video from Goddard College's archives here.

For his lifelong commitment to pacifist values and for serving as a spokesperson for the peace movement, Dellinger was awarded the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience on September 26, 1992.

In 1996, during the first Democratic Convention held in Chicago since 1968, Dellinger and his grandson were arrested along with eight others, including Bradford Lyttle and Abbie Hoffman's son Andrew, during a sit-in at Chicago's Federal Building. Later, in 2001, he led a group of young activists from Montpelier, Vermont, to Quebec City, to protest the creation of a free trade zone.


David Dellinger died in Montpelier, Vermont, in 2004, after an extensive stay at Heaton Woods Nursing Home.

See also

Selected works

  • Dellinger, David T., Revolutionary nonviolence: essays by Dave Dellinger, Indianapolis : Bobbs-Merrill, 1970
  • Dellinger, David T., More power than we know : the people’s movement toward democracy, Garden City, N.Y. : Anchor Press, 1975. ISBN 0-385-00162-2
  • Dellinger, David T., Vietnam revisited : from covert action to invasion to reconstruction, Boston, MA : South End Press, 1986. ISBN 0-89608-320-9
  • Dellinger, David T., From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter, New York : Pantheon Books, 1993. ISBN 0-679-40591-7. (Dellinger's autobiography)

Related publications


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Carlson, Michael, "Obituary: David Dellinger : Pacifist elder statesman of the anti-Vietnam Chicago Eight", The Guardian (UK), Friday 28 May 2004
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kaufman, Michael T., "David Dellinger, of Chicago 7, Dies at 88", The New York Times, May 27, 2004
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Hunt, Andrew E. (2006). David Dellinger: the life and times of a nonviolent revolutionary. NYU Press. p. 88ff. ISBN 978-0-8147-3638-8. Retrieved 2 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "United States v. Dellinger", Center for Constitutional Rights.
  5. Directory of the national society of the Daughters of the American revolution, 1911. Cf, p.530
  6. [1]
  7. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/264189-after-spain-world-war-ii-was-simple-i-wasn-t-even
  8. Matt Meyer and Judith Mahoney Pasternak, "David Dellinger, 1915-2004," Nonviolent Activist, May–June 2004, pp. 10-11, 21.
  9. "Interview with David T. Dellinger, 1982.” 08/31/1982.WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
  10. James Tracy (1996). Direct action. University of Chicago Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-226-81127-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  12. Barrett, Jane (1971-12-16), "John Sinclair: The Rally and the Release", Village Voice, retrieved 2010-02-14<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. McCarthy, Colman, "A Man Who Didn't Obey" (Obituary of David Dellinger), The Progressive, August 1, 2004.
  14. "Life on the Edge: The turbulent public and private lives of David Dellinger & Elizabeth Peterson" Article dated 5/29/2006 from the Rutland Herald/Times Argus.

External links