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James Peck (pacifist)

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James Peck (pacifist)

James Peck
Born December 19, 1914
Manhattan, New York
Died July 12, 1993(1993-07-12) (aged 78)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Known for Civil rights activism

James Peck (December 19, 1914 – July 12, 1993[1][2]) was an American activist who practiced nonviolent resistance during World War II[3] and in the Civil Rights movement. He is the only person who participated in both the Journey of Reconciliation (1947) and the first Freedom Ride of 1961,[4] and has been called a white civil rights hero.[5]


James Peck (usually called "Jim") was born in Manhattan to Samuel Peck, a wealthy clothing wholesaler, who died when his son was eleven years old. He attended Choate Rosemary Hall, a private boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut. Even though Peck and his family had converted from Judaism to the Episcopalian Church, Peck was still considered a social outsider at Choate. Peck preferred the fellowship of scholarly intellectuals and in their company he developed a reputation as an independent thinker and at the same time adopted idealistic political doctrines. He enrolled and studied at Harvard in 1933. While studying at Harvard, Peck polished his skills as a writer and engaged in radical acts that ended up shocking his classmates and forcing him to become the outsider once again. Peck wrote that his mother "referred to Negroes as 'coons'" and he chose to defy her and his classmates by asking a black girl to be his date at the Freshman dance. He dropped out of school at the end of his freshman year when "his alienation from his family and the American establishment was complete". In the labor movement in the 1930s he helped found what later became the National Maritime Union. He was beaten during a 1936 strike.[6]

During World War II he was a conscientious objector and an anti-war activist, like his friend Bayard Rustin, and consequently spent three years in jail at Danbury Correctional Institution in Connecticut (1942–1945). While in prison, he helped start a work strike that eventually led to the desegregation of the mess hall. Also during this time, he participated, as did many other conscientious objectors, in medical experiments, especially a yellow jaundice experiment which permanently damaged his liver. Peck viewed it as volunteering to help discover a cure for the disease and for humanity.[7]

He assisted the War Resisters League, and edited the Worker's Defense League News Bulletin. He also wrote a labor column for The Conscientious Objector.[6]

Peck was married to the former Paula Zweier for twenty-two years.[8] She was a teacher of cooking and author of The Art of Fine Baking (1961) and Art of Good Cooking (1966).[9][10][11][12] Paula Peck died in 1972. They had two sons, Charles and Samuel.[1]

Anti-Nuclear Movement

In 1946, Peck was arrested in New York City and Washington, D.C. for being involved in the "first nonviolent direct action against nuclear tests." In 1955 and 1956, he was arrested for refusing to take cover during the simulated air raid drills in NYC, which were brought to an end in the early 1960s due to massive civil disobedience. In 1957, Peck was one of the founding members of the new organization Non-Violent Action Against Nuclear Weapons, one of the leading antinuclear groups at that time. Peck was arrested with ten others at the organization's first event on August 6, 1957, for performing civil disobedience at the nuclear test site in Nevada. Beginning in 1958, Peck took part in the large "Walk for Peace" campaigns conducted internationally, and became involved in the "Golden Rule" campaign. The "Golden Rule" was a 30-foot ketch that set sail into the nuclear testing sites in the Pacific Ocean as an act of protest. Peck was not part of the initial crew, but he did participate in a week-long fast inside an AEC building with roughly a dozen other persons in support of the Golden Rule. In June, however, Peck filled an open spot on the "Golden Rule," and was arrested with the crew six miles off the shore of Honolulu. The entire crew served 60 days in jail. Peck became one of the most famous antinuclear activists in the country following the "Golden Rule" campaign, and he traveled to the Geneva Conference that fall to advocate for a mutual test ban treaty between the US and Soviet Union.

In May 1960, Peck refused to take shelter during the NYC air raid drill along with 500 other persons, marking the largest act of civil disobedience against the program. On June 18, 1960, when Peck was picketing nuclear bases in New London, he was attacked by a mob of workers who destroyed his placard. When the Soviet Union resumed nuclear tests in August 1961, Peck was part of a delegation that delivered a peace statement to the Soviet Embassy. Peck returned to the Soviet Embassy on October 28 with 2,000 demonstrators, and he was once again part of the delegation that delivered the peace declaration. In 1962, Peck was directly involved in the growing antinuclear movement. On January 30, him and 200 other persons demonstrated outside an AEC building in New York. On March 3, Peck was one of 42 demonstrators arrested near Times Square, after police violently attacked nonviolent anti-nuclear activists. On April 21, Peck was involved in the massive Easter protest of 5,000 demonstrators in NYC, and was quoted in the "New York Times" the next day about the need for direct action. On May 10, more than 600 persons protested nuclear tests at the UN in NYC, and Peck led one of the delegations to the British Embassy, where he performed a sit-down. In October, Peck joined over 10,000 demonstrators in protesting against nuclear war in NYC, which was the largest antinuclear rally up until then.

Then on Easter in 1963, Peck was a guest speaker for the rally in Detroit that gathered over a thousand demonstrators. When the Test-Ban Treaty was signed by the U.S. and U.S.S.R in 1963, Peck claimed the credit was due to the nonviolent direct actions over the past decade. Throughout the antinuclear campaign, Peck opposed the use of nuclear weapons by all nations, and he chanted the popular pacifist slogan: "No Tests – East or West.” In October 1964, when China conducted its first nuclear test, Peck took part in the first American protest against China's use of nuclear weapons. After the signing of the Test-Ban Treaty, however, the antinuclear movement was overshadowed by the antiwar movement, and didn't gain momentum again until the 1970s.

Civil Rights Movement: 1940s-50s

After the war he became a "radical journalist",[13] and joined the

1961 Freedom Ride

Peck and 15 other volunteers traveled South in 1961 in the famous Freedom Rides. Peck was arrested on May 10 in Winnsboro, South Carolina, for sitting in an integrated fashion at a lunch counter. On May 14, Peck was on the second Birmingham, Alabama. The first bus, a Greyhound, left an hour earlier and was burned in a firebombing in Anniston, Alabama, seriously injuring the passengers. An hour later the Trailways bus pulled in at the terminal in Anniston[14] and eight Klansmen boarded and assaulted the Freedom Riders. Peck, a frail, middle-aged man at the time, was severely injured in the beating[13] and required fifty stitches.[15]

Later, in John Lewis in his autobiography, Walking with the Wind: "Toughs grabbed the passengers into alleys and corridors, pounding them with pipes, with key rings, and with fists. One passenger was knocked down at my feet by twelve of the hoodlums, and his face was beaten and kicked until it was a bloody pulp." Lewis adds, "That was Jim Peck's face."[17] Peck was severely beaten and needed 53 stitches to his head.[18] [19] Peck was taken to Carraway Methodist Medical Center, a segregated hospital, which refused to treat him; he was later treated at Jefferson Hillman Hospital.[20][21]

Civil Rights Movement: 1961-1968

The Freedom Ride was Peck's most famous action, resulting in him gaining popularity as a white civil rights hero. He traveled around the nation representing CORE in speeches, and gained even more attention for the Movement on June 5, when he confronted former President Truman about his recent remarks denouncing the Freedom Riders, making Truman seem behind the times in racial justice. At Peck's suggestion, a Route 40 Freedom Ride project was launched by CORE in December 1961, resulting in half the restaurants desegregating along Route 40 in Baltimore. Peck was arrested along with 14 others after attempting to integrate a restaurant. In May 1962, after he published his famous book "Freedom Ride," Peck was one of the main leaders for the Project Baltimore campaign, which led to more restaurants desegregating. That summer, Peck was one of the leaders for "Freedom Highways," which sought to integrate highway restaurants in North Carolina.

Following the Freedom Rides, Peck became good friends with William Moore, a white civil rights worker who became a martyr for the movement after he was shot and killed in the south during his solo Freedom March in the spring of 1963. When Moore was killed, Peck delivered the eulogy at his funeral, and then gave the opening speech on May 19, when several dozen activists continued the march from where Moore was shot down. After the walkers were arrested and taken to jail, Peck and others marched to the jail singing Freedom songs.

In the summer of 1963, Peck was arrested for performing a sit-down in the street, while protesting the discriminatory state policies for the construction of the Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. On October 20, Peck spoke about the racist policies in front of 700 demonstrators at a NYC rally. On August 28, 1963, Peck proudly represented CORE at the March on Washington, which over 250,000 persons attended. On December 7, Peck traveled to the newest Levittown in Bowie, Maryland, to picket the discriminatory housing policies. On April 22, 1964, Peck was one of the leaders for CORE's campaign at the opening day of New York's World Fair, protesting the discriminatory policies held by most companies sponsoring the Fair. More than 300 demonstrators were arrested on the Fair's opening day, including Peck.

In March 1965, Peck represented CORE at the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, concluding with 50,000 demonstrators entering Montgomery on March 25. Peck even had the honor to speak as a CORE representative that day, honoring William Moore in his speech. When Peck returned home after the march, he was removed from CORE, after working there for 17 years, because he was white.[16] Peck denounced the decision as "reverse-racism," and never accepted the slogan of Black Power. After he was removed from CORE, Peck personally funded King's campaigns, especially his 1968 Poor People's Campaign. A year after being removed from CORE, Peck took part in the "March Against Fear" in June 1966. During this campaign the slogan Black Power arose, which Peck bitterly denounced. At a concert held one night during the march, Peck wrote King a letter, stating:"I wanted to assure you that, despite the dirty deal I have received from CORE, I am still with The Movement and shall be as long as I live.” When King was assassinated in April 1968, Peck honored him by traveling to Memphis on April 8 to join 40,000 other demonstrators in marching in support of the sanitation workers that King had supported prior to his death. After the Memphis March, Peck traveled to Atlanta for King's funeral, which concluded with 50,000 demonstrators marching over four miles.

Vietnam War

He continued his activism by demonstrating against the [22] On February 23, 1966, Peck attended a dinner that honored President Johnson with a "Peace Award" at the Wardolf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Peck painted on the front and back of his shirt, "Peace in Vietnam," but was covered by his coat. When Johnson was about begin his speech, Peck took off his coat, stood on his chair and yelled: "Mr. President, Peace In Vietnam!" He was dragged out of the room but he managed to announce his plea three more times, and later served 60 days in jail.[23] In October 1967, Peck took part in the famous "Stop the Draft Week" as a speaker who introduced draft-card burner David Miller on stage, while also demonstrating in support of hundreds of youths as they burned their draft cards. On October 21, Peck was one of 683 demonstrators arrested for performing civil disobedience at the famous March on the Pentagon. On December 5, during the second "Stop the Draft Week," Peck was arrested along with 263 other demonstrators outside an induction center in NYC. In 1968 Peck briefly joined students during their takeover of Columbia University, and he was gassed and clubbed at the notorious beatings during the Democratic Convention in Chicago. In 1969, Peck spoke out against burning draft files, but still supported those arrested for doing so. He was arrested on August 6, 1969, outside the office of the Secretary of Defense for reading antiwar quotations. Peck took part in the massive moratorium demonstrations on October 15 and November 15, which gathered hundreds of thousands of persons.

On March 19, 1970, Peck was one of 182 demonstrators arrested for obstructing government operations at a New York induction center, as part of a nationwide protest against the war. On April 24, 1971, Peck joined the massive march on Washington that over 750,000 persons took part in. On May 3, the first day of the May Day demonstrations in D.C., Peck was arrested along with 7,200 demonstrators in the single largest mass arrest in history, ending with over 13,000 arrested between May 3 and May 5. On October 26, he was arrested at the "Evict Nixon" protest in Washington, D.C., along with nearly 300 persons. He was arrested again outside the White House with 104 other demonstrators on November 9, during the two-week "Daily Death Toll" demonstrations, where activists performed die-ins to dramatize the continuation of Vietnamese deaths from American bombing. Peck was arrested again in D.C. on April 15, 1972, for performing a sit-down that resulted in 240 arrests. On May 22, Peck was among 224 demonstrators arrested for performing civil disobedience during the "People's Blockade" at the Pentagon. On June 10, Peck was arrested in New Jersey with 36 other demonstrators for being involved in the "People's Blockade" campaign that was conducted at navy ship yards to prevent ammunition from being sent to Vietnam.

On October 1, 1974, Peck was one of a dozen persons arrested at the UN for setting up a tiger cage replica, protesting the mistreatment of Vietnamese political prisoners by U.S.-backed forces. Beginning in 1974, Peck became involved in the Amnesty Campaign that aimed to protect the rights of deserters and COs during the war. On March 1, 1975, Peck was one of 62 demonstrators arrested for performing sit-downs during a tour of the White House in protest against President Ford's conservative amnesty plan. This marked the largest arrest on White House grounds up to that time.

Anti-Nuclear Movement: 1970s-80s

Following the Vietnam demonstrations in the 1970s, there was a revival in the anti-nuclear movement, which Peck took a major part in. In 1973 and 1974, Peck was part of several smaller demonstrations against nuclear testing by France. In 1974 and 1975, he joined Japanese delegates in NYC in protesting nuclear weapons. Then in 1975, he attended the first two organized demonstrations against the government’s first strike nuclear policy. Throughout 1976, Peck was heavily involved in the Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice, a nine-month march with 20 routes covering 34 states. Peck joined the Southern leg of the march that launched from New Orleans on April 4. The southern leg members, consisting mostly of Japanese Monks and poor blacks, were arrested six different times while marching through the south, but Peck was only present and arrested at four of these: Birmingham, Alabama; Rocky Mount, NC; New Bern, NC; and Ahoskie, NC. The last day of the Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice was in Washington, D.C. on October 18, attended by 700 persons. Peck joined the "Procession of Death" to the Pentagon, where he and 52 other persons were arrested for laying coffins on the steps of the building.

On October 12 and November 17, 1976, Peck joined in protesting China's resumption of nuclear tests. In the summer of 1977, Peck and American poet Millen Brand traveled to Japan and joined the march from Nagasaki to Hiroshima, the most famous feeder route of the thirteen involved in the Japanese Peace Walk. Peck and Brand attended numerous meetings with a variety of groups, spoke with government officials, and were the leading speakers at every event for the 30-day march. When Peck returned home from the Japanese Walk, he shared his experiences in a tour through the U.S., sponsored by the WRL and the Mobilization for Survival, one of the largest coalitions of antinuclear groups. His tour concluded in Colorado, where he joined a meeting hosted by Rocky Flats National Action Committee (RFNAC), an anti-nuclear group opposed to the major nuclear bomb plant in Rocky Flats, CO. At the meeting Peck was the first out-of-state person to endorse the RFNAC's rally at Rocky Flats for April 29, 1978. Peck was one of 6,000 persons demonstrating at Rocky Flats, and after the rally he was one of 150 persons who launched a 14-hour sit-down on the railroad tracks leading to the plant. Although Peck was only on the tracks for the first day, the sit-down was sustained for several months. Peck returned to Rocky Flats for a second major rally on August 6, where he sung a Japanese peace song he learned during the Japanese Walk. On August 9, he was one of 79 persons to perform a Die-In at the Rocky Flats plant, resulting in all of them being arrested. He returned to Rocky Flats again on April 29, 1979, along with 15,000 demonstrators, and he joined the sit-down on the tracks with 250 others, for which he was arrested for.

During the Special Session on Disarmament at the United Nations in NYC in the spring of 1978, Peck joined in the major actions launched by the Mobilization for Survival. On May 27, Peck joined over 10,000 demonstrators in a march on the UN, and on June 12, he was arrested along with 380 other demonstrators at the US Mission to the UN for employing civil disobedience during the Sit-In for Survival, one of the largest mass arrests in NYC history. Later that month he demonstrated for the third time at the notorious Seabrook plant in New Hampshire. On October 16, the opening day of the Arms Bazzar in Washington, Peck joined a picket line to protest the manufacturing of military weapons.

On February 12, 1979, during the trial of the "White House 11," Peck held up a giant banner in court that read: “NO NUCLEAR WEAPONS/NO NUCLEAR POWER USA OR USSR." He then led a march to the White House, where he was one of 22 persons arrested for performing a sit-down. When the near-meltdown almost occurred at Three Mile Island in March, the anti-nuclear movement expanded dramatically. Only two days later, when Peck marched in an antinuclear demonstration in NYC, he was amazed that a thousand bystanders joined. In the pouring rain on April 21, he marched with over a thousand persons in a protest to shutdown the Consolidated Edison’s Indian Point nuclear reactor. On May 6, Peck participated in the massive Washington demonstration that over 120,000 persons participated in. Then, on June 3, over 45 major demonstrations took place across the country as part of Europe's International Days of Protest. Peck was arrested that day for occupying the site at Shoreham on Long Island, after a rally attended by 15,000. A major antinuclear concert was held in September for several days, with performances by legendary bands such as Tom Petty and Bruce Springstein. On September 23,Peck joined over 200,000 persons in Manhattan for the concluding rally, marking one of the largest antinuclear rallies up to that time. Peck found one of the most significant actions to be the "Wall Street Action" on October 29, the 50th anniversary of the Stock Market Crash, since it brought the fight to the financiers of the nuclear industry. That day Peck was one of 1,045 demonstrators to be arrested for attempting to block the entrances of the stock market exchange building.

On April 28, 1980, Peck marched with 1,200 demonstrators to the Pentagon, where he and nearly 600 others were arrested for blocking the entrances of the building. Peck also took part in the largest antinuclear rally held in NYC on June 12, 1982. With one million people in attendance, it marked the single largest demonstration in the country for any cause. The rally marked the peak of antinuclear movement and led to dramatic changes in the political realm. Following the largest rally in history, a massive civil disobedience campaign was set for June 14 at the UN. That day over 1,600 persons were arrested for blocking the entrances of the five nations possessing nuclear weapons, making it the single largest arrest in the city's history. Peck was part of the first group arrested that day outside the U.S. Mission to the U.N. This was possibly Peck's last arrest in his life, having been arrested nearly 60 times overall.

FBI Court Case

In 1975, Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. testified that he was a paid FBI informant in the Klan, and that on May 14, 1961 the KKK had been given 15 to 20 minutes without interference by the police. Peck filed a lawsuit against the FBI in 1976, seeking $100,000 in damages.[24] In 1983, he was awarded $25,000,[25] and by this time was paralyzed on one side after a stroke. Peck had been working for Amnesty International until his stroke.[25] By 1985, Peck had moved into a nursing home in Minneapolis, where he died on July 12, 1993, at age 78.[1]

Selected works

  • Peck, James, "The Ship That Never Hits Port", in Cantine, Holly R.; Rainer, Dachine, Prison etiquette: the convict's compendium of useful information, Bearsville, N.Y. : Retort Press, 1950. (reprinted 2001, Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press). Cf. pp. 46–71.
  • [26]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c James Peck", Library of America, Reporting Civil Rights.
  7. ^ Bennett, Scott H., Radical pacifism : the War Resisters League and Gandhian nonviolence in America, 1915-1963, Syracuse, N.Y. : Syracuse University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8156-3003-4. Cf. pp.86, specifically, and various on Jim Peck.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Ephron, Nora, "Critics in the World of the Rising Souffle", New York Magazine, September 30, 1968
  10. ^ Bittman, Mark, "THE MINIMALIST; Pudding For Purists, The New York Times, December 8, 2004
  11. ^ Peck, Paula. The Art of Fine Baking, New York : Simon and Schuster, 1961.
  12. ^ Peck, Paula. Art of Good Cooking, New York : Simon and Schuster, 1966
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^,6893063&dq=james-peck+civil+rights&hl=en
  19. ^ According to Raymond Arsenault, this was actually a misidentification; the man beaten, he says, was George Webb, a bystander.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Peck, James. "Underdogs Vs Upperdogs." Canterbury, New Hampshire: Greenleaf Books, 1969.
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b
  26. ^

Further reading

  • Gara, Larry; Gara, Lenna Mae, (editors), A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories, Kent State University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-87338-621-3. Cf. p. 188 and various, on Jim Peck.
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