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The Admirable Radical

Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970

Carl Mirra, Howard Zinn

Publication Year: 2010

The story of an activist’s struggle for social change in the United States

Son of famous sociologists Helen and Robert Lynd, Staughton Lynd was one of the most visible figures of the New Left, a social movement during the 1960s that emphasized participatory democracy. His tireless campaign for social justice prompted his former Spelman College student, Alice Walker, to remember him as “her courageous white teacher” who represented “activism at its most contagious because it was always linked to celebration and joy.”

In this first full-length study of Lynd’s activist career, author Carl Mirra charts the development of the New Left and traces Lynd’s journey into the southern civil rights and anti–Vietnam War movements during the 1960s. He details Lynd’s service as a coordinator of the Mississippi Freedom Schools, his famous and controversial peace mission to Hanoi with Tom Hayden, his turbulent academic career, and the legendary attempt by the Radical Historians’ Caucus within the American Historical Association to elect him AHA president. The book concludes with Lynd’s move in the 1970s to Niles, Ohio, where he assisted in the struggle to keep the steel mills open and where he works as a labor lawyer today.

The Admirable Radical is an important contribution to the study of social history and will interest both social and intellectual historians.

“Some studies have emphasized the burnout of the 1960s generation or the conversion of former radicals to conservative politics; Lynd, however, has remained a steadfast, long-distance runner.” — from the Introduction

“A terrific, fascinating, and rich history of a great historian blended with the story of momentous social movements that changed his life and ours.” —Tom Hayden, lifelong activist and principal author of The Port Huron Statement (1962)

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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pp. ix-x

I wish to express my gratitude to Howard Zinn for contributing a foreword and supporting this project. Alfred F. Young not only made his personal papers available but provided enormous boxes of books, magazines, and journals from the 1960s that proved almost as invaluable as his many insights. Young’s writings on the revolutionary...

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I first met Staughton Lynd in 1960, in a dark, smoke-filled room in a New York hotel, where historians had come for drinks after a day of listening to academic papers read at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. It was not a setting I would ever associate with the Staughton I came to know, but I now thank our common Columbia...

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Introduction: If Not Now, When? Lynd’s Half-Century Journey for Social Change in the United States

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pp. 1-14

I first crossed paths with Staughton Lynd in 2004 at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C. He was part of a panel sponsored by the Historians Against the War. We both served on its steering committee, but had not yet met. During the panel presentation, Lynd argued that the Iraq war would end when U.S. soldiers...

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1. Premature New Leftist, 1945–1960

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pp. 15-33

Robert and Helen Lynd had a busy year in 1929. Harcourt and Brace published their study Middletown, which was an instant success, and Helen gave birth on 22 November to Staughton Craig Lynd. To historians, 1929 marks the beginning of the Great Depression, often epitomized by the stock market crash of 24 October, a day forever remembered as Black Tuesday. The crash was more than a single event on a single...

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2. Historical Protagonist/Professional Historian: Spelman, Columbia, and a Ph.D.

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pp. 34-48

Professor Lynd is one among a large, and growing, group of younger scholars who combine the old zest with professional excellence and human maturity which are ridding the radical tradition of the bad intellectual habits into which it fell so often in the past...To challenge established positions...requires, in the challenger, something of the awkwardness of an objector...

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3. It Is a Blessed Community: Civil Rights and Mississippi Freedom Summer

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pp. 49-73

It has been a most moving time...On the trip up I spent about 1–3 am driving through the curvy Tennessee hills singing all the songs I could remember to keep awake. There was a feeling of relaxation in the car, heavily loaded with the freedom-school curricula and handling more like a truck than a car...Vincent...

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4. Lynd Not Lyndon: The Anti-Vietnam War Movement Confronts the Establishment

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pp. 74-97

In the spring of 1966, Alice and the Lynds’ eldest child, Barbara, joined a demonstration at the Sheep Meadow in New York City’s Central Park. The garden green landscape is a famous gathering place for demonstrations and concerts that somehow sits comfortably in the middle of Manhattan’s cluttered skyline. Staughton Lynd remembers it as the place where his father...

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5. Mission to Hanoi: Knocking on the Other Side’s Door

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pp. 98-116

They may use thousands of aircraft for intensified attacks against North Vietnam. But never will they be able to break the iron will of the heroic Vietnamese people to fight against U.S. aggression...Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom...It is common knowledge that each time they are about to step up their criminal war...

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6. Blacklisted: Academe Confronts a Radical Historian

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pp. 117-149

Complications in New Haven began for Lynd immediately upon his return from Hanoi. Yale’s president, Kingman Brewster Jr., released a formal statement on 18 January 1966. On the one hand, Brewster defended Lynd’s right to free speech. On the other, he chastised Lynd for commenting in Hanoi that the Johnson administration had lied to the American people and that U.S policy was immoral and illegal...

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7. Guerrilla Historians Combat the American Historical Association

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pp. 150-165

Just after Christmas [1969], the American Historical Association experienced an attempted revolution. It would be hard to think of a less likely setting for subversion than the Sheraton Park [and Shoreham] Hotels in Washington. Most of the 7,000 historians who came to this 84th annual convention expected to meet old friends...

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8. Still Carrying the Banner: Life after the Sixties

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pp. 166-170

The full impact of Lynd and the radicals on the historical profession did not appear until 2007. But Lynd’s appeal to an American radical tradition, while largely ignored during the chronological 1960s, found new life among antiwar GIs in the early 1970s, at a time when Lynd was moving away from the national spotlight. A movement among antiwar GIs had blossomed during those years as many Vietnam veterans turned against the war...


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pp. 171-207


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pp. 208-218


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pp. 219-224

E-ISBN-13: 9781612775135
E-ISBN-10: 1612775136
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606350515

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: (To view these images, please refer to print version)
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: Revised and Expanded

OCLC Number: 794698854
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Admirable Radical

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Political activists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Dissenters -- United States -- Biography.
  • New Left -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cold War.
  • Lynd, Staughton.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • Radicals -- United States -- Biography.
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