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Working for Peace and Justice

Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual

Lawrence S. Wittner

Publication Year: 2012

A longtime agitator against war and social injustice, Lawrence Wittner has been tear-gassed, threatened by police with drawn guns, charged by soldiers with fixed bayonets, spied upon by the U.S. government, arrested, and purged from his job for political -reasons. To say that this teacher-historian-activist has led an interesting life is a considerable understatement. In this absorbing memoir, Wittner traces the dramatic course of a life and career that took him from a Brooklyn boyhood in the 1940s and ’50s to an education at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin to the front lines of peace activism, the fight for racial equality, and the struggles of the labor movement. He details his family background, which included the bloody anti-Semitic pogroms of late-nineteenth-century Eastern Europe, and chronicles his long teaching career, which comprised positions at a small black college in Virginia, an elite women’s liberal arts college north of New York City, and finally a permanent home at the Albany campus of the State University of New York. Throughout, he packs the narrative with colorful vignettes describing such activities as fighting racism in Louisiana and Mississippi during the early 1960s, collaborating with peace-oriented intellectuals in Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, and leading thousands of antinuclear demonstrators through the streets of Hiroshima. As the book also reveals, Wittner’s work as an activist was matched by scholarly achievements that made him one of the world’s foremost authorities on the history of the peace and nuclear disarmament movements—a research specialty that led to revealing encounters with such diverse figures as Norman Thomas, the Unabomber, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Caspar Weinberger, and David Horowitz. A tenured professor and renowned author who has nevertheless lived in tension with the broader currents of his society, Lawrence Wittner tells an engaging personal story that includes some of the most turbulent and significant events of recent history.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Front cover

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Title page, Copyright page, Dedication page

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Table of Contents

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xiv

Working for Peace and Justice is the first memoir to be published in the Legacies of War series. It is especially fitting to include Larry Wittner’s memoir in the series, given his life and career as one of America’s leading academic experts on the peace movement...

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pp. xv-xvi

On a cold night in mid-January 1985, the police in Albany, New York, placed me under arrest. Hustling me out the front door of the Leo O’Brien federal building— where I had been engaged in an anti-apartheid sit-in—they formed a sort of flying wedge...

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1. Family Background

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pp. 1-12

When I was growing up, none of my relatives from Europe ever discussed with me what their lives in the Old Country had been like, nor did they mention what had happened...

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2. Brooklyn Boyhood

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pp. 13-38

I entered the picture on the evening of May 5, 1941. Born in Brooklyn’s Israel Zion Hospital, I was my parents’ first child. In line with Jewish tradition, I was named after a deceased grandparent—in this case, my father’s mother, Leah. Had I been...

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3. College Days, 1958–1962

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pp. 39-68

Founded in 1754 as Kings College and renamed thanks to the American Revolution, Columbia College was one of the prestigious Ivy League schools. Over the next two centuries, it gradually relocated from its original home in lower Manhattan...

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4. Graduate School, 1962–1967

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pp. 69-88

My choice of the University of Wisconsin for graduate work was designed, in part, to provide me with a different sort of life than I had experienced in New York City. And it did. The university maintained a big, sprawling campus right in the middle...

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5. A Young Faculty Member, 1967–1972

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pp. 89-112

In September 1967 I began my first full-time college teaching position at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Founded in 1868 by U.S. General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, whose troops garrisoned the Virginia Tidewater region during...

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6. Overseas Exile, 1972–1974

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pp. 113-126

Arriving in Amalfi at the beginning of September 1972, we were struck by its beauty. Patty, Julia, and I lived in the small, marble Villa Lara, one of several upgraded peasant cottages on a mountainside estate overlooking the town and the Mediterranean. The estate was owned by the Duchess of Amalfi, who bewailed the...

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7. Grappling with Issues of Work and Love, 1974–1980

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pp. 127-160

In the fall of 1974, when I began teaching at SUNY/Albany, the school had had a long, rather uninspiring history. Founded in 1844 as the New York State Normal School—a two-year training college for grade school teachers—it evolved over time into...

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8. An Activist Academic, 1981–1989

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pp. 161-190

During the early 1980s, my family life once again reached an even keel. Dorothy attended the School of Social Welfare, obtaining her master’s degree in social work in 1982. After graduation she was employed for a time as a counselor at Albany’s...

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9. A National and International Figure, 1990–2001

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pp. 191-220

Beginning in the early 1990s, my prominence as a historian, coupled with my research on the history of the world nuclear disarmament movement, led to my playing a growing national and international role. I had presided over a nationwide (albeit small)...

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10. Growing Old, but Not Gracefully, 2001–2011

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pp. 221-248

As people age, they usually lose their youthful exuberance—indeed, grow gloomier and more pessimistic. One reason for this, I guess, is that their glands start pumping out lower levels of adrenalin, thus reducing their energy level. Also, they...

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11. In Retrospect

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pp. 249-252

Although I sprang back from the cancer and chemotherapy of late 2007 with renewed teaching, speaking, writing, and troublemaking, I did become more thoughtful. After all, near-death experiences do lead people to reflect upon the meaning of their...

Other Books by Lawrence Wittner

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pp. 253-254


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pp. 255-268

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338951
E-ISBN-10: 1572338954
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338579
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338571

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 27 halftones
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 779828655
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Working for Peace and Justice

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Pacifists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Political activists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Intellectuals -- United States -- Biography.
  • Wittner, Lawrence S.
  • Scholars -- United States -- Biography.
  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Student movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social justice -- History -- 20th century.
  • State University of New York at Albany -- Faculty -- Biography.
  • Peace movements -- History -- 20th century.
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