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  • A Tribute To Carl Oglesby (1935-2011)
  • George Brosi

When Carl Oglesby (1935-2011) died last September, several of the obituaries that appeared in the nation's leading newspapers quoted his 1965 speech at a rally against the Vietnam-War. There he challenged those who would consider him anti-American: "Don't blame me," he said, "blame those who mouthed my liberal values and broke my American heart." Oglesby is also often quoted as saying, "It isn't the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it's the troubles that cause the rebels."

Oglesby grew up in Akron, Ohio, with his mother and his father who both moved there from the Southern Mountains as young workers. His mother grew up in Bridgeport in Jackson County, Alabama. His father's people are from Cowpens in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.

In this issue of this magazine is a memoir by Oglesby about his experience on a trip to visit his father's people. Oglesby wrote about our region on other occasions as well. One of his plays, produced in both Ann Arbor and Boston, was entitled, "The Peacemaker," and featured a protagonist who sought reconciliation between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Oglesby also recorded two albums of his own songs, including one entitled "Cherokee Queen," inspired by family stories that claimed his maternal grandfather was Cherokee.

My wife, Connie, and I attended memorial services for Carl Oglesby at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the church he belonged to while teaching political science at MIT. I first met Oglesby in the summer of 1965. I had just graduated from Carleton College and skipped the commencement ceremony to attend the annual convention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Oglesby was working as a technical writer for a defense contractor, but had recently joined the organization. I supported his successful bid for election as president because he was very articulate and represented our successful efforts to reach out to new constituencies. Oglesby was elected and quit his job. After the meeting, I went to work at the SDS National Office serving under President Oglesby. The following year, Oglesby taught at Antioch College, and I worked as a "Peace Intern" for the Dayton office of the American Friends Service Committee. I often drove over to Yellow Springs to hang out with Oglesby, his wife, Beth, and their three little kids. [End Page 8]

Since then, my life, at times, has retraced the steps of Oglesby's family. After our marriage in 1971, Connie and I moved to a small farm in Marion County, Tennessee, the county that adjoins Jackson County, Alabama, where Oglesby's mother grew up. While I was employed by Save Our Cumberland Mountains there, I worked in Bridgeport, the hometown of Oglesby's mother, with an inter-racial community group opposed to a coal shipping facility on the Tennessee River. Connie and I have also often traveled to Spartanburg County, South Carolina.

Many of the mainstream media's obituaries for Oglesby emphasized the fact that he was kicked out of SDS when the organization was taken over late in the sixties by small factions of doctrinaire leftists who ended up abolishing the organization. What these obituaries didn't emphasize was that the death throes of the organization were not representative of how it functioned for most of its existence and that Oglesby remained engaged in peace and justice work throughout his life. Oglesby rejected extremist tactics and ideologies that lost sight of fundamental American values. He was also known for reaching out to new constituencies, from libertarians to business people to the military.

After the 1960s, Oglesby embarked upon a successful career as a college teacher, notably at Dartmouth as well as MIT, and as an author, of several books, including The Yankee Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate (1977), which probed beneath the surface of the Kennedy assassination. In 2008, his memoir of the 1960s, Ravens in the Storm, was published. It starts with Biblical exegesis explaining his political ornithology and why he considered himself and his comrades to be "ravens" and not "doves."

I hope that those involved in the present-day "occupy" engagements...


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