Staughton Lynd Research Paper

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Staughton Lynd, historian, radical political activist, and labor lawyer, was born on November 22, 1929, to the sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd, best known for their path-breaking Middletown studies. Like his parents, whose socialist views strongly influenced their son, Lynd pursued an academic career, graduating from Harvard in 1951 and obtaining a PhD in history from Columbia in 1962. Staughton Lynd, however, acquired notoriety not as a scholar but as a civil rights and antiwar activist.

Lynd  came from  a  Quaker  background.  He  was inducted into the U.S. army during the Korean War as a noncombatant conscientious objector, but discharged for his leftist sympathies. After leaving the army, Lynd and his wife, Alice Niles, joined the Macedonia cooperative community in Georgia. While teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, Lynd became involved in the civil rights movement and in 1964 he organized Freedom Schools for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during  the  legendary Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. In the fall of that year, Lynd moved on to become an assistant professor of history at Yale University,  but his focus was on the fledgling movement against the war in Vietnam. He traveled to Hanoi in December 1965, along with fellow peace activist Tom Hayden and Marxist historian Herbert Aptheker. Lynd saw the trip as a mission to prevent the escalation of the war; it resulted in his passport being temporarily revoked by the State Department, though the federal government did not initiate criminal prosecution. The  trip  did, however, probably cost him tenure at Yale.

As an antiwar activist with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), he was involved in organizing mass demonstrations and providing support for income tax and  draft resistance. When  parts of the  New Left embraced violence in the late sixties and early seventies, Lynd remained firmly committed to the ideals of nonviolent grassroots mobilization. In 1973 he enrolled in the University of Chicago law school, obtained a law degree, and in 1976 became a labor lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio, where he represented and helped organize steelworkers, sometimes in conflict with their unions. Legal strategies, in Lynd’s view, needed to be devised in close contact with working people and bolstered by radical direct action. His fields of activity have included the rights of retired and disabled workers, the struggle against plant closings, and efforts to create interracial labor alliances.

Lynd’s scholarly publications have always closely mirrored his interests and commitment as an activist, beginning with his 1962 dissertation on class conflict in the Revolutionary era. In addition, he has published books on slavery, oral histories of working-class  activism, and, in 2004, an account of the 1993 prison revolt in Lucasville, Ohio.  In  1998  Kent  State  University established the Staughton Lynd Collection, which includes materials from the 1930s to the year 2000.

Staughton Lynd has often been referred to as a Quaker influenced by Marxism. His socialism has always remained skeptical of dogma and tied to his strong belief in communitarian democracy, pacifism, and social justice. Not content to criticize American capitalism from the position of a middle-class intellectual, his life has been dedicated to helping empower poor people and minorities.

Bibliography:

  1. Lynd, S 2004. Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  2. Lynd, Staughton, and Alice Lynd, 2000. The New Rank and File. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press.
  3. Polsgrove, Car 2001. Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Norton.

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