By 1970, I had been organizing against the war full-time for five years. First, in Washington where I was an organizer of the televised National Teach-In which was watched by about ten million Americans, and then in Michigan as chairman of Michi-gan Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. We had organized and gotten staff in every major Michigan city. We had set up draft counseling centers, helped soldiers on a base publish and distribute the antiwar paper The Broken Arrow. We spoke to innumerable community groups, and put on vigils and demon-strations throughout Michigan.
But as my young sons said to me, “Mom, you keep working and the war keeps going on.”
They were right: by that fall, the war in Vietnam had been going on for what seemed like forever. The heavy American involvement began in 1965, soon after President Johnson was elected on the promise to “Not let American boys do what Asian boys should be doing.” The growing unpopularity of the war had forced Johnson from the office he had coveted all of his life, and Americans had elected Richard Nixon with his “secret plan to end the war.” The war continued to escalate. We had troops in Viet-nam, Laos and Cambodia and had witnessed the massacre at My Lai.
Desperation at home was rising rapidly. People felt that no matter how much they protested, marched, leafleted and lobbied, this unconstitutional war only got worse, killing ever more Vietnamese, and more Americans.
That summer, Senator J. William Fulbright, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee put into the Congressional Record a remarkable statement called "We Have Not Shaken Hands With The Troops; We have led Them." It had been written by the military’s elite: Vietnam veterans who were graduates of West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy.
When I saw this statement in the Congressional Record, I determined to print 10,000 copies and take them to Washington, to hand out at a march which was largely being organized by Vietnam veterans. Thousands of people from Michgan were going, by car, chartered bus and plane.
My husband and I took a morning flight to Washington. I was not dressed in people’s idea of hippie attire — jeans, T-shirt sneakers and long hair. Instead, I looked like every military officer’s wife, in a navy coat with gold buttons, a red and white silk scarf, and white gloves. My deliberately straight appearance challenged those who insisted that all those against the war were either naive students, nutty hippies, or weird Communist sympathizers. In fact, I was typical of the people the military believed they were defending, the well dressed, the white, and the middle class.
We arrived at the Washington National airport and caught a taxi into Washington. Jim got out at the Archives to work on some of his research.
After he got out of the cab, I thought to myself, “I didn”t come here just to go on one more march. I’ve been on a million marches. I came here to see the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” So I said to the taxi driver, “Please take me to the Pentagon.”
On the way across the Potomac river, I told him what we were there for. He, like a majority of Blacks in D.C., was very sympathetic. When we arrived I said, “I am not sure how long I’ll be here. Will you wait?”
Leaving our suitcases in the cab, I entered the Pentagon. “Where are the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting?” I asked the first officer I saw.
“They are in the E Ring, but I don’t know the room number,” he responded, pointing.
I walked on, carrying my 8 1/2 x 11 inch box of copies of We Have Not Shaken Hands With The Troops; We Have Led Them.
As I continued down the corridors past one guard after another, I kept asking where the Joint Chiefs were meeting. Of course, I had no picture ID around my neck like everyone else in this area, but the box of literature I was carrying probably obscured this fact.
The people I asked kept getting higher in rank. First sergeants, then second lieutenants, then captains. When the only people in the halls and offices were colonels and generals, I figured I was getting close.
Finally a general gave me the precise number of the room where the Joint Chiefs’ meeting was taking place. I walked by a bored Black guard, past a blond secretary, and a general sitting in an anteroom at his desk, and then there I was, in the meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Conversation ceased. Stunned, they sat there.
I said, “I have something for you,” and handed each of them a copy of "We Have Not Shaken Hands With The Troops; We Have Led Them."
Then one of them must have given a signal because the blond secretary teetered in on four inch heels, every golden curl lacquered firmly into place a la Marie Antoinette and clutched my arm in a most unladylike vise.
“What are you doing here?” she hissed, dragging me out of the room.
“I am passing out a statement of graduates of West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy,” adding with some satis-faction, “They are your boys, not ours.”
She was clearly appalled at this monstrous breach of security that a mere citizen, a member of the infamous anti-war movement, could have penetrated deep into the core of the Pentagon into the holy of holies where the Joint Chiefs of Staff were meeting.
She dragged me up to the guard. “Did you let her in here?” she demanded.
The guard, bored as ever, shrugged. “I don”t know,” he said.
I was thinking, “I wonder if they are going to put me into a dungeon in the basement of the Pentagon. What will the taxi driver with our luggage do? What will Jim do? He has no idea where I am.” But apparently they didn’t want one more cause célèbre, so she released me into a main corridor.
It was Friday at 5:00 p.m., and the rush of people to get out of the Pentagon could have knocked a person down. All of the offices quickly emptied. So I decided, this being a golden opportunity to leaflet, to go into every office I could find, leave copies on the desks, and post others on the mirrors in the ladies’ rooms.
Then I left the Pentagon, climbed into the cab, rejoined my husband, and went to the March.
In the late 1960s, I underwent what might be described as a born-again experience. At meeting for worship every First Day and at many other times during the week, I found myself thinking such remarkable sentiments as “Jesus saves” and “Jesus is the answer” and “Give it to Jesus.”
I did not often verbalize these thoughts, because Jesus was my little secret. Another member of the Buffalo Meeting had given me Jesus as a gift. He told me that, in case I happened to know anyone involved in the new Underground Railroad, we might want to call this serendipitous, fly-by-night network of Quaker meeting houses and other more or less subversive waystations by the acronym JESUS.
That is, “Just Escape from Servitude in the United States.” During the Vietnam War, the meeting house in Buffalo, New York, served as headquarters for the Western New York Draft Counseling Center, which operated probably 50-80 hours a week during the height of the war. Upstairs, the meeting house resident couple opened their home as a commune to assorted bohemian types, myself among them. Soon after moving into the meeting house in the fall of 1968, I was asked to take responsibility for the increasing numbers of young men who showed up at the meeting house door looking for a friendly face.
These were not the young men looking for draft counseling.
I was to take care of the growing numbers who came unsolicited seeking help to emigrate to Canada. Although many of the draft counselors and many of the members of Buffalo Meeting were sympathetic to these young men who wanted to leave the States, working with them in the Draft Counseling Center could have seriously jeopardized both the Draft Counseling Center itself and the Buffalo Friends Meeting that housed its endeavors.
So I was given a list of people in the Buffalo area who had offered to help young men escape the draft. And that was the beginning of the Underground Railroad station that operated unofficially in the Buffalo Friends meeting house at 72 North Parade Avenue.
Our station was directly affiliated with the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme (TADP), run by Bill Spira and Naomi Wall. And we soon became incredibly well organized for an operation such as ours that was run by a bunch of “commsymphippie-pinkofaggotfreaks.”
The Canadian government had a very clear and detailed immigration policy at that time, based on a point system. Anyone who wished to emigrate to Canada had to achieve a certain minimum number of points based on education, profession, family members living in Canada, and other criteria.
In addition to providing food, temporary housing, and often substitute parenting for our guests, my job was to make sure that we sent to the border only those young men who had enough points to guarantee their admission. To this end, we offered quite a makeover service. We provided haircuts for the long-haired hippie types, straight-looking clothes, and a packed suitcase for those who showed up with no luggage.
We had a $500 revolving cash fund, which Canadian Immigration considered enough to live on while resettling in Canada. This money was returned to the driver after passing the Immigration interview and was then available for the next emigrant. Through the Toronto Friends Meeting and the TADP, we arranged for a job offer, worth ten points (or ten percent) of required Immigration Department points, for almost every emigrant. Our most vigorous supporters in the Toronto Meeting were the late John and Nancy Pocock.
We had personal letters of reference sent to the meeting house from sympathetic clergy, teachers, and employers asso-ciated with our guests. And all of these documents, along with the money and the revolving clothes closet, were gathered in the suitcase that we handed over with each young man to the volunteer driver. Our drivers were nuns and priests and other clergy and ordinary citizens who looked as straight as the most prominent Quaker of the day, Richard Nixon.
The Toronto Anti-Draft Programme helped us keep track of the changing Immigration Department shifts at the four US-Canada bridges in the Buffalo area. TADP kept records of Immigration officers who gave our young men a hard time, and we avoided using those bridges on their shifts, especially for those young men with only a marginal number of points who would thus need to rely on the discretionary ten points that the Immigration officer personally controlled.
How did those heading for Canada know to come to the meeting house door? Well, a number of young men were sent to us from Toronto, because it was necessary to apply for landed immigrant status at a border or at a point of disembarkation. But instead of being told to follow the drinking gourd, most of those who arrived at the Buffalo meeting house said that they had been told by someone in the peace movement something to the effect that they could find Friends in the telephone book of any big city.
And once they had found Friends in one city, they were referred to other Friends along their route north. So I heard stories of men moving from one meeting house to another to get to Buffalo. Unlike the Underground Railroad of slavery days, however, the stations along the Vietnam era railroad were much more loosely connected, largely because of the very real threat of infiltration and prosecution.
When I obtained my FBI file after the Freedom of Infor-mation Act was passed, all my fears were confirmed and in fact multiplied. Almost all of my antiwar activity was documented with a lot of hearsay records that could only have been provided by agents who had actually known me personally. We were rather sure at the time that all the phone lines into the meeting house were tapped, and the later evidence confirmed those fears.
Who were these young men going to Canada? At first when Canada was accepting only those avoiding the draft, they were largely college-educated, middle class whites with great futures if they could stay away from Vietnam. Then Canada decided to open its borders as well to military men who were absent without leave, and the whole picture changed.
We were suddenly flooded with younger men, some of whom were not white, most of whom had barely a high school education and were much harder to place because of their general lack of education and needed job skills. I remember one of them, a young farm boy from Kansas, who actually told me that all he ever wanted was 40 acres and a mule, and he was sorry that he would have to go to Canada to get it.
In the late summer of 1969, we had a report from TADP that one of the young men we had helped and who had stayed with us in Buffalo for about a week reported a very suspicious incident when he arrived in Toronto. When he came out of the Canadian Immigration Office after his interview, he recognized a car and its driver sitting outside the office. He told TADP that he had seen the same car and driver over a week earlier outside the Syracuse Peace Center and again outside the safe house he had stayed at in Syracuse, New York, over 100 miles from Buffalo.
Somehow, the unidentified driver of that car from Syracuse had known where and when the young man was crossing into Canada.
That was the end of my being a conductor in Buffalo. I handed over my contact list of drivers and safe houses, the suitcase, and the money to one of my most supportive drivers, a suburban homemaker, and left town for a few months.
Later that fall, TADP sent me to Detroit to set up another Underground Railroad station there. Both of these stations continued operating to some degree until supply and demand allowed them to be laid down.
And that is the story of how I worked for Jesus during the Vietnam War.