William R. Huntington

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William Reed Huntington (1907–1990) was an American architect and Quaker representative to the United Nations and director of the Quaker program there. As a pacifist, Huntington was active for years in the American Friends Service Committee, more commonly known as the Quakers.

He was a crew member of the Golden Rule, a small boat that in 1958 sailed into the South Pacific to protest atomic testing there by the United States. Huntington and the other crew members of the Golden Rule, James Peck, George Willoughby, Orion Sherwood and skipper Albert Bigelow were arrested 5 nautical miles (9 km) from Honolulu and sentenced to 60 days in jail. Their act of non-violent protest against the testing of nuclear arms and the nuclear arms race attracted worldwide media coverage and inspired similar actions by members of the Vancouver-based Don't Make a Wave Committee (which later became Greenpeace).


In World War II, Huntington was co-director of a camp for conscientious objectors at Big Flats, N.Y. After the war, he was co-commissioner of relief operations in Europe for the American Friends Service Committee from 1947 to 1949.

From 1961 to 1963, he was director of refugee assistance operations in Tunisia and Algeria in connection with the French-Algerian war. He later served as the Quaker representative to the United Nations and director of the United Nations Quaker program.

The following is an excerpt from Huntington's account of his life on the occasion of his Harvard 50th class reunion in 1978:

"...I have had tremendous personal satisfaction in the profession of architecture. I have kept only a small office, doing residential and community work in the country. Given a world politically organized in sanity, I would choose no other life. As noted above, two houses for classmates were highlights, combining for me the pleasures and privileges of happy and close relationships with both clients and builders with the challenges of all phases of design. By the late fifties I had all the work I could handle. Then I was interrupted by activities that took me away from my boards for most of 1958 and almost all of the sixties.

Atomic testing had begun in the Pacific by the British, and an English Quaker had plans to sail a ship into the open sea where bombs were going to be set off. His party of protesters, not sailors, were going to charter a freighter and crew for the project. This involved red-tape with governments and shipping companies and unions, as well as the heavy expense, and was given up as impractical. But to me and some of my friends it seemed a powerful idea which could be carried out in a small yacht operating with the freedom with which such craft race and cruise in the oceans wherever they will. So when it was announced that the United States was planning similar tests in 1958, and no laws existed forbidding anyone from entering the 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2) of open sea where the U.S. government warned the tests would take place, we decided that it was the thing to do. We would get a small boat, set sail for the Eniwetok area, arrive when the explosions were scheduled, and stay there "come what may." What better way for calling the world's attention, not only to the risks of these particular blasts, but also to the frightful course toward atomic warfare and total destruction which the experiments were leading mankind?

So it came about that Albert Bigelow and I and two others, with backing by a Committee for Non-Violent Action, found ourselves on the thirty-foot ketch Golden Rule bound for Honolulu as a provisioning stop, while Washington hastily passed a regulation, later found to be illegal that said we shouldn't be allowed to go further. When we did set out to the west again, we were arrested and eventually spent sixty days in the dilapidated Honolulu jail for contempt of court. The venture did focus attention on the nuclear issue, and eloquent articles were published supporting the principles we stood for, which made us feel the voyage had been useful.

After my return, a call came from the American Friends Service Committee again, asking me to take over as Field Director for the work they were doing for Algerian refugees in Tunisia who had been driven from their country by the French, who were then still trying to put down the Algerian rebellion.

I spent two years on this assignment, one in Tunisia and one in eastern Algeria after the French had given up and Algeria had become independent. We learned a lot. We had had no knowledge of the Moslem-Arab world, and we got a good orientation in Tunisia, where the French protectorate had left the Arab culture relatively undisturbed and Bourguiba had led the country to freedom with a minimum of upheaval. In Algeria, the French as conquerors for over a century had tried to force that country to become a department of France. They have subjugated ninety percent of the people who were Arab and suppressed their culture, while mimicking their architecture in their villas. We saw the results of the violence and bitterness on both sides, but also the frustrated good will that carried on and recounted ruefully how, if only understanding had been sought sooner, "all this need not have happened." Here was another example of how a small minority cannot indefinitely treat the rest of the population as second class citizens. It is a sombre warning of what many think is looming inevi-tably in South Africa.

In the summer of 1963, I was lucky to get the break I had long been dreaming of, a chance to work with the United Nations. The Quakers - through the Friends World Committee, an accredited, non-governmental body - have maintained a representative at the United Nations since it first came to New York. There is an office across the avenue from the U.N. headquarters, and a quiet brownstone house nearby in Turtle Bay with living quarters for the director of the program and his family. The house has especially comfortable meeting and dining facilities to which the U.N. delegates and others can be invited for informal discussions of international issues in an atmosphere that is open and neutral. This post was vacant; Lee and I were appointed as hostess and director; we moved in, and for the next six years were totally involved in being close to the inside of the diplomatic and organizational world of the U.N.

The United Nations is widely thought of as generally irrelevant and superfluous. It is indeed often pitiably powerless, due primarily to the lack of political will among its most important members to make it serve the purposes for which it was set up. From the privileged contacts and conversations we shared with so many able representatives there, diplomats restricted by their governments yet devoted to the U.N. ideal and trying to get the best out of it, we got a very different view. It gave us a mixed sense of frustration and encouragement, of impatience and hope, of disillusion and admiration, but when put together came out positive and optimistic. I kept thinking how the whole thing would really work if only others could see it from the inside, too.

I thought of the Wright brothers working alone in their hay field for so long, scorned and ridiculed. Looking at the clumsy unperfected machinery of the U.N. and at the persistent efforts of those who believed in its future, I felt, "this thing someday is going to fly."

We of '28 have had life-spans laid out in the heart of the twentieth century. Before we were born, Hague conferences promised an end to war. After World War I, which dominated our youth, we were told that was the last war. At the close of World War II, which interrupted our prime years, we joined in the resolve that this should never happen again. Some of us will still be around to see ACT IV. In the inter-mission, retired Harvard professor, George Wald, speaks to us ( June 30, 1977): "I think it must be one of the strangest phenomena in all human history, that on the very brink of extinction the human race is paying so little attention. . . . There's no exaggerating the fantastic peril the human race exists in right now. . . . in a half hour's interchange be-tween the United States and the Soviet Union, that will be curtains . . . the end of civilization as we know it."

I always get very excited and nervous attending powerful theater. As I take my seat for the final act, I cannot imagine how the author is ever going to make it come out right. But in my heart I know that it must. Somehow something or somebody will turn the tide. The grandchildren will live; Harvard and the world will go on. But in today's reality we are not just audience. If we are to applaud with joy and relief when the curtain falls, we shall have to help with the script and play our parts on the stage too."