Carl Oglesby

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Carl Preston Oglesby

Carl Preston Oglesby (July 30, 1935 – September 13, 2011) was an American writer, academic, and political activist. He was the President of the leftist student organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) from 1965 to 1966.[1]

Early life[edit]

His father was from South Carolina, and his mother was from Alabama. They met in Akron, Ohio, where the elder Oglesby worked in the rubber mills.[1]

Carl Oglesby graduated from Revere High School in suburban Akron, winning a prize in his final year for a speech in favor of America's Cold War stance.[2] He then enrolled at Kent State University for three years before dropping out to attempt to make his way as an actor and playwright in Greenwich Village, a traditionally Bohemian neighborhood in New York City. While at Kent State, he married Beth Rimanoczy, a graduate student in the English department; they ultimately had three children (Aron, Caleb and Shay). After a year in New York, he returned to Akron, where he became a copywriter for Goodyear and continued working on his creative endeavors, including three plays influenced by Britain's "angry young men" literary movement (exemplified by "a well-received work on the Hatfield-McCoy feud")[1] and an unfinished novel.

In 1958, Oglesby and his family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he took a technical writing position with the Bendix Corporation, a defense contractor. He ascended to the directorship of the company's technical writing division before completing his undergraduate degree as a part-time student at the University of Michigan (where he cultivated a circle of friends that included Donald Hall and Frithjof Bergmann) in 1962.[3][4]

Contact with SDS[edit]

Oglesby first came into contact with members of SDS in Ann Arbor in 1964. He wrote a critical article on American foreign policy in the Far East in the University of Michigan's campus magazine. SDSers read it, and went to meet Carl at his family home to see if he might become a supporter of the SDS. As Oglebsy put it, "We talked. I got to thinking about things. As a writer, I needed a mode of action [...] I saw that people were already moving, so I joined up." He left Bendix in 1965 and became a full-time Research, Information, Publications (RIP) worker for SDS.[citation needed]

It isn't the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it's the troubles that cause the rebels.
—Carl Oglesby[5]

He co-authored with Richard Shaull the book, Containment and Change which argued for an alliance between the New Left and the libertarian, non-interventionist Old Right in opposing an imperialist U.S. foreign policy.[6]

He became so impressed by the spirit and intellectual strength of the SDS that he became deeply involved in the organization. Despite the notable age gap between Oglesby and the traditionally-aged undergraduates who comprised most of the organization's membership, he became its president within a year. His first project was to be a "grass-roots theatre", but that project was soon superseded by the opposition to escalating American activity in Vietnam; he helped organize a teach-in in Michigan, and to build for the large SDS peace march in Washington on April 17, 1965. The National Council meeting after was Oglesby's first national SDS meeting. On November 27, 1965, Oglesby gave a speech, "Let Us Shape the Future," before tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Washington. He compared the Vietnam revolution to the American revolution. He condemned corporate liberalism and accused corporate anti-Communists of self-righteously denouncing Communist tyranny, while ignoring the "right-wing tyrannies that our businessmen traffic with and our nation profits from every day."[7][8] The speech became one of the most important documents to come out of the anti-war movement. According to Kirkpatrick Sale: "It was a devastating performance: skilled, moderate, learned, and compassionate, but uncompromising, angry, radical, and above all persuasive. It drew the only standing ovation of the afternoon... for years afterward it would continue to be one of the most popular items of SDS literature."[9]

Oglesby's political outlook was more eclectic than that of many in SDS. He was heavily influenced by libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, and dismissed socialism as "a way to bury social problems under a federal bureaucracy."[1] He once unsuccessfully proposed cooperation between SDS and the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom on some projects,[10] and argued that "in a strong sense, the Old Right and the New Left are morally and politically coordinate":[11]

In his essay "Vietnamese Crucible," published in the 1967 volume Containment and Change, Oglesby rejected the "socialist radical, the corporatist conservative, and the welfare-state liberal" and challenged the New Left to embrace "American democratic populism" and "the American libertarian right." Invoking Senator Taft, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Congressman Buffett, and Saturday Evening Post writer Garet Garrett, among other stalwarts of the Old Right, he asked, "Why have the traditional opponents of big, militarized, central authoritarian government now joined forces with such a government’s boldest advocates?" What in the name of Thomas Jefferson were conservatives doing holding the bag for Robert Strange McNamara?[1]

Steve Mariotti, a teenage SDS colleague of Oglesby's in 1965, credits Oglesby with describing an early form of what became known as the two-axis Nolan Chart during a delivery of his "Let Us Shape the Future" speech in order to distinguish between authoritarian conservatives and liberty-loving right-wingers.[12]

In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[13] Also in 1968, he was asked by Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver to serve as his running mate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in that year's presidential election (he declined the offer).[1]

Later life[edit]

External audio
audio icon "Cowboys and Yankees." A discussion of assassination in Boston, from January 31 to February 2, 1975. Broadcast on KPFK April 2, 1975. Pacifica Radio Archives.

Oglesby was forced out of SDS in 1969, after more left-wing members accused him of "being 'trapped in our early, bourgeois stage' and for not progressing into 'a Marxist–Leninist perspective.'"[1] After the collapse of SDS in the summer of 1969, Oglesby became a writer, a musician and an academic. His self-titled album was released by Vanguard Records and later reviewed by Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, who wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981): "In which the first president of SDS takes after Leonard Cohen, offering a clue as to why the framers of the Port Huron Statement didn't change the world in quite the way they envisioned. Overwritten, undermusicked, not much fun, not much enlightenment—in short, the work of someone who needs a weatherman (small 'w' please) to know which way the wind blows."[14]

In 1970 he was a featured speaker at the "Left/Right Festival of Liberation" organized by the California Libertarian Alliance. This type of bridge building was not unlike Oglesby; three years earlier, he had written that, " a strong sense, the Old Right and the New Left are morally and politically coordinate."[15]

Oglesby moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he founded the Assassination Information Bureau, an organization that has been credited with bringing about the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations.[16] He wrote several books on the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the various competing theories that attempt to explain it. According to Oglesby, Kennedy was killed by "a rightist conspiracy formed out of anti-Castro Cuban exiles, the Syndicate, and a Cowboy oligarchy, supported by renegade CIA and FBI agents."[17] He recorded two albums, roughly in the folk-rock genre, one titled "Going To Damascus."[citation needed]

External audio
audio icon "Medical Evidence about the JFK Assassination." Interviewed and produced by Bob Young. California: KPFK (May 27, 1992).

He taught politics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College. He attended the April 2006 North-Eastern Regional Conference of the "new SDS" and where he gave a speech in which he said that activism is about "teaching yourself how to do what you don't know how to do."[18]

Oglesby died of lung cancer at his home in Montclair, New Jersey on September 13, 2011, aged 76.[19][20]

In popular culture[edit]

Oglesby was portrayed by Michael A. Dean in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

He appeared on The Ron Reagan Show on November 19, 1991, with David Lifton, Robert J. Groden, and Robert Sam Anson.



Selected articles[edit]


Television documentaries[edit]





"Former New Left leader Carl Oglesby on the '60s, his old friend Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the dream of a left-libertarian alliance."


Collected works[edit]

  • Clandestine America: Selected Writings on Conspiracies from the Nazi Surrender to Dallas, Watergate, and Beyond. Cambridge, Mass.: Protean Press (2020). ISBN 978-0991352050.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kauffman, Bill (2008-05-19) When the Left Was Right, The American Conservative.
  2. ^ Segall, Grant. “Carl Oglesby Rose from Akron to Lead the SDS” (Obituary). Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 14, 2011.
  3. ^ “Carl Oglesby: Interviewed by Bret Eynon”. Resistance and Revolution: The Anti-Vietnam War Movement at the University of Michigan, 1965–1972. The New Left in Ann Arbor's Contemporary History Project, July 1978.
  4. ^ Carl Oglesby Papers, 1942–2005 Archived 2017-08-19 at the Wayback Machine. University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Special Collections and University Archives.
  5. ^ Brosi, George (Winter 2012). "A Tribute To Carl Oglesby, 1935–2011." Appalachian Heritage, vol. 40, no. 1. pp. 8-9. doi:10.1353/aph.2012.0008.
  6. ^ Conger, Wally (2006). New Libertarian Manifesto and Agorist Class Theory. ISBN 978-1847287717.
  7. ^ "Carl Oglesby, Antiwar Leader in 1960s, Dies at 76", By Margalit Fox, The New York Times, Sept. 14, 2011
  8. ^ Students For A Democratic Society (SDS), Document Library, Let Us Shape the Future, By Carl Oglesby, November 27, 1965
  9. ^ Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, p. 244
  10. ^ Kauffman, Bill. "Writers on the Storm: Former New Left Leader Carl Oglesby on the '60s, His Old Friend Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the Dream of a Left-Libertarian Alliance." Interview with Carl Oglesby. Reason (April 2008). Full issue.
  11. ^ McCarthy, Daniel (Feb. 24, 2010). "Carl Oglesby Was Right." American Conservative.
  12. ^ Steve Mariotti (23 October 2013). "Economically Conservative Yet Socially Tolerant? Find Yourself on the Nolan Chart". Huffington Post.
  13. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: O". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 10, 2019 – via
  15. ^ Oglesby, Carl, and Richard Shaull. Containment and Change: Two Dissenting Views of American Foreign Policy. New York: Macmillan (1967), p. 167. OCLC 5432663.
  16. ^ Greenberg, David (2003-11-20). "The plot to link JFK's death and Watergate". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-04-09.
  17. ^ "The Yankee and the Cowboy War; Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate". Kirkus Reviews. October 4, 1976. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  18. ^ Buhle, Paul. "SDS Northeast Conference Report, Apr.23, Brown University (Providence, RI)." Documents from the SDS Northeast Regional Conference, Brown University, Providence, RI. Next Left Notes (April 2006).
  19. ^ "Author, '60s activist and anti-war leader Carl Oglesby dead at age 76". Washington Post. September 13, 2011. Retrieved September 13, 2011.[dead link]
  20. ^ "Carl Oglesby, Antiwar Leader in 1960s, Dies at 76". New York Times. September 14, 2011.
  21. ^ "Carl Oglesby." Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors. Gale (2011). Gale In Context: Biography. Gale H1000185836.
  22. ^ Also: Resistance and Revolution: The Anti-Vietnam War Movement at the University of Michigan, 1965–1972 at University of Michigan.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]