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Carl 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.
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. He 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. Oglesby 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") 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.
Contact with SDS
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.
|It isn't the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it's the troubles that cause the rebels.|
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.
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." 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."
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." He once unsuccessfully proposed cooperation between SDS and the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom on some projects, and argued that "in a strong sense, the Old Right and the New Left are morally and politically coordinate":
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?
In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. 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).
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.'" After the collapse of SDS in the summer of 1969, Oglesby became a writer, a musician and an academic.
In 1970 he was a featured speaker at the "Left/Right Festival of Liberation" organized by the California Libertarian Alliance.
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. 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." He recorded two albums, roughly in the folk-rock genre, one titled "Going To Damascus."
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."
- Containment and Change, Macmillan (1969). ASIN B00005XDUA
- The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate, Sheed Andrews and McMeel (1976). ISBN 0-8362-0688-6.
- Who Killed JFK? (The Real Story Series), Odonian Press (1991). ISBN 1-878825-10-0.
- The JFK Assassination: The Facts and Theories, Signet (1992). ISBN 0-451-17476-3.
- Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Antiwar Movement (2008). ISBN 1-4165-4736-3.
- Kauffman, Bill (2008-05-19) When the Left Was Right, The American Conservative.
- Segall, Grant. "Carl Oglesby rose from Akron to lead the SDS: news obituary". Cleveland.com. Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved 7/3/2017. Check date values in:
- A Tribute To Carl Oglesby (1935-2011), Project Muse, Winter 2012.
- Carl Oglesby, Antiwar Leader in 1960s, Dies at 76, By MARGALIT FOX, New York Times, SEPT. 14, 2011
- Students For A Democratic Society (SDS), Document Library, Let Us Shape the Future, By Carl Oglesby, November 27, 1965
- Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, pg. 244
- Bill Kauffman, "Writer on the Storm," Reason, April 2008 (Sept. 10, 2008).
- McCarthy, Daniel (2010-02-24) Carl Oglesby Was Right, The American Conservative.
- "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
- "The Yankee and the Cowboy War; Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate". kirkusreviews.com. Kirkus Reviews. October 4, 1976. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- Paul Buhle, "SDS Northeast Conference Report, Apr.23, Brown University (Providence, RI)", Documents from the SDS Northeast Regional Conference, Brown University, Providence, RI - April 2006, Next Left Notes.
- "Author, '60s activist and anti-war leader Carl Oglesby dead at age 76". The Washington Post. September 13, 2011. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
- "Carl Oglesby, Antiwar Leader in 1960s, Dies at 76". The New York Times. September 14, 2011.
- Archive of SDS documents, including two speeches by Carl Oglesby:
- Bill Kauffman, "Writer 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," Reason, April 2008.
- Kirkpatrick Sale. SDS: Ten Years Towards a Revolution. New York: Vintage 1974. ISBN 0-394-71965-4. See esp. 194-9.
- Oglesby Songs, a site devoted to the music of Carl Oglesby, including arrangements of several of his songs.
- Carl Preston Oglesby at Find a Grave