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David Dellinger

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David Dellinger
Dellinger's mug shot, 1943
Born(1915-08-22)August 22, 1915
DiedMay 25, 2004(2004-05-25) (aged 88)
EducationYale University (BA)
New College, Oxford
Union Theological Seminary
Occupation(s)Writer, activist, pacifist
Known forPolitical activism, one of the Chicago Seven
SpouseElizabeth Peterson[1]

David T. Dellinger (August 22, 1915 – May 25, 2004) was an American pacifist and an activist for nonviolent social change. Although active beginning in the early 1940s, Dellinger reached peak prominence as one of the Chicago Seven, who were put on trial in 1969.

Early life[edit]

Dellinger was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts to a wealthy family. He was the son of Maria Fiske and Raymond Pennington Dellinger; his father was an alumnus of Yale University, a lawyer, and a prominent Republican and friend of Calvin Coolidge.[1] His maternal grandmother, Alice Bird Fiske, was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution.[1][2][3]

Dellinger graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in economics, began a doctorate for a year at New College, Oxford, and studied theology at Union Theological Seminary of Columbia University with the intention of becoming a Congregationalist minister.[4][5] At Yale he had been a classmate and friend of the economist and political theorist Walt Rostow. Rejecting his comfortable background, he walked out of Yale one day to live with hobos during the Depression. While at Oxford University, he visited Nazi Germany and drove an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War. Dellinger, who opposed the war's victorious Nationalist faction, led by Francisco Franco, later recalled, "After Spain, World War II was simple. I wasn't even tempted to pick up a gun to fight for General Motors, U.S. Steel, or the Chase Manhattan Bank, even if Hitler was running the other side."[6]

Political career[edit]

During World War II, he was an imprisoned conscientious objector and anti-war agitator. In federal prison, he and fellow conscientious objectors, including Ralph DiGia and Bill Sutherland, protested racial segregation in the dining halls, which were ultimately integrated because of the protests.[7] He sat on the executive committee of the Socialist Party of America and the Young People's Socialist League, its youth section, until he left in 1943. In February 1946, Dellinger helped to found the radical pacifist Committee for Nonviolent Revolution.[2] In 1948, he co-founded the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. He was also a long-time member of the War Resisters League, joining the staff in March 1955. In July–November 1951, Dellinger participated in the Paris-to-Moscow bicycle trip for disarmament with Ralph DiGia, Bill Sutherland, and Art Emery and sponsored by the Peacemakers; cyclists got as far as the headquarters of the Soviet Army in Vienna. “We were warned not to go to the Soviet zone. People who went to the army headquarters were sometimes never seen again. But we didn’t think that would happen to us. The worst that would happen was jail, and I already knew I could stand that. I was only worried about what I was putting my family through back in the States.”[8] The Paris-to-Moscow Bicycle Trip for Disarmament was a key inspiration for the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace in 1960–1961.[9]

In the 1950s and the 1960s, Dellinger joined freedom marches in the South and led many hunger strikes in jail. In 1956, he, Dorothy Day, and A. J. Muste founded the magazine Liberation as a forum for the pacifist, non-Marxist left.[10][11] Dellinger had contacts and friendships with such diverse individuals as Eleanor Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh, Martin Luther King Jr., Abbie Hoffman, A.J. Muste, Greg Calvert, James Bevel, David McReynolds, and numerous Black Panthers such as Fred Hampton, whom he greatly admired. As chair of the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, he worked with many antiwar organizations and helped bring King and Bevel into leadership positions in the 1960s antiwar movement. In 1966 Dellinger travelled to both North and South Vietnam to learn first-hand the impact of American bombing. He later recalled that critics ignored his trip to Saigon and focused solely on his visit to Hanoi.[12] In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments to protest the Vietnam War,[13] and later became a sponsor of the War Tax Resistance project, which practiced and advocated tax resistance as a form of protest against the war.[14]

Chicago Seven trial[edit]

As US involvement in Vietnam grew, Dellinger applied Mahatma Gandhi's principles of nonviolence to his activism within the growing antiwar movement. One of the high points of this was the Chicago Seven trial over allegations that Dellinger and several others had conspired to cross state lines with the intention of inciting a riot, after antiwar protesters had interrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The ensuing court case was turned by Dellinger and his co-defendants into a nationally publicized platform for putting the Vietnam War on trial. On February 18, 1970, they were acquitted of the conspiracy charge, but five defendants, including Dellinger, were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot. All of the defendants, along with their two lawyers, were given sentences for contempt of court; Dellinger was sentenced to 29 months and 16 days on 32 contempt counts.

Judge Julius Hoffman's handling of the trial, along with the FBI's bugging of the defense lawyers, resulted, with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in the convictions being overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals two years later. The appeals court remanded the contempt citations for trial before a judge other than Julius Hoffman. Dellinger was eventually convicted on five contempt counts, but was sentenced to time already served.[15][16]

Subsequent activities[edit]

Dellinger spoke at the December 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan.[17]

In the late 1970s, Dellinger spent two years teaching at Goddard College's Adult Degree Program and Vermont College.[18][19] In 2001, he was invited back to give the commencement address to the graduating class of Goddard's Residential Undergraduate Program.[20]

Dellinger also was a founder of Seven Days, an American alternative news magazine written from a leftist or anti-establishment perspective. Dellinger obtained the subscription list of Ramparts magazine, which ceased publication in October 1975.[21] Seven Days began preview editions in 1975, published regularly starting in 1977 but ceased publication in 1980.

In 1986, when his Yale class of 1936 held its 50th reunion, Dellinger wrote in the reunion book: "Lest my way of life sounds puritanical or austere, I always emphasize that in the long run one can't satisfactorily say no to war, violence, and injustice unless one is simultaneously saying yes to life, love, and laughter."[22]

For his lifelong commitment to pacifist values and for serving as a spokesperson for the peace movement, Dellinger was awarded the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience award on September 26, 1992.

In 1996, during the first Democratic convention held in Chicago since 1968, Dellinger and his grandson were arrested along with nine others, including Civil Rights Movement historian Randy Kryn, Bradford Lyttle, and Abbie Hoffman's son Andrew, during a sit-in at Chicago's Federal Building.[23]

In 2001, Dellinger led a group of young activists from Montpelier, Vermont, to Quebec City to protest a conference that planned to create a free trade zone.[24]


Dellinger died in Montpelier, Vermont, in 2004 after an extensive stay at Heaton Woods Nursing Home.[24] He suffered from Alzheimer's disease for years before his death.

Popular culture[edit]

Selected works[edit]

  • Dellinger, David T., Revolutionary Nonviolence: Essays by Dave Dellinger, Indianapolis : Bobbs-Merrill, 1970
  • Dellinger, David T., More Power Than We Know: The People’s Movement Toward Democracy, Garden City, N.Y. : Anchor Press, 1975. ISBN 0-385-00162-2
  • Dellinger, David T., Vietnam Revisited: From Covert Action to Invasion to Reconstruction, Boston, MA : South End Press, 1986. ISBN 0-89608-320-9
  • Dellinger, David T., From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter, New York : Pantheon Books, 1993. ISBN 0-679-40591-7. (Dellinger's autobiography)
  • Dellinger, David (1999). "Why I Refused to Register in the October 1940 Draft and a Little of What It Led To". In Gara, Larry; Gara, Lenna Mae (eds.). A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories. Kent State University Press. pp. 20–37. ISBN 0-87338-621-3.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kaufman, Michael T., "David Dellinger, of Chicago 7, Dies at 88", The New York Times, May 27, 2004
  2. ^ a b Hunt, Andrew E. (2006). David Dellinger: the life and times of a nonviolent revolutionary. NYU Press. p. 88ff. ISBN 978-0-8147-3638-8. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  3. ^ Revolution, Daughters of the American (28 March 2018). "Directory of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution". Memorial continental hall – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "Lifelong Protester David Dellinger Dies (washingtonpost.com)". www.washingtonpost.com.
  5. ^ "Interview with David Dellinger".
  6. ^ "A quote from From Yale to Jail". www.goodreads.com.
  7. ^ Matt Meyer and Judith Mahoney Pasternak, "David Dellinger, 1915–2004," Nonviolent Activist, May–June 2004, pp. 10–11, 21.
  8. ^ "Ralph DiGia Fund for Peace & Justice » Timeline of a Life of Activism". Archived from the original on 2021-04-20. Retrieved 2020-09-16.
  9. ^ Lyttle, Bradford. (1966). You come with naked hands; the story of the San Francisco to Moscow march for peace. Greenleaf Books. OCLC 3216677.
  10. ^ James Tracy (1996). Direct action. University of Chicago Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-226-81127-7. liberation magazine.
  11. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. (May 27, 2004). "David Dellinger, of Chicago 7, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  12. ^ ""Interview with David T. Dellinger, 1982." 08/31/1982.WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved 3 November 2010". Archived from the original on 2012-07-28.
  13. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest," January 30, 1968 New York Post
  14. ^ "A Call to War Tax Resistance" The Cycle 14 May 1970, p. 7
  15. ^ Carlson, Michael, "Obituary: David Dellinger : Pacifist elder statesman of the anti-Vietnam Chicago Eight", The Guardian (UK), Friday 28 May 2004
  16. ^ United States v. Dellinger, Center for Constitutional Rights.
  17. ^ Barrett, Jane (1971-12-16), "John Sinclair: The Rally and the Release", Village Voice, retrieved 2010-02-14[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "Life on the Edge: The turbulent public and private lives of David Dellinger & Elizabeth Peterson" Article dated 5/29/2006 from the Rutland Herald/Times Argus.
  19. ^ "Entry: David Dellinger", Cf. p. 103 in John J. Duffy, Samuel B. Hand, Ralph H. Orth, The Vermont Encyclopedia, University Press of New England, 2003. ISBN 9781584650867
  20. ^ Watch the video from Goddard College's archives.
  21. ^ "The State". Los Angeles Times. March 7, 1976. Archived from the original on September 20, 2022. Retrieved 2022-09-18 – via Newspapers.com.
  22. ^ McCarthy, Colman, "A Man Who Didn't Obey" (Obituary of David Dellinger), The Progressive, August 1, 2004.
  23. ^ UPI report, August 28, 1996
  24. ^ a b "Peace activist Dellinger dies at age 88". Rutland Herald. 2004-05-26. Retrieved 2024-03-14.

Further reading[edit]

  • Edited by Mark L. Levine, George C. McNamee and Daniel Greenberg / Foreword by Aaron Sorkin. The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Official Transcript. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020. ISBN 978-1-9821-5509-4. OCLC 1162494002
  • Edited with an introduction by Jon Wiener. Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Seven. Afterword by Tom Hayden and drawings by Jules Feiffer. New York: The New Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-56584-833-7
  • Edited by Judy Clavir and John Spitzer. The Conspiracy Trial: The extended edited transcript of the trial of the Chicago Eight. Complete with motions, rulings, contempt citations, sentences and photographs. Introduction by William Kunstler and foreword by Leonard Weinglass. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1970. ISBN 0224005790. OCLC 16214206
  • Schultz, John. The Conspiracy Trial of the Chicago Seven. Foreword by Carl Oglesby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. ISBN 9780226760742. (Originally published in 1972 as Motion Will Be Denied.)

External links[edit]