George Mills Houser (June 2, 1916 – August 19, 2015) was an American Methodist minister, civil rights activist, and activist for the independence of African nations. He served on the staff of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (1940s – 1950s).
With James Farmer and Bernice Fisher, he co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942 in Chicago. With Bayard Rustin, another FOR staffer, Houser co-led the Journey of Reconciliation, a form of non-violent direct action, a two-week interracial bus journey challenging segregation. It was a model for the 1961 Freedom Rides that CORE later organized through the Deep South.
Early life and education
George Houser was born in 1916 to parents who were Methodist missionaries. As a child, he spent several years with them in the Far East, largely in the Philippines<oral history, 1999, Sheila Michaels, Columbia University archives>. He attended Union Theological Seminary, where he served as chairman of the school's social action commission. Houser, along with David Dellinger, was among twenty Union students who announced publicly that they would defy the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. In November 1940 Houser was arrested for refusing to be drafted. He served a year in jail.
After college, Houser was ordained as a Methodist minister. He soon became involved in movements for social justice and civil rights.
Houser joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the 1940s and worked with it until the 1950s. It sponsored education and activities related to civil rights for African Americans and the end of segregation.
In 1942 with fellow staffer James Farmer and activist Bernice Fisher, and James Robinson he co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Chicago. Houser served as its first executive secretary. Farmer, Bayard Rustin and Houser were all influenced at this time by Krishnalal Shridharani's Columbia University Doctoral thesis published in 1939 as War Without Violence. Shridharani was secretary to Gandhi and codified Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's organizing techniques and ideas on nonviolent civil disobedience. They decided to apply the same methods in their work for civil rights. Houser's codification of Shridharani's rules enabled CORE to engage in nonviolent actions. In 1946 Houser, along with Dave Dellinger, Igal Roodenko, Lew Hill, and others, helped found the radical pacifist Committee for Nonviolent Revolution.
In 1947, after the US Supreme Court's finding (in Morgan v. Commonwealth) that segregation in interstate travel was unconstitutional, Houser helped organize the Journey of Reconciliation. This was a plan to send eight white and eight black men on a journey through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky to test the ruling. The protest brought a great deal of press attention to CORE and to the issue of segregation in interstate travel. In February 1948 George Houser received the Thomas Jefferson Award for his work to bring an end to segregation on interstate buses and in their facilities.
In 1948, Houser was the secretary of the Resist Conscription Committee. He described the RCC as a temporary group of pacifists, whose purpose was to gather names of people who were willing to resist conscription. The group circulated a statement which read, in part:
Conscription fails to prevent war, foments further warlike preparation by our opponents, and denies fundamental freedoms of the individual necessary to democracy. This violates our deepest convictions that no person should be forcibly coerced into adopting a military way of life. We believe human beings are fit for something better, something nobler than slavery and training in the mass extermination of their fellows.
In 1949, Houser moved to Skyview Acres, an intentional community in Pomona, New York. In 2010, he received the Republic of South Africa’s Oliver R. Tambo Award. In the same year he moved to California, where he lived until his death. Houser died on August 19, 2015 at the age of 99 in Santa Rosa, California.
African Independence movements
Houser left the FOR in the 1950s, when he turned his attention to African liberation struggles. Nations were seeking independence from colonial rulers. House led the American Committee on Africa for many years, spending decades on the continent to promote freedom from colonial rule and segregation.
In 1952 he helped found "Americans for South African Resistance" (AFSAR) to organize support in the U.S. for the ANC-led Defiance Campaign against apartheid in South Africa. He was a founder in 1953 of the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), which grew out of AFSAR. In 1954 he took his first trip to Africa, visiting West Africa and South Africa. In 1960, as president of ACOA, Houser sent a telegram to Dwight Eisenhower urging him to officially condemn the treatment of Africans by South Africa. Because of his continuing activities for independence and against apartheid, Houser was not permitted to enter South Africa again until 1991, after the end of the apartheid government.
From 1955–1981, House served as Executive Director of the ACOA; he also was Executive Director of The Africa Fund from 1966–1981. At ACOA he spearheaded numerous campaigns supporting African struggles for liberation and independence, from Algeria to Zimbabwe. In an interview in 2004 he reflected on his work with ACOA and the transcript was published in the book No Easy Victories.
Since 1954 he has made over 30 trips to Africa. His support of liberation movements led him to develop close ties with many African leaders, including Amílcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere, Eduardo Mondlane, Kwame Nkrumah, and Oliver Tambo.
He serves on the Advisory Committee of the African Activist Archive Project.
Houser wrote numerous articles and two books:
- No One Can Stop The Rain: Glimpses of Africa's Liberation Struggle (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989)
- With Herbert Shore, I Will Go Singing: Walter Sisulu Speaks of his Life and the Struggle for Freedom in South Africa (Cape Town: Robben Island Museum, 2000).
Houser married and raised four children with his wife, Jean. His son, Steven, previously taught history at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York. Steven now teaches World Civilizations at Grand Valley State University. His grandson, Chris, taught at Scarsdale High School. Houser died on August 19, 2015 in Santa Rosa, California.
- "Today is George Houser's 99th birthday!". Fellowship of Reconciliation. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
- Fellowship magazine, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Spring, Summer and Winter 1992 issues.
- "The Reminiscences of George Houser" (April 1999), Oral Histories, Oral History Collection, Columbia University
- James Farmer, LAY BARE THE HEART: An Autobiography of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, A Plume Book, New American Library, 1985
- "20 Divinity Students Here Defy Draft Law as Enforcement Agency for City is Set Up". New York Times. October 12, 1940. p. 1.
- 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 October 2, 2011.
- "Draft to be Defied by Pacifist Group". New York Times. 10 June 1948. p. 2.
- "The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo". The Presidency Republic of South Africa. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
- "Church Body Scores African Violence". New York Times. April 6, 1960. p. 4.
- "No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950–2000". Retrieved July 25, 2015.
- "African Activist Archive Staff". Michigan State University. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
- Fox, Margalit (August 20, 2015). "George Houser, Freedom Rides Pioneer, Dies at 99". The New York Times. Retrieved August 21, 2015.
- George Houser,"No One Can Stop The Rain: Glimpses of Africa's Liberation Struggle," The Pilgrim Press, 1989, forward by Julius Nyerere.
- Tribute to George Houser (American Committee on Africa, 1981)
- George M. Houser, "Meeting Africa's Challenge – The Story of the American Committee on Africa", Issue magazine, African Studies Association, 1976
- African Activist Archive Project, Michigan State University
- James Farmer and George Houser, "Founding of CORE", Fellowship magazine, Fellowship of Reconciliation, (Spring, Summer and Winter 1992 issues)
- "Erasing the Color Line in the North," Conference – October 22, 1992, Bluffton College in Bluffton, Ohio. Academics and the participants agreed that the founders of CORE were Jim Farmer, George Houser and Bernice Fisher. A videotape of the conference is available from Bluffton College.
- Robin Washington, "Journey of Reconciliation, PBS documentary
- Bayard Rustin, PBS documentary
- "The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It", PBS documentary on conscientious objectors in World War II.
- Civic Knowledge Project documentary on the origins of CORE