James A. Corbett

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For other people of the same name, see Jim Corbett (disambiguation).

James A. "Jim" Corbett (October 8, 1933 – August 2, 2001) was an American rancher, writer, Quaker, philosopher, and human rights activist and a co-founder of the Sanctuary movement. He was born in Casper, Wyoming, and died near Benson, Arizona.


The son of a teacher and a substitute teacher, Corbett was descended from European-American settlers and Blackfoot Indians, and spent part of his childhood living on an Indian reservation.[1] He graduated from Colgate University and got his master's degree in philosophy from Harvard.[2] He took up ranching in Wyoming and Arizona and continued to herd goats and cows until his death and did research into beekeeping and goat husbandry.[3][4] He also was librarian and philosophy instructor at Cochise College in Arizona.[1]

In the early 1960s he converted to Quakerism and became an opponent of the Vietnam War.[1] In 1981, while living in Arizona, he became aware of refugees fleeing from civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala who were crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona and seeking political asylum.[1] At the time, very few of these refugees were receiving protection, as the U.S. government was funding the governments of the countries from which the refugees were fleeing, and immigration judges were instructed by the State Department to deny most asylum petitions.[5] Together with other human rights activists, Corbett started a small movement in Arizona to assist these people coming across the border, by providing assistance, transportation, and shelter. These activists, under the auspices of churches and Quaker meetings, cited religious precedent of protecting people fleeing persecution, as well as the Geneva conventions barring countries from deporting refugees back to countries in the middle of civil wars (non-refoulement), to justify their actions.[6] They found support for their work in congregations in Arizona and Chicago, Illinois, as well as south Texas and eventually other communities in many states, including California, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and others.[5]

This movement, which became known as the Sanctuary movement eventually involved over 500 congregations, and helped hundreds if not thousands of refugees find freedom in the U.S.[5]

Corbett and ten others around Tucson, Arizona were arrested for their work, as it violated U.S. immigration laws, although he was eventually acquitted.[1] He continued to assist refugees and to write on various topics of social justice.


Corbett was among the most intellectual of the movement's proponents, and he wrote and published widely on the topic. His two books were Goatwalking (1991) and Sanctuary for All Life (posthumously published in 2005).

See also[edit]



  • Davidson, Miriam, Convcitions of the Heart: Jim Corbett and the Sanctuary Movement (University of Arizona Press, 1988).

External links[edit]