Staughton Lynd: lifelong advocate for liberation

Longtime anti-racist and antiwar activist turned labor lawyer, Staughton Lynd died Nov. 17, five days before his 93rd birthday.

(Left to right) Staughton Lynd, Workers World Party co-founder Ted Dostal and WW contributor ‘Mose Peterson,’ Youngstown, Ohio, circa 1995.  WW PHOTO

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Staughton Lynd was raised by progressive parents and grew up in New York City during the Great Depression. Personally identifying as a “pacifist Quaker influenced by Marxism,” both he and his parents were victims of red-baiting. Lynd informed this writer he had been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World at different periods throughout his life.

Earning degrees at Harvard and Columbia Universities, Lynd worked alongside the late great Howard Zinn at Spelman College. As a passionate anti-racist, Lynd served as the director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee-led Freedom Schools in Mississippi in 1964; he later accepted a job at Yale University, where he became an active opponent of the U.S. war against socialist Vietnam.

Lynd joined antiwar activists Herbert Aptheker and Tom Hayden on a fact-finding mission in Hanoi in 1965, vividly recounted in Aptheker’s “Mission to Hanoi.”

Lynd and life partner Alice Niles Lynd led many protests for peace and social justice and offered counseling, refuge and material support to antiwar draft resisters in the mid-to-late 1960s. In the 1970s they moved to the then-vibrant steel community of Youngstown, Ohio, and eventually to the blue-collar community of Niles, Ohio, where they continued work against class exploitation and racist oppression.

With a law degree from the University of Chicago, Lynd served as general counsel for many labor unions in the Mahoning Valley. In collaboration with other pro-union advocates, he helped form a Working-Class Studies Program at Youngstown State University.

Lynd and Niles Lynd wrote and edited several books together, the most popular being “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers.” This compilation featured more than two dozen stories about militant shop floor battles against racism, sexism and anti-worker intimidation, with firsthand accounts of walkouts, sit-ins and factory occupations. This handbook can still be a valuable tool for workers organizing places like Starbucks and Amazon today.

Through multinational mass work for steelworkers and against racism in the Mahoning Valley, Lynd became friends in Youngstown with Workers World Party co-founders Frances Dostal and Ted Dostal, as well as early WW newspaper contributor Merle Luce, who wrote under the pen name “Mose Peterson.”

Lynd also worked with members of the Cleveland WWP branch throughout the 2000s in campaigns and coalitions to free the Lucasville 5 from death row. These five prisoners were scapegoated for a prison rebellion at a maximum-security facility in southern Ohio in 1993 that resulted in the deaths of one guard and nine prisoners.

In his book, “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising,” Lynd emphasized the multinational unity among Black, Brown and white prisoners, evidenced by slogans that rebelling prisoners painted on the walls, such as “Black and White Together” and “Convict Unity.” The uprising began as a response to Black Muslim prisoners being subjected to alcohol—a substance prohibited by their Islamic faith — through an arbitrary skin-prick tuberculosis test.

Three of the Lucasville 5 are Black, and two are white. All are still on death row at various Ohio prisons today.

Lynd was a nonsectarian activist who worked with people of other political tendencies despite political and ideological differences he may have held. As a pacifist, Lynd often disagreed with other Marxists, but as Cleveland WWP member Susan Schnur reflected, “He [Lynd] was always optimistic about our class winning battles against the bourgeoisie. And even when we shared disagreements, he always had a smile, because he sincerely understood the meaning of ‘solidarity.’”

Staughton Lynd, ¡presente!

The author is a labor activist who grew up in Niles, Ohio, where Staughton and Alice Lynd lived for 40 years. He consulted with them on a number of social justice campaigns. 

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