Transcript of interview
The following is the transcript of Janice Spellerberg’s interview of Philip Mullins that she recorded for the Ontario Multicultural Historical Society. Some errors and misspellings have been changed by the editor during the transcription. The original tapes and other materials are in the archives of the Ontario Multicultural Historical Society. Janice Spellerberg typed the original transcript and this is a copy of her transcript.
JS: Philip, could you tell us where you come from in the United States?
PM: My parents were from Mississippi. My father joined the US Coast Guard during World War II. He got out of the Coast Guard after the War and farmed for a year in Louisiana. He lost his savings and went back into the Coast Guard in 1946. I was born in 1945.
I was born in New Orleans but I did not grow up there. From New Orleans, we moved to Mobile, Alabama for about three years and then to Hawaii for another three years. From Hawaii we moved to Pensacola, Florida for three years and then to the island of Guam. I attended the 5th, 6th and 7th grades on Guam. I was in a different school each year for five years.
From Guam we returned to Pensacola, Florida. After being stationed in Pensacola for three years my dad was transferred to a Coast Guard radio station on the island of Saipan. The family stayed in Pensacola so the children could finish school there. So I grew up in northwest Florida. The Florida panhandle is culturally similar to Alabama. In fact there was a drive to secede from Florida and attach the county to Alabama. This happened during the heyday of Alabama Governor George Wallace, when he was making his famous stand in front of the school house door. Some people in Escambia County, Florida thought he was wonderful.
JS: So most of your background is Deep South?
PM: Yes but mixed with military culture. Segregation was the rule in the Deep South but the military was racial integrated so we grew up with black and brown-skinned people. My parents were not racists. When we would go to visit relatives in Mississippi, their attitude towards the local blacks reflected their upbringing but at home on the military bases they showed no prejudice at all against black people.
We grew up when the Negro Civil Rights movement was becoming strong. I guess that as children we learned northern attitudes toward race although we were familiar with the Southern viewpoint as well. I understand Southern segregationists but I don’t agree with them.
JS: Did you ever have disagreements with the children your own age about that kind of thing? Did that ever come up?
PM: Sure. I was in Pensacola when Cuba made its break with the United States and Fidel Castro became a famous character. I had a very light beard when I was in the first year of high school. It was just “peach fuzz” but I didn’t yet shave and the other kids could see that I had a little peach fuzz beard. For that reason they called me “Castro” and that name stuck with me all through high school. It was probably because the other kids called me Castro that I began to look at what was happening in Cuba and Fidel Castro became a hero of mine. All because of the little peach fuzz that I didn’t shave off.
There was a time during when the US House Un-American Activities Committee traveled around the country. Its hearing were similar to a circus during which they would bring in all the local communists in whatever city they were in and have a red-baiting trial. On this one occasion they staged their trial in, I believe, San Francisco or could it have been…Where is Berkeley?
JS: That is near San Francisco.
PM: Well, it was in San Francisco. The university students made a big fuss about the trial and there was a large demonstration. The students were trying to get into the courtroom where the committee was having its circus and the police came to drag the students out. They drug the students down about 15 steps and firemen used hoses to wet the students down. So someone made a film of all this and shipped it around to the high schools where it was shown to the high school students as part of a class on communism.
The funny thing was that when it was my class’s turn to see the film the projector broke. It had no sound and we saw only the pictures without the sound. It was impossible to tell what the film was about. All we knew was that the students were getting beat up by the police, hosed down by firemen, dragged down the steps and kicked out of the courtroom. The teachers didn’t know what was happening in the film either.
JS: It was pretty radicalizing to see something like that.
PM: Sure, because I thought that the heroes were the students. I didn’t know what the film was about. All I saw was that the students were being brutalized by the police. Then the next day, they showed the film again but with sound and I realized it was all propaganda. I was in high school. I looked at the film and realized that it was possible see exactly the opposite of what the producers wanted us to see. I began to look at Cuba the same way.
We had to take a course. It was called “Communism versus Americanism”…
JS: This was a course you took?
PM: Yes, it was required to graduate from high school.
JS: Oh dear!
PM: I was looking at everything backwards now. The teachers would hand us some line about how the crazy commies were going to nationalize the telephone system in Cuba. I would say to myself, why not nationalize the telephone system? Because of the film and the emerging Civil Rights movement, I began to question what I was being told in school.
Around then there was a big march to Selma, Alabama as part of the Civil Rights movement. Hundreds of people attended. Of course, the consensus in Pensacola was that this was a terrible thing. All those communists, priests and nuns were trying to destroy the system the South had created. A film circulated around the South that was supposedly documentary proof that the nuns and priests were sleeping with blacks in the tents they had set up along the march’s route. It was a bizarre situation. Each individual had to take a position one way or the other. You were supposed to be both totally anti-communist and totally anti-black or you were on the “other side”. It was liberal America versus the local people.
JS: Were there liberals in Pensacola?
PM: I guess there were. I don’t know.
JS: You can recall any particular teacher or anyone?
PM: Not in Pensacola. I found out later that there were people in Pensacola who were not as radically anti-black as everyone else was but I didn’t know that at the time. By and large the white people either agreed with or were completely cowed by the segregationists. Pensacola was one of those towns where there was a big campaign against fluoridation of the drinking water. Do you remember that? Fluoridation was a communist plot to rot our brains or something like that.
PM: This is a place where people burned rock and roll records. I remember that my sister had a book that documented how rock and roll music was a communist plot to dissolve brain cells and make you more receptive to communism. It was too much! Everything was that way. Pensacola was a bizarre place.
The Baptist church our family attended took a vote to decide what to do if black people came to the door and wanted inside. The deacons never revealed the results of the vote but I knew that if a black person ever did come to the door, the deacons had instructions not to let them in. They decided that on their own initiative. The whole town, as far as I could tell, was that way.
JS: What happened when John Kennedy ran for President? I remember that my family got anti-Catholic hate mail.
PM: One day the deacons standing at the door of the church handed out pamphlets about how if Kennedy was elected he would do something with the Pope.
JS: Bring the Pope to Washington.
PM: There were Catholics in Pensacola but the church we attended was anti-Catholic. I’ll go on with the story. I attended the first two years of college at a junior college in Pensacola. I don’t remember much about those years. The second two years I spent anyway from home. I went to the University of Florida for my third year. The University was in Gainesville right in the middle of a red-neck area. But the University was a cosmopolitan place. That is, there were many foreign students and Jewish students from Miami. The anti-communist influence was not as strong there.
In fact the school was known as a hotbed for communism. The State Governor once sent a commission to investigate the law school because he had become convinced that it was a communist front. I understand that he also sent a commission to study the homosexual community at the same university. The University was out-of-step with the rest of the state.
I lived on a dorm on campus. I was a typical engineering student with my nose in the books all the time. Then one day I ran across a group of crazy guys who were doing civil rights work in the town of Gainesville. They were quite numerous. Their group was called the Peace and Freedom organization or something similar because they combined their civil rights work with their anti-war projects. The civil rights part was fairly straightforward. They supported the local black organization (the Gainesville NAACP Youth Council) in whatever they were doing. When I met them they were picketing a cafeteria that wouldn’t let blacks enter.
JS: This was in the late sixties? It was still segregated?
PM: Oh, yes, it was still segregated but the Jim Crow system was weakening. The local people were Deep South Florida crackers and segregationists. But the students and teachers at the school were not necessarily segregationists. So there was a conflict between the university community and the locals.
When I met them they were picketing a restaurant. That’s how I met a guy named Al Levine whom I got to know well. After I had been in engineering school for a few months I started attending the group’s meetings. They were circulating a petition. I forget what it was for, maybe to end the war or maybe some civil right thing. I took it to the Engineering School and stood in the halls and talked to everyone I knew and none of them would sign the petition. That’s when I realized that engineers were very conservative. I became convinced that most of them were actually reactionaries and I decided I didn’t want to be an engineer and so I changed my major. I got more and more involved in this organization and found that I enjoyed that more than going to school. I was still doing well in school but I realized that here was a whole new field of activity I could be involved in. I was doing something for the country and helping people out. I finished out the academic year in Gainesville but I decided to transfer to another school where I could pioneer this kind of New Left activism. I felt that this particular group of guys had the University of Florida in hand. I thought that I would go to…
JS: That was encouraged in this movement, wasn’t it, to spread the word?
PM: Yes, and to take on the responsibility yourself. So I transferred to Florida State University, a hundred miles or so further north. It was a former girl’s school, very conservative and located near the State capital. There were no student civil rights or anti-war groups there that I knew of. The New Left group at the University of Florida was well organized but there was nothing at all at Florida State University. My brother was a student there and we figured it would be cheaper to live together. Since I was no longer an engineering student, I could finish my education at FSU and it would be cheaper.
I moved in with my brother who lived in a shack in the back of somebody’s garage. We shared the shack with three or four other art students. I don’t remember how but several students started a student club called the Young Liberals. This is the name we gave ourselves because we thought we would have less trouble if we said we were young liberals instead of SDS or socialists. In fact most of the people in the club were liberals. There were only a few of us. We started the little club. We held meetings every week and organized projects. (An Assistant Professor named Ron Parker was our faculty adviser. He had been involved in Civil Rights work in Nashville, Tennessee and had helped found the Southern Student Organizing Committee in 1964.)
For years and years the black community in Tallahassee had been asking for the same per capita funding as the white schools were getting. The black schools were very inferior although the white schools were decent. So the black leadership decided to stage a student strike to show that the black community supported the demands of their leadership.
In order not to seem irresponsible, they decided to organize what they called Freedom Schools where the students would go during the one-day strike. They would go to the Freedom Schools that were set up in churches instead of the public schools. Teachers were needed for the schools and the obvious people would be university students. There were two universities in town: Florida A&M, the university for blacks and Florida State University, the university for whites. They asked our club if we could recruit some white teachers and we agreed. That was our first big project. We actually recruited about fifty university students to be teachers. The students went to Freedom Schools all over town. It was a fairly successful operation. It was very well organized.
JS: The students weren’t necessarily in your club, were they?
PM: No. We set up a table in the student union. We had a sign and when the students walked by, we would talk to them. A lot of them were sympathetic. The Freedom Schools and the boycott were organized by one of the vice-presidents of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It was very well run. The local black funeral parlor donated its hearses for buses and churches donated the space for classrooms. It was fun. We recruited student teachers twice. The black community never called another strike but we organized the teachers in anticipation of another walk-out. But they never called another strike. That was one of our first big activities and it was a civil rights action.
Whites were welcome in most Civil Rights organizations but by this time, white students were being asked by the black students to leave the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. SNCC started out as an integrated organization but the blacks developed the idea of “black power” which essentially meant that whites should not control black organizations. One of the results of this was that the white students were asked to leave SNCC and found their own white organization. This they did. Many were already affiliated with the Southern Student Organizing Committee or SSOC.
This happened throughout the South. The blacks would have their Civil Rights organizations and the whites would have theirs. So our role in the Civil Rights movement was just to support the black community in whatever they did. That’s how it evolved. We never took independent action on our own if the issue was Negro Civil Rights. When the black university workers decided to organize a union for university employees, our role was to support what they were doing. We got people together to talk to the black workers on campus and sign them up. We tried to enlist the white workers, too. We were supposed to be the liaison between the white and black workers because there was a gulf between them.
At that time, our anti-war activity…I guess that’s where the story is leading…our anti-war activity consisted of distributing literature. This got us into another conflict because it was considered to be illegal to sell literature on campus. We couldn’t afford to give our literature away so we had to sell it. That got us into another conflict with the University that is a story in itself.
JS: Did the University put pressure on you over these activities or did they pretty well leave you alone?
PM: The University administration consisted of different factions. The Vice-President of the University was hostile to us. He would make trouble whenever he could. The President was a fairly liberal guy. One of his assistants encouraged us. One time my brother and I were selling literature. We had been issued a table from the student union for the purpose of raising money for a fund called Dollars for Scholars by selling our literature. But I had made a procedural error when I’d gotten permission to get the table. They didn’t know that I would be selling anti-war literature. But we were actually selling a controversial skin magazine published in Gainesville that had gradually lost all of its retail outlets in Tallahassee. Finally they were left with a folding table on the lawn of a church. The church told them they couldn’t sell there either and so the magazine was being denied the rights of a free press and so we figured…
JS: So you were selling a skin magazine over the issue of free press?
PM: We got the table to sell our anti-war literature and to test the ban on selling literature on campus but when this guy came along with the magazine—they weren’t skin magazines, it was a campus humor magazine called the Charlatan—we figured, well, we’ll sell that too. We must have sold hundreds of copies of the magazine. They sold for 50¢ each and we made a commission of $60.
When the student government realized that we were selling the Charlatan magazine they attempted to stop us. The magazine had been banned and wasn’t allowed to be sold anywhere in town, much less right on campus. So the fellow in charge of handing out the table came over and told me I couldn’t sell the magazine. I showed him the permit I had been given. He walked over to a campus policeman and asked him to throw us off. I showed the policeman the permit and he refused to get involved.
So the Vice-President sent a man down, one of his assistants, to observe. This man didn’t say much. He looked at the permit and then stood around and watched. He was trying to think of some way of getting us to leave. After quite a while it was decided that there were two ways they could shut us down. They could kick us off for the paperwork error or they could kick us off because we were selling literature. But I was certain that if they kicked us off because we were selling literature then we could get help from the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. We could go to court and probably win because we thought this was a violation of the Constitution of the United States.
JS: You were ready to take it all the way!
PM: This was an issue we got involved in because we could not afford to give our literature away. It was our “Free Speech” fight. Eventually the faculty sponsor of the Young Liberals club (Dr. Ron Parker) came around. He talked to me about what was happening. He didn’t really know what to say. Then the older fellow who was an executive assistant to the President arrived. He was a friend of ours. He was friendly. I talked to him for a long, long time and we hashed it out. After discussing the issue for a half-hour, he said, “You have to stop selling and leave. If you don’t we’ll have you arrested.” So I asked him, “Which will it be? Are you going to arrest me for having an invalid permit or because we are selling magazines?” He said, “We’ll do it because the procedural error makes the permit invalid.”
JS: Did he know what your plan was?
PM: Yes, he knew. He had given me permission to sell literature on campus but everyone else had said no. The student government said no and the University President said no. So we closed up. We had huge crowds there the whole time. While I was talking, my brother kept selling the magazines. We sold them like hotcakes. It was a big deal for weeks afterward. The student newspaper covered it very well.
JS: So you got even more support from all the publicity?
PM: Yes, I think we did. I believe that the reason why it was not permitted to sell magazines on campus related to someone’s monopoly. The student government received a commission on all magazines sold on campus.
JS: I found that local campus issues often went hand in hand with the larger issues.
JS: We were fighting a dress code at our campus.
PM: A dress code?
JS: Yes, women had to wear skirts and men couldn’t wear old army jackets or anything like that.
PM: These little issues, dresses and that sort of stuff, side-track you from working on issues with national implications like the War or Civil Rights. Only rarely can you deal with the problem you’re trying to get at. We also leafleted. We got together on Saturdays and leafleted on campus. The Catholic Worker newspaper sent us 300 or 400 free copies and I distributed them around town, mostly to Catholic organizations. I didn’t know at the time that the Catholic Worker had little support in the Catholic Church. We tried to do simple things to raise people’s consciousness.
JS: Did any of national known radicals make an appearance at your school?
PM: We did not encourage that kind of thing. There was also a chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society on campus but they never did anything because they were completely hamstrung by the SDS label. We were in a very conservative area and I thought that bringing in a nationally known radical would just create trouble. When we gave someone literature on the War we wanted them to read it and believe it. We didn’t want them to say, “This must be some kind of communist propaganda.” I very rarely met anyone who had a good understanding about what was happening to America. Most of the students were still at the stage where they thought black people stunk and rock and roll music dissolved the brain cells.
One of the few times we brought an outside speaker was when we brought a guy from the University of Florida. He was a professor who consistently worked with the radicals there. (In early 1967 we also sponsored the SSOC Peace Tour.) Other speakers did come by but we wouldn’t make any arrangements for them to speak on campus. I did meet some guys from the Spartacus League.
JS: What is the Spartacus League?
PM: The Spartacus League was a Trotskyite group out of New Orleans. These were really courageous guys. They were physically scarred from confrontations by anti-union goons. We avoided associating ourselves with national radical groups as a matter of club policy. We wanted it to be a grass-roots organization. That approach bore fruit in that the club was able to operate on campus. The SDS chapter stayed illegal and was never given status as a campus organization and so could not even meet on campus.
JS: Why were they illegal?
PM: The University so decreed. Although I was one of those who originally organized the SDS chapter I later came to dislike them. They were obstructionists (and rigid in their ideas). The Young Liberals worked with local black organizations like the Congress for Racial Equality and some of those groups wanted to distance themselves from the New Left.
The core group of the Young Liberals was either socialist or communist. The core group was me and three or four girls. One was Edna Stein. Another was a girl from northwest Florida named Lillian Mordes and a third girl was Marty Bunyan. She was very smart and very active. The three girls and I headed the group and then we had a bunch of people who would help with the various projects. When we realized that each candidate for Student Government President got a free half-hour of time on the campus TV station, we formed a campus political party and ran a candidate for the office. Unfortunately I was nominated as our candidate and so had to give the speech. Marty Bunyan worked out a deal with one of the major fraternity-run political parties so I dropped out of the race and gave my support to some fascist fraternity dude. We called ourselves the Peace and Freedom Party. We thought the idea didn’t work but I guess it did because the Peace and Freedom Party continued to run candidates for several years.
We had our free speech campaign too. We met on “Landis Green”, a large lawn that was the campus’ “free speech area”, every Saturday for two months. We read poetry and made speeches. After I left campus things became more radical and people became more vocal. There were real confrontations between the students and the University administration involving sit-ins. When I was there we avoided confrontation because I thought that it was klutzy and counterproductive.
JS: Was anyone thinking about the draft at that point?
PM: The draft was not affecting students very much. We were still able to get student deferments. The draft was mainly a problem for non-students. It was really crippling the community-based civil rights movement because the educated young men who often formed the leadership were subject to the draft. It became quite a problem in both the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. It became impossible to keep male workers in the field.
After I was graduated from Florida State University I thought that I could get a real job but I ended up working for the white equivalent of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Student Organizing Committee. I was hired to work in Tennessee but the guy who ran the Florida office for SSOC, my friend Al Levine, had gone to Cuba on the first SDS Cuba tour. The SDS group was called in Venceremos Brigade. I was assigned to take his place while he was in Cuba and upon his return I was to work in Tennessee. I only worked for SSOC for a month and a half because I became 1-A delinquent and was drafted.
JS: What does 1-A delinquent mean?
PM: It means that you will very shortly be drafted. In the summer of 1966 I was working in New York City as a stock boy in a liquor importing company on Wall Street. I met a guy named Brody who was from the West Coast. He was organizing “The Resistance”. In 1966 the anti-draft movement was in its infancy. Most people who opposed the draft were religious conscientious objectors to war. During this time more and more non-traditional conscientious objectors came forward. When one of these men went to see the draft board he would get a bunch of guys to go with him. While he was inside talking to the draft board, the others would picket the building. When he came out, they would all go home with him and have a party.
Brody decided to organize a nationwide group of men who were willing to actually resist the draft. The Resistance was one of the groups that organized the draft card burnings in Central Park in New York. He came to New York where the War Resisters League gave him an office and he started organizing a mass action. At the time the three girls from the Young Liberals club at FSU and I were all of us in New York. They had all graduated from FSU. We were all living in one apartment. I slept on the floor and they had the beds. We joined a small neighborhood peace group called the Lower East Side Mobilization for Peace Action or LEMPA. Most of the members were Communist Party people who were in their forties and fifties but there were a few young people.
LEMPA was the local contingent of the peace movement in the City. There was a large coalition that held a huge march every year and LEMPA was a part of that. They supported whatever anti-war activity other groups organized. A couple of the young men were drafted and a whole group of us went with them and picketed their draft board. LEMPA had a store front office in the Puerto Rican section of the Lower East Side right across the street from St. Mark’s Square which was a big hippie hang-out. Anyway I met the guy Brody at one of their meetings and agreed to join his project.
Incidentally that same summer I met the Hindu monk who founded the Hare Krishna movement in North America. He had a concert in St. Mark’s Square every Sunday and afterward invited everyone back to his apartment for a feast of milk and bananas. There were very few hippies in those days but a few of them joined this guru, dressed like him and lived together.
When I returned to school at Florida State University I decided to organize a group of the Resistance at FSU. I had applied for classification as a conscientious objector six months before but had gotten no response from my draft board. In fact they never responded to the application except to order me to take a physical at the induction center in New York City. The induction center was called Whitehall. I went to the physical and tried to obstruct the process. I flunked the intelligence test. I flunked it twice. Finally the Army officer who was running the station interviewed me. He said, “You’re a student, eh? Where do you go to school?” I told him I attended a university in the South. He was a Yankee and had the idea that universities in the South were washout kind of places. I could see that he was thinking, “Now is this guy really stupid or is he putting me on?” Finally, he passed me administratively.
The US Government has a long list of subversive organizations with names like the Serbo-Croatian American Friendship Committee, the Finnish Dance Company and the Lithuanian Literary Society. All of these organizations are said to be subversive. The Youth against War and Fascism was on the list. I refused to sign off that I didn’t belong to any of the groups on the list. This necessitated an interview with the FBI. I thought that would be a good place to make a pitch for classification as a conscientious objector. I went to the interview but nothing happened. They put something in my file and decided that I was all right. None of the organizations I belonged to were on the list.
JS: Was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on this list?
PM: No, at least not at that time. Most of the groups on the list were defunct. So I refused to sign and was given an interview but nothing happened. I went back to school for my fifth year. I was told by the Registrar’s office that I would have to attend the school for the entire year because I lost a lot of credits when I transferred and changed my major. So I was prepared to remain in school for the whole academic year.
This was a good year for our little organization. We raised a lot of hell. I heard nothing from the draft board. October 16 was the day when The Resistance encouraged everyone to return their draft cards to their local boards. I did that. I sent them both cards. Actually I had several sets of cards. I loaned one to an under-aged student so he could buy beer. We’d to go to a party and get drunked up and I’d burn a set of draft cards. Then I would send the ashes to my draft board and they would send me another set. So when the Resistance guys sent their cards back to their boards, I did too. I was probably the only idiot in the South who sent his cards in. As a result I got a letter back saying that I was delinquent.
JS: But you were still in school?
PM: Yes, I was a student but I was delinquent. I wrote them back and said that if they wanted to they could send me another set of cards. They never did. It didn’t make any difference because I had two or three sets anyway. The way the draft law was written it required those registered to keep the local board informed of anything that affected their availability for the draft. So I wrote to the draft board every week or so telling them about my life. Once in a while I would say that I had gone swimming and that my cards dissolved in the water and they would send me another set. So they did read my letters. So I had all these draft cards. But, when I sent one set back, they figured that I didn’t have any in my possession and so I was delinquent.
When I went to register for classes for the spring term I learned I had enough credits to graduate. The Registrar’s office had invented a minor for me in engineering science and graduated me. They wanted to get rid of me and they knew that if I graduated the draft would take care of me. I must have been quite infamous because later on when I was in Toronto, people whom I had never met would come up to me and say, “Oh, hey, how are you?” I went to New York City to find a job but I was I-A Delinquent. No one in the United States would hire a man who was 1-A, much less 1-A Delinquent.
JS: Did the employers ask for your draft card when you’d go for a job?
PM: Yes. They preferred guys who have already served. Sometimes a college graduate could get a job if he was not 1-A but it was difficult to find work if he was 1-A. The employer knew that you were going to be drafted soon. I realized this after a few weeks of looking for work. I even tried to join the Coast Guard Reserves but they had a three-year waiting list. I was living on the Lower East Side again when I met a friend, Mike Welch, who was the fund raiser for the Southern Student Organizing Committee. He raised money by encouraging people who supported civil rights work, mainly Communist Party folk, to organize block parties for him. All their friends would come and the fund raiser would give a short talk about what SSOC was doing, what was happening in the South and then pass a hat. That’s how he was raising money.
I met him and he said, “Why don’t you work for us. We need a couple of people.” I said, “OK.” So I flew back to Nashville, Tennessee, with him and SSOC’s board decided that I would go to Florida to take the place of Al Levine who was going to Cuba. I went to the SSOC office in Gainesville, Florida, where I already knew everyone. The students I did not know were in south Florida so I borrowed Al’s VW van and traveled all over the state. I usually tried to cool the hotheads down because they insisted on doing heroic actions without the support of the local people. You can’t really do that and survive as an organization. It is suicidal.
I wasn’t very successful at doing this. I only held the job for a month and a half. I was paid $60 per month. Once I got arrested in Tampa for a traffic violation and had to pay $60 to get out of jail. My whole month’s pay was spent on the fine for a failure to yield right-of-way. I traveled quite a bit from southern Florida to Tallahassee. It was then that I began to realize the effect the draft was having on the Civil Rights movement. You could not be both out of school and out of the Army at the same time. The full-time field workers, like me, were being drafted at a very fast rate so it was impossible to keep full-time staffers in the field. It also affected graduate students and anyone else who didn’t finish their degree in four years.
I finally got my final call from Local Draft Board 49 in Pensacola. I was supposed to report to Nashville to be inducted. I expected to go there and tell them that I wasn’t going to go because I was a conscientious objector to war but, in fact, I was in court in Florida on the day I was supposed to be inducted. I tried to get my local board to transfer the induction but by then they were completely fed up with me and wouldn’t do anything. It was obvious that I was just stalling for time. So they stopped writing me letters and got an indictment for not having draft cards and not showing up for induction.
I realize now that it took the FBI six months to act on these indictments but, at the time, I thought, “Oh, wow, the draft board said they were going to go to the Grand Jury and the FBI is coming at any moment!” I could have stayed in Florida for another six months if I had known. No one knew draft-dodgers could even come to Canada. If you asked the draft board they would say that draft-dodgers were arrested at the border and sent back. I know that because I went to Pensacola and asked the counselor and that is what he told me. He told me fantastic lies about how things worked.
JS: That the Canadians or the Americans would arrest you?
PM: The Canadians. He said that he personally knew of several such cases. It was all a bunch of bull. The Canadian government was in the process of deciding whether or not to admit American draft-dodgers. Everyone assumed that draft-dodgers would be deported until a lawyer in Vancouver discovered otherwise. The Student Union for Peace Action was divided on the issue as well until the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme had Mark Satin write the Manual for Draft Age Immigrants to Canada. The TADP began to distribute the booklet to civil rights and student organizations in the US. They got a list, probably from SDS, and sent a copy of the booklet to each address.
I was in charge of the SSOC office in Gainesville. We had a small demonstration at the University of Florida as part of a national campaign SDS did. Dow Chemical made napalm for the US military and so we staged a sit down demonstration at which students sat down in front of the room that the Dow recruiter was using to talk to perspective employees. Many of us were arrested.
The door we were blocking was on one side a hallway. Three or four students sat in front of the door. The hall was crowded with spectators, some of whom lined up on the other side of the hall. About 12 city policemen arrived and each policeman grabbed someone. They just grabbed anyone. They grabbed everyone around the door but they also grabbed a bunch of people on the other side of the hall. These were completely innocent students who just happened to be standing there. They said, “What’s going on?” Everyone was arrested and taken off to jail. Even the innocent spectators had to stand trial. Two of them were particularly embarrassed. They must have been walking by and were arrested along with the rest of us. They didn’t want to have anything to do with us. They hired their own lawyer.
JS: They were forced to defend themselves?
PM: Oh, yes, they went to jail for three days. They had to pay a $50 fine. They kept trying to get the judge to understand that they were just by-standers but the judge would not listen. All twelve of us were sent to jail. JS: That was the first time you were arrested?
PM: That was the only time. We did the action because SDS wanted to obstruct the Dow Chemical recruitment effort because napalm was being used on civilians in Vietnam. We knew student groups all over the South was participating. The local people in Gainesville organized the demonstration. However we were arrested and that is a big hassle. We had to make bail and arrange for a lawyer. I always thought that getting arrested was not wise unless you had a real good issue. Getting arrested should be only one element in the campaign. It took me two weeks to arrange for a lawyer. There was no follow-up and nothing good came of it that I could see.
Anyway, we ended up in jail. A few days before we went to jail Mark Satin’s Manual for Draft Age Immigrants arrived in the mail so I took it to the jail as reading material. My cell-mate was Steven Jones who is now working at the University of Toronto. He was a transient from Georgia who happened to be in Gainesville at the time and so joined the demonstration. He and I both read the booklet and we both decided, “Well, we’ll go to Canada.” He was also 1-A Delinquent. We arrived in Toronto at different times. He arrived with a black fellow from Pensacola named Jessie Dean. Jessie was one of the few black draft-dodgers I ever knew. They drove up in Jessie Dean’s sports car.
The date for my induction passed while I was being tried in Gainesville. By the time I got out of jail a month had passed and I realized that they would be seeking an indictment at any time. I made a few final appearances and delivered a speech in Tallahassee that was sponsored by the Young Liberals, who were more radical than liberal by then. On the way back from Tallahassee the VW developed an engine problem, a hole in one of the pistons. Alan Levin was coming back from Cuba but he did not make it back before I left. His draft board was trying to draft him but he was in Cuba. He couldn’t very well tell them where he was because the government might try to prevent him from returning to the US. The whole thing was very hush-hush. They traveled by way of Montreal.
JS: The FBI didn’t know he was in Cuba?
PM: They may have known but they were not supposed to know. His wife was really worried. He was supposed to be in Miami on a certain date for a hearing. We finally found a way to delay the hearing. He was delayed in getting back but I decided to leave anyway. I went to Pensacola and stayed with my parents for a few days. I was committed to going to jail but we talked about it and my parents said that it was better to leave the country than go to jail. My grandfather felt the same way. Neither my grandfather nor my parents wanted anyone to go into the Army. My father had been stationed in Guam and he made a practice of going to Anderson Air Force Base where wounded Marines were flown. He would visit with the wounded men from Vietnam. The stories he heard were not encouraging. The propaganda was that it was a “clean” war and no one was getting hurt except for the “gooks”, of course. But the men would say things like, “Oh, there were 20 of us and now there’s me and what’s-his-name over there.” Both would be wounded. “I don’t know. I think the rest of them were killed.” My father decided that Vietnam was an unsafe place to be. He didn’t want me to go there.
I had made the same decision already. I had been to a Reserved Office Training Corps (ROTC) boot camp in Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1964. I realized just from the stories that the drill sergeants told that the war was not what the government said it was. They said there were a lot of casualties among the Americans and that it was a dirty war. The US military traveled around, capturing and killing civilians or torturing them, more or less, at random.
JS: The war got going in the early sixties, didn’t it? It just kept speeding up so there would have been casualties from 1962 or so.
PM: The men my father spoke to were Marines from around DaNang, which was a big Marine base. He knew you could get killed there and he didn’t want me to get killed. He didn’t support the war. He thought the war was stupid. A lot of people did.
So the question was whether or not to go to jail. We had no idea how long the sentence would be. Some men were sent to jail for four or five years. It was all up to the local judge. I had tried to get drafted as a non-combatant. That was what the conscientious objector application was all about but they would not consider that. So it was go to jail, go in the Army as a soldier or go to Canada. My parents didn’t like the idea of me going to jail. I would have gone to jail but I did not know how long the sentence would be. If I knew I would get a year and then be released that would be OK. But some men were getting seven years. If your judge hadn’t tried this kind of case before he would likely throw the book at you.
JS: Did you know anyone who had gone to jail?
PM: No. I tried to organize a draft resister’s union in Tallahassee. It was an SDS idea. No one responded. I distributed pamphlets with a drawing of President LBJ with a finger up his nose. I handed out several hundred of these pamphlets. The only response I got was from the President of the University who sent a message that he thought the drawing was obscene!
I wrote occasional columns for the student newspaper, the Florida Flambeau. Some of them were advice for people who had draft problems, i.e. how to dodge the draft or how to apply for conscientious objector status. I even wrote an article on going to Canada although I knew very little about that then. I think that if there was anyone in town who wanted to resist the draft, they would have gotten in touch with me. I did talk to some guys who wanted to desert. They were stationed at an Air Force Base nearby and one time some people wanted help busting their friend out of jail. Most people who dodged the draft did so in legal ways. My brother got a psychiatrist to write a letter saying he was a total fruitcake, homosexual, transvestite schizophrenic. He was declared to be unfit on the basis of the letter. At that time few actually resisted the draft.
After I had been in Canada for a year or two people from that area started to move to Toronto. They knew who I was so I know that the information I was giving people was not falling on barren ground. But at the time there were not other resisters there. There was no experience to go by, especially in Pensacola where the judge was very reactionary. I did find a lawyer, an old man, who was a member of the National Lawyer’s Guild. I did not know this when I talked to him but he turned out to be quite famous. He told me that he would take the case but that he had never handled a draft case and at that time there were no manuals for that. Later on lawyers wrote manuals and all the defense lawyer had to do was go through the book and find an appropriate defense. So it was all pioneer work. I thought that since it would be the first such case in Pensacola, it would probably end up becoming infamous. When that happens you are really in trouble.
One of the reasons the CO application fell through was that I could not get support from the professionals in Pensacola. My father worked at the Warrington Baptist Church at the time. He asked the pastor, Dr. Mayo, to write a letter of support. My family had been active in that church for years and I knew Dr. Mayo. Dr. Mayo spent three months writing the letter. It said something like, “I’m sure it is possible for a Baptist to be a conscientious objector to war but I’ve never heard of one.” There were a lot of military people in the Church. He didn’t want to get involved. He didn’t want to say, “Oh, yes, Jesus probably would have been a CO.” He was more worried about the people who were going to his church than he was about Jesus.
JS: In our town if you were a Quaker or of a religion that had traditionally always been opposed to war then you could be out of the draft.
PM: Yes, that’s the way it was and I wasn’t a Quaker. I filed my application because I figured I had to do it that way. I wanted to try the legal way but actually it got me into deeper trouble. I could have done what my brother did and pretended to be some kind of homosexual or something.
JS: That should have worked.
PM: But I decided to do everything honestly and in the open the way the Civil Rights movement worked, i.e. by taking a stand and then going to jail. So I had three options and, after reading the TADP pamphlet in the Gainesville jail, I decided that Canada was kind of a neat place. Canada looked like a reasonable place to live so I went back to Nashville, picked up my gear there, said good-bye to my friends there and took a train to Detroit. From Detroit I took a bus to Toronto. Several people had given me addresses of friends, mostly in Montreal. I also had the address of one of the TADP hostels, 127 John Street. I arrived right after the big snowstorm of March. There were piles of snow everywhere. I walked west on Dundas Street looking for John Street.
JS: How did things look to you?
PM: Totally weird. Everything was covered in snow. There were piles of snow. I remember piles of snow along University Avenue as far as the eye would see. It had just snowed the day before I arrived. I walked by the Art Galley of Ontario. I remember how the old Art Galley looked.
I walked all the way to Spadina and got on a bus at Spadina and asked the bus driver where John Street was. There were three or four such streets in Toronto so he gave me a little route book and I looked up the nearest John Street. I rode with him up to where the bus turns around by Casa Loma and then back to Dundas Street. I finally found 127 John Street and knocked on the door. No one answered. That was the way the place was run. No one ever answered the door. Finally a couple of deserters walked out and I walked in. I asked, “Who’s in charge?” and they said, “Well, we don’t know…” A guy and his wife were in charge but no one knew who he was, so I just moved in. I just picked a spot on the floor. There were no empty beds.
JS: Did you have to pay rent?
PM: I don’t remember. It was a really disorganized place. I did see the guy who was supposed to be running the hostel after three days. His name was Jules and his wife’s name was Diane. I don’t remember their last name. He later went a little bit crazy. Colleen and Bruce Anderson later moved in. One day Bruce decided to paint the kitchen door. He spent all day scraping and cleaning the door but he didn’t finish the job. He and Jules had a big fight over that. It was a bizarre place. I lived there for a long, long time. I was there longer than anyone else that I know of. I lived there for three months, from March until summer.
JS: How long did the hostel stay open?
PM: The hostel at 127 John Street was in operation for at least a year after I left it. There was always a need for it. The deserters had an even harder time adjusting that the draft-dodgers did.
JS: You crossed the border as a visitor?
PM: Yes. I had an address in Toronto so I had no trouble at the border.
JS: Did they ask to see any money?
PM: I borrowed $200 from my younger brother, Jeff, who was the entrepreneur in the family. He was only 14 or 15 then. I told the border officials that I was coming to visit and I had an address so that was all they cared about.
I got to the hostel on John Street and slept on the floor for about a month and then I cleaned the basement out. It took me two or three days to clean up the basement. After that men lived in the basement for about six months until a building inspector told Jules it wasn’t allowed. We all ate separately. We had one refrigerator. Everyone purchased their own little horde and stuck it in the refrigerator. I’m sure you remember, “I had something in here and now it’s gone.” About once a week we organized a group meal. We went to Usher’s discount food store and bought quantities of baked beans and similar items and prepare a big meal. The hostel was not well run at all.
JS: How many people were there at any given time?
PM: The number of people living there changed all the time. There were four guys in the front room. There were a couple of bunks in the second room so there would have been four or five in the second room. Upstairs there were three, small bedrooms. The single guys stayed downstairs and the married couples stayed upstairs. There was another room in the attic where Diane and Jules lived so that would be four couples and eight or ten single guys in the house. After we cleaned out the basement there were three or four single men there. There were always many people in the house.
A lot of the men were deserters. Others were draft-dodgers. The married men were almost all draft-dodgers, just out of school. The ones that had good credentials and could get a job came and went quickly. People like me who had never had a real job had a harder time. The deserters usually had unrealistic expectations and were malcontents anyway. They had a rougher time.
JS: Did you become friends with any of the people you met there?
PM: Yes. There are some that I still know. Most of them I never saw again. A lot of them went back to the States after a few months. I met the people involved with the Yellow Ford Truck at the John Street Hostel. When I moved out of the hostel Ross Ashley shared an apartment on Brunswick Avenue. He works at Mount Sinai Hospital. He was a Wobble. Did you know that the Wobbles still exist?
PM: One Big Union, the Industrial Workers of the World. Ross is the only Wobble I ever met. He was a printer before he came to Toronto. When we lived together he wasn’t working. He was a good friend of Jessie James Dean, the black guy from Pensacola.
JS: Beautiful name.
PM: He worked for OISE for a long time and then the addiction Research Foundation. He and Ross were both involved in the Union of American Exiles.
I’ll tell you how I immigrated. It was routine. The TADP had a system. Bernie, who was working there at the time, arranged everything. He would ask what documents you had and he would tell you what kind of documents you should have. If you had no place to live he would arrange something. After you had all your documents you went back for a second interview. It took me a long time to assemble my documents. That is one reason I stayed in the hostel so long.
When I left Florida State I had neglected to turn in a term paper for one of the courses I was taking so I didn’t really have a degree. I wrote back to the school and found out what the problem was. Then I wrote to a professor I knew and asked her about it. I also wrote some graduate students I knew and asked them to intervene. I wrote the professor and asked if I could still submit the term paper. Things didn’t look good but apparently the professor heard that if he didn’t give me the grade for the course (I had an incomplete for the course) then I was going to return to the school and take his course again. He and I did not get along at all.
JS: And he didn’t want that.
PM: So rather than have me come back and plague him anymore he gave in a B in the course. In this way I finished school, graduated and finally got my diploma.
When you had all your papers ready you would return for the second or third visit to the TADP office and they would tell you where to go to get immigrated. After you returned from the border you were supposed to report to them what happened. They would update their data if necessary. They scheduled when and where the men were to apply so a whole bunch of guys would not arrive at the same time. One man would go in the morning and another in the afternoon shift.
JS: You mean it depended upon which official was on duty?
PM: Yes, they knew who worked at each border station. They knew who was sympathetic and who wasn’t. Their main job was to get people immigrated. The system was based upon feedback from men who had gone to the border. The TADP had a map with each station marked and information about each official working there.
Sometimes they would match up two men. I had a suit and tie and my documents were in order so I would have no trouble immigrating. So the TADP hooked me up with another fellow whose chances of immigrating were not good. He had no documents and no qualifications. He was from Kentucky. A Canadian guy whom I hardly knew volunteered to drive us to Sarnia. It snowed that morning. We drove to Sarnia and crossed into the United States. Of course we had to put up with a half-hour interrogation from the American border guards. They asked us if we where draft-dodgers which we, of course, denied. We even denied even knowing any. The border guard told us, “Oh yes, people think they can go to Canada and avoid the draft. It’s not true, boys, let me tell you.” And we said, “Oh yes, we’re not doing that.” Finally we crossed into the United States.
JS: He didn’t ask for your draft cards.
PM: I had draft cards. The other guy didn’t have any. They gave him a big lecture, “Son, you’re not a draft-dodger?” “No, no, don’t call me a draft dodger”, he replied. “You get those cards, eh?” “Okay,” he said.
Finally they let us go and we went to a coffee shop and had a cup of tea and then we turned around and went back. The Canadian driver waited in the car while we went inside and talked to the immigration officials. They were really very nice. No hassle. They immigrated us right there. With the help of the TADP, sympathetic drivers and sympathetic border guards it was not problem to immigrate. If you had no money the TADP would loan you five or six hundred dollars to show at the border. It was a revolving fund.
Once I was immigrated I began to question why the draft-dodgers and deserters were not doing more to help themselves. There was one American aid organization and it appeared to run by Canadians. The Americans were just being helped by these people.
For a short time after I left the hostel I moved into Naomi Wall’s house. She was in charge of the employment program of the TADP. I talked to her and learned that there was very little feedback from the Americans she helped. There was a group of us called the “Southern Contingent” because we were all from the South. We decided to help.
First of all we organized an employment committee which was supposed to help Naomi Wall find employment offers. We would each apply for a job in a particular business and be refused employment. We would find out why we were refused. We would go back and report to Naomi. If she knew of someone who could meet the qualifications then she would send them there. It was a way of locating jobs and then matching likely candidate to the job. That was our first little project. ` Four or five of us worked together. The group included Jessie Dean, Steven Jones and me. The Southern Contingent also included Ross Ashley and another guy, Bob whose last name I forget. I think his name was Bob Duwart (Dewart). This guy and Ross Ashley were our radicals. Bob worked at the University of Toronto at the time. He eventually went underground with the Canadian Party of Labor and then, I understand, he went back to Pennsylvania where he is a teacher. He was a super-communist.
Anyway, we started the employment committee. At that time there was already a softball game at High Park every Sunday. That nucleus decided to meet once a week for a kind of talk session during which we would try to formulate a program for the Americans in Toronto.
JS: Were the Americans feeling disoriented and out of it?
PM: Yes, we were disoriented. We had immigrated to a new city plus we had moved to another country. But the worst thing was that most of us were refugees. The first couple of meetings were at the Unitarian Church at Avenue Road and St. Clair. We had a couple of meetings at Newman Center at Harbord and St. George. Out of that group came the Union of American Exiles that evolved into the Red, White and Black and Amex Magazine. This was the first attempt. It didn’t work out the way we thought. It became, or I think it became, a forum for people working out their own hassles, especially deserters who often had unrealistic expectations about what they had done and why they had done it and what they were going to do now. There was a group that wanted to organize a guerilla army and return to the States. I guess that was the Weatherman faction among us. It never happened.
Then there was a super-communist group that felt that we ought to work only in Canada. It was exile politics. “What are we going to do to help the revolution in the United States?” There was a suggestion put to me by a guy who was working for the American Friends Service Committee to gather a bunch of Americans, maybe 10 or 12, who would return to the States together, as a group and get arrested. That would be a wonderful kind of demonstration. I thought about it for a long time but never really even talked to people about the idea because I decided that if the people had come to Canada they had already put the decision to go to jail behind them. There were many different things that were suggested that we do but the meetings became a kind of talk session. The weekly meetings went on for several years. Amex Magazine came out of that group.
JS: Amex just folded a couple of years ago, didn’t it?
PM: Yes, it was the longest lasting thing to emerge from the Union of American Exiles. The Red, White and Black evolved from the Union of American Exiles after a couple of years. The Red, White and Black were a radical group. I knew a couple of the guys but I wasn’t involved in it. I stopped attending the UAE meeting after a couple of months. I was more interested in doing things. Just to talk about things didn’t appeal to me.
After I moved out of the hostel into Naomi Wall’s house, I would occasionally go back to the hostel and see who was there. One time I met Jimmy and Pat Wilson and Dave Woodward there at the same time. I think they moved out together and got a house somewhere. I moved over to Brunswick Avenue with Ross Ashley and then Jimmy, Pat and Dave and I got together with a deserter named Herb Lane (who eventually immigrated to Israel) and rented the house at 224 McCaul Street. I’m getting my chronology mixed up but some time or the other prior to this we talked about, “Let’s organize some kind of draft-dodger-hippie enterprise.” We said to ourselves, “What can we do?” We said, “We’ll make things, we’ll manufacture things.” We all started saying, “What can we manufacture?” and I remember Jimmy Wilson saying, “Oh, I can make Indian headdresses.” I thought, “Oh yes, that definitely a marketable idea.” That was his idea of what we could make.
JS: This was the way you all used your recently acquired degrees.
PM: Yes, right. The first thing we did was to rent the house on McCaul Street and then we said, “Let’s open a retail store and market crafts.” We though people were going to make craft goods and we would sell them and in that way bring money into the community. We started the store right in the front room at 224 McCaul and put a sign outside facing the street. A neighbor complained and the building inspector told us to close it. So we had to rent a storefront. One day we were sitting in the back of 224 McCaul Street and someone said, “What are we going to name the store?” We came up with three names. Jimmy Wilson wanted to call it a liberation tribal store, Dave Woodward wanted to call it a socio-economic alternative or SEA. We had two names and then I said, “Why don’t we name it something catchy like,”—we suggested a few names and then we said, “How about the Yellow Ford Truck?” Now in those days famous bands had names like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. That sounded good because the Wilsons had a yellow Ford truck. We decided to name it the Yellow Ford Truck, a liberation tribal store and a socio-economic alternative. That’s what we named it.
After the building inspector kicked the store out of the house on McCaul Street, we went down to Baldwin Street which at that time was a more or less deserted Jewish neighborhood. There were a few older, poorer Jewish merchants still on the street. We rented a storefront at 11 Baldwin Street that had just been bought by a Chinese guy.
JS: How much did you pay for it?
PM: I think we paid $50 a month for the storefront. We lived at 224 McCaul Street. It turned out there weren’t many people making anything for sale so the Yellow Ford Truck became a retail store with whatever Jimmy could find, mainly imports. The store eventually became a head shop. In those early days he was just floundering around for whatever he could sell.
There was a coalition that had an office on Victoria Street downtown. I forget what they were called, perhaps the Peace Parade Committee. They were organizing a really big demonstration calling for an end to the war in Vietnam. We decided that we should have some nice flags for this parade. So Jimmy and I decided to make some flags. Mary Rauton and I made a silk prototype. It was very colorful but we decided to make a bunch of them to sell in the store. I bought silk screening equipment and rolls of cloth. The only cloth I could find was black so we silk-screened huge “ban the bomb” symbols on the black flags. This was the first thing we manufacturer. I remember that all of them were black except for the original one that we hand stitched. We took them to the demonstration where we were supposed to sell them. Instead we lost several. They were priced at $5. I loaned a bunch of them to some fellow and he lost them and I never got my money back.
JS: That crowd was kind of hard to get money out of.
PM: Impossible. The second project was a burlap shopping bag. We put the name of the store, the Yellow Ford Truck, on one side with the address and our symbol. Mary and I made the bags as well. I got the idea from Pax Designs were I had a job.
JS: You had a job at the same time you were trying to get the store going?
PM: It took me a long time to find a job. I was living with Naomi Wall so it must have been in the early part of the summer. She had gotten this guy a job with an import and furniture manufacturing business on Yorkville Avenue. The job was delivery driver. The deserter told Naomi that he could drive. The son of the owner went with the new employee to test drive the car before taking him to get a Canadian driver’s license. The new hire put the car in reverse and took off down the alley at about 20 miles an hour. They fired him on the spot. I happened to be around when he came back and said, “Oh, they fired me.” I was looking for work as a professional. Our employment committee was all college graduates and those are the kind of jobs we were looking for. I applied for many jobs. So this guy comes back and sits down and said, “They fired me.” I think that Naomi was fed up with me for being without a job for months. It took me three months to find a job.
JS: You lived all this time on the $200 from your brother?
PM: Yes, thing were cheap in those days. Certainly rooming with Naomi Wall was cheap. So she said, “Why don’t you take this job?” I said, “Okay, I’ll go.” By then I didn’t care what kind of job I took. Mr. Brooks also had a retail store where he sold imported things. He manufactured and designed furniture and manufactured a line of good quality library shelving. I worked there for nine months on a full-time basis. That was one of the sources of money we used to start the Yellow Ford Truck and later the Ragnarokr Leather Shop. Mary arrived in the fall of the year and she got a job with the Separate School Board so she was making pretty good money too.
JS: Mary is the woman you were living with?
PM: Not then. She came to the house one day. Someone sent her to 224 McCaul Street because we were Americans. She stayed for a while. She went back to Atlanta and came back with her son, Randy. We were living in the same house and eventually we became a couple.