Staughton Lynd Papers, 1940-1977


Since the early 1960s Staughton Lynd has been one of the most prominent and respected figures of the American Left. Over the years he has lent his name and devoted his energies to movements that have sought to effect fundamental and radical social change in the United States. He has been a leader in the civil rights movement, an outspoken critic of the Vietnam war, a community organizer, a labor organizer, an advocate of the radicalization of the American historical profession, and a leading figure in the campus protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His career, similarly devoted to social change, drew him first into social work, then into higher education, and finally into labor law.

Born in 1929, Lynd was raised in New York City. His parents, Robert S. and Helen M. Lynd, wrote Middletown (1929) and Middletown in Transition (1937), noted social studies of Muncie, Indiana. Both of his parents were professors: his father at Columbia and his mother at Sarah Lawrence College. Robert S. Lynd, active in the civil liberties struggles of the McCarthy era, supported improved relations with the Soviet Union, an early end to the Korean war, the right of professors to be members of the Communist Party, and the repeal of the McCarran Act. Moreover, he was a supporter of the Progressive Party, an early advocate of civil rights, and a member of the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Staughton Lynd's education reflected the liberal and academic values of his parents. He attended the Ethical Culture and Fieldston schools in New York. He then was awarded a Harvard Club scholarship and eventually graduated from Harvard in 1951. After graduation, he studied city planning at Harvard and the University of Chicago.

Throughout his early life Lynd was active in Leftist politics and the pacifist movement. From 1946 to 1949, he belonged to the American Youth for Democracy, which maintained friendly cooperation with the American Communist Party. Briefly in 1949, he was attracted to Trotskyism and joined the International Socialist League and the Socialist Workers Party. At Harvard he was a member of the John Reed Society and often wrote papers from a distinctly radical or Marxist perspective.

After graduation from Harvard, Lynd confronted many changes in his life. In 1951 he married Alice Niles at the Stony Run Friends Meeting House in Baltimore. They had met at Harvard Summer School. Then, facing induction into the Army, he declared his status as a conscientious objector. Subsequently, he was drafted as a noncombatant and was undesirably discharged in 1954 because of his suspected radical orientation. A Supreme Court decision later forced the Army to grant honorable discharges to him and about 100 other men who had been similarly charged.

With his wife, Lynd joined the Quaker-oriented Macedonia Cooperative Community in northeast Georgia, where they remained for over three years. Lynd found the communal living experience -- in which he rose at 5 a.m. to milk cows and make toys in the woodworking shop -- a very positive one. Nevertheless, in 1958 he returned to New York City and joined the staff of the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side where he organized tenants and dealt with their housing problems. After about a year of work, Lynd became disenchanted with what he could accomplish as a social worker and returned to college to study American history. In the process, he became a pioneer in a movement that sought to radicalize, or at least to influence significantly from a Leftist perspective, the American historical profession. Lynd entered Columbia University in 1959 and received a doctorate three years later. His dissertation, “The Revolution and the Common Man,” dealt with tenants and artisans in New York during and just after the American Revolution. From 1961 to 1964, Lynd taught history at Spelman College, a school for Black women in Atlanta, Georgia. In the fall of 1964, he became an assistant professor at Yale University.

Lynd was active in many of the major left-wing social and political movements of the 1960s. In Georgia, he was president of the Atlanta Peace Fellowship. He also participated in the civil rights movement in the South. After gaining experience in the movement, he directed in the summer of 1964 the Freedom Schools in Mississippi which taught remedial academic subjects and courses on Black and civil rights history. Shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lynd joined the growing number who doubted that Oswald was guilty or had acted alone. In August 1965, Lynd was arrested in Washington during a demonstration of the “Assembly of Unrepresented People” and was sentenced to a $100 fine or thirty days in jail.

Lynd acquired nationwide attention because of his early activities against the war in Vietnam. His most dramatic opposition came at Christmas time in 1965 when he flew to Hanoi with Tom Hayden, a founder of SDS, and Herbert Aptheker, a leading theoretician of the American Communist Party. They spent ten days in Hanoi and had a ninety-minute interview with Pham Van Dong and representatives of the National Liberation Front (NLF). The group's purpose was to encourage a negotiated settlement of the war by providing the American public with a truer picture of the position of the NLF, but it was widely believed by those who supported the government's position in regard to the war that their mission had aided the war aims of North Vietnam. According to federal law, Lynd's group could have been jailed for five years and fined up to $5,000 each for unauthorized foreign travel. In addition to his trip, Lynd frequently wrote against the war and appeared at rallies to express his opposition.

In 1968, he was arrested at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and fined $500. Moreover, he was sympathetic to student pro-tests of the 1960s against the Vietnam war and against the traditional structure of universities. Lynd was a frequent speaker at campus protests.

Lynd spent only a year and a half at Yale after his return from Hanoi. In September 1966, he took a year's leave to go to England with full pay on a Morse fellowship to do research on the origins of American radicalism. The next fall, he took another leave -- this time without pay -- to go to Chicago and work for the Chicago Organizing School, an activist training center which sought to organize impoverished communities into centers of radical opposition to existing political and economic conditions. Although the exact role that Lynd's radical activism played in his teaching career is a matter of contention, he was denied tenure by Yale following his second leave. Lynd sought a teaching position in the Chicago area, but failed to receive any permanent position which led him and his supporters to believe that he was refused positions because of his political activities. Most administrators denied the charge. However when the Illinois Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities denied his appointment to the faculty at Chicago State, despite the unanimous recommendation of the faculty and administration that he be hired, it explicitly rejected his application on the grounds that a scholar should not violate the law, as Lynd had in his trip to Hanoi. The failure of Lynd to acquire a teaching position in Chicago caused him to abandon his attempts to teach within a traditional academic environment. He continued to teach without pay at the Chicago Organizing School. Although he could have returned to Yale for one final year in September 1968, he did not. He was denied tenure in the spring of 1969.

Lynd has authored an impressive number of works on historical and political topics:

  • American Labor Radicalism. New York: Wiley, 1973.
  • Anti-Federalism in Dutchess County. Chicago: Loyola UP, 1962.
  • Class Conflict, Slavery and the U.S. Constitution. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968.
  • Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism. New York: Pantheon, 1968.
  • Nonviolence in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966.
  • The Other Side (with Tom Hayden). New York: New American Library, 1967.
  • Reconstruction. New York: Harper, 1967.
  • Strategy and Program: Two Essays Toward A New American Socialism Boston: Beacon, 1973.
  • The Resistance (with Michael Ferber). Boston: Beacon, 1971.
  • Rank and File (with Alice Lynd). Boston: Beacon, 1973.

Nothwithstanding his failure to acquire a teaching position, Lynd continued his efforts to encourage the study of history from a radical perspective. He had developed close ties with other radical historians within and outside the profession, and he continued his association with them. The radicals were strong enough to pose a serious threat to the structure and leadership of the American Historical Association (AHA).

Lynd was a leader of this drive. When the radicals challenged the traditionalists at the AHA convention in 1969, they chose him as their candidate for the presidency of the organization. But the old guard prevailed and their candidate, Robert R. Palmer, defeated Lynd 1040 to 396. The radicals raised other issues in addition to the restructuring of the profession and the AHA. They were concerned over the lack of jobs for new historians and the failure of the AHA to denounce the Vietnam war more strenuously.

When the mass protest movements of the 1960s began to wane in the next decade, Lynd channeled his radicalism in new directions. He attempted to promote radical oral history and writings on the lives of labor militants and rank-and-file unionists. From 1969 to 1971, Lynd assisted John W. Anderson, a militant in the United Auto Workers Union, in writing about his struggles against both the auto industry and his union. In 1973, along with his wife, Lynd published Rank and File whose chief purpose was to depict the lives of ordinary union members, especially their struggles against excessive union bureaucratization. Lynd also sought to encourage radicals to record their experiences orally, both to prevent the loss of such information and as an alternative to traditional historical methods and areas of concern. In the early 1970s Lynd became prominent in the New American Movement (NAM), which sought to make democratic socialism a major issue before the American people. NAM was a product of the social struggles of the 1960s, and most of its leaders, like Lynd, had been active in the earlier decade, but now believed that the increasingly disparate tendencies of the New Left should be coordinated into a unified effort.

In the early 1970s Lynd once again changed careers. He entered law school at the University of Chicago and graduated with a concentration in labor law. He then joined a law firm in Youngstown, Ohio, which specialized in labor law, especially in the problems of rank-and-file union members. This collection contains no records relating to Lynd's interest and career in labor law.