October 16 1967: Hundreds burn draft cards at Arlington Church in Boston led by New England Resistance
New England has long been the home of independent thinking and civil resistance. Resistance to the War in Vietnam was no different. As Michael Foley writes in Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War, nearly 500 men – some ready to turn in their draft cards – showed up for the gathering at Arlington Church. Foley recounts:
Although the promotional leaflets predicted that 500 men would turn in their draft cards and join the Resistance in Boston, organizers had commitments from only about 20 to 25 men. They were hopeful for maybe 50.
It soon became apparent that many, many more would resist on this day.
The first trickle of men quickly became a stream that continued to swell for over 20 minutes. They came not just from the pews reserved for resisters but from all corners of the church. At one point, someone pushed open the massive church doors to let resisters in from outside.
After the service ended, they counted 214 cards turned in with another 67 burned at Channing’s flame.
NBC News correspondent Sander Vanocur, tears in his eyes, descended from the balcony to speak to his friend Bill Coffin. ‘What a country this would be,’ he said, ‘if something like this were to take place now in every church’.”
Song has always played an important role in the formation of community, and the Resistance to the Vietnam War was no exception. In 1845, James Lowell expressed his anti-slavery sentiments in a poem called “The Present Crisis.” Over one hundred years later, the Civil Rights movement drew inspiration from the text. It was sung as a hymn during the Arlington Church draft resistance and quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his landmark “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.