BRIAN LAMB, HOST: William H. Chafe, author of "Never Stop Running: Allard Lowenstein and the Struggle to Save American Liberalism." Who was Allard Lowenstein?
WILLIAM CHAFE, AUTHOR, "NEVER STOP RUNNING" Well, one of the most interesting things is that he is a figure who helped to shape a great deal of our history in the years since World War II, and yet he's someone who, because he was assassinated 13 years ago, his name has in some ways dropped from our public attention and awareness. And yet if we think about some of the pivotal moments of American society and politic life, the whole issue of the civil rights movement, the whole anti-Vietnam War movement, the Dump Johnson movement, none of these things really can be understood or even comprehended without paying attention to Allard Lowenstein.
LAMB: Where was he from?
CHAFE: Well, he was born in Newark, New Jersey. His parents were Lithuanian Jews who had immigrated to the United States. And he came out of a fascinating background with a father who came to the United States after the Russian Revolution of 1905 -- was exiled, actually, for being part of a major social movement in Lithuania -- and then went to Columbia and got his Ph.D at Columbia University, and taught there for two years and then became a restaurateur in New York, in large part because he wanted to, he said, make it possible for his children not to suffer any of the disadvantages of being an immigrant's child. He wanted them to grow up with all the middle-class comforts that he thought they should have as American children. And so he gave up his academic life in order to be able to provide the resources that he wanted them to have to have a full life.
LAMB: How long did Allard Lowenstein live?
CHAFE: He lived to be 51 years old. He lived until March, 1980, when he was assassinated in his office in New York by a former protege.
LAMB: Why was he assassinated?
CHAFE: He was assassinated because the person who killed him was mentally ill, was paranoid schizophrenic, and had decided that Allard Lowenstein was the source of the voices he heard in his head, was responsible for all the misery he'd suffered in the last decade of this young man's life. He also was assassinated because he traced his unhappiness back to his experience with Lowenstein and the civil rights movement in Mississippi, when Al had recruited him to go to Mississippi. And this young man, Dennis Sweeney, had been one of Lowenstein's most devoted supporters, a real disciple.
And they had split over the civil rights movement, with Lowenstein becoming very much concerned about the radicalization that was taking place within the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee at Mississippi, and becoming very much concerned about the presence of what he feared might be Communist influences in the civil rights movement. And so Al kind of separated from the movement. Many of the people he recruited to the movement became radicalized, felt sold out by liberals, felt that Al in some ways came to symbolize those white liberals who were not sticking with the movement and not committing themselves totally to it. And over time that political distancing became much more dramatic. It proceeded through the anti-war movement when Dennis Sweeney became a leader of the draft resistance movement. And...
LAMB: Dennis Sweeney being the assassin?
CHAFE: Being the assassin, who Lowenstein had recruited at Stanford when he was at Stanford. And eventually it led to a falling apart of Sweeney's own mental stability and a growing conflation of his political alienation and anger with his psychological and personal disintegration.
LAMB: Where is Dennis Sweeney today?
CHAFE: As I understand it, Dennis Sweeney is still in a mental hospital in New York state, where he was sent after a hearing which found him mentally incompetent to stand trial, and is on a parole basis, in which he is free to be outside of the institution during the day and to have employment, but to be back there at night.
LAMB: As I went through the book, I wrote down some names of people that from time to time are in this studio...
LAMB: ...or we hear in the news today who were involved with Allard Lowenstein. Harold Ickes, Gary Hart, Curtis Gans, Peter Edelman -- of Marian Wright Edelman and Peter Edelman fame -- Barney Frank, David Halberstan, Bill Buckley, and Teddy Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. And I can go on and on, but at the funeral, you say that Bill Buckley and Teddy Kennedy both had something to say. How could that happen?
CHAFE: Well, one of the things that Al Lowenstein was really gifted at doing was bringing people together from very different places, politically. He was such a magnetic figure himself. Intellectually, he was very, very powerful. Bill Buckley, I think, had a repartee with Al Lowenstein that they both enjoyed because they were sparring partners in politics. Ted Kennedy viewed him as -- what he said in his eulogy -- as a brother, as a member of the family. What Al had, I think, was the ability through his own personal magnetism and charisma to bring people together to have dialogue with them that was really quite remarkable and which made it possible for this extraordinary event to take place, with Buckley and Kennedy both giving the most moving eulogies -- Buckley in particular -- a eulogy which, whenever I read it, I almost, I start to cry, because it's so powerful.
LAMB: All right, what did he stand for?
CHAFE: What did Al Lowenstein stand for?
CHAFE: Al Lowenstein stood for a number of things, but I think most important, he stood for a profound faith in the democratic system in America, in the belief that if you gave yourself to that system, if you believed that you could actually work inside that system, you could make a difference. You could turn it around. You could achieve your objectives. He believed in liberal principles. Certainly he believed, above all, in racial justice and equality. He believed very much in the value of individual freedom and individual self-determination. And he believed strongly, as most postwar liberals did, in a strong anti-Communist position. And he hoped that through anti-communism, individualism and faith in achieving democratic social justice by working inside the system, you could actually achieve the kind of progress in American democracy that would make it possible to achieve the goals of the country.
LAMB: Does he deserve credit for bringing Lyndon Johnson down?
CHAFE: Well, I think he does, in many respects. One of the ways I like to answer this question is to say to someone, “Could you imagine, in 1966, that a sitting president who had just passed the Great Society legislation, who had been more successful with Congress than any president since Franklin Roosevelt, who had been re-elected by a higher percentage than Franklin Roosevelt, and who had really still had the majority of support -- it was two-thirds support in the country, even more than that -- for the Vietnam War, could you, could anyone imagine that Lyndon Johnson could have been deposed or would have been forced to resign as president or not to run for re-election as president?”
And I think that the answer to that is Barney Frank's answer to that, when he was a student at Harvard and Al Lowenstein first said to him, you know, “I think we can actually topple Lyndon Johnson,” and Barney Frank said, “You're crazy. I've heard many ideas from you, but this is the craziest idea.” And yet Lowenstein was convinced that if you only worked hard enough and put people together, if you only generated the kind of support from college student presidents, from mainstream student activists -- if you did all of these things and piece by piece built a coalition, that you could begin to focus on working inside the political system to turn around the policy on Vietnam.
And the remarkable thing is that he beings in the late summer of '66, the National Student Association meetings. By the end of that year he has more than 100 student body presidents signing a letter to Lyndon Johnson -- a letter which is, on the one hand, designed to get some change in government policy, but on the other hand, designed to build the kind of broad base of support within the mainstream of the American student body, and then, predictably, Johnson and Rusk are insensitive and intransigent in their response. They are totally rejecting of -- this one great episode there, when Rusk finally asks to see a number of student leaders. They go to see Rusk in his office and one of them, a conservative from Michigan State, says to Rusk, “Well, Mr. Secretary, what happens if this escalates to the point where we drop nuclear bombs?” And Rusk takes a drag on his cigarette and says, “Someone's going to get hurt.” “And at that moment,” this student body president says, “I knew that I had to be against this war.”
So what happens is that Lowenstein sets in motion this process of confronting the government, having these kinds of responses broadening in an ever-widening circle the base of support for the anti-war movement inside the system. Now here he is taking a position which is very much against some of the SDS activists at the time, who want to trash the system, who say, “You can't work inside the system. You have to oppose it. You have to resort to civil disobedience. You may even have to resort to violence.” And Lowenstein is saying, “No, you have to work inside.” And by staying inside, by getting those student body presidents to do what they did, he eventually gets more than 200 student bodies through the student government associations to join in.
And then you begin to get Democratic Party officials joining in, so that by the fall of 1967, now seven or eight months after this letter and after the ongoing development of this coalition, you have Democratic Party officials in California, in Wisconsin, in Minnesota, in New York talking about building a grass-roots movement inside the party to unseat the president. The New Republic starts talking about the need to think about a new nominee. The ADA -- Americans for Democratic Action -- does. And so within literally a year after this idea is conceived, which Barney Frank said is crazy, it's impossible to even imagine -- within a year, by a remarkable act of organization and mobilization, you have reached the point where, in December, Gene McCarthy is willing to announce his candidacy. Now there's a part of this which I think is hard to understand until you go back and look at how it happened. Lowenstein was teaching at City College Mondays and...
LAMB: In New York.
CHAFE: In New York -- Mondays and Wednesdays. Curtis Ganz was working with him very closely. Now Ganz would go out into the country and sort of go in and start to organize the community campus. Lowenstein would fly in and take what Ganz had done and give a charismatic talk and leave behind him an infrastructure, an organization. He would do the West Coast on Wednesday night -- he'd fly to the West Coast after class on Wednesdays and organize the West Coast Wednesday through Sunday. He'd do the East Coast on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and still teach his classes, never missed a class. And yet, through this incredible process, which Harold Ickes was very much involved with -- Harold Ickes now deputy chief of staff in the White House -- with following by phones and by distributing literature and putting together this network -- through this incredible process, within a year you had this apparatus which was sufficiently powerful so that a challenge was mounted to Lyndon Johnson's renomination.
LAMB: We'll come back to some of this. But you live where?
CHAFE: I live in North Carolina, in Chapel Hill.
LAMB: Doing what?
CHAFE: I teach history at Duke University.
LAMB: And when did you first get interested in Allard Lowenstein, and have you ever met him?
CHAFE: Yes, I met him. I knew him in the late -- in the mid-1960s, when I was a graduate student at Columbia University. And I was very active in Democratic politics as a graduate student. I was involved in the West Side reform movement and in anti-Vietnam war politics. And Al's first race for Congress was on the West Side of Manhattan in 1966. And I knew him -- not well, but I knew him during that campaign a little bit. So I knew what a charismatic figure he was, because I'd seen him operate in person. I could see how he could turn around an audience. He was always late -- an hour or two hours late -- but we'd come into a room and he would be very effective at being able to turn around an audience and make them his followers, give them a real sense of being part of a crusade.
I became interested in this book because I've -- almost everything I've written -- and I've focused primarily on social history and civil rights movement and women -- the women's movement and feminism. Almost everything I've written has really ended up zeroing in on the question: Is it really possible to achieve social change on fundamental issues like race and gender and class if you stay within the existing social and political and economic structure, or do you have to go outside?
Radical feminists think you have to, in effect, get rid of the entire patriarchal structure. You have to create new institutions. Liberal feminists believe you can work inside the system and achieve progress and upward mobility that way. Integrationists believe in the civil rights movement, you can achieve the goals of African-Americans by operating inside, by getting equal economic opportunities and political rights. Black power advocates believed you had to challenge that entire system. So all these issues really came down to the question of is it possible to be a liberal political activist, to seek fundamental change inside the system? That was the first reason. I wanted to investigate that issue much more carefully.
The second was that I had found that I really loved writing about individual human beings. I had done a long biographical essay on Eleanor Roosevelt on the occasion of her 100th birthday -- celebration of her 100th birthday, and I loved writing about individuals. And I'd written these books about social movements, but I really wanted to write about a human being -- an individual human being. And what I decided to do was to do a biography that would provide a window from a personal point of view on the whole question of whether, in fact, one can achieve social change by operating through liberal political activism.
And it was at that point, having just finished a major project, that I discovered that Allard Lowenstein's papers had been deposited in North Carolina at UNC, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and that they were voluminous, they were wonderful and the more I thought about it, this person's life was quintessentially the embodiment of liberal activism. He had given his life to the notion that you could achieve change by working inside the system. And if I wanted to understand that tension, that dilemma, what better way to do it than by looking at how one individual experienced that life.
LAMB: What year did you start the book?
LAMB: When did you finish it?
CHAFE: December of 1992.
LAMB: What took so long?
CHAFE: Well, Al Lowenstein is someone who always was known for being
disorganized, chaotic. Every picture you have of him is with newspapers stuffed under his arm, with a suitcase, duffel bag open with stuff -- clothes piling out. And his convertibles -- he always drove convertibles -- were stacked with New York Times. And he was someone who you couldn't believe ever was organized. And yet he saved every piece of paper he ever wrote on or received from the time he was eight years old -- all of his elementary school papers, school plays he wrote, scraps of paper he wrote notes on during political conventions. He had an extraordinary collection of papers, which just provide a written archive which is remarkable in its complexity, in its detail. And of course, he was someone who knew thousands of people. He had an address book with 5,000 names in it, and he at least communicated by postcard with most of those people every year. That's how he created his network. And it was, therefore, very important to talk to a great many of those people. So I interviewed about 150 of the people that were part of Lowenstein's life. So because of the archival work in the library and all those interviews I did with many of the people whose names you mentioned at the beginning who are now still very well-known political figures, it took a long time to write the book.
LAMB: You also say in the introduction that many of his disciples have continued to play major roles in American politics, and you name Senators Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin, Paul Wellstone and Bill Bradley. Did they all know him?
LAMB: Did they all follow him?
CHAFE: Yes, they all -- but Bradley in particular was a very strong supporter of Lowenstein, of course, during his athletic career. But many of these people have a connection through the student movement, through the National Student Association. Wellstone met him at UNC. There's correspondence from these people. They were some of the young followers. I think one of the things that's important to know about Lowenstein is that he functioned primarily by recruiting the young; that his greatest impact was on students; that there was frequently a kind of a leader-follower, mentor-mentee relationship that he had with these young people. So he was less likely to have an impact on his peers than he was on those who were literally inspired to become active in politics because of their contact with Lowenstein and have subsequently have become such an important part of our political life.
LAMB: Why do you write so much about his private life?
CHAFE: Well, that's a very good question. I think that there's no way of understanding the complexity of this person, the magnetism he had, the drivenness of his life, the frenetic quality of the pace he lived, the politics he practiced. There's no way of understanding that fully without understanding the torment he was dealing with in his private life, the conflicts he was...
LAMB: What do you mean by “the torment”?
CHAFE: Well, I think he -- there were a whole series of very painful experiences he had that he was trying to find a way to deal with. And the way I think he found to deal with them ultimately was to keep on running away from them.
LAMB: And what was he running away from?
CHAFE: Well, I think he was running away from a number of things. He had a very complicated -- and all of us have complicated lives. His was perhaps more complicated than most. I referred earlier to his parents -- his father from Lithuania, a powerful man, passionate, dramatic; very powerful in the way in which he tried to get his children to be what he wanted them to be the most successful people in the world. And Allard was, in particular, his favorite, someone he really thought the world of. And he wanted to live -- he says, “I want to live through you. I want to live through your days and what you do.”
The father had himself a tortured life. His wife, who he dearly loved, and Allard's mother, died within a year after Allard was born. Died of breast cancer. We have the mother's diary, poignant commentary about what it was like having breast cancer and to wean her child and to, in effect, say goodbye to him.
She dies. He gets remarried almost immediately. And he so wants to, in some ways, put the experience with his first wife out of his life, to almost quiet the pain, that he commits himself and the rest of the family to a conspiracy of silence, so that he never tells Allard that he had a mother who died. Allard is brought up to believe that his stepmother is his real mother until he discovers it by himself when he's 13 years old. And the fact of discovering it is a profound moment in his life, because he doesn't know what to do with it, how to deal with it. He writes a letter to what turns out to be his real mother's sister, in which he talks about the pain of it and yet how much he doesn't want anyone to know that he knows, because he doesn't want them to worry about maybe having hurt him. What he's really doing is saying, “I'm deeply hurt. I'm crying out.”
So that's one very important secret in his life. He's never able to talk about this with his father, and this is a father who loves him profoundly and who cares more about him than anybody else in the world. And they have this intense relationship, but Al always in some ways can't deal with him on a direct basis, has to run away from him. That's why he runs away to North Carolina to college, in many respects, because his father wants him to go to an Ivy League school and Al wants to get as far away from that world as he can.
A second secret that he's dealing with is the fact that he discovers -- says in his diary when he's 14 years old that he doesn't know how to deal with the fact that he has these very strong impulses -- sexual impulses toward young men. We're talking about 1943, a period of time in our history when there is no cultural sanction, no space, no room for talking about sexual impulses and ambivalences; no room for support for people who may have homosexual impulses. And so he says at that point, “The only way I think I can deal with this is to make good friends, to make best friends.” And that's how he does choose to deal with it.
But these are secrets that he has to deal with, and that are driving him. They drive him to have extraordinarily intense encounters with people, especially younger people that he becomes very closely engaged by and with, who he inspires. But it's also what, in some ways, keeps him on the move. It's one of the reasons, for example, why, when he counts up the number of friends he has, he lists those that are -- he takes pride in the fact that the vast majority of them are non-Jewish. He counts whether they're Jewish or non-Jewish because he very much wants to be accepted by the mainstream corridor of American culture.
LAMB: You talk -- and I thought I wrote it down, but I can't find it -- it's not called the single-bed concept, but you refer to the fact that when he was traveling a lot, he would look for single-bed hotel rooms he would share with males -- other males, one of these young men.
CHAFE: Well, one of the things that did happen to a number of people frequently was that they would be -- through traveling and elsewhere, there would be occasions when he would spend the night in the same bed with another man, and some said on occasion those evenings led to his expressing a desire for physical affection -- hugging, to be close -- to be physically close.
LAMB: How did you find this kind of thing out?
CHAFE: Well, of course, some of it is written down; some of it is part of the written evidence -- the diary, letters to him.
LAMB: Is it publicly new now in this book, this kind of information?
CHAFE: Other people have speculated about it and there have been other people who've written about it. I think that certainly, the letters, the diary, the number of people who have talked about it in oral history interviews with me.
LAMB: What's the reaction on the part of his family? And this is, I believe, a picture of his ex-wife.
CHAFE: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: And how much a role did she play in this book?
CHAFE: She was very cooperative in giving me very helpful interviews.
LAMB: Who is she?
CHAFE: Her name is Jennifer.
LAMB: And where is she now?
CHAFE: She's in Washington.
LAMB: Is she remarried?
LAMB: And how important was she? Out of the 150 interviews that you had, how much of a...
CHAFE: She was a very powerful part of his life. He was very much in love with her, and she provided a degree of joy and humor and warmth in his life, I think, which was remarkable.
LAMB: Where did he meet her?
CHAFE: He met her in New York when he was running for Congress in that campaign I was talking about, in 1966.
LAMB: How did they end up getting married?
CHAFE: It was a whirlwind courtship. She was a campaign aide of his and he proposed. And she was younger than he by, I think, 13 or 14 years.
LAMB: How many children did they have?
CHAFE: They had three.
LAMB: And how long were they married?
CHAFE: Eleven years.
LAMB: Why the divorce?
CHAFE: Well, I think I can only speculate about why the divorce. What I say there is that, in fact, the life of campaigning, and of constant motion and of running for office repeatedly, and really never being able to relax, to heal, to come together, that the frenetic pace made it very difficult to create the kind of space in which happiness could be found.
LAMB: You write a lot in the book about how he would bring people home unannounced, fill the home full of people for dinner.
LAMB: She wouldn't have anything there.
CHAFE: That's right.
LAMB: Explain more about that.
CHAFE: Well, it was a pattern that goes through his life. When he was in college, he would come home -- his parents would implore him to come home for a holiday, and he would finally come home, but he'd come home with 15 student friends of his. Someone made the comment that he was the only person who brought 15 guys to a Seder at a family house, and his stepmother was very committed to her religious -- really, rituals. And Al would come in with these 15 people. And one member of the family has made the comment that, “Now I understand why Al always came in with so many people, because he didn't ever want to be in a situation where he had to confront his father one-on-one and have to, in some ways, deal with some of these questions.”
He always brought people home because I think he found comfort in having people there, and I think that people being around was also a way of making it easier to not deal with some of these issues, to not have to deal with some of the problems on a one-on-one basis, because on a one-on-one basis, you have to start exploring some of these questions that are so painful. And that's why the parapetetic -- that's why the title, "Never Stop Running" -- it's not just the fact that he runs for Congress 10
times and for the Senate two or three times -- or at least thinks about running for the Senate two or three times -- it's the fact that he is constantly in motion and is, in some ways, always afraid to settle down and deal with some of these questions. It helps to explain the intensity, the freneticism. That made, also, it possible for him to be such an extraordinary political presence in our life.
LAMB: Now how many times was he a congressman?
CHAFE: He was a congressman once. He was elec...
LAMB: What year?
CHAFE: In 1968. He was elected in the midst of the anti-war movement, the same year that Richard Nixon was elected, the same year that Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. Robert Kennedy's death, of course, was probably the most severe blow he ever suffered, politically.
And he was elected -- he went to run in Long Island in the Congress, which was just one of five different congressional districts he ran in. So he didn't run these 10 times in one district; he ran in different districts, the 19th and twice in Manhattan, once in Brooklyn and then on Long Island. And this particular occasion, it was a Republican district, but he won because the anti-war sentiment was so strong.
He was a very good candidate, and he served in Congress for two years and would have been re-elected except that the state Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, thoroughly gerrymandered his district and added about 20,000 Republicans to the district. And even though he ran a great campaign in 1970, he couldn't get re-elected.
LAMB: And he was defeated by a man that just retired, Norman Lent.
CHAFE: Yes. That's right.
LAMB: Who else did he run against in the other -- and you say he actually ran for Congress how many times?
CHAFE: Ten times -- he ran for Congress 10 times, three times one year in Brooklyn.
LAMB: How can he run three times in one year?
CHAFE: Well, that's a very good story, and in some ways I guess it's not a bad story to tell because it speaks to some of the issues I'm talking about here, that the intensity of commitment. He went to Brooklyn to run after having decided he couldn't run again in Long Island. This was in 1972 -- in a district which had a 14-term congressman, John Rooney, who was a machine politician who didn't spend hardly any time in the district, was not very effective, although he brought a lot of jobs to the Brooklyn Navy yard and other places.
So Al was going to run a primary campaign against John Rooney. And he had a lot of support. There had been other reform campaigns run against Rooney in the past, some of which had come within a couple of thousand votes of winning. He had pretty substantial support, although it was a very polyglot area, with Poles, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Italians -- it was a very, very diverse constituency. He ran and the election was probably stolen from him because there were so many breakdowns of machines on Election Day, and there was just chicanery everywhere. And he lost by 900 votes. But there were so many irregularities that he decided that he would challenge the election.
Now one of the things many of the Brooklyn reformers who had supported him knew that to challenge an election like that in the court -- even if you win the challenge, it's not going to really bring victory because you're having a special election. There are no other elections taking place that day. It's very hard to get out the votes on a special election. So they thought he should just hold on. He made a great impact on the district, run two years later and he'd automatically be elected, they thought. He, instead, said, “No. Basically, a political wrong has been committed. I need vindication. I'm going to go to court and challenge this.” He does so. A second election is held and he loses this time by a couple of thousand votes.
But he's still on the Liberal Party ticket, because in New York there are different parties, and the Liberal Party is sort of an offshoot of the Democratic Party. And he's still on the Liberal Party ticket and his aides and everyone are encouraging him to just resign, leave that ticket behind, not run a third time. And yet he says, “No. I must, because people are depending on me. I have a standard to uphold.” And so he runs a third time in that same year, and it is that race which really, in some ways -- I mean, it is so exhausting to his family, it is so exhausting to his aides, by the end many of his allies have sort of decided that there's something wrong with this kind of commitment. It's too intense. It's almost pathological.
And I think that from there he goes on and begins to organize a campaign for the US Senate in the spring of '73. So he never stops running that year. And that particular year -- it's not a good time for someone who needs to get things together.
LAMB: Have you had any reaction out of any of his close friends or his family on the book?
CHAFE: I think that -- yes, I have. I've had a number of friends of his have said very positive things about the book. I think his children are upset by it.
CHAFE: His daughter is concerned about what she thinks is too much of an emphasis on his discomfort with being Jewish. And she feels strongly that he was more committed to his Jewish roots. And I certainly don't deny that he changed, but toward the end of his life. I'm talking mostly about that -- during the early part of his life, when he's at Carolina and he's working so hard to establish himself, really, with a kind of a WASP group of peers. And it's very much a part of his personal life, the people he is most attracted to in almost every respect are -- not that he doesn't have very close Jewish friends, but great many of them are WASPs.
LAMB: Is Jennifer, his ex-wife, Jewish?
LAMB: Did that factor in, the fact that she was not Jewish? I mean, you've mentioned that a lot in the book, about him being -- I even wrote it down -- the Jewish part of him -- something that was quite disturbing.
CHAFE: Well, most of the women and most of the men he was involved with were not Jewish.
LAMB: Was he...
CHAFE: Virtually all.
LAMB: Did he ever write about it?
CHAFE: No. What he wrote about -- what I referred to earlier -- in his diary entries, he would, for example, say, “186 friends -- 150 of them” -- I don't know the exact number, but -- “are Gentile.” In other words, he was concerned with that. Which is not to say he wasn't also concerned about -- when he was in the Army in World War -- in the '50s, in Germany, he was very conscious of and very proud of his Jewishness and very aware of what had happened in Germany during World War II. So it is not that he was always trying to escape it; it was simply that it was a presence which, I think, from what at least many of his friends say, contributed to a sense of being marginal, of some sense of inferiority and of wanting to win the favor of those who were, by definition, not inferior, who were the best and the brightest of WASP culture.
LAMB: You dedicate this book to Aunt Dot and Uncle John.
LAMB: How come?
CHAFE: Well, these are very important people in my family, and I think that -- my aunt is a 92-year-old woman, and she is my only living relative and she has meant a great deal to me. And I also talk about the fact that family place is very important, and she has made it possible for me to have a family place that I do all my writing. And that is why I dedicated it to her and to her husband, who was a wonderful person, who was a very favorite uncle of mine, who was a dentist and who was a great cook, and a very warm and loving person.
LAMB: Where does she live? They -- are they -- is he alive?
LAMB: Where does she live now?
CHAFE: She lives in Massachusetts.
LAMB: And she's 92?
CHAFE: She's 92.
LAMB: And you wrote this book there?
CHAFE: No. I wrote this book on the coast of Maine.
CHAFE: Near Bath.
LAMB: How come that spot?
CHAFE: It's actually where my family -- where one part of my family comes from. Actually, my relatives go back and were born on that island in the mid-18th century -- back to the -- 1732 is as far as we traced it.
LAMB: Did you write it in one sitting, meaning, you know, weeks at one place?
CHAFE: No. Over a period of three summers.
LAMB: How did you do it? What was the setting that you wrote it in?
CHAFE: I did it looking over a harbor from a study in an old house which is over 100 years old, and I just looked out and was inspired by the material I was reading and using, and the interviews I'd done and the remarkable amount of dramatic and powerful and passionate stories of this man's life that I had. I think this is a book that I care deeply about. He is someone I think I came to understand very well. And I found it very moving and illuminating for myself and, I hope, for others to be able to write about his life, which is not just his life; it is also the life of a generation. It's a life of a group of people who lived through a very dynamic and critical part of this century, whose history needs to be understood and recorded. And when someone like this man has such an impact on that history, it's important to understand.
LAMB: Was it hard to sell Basic Books?
CHAFE: On this book?
LAMB: On publishing this book.
CHAFE: No. No. I think that -- one of the issues -- it was not hard. They've been a wonderful press to deal with.
LAMB: Who are they, by the way?
CHAFE: Well, they're part of Harper Collins, but the reason I was at Basic Books was because of my editor there, who was an historian and executive vice president there.
LAMB: Who's that?
CHAFE: Steve Frasier -- terrific person, great historian, wonderful critic, very engaged human being who actually wasn't sure that he liked Al Lowenstein, wasn't sure he wanted to do a book about Al Lowenstein and -- but did sign the book up because he thought I was a good historian, etc., and then read it and said, “I'm convinced.” He said, “You have made me a believer.”
LAMB: Now what -- for them, how many of these books do you have to sell to make it a success for Basic Books?
CHAFE: I don't know. I don't know. I suppose 15,000, 20,000 would make them very happy.
LAMB: What about you?
CHAFE: I would be happy with that. I'm happy -- I decided a long time ago, because I care so much about the book, that the most important thing was that I feel good about the book. Obviously, you care deeply, as you know, about what reviewers say. You care deeply whether you get to appear on a show like this. You care what the critics have to say. And for the most part the critics have been wonderful. But what I also discovered, in sort of preparing for this period of time and thinking about this period, the most important thing was that I feel good about the book. And when this book went off to press, I felt as though it was as much what I really wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it as anything I had ever written, so I felt good about it, I guess, in the end. I take solace in that.
LAMB: What's your favorite chapter?
CHAFE: Oh, God. I like the Mississippi chapters very much because I've always written about the civil rights movement and I care a lot about the civil rights movement, and I'm especially concerned about the tension that developed between white liberals and black SNCC activists. I think it's a very...
LAMB: What was SNCC, by the way?
CHAFE: The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee is the group of students who grow out of the early sit-in movement, and this was a group that came into being in 1960, '61. Initially, it was thought that it would be an offshoot of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King's group, but no, it decided to have its own independent existence.
Robert Moses -- SNCC -- these are the front-line troops of the civil rights movement. These are the people who were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964, who were the young people who went into the worst parts of the South, who put their lives on the line on a daily basis and who believed in the beloved community, believed that it was possible, through non-violence and through working together, to create a better society. And that group, over time, represented the best, it seems to me, of the civil rights movement, the group that really accomplished the most, in many respects, and set the agenda. And yet SNCC became, by 1964, '65, angry and alienated from white liberals in America, particularly from the Democratic Party.
You will recall the Atlantic City convention of 1964, when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party came and asked to be seated at that convention and had every right to be seated, because the white Democratic Party, in fact, was going to support Barry Goldwater and blacks had not been allowed to register to vote. And yet, they were given only two seats in a compromise dictated, really, by the liberal establishment, and they became very angry. And much of their anger was at the idea of being controlled by somebody else, by white liberals who were trying to set their agenda. And they identified Lowenstein with that white liberal effort to control, which goes back to, in some ways, his involvement in helping to make Freedom Summer happen. He was instrumental in recruiting hundreds of those students -- those white students -- that went to Mississippi.
But then he decided that he was uncomfortable with SNCC's process of making decisions. He was uncomfortable with the fact that SNCC was willing to use the National Lawyers Guild to provide lawyers for people arrested. The National Lawyers Guild was thought to be a leftist group, and so Lowenstein, having recruited all these people, said, “If you will not disassociate yourselves from the National Lawyers Guild, if you will not exclude them, then I will not be part of this summer.” And so after he recruited these students, he basically left. He did not go to Mississippi that summer. He went to Europe and came back after the lynchings of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. But that effort to create a different kind of control was very important to the civil rights movement. It had a whole lot to do with the emergence of black power. It was a very pivotal moment in US history in the 1960s, I think, and so I like those chapters because they're about something I care deeply about.
LAMB: Which blacks -- leaders at that time did not like Al Lowenstein?
CHAFE: Well, Lawrence Guyot; Robert Moses had a very ambivalent relationship. Moses is probably, next to Dr. King, the most important single person in the movement, although he always de-emphasized his own leadership. Moses was very unhappy with Lowenstein's decision to depart or to stop supporting Freedom Summer. Lowenstein eventually did come back and support Freedom Summer, but there was this very great tension over it. Fannie Lou Hamer, people like that.
LAMB: How did Al Lowenstein keep money in his pocket?
CHAFE: It was a struggle. He never made a great deal of money. There was always the rumor circulated by many of those who hated Lowenstein -- and I guess it's important to say that Lowenstein had a very polarizing effect on people. You either loved him or you hated him, and many people who were initially his disciples eventually became people who were very angry at him. And many people on the left, who saw Lowenstein as almost an agent of the liberal state, trying to control them, were convinced that he was supported by the CIA and that he had been a member of the CIA and that they thought he got his money from the CIA. There's no evidence that I have seen of that.
His travel bills were always delinquent. He never was able to keep up with his American Express payments. He received a great deal of support from his family. His father -- until his father's death -- provided an amazing amount of financial support, paid all his telephone bills, provided money from his restaurant to help provide income for the family so that the simple answer to the question is that he kept money in his pocket by two ways: One, family support; and two, by going around and giving lectures and getting paid for them. He never made very much lawyer money at all as a lawyer. He didn't really like to practice law.
LAMB: What other jobs did he have besides being a congressman?
CHAFE: He taught a great deal, although never anyplace for very long. His resume or he basically had a job a year, which is another part of this being always in motion, traveling all the time. He was a dean of students -- an acting assistant dean of students at Stanford for one year and he also was a lecturer there, where he made enormous impact and was probably one of the most important years of his life. He then came back -- he was essentially forced out of Stanford by the president, who was very upset by the amount of support that Lowenstein had on campus and the amount of agitation that Lowenstein was generating on campus against the very traditional, complacent politics and values of Stanford. So he was kicked out, and then came back to North Carolina State, where he taught for a year, year and a half. And then he would teach at City College, City University, at Hunter, at various places, practiced law on occasion.
LAMB: How long was he at the UN?
CHAFE: He was only at the UN for 18 months.
LAMB: What did he do?
CHAFE: He was one of five ambassadors from the United States to the United Nations. He was one of Andrew Young's assistants. He worked a great deal on human rights issues and on African questions.
LAMB: A couple of other names that are relevant to today that pop up as being friends of his -- or at least they're mentioned -- Mickey Kantor, at the time, was an assistant to the governor of California...
CHAFE: That's right.
LAMB: ...Jerry Brown. What did he do for Jerry Brown? Do you know?
CHAFE: Yes. There's another fascinating story. It was after one of the congressional campaign losses, and Brown had been elected governor. And Brown decided that it would be good to have someone with Al Lowenstein's energy and ideas and ability to recruit people to come and help join his staff. So he had Al come out there and work organizing summer interns. And Al sort of became what I would call a cabinet member without a portfolio. He didn't have a specific assignment, but was, rather, trying to generate a whole lot of different projects, usually involving students, that he would help to run, but in the meantime, help to work with Jerry Brown and thinking about his future. And, you know, Al was very much a part of Jerry Brown's decision to run for president. And...
LAMB: Which time?
CHAFE: In 1976. Not in 1980, when Al supported Ted Kennedy against Jerry Brown. They had a very, very interesting and strange relationship. Al lived in his house. Al and the family lived in Jerry Brown's house because Brown was in Sacramento and they were in the Los Angeles hills.
LAMB: Would you say that Jerry Brown had forgotten that?
CHAFE: Jerry Brown had not forgotten it. He chose to initially say he didn't know Al Lowenstein very well until I said, “Well, why did he live in your house, then?”
LAMB: Why do you think he was trying to avoid that?
CHAFE: I think that he just may have wanted to avoid getting into anything that would have made him answer questions or say things he didn't want to say.
LAMB: By the way, there are people that wouldn't talk to you for this book?
CHAFE: Just one person, I think.
LAMB: That was who?
CHAFE: A Stanford official.
LAMB: A Stanford official?
LAMB: A current Stanford official?
CHAFE: No. Someone who had been at Stanford when Lowenstein was there.
LAMB: And what was their reason?
CHAFE: I think that this person thought that Al Lowenstein was a scoundrel, and did not want to go on the record and say so. The written record suggested that's what he thought because there are papers in the library which suggest that there was a very bitter conflict.
LAMB: This wasn't the former president, was it?
CHAFE: No. The former president was no longer alive. The former president, interestingly enough, as you may recall from the book, the former president really did tried to destroy Al's career, at one point, successfully got him fired from a Ford Foundation consultantship when Al was being used by the Ford Foundation to deal with some student insurrections or to give advice on student insurgencies in 1965, and this president of Stanford called him a fraud, a liar and an agitator, and succeeded in getting him removed from that position. But, believe it or not, there's not a single mention in the papers of the president of Stanford about Al Lowenstein.
LAMB: By the way, did you like Allard Lowenstein better after you had written the book or did you think less of him?
CHAFE: I actually went through a very interesting series of reactions as I did the research for the book and as I wrote the book. I think initially I liked him very much, then I became much more critical because he was very manipulative and could -- frequently did use people, and sometimes in a not very helpful and good way. And then, I think, in the end I came to feel very strongly empathetic toward him and to feel much more a part of him, which is not to say that I feel as though I end up praising him, but I think I do end up being fair to him. And I think I try to understand why he was the kind of person he was and how difficult it must have been for him to deal with some of the issues he dealt with.
LAMB: Back to the connections, the Mickey Kantor, Jerry Brown connection. Was Mickey Kantor and Allard Lowenstein -- were they close?
CHAFE: I don't think so, no. I think that they would be political associates, but I don't think they were close.
LAMB: How about David Mixner. How did he fit into all of this?
CHAFE: Well, David Mixner was one of those people who was both someone who was an ardent supporter and then eventually someone alienated from and disaffected from Al Lowenstein. Mixner was, obviously, a student leader of the '60s, an anti-war leader, very active in the moratorium movement in 1968, '69, who, at the same time as he looked up to Al and really believed strongly, initially, in what he was doing, became very angry at the way in which Al wanted everyone to do what he wanted to do and was unwilling to give people their own space. And eventually, with the moratorium, Mixner felt -- unfairly insinuated the moratorium was leftist dominated and might be pro-Communist or pro-Vietcong. So Mixner is someone who went through what becomes, in many ways, a very predictable cycle of attachment and then distancing.
He's also someone who, as you know, in the 1970s, becomes a very active leader of the gay rights movement and whose insights, I think, on the difficulties of trying to deal with either homosexuality or bisexuality are very powerful insights. And he talks about how difficult it was for him, for himself, sitting in rooms of anti-war activists or civil rights activists in the 1960s -- with Mixner sitting there and having to sit there and listen to people talk about faggots and make other homophobic references, and how frightened he was of being discovered himself and how it would always cause him to not develop strong, stable relationships, but to keep on moving. And Mixner is, I think, a powerful witness to the very difficult situation that faced anyone who had concerns about what their own sexual impulses were during any period, really, before the 1970s and '80s and, of course, even today.
LAMB: One of the biggest surprises for me, when I read this book, is where the ashes of Allard Lowenstein are buried.
CHAFE: They're not ashes. That's a mistake I made in the book. It is his body. His body is buried between John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
LAMB: Is it marked?
LAMB: And, by the way, how did you make that mistake? How did you find out about the mistake?
CHAFE: Well, because Al's daughter pointed it out to me. I was reading a whole series of newspaper references and I just took one and didn't look carefully at the others.
LAMB: But there was -- you expected him -- or, at that time they expected him to be buried somewhere else?
CHAFE: I think that there was clearly a family plot, but his relationship with Robert Kennedy was so strong and so powerful, and his connection, of course, to the family -- the Kennedy family was so strong that that was, in some ways, the ideal political-psychological-spiritual resting place.
LAMB: And you devote a lot of attention to his obsession with solving the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
CHAFE: Yeah. Well, I think that Al Lowenstein, like many of us -- and I would say like many of us -- viewed Robert Kennedy as being the most important political figure of that entire period of political change and insurgency in the 1960s, and as, in some ways, the last best hope for achieving, within the political system, the kinds of social changes and political changes that were desired by student activists and by others. And when Kennedy was assassinated, I think that Al was correct in seeing it as being the end of that dream, because it had such dramatic and catastrophic effects on the liberal movement.
It disillusioned and terrified so many people. And Al -- because his own political career went through such turbulent decline and because he felt victimized -- unfairly victimized by the gerrymander in his congressional district on Long Island, by the cheating in the election in Brooklyn, by the FBI helping out John Rooney and helping to contribute to Al's defeat there, by being listed as number seven on Nixon's enemies list, I think Al began to think in terms of conspiracies. And as he began to think in terms of conspiracies, he was driven back to what he saw, really, as the pivotal moment when this liberal decline started, which was Robert Kennedy's assassination. And as he went back to that, he became convinced that the whole story had not been told.
LAMB: Before we end this, I need to ask you, where were you born?
CHAFE: I was born in Boston.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
CHAFE: I went to Harvard.
LAMB: Where did you get your PhD?
LAMB: What was the thesis?
CHAFE: The thesis was the history of American women in the 50 years after the suffrage movement, and the changing social and economic roles. It's now a book.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
CHAFE: I do.
CHAFE: I have two children. My son Christopher' is 25. My daughter Jennifer is 23.
LAMB: And what do you teach at Duke?
CHAFE: I teach 20th century social and political history. I teach about the civil rights movement. I teach American history since World War II.
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