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Friday, January 6, 2012

The Catonsville Nine

The Catonsville Nine refers to nine men and women, including two Catholic Priests, that broke into the Secret Service office in Catonsville, Maryland, found the draft records housed there, took them, and burned them. The part in Castles Made of Sand that refers to this is a small one, speaking mainly of the feeling of excitement that Liz had when she heard the news but the incident itself was a little bigger than that. It shed light on the feelings of many American Catholics concerning the war (all of the participants in this incident were Catholic), it showed the way that the anti-war movement was progressively becoming more radical in their actions no longer feeling that it was enough to peacefully protest as that appeared to be going nowhere as each day with troops in Nam passed by, and it certainly altered the lives of the nine people involved. 
A brief description of the incident taken from
On May 17, 1968, nine men and women entered the Selective Service Offices in Catonsville, Maryland, removed several hundred draft records, and burned them with homemade napalm in protest against the war in Vietnam. The nine were arrested and, in a highly publicized trial, sentenced to jail.
This act of civil disobedience intensified protest against the draft, prompted debate in households in Maryland and across the nation, and stirred angry reaction on the part of many Americans. It also propelled the nine Catholic participants - especially priest brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan - into the national spotlight.
The Catonsville action reflected not only the nature of the Vietnam antiwar movement in 1968, but also the larger context of social forces that were reshaping American culture in the 1960s.
On May 17, 1968, two women and seven men, three in clerical attire, arrived at the Selective Service office, Local Board 33, located in the Knights of Columbus building in Catonsville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore.
Entering the second-floor Selective Service office, the raiders brushed past three shocked employees and headed for the filing cabinets along the wall. They seized several hundred A-1 draft records, stuffing them into two wire incinerator baskets. Outside in the parking lot, the files were spilled on the ground, doused with homemade napalm, and ignited.
Several onlookers, including previously alerted members of the press, gathered to watch the event. As the documents burned, the participants clasped hands near the fire and quietly recited the Lord's Prayer. Their purpose, they said, was to stop the flow of soldiers to Vietnam. "We do this because everything else has failed," said one.
After a short time, five police officers arrived, arrested the participants, and loaded them into the back of a paddy wagon. Meanwhile Baltimore County firefighters put out the fire. The entire action took less than fifteen minutes.
The protestors were later identified as Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, David Darst, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, John Melville, Marjorie Melville, George Mische, and Mary Moylan.

A Description of the trial taken from the same site:
The trial of the Catonsville Nine began on Monday, October 5, 1968, scarcely six weeks after police and protestors battled in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.
Baltimore - the site of devastating race riots in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s April 1968 assassination - now faced another potentially explosive event.
Baltimore Defense Committee
The days leading up to the trial were tense. The Baltimore Defense Committee organized a calendar of events in support of the defendants, hoping to use the media attention to protest the war and to express disapproval of Governor Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice-presidential running mate. Faculty and students from area colleges, including Goucher College, the University of Maryland, and Johns Hopkins University, joined the protest efforts.
Police Response
The trial was to be held in downtown Baltimore in the main Post Office, which housed federal courts. A George Wallace presidential campaign rally, scheduled for the trial's opening day at the nearby Civic Center, added to the tension.
As the trial began, several hundred police in full riot gear surrounded the Post Office. The streets were jammed, the international press THE STREET
On the trial's opening day, hundreds of protestors assembled in Wyman Park near the Johns Hopkins University campus and began a three-mile march to the War Memorial Plaza across from the Post Office building where the trial was being held.
At War Memorial Plaza
Described as the first large antiwar protest in Baltimore, the crowd grew to over 1,500 - double that by some accounts. Walking six abreast, they chanted "Free the Nine" and held signs with slogans such as "Zero Spiro" or "No More Draft Files."
With the recent Chicago riots in mind, Baltimore police had been assigned to 12-hour shifts. Federal marshals were also on hand. But the relationship between protestors and police was largely peaceful, and the protest remained calm except for some heckling and occasional scuffles between protestors and members of the National States Rights Party there for the George Wallace rally at the Civic Center.
At St. Ignatius Church
During the first three days of the trial, massive protests were staged at War Memorial Plaza. At night, groups of supporters met at St. Ignatius Church on Calvert Street. On Monday night about 800 supporters gathered, including several well-known members of the left: Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike, Catholic Worker Movement founder Dorothy Day, scholar Noam Chomsky, journalist I.F. Stone, and Harvard Divinity professor Harvey Cox.
set to show the world not only the trial in the courtroom, but also the trial in the street.
On Monday, October 5, the fifth floor courtroom was filled with over 200 spectators, many in clerical attire. The nine defendants entered the courtroom to a two-minute standing ovation. Chief Judge Roszel C. Thomsen presided. The defense team was headed by William M. Kunstler and the prosecution by Federal Prosecutor Steven M. Sachs.
The prosecution called only two witnesses, Mary Murphy and Phyllis Morsberger, both Selective Service employees working the day of the raid.
The defense called no witnesses, but the defendants were allowed to speak of their personal convictions and experiences.
  • The nine defendants freely admitted their role in burning draft files but not their guilt. 
  • They testified that they had acted out of conscience and out of respect for a higher power. 
  • They spoke of suffering they had seen in Africa, Asia, and South America and about the oppression of the poor in this country. 
  • The draft records were destroyed, they said, because of their desire to end what they believed was an immoral war and because of their despair over the treatment of the poor both overseas and at home.
"I wanted to do a tiny bit to stop the machine of death I saw moving," said David Darst.
Daniel Berrigan read from his Catonsville meditation: "Our apologies, dear friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise."
After two hours of deliberation on the trial's final day, the jury rendered its decision: The nine were guilty on all charges. After the jury left the courtroom, Daniel Berrigan asked Judge Thompson to allow those present to recite the Lord's Prayer. Defense and prosecuting attorneys, spectators, defendants, and judge all rose and joined in the prayer.
SentencingSentencing was held on Nov 9, 1968. In his remarks, Judge Roszel C. Thomsen said, Liberty cannot exist unless it is restrained and restricted."
Phil Berrigan and Tom Lewis received three and a half years to run concurrently with sentences from the Customs House raid. Three-year sentences were handed down to Daniel Berrigan, Tom Melville, and George Mische. And those not considered leaders - Mary Moylan, Marjorie Melville, David Darst, and John Hogan - received two-year sentences.
Jail and Not Jail 
Appeals exhausted, the Melvilles and John Hogan went to jail. David Darst died in a car accident before he could serve his sentence.
Mary Moylan, George Mische, Tom Lewis, and Daniel and Phil Berrigan decided not to cooperate and went underground. Philip turned himself in at a Manhattan church in April 1969, but Daniel remained at large until August, when the FBI caught up with him at the Block Island home of theologian William Stringfellow. In May, Mische was captured by the in FBI in Chicago. Moylan, never captured, surrendered in 1978.

For more information including profiles of the nine people involved, visit

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