Mr. Breslin was interviewed March 7, 1978 by UVA alumnus Rory Little for his senior thesis in Political and Social Thought.
1. Please give your full name, your nickname, age, class, major, where you lived in Charlottesville, and your school, in 1970.
1. Thomas Aloysius Breslin, "Tom," almost 26 (5/23/44, birthdate) Graduate Arts & Sciences, History, (Ph.D., 1972, August, dissertation: "American Catholic China missionaries, 1918-1944. I lived with nine other students in a large white wooden house on 16th St at the corner of Grady
2. Please note any organizations to which you belonged at that time (sports teams publications, fraternity, student council, Raven, honor committee, etc.), and briefly sketch their purpose and function at UVa. Also, if you held any office or special position in any organization, please note it, and sketch your duties in that office. This would apply to officers elected in the spring of either 1969 or 1970.
2. I was a member of the Student Council, Representative of Grad A & S since Fall, 1969. Also at the time of the strike, I was managing editor and circulation manager of the Virginia Weekly.
I was a member of the group which wrote and published the Sally Hemmings strike bulletin. I was an active member of St. Thomas Roman Catholic church Fr. William "Bill" Stickle, O.P., pastor. I was a Chinese language student, then completing my first year of study. I was concentrating on American and East Asian History. My mentors were Norman Graebner, then on sabbatical leave in England, and John Israel.
3. Please note what you are doing now, and briefly sketch what has occurred in your life since 1970. (You need not answer if you feel this is too personal.)
3. I am now Associate Dean of International Affairs at Florida International University in Miami, Florida; FIU is a member of the State University System of Florida. I also teach occasionally in the International Relations Department of FIU's College of Arts & Sciences.
After the strike I studied for my comprehensive examinations, failed it, studied some more, and also taught as a teaching assistant in the history department, 1970-71. I with Bill Olson and Darden Pyron, composed the most highly regarded group of history teaching assistants evaluated by the Student Council in 1970-71. I passed my Comps in May, 1971. In 1971-72 I did research in Taiwan and Hong Kong and throughout the United States, leaving Charlottesville just in time to avoid being served a subpoena to appear in a civil suit involving Virginia Weekly charges of racism against a notoriously racist Charlottesville cop. That suit, as it turned out, was never pressed but it was a factor in bringing the Virginia Weekly to a halt, as was another suit over the matter of an illegal ad for an abortion referral service run in February 1971 when I was no longer with the Weekly. I submitted my resignation to the Society of Jesus in December 1971. It was finalized in May 1972.
I returned to Charlottesville in early spring, 1972, and wrote my dissertation in one hundred and two days, successfully defending it that summer and taking my degree. While writing the dissertation I also became involved with the newly founded Black Flag Press then at 1101 West Main St. Finding no work in academe I became a janitor at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Unitarian Church where I lived in a coatroom. I continued to work at Black Flag as a co-manager and learned the printing, business from the bottom up.
In the Spring of 1973 I went to Boston and worked for the Massachusetts Advocacy Center, a children's rights group. For them I co-authored an investigative expose on childhood leadpaint poisoning in Massachusetts, the state's greatest pediatric health problem with ten percent of the children suffering from elevated blood lead levels. The book is entitled, "State of Danger: Childhood Leadpaint Poisoning in Massachusetts." Five thousand copies went into the public domain in the spring of 1974. After a period of unemployment partly spent in research into U.S. foreign relations at the National Archives in Washington D. C., I obtained a one semester teaching job at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia. That stint lasted only from January to June 1974 after which time I was unemployed for a year, searching to find work in and out of academe, rewriting my dissertation, writing a novel, and generally seeking to overcome the discouragement that many peers were then suffering.
In the summer of 1975 I was a fellow of the Institute of Humane Studies, Menlo Park CA. I began work on the second of my major articles on U.S.-Japanese relations. These followed on the heels of one other published scholarly article. From California I went to the Northwest and worked in Idaho and Washington with a radical research group, the Idaho Study Group, which was conducting research into the Idaho power structure. I did research and writing for them and taught them research methodology. My good friend Bill Olson was there and I worked and lived with him. Meanwhile I continued the search for work until a call came from Miami saying that FIU had use of my services as a visiting assistant professor of American East Asian history. I came to Miami in January 1976 and in various capacities have been working at the University since then. I also married while here. I have a rather good record as a manager/bureaucrat, as an excellent teacher and a fine researcher and writer. I hope to improve aspects of that record and add more. One project that I hope to complete, with Olson, was a history of "The Movement' at UVA during the 60s and 70s.
4. Please relate in detail your involvement or participation, no matter how peripheral, or even aloof observance, concerning the Strike activities in May of 1970. I am specifically looking at the period beginning on May 4 with the Kent State killings, and ending a week or two later; however, it is important to me to know what led up to these events, and specifically what led up to your role in them. Try to give an account along chronological lines as closely as possible; try also to include as many of your own thoughts and feelings and reactions as you can recall and care to report. This reply will probably be more informative and helpful to me the more detailed, in-depth, and lengthy it is.
4. In mid-April only a fortnight or so before the Kent State Incident, Mike Russell (perhaps), Don Fleck of the Architecture School, Judy Wellman (Grad A & a, History), Peter Daly (college) and Ralph Goldberg of the College (perhaps) and I went up to Ithaca, NY to attend the celebration at which the (in)famous Jesuit anti-war activist, Daniel Berrigan, was to have given himself up to the FBI. We arrived to find the people who had thronged there from all over the East and even the Midwest high on pot and wine, and punchy from repression suffered at the hands of various authorities. They were also nearly burned out. We arrived too late to see Berrigan who had slipped away disguised in a huge puppet costume. As we traveled back to Virginia we all agreed that nothing so large and so serious could happen at UVA, that people there were too apathetic. We were wrong.
I should point out at this juncture that I lived in a collective that was a hotbed for political activism and lib/rad sentiment.
From the College there were David Giltinan and Charley Sands, the co-directors of the "Charlottesville Pledge" draft resistance project. Also from the College was Larry Berman a wargame nut who turned against the war and the system of ROTC And especially against Col. Dart, local ROTC commander. Berman put out a mimeoed sheet with a strange title along the lines of the "Holy Ghost Gazette and, in this he had some help from the School of Architecture's Don Fleck who also roomed with us. Fleck and two other roommates, Jim Cameron and Charley Finn, Grad A & S History and Poli. Sci. respectively were all active collaborators with the enduring Steve Squire in the Charlottesville Resistance. I edited the Weekly which was strongly anti-war. My roommate was Jesuit another Jesuit scholastic (Jesuit in training for the priesthood), George Curtis who like me was a Grad History Student. Curtis was a first year person and still not engaged with the local political scene. He was also very busy not just with studies but with the internal politics of the New York province of the Jesuit Order. While he worked for reform from within, near the core I was at the fringe of the order issuing manifestos calling for radical overhaul of the Order. It was rather embarrassing to be a member of a highly elite, generally white, all male group while calling on the University to desegregate racially and sexually and to reach out to the less advantaged. That membership became insupportable for those reasons and so I from the Society resigned--but that anticipates. At the same tine that I was spokesman and guru for the radical Jesuit left and drifting away from the Society, I found myself approached by at least two UVA students who felt themselves drawn to the Society because of my presence in it. I could neither encourage nor discourage them. But it was a sign of the times that a perceived radical's presence in a group could attract possible candidates when the less radical could not, as evidenced by plummeting seminary enrollments.
It is worth noting here that the role of the Dominican priests stationed at St. Thomas Parish on Alderman Rd. was important for developing the social consciousness and liberalism of the largest religious body of students then at UVA. Bill Stickle and Clem Burns were key figures. Finn, Cameron, possibly Fleck, all were of Roman Catholic background and training. The social justice teachings of the Roman Catholic Church were significant in preparing the way for the apparent (statistical) overrepresentation of Catholics in the events of Spring 1970 as was the example of the Catholic left personified by the Berrigans, Dorothy Day, etc.
The house on 16th St was considered important enough by the authorities to obtain a court order to have the Phone Company turn over records of long distance calls. We discovered this only later thanks to some research by Charley Finn at the County Courthouse. We were not sure why this was done. The reason might have been the presence of Giltinan and Sands and their project. Or it might have been the presence of two Jesuits at a time when the supposed "East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives," which involved some Jesuits, was allegedly concocting a plan to kidnap Henry Kissinger. We did find out that Giltinan's parole officer?-paroled after conviction for sitting in at a Washington D.C. draft office--had a list of the people in our place and beside my name or Curtis's there was an asterisk with the notation "Jesuit priest." Neither of us were priests but we were Jesuits and Jesuits were very suspect then.
It is important to keep in mind that we were convinced that nothing of moment was going to take place at UVA--and felt that way very strongly. What happened in May was hardly a conspiracy.
To demolish the conspiracy question still further it is of importance to note that the other hotbed of radicalism was a house on 14th St. owned by Joe Wright, city councilman (VERY conservative) and cop. In it lived a group of people headed by Tom Gardner, Al Long (a Weekly editor), and Diane Mathiewicz. Thomas Gardner and I believe Long as well had been very active with the Southern Student organizing Committee in its attempts to racially desegregate the University? They all kept going further left and did not enjoy much of a following. At the time of the strike they were out of town, far away in Norfolk or Roanoke, working with laboring people for they had just about given up on working with students and were proclaiming the necessity of reaching the working classes. They certainly didn't see anything in the offing and weren't around.
The idea of a student strike was in the air after the invasion of Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State. The Strike Committee was a spontaneous thing which eventually made the Student Council superfluous in the days that followed. I attempted at an outdoor Student Council meeting to have the Strike Committee made an ad hoc committee of the Student Council but the majority of the Council was unwilling to ride the tiger and the Council passed, for all intents and purposes, from the scene.
The spark that ignited the Strike was the appearance, quite fortuitously, of William Kunstler and Jerry Rubin. Planned long before, no one could have suspected that it would be taking place at such a conjuncture of events. Rubin's buffoonery undercut the platitudinous liberalism that many were using to ride out the storm; Kunstler's impassioned speech touched their consciences As I watched, Rubin and a few others hatched the idea of a march on the University and specifically on the President's mansion to demand that Edgar Finley Shannon denounce the outrages of those days
Kevin Mannix, Jim Roebuck and myself (Vice President, President, and member of the student council) dashed over to Carr's hill where Mr. Shannon, Mr. D. Alan Williams, and, I believe Mr. Robert Canaveri and possibly William Elwood were in the midst of discussions We related to these gentlemen our observations at University Hall and discussed with them possible courses of action.
Mr. Shannon solicited our opinions. Sitting cross legged on the floor I suggested that since the matter was one of moral and symbolic leadership Mr. Shannon announce to the crowd which was rapidly approaching with cries of "Burn it Down!" while Eleanor Shannon cried from upstairs, "Edgar, they're coming!" that he was resigning his captaincy in the naval reserve as a gesture of his disgust with the latest turn of events in Southeast Asia and at home. He was white and stiff with fear and merely responded, "You're threatening me." I replied, "I'm not threatening you. I'm merely suggesting how you might gain control of the situation."
Seeing that we had reached an impasse Mannix, Roebuck, told them that we would do what we could to disperse the crowd. So we ducked out the back door, circled around the hill and joined the crowd of a few hundred. Most of them were UVA people and most resisted the idea of burning down the house. For every cry of "Burn it down!" there were twenty of "No: No!'' The crowd friendly and we diverted it to Maury Hall before its mood could change by joining the chorus raised by a few people to occupy Maury Hall. The crowd dispersed.
On this and subsequent nights much impassioned discussion went on in Maury Hall. I didn't join the occupation group but instead tried to keep down the number of students, especially potentially hostile athletes and NROTC types, around Maury Hall. Also, especially on the first night I quickly repaired to the Presbyterian Church offices on Rugby Road where I and an artist friend whose pen name was "Archer" ran off anti?war leaflets which we then spread around campus, even putting them into every lavatory stall. This was done in a matter of hours. It was an example of quick follow up on a fast breaking situation. There would be much of that in the days to come.
With the Cavalier Daily out of operation for the remainder of the semester there was an information gap which we hurried to with the publication of a strike bulletin, the Sally Hemmings. Judy Wellman, former Grad A & S student Council member, former Virginia Weekly editor and until that moment completely withdrawn from political activity, Tony Stigliano, who was studying for a D. ED., Roberta McCartney, "Archer," (Grad History), Marion "Happy" Truslow, (Grad History) and a few others wrote it up at the Presbyterian Church offices where we had the support of the curate, Howard "Flash" Cordon (now pastor of Riviera Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables, Florida few miles from my house) and Rev. Howard "Bud" Ogle, Presbyterian Minister and Grad A & S history student. (Like myself, Archer, Wellman, Truslow and Roebuck and one or more others, Ogle was studying under the direction of Norman Graebner, then out of the country, but an impassioned critic of the war and a critic of the ruling elite whom he considered quasi-moronic many of these same people also studied under John Israel. The activist UVA graduate history students almost all arrived/in 1967 or 1968.) When the Presbyterian congregation's anti-Sally sentiment became too strong, we shifted to St. Thomas church and its mimeograph.
Although the SALLY HEMMINGS did flay the University administration it also attempted to support Mr. Shannon when it seemed to us that he was being subjected to too much pressure from state official as after his statement made on the steps of alderman Library to the effect that the wisdom of the war was not beyond question. The Sally also sought to alert as many as possible to various countermoves being planned by local authorities
We were not far into the strike when the students assembled on the Lawn and sent Ogle, Tom Collier and myself to represent them at a national congress of striking students which was held at Yale University. We arrived by car and quickly found what I had earlier discovered at Cornell, masses of tired, frustrated, nearly burnt out and discouraged students. I saw at a meeting of the delegates that no one was reporting on developments in the South, so we three from UVA agreed that I should volunteer to speak to the delegates and I convinced the ad hoc leadership to let me do so. The presence of a delegate from a major southern university reporting on a strike at his institution and on strikes at other institutions throughout the South revived their spirits, electrified them. It gave them something different from the usual litany and, most important, a sense that things were catching on and there was new vitality in the movement.
We hurried back to Virginia for more pamphleteering. At one just before or just after the Yale trip point/some of us fanned out from UVA to other schools around the State; I went to Mary Washington to spread the word there. Lo and behold an English department faculty member went with us. We found a good reception and some of the women were very strongly pushing the anti-war issue in the face of intense local opposition. The mass arrest when the mayflower van line truck hauled off so many was something that I missed. The next morning I pulled into the city jail but having no money or property I was unable to bail anyone out. That was frustrating.
The activities of the police at this time radicalized, if only for a moment, the frats. I shall not forget the scene in front of Alderman Library when a frat leader are PIGS!" I never could have believed it, but they are, they are PIGS!" as he recounted the cops' invasion of the frats. The problem then became how to prevent a shootout between hotheaded Greeks and cops with a lust for?student blood?? (That is no exaggeration as some of us heard some blood curdling threats of physical violence, threats made by "peace officers.") The situation became complicated further by the occasional presence of country kids looking to beat up striking students. All in all, the situation was fairly low key with the note of violence introduced by the authorities Perhaps the most violent student activities were rocking a few cars that wouldn't "honk for peace" at the street corners--I myself never saw any such incident and heard of vehicles trying to strike strikers. Next most violent had to be the marshmallow barrage of Edgar F. Shannon as he marched to the steps of Alderman Library to deliver a speech to the students.
All through this period we continued to put out the SALLY HEMMINGS, to discuss issues with as many people as would listen, to leaflet and to talk with media people. But we were not on the Strike Committee, or at least not at its head. In fact I cannot even remember who was on the committee except for Bruce "Bruce WHO?" Wine.
The spontaneity and ad hoc nature of so much of what went on confused the University administration. They had been prepared perhaps, to deal with the Gardners and the Longs of the student body, the traditional agitators who had nettled then for years and whose liberal chants were music to the ears of conservatives needing reassurance that they were on the correct ("right") conservative path. But the kaleidoscopic leadership of Bruce "Bruce WHO?" Wine and Company was a little too much for them to keep up with. So some blamed the whole thing on outside agitators and some students for political reasons may have from time to time assured them that such was the case. It was not.
The leadership of Mr. Shannon was weak. In fact, there is good reason to believe that on the night of the major mass arrest Mr. Shannon was under sedation in University Hospital and that his subordinates okayed the mass KO. Whether that story is true or not, the decision to unleash the state police kept the student body aroused and dragged the fraternities into the action. It is a classic example of overreaction, much like the Cambodian invasion itself. In retrospect it seems a stupid decision. That innocent bystanders returning from a formal dance were also swept up only confirmed even more people in the belief that all levels of authority in the country were a threat. Force used at Kent used at UVA even in the frats themselves!
Had the university and local and state police authorities had a little more patience they would probably have found that the students could not have maintained the pitch of emotion much longer As it was we could always count on the administration to do something that would drive students into the ranks of the anti-war protestors No one dreamed of being able to reach the Greeks but suddenly they were with us. All we had to do was make the best of a fast moving unpredictable situation.
5. What, and who, were in your opinion the chief motivating forces behind the student unrest at Virginia, especially in May, 1970? Was the breaking point Cambodia, Kent State, nice weather, exam anxiety, moral dilemma, discontent with the administration, mass hysteria, or UVa partying? Or any other of a myriad of factors? Who led the students? Grads undergrads, outside agitators, self-appointed radicals, elected representatives . . . Who got you excited and ready to demonstrate?
5. I believe that there were several factors at work in all of these events at UVA. Cambodia threatened people with the idea that the war would expand indefinitely. Nixon HAD promised an end to the war back in 1968 and it WAS STILL going on, and on--Kent State was the breaking point. People seemed to identify with the dead students. Strong moral sensitivity is another striking feature of many of those who took a forward role. Religion was important. Many people like myself were "UP" for taking exams. Demonstrations were a necessary but necessarily distracting activity that many of us were not eager to undertake.
As for the leadership, there was an overlap with the civil rights groups. Civil rights advocates, myself included (though late on the scene arriving only in 1968) tended to be anti-war activists at one point or another.
For example, there was Mannix who spent a lot of time trying to be at the lead but never quite made it that spring when the Wines, Colliers, and others moved into the undergrad leadership role scenes. At the pamphleteering level graduate students took the lead although some people like Berman were active as undergraduates. The Weekly that spring was Al Long and myself with occasional help from a few grads and undergrads. SALLY was graduate. At the graduate level History, and English were the critical departments. Graebner and Israel's students were the keys to understanding the drive in the History department. Then there was Steve Squire, a key in keeping alive anti-war agitation, with an assist from Finn and Cameron. But whatever one's past activities, if the assembled students didn't take to you, you didn't move to the fore. That explains the Gardner and Long failure to achieve leadership. Strangely enough, in the normal routine Gardner was able to become an elected Student Councilor and long may have been too.
As to who got me excited and ready to demonstrate, I cannot say. It was a natural thing to do, the least that could be done under the parlous circumstances of a murderous war and a warlike murder. But we did encourage one another.
6. How organized do you think "the movement" was? At Virginia? How organized was the specific May 1970 student Strike movement?
6. The "Movement" was based on Steve Squire's Charlottesville Resistance with assistance from the Virginia Weekly the Sally Hemmings, the Charlottesville Pledge Group. People on the faculty like Graebner who had huge classes, teaching nine hundred students a semester, gave the anti-war movement at UVA some academic respectability. St. Thomas Parish, the Wesley Foundation and the Rugby Rd. Presbyterian Church loaned - moral backing to the various aspects of the "movement," i.e., civil rights, anti-war, etc. Jim McDonald of the Wesley Foundation, Stickel, Clem Burns, Donald Barrett of St. Thomas's and Gordon and Ogle of the Presbyterian Church with the backing of their pastor were extremely helpful. McDonald opened the Wesley Foundation to the Virginia Weekly after St. Thomas proved too small; the Presbyterian and Catholic Churches were bases for SALLY. The chaplains counseled in a supportive fashion those who opposed the war and the draft. They cultivated their non-student population and built support for the student movement both directly and indirectly. Squire was the Jewish prophet, a Jeremiah if there ever was one.
The Strike movement itself was an ad hoc contraption that functions because the locale was small and it was possible to get to know the new leadership or their friends rather quickly. The grounds are a hot house size.
7. What, in your opinion, was the overall effect of the students' efforts in 1970? Was anything achieved immediately? In the long run? Were the changes worth the effort?
7. The national student strike efforts in 1970 served notice on the national elite that it had let Nixon get out Of hand and that as a result it risked complete alienation of the young. They put more pressure on Nixon to pull the United States forces out of Vietnam. Nixon's solution was Vietnamization which was bound to fail as using Diem had failed in the early sixties. Without the outburst over the Cambodian Invasion and the killings at Kent State, the war would have dragged on even longer. Secondly, the American citizenry did begin to swing still more strongly against the war after initially backing Nixon. The War Powers Act was passed, a weak attempt to limit presidential power, partly as a result of the Cambodian invasion, and the student reaction. Weak as it is, it is better than nothing and worthwhile.
Everything in history is transient; more Americans and probably Asians are alive, I believe, because of our protest. Though they, like us, will eventually die, their survival in the interim, like our own, is worth the effort of demonstrating. And I say this despite the repression visited upon UVA students after the fact. UVA authorities fired Steve Squire from his job in the library; the Government department purged anti?war students; the history department went after its anti-war graduate students. One often reliable source reported that eleven of thirteen students taking the comprehensives after the incident were failed, an unheard of coincidence. Building his political career Jack Camblos, Commonwealth's Attorney for Albemarle County, went after student demonstrator Tom Doran on trumped up charges and forced him to choose between jail or the military. Doran joined the Army and became an anti-establishment organizer at Fort Bragg. The "Weekly" was crushed.
One mustn't overlook two other factors. A large age group was conditioned to believe the worst of authorities in the years before Watergate. Also, students learned that they could organize effectively and take control of at least local events and that the professional savants and soothsayers were as ill-suited to the occasion as the usually powerful bureaucrats were weak and terrified. It was a good lesson for people.
8. How did the events at UVa in 1970 affect you personally? Was the effect a lasting one, a transient one, or nothing? Why?
8. It is impossible to say how these events affected me. I only regret that I didn't do more. My actions were thoroughly congruent with the other things that I was doing. I kept my integrity.
9. In your opinion, from a national perspective, did the campus revolts, uprisings, etc. of the Sixties have any effect on the nation, its policies, its people? Has this effect, if any, persisted into 1978?
9. See #7 above. Also, can you imagine that an audience today would applaud anyone for announcing that he'd beaten up students in the 60s?
10. Finally, how do you view college life and the students of 1978? What comparisons can be drawn with 1970; what differences exist?
10. Students today envy those of yesteryear, at least of the 60s and early 70s. They tell me that frankly for they are bored. They take for granted that all of their young teachers were involved in the anti-war movement and when they learn that that is the case they respect them for it. In fact, many of the demonstrators and protesters were purged from graduate schools or bounced from jobs or kept out of jobs, leaving employment to the bland, contented, faintly corrupt prattlers. Those characters seem to do poorly in the classroom in terms of student response and development. I think that there is a connection between bovine or rather sheepish faculty and student boredom.
Finally, do not forget that this was not the first UVA student strike. There was one in the mid-1930s, also an anti-militarism/anti-war strike. The administration handled it well; the papers of Virginia praised the students for doing it. Read all about it in the first issue of the Virginia Weekly in the month of Sept., 1970. That centerfold article helped to do in the local democratic candidate for congress who back then had been a strike leader but who spent the springtime telling students to stay away from his campaign after telling them before the strike that he wanted their help. For many students did want to try the electoral route to an end to the war--a result that might be listed in #7. Similarly other students with the encouragement of Prof. Harbaugh in the history department organized a telegram campaign to sway congress against the invasion. Burton J. Spivak was a leader in that campaign that most of the lib/rads considered a useless gesture. And so it turned out.
For sources you might want to consult Thomas Powers, The War At Home for an account of things up to 1968. He places great value on the anti-war movement. Also consult the full collection of materials in Alderman Library's social movements collection, Charley Finn and Squire and Cameron did a good job collecting things. Also, the Business School put together a packet of strike?related materials for us that summer of 1970 in a management course for mid-level managers. They were to decide how they would have handled things after reviewing the materials and listening to various students, myself included. I turned over to the Tom Doran Bail Fund/ the stipend which I earned for that talk. A closing thought relevant to #9: The farmers' strike finds them saying that maybe the students were right during the war to demonstrate and strike. The students in turn kept alive the demonstrating tactics of the civil rights movement. Between the 1970 demonstration, and the farmers strike there were feminists demonstrations. Thirty years ago who was demonstrating? Blacks showed the way in our post?war era; white students picked up the tactic and passed it on.