Muste, A. J.

Muste, A. J. (Abraham Johannes)

(1885–1967) Protestant clergyman, social activist; born in Zieriksee, the Netherlands. His father, a coachman to a nobleman, brought his family over to Michigan in 1891. A. J.—as he was later known—grew up, he would say, surrounded by the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and became a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church (1909). As the minister of a church in New York City, he became exposed both to social problems and to socialist thinkers such as Norman Thomas and Eugene Debs; rejecting strict Calvinism and Biblical literalism, he became a minister in a Congregational church in Newtonville, Mass. (1915–17). His pacifism during World War I led him to become a Quaker. He was also a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. For the next decades, he was involved in a variety of pacifist, social action, and labor groups. In 1933 he helped found a Marxist workers' party, but in 1936 he had an experience that brought him back to Christianity. Thereafter he became active with the Quaker-sponsored Fellowship of Reconciliation, and although opposed to the U.S. participating in World War II, he worked with the government to find alternative service for conscientious objectors. After World War II, while actively opposing nuclear buildup, he continued in his nonviolent protests: in 1959 he served a nine-day jail sentence for scaling a fence at a missile site. He became one of the leaders of the protest against America's involvement in the Vietnam War and only a few weeks before dying he visited Hanoi to try to help negotiate peace with Ho Chi Minh. Martin Luther King Jr., was among the many who paid tribute to Muste as America's Gandhi, the leader of the U.S. nonviolent action movement.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.