A. J. Muste

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A. J. Muste
A. J. Muste, 1931
Abraham Johannes Muste

January 8, 1885
DiedFebruary 11, 1967 (aged 82)
New York City, United States
Spouse(s)Anna Huizenga
Children3 children
Theological work
Main interestsPacifism, labor, social justice organizing

Abraham Johannes Muste ( /ˈmʌsti/ MUS-tee; January 8, 1885 – February 11, 1967) was a Dutch-born American clergyman and political activist. Muste is best remembered for his work in the labor movement, pacifist movement, antiwar movement, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Pacifism opposition to war and violence

Pacifism is opposition to war, militarism, or violence. The word pacifism was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. A related term is ahimsa, which is a core philosophy in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While modern connotations are recent, having been explicated since the 19th century, ancient references abound.


Early life

He was born January 8, 1885, in the small port city of Zierikzee, Zeeland, in the southwestern Netherlands. Muste's father, Martin Muste, was a coachman who drove for a family that was part of Zeeland's hereditary nobility. [1] With his economic prospects limited in the Netherlands, Martin Muste decided to follow four brothers of his wife, Adriana, and emigrate to America. They made the trans-Atlantic trip as third-class passengers in January 1891. [2]

Zierikzee City in Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee is a small city in the southwest Netherlands, 30 km southwest of Rotterdam. It is situated in the municipality of Schouwen-Duiveland, Zeeland. The city hall of Schouwen-Duiveland is located in Zierikzee, its largest city. Zierikzee is connected to Oosterschelde through a canal.

Zeeland Province of the Netherlands

Zeeland is the westernmost and least populous province of the Netherlands. The province, located in the south-west of the country, consists of a number of islands and peninsulas and a strip bordering Belgium. Its capital is Middelburg. Its area is about 2,930 square kilometres (1,130 sq mi), of which almost 1,140 square kilometres (440 sq mi) is water, and it has a population of about 380,000.

Steerage is the lower deck of a ship, where the cargo is stored above the closed hold. In the late 19th and early 20th century, steamship steerage decks were used to provide the lowest cost and lowest class of travel, such as for European immigrants to North America and Chinese emigrants. With limited privacy and security, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor food, steerage was often decried as inhumane, and was eventually replaced on ocean liners with "third class" cabins.

Muste's mother became ill aboard ship and remained hospitalized for a month at Ellis Island after the family's arrival. [3] Upon her recovery, the family headed west for Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Adriana's four brothers worked at in a variety of small business pursuits. [2]

Ellis Island island in New York Harbor in the United States of America

Ellis Island is a museum and former immigration inspection station in New York Harbor, within the states of New York and New Jersey. It was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954.

Grand Rapids, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan, and the largest city in West Michigan. It is on the Grand River about 30 miles (48 km) east of Lake Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 188,040. In 2010, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area had a population of 1,005,648, and the combined statistical area of Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland had a population of 1,321,557. Grand Rapids is the county seat of Kent County.

Michigan State of the United States of America

Michigan is a state in the Great Lakes and Midwestern regions of the United States. The state's name, Michigan, originates from the Ojibwe word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake". With a population of about 10 million, Michigan is the tenth most populous of the 50 United States, with the 11th most extensive total area, and is the largest state by total area east of the Mississippi River. Its capital is Lansing, and its largest city is Detroit. Metro Detroit is among the nation's most populous and largest metropolitan economies.

The family attended services at the Grand Rapids Dutch Reformed Church, a Calvinist congregation in which religious services were conducted in Dutch. Its very existence was testimony to the number of Dutch immigrants in the area. [4] Dancing was prohibited as sin by the church. Also, the singing of secular music and the viewing of dramatic performances were forbidden. [5]

The Dutch Reformed Church was the largest Christian denomination in the Netherlands from the onset of the Protestant Reformation until 1930. It was the foremost Protestant denomination, and—since 1892—one of the two major Reformed denominations along with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.

Dutch language West Germanic language

Dutch(Nederlands ) is a West Germanic language spoken by around 23 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is the third most widely spoken Germanic language, after its close relatives English and German.

Dutch people or the Dutch are a Germanic ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Aruba, Suriname, Guyana, Curaçao, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United States. The Low Countries were situated around the border of France and the Holy Roman Empire, forming a part of their respective peripheries, and the various territories of which they consisted had become virtually autonomous by the 13th century. Under the Habsburgs, the Netherlands were organised into a single administrative unit, and in the 16th and 17th centuries the Northern Netherlands gained independence from Spain as the Dutch Republic. The high degree of urbanization characteristic of Dutch society was attained at a relatively early date. During the Republic the first series of large-scale Dutch migrations outside of Europe took place.

Members of the denomination tended to be of the working class, like most other Dutch people in the area, who were regarded as a source of cheap labor in the years before World War I by the longer-established English-speaking population. [6] Muste later recalled of his fellow Dutch Reformed Church members that they were "all Republicans and would no more have voted for a Democrat than turned horse thief." [7]

Working class those employed in lower tier jobs

The working class comprises those engaged in waged or salaried labour, especially in manual-labour occupations and industrial work. Working-class occupations include blue-collar jobs, some white-collar jobs, and most pink-collar jobs. Members of the working class rely for their income exclusively upon their earnings from wage labour; thus, according to the more inclusive definitions, the category can include almost all of the working population of industrialized economies, as well as those employed in the urban areas of non-industrialized economies or in the rural workforce.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Republican Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Republican Party, also referred to as the GOP, is one of the two major political parties in the United States; the other is its historic rival, the Democratic Party.

Along with the rest of his family, he became naturalized as an American citizen in 1896. [8] He was only 11 years old at the time of his naturalization.

Naturalization process by which a non-citizen in a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country

Naturalization is the legal act or process by which a non-citizen in a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country. It may be done automatically by a statute, i.e., without any effort on the part of the individual, or it may involve an application or a motion and approval by legal authorities. The rules of naturalization vary from country to country but typically include a promise to obeying and upholding that country's laws, taking and subscribing to the oath of allegiance, and may specify other requirements such as a minimum legal residency and adequate knowledge of the national dominant language or culture. To counter multiple citizenship, most countries require that applicants for naturalization renounce any other citizenship that they currently hold, but whether this renunciation actually causes loss of original citizenship, as seen by the host country and by the original country, will depend on the laws of the countries involved.

Education and pastoral career

He attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan, just west of Grand Rapids, on the coast of Lake Michigan. He graduated in 1905 with a bachelor's degree at the age of 20. [9] At Hope College, Muste was class valedictorian, captain of the school's basketball team, and played second base for the baseball squad. [9]

After his graduation, Muste taught Latin and Greek for the 1905-06 academic year at Northwestern Classical Academy (now Northwestern College) in Orange City, Iowa. [9]

In the fall of 1906, Muste went east to the Theological Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church, now the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, located in New Brunswick, New Jersey. There, Muste took courses in philosophy at New York University and Columbia University, attended lectures by William James, and met John Dewey, who became a personal friend. [10] While he remained in training to become a minister of the Reformed Church, Muste seems to have begun to question the church's fundamental principles at that time. [10]

He graduated from that institution in June 1909 and was married shortly thereafter to his sweetheart from his Hope College days, Anna Huizenga. [11] Upon his graduation, Muste was appointed pastor of the Ft. Washington Collegiate Church in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. [10] During his spare time, Muste availed himself of his parish's proximity to the theologically-liberal Union Theological Seminary to take additional courses there. [10] Muste ultimately received a Bachelor of Divinity there and graduating from Union magna cum laude. [12]

Muste was influenced by the prevalent theology of the social gospel and began to read the written ideas of various radical thinkers of the day. He went so far as to vote for Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs for US president in 1912. [13] Muste would later claim that he never again voted for a Republican or Democrat for a major national or state office. [14]

Muste remained as pastor of the Fort Washington Collegiate Church on Washington Heights until 1914, when he left the Reformed Church, as he no longer ascribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith,[ citation needed ] the set of fundamental principles of the denomination.

Thereafter, Muste became an independent Congregationalist minister and accepted a pastorate at the Central Congregational Church of Newtonville, Massachusetts in February 1915.

A committed pacifist, Muste joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation shortly after its foundation in 1916. [8] Muste participated in a peace demonstration late in the summer of 1916, with US entry into the First World War looming and some parishioners began to withdraw from Muste's congregation. [15] Pressure began to build further over Muste's pacifist views in April 1917, when the United States formally declared war on the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. After taking two months of vacation leave in the summer of 1917, Muste decided that the time had come to leave. In December 1917, he formally resigned his pastorate position. [16]

After his resignation, Muste did volunteer work for Boston chapter of the new Civil Liberties Bureau, a legal-aid organization that defended both political and pacifist war resisters. [17]

Later in 1918, Muste moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he was enrolled as a Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) minister. [17] Muste received the use of a home and money for expenses in exchange for pastoral services. [17] An array of political publications was kept in a large room in the basement of the Providence Meeting House, and each Saturday, pacifists, radicals, and an eclectic mix of individuals gathered there to discuss issues of concern. [17]

1919 Lawrence textile strike

Muste began to become involved in trade union activity in 1919, when he took an active part as a leader of a 16-week-long textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. [18] Workers in the mills worked an average of 54 hours a week, at an average rate of just over 20 cents per hour, and were threatened with a loss of income by an uncompensated cut of working hours. [19] A demand grew among the millworkers for 54 hours of pay for the new working week of 48 hours. [19]

The workers, many of whom were new immigrants who spoke English poorly or not at all, were without effective leadership to express their demands, however. [20] When dissident workers walked off the job in February 1919, only to be met by the use of police truncheons against their pickets, Muste and two other radical ministers with whom he had formed a close friendship became involved. [21] Muste spoke to assembled workers, assured them that he would lend whatever help he could in raising money for the relief of strikers and their families, and was soon invited to become executive secretary of the ad hoc strike committee that had been established by the still-unorganized workers. [21] Muste became the spokesman for some 30,000 striking workers from more than 20 countries. [21] Himself pulled from the picket line as a strike leader, isolated, and clubbed by police, he was eventually deposited into a wagon and hauled to jail when he could no longer stand. [22] After a week behind bars, the case against Muste for allegedly disturbing the peace was dismissed. The strike continued without interruption despite the jailing of Muste and more than 100 strikers. [23]

While the police anticipated a further escalation of strike violence and went so far as to place machine guns in critical places along Lawrence's principal streets, Muste and the strike committee chose to use nonviolence. [24] Instead of attempting to fight force with force, Muste instead advised the striking textile workers to "smile as we pass the machine guns and the police." [25] Despite the efforts of agents provocateurs to inspire violence, Muste and the strike committee were able to avoid the outbreak of violence, which would have discredited the strikers and their objective and allowed the physical suppression of the labor action. [24]

The strike was eventually settled after 16 weeks, after both sides neared exhaustion and became willing to compromise. The ultimate agreement called for a shortened working week, a 12% hike in hourly and piecework wages, and the recognition of shop grievance committees in all departments. [26]

Amalgamated Textile Workers of America

While the Lawrence textile strike was going on, Muste traveled to New York City to attend a convention of trade union activists in the textile industry. [26] The gathering resulted in the formation of the Amalgamated Textile Workers of America (ATWU). [26] Based upon his prominence as the head of the Lawrence textile strike and shutdown, Muste was elected secretary of the new union. [26]

Muste would serve as head of the fledgling union for two years until he stepped down from his post, in 1921. [18]

Brookwood and CPLA

Upon leaving the ATWU, Muste became the first chairman of the faculty at Brookwood Labor College, in Katonah, New York, where he remained from 1921 to 1933. [18] Muste cemented his reputation as a recognized leader of the American labor movement. [18]

In 1929, Muste attempted to organize radical unionists, who opposed the passive policies of American Federation of Labor President William Green, under the banner of the new Conference for Progressive Labor Action (CPLA). [18]

Muste also was a member of the League for Independent Political Action (LIPA), a group of liberals and socialists that was headed by philosopher John Dewey and sought the establishment of a new labor-based third party. Muste resigned his position on the LIPA Executive Committee in December 1930, in protest over Dewey's appeal to US Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska to quit the Republican Party to head the third-party movement. [27] Muste declared that any such movement must start from the bottom up by the action of organized workers if it was to survive and that it was "of the utmost importance to avoid every appearance of seeking messiahs who are to bring down a third party out of the political heavens." [27]

Party politics

In 1933, Muste's CPLA took the step of establishing itself as the core of a new political organization, the American Workers Party, [8] which was informally referred to as "Musteite" by its contemporaries. [8]

The AWP then merged with the Trotskyist Communist League of America in 1934 to establish the Workers Party of the United States. Muste meanwhile remained a labor activist and led the victorious Toledo Auto-Lite strike in 1934. [8]

Return to pacifism

In 1936, Muste resigned from the Workers Party and left socialist politics to return to his roots as a Christian pacifist. [8] Muste went to work as the director of the Presbyterian Labor Temple in New York City from 1937 to 1940, where he paid special attention to combating Marxism and to proclaiming Christianity as a revolutionary doctrine. [28] He also lectured at Union Theological Seminar and Yale Divinity School. [29]

From 1940 to 1953, he was the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, [18] an influential Protestant pacifist organization, where he did antiwar work, advocated nonviolence within the Protestant ecumenical movement, and helped mentor a number of the future leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Bayard Rustin. Rustin, a close advisor of Martin Luther King Jr., later claimed that he, while he was an advisor to King, never made a difficult decision without talking about it first with Muste. [30]

Muste supported the presidential candidacies of Debs and Robert M. La Follette, Sr. and also had close friendships with Dewey and socialist leader Norman Thomas. Muste's support for civil liberties led him to oppose McCarthyism during the Cold War. That led to false accusations of being a communist although his writings after 1936 are deeply critical of communism.[ citation needed ]

In 1951, to protest the Cold War, he and 48 others filed Thoreau's essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience instead of their 1040 Forms. [31]

In 1956, he and David Dellinger founded Liberation as a forum for the pacifist and antiwar left. [32]

In 1957, Muste headed a delegation of pacifist and democratic observers to the 16th National Convention of the Communist Party. He was also on the national committee of the War Resisters League (WRL) and received its Peace Award in 1958. Always a creative activist, he led public opposition with Dorothy Day to civil defense activities in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s.

At the end of his life, Muste took a leadership role in the movement against the Vietnam War. According to legend, Muste stood outside the White House every night during the Vietnam War, holding a candle regardless of whether it was raining or not. [33] In fact, he worked many days and nights during the last two years of his life to build a coalition of antiwar groups, including the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which organized massive protests against the war.

In 1966, Muste traveled with members of the Committee for Non-Violent Action to Saigon and Hanoi. He was arrested and deported from South Vietnam but received a warm welcome in North Vietnam from its leader Ho Chi Minh.[ citation needed ]

Death and legacy

Dying on February 11, 1967, at the age of 82, Muste was remembered by one of his contemporaries, Norman Thomas, as making "remarkable effort to show that pacifism was by no means passivism and that there could be such a thing as a non-violent social revolution." [34]

The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute was located at 339 Lafayette Street, the "Peace Pentagon," in New York City until it was sold in 2016 because of the necessary expensive structural repairs. [35] The Institute provides office space for various activist groups, which now reside at its new location, at 168 Canal Street, in Chinatown. [35] Tenant organizations include the War Resisters League and the Socialist Party USA. [35]


The following selection of Muste's writings may be found in The Essays of A. J. Muste, edited by Nat Hentoff, The Bobbs-Merrill Company (1967).

See also

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  1. Nat Hentoff, Peace Agitator: The Story of A.J. Muste. New York: Macmillan, 1963; pp. 25-26.
  2. 1 2 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 26.
  3. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 27.
  4. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 28.
  5. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 30.
  6. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 27-28.
  7. Quoted in Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 28.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jon Bloom, "Abraham Johannes ("A.J.") Muste," in Gary M. Fink (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of American Labor. Revised edition. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984; pp. 428-429.
  9. 1 2 3 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 36.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 38.
  11. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 37.
  12. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 38-39.
  13. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 39.
  14. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 39-40.
  15. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 43.
  16. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 44-45.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 45.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jon Bloom, "A.J. Muste (1885-1967)," in Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas (eds.), Encyclopedia of the American Left. First edition. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990; pp. 499-500.
  19. 1 2 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 48.
  20. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 48-49.
  21. 1 2 3 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 49.
  22. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 49-50.
  23. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 50.
  24. 1 2 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 50-51.
  25. Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 51.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pg. 53.
  27. 1 2 "Muste Drops Out of Dewey League: Resigns from Executive of Third Party Group," Revolutionary Age [New York], vol. 2, no. 5 (January 3, 1931), pg. 2.
  28. Robinson, Jo Ann (1981). Abraham Went Out. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 67–69.
  29. Robinson, Abraham Went Out: A Biography of A.J. Muste, 256n33.
  30. Robinson, Abraham Went Out: A Biography of A.J. Muste, 118.
  31. "3-Page Letter Goes With Tax Protest". The Salt Lake Tribune. 11 Mar 1951. p. 62.
  32. James Tracy, Direct Action, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996; pg. 85.
  33. "Sermon: Afflict the Comfortable". Uumh.org. 2002-11-10. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-08-07.
  34. Norman Thomas, "On the Death of A.J. Muste," New America [New York], vol. 6, no. 9 (February 16, 1967), pg. 2.
  35. 1 2 3 "Peace Pentagon Activist Offices Relocate to Chinatown Following $20.75M Sale". Bowery Boogie. 9 May 2016. Retrieved 26 August 2016.