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March 16: Allard Lowenstein

March 15, 2015

Allard-K.-LowensteinAllard Lowenstein, a highly influential liberal activist, was murdered at age 51 by a mentally ill gunman on this date in 1980. Lowenstein held a law degree from Yale, which at its website lauds his “passionate leadership” and his “crucial role in the civil rights, anti-apartheid, anti-war, and human rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s.” Lowenstein worked as a staffer for several politicians, including Hubert Humphrey, and was one of the first American leaders to target South African apartheid for condemnation. He was also active in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer campaign (though numerous activists in that campaign felt betrayed by Lowenstein’s efforts to impose a “compromise” that would prevent segregationists from fleeing the Democratic Party at its convention in Atlantic City that summer). Lowenstein was also a leader in the 1968 “Dump Johnson” movement, rooted in opposition to the Vietnam War, and recruited Senator Eugene McCarthy to run against the President as an anti-war candidate in the primary that summer. In 1971, after losing his New York Congressional seat after only one term, Lowenstein became head of Americans for Democratic Action. Some have accused him of working for the Central Intelligence Agency, including biographer Richard Cummings (The Pied Piper, 1985). “It is beyond dispute,” wrote journalist David Broder, “that he brought more young people into American politics than any individual of our time.”

“At the heart of Lowenstein’s liberalism was a tension. He lived on the edge of conventional liberalism, torn between complacent New Deal-type homilies and a radical challenge to all comfortable and entrenched institutions.” —William H. Chafe