This Day in History

Sept. 24, 1968: Milwaukee 14 Burn Draft Files

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

Source: Bob Graf, one of the Milwaukee 14.

On Sept. 24, 1968, 14 people removed 10,000 draft files from the Milwaukee draft board and burned them with home-made napalm. They were inspired by a similar action by the Catonsville Nine on May 17, 1968.

They were arrested and went to trial. Father James Groppi co-chaired the Milwaukee 14 Defense Committee. Most served at least a year of jail time.

This poster is by Brandon Bauer from the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative’s Celebrate People’s History collection.

Howard Zinn testified at their trial. He wrote,

I was called to testify in the case of the Milwaukee Fourteen, a group of priests, nuns, and laypeople who had gone into a draft board, taken thousands of its documents, and burned them in a symbolic protest against the war in Vietnam.

As a historian of social movements, I was asked to discuss the role of civil disobedience in American history. The judge was clearly uneasy, but he allowed me to answer the question.

I spoke of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and of its insistence that when a government becomes destructive of basic human rights, it is the duty of the people to ‘alter or abolish it.’ I began to talk about Henry David Thoreau and his decision to break the law in protest against the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846.

At this point, Judge Larsen interrupted. He pounded his gavel and said: ‘You can’t discuss that. That is getting to the heart of the matter.’ [From A Power Governments Cannot Suppress by Howard Zinn.]

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