The newly released second film in a three-part documentary series about peace activist and 1905 Hope College graduate A.J. Muste highlights his significant national influence in the middle of the 20th century.
The film, “A.J. Muste: Radical for Peace/The No. 1 U.S. Pacifist,” follows Muste’s career as a Christian pacifist from the late 1930s though the mid-1950s. It focuses especially on his impact as executive secretary of the interfaith Fellowship for Reconciliation, including his work with World War II pacifists and his role in the growing civil rights movement. The film is available for free viewing at radicalforpeace.org, as is its predecessor, which is subtitled “Finding True North” and explores Muste’s earlier years.
The series is being produced and directed by Dr. David Schock, an award-winning independent filmmaker who was formerly a member of the college’s communication and English faculty. Dr. Kathleen Verduin, a professor of English at Hope who chairs the committee that organizes the A.J. Muste Memorial Lecture series, serves as associate producer. The films feature archival images and draw on interviews conducted by Schock and Verduin with historians and people who knew Muste.
A.J. (Abraham Johannes) Muste (1885-1967) was one of the most well-known and influential peace activists in the United States. He spoke out against the nation’s involvement in every war from World War I through the Vietnam War. In his quest for peace he generated controversy for being arrested for participating in protests in the U.S. and meeting with leaders like Ho Chi Minh, yet he also demonstrated in Moscow’s Red Square against nuclear testing.
He was executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation when in 1942 other members of the group established the Council on Racial Equity (CORE), dedicated to non-violence in the quest for civil rights for Blacks. While a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1949, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended a lecture by Muste about non-violence, an experience King related in his 1959 book “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.”
Muste was also a prominent labor leader across much of his career, with activity including serving as general secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Workers of America and educational director of Brookwood Labor College.
Muste was born in the Netherlands and grew up in Grand Rapids. After graduating from Hope, he earned degrees from both the Reformed Church in America’s New Brunswick Theological Seminary and the non-denominational Union Theological Seminary. His frustration with economic and social injustice drew him to communism for a time, but he ultimately rejected it and returned to the church.
The first film in the documentary series, “A.J. Muste: Radical for Peace/Finding True North,” follows Muste from his childhood through his early 50s. It premiered at Hope in April 2019 and received a State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan in September of the same year. A third film is planned, with the production team seeking funding as explained on the project website.
The college’s A.J. Muste Memorial Lecture series, which was established in 1985 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of his birth, annually seeks to explore issues that would have been of interest to Muste, including topics related to labor, civil rights and peace. Since 1988, Muste has also been remembered on campus with the A.J. Muste Alcove, which is a study alcove in the Van Wylen Library. A commissioned bust of Muste sculpted by Dr. Ryan Dodde, a 1989 Hope graduate who is a plastic surgeon, was added to the alcove in November 2018.