“A. J. Muste: Radical for Peace/Welcoming the New Left,” the third — but not final — film in the series about the life of 1905 Hope College graduate A. J. Muste is now available for public viewing at radicalforpeace.org
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 is former chair of the committee that organizes the college’s A.J. Muste Memorial Lecture series, serves as associate producer. They initially had a single documentary in mind, but the project has continued to expand as they have learned even more about Muste’s life and lasting impact.
“This film is a part of what is now going to be four installments,” Verduin said. “When David Schock and I undertook this enterprise in 2017 we had no idea that it would grow to this scope.”
“A. J.’s life was protean… he went from starting as a minister in the Reformed tradition, to a labor leader and briefly a Trotskyist, to a return to Christianity and the larger church, to a leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) through the early 1950s,” she said.
Throughout the series, Verduin and Schock make use of scholars who have studied and documented Muste’s life and participants in the events themselves. Among others, the latest film includes an interview with revered civil rights leader Andrew Young.
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. 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, and active in the civil rights movement.
The third film picks up at the point where Muste might likely have retired… but didn’t. He was forced to step down from formal leadership of the FoR, had been widowed, and was growing older. The film opens with his vision in creating Liberation magazine and leading peace actions and movements for racial equality. It was he who stepped in to provide leadership for the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. He later sent young and able workers, notably the Reverend James Lawson, into Birmingham, too, for the campaign there to desegregate lunch counters and schools. Other young people like Brad Lyttle led peace missions — demonstrations against the nuclear weaponry of the Polaris submarines and then peace walks. One of those walks, from San Francisco to Moscow, is chronicled in the program; others will show up in the next film. And it was Muste who welcomed the creation of Students for a Democratic Society.
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. The second film, “A.J. Muste: Radical for Peace/The No. 1 U.S. Pacifist,” released last spring, follows Muste’s career as a Christian pacifist from the late 1930s though the mid-1950s. Both are also available for viewing at radicalforpeace.org
Verduin says she hopes the final installment will be completed by Christmas, but will depend on Schock’s ability to get just one more recollection of events from someone who was there.
Muste is remembered at Hope in a variety of ways. 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 honored 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.