Dr. David Goldberg, professor of history at Cleveland State University, discusses his involvement in anti-Vietnam war protest activities. He talks about the activism on campus during his time at the University of Wisconsin - Madison from 1962-1966, including CIA Truth Teams, Socialist Club, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and other activist groups. He also relates his story of turning in his draft card, sending a letter to the government outlining his reasons for resisting the draft, and his eventual arrest. He provides information regarding the New Left movement in the United States during the Vietnam War. He also outlines his personal motivations and interest in the anti-war movement, citing an interest in William Lloyd Garrison and Abolitionism during the American Civil War. Dr. Goldberg relates his experience at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march in New York City in October, 1967, as well as his involvement and subsequent arrest as part of the demonstration at the draft board office in Whitehall, New York in December, 1967.
Goldberg, David (interviewee)
Randt, Naomi A. (interviewer)
"David Goldberg interview, 15 June 2016" (2016). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 750001.
Naomi A. Randt [00:00:02] My name is [Naomi A. Randt]. It's the 15th of June, 2016. We're here with Dr. David Goldberg at CSU Rhodes Tower. Do you mind stating your name for the record, please?
David Goldberg [00:00:12] David Goldberg.
Naomi A. Randt [00:00:15] We'll just start with a bit of, um, background info. Um. When and where were you born?
David Goldberg [00:00:23] I was born in Boston and actually December 7th, 1944.
Naomi A. Randt [00:00:31] What was it like growing up in Boston?
David Goldberg [00:00:33] Well, I grew up in Brookline, right outside of Boston, which is like a model suburb, had a streetcar line right there. So great public transportation close to Fenway Park. You couldn't grow up in a better place. I think a lot of other advantages growing up in Brookline.
Naomi A. Randt [00:00:49] Did you have any siblings?
David Goldberg [00:00:51] Yeah, I had a sister.
Naomi A. Randt [00:00:56] What did your parents do for a living?
David Goldberg [00:00:59] Well, my dad ran his own business. Both my parents had grown up kind of immigrant Jewish families, very poor. So my dad didn't go beyond the sixth grade my Monday and got me on a ninth grade. My dad was a very unusual individual, ended up starting his own business in a garment district, did very well with it. He died, though. Sixty five. And my mom actually started her own business. She was kind of a very independent woman. Also, actually, sewing clothing.
Naomi A. Randt [00:01:37] What was the nature of your dad's business?
David Goldberg [00:01:39] Well, he started his business really on his own. Kind of is like it's a very innovative individual, the kind of business you could start in back in this era. So he was what you call a wholesaler. He would buy clothing from clothing manufacturers and then sell them because... I actually worked for him for a year. But then I worked in other garment factories after that. So he would sell to stores that existed - independently owned stores - mainly throughout New England that existed at that time that don't exist today, because every town, small city had its own... this is women's clothing stores. And he started a business that was selling clothing that he bought up from the manufacturers – known as being a wholesaler.
Naomi A. Randt [00:02:31] What was your childhood like? Where did you go to school?
David Goldberg [00:02:34] Well, I went to grade school called Runkle School, then Brookline High. So it was probably a fairly typical 50s, I would say, childhood. So my mom was a stay at home mom at that time. With my dad working and he had done very well. So we were very comfortable. I was really into sports. So we played a lot of sports. Did the usual things you do when you were growing up around Boston, going to the beach, things like that. So I'd say it was a pretty typical 50s kind of growing up in a suburb. Except my dad was had a lot of different interests. So there were things about my family that were different also from the typical, you would say, suburban family.
Naomi A. Randt [00:03:19] What were some of those interests?
David Goldberg [00:03:20] Well, I would say the major thing is my dad developed an interest in art. He used... There were only two major galleries in Boston, and he knew both the gallery owners. He developed an interest, especially in artists from Boston, by the name of Hyman Blum, whose work is really fantastic, who also grew up with another famous artist by the name of Jack Levine and Blum stayed in Boston, Levin went to New York and became famous. Hyman Blum's work is superior, I think. They became very, very devoted friends. My dad became very well known in the Boston art community, which meant you were exposed to different kinds of people. My mother had interests like that as well as in film, music. They were kind of products of a really self educated Jewish immigrant kinda environment. But different than the typical 50s family, I would say, in many ways.
Naomi A. Randt [00:04:26] And you ended up going to college after high school?
David Goldberg [00:04:28] Yeah. I wasn't much of a student in high school. I was... Me, I'd rather goof off and then things like that. So you know that in Brookline High, there was a group, you know, real brains. And I certainly wasn't part of that. I hung much more with the jocks and anything like that. Really didn't like high school very much, but I always had an interest in history. So I ended up going to the University of Wisconsin beginning in the fall of 1962.
Naomi A. Randt [00:04:55] What was the University of Boston... Well, sorry, University of Wisconsin...
David Goldberg [00:05:00] Well, when I arrived in Madison, I just like for me was an overnight change. The courses I took were fabulous. Right off the bat. I mean, there are a few exceptions. Madison was a place that really prided itself even on full professors teaching undergraduate survey classes - something that wouldn't exist today. So I took classes from historians like George Mosse, Harvey Goldberg, - no relation to me - who are unbelievable. But I can remember courses in English literature, political theory, sociology there on a level probably above [anything] I could've gotten almost anywhere else at the time. It was a great place to go to school.
Naomi A. Randt [00:05:41] Was it an active campus?
David Goldberg [00:05:49] Well, I assume you mean was it a politically active campus? One of the things that made matters unusual was I arrived there in fall of 62. And also I already had some political consciousness because even when I was a senior in high school, I started to go into something that's called a community church where they would have speakers on Sunday mornings. So I remember especially hearing some speakers, one who was opposed to the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was a big issue at the time. Also, another member named William Worthy, African-American, I think he had gone to Cuba and got in trouble with the State Department. So I'd already been exposed to that when I went to Madison. So I had an interest in political issues and then being in Madison only increased that because even arriving there in 1962, was somewhat unlike what would have been true in other campuses. There had always been a left community in Madison. It was evident in 1962. There was a socialist club. I remember going to their meetings. You could hear a wide range of speakers in the evenings, something that would be available. So there was even a small active community there in the fall of 1962. There's an important publication in the history of the New Left called Studies on the Left that was published in Madison for a number of years. A lot of graduate students who were involved. Also fall 1962 was the Cuban Missile Crisis. So I remember going to a demonstration around that also at that time.
Naomi A. Randt [00:07:20] What was that like being part of the [inaudible] Cuban Missile Crisis?
David Goldberg [00:07:23] Well, it wasn't a big thing. I mean, because, I mean, maybe there are 100 people there. And if I look back on it, I'm not even sure what we were demonstrating about other than there was a real threat of nuclear war. What people forget is football stadiums were still packed right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. People who teach and write about it, I don't think realize that, but pretty much American life went on as normal so... I remember we had a demonstration. I don't even remember what our particular position was. I don't have a leaflet to read to refresh my mind about that.
Naomi A. Randt [00:07:57] What were some of the other speakers?
David Goldberg [00:08:01] Well, that's interesting question, I haven't thought about that. But UW in Madison, which I think was a very, very unusual campus at the time, I think almost literally you could go hear a different speaker every evening that was being sponsored by some organization or maybe least two or three times a week. So besides the classroom, which was fantastic, you got exposure to a lot of different ideas, especially, again, mainly coming from the left, questions being raised about U.S. foreign policy, but on other topics as well. They also had a fabulous film society. So I got exposed to a lot of international film, stretchy Italian neorealists, who I really, really liked a lot, and kind of the of angry filmmakers that came out of England at the time also. So I remember that exposure also having an impact on me in terms of the importance of film.
Naomi A. Randt [00:08:55] Was that also informed by the fact that your parents were involved in the arts too?
David Goldberg [00:08:58] Not particularly because my dad was pretty apolitical. I mean, he was interested in art, but he wasn't particularly interested in politics at all? My mother was more what you may be called just a conventional liberal. Kind of. I'm sure she voted Democratic, whatever, but not in being particularly political. But I think again, what was unusual about them was the interest in art, and becoming friends with so many art artists. It wasn't typical growing up.
[00:09:23] The invasion of the Dominican Republic happened while you were in Madison as well, correct?
[00:09:49] Was there activism on campus at that time?
[00:09:52] Yes. Well, you mentioned the invasion of the Dominican Republic, April 1965. That actually I think a lot of people always from my perspective, being on the campus in Madison was an important event because by the spring of 65, those of us who identified what you might call the new left at the time were becoming increasingly concerned with the Vietnam War, of what that represented, kind of the dangers and the threat posed. And by 1965, that spring, there were a couple of crucial events where you began to see a growing anti-war movement in Madison. One is we had a very successful teach-in. First teach-in was in University of Michigan and then we had one in Madison. And this is where a number of professors from a number of different departments spoke. We didn't go to classes that day. One element to that is those of us who were opposed to the war in Vietnam had really begun to educate ourselves on the history of Vietnam, how the French had returned in 45, the war the Viet Minh had fought against the French, how the French had been defeated, how the U.S. again had violated the Geneva Accords and so on. The teach-in was devoted to that. It was devoted to other international issues. So it was a kind of learning experience of different aspects of U.S. foreign policy. I'll tell you it was highly successful in Madison. You know, this is a period when those opposed to war were kind of educating themselves. So that was a focus. Then in spring 1965, the State Department, reflecting when the Johnson [administration] was becoming concerned about growing opposition to the war. They actually sent around to campus like Madison, but they called a truth team. That's what they called it. I think about 300 of us gathered there, just barraged them with questions. And really, they gave up that idea of having truth teams very soon after that. I think Madison was one of three campuses where they came and they really had a difficult time. And then in the midst of that, there was growing concern about the war in Vietnam, came the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic. That was in the end of April, 1965, U.S. sent 40,000 troops to the Dominican Republic to prevent Juan Bosch, a leftist, from assuming power. That I think really played a role in kind of escalating concerns about U.S. foreign policy making connections between Vietnam, Dominican Republic, other places in Central America, Caribbean, Latin America, where the U.S. had intervened. And I do remember very well the demonstrations we had on campus against the invasion of the Dominican Republic. There were more people there than had been at any previous demonstration.
Naomi A. Randt [00:12:49] Can you speak a little more about the truth teams and what their mission was?
David Goldberg [00:12:52] Well, the truth teams, as far as I can recall someone in the State Department got the idea that there was a growing opposition to the war in Vietnam on college campuses. So I guess they just felt, well, if you send some representatives around and we can speak and explain what the U.S. position in Vietnam is, then somehow that will help deflate the opposition to it. But again, it had the opposite result. It only stirred more opposition.
Naomi A. Randt [00:13:26] What was it like being part of the opposition [inaudible]?
David Goldberg [00:13:31] Well, it wasn't... I would say when we had the truth team, it's something that really stands out in my mind because there was growing militance in the anti-war movement. I would say the event with the truth team stands out because that was a sign of growing anger on the part of those who opposed the war in Vietnam. In other words, more visceral than I can recall occurring. This coming spring, 1965, and then followed by the protests against the invasion of the Dominican Republic.
Naomi A. Randt [00:14:10] Was it just like a verbal anger toward the truth teams or did it get...?
David Goldberg [00:14:12] No, no. There was no... In fact, generally I don't like the idea of disrupting speakers, but these were representatives of the US government. So it was more, you know, kinda just people constantly standing up. Mild form of harassment, I would say, making it very difficult for them to say anything. They are getting frustrated, but no violence or anything like that.
Naomi A. Randt [00:14:37] Was that the beginning of the... did the activism get more from there... is that kind of where it started?
David Goldberg [00:14:46] Well, there was always an ebb and flow to activism in Madison. In some ways it was more active in the spring than at any other time. But then people disperse in the summer. I, like others, had a summer job in a factory. So you weren't in Madison during the summer then. You were kind of. And this is beginning by 65, then you would begin to see, you know, still not a lot of protests on campus, but there would be a kind of revival of activity when people came back with classes, let's say, in the fall of 65.
Naomi A. Randt [00:15:21] Was there any, sort of, pro-Vietnam activity?
David Goldberg [00:15:27] I don't have any recollections specifically of people being in favor of the war. That's an interesting question, because I think one of the aspects of the Vietnam War is there never was much of a pro-war movement. What a lot of historians have noted is there was more of an anti-anti-war movement. In other words, people hated the protesters, despised the protesters, without ever really being in favor of the war, because a lot of people, I think, who might have favored the war never really understood what it was about. That was an advantage, I think the anti-war movement had. Those of us who were active in it, really knew much more about the history of Vietnam, especially the French aspect, which is critical. You can't study the modern history of Vietnam without being aware of what happened with the French Geneva Accords. I always thought we had a big advantage that way because when you argued about Vietnam, the role the US had played in Vietnam, we, I think, had really educated ourselves about what the history was.
Naomi A. Randt [00:16:40] Were you ever accosted by those anti-anti-war [protestors]?
David Goldberg [00:16:43] No. Madison was a kind of a safe haven. Madison is a very liberal community. The University of Wisconsin has a strong progressive tradition. So there was no particular hostility that you would face demonstrating against the war on a campus of the University of Wisconsin... during the time I was there. There would be... Let me just add to that there would be hostility from other places in the state of Wisconsin that you would learn about. People who really disliked the anti-war protestors, but not particularly in Madison itself.
Naomi A. Randt [00:17:42] Was there a particular group on campus? You had mentioned the one group on campus, the socialist club.
David Goldberg [00:17:52] Yeah. Yeah. When it came, there was a socialist club. By 1965 and 66, there were a growing number of organizations. There was even this Marxist Leninist group, the Young Socialist Alliance, which is affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party. But the group that came into existence that I remember the most was an ad hoc group called the Committee to End the War in Vietnam. And actually, there were a lot of history graduate students who were involved in the left at this time. So it wasn't just a war, but other questions about U.S. society. And they played an important role in the committee to end the war in Vietnam that they began to stage protests, have speakers. A lot of speakers just kind of that people would attend about the war. And then the next phase, for me, was gonna be in the spring of 1966. That's when they announced a program where universities are going to be required to have the students take exams that would be used in evaluating who would get a student deferment. And that led to the next stage of protests in Madison.
Naomi A. Randt [00:18:59] Can you speak more about those exams?
David Goldberg [00:19:02] Yes, what happened... I forget exactly how this was gonna be done, but they actually announced... Because students at this time had a deferment, known as a 2S deferment, that because of the growing manpower needs, because of the escalation of the war in Vietnam, they were actually going to have these exams that were going to be offered in campus where your eligibility for the draft would be determined by how you scored on those exams. I think they were actually administered and not used. I can't remember. So, SDS, actually, which I was not a member of, but, you know, had an active chapter in Madison along with other SDS chapters. They organized a major protest. And here the issue was, should the university be complicit with exams that were going to send students who didn't do as well off the war? And SDS did something very creative. They created their own exam, a counter exam. All these questions about Vietnam and the history of Vietnam, I remember passing that out. And then at that stage, we reached the new stage in Madison because we were so opposed to the administration cooperating with the exam. We had a sit in. That was the first time I participated in a sit in. We occupied the major administration building, Bascom Hall, that was a new level of protest. Eventually, I think after 24 hours – it was kind of a real bonding experience... I don't know, maybe five hundred of us occupying a hall, sitting down – and they reached some kind of compromise, so the police were never called out. We were disappointed by the final outcome of that. But these protests reached many other campuses at this time. This idea of holding these exams then was disbanded. So we had to sit in. It was a tremendous experience. But again, we didn't have a satisfactory outcome of that. But they never had those exams again. And they dropped that idea because of the level of protest.
Naomi A. Randt [00:21:14] What would have been the outcome you would have wanted?
David Goldberg [00:21:18] Well, at that point, our outcome that actually we got is that no university should cooperate by having their students take exams to determine who should be drafted. It was really a question of university complicity with that idea. And those protests occurred a number of campuses in the spring of 66.
Naomi A. Randt [00:21:40] And you were a member of the SDS?
David Goldberg [00:21:41] No, I never joined SDS for whatever reason.
Naomi A. Randt [00:21:47] Were you a member of any of those groups?
David Goldberg [00:21:50] Well, you know, the way the left organized at that time is... You know, being a member, what does that mean? I don't think, you know, this is not like they were that organized. So the group identify with the committee to end the war in Vietnam, which was an ad hoc group. I don't really remember how they structured themselves. I do remember, though, at the time of the draft, we had mass meetings. That was it was a more hopeful period in the new left. So very democratic in the sense anyone could get up and say something. It was huge amount of participation. People making different arguments, presenting different kinds of positions. That was part of ... it was part of a whole week, really, of protests that focused on the exams and the war.
Naomi A. Randt [00:22:39] You speak more about that week of protests?
David Goldberg [00:22:43] I don't know if I have that much more to add about the week of protest, other than it was what you would see as a steady escalation of activity, on campus in Madison and also on other campuses as well. I would say there was a growing anger by the spring of 66 over the war and the escalation of the war by the Johnson administration. And like I said, a very democratic procedure that allowed a lot of people to participate in, kind of, discussions and debates about what kind of action we should take. It was very open at that point.
Naomi A. Randt [00:23:22] How did you feel about being involved?
David Goldberg [00:23:24] Well, that felt good. I mean, it was like, you know, I was absolutely 100 percent opposed to the war in Vietnam. Determined that it was totally an immoral war, unjust war, a war the United States should not be fighting. So I was glad to see more people getting involved in the anti-war movement.
Naomi A. Randt [00:24:19] That was 1966?
David Goldberg [00:24:20] Yeah. Spring of 1966, which is when I graduated.
Naomi A. Randt [00:24:23] What did you do after you graduated?
David Goldberg [00:24:28] Okay. After I... Well, let me just add, when I was a... I graduated spring of 66. My last semester in Madison, I took a course. It was a senior honors seminar in history that was only open to certain students. And by that time I had gotten really interested in abolitionism and I did a long research paper on William Lloyd Garrison and the abolitionists. So I kind of developed this interest in kind of like a movement, like abolitionism that's not fighting for something that affects people where they live, but outside. So I saw a lot of analogies between the abolitionism and an anti-war movement. So I was thinking about this intellectually as well as kind of being active in it. So the research actually influenced me and actually I had become close with one history professor in particular at Wisconsin, who helped me. So that time, I mean, I had been accepted at Columbia for a PhD program, though, that summer I still went back and worked in a factory because I did that every summer.
Naomi A. Randt [00:25:32] What was the name of the factory?
David Goldberg [00:25:36] Oh, Richard Sewell. S-e-w-e-l-l.
Naomi A. Randt [00:25:44] What were some of the analogies you saw with abolitionism?
David Goldberg [00:25:53] Well, I really became fascinated by the abolitionists and, you know, especially Garrison and how you can begin as a small minority, which they were. In fact, they were subject to a great deal of attacks, even in Boston, in the early 1830s. How you begin to raise an issue and get under people's skin. The idea of the abolitionists was, you don't let people live their lives as normal when you're fighting a moral cause. I was very fascinated by that. Some of the tactics they used, even disrupting church services, and Garrison burning a copy of the Constitution. Kind of how they played a role in making people think about slavery. You know, there's a lot of debate among historians about the impact of the abolitionists. I have no doubt they got a lot of people thinking about it who wouldn't have thought about it otherwise. And again, it's not like a union movement where you're trying to involve workers in something that's going to help themselves. They're trying to deal with something that's external, that doesn't affect people immediately. So I saw a lot of analogies between the dilemnas of a social movement like abolitionism and an anti-war movement, as opposed to what you might call a self-interested social movement.
Naomi A. Randt [00:27:18] Was that a pretty common view, among the anti-war [potestors]... Seeing it as more of a moral issue that didn't directly affect them?
David Goldberg [00:27:23] No, I think my own analysis was informed by my interest in history. I don't think people in the anti-war movement thought that much about those kinds of connections as I did. I think that's probably pretty unusual that way because I was really interested in the history in U.S. history and abolitionism. There were a lot of growing debates by the spring in 1966 about what the best strategy was to oppose the war. So that was becoming a major issue. It was never a united the anti-war movement. So there were always these debates, discussions and divisions about people opposing the war, about what they actually should do.
Naomi A. Randt [00:27:58] What did you feel was the best course of action?
David Goldberg [00:28:01] Well, at that point – this will change later on – it just seemed you were holding demonstrations. And there also had been something that was called Vietnam Summer that was modeled on Freedom Summer. Freedom Summer taking place in Mississippi, summer of 64. Freedom Summer, if I recall correctly, was the summer of sixty five and was kind of modeled on people going back into their communities. That's when the people were more hopeful trying to educate people. I didn't participate in that because again, I always did factory work in the summer. But I think the idea of Vietnam summer was pretty good in terms of that was a point in which you were trying to kind of just get people to understand why the U.S. had begun being involved in Vietnam and why it was wrong.
Naomi A. Randt [00:28:49] So that point was more about educating?
David Goldberg [00:28:52] Educating and demonstrating at that point.
Naomi A. Randt [00:28:53] And then in the fall of 1966 ...
David Goldberg [00:29:06] Yeah, fall in 1966, I began to PHC program at Columbia University.
Naomi A. Randt [00:29:10] Was there a similar... did your activism continue?
David Goldberg [00:29:15] Yeah, I mean, strangely enough, I think I ended up with two the most active campuses during the decade, 1960s, just the way things worked out. There was quite a bit of anti-war activity, a very active SDS chapter at Columbia when I got there in the fall 1966. But I did note one significant difference. Of course, this is something that affected the movement by 66. At Wisconsin, a lot of the left and anti-war activity had been led by the graduate students, especially in history, but other fields as well. At Columbia, the chapter of SDS was led by, I guess, Mark Rudd, other people. I wasn't exactly impressed by the intellectual understanding that they had. I just remembered my own reaction that SDS was beginning to move into eventually what will become a more radical revolutionary direction. And I wasn't particularly impressed by kind of their thoughtfulness or a kind of reasoning behind some of this stuff. They were even doing by the fall of 66.
Naomi A. Randt [00:30:25] What were some of those things?
David Goldberg [00:30:25] Oh, just the same thing that was going on in other campuses. Protests were beginning not just against the war, but also university complicity with the war. Which to me was never a major issue. I didn't care that much if universities cooperated with the war or not. I just wanted to get involved in anti-war movement off campus. So SDS at that time was focusing much more on issues on campus. I was much more concerned with how you can get involved in anti-war movement off campus, but at the same time I was beginning a PhD program and somewhat overwhelmed just by the amount of work you had to do at that point.
Naomi A. Randt [00:30:59] Just for the record, can you define SDS for us?
David Goldberg [00:31:10] Well, SDS is Students for a Democratic Society, which was a new left organization.
Naomi A. Randt [00:31:38] Were there other groups you were involved with off campus?
David Goldberg [00:31:42] Well, I wasn't involved that much off campus. I mean, I loved being at Columbia because of New York City. New York City can be a bit overwhelming because there were so many different organizations. So at that point, I was mainly if there was a demonstration going to the demonstration. Nothing beyond that. And then, of course, the move beyond that. As the Johnson administration continue to escalate the war, I would say there was a new stage of protest in regard to involvement that came in the spring of 1967, because in spring of 1967, that's when I think was the most. There were all these organizations that came and went. They were organized by far the largest protest that had been seen against the war in Vietnam. This was in spring of 67. This is when Martin Luther King came out against the war, gave his speech at Riverside Church, which is right close to the Columbia campus. And then we had spring of 67 this unbelievably massive demonstration. By far the largest demonstration I've ever seen. I think there might have been four hundred thousand people who marched from the upper west side of New York to the United Nations. And that's where Martin Luther King gave his speech. Thing I remember most vividly about that is this is before the upper west side of New York became gentrified, which it is today. It was mainly a Puerto Rican neighborhood. We march down Amsterdam Avenue. I mean, you're talking about hundreds of thousands of people and everything that went along with the demonstration at that time. The chants, the excitement, the banners, all of that. And there were all these people on Amsterdam Avenue – because it was mainly a Puerto Rican working class neighborhood – cheering us on, waving things like that. So it's kind of an exhilarating experience. And that was part of some other, you know, protests in other cities in the spring of 67. So as the war escalated, the anti-war movement was getting more people involved as well.
Naomi A. Randt [00:33:39] What was that like? Just being part of that?
David Goldberg [00:33:43] Well, you know, participation in a demonstration. It was both exhilarating – because just the numbers of people, the sheer numbers of people, you realized how many people were going to come to a demonstration – but there also could be a tremendous letdown afterwards because the war would just continue and the next day. Where are you? And that became a dilemma for the anti-war movement.
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