Category: Archive

Hibernian Chronicle: Chicago 7 convicted

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The story featured two Irish-Americans who represented two very different world views in the 1960s: Tom Hayden, a leading figure in Students for a Democratic Society and movements to achieve civil rights and stop the war in Vietnam, and Richard J. Daley, the powerful and conservative mayor of Chicago. The clash that occurred on the streets of Chicago that August landed Hayden in jail and put a black mark on Daley’s reputation that would dog him for the rest of his political career.
In the immediate aftermath of the riots, Mayor Daley demanded that the federal Justice Department prosecute the alleged ringleaders under an anti-rioting provision in the recently enacted Civil Rights Act of 1968. He was soon outraged to learn that Attorney General Ramsay Clark was more interested in prosecuting the Chicago Police Department than any protesters. Daley eventually prevailed upon a friend who was a federal judge to convene a grand jury. Months later, the jury handed down indictments against Hayden and seven others. Significantly, unlike his predecessor, new Attorney General John Mitchell (the Nixon administration took office in January 1969) was quite eager to go forward with a federal trial.
It began on Sept. 24, 1969. From the outset the trial took on a surreal aura. On one side of the courtroom stood a prosecution team straight out of central casting. Clean-cut, businesslike and gravely serious, it was led by a gray-haired Irish American district attorney named Thomas Aquinas Foran. He’d made a name for himself leading prosecutions against more than 100 organized crime figures and clearly was not about to be intimidated by the motley cast of defendants in this case.
On the other side was the defense led by lawyers William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. The defendants approached the trial with varying levels of contempt. Hayden dressed in jeans (shockingly casual for such a setting in 1969), but decided to work within the judicial process to gain their acquittal and to expose the unjust use of government power against free speech and assembly. Accordingly, he took seriously Kunstler and Weinglass’s efforts to present a convincing case to the jury. Other defendants, however, were determined to show their contempt for the entire process at every turn. Hoffman and Rubin, in particular, dressed in hippie garb and sat with their feet propped up on the table. They ate jelly beans, read newspapers, told jokes, slept, and uttered snide comments on the proceedings. On one occasion they paraded into the courthouse in judges robes. Their antics infuriated the judge and several members of the jury, but also garnered headlines from coast to coast. So, too, did the defense tactic of putting on the witness stand an all-star cast of radical celebrities like LSD advocate Dr. Timothy Leary, poet Alan Ginsberg, and folk singers Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
After five months of testimony, the trial finally concluded and on Feb. 14, 1970 Judge Hoffman sent the case to the jury. One day later while the jury deliberated, Hoffman convicted all seven defendants, plus their lawyers Kunstler and Weinglass, of contempt of court and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms.
The jury quickly found itself split eight to four in favor of conviction on both the conspiracy and inciting riot charges. Their antics in the courtroom had clearly antagonized the more conservative members of the jury, for one was later quoted as saying that Hayden the others “should have been convicted for their appearance, their language and their lifestyle.” Eventually they reached a compromise.
On Feb. 18, the jury announced its verdict: Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin were found innocent of conspiracy but guilty of crossing state lines with the intent to incite riot. John Froines and Lee Weiner were acquitted on both charges. Hoffman sentenced the convicted to five years in prison and fined them $5,000.
Kunstler and Weinglass immediately filed an appeal, citing in particular the hostile behavior of Judge Hoffman. Nearly three years later the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and overturned all the convictions.
In the years that followed the trial, Hayden remained very active in radical and protest circles. In 1973 he married fellow activist Jane Fonda (they divorced in 1990). In the early 1980s Hayden decided to go mainstream and enter politics. He won election to the California State Assembly in 1982 and served there and later in the State Senate for eighteen years. As an office holder he consistently promoted a liberal agenda, championing causes related to the environment, civil rights, and education. In 2001 he narrowly lost a bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
Hayden also became more conscious of his Irish heritage, something that was actively suppressed by his parents’ generation. Several of the ten books he’s published have been on topics related to Irish heritage, including a book of essays on the Famine and “Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of Irish America.” He lives in Los Angeles.

Feb. 25, 1986: “We Are the World,” a song featuring some 40 rock superstars, wins four Grammies. Bob Geldoff, the man who organized the
recording to raise money for famine relief in Africa, earns many accolades and is made a knight by the Queen.
Feb. 26, 1942: Director John Ford wins his third Oscar for Best Director for the film “How Green Was My Valley.”
Feb. 28, 1935: Ireland bans the importation and sale of contraceptives.

Feb. 26, 1916: Comedian and actor Jackie Gleason is born in Brooklyn.
Feb. 27, 1917: Texas Gov. John Connally, who was wounded in the Kennedy assassination, is born in Floresville, Texas.
Feb. 27, 1904: Writer James T. Farrell is born in Chicago.

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