|The Whole World Was Watching
an oral history of 1968
Draft Resister Was a "Political Prisoner"
While I was in high school at East Providence High, my guidance counselor told my brother and I, out of the goodness of his heart, that our kind didn't go to college and that we should take shop courses. Fortunately, my parents were good people and ignored that foolishness. When I went off to college the Civil Rights Movement was raging. There was this girl that I knew, Minnie Jean Brown, who was one of the first kids to attend Little Rock High School where the first desegregation of the schools in America [happened]. Their idea was called "separate but equal", which was hardly the case.
Minnie Jean was a friend of Martin Luther King, and she would go to all of the marches that he went on. I remember Minnie Jean asking me to go to Selma, Alabama to march. I told her that I wouldn't be able to go because the first person that spit on me was going to get beat up. I would just forget about all the non-violence foolishness.
Minnie Jean later married Roy, a man from Illinois and they left for Canada. The war was going on and he had been drafted. He and I had both gone for our physicals together in St. Louis. We had taken acid and then gone to the physical. I remember walking into this room, [high] on acid, and it looked like a slaughter house. They had us take our clothes off and they would check us out. When you went into the draft board you were a free citizen, not a soldier, and they had no rights over you so I didn't listen to them. Here the U.S. Government was getting all the young kids and at the end of the line it was either you killed them or they killed you.
My girlfriend and I had decided to get married and go to Canada. I called my father to tell him that I was getting married and he told me that I had been indicted. In those days it was real taboo for people of different ethnic groups and different races to date. To be married was beyond belief.
I remember Ann telling me that I should meet her parents, but I had prejudices about who her parents were. To me, small town American white people were in the KKK and did hateful things. But they were wonderful people. Ann and I went to all the people in the town and talked about the Vietnam War and racism and then we went to Canada.
It was the spring of '68 when we left for Canada. A large group of Americans was going to Canada at the time, including Minnie Jean and Roy. The FBI went looking for us in Illinois, and when the people were asked if they knew where we were, they said that they didn't know. That was a real lesson for me; it cured me of my racism.
One night we went to Toronto to have dinner with Minnie Jean and Roy. That night we heard that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. We were all crying, Minnie Jean and Roy had been friends of his. I decided then that I was going to come back to the United States, and I wasn't going to let evil rule the country. Rather than just come back across the border, I decided to make a media event out of it. I called up the Boston Resistance [to make arrangements].
The arrangements were that we would fly to Boston and take sanctuary in the North Church. The North Church had allowed another person before us to take sanctuary so we thought everything would work out. We went all the way to the North Church and were told that they were afraid to take in another person because there had been threats of burning down the church. Some of the [church] people had been for the war and some against, so they didn't want to have to deal with the [different] beliefs of people in the church. The minister did allow us to stay there for one night.
The next day we drove to the Church of The Mediator in Providence, and Reverend Perry allowed us to take sanctuary there. For a week there must have been a thousand people constantly going in and out of the church. We put guys on either sides of the street with walkie-talkies so that we could communicate with them on what the FBI was doing. The FBI would come running in at three o' clock in the morning, and all of a sudden there would be a thousand people in front of the church. Their whole thing was to try to sneak me out in the middle of the night.
Finally the FBI came and kicked in the door of the church in. They came at news hour and rush hour in Providence. Many people saw what was going on while the FBI lied about kicking in the door. They had said that the minister had let them in which was a lie. They asked who Tony Ramos was, and everyone in the church said they were Tony Ramos. They then came up to me. I had my prayer book upside down while we were supposedly praying.
Eventually, I was tried in court. The judge was a decent man who had this idea that everyone there should be dressed properly. The girls [should be] in skirts and the men in jackets and ties. The kids with me were livid, but I gave them some money and told them to go to the Salvation Army and buy some clothes. They came back looking like clowns, the men had on huge ties and large pants with suspenders, the girls had on oversized dresses. We listened to what [the judge] said, we just took it to the extreme. We were young and full of bright ideas.
I went to jail for two and a half years. Since I refused to do things and protested, I was made to spend time in the hole. While I was [in the hole] I would never eat because I was usually put in there for some moral purpose. Many people didn't know that the United States had political prisoners, and to this day, they do not recognize that.