Valley labor, peace activist Staughton Lynd dies at 92
Staughton C. Lynd, a longtime attorney, professor, author and historian who also dedicated his life to fighting for civil rights, fair labor laws and peace, died Thursday morning at Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren. He was 92.
Originally from Philadelphia, Lynd practiced law in Youngstown, including for several years with Northeast Ohio Legal Services, during the turbulent years of the local steel industry’s demise in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He worked closely with a variety of forces that tried to keep the steel mills open and operating.
Along those lines, Lynd, who also was a Quaker, served as lead counsel for one of those forces: the Mahoning Valley Ecumenical Coalition, which sought to reopen the shuttered mills via a worker-community ownership. Even though the effort failed, Lynd and his wife, Alice, continued to organize workers in the Mahoning Valley.
In 1983, Staughton Lynd penned the book “The Fight Against Shutdowns: Youngstown’s Steel Mill Closings,” with assistance from his wife, who also is a longtime attorney and activist.
Before coming to the Valley, he had earned a doctorate degree in history from Columbia University, then accepted a teaching position at Spelman College, a private, historically black liberal-arts school in Atlanta, where he worked closely with Howard Zinn, a civil rights activist, playwright and philosopher who chaired the college’s social sciences and history departments.
Among his students at Spelman was Alice Walker, the author of the famous book-turned-movie “The Color Purple.”
In 1964, Lynd oversaw setting up Freedom Schools throughout Mississippi, which were the backbone of Freedom Summer, led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality, two major civil rights organizations that recruited hundreds of mostly white and young Northerners to come to the state to help blacks register to vote and receive a better education. He also worked with the late Bob Moses, an educator and activist who was the Freedom Summer’s main organizer.
Soon after, Lynd relocated his family to New England after taking a position at Yale University, where he became a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War via leading protests and hosting speaking engagements. He and a few others also embarked on a controversial fact-finding trip to Hanoi during the war.
In 1967, as another means to protest the growingly unpopular war, Lynd signed a letter stating his refusal to pay income taxes and encouraged others to follow suit.
About a year later, Lynd and his family moved to Chicago, where he initially struggled to make a living from organizing efforts, so he and his wife embarked on an oral history project called “Rank and File,” which focused on the plight of the working class.
The effort was a prelude for Staughton Lynd to study law to assist workers that companies had taken advantage of or were not protected by labor unions. As a result, he earned a degree in 1976 from the University of Chicago Law School.
In addition, Lynd was fiercely against the death penalty and spoke in opposition to the “prison industrial complex.”
Staughton and Alice Lynd studied many death-row cases, one of which was the 10-day riot at the Lucasville State Prison in 1993 that led to death sentences against five people authorities claimed had been responsible for 10 deaths in the uprising.
From Chicago, the couple and their children moved to Youngstown.
Lynd was well known and revered in the Valley for his activism on behalf of workers and others. Among those who praised his work was Penny Wells, a longtime activist and director of Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past.
“He was an avid pacifist, and very outspoken about getting rid of the death penalty,” she said. “He was a gentle spirit.”
Wells also fondly recalled often being among those who visited his Niles home, where Lynd held discussions in his basement on alternating Saturdays about topics that ranged from capital punishment to nonviolence.
In addition, Wells gave Lynd several photographs she found, one of which was from the civil rights museum in Jackson, Miss., that shows him in 1964 during the Freedom Summer project.
The Staton-Borowski Funeral Home in Warren is handling the arrangements, which are pending.