Ralph DiGia Fund for Peace & JusticeIllusStainGlass

Timeline of a Life of Activism

“I find it difficult to look back. I like to look ahead. Anyway, here are some dates. (I had to go through the WRL NEWS to find most of them.)”–Ralph DiGia, May 1981

  • 1914 December 13 Born in New York City, Upper West Side
  • 1928-1931 Attended Townsend Harris High School: member of the soccer team “It was a school for bright boys. I read radical material, but didn’t belong to any groups yet.”
  • 1931-1935 Attended City College of New York: social sciences major. Signed Oxford Peace Pledge. Demonstrated against Military Science (now called ROTC) “I still wasn’t a joiner, but I went to peace demonstrations.
  • 1936 Attended Harvard Business School: accounting. “I still thought I might have a regular career, but of course it turned out to be a waste of money.”
  • 1940 Registered for the draft; wore black armband in protest.
  • 1941 Worked as an organizer for the United Paper Workers of America in New Haven, CT.
  • 1942 May: Refused induction, turned himself in to a U.S. Attorney General. “The Attorney General told me I should have a lawyer, and he sent me to the War Resisters League. I hadn’t been in touch with them before.”
  • 1943 February Sentenced to three years for resisting the draft; sent to Danbury Correctional Facility where he participated in a 4-month work strike to end segregation in the dining hall. “Every day a different person would refuse to work so the strike would last longer. We weren’t treated badly, but strikers were eventually transferred to more secure prisons.”
  • 1944 June Transferred to Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary where he continued a 2-month work strike begun at Danbury and 15-day fast to end parole restrictions for COs.
  • 1945 June Released from Lewisburg
  • 1945-1946 Became Active with War Resisters League, served on its Executive Committee, and helped move it to more militant positions; co-edited with Dave Dellinger and Bill Kuenning the magazine Direct Action, which became the cutting edge of the nonviolent movement at that time. From : “But there must always be an uncompromising practice of treating everyone, including the worst of our opponents, with all the respect and decency which they merit as fellow human beings.”
  • 1946 February Helped found the Committee for Nonviolent Revolution, committed to a decentralized, democratic form of socialism.
  • July Arrested in Atomic bomb protest in Washington, D.C.
  • 1948-1951 Lived in intentional community in Glen Gardner, N.J.
  • 1951 July-November Paris to Moscow bicycle trip for disarmament, with Bill Sutherland, Art Emery, and Dave Dellinger, sponsored by the Peacemakers; cyclists got as far as the headquarters of the Soviet Army in Vienna. “We were warned not to go to the Soviet zone—people who went to the army headquarters were sometimes never seen again. But we didn’t think that would happen to us. The worst that would happen was jail, and I already knew I could stand that. I was only worried about what I was putting my family through back in the States.”
  • 1955 March Joined staff of War Resisters League.
  • June 15 Participated in first civil defense drill protest in City Hall Park in New York City; was one of 28 people arrested, A.J. Muste and Dorothy Day among them. “The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but we lost. I got a suspended sentence. An Italian shoe-shiner got arrested with us by mistake, but eventually the charge against him was dropped.”
  • 1956 Began association with Liberation Magazine, edited by A.J. Muste, Dave Dellinger, Bayard Rustin, and Roy Finch.
  • July 20 Arrested again in civil defense drill action
  • 1958 May Participated in 1-week fast and sit-in at the Washington D.C. Atomic Energy Commission Office. “We finally did get to meet with the chairman, Adm. Strauss. He told us why the testing was ok, and we told him why we thought it wasn’t. Then we left without getting arrested.”
  • 1961 April 28 Arrested in last civil defense drill protest; sentenced to 30 days in jail. “By this time several thousand people did civil disobedience in City Hall Park. It was the last drill ever held.”
  • 1964 January-February Participated in Quebec to Guantanamo Walk for Peace; fasted 26 days in an Albany, Georgia jail to protest the local government’s refusal to let the interracial Walk continue. “It was really a civil rights action, too. The fast wasn’t bad once we got used to it. And we finally won the right to walk through town.”
  • 1966 Began working with a new pacifist magazine – WIN – “The liveliest publication on the left,” founded by the Workshop in Non-violence and the Committee for Nonviolent Action, and later sponsored by WRL.
  • 1970 March 13 Arrested at draft board sit-in in New York.
  • 1971 May 3 Arrested in Washington, D.C. during Mayday protest. “We were kept in the Coliseum for three days – thousands of us, men and women.”
  • November 14 Arrested in Washington, D.C. at Daily Death Toll Demonstration
  • 1972 June Formed a new family with Karin and her children, Howard, David, Brenda, and Melissa Thies
  • 1973 March 14 Birth of son, Daniel Martin DiGia “I started taking better care of myself after Daniel was born. Before that, I didn’t have to think about having to stay alive to take care of anyone. I started crossing the street more carefully.”
  • 1974 Helped found the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a pacifist foundation committed to helping fund peace and social justice organizations and to promoting nonviolence.
  • 1978 June 12 Arrested at sit-in at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations where peace activists were seeking to give disarmament petitions to the Ambassador.
  • September 4 Arrested at the White House with Grace Paley and others for unfurling a disarmament banner on the lawn; a week-long jury trial for the “White House Lawn 11” resulted in conviction, six-month suspended sentence, three years on probation, and a fine of $100. “This was part of the WRL Washington-Moscow Project. Eight Americans unfurled a similar banner in Russia in Red Square at almost the same moment. They were treated okay there; we were roughed up and held in jail over night.”
  • 1979 October 29 Arrested at Wall Street antinuclear action.
  • 1981 January 5 Arrested at Times Square anti-draft protest.
  • June 12 Ralph is honored for 25 years of work on the War Resisters League staff
  • 1996 June 21 Receives The Courage of Conscience Award, alongside Howard Zinn, from the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, MA “for his example as a conscientious objector and for over forty years of dedicated service at the War Resister’s League in New York City.”
  • 1999 Publication of A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories (eds. Larry Gara and Lenna Mae Gara) which includes Ralph DiGia’s entry “My Resistance To World War II.”
  • 2003 March 22 Article about Ralph appears in the New York Times titled “As Wars Come and Go, Ralph Keeps Protesting.”
  • 2004 December Celebrates 90th birthday; receives award from National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.
  • 2005 February Ralph is “most senior worker” on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s project The Gates in Central Park, NYC
  • 2005 June 10 Ralph is honored at the War Resisters League Dinner and presented with 40th Peace Award.
  • 2007 Release of documentary film Sacco and Vanzetti by Peter Miller. Ralph appears in the film telling the story of attending a demonstration for Sacco and Vanzetti as a young boy.
Written by , updated 21/3/08

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