1943 August 11

Conscientious Objectors Begin Prison Hunger Strike to Protest Racial Segregation


Conscientious objectors at the Danbury Federal Prison in Connecticut, incarcerated for refusing to cooperate with the draft during World War II, staged a hunger strike to protest racial segregation of the dining hall. The strike, which began on this day, lasted 135 days, ending on December 23, 1943, when the warden announced that the dining hall would soon be integrated.

The protesters included Jim Peck, who served three years in Danbury, and who had the distinction of participating in both the 1947 freedom ride challenging race discrimination in interstate bus travel in the South (the Journey of Reconciliation), and the famous 1961 Freedom Ride that began on May 4, 1961. Peck was brutally assaulted on May 14, 1961 in that Freedom Ride, and on December 9, 1983 was awarded $25,000 in damages from the FBI for its failure to protect him in that incident.

Meanwhile, COs at the Lewisburg Penitentiary in Pennsylvania began a hunger strike over censorship of their mail on September 29, 1943; that strike ended in December 1943, when prison officials ended the censorship practice.

Learn more: Cynthia Eller, Conscientious Objectors and the Second World War: Moral and Religious Arguments in Support of Pacifism (1991)

Read: Lowell Naeve, A Field of Broken Stones (1950)

Read: James Peck, We Who Would Not Kill (1958)

Read James Peck’s autobiography: James Peck, Underdogs and Upperdogs (1969)

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