From North Carolina to the USSR: Direct Action against Nuclear Weapons

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War Resisters League - One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance

Newspaper clipping from The Durham Herald; Headline reads. "Soviets Arrest Chapel Hill Man"

Steve Sumerford, personal collection

A Durham, North Carolina newspaper article on War Resisters League Southeast staff organizer Steve Sumerford’s arrest in Moscow’s Red Square during a War Resisters League-organized banner-drop in support of ending the nuclear arms race in both the US and USSR. A sister action took place simultaneously in Washington, D.C., September 4, 1978 (pictured here). The banner, in Russian, read “USA-USSR Disarm!” 

Nonviolent activists like Steve and other WRL members during the late Cold War era organized against nuclear weapons and nuclear power as twin dangers to humanity and the earth. When raising the dangers of nuclear weapons, Steve remembers his North Carolina Triangle-area neighbors saying, “Take it to Moscow.” So they did. 

Steve’s mother found out about the direct action from a local WRAL TV reporter and, soon after, from a letter Steve sent her after he had left for Moscow. Like many North Carolina and other US residents, she likely read a headline like this one about Steve’s arrest in her local paper. The Soviets soon released Steve and the three other WRL members arrested during the action and, after visits with Moscow peace groups, the WRL group chose to return home to support their collaborators who remained in a D.C. jail. 

The action’s participants were determined to demonstrate to the people of the US and the Soviet Union that “‘socialist nuclear weapons’ were as dangerous to human survival as ‘capitalist nuclear weapons.’” 

In addition to Steve, the other WRL Moscow action participants included WRL Chairperson Norma Becker, Jerry Coffin, Scott Herrick, Pat Lacefield, Craig Simpson, and David McReynolds. (The sister Washington D.C. action contingent included: Van Zwisohn, Grace Paley, Linnea Capps Lacefield, Karl Bissinger, Ralph DiGia, Cathy Carson, Gail Bederman, Warren Hoskins, Ed Hedemann, Karen Malpede, and Glenn Pontier.) 

 - Courtesy Steve Sumerford - 

Letter from Steve Sumerford to his mother, p. 1 of 5Letter from Steve Sumerford to his mother, p. 2 of 5Letter from Steve Sumerford to his mother, p. 3 of 5Letter from Steve Sumerford to his mother, p. 4 of 5Letter from Steve Sumerford to his mother, p. 5 of 5