Resignation from American Civil Liberties Union Board

Bill Sr. From an  Open letter to Rev. John Haynes Holmes, Chairman, February 1946

When I was re-elected to the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union three years ago I was asked, as a condition of membership to subscribe to the resolution of February 6, 1940, which established a test of opinion on political and economic questions, including opinion of the Soviet Union, I declined.

In March, 1940, a group of outstanding liberals issued an open letter in which they stated that “the phrasing of the purge resolution is so wide as to make the Civil Liberties Union seem a fellow-traveller of the Dies Committee.” Yet within a brief time a number of Board members were either purged for their opinions or felt compelled to resign. The Union has over this period functioned effectively in many cases. But the bad outweighs the good in my judgment. There are over 6,500 persons paying dues to the A.C.L.U. 1  Nevertheless efforts made by members of the National Committee to give these dues-payers some voice in the affairs of the organization have been of no avail. The majority (of the board) becomes self-righteous in denouncing others for ‘obvious anti-democratic objectives and practices’ (Feb. 5 resolution) and names two they consider so to be: the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.

Bill Jr.  The board of the Union accepted Dad’s resignation. In doing so, its letter said in part:

‘Mr. Spofford … is not in favor of the Bill of Rights for all-comers without distinction. He favors it only for what he regards is his side. The A.C.L.U. defends the rights of all without distinction –trade unions, free speech for employers, democracy for rank and file union members, and the civil rights of non-union members as well. Those are the clear obligations of the Bill of Rights. We would defend equally the rights of the Rev. Wm. B. Spofford and the Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith. Mr. Spofford does not go along with that concept. His charge that the Union members ‘have no voice in its affairs’ has no merit. The charge that the Union is ‘anti-Soviet’ is equally without foundation. The Union takes no position on foreign government. It is opposed to the principle of dictatorship anywhere and does not regard the supporters of dictatorship as suitable defenders of the Bill of Rights.’

Previously, the Rev. Stephen Fritchman of the CHRISTIAN REGISTER had run an editorial on civil liberties.  ACLU Chairman Holmes, who was a leading Unitarian pastor, responded:

It is interesting to find on a page of THE CHRISTIAN REGISTER glorified by the names of Joseph Priestley and Theodore Parker, immortal champions and martyrs of liberty, an editorial attacking the full enjoyment of civil liberties in this country. You speak contemptuously of ‘an abstract freedom of speech’, as though there were ever any freedom not related to the rights and dignities of man. The right of a man, for example, to speak the most hated doctrine — a right that, as Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes specifically declared, is the real test of freedom. The Gerald L.K. Smith episode in Los Angeles was very simple. Mr. Smith was denied his constitutional right of free speech on the ground that he would set forth ideas subversive of this country’s security and welfare.

This, of course, was pure fascism, i.e. the suppression of all minority opinion, and was opposed as such by the Civil Liberties Union. I have no more use for Mr. Smith than you do, but the issue in this case was clear. And it is an alarming issue! Who, for example, is to be the judge in this business of suppressing the free expression of ideas? On the basis of the principle you advocate, there are millions of persons in America who would deny the right of free speech to Unitarians. Read Dr. Earl Morse Wilbur’s recent HISTORY OF UNITARIANISM, and you will find that for centuries our forefathers were denied this right for the same reason urged in Los Angeles against Mr. Smith. If your editorial protest is heeded, then not Gerald L.K. Smith but your own Communist friends and fellow travellers will be silenced by the mob action of those who regard ‘Reds’ as people dangerous to American institutions. No, there can be no freedom of speech for any of us unless there is freedom of speech for all of us. Not one of us is safe if another one of us is silenced. You will find this truth excellently stated on page 32 of your current issue of the REGISTER in Mr. Darling’s article where he says: ‘Freedom isn’t one of those things that you and I can have unless everyone has it…Everybody has to have freedom or else nobody has it.

In Los Angeles, the Civil Liberties Union advocated the simple right of Mr. Smith to speak, and of the public to hear him if it so desired, which is the right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Union’s appeal was to the U.S. Constitution, which would seem to be a good American proceeding. You say you ‘find it hard to believe there are Unitarians’ who would take part in such a proceeding. May I say that I find it ‘hard to believe’ there are Unitarians who would not take part in such a proceeding. If you are one, then I am ashamed of Unitarianism to the extent of just this one.”

Dr. Fritchman extended the CHRISTIAN REGISTER etter column rules, which called for no more than 200 words per letter, for Mr. Holmes.  Dad’s reply, just below, was shorter. He was still fuming from the Elizabeth Gurley Flynn episode and then felt that the ACLU was supporting native Fascists such as G.L.K. Smith. Herewith his letter:

The position taken in your editorial ‘WHAT OF CIVIL LIBERTIES?’ is sound, I am sure. It is because I share the point of view you so well express that I was compelled by my own reasoning to resign recently from the Board of Directors of the ACLU.  Fighting for an abstraction has, as a matter of fact, made the ACLU on occasion the ally of not only Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith but other American fascists. I am fully aware that the reply can be given that if civil liberties are denied fascists they will also be denied progressives. Nevertheless, I for one take that chance with confidence that in the long run the people of this world will win the fight against the oppressors and will give an economic foundation to society without which genuine civil liberties are impossible. It is my considered opinion that the world would have been spared a great deal of grief if the Republican government of Spain had denied ‘freedom’ to Franco and his conspirators. Likewise I think the Soviet government was correct in denying ‘civil liberties’ to fifth columnists in the Ukraine as a a prelude to the Nazi attack. You do well in warning your readers that they should not, in the name of civil liberties, ‘protest and comfort the forerunners of an American Hitler here.

The letter was signed as Editor of THE WITNESS (Episcopalian).

Bill Jr:

The “outstanding liberals” mentioned in Dad’s resignation letter  included, in addition to Dad, Mary van Kleeck, Corliss Lamont, Abe Isserman and others.. The issue then was about the continued membership on the board of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a communist. She was ‘ousted’ and, decades later and posthumously, the A.C.L.U. board reinstated her, admitting that they had betrayed their principles. Thus, there was vindication of the liberal position although, historically, it was much too late.

Following Dad’s death, I contacted the elderly Roger Baldwin, long-time secretary of the A.C.L.U.  Baldwin sent a most warm letter raising Dad’s service in and through the A.C.L.U. and acknowledging that, although they sometimes disagreed on issues and procedures, they were colleagues in a struggle to defend democracy’s values. The building up of the Cold War both nationally and internationally put extraordinary stress on liberals and radicals which, of course, climaxed with the McCarthy-era.

The C.L.I.D. to the Episcopal League for Social Action

Note from tim spofford:  Because of Dad’s (not to mention Grandpa Bill’s) sometimes peculiar and sui generis writing “styles,” including among other things frequent switches from first to third person voices and back again, it is sometimes hard to tell who wrote what. 1  This article, down to the bold attribution to “Bill Jr.” near the end, is one strong but unfortunate example.  I think most of it is Dad (WBS Jr.) but I’m guessing.  In the original manuscript, it’s credited to THE WITNESS, January 29, 1948, page 5-6.  If anyone should look up the original and want to send me a copy, I’ll revise as appropriate.


        WBS, Jr. had become the executive secretary of the C.L.I.D. in 1946, succeeding his father. During that time, after functioning out of New York City and Jamaica, L.I., he became rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Detroit, and, also, was a student at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

         During that period, the C.L.I.D. was converted from its original name to the Episcopal League for Social Action, after much debate and, in general, the Witness editor’s disapproval.  He never really accepted the fact that perhaps industrial and labor issues were solved or would go away, although he came to see that labor ‘power brokers’ could be as greedy and corrupt as any other kind.

         E.L.S.A.. by its title, sought to emphasize ‘action’.  Its program mission said:  ‘The League is concerned with the relation of men and nations in the process of production in the light of Christian teaching.  Production — the bringing forth of abundance from nature’s resources — is here regarded as the area of man’s relation to nature and his use of nature’s resources for human life.  The League’s aim in this area is to promote in all industry the full expression of Christian concepts which constitute for us as Christians the sure source and guarantee of the essentials of true democracy.  Democracy in industry and in all other phases of the social order as an aim for us is an obligation imposed by Christian teaching.  The League considers that its social responsibility is to interpret to Church people for their information and action the important issues in the field of its concern.’

         The story continues with a bit of the history under Dad’s leadership from C.L.I.D.’s founding in 1919:

         ‘This past year, following a polling of the membership, the name of the organization was changed to the Episcopal League for Social Action.  The action was taken because it was thought that the field of the League’s concern was no longer localized to just ‘industrial democracy.’  As expressed by the present executive secretary, the Rev. William B. Spofford, Jr.:  ‘Democracy is an indivisible term.  You may be able to work for it in specific areas but you can’t approximate it unless it is comprehensive and total.  We are concerned with racial, political and social democracy, even while recognizing that, in our interdependent industrial society, many of these things are dependent on an honest extension of democracy to the economic field.’

         Listing some of the things that C.L.I.D. had done during the immediate past, under the presidency of Bp. Edward Lambe Parsons of California, it was pointed out by the secreary that the sole statement of purpose of the League is ‘to bring together for study and action those who seek to apply the principles of Christ in industrial society” and, hence, there is a wide diversity of opinions within the organization on specific issues, although the general position is definitely oriented towards a progressive point-of-view.

         During 1947, also, a book, CHRISTIANITY AND PROPERTY, was printed, which consisted of papers delivered at a League summer school conference at E.T.S.2 in Cambridge.  The book was dedicated to WBS, Sr.  Also, it was announced that, besides the U.C.C.D., the League was an associated member of such bodies as THE RELIGION AND LABOR FOUNDATION;  THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR ATOMIC INFORMATION,  THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL RELATIONS and THE SOCIAL LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION SERVICE.

         Pointing out that it was hoped that E.L.S.A. would be able to relate to issues and concerns of youth, WBS, Jr. said that the theme for 1948 would be the topic of racial relations because it is in this field that American culture is most obviously culpable in the world’s eyes.  The members of the League, said he, believe that there is no longer any choice of a compromising position on this issue in the Church or in our overall society.  Believing that the report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights deals realistically with the interracial problem, the League sent copies of the report to all of its members and sought to have their efforts bent towards its implementation.

         The story concluded with….’In 1941, under the direction of the late Archbishop William Temple, the famous Malvern Declaration was issued.  The League, particularly through the efforts of the late Stanley Matthews, layman of Cincinnati, spread the message of Malvern through the Church in the U.S.  The League still believes in the principles and program laid down at Malvern.  If adopted and applied, the League believes, the material base of life will be supplied and order for all men, and humanity could get on to the divine task of worshipping God in spirit and in truth.”

Bill Jr.;  Actually, I was always uncomfortable as executive secretary of the League, partially, because I was succeeding Dad, who was a charismatic genius at organization.  Also, I was more interested in being rector of St. Thomas, Detroit, and earning my Master of Social Work degree.  So, too, in 1947, we added triplet sons to our first son, Timothy, and in 1950, the year I graduated as an M.S.W., we had our fifth son, Daniel.  Balancing too many balls in life’s juggling act made it necessary to turn E.L.S.A. over to Andy van Dyke, who had succeeded Dad as rector of Christ Church, Middletown.

         Most of the people who belonged to the C.L.I.D./E.L.S.A. groups knew each other and, to that extent, it was an ingrown force.  Around the issues of race, the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity came into being after 1955 and, in many ways, led the struggles in the area of racial relations while persons like John Burgess, Tollie Caution, Malcolm Dade and, ultimately, John T. Walker became symbols of black leadeship.  Once again, however, in both the areas of deployment and preferment in the Church and in society in general, nationally and internationally, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

         In many ways, in the Easter season of 1993, it seems as though we have gone back to 1914, the year that WBS, Sr., graduated from Trinity and went to Berkeley Seminary, what with Yugoslavia breaking into constituent and conflicting states; the Soviet Union becoming a host of separate and nationalistic entities; and with all economies going broke in terms of armaments, competition and industries running away to areas of cheaper and less controlled labor forces.  ‘The same old tune’, I am sure WBS, Sr., would have said!

Post-War Editorial Policies

         The end of World War II meant that the world and culture faced new conditions.  So, too, the editorial board and the executive committee of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company (i.e., The Witness)  wrestled with new conditions and duties.  Many meetings were held and as a result four position editorials were produced, starting with May 16, 1946:

         First, they said, ‘we believe in Prayer Book revision.  The Book of Common Prayer, like the Bible, NEEDS to be revised every generation or two….This revision need not be drastic; the flavor of the old, traditional version ought to be retained, no doubt; but at least for the sake of new communicants, young and old, the translation of the Epistles and Gospels should be more intelligible.  There is nothing sacrosanct about the English version.  All versions of the New Testament are merely translations–i.e. all but the Greek version are merely translations masde form it, and in some cases translations of translations.”

         Second, ‘We believe that Christian reunion is essential to the further progress of Christ’s Church….When we say reunion, we mean the realization of something not yet achieved in the world: a united, positive, convinced, tolerant, and free type of inclusiveness or of catholicity, which will have room for all that is positive and good in every Church, and will rule out only what is narrow, bigoted, divisive, and antagonistic to other Christians or Christian groups.  This does not mean a ‘lowest common denominator’ religion, based on the father of God and the brotherhood of man, for example;  it means the recovery of what is sound and good in the past, and the sloughing off of what is transitory, unfruitful, ineffective and positively harmful.”

         In presenting this item, the editorial quote was from Bishop Henry K. Sherrill of Massachusetts from his convention address:

         ‘The most discussed question to come before General Convention has to do with progress of union with the Presbyterians…I do repeat my deep interest in this matter.  When I think of the terrible realities of our world situation I am convinced of the absolute necessity of a united Christian voice.  Here is an opportlunity to make a beginning.  Even this beginning will take ime, patience, education and association beween the clergy and laity of the two Churches.  But if we who share the experience of Christ cannot resolve our differences how can we expect the nations to do so?  I trust that the General Convention will take steps to forward this movement towards unity.’

         Of course, Bp. Sherrill was elected the Presiding Bishop at the General Convention and much of his terms, besides being known as administratively superb, was devoted to ecumenical action, with the formation of both the National and World Council of Churches, and with many of the Church’s programs, such as Christian social relations, the National Town-Country Church Institute at Roanridge, etc., having ecumenicity as important components.

Bill Jr.  I worked in the Dept. of Social Service in One Joy Street, Boston, while in seminary and upon graduation. I recall having a ‘brown bag lunch’ with Bp. Sherril in the diocesan house kitchen and we were discussing ecumenicity.  I still recall him saying; “Bill, this is so important.  But I can call up Archbishop Cushing anytime I want to and we can discuss things.  Where you are working in the South End of Boston is where the real action is…until the Church becomes a unity on the streets and in the villages, it is very difficult for us to do much at these higher levels.”  All I can say, with gratitude, is that he, and a lot of others, tried, as a May 24, 1945 issue of THE WITNESS, dedicated to The World Council of Churches and all of its ending-of-war challenges indicates.)

The Witness:         The third policy statement supported the adoption of a new marriage canon.  While not being fully convinced that legislation was the best method of promoting Christian observance of Christian ideals of marriage and home life, the editorial said there ‘is far more need for teaching than for legislation and much greater need for good example on the part of Christian partners in married life.  If Church and state were identical, or if there were a state Church here in America (God forbid!), then there might be good reason for legislation on marriage on the part of the Church.  But the present ambiguous position is an inherited one and we are in favor of the proposed canon as an improvement….”

         “But we hope that the Church will not go further and pass canons forbidding perjury, homicide, or sedition;  or providing ways whereby murderers, liars and tax evaders may be restored to communion.  If you want such canons you can find precedents in the ancient Church; but along with them goes the whole theory of Byzantinism or of Caesarism…the state is ‘the secular arm’ of a church which has itself become paralyzed and secularized without knowing it.

         ‘The principle that ‘hard cases make bad law’ was recognized from the start by the commission on marriage;  at the same time it was recognized thast exceptions are bound to arise and that there ARE –indisputably ARE–Christians who should be permitted to remarry after a first marriage has broken down.”

         The editorial ends with an approval of Planned Parenthood and says:

         “.The archaic views of the Roman Church on the question are wholly out of touch with the conditions of modern life;   they are logically inconsistent and cannot be justified by Christian teaching.  Italy ought to be a sufficient demonastration, with about two hundred thouseand young Italians each year for whom there are neither food nor jobs, thanks to the papal encouragement of fifteen-child families, subsidized by the Fascists.  The end was war and desolation.  What the policy of the Roman Church has cost the rest of us ought to be enough, in itself, to make us very suspicious of Roman Catholic policies and of Roman Catholic interpretations of morals.”

         Fourth, the board supported the establishment and work of the fledgling United Nations.  At the same time it said we should work increasingly for the eventual establishment of a world government.  This is the position taken by the 1946 General Convention.

         “We see no reason why these should be mutually exclusive.  On the one hand we distrust those who are so unrealistic as to imagine that the world can be promptly united by merely  political means.  On the other hand it is equally ture that ‘our aim is to focus the consciousness of mankind through institutions’…witness the Christian Church.  We have to recognize that permanent peace is not assured if it is to rest on the tenuous balance of power that has so far animated the doings of the U.N.   While the U.N. has gone a gratifying distance in abolishing world anarchy, that anarchy will continue to exist until there is a strong central authority with a police force to back it up.

         ‘Meanwhile, as we see it, the earth ball will be divided between two spheres of influence: the Western block and the Soviet Union.  We believe that through all tension and conflict those two powers can work and live together in the same world if the will-to-peace, manifest in all peoples, can force those in authori8ty to forbearance and understanding.  Destiny has place dupon the United States the leadership in creating and maintaining trust between the two great centers of power.

         And, at the end, the editors said:  ‘In the last analysis the issue is democracy; economic and political.  We are convinced that a ground of common interests can be found  as we in the Western world move towards the former and as Russia moves toward the latter.  Both of us have considerale distance to go.  Since there are man things to be condemned and many things to be commended in both systems it would seen not only futile but downright wicked to waste our eneries in berating one another;  ‘blame is the expedient of impotence.’  Obvious as it is, it cannot be stated too often: the best and only answer to what we do not approve of in the Soviet system is to make our own democracy a reality.”

Bill Jr.      In the next issue, in his TALKING IT OVER column, Dad took issue with one sentence in the editorial which, when the policy was first presented, was not included.  It was “We recognize that reports of the Russian treatment of populations in territories under their control gives justifiable rise to such fears.”  He said that, after considerable debate,’we voted on whether or not this sentence should be inserted.  Since I alone voted ‘no’ I want to state my reasons.”  He gave some reasons which, in hindsight now, don’t have much cogency.  But he ended with:  “As for last week’s editorial as a whole, i am of course wholeheartedly with its spirit and purpose, as are all the members of the editorial board.”

         Again, it is significant that all of this was before Winston Churchill said that an ‘Iron Curtain’ had descended on Europe and while the U.S. had a monopoly on atomic weaponry.

         And when people claimed bias, Dad wrote:

Bill Sr.       Maybe it would be the best thing for the Church to have one type of churchmanship and one magazine of news and opinion.  And maybe we’ll soon have just that, the way things are going.  Anyhow I keep in mind the letter Bishop Johnson always sent those who cancelled their subscription because they disapproved of something we had printed:  ‘I never yet have learned anything from anyone with whom I agreed.  I suspect the same is true with you.  Anyhow if you will persuade about 15,000 others to cancel their subscriptions you will be relieving Spofford and me of a tough job.”  That statement by our founder and first editor is still true.  (The Witness, Aug. 18, 1949)

 Bill Jr.        And the statement of Policy IV seems to have been very brief and strange.  It read:

 The Witness:        ‘We recognize that Anti-Semitism is a weapon used by reactionary forces and must be combatted wherever it appears.  But we do not recognize that Anti-Semitism is as Christian product and can be ended as soon as Christians agree to end it.  It is far older than Christianity and it is a pity that Christianity has not done more to put an end to it.  But it is a Jewish problem as well as a Christian and the Jews themselves can do much to put an end to it.  Let Judaism be a religion, not a race or nationality, and it will flourish better.” (The Witness, June 2l7, 1946)

Bill Jr.         This seems so unlikely a statement by that board that it is hard for me, at least, to scan.  The state of Israel, of course, was not in being at this time….although Zionism as a ‘dream’ and program was vividly alive.  So, too, the realities of the Holocaust were continuing to be revealed.

         And, again, how long ago all of this seems to be, given a world that is approaching the end of this turbulent and bloody century.  Some of which the board postulated has come about…others areas are, of course, long buried issues.  And, still others, are in the grain fields waiting for harvest or, at least, new or different laborers to wield the scythes of history.

Editorial Epitaph For Bishop Johnson

            The Witness Mar. 13, 1947:  Centering the editorial page was a quote from Tagore which was dedicated ‘To Bishop Johnson’.  It reads:

            ‘These individuals carry in themselves the deathless life of all humanity.  Their ceaseless life flows like a river of mighty volume of flood, through the green fields and deserts, through the dark caverns of oblivion into the dancing joy of the sunlight, bringing water to the door of the multitudes of men through endless years, healing and allaying thirst and cleansing impurities of the daily dust, and singing with living voice, through the noise of the markets the song of the everlasting life.’

Bill Jr.            By principle, THE WITNESS seldom had editorials signed.  Bp. Johnson. had signed one on the occasion of Dad’s 5lst birthday. Following his friend’s death, Dad (as the Managing Editor) responded with grace, humor and love:

 Bill Sr.                       Irving Johnson was already the Bishop of Colorado when I first met him.  So I knew nothing first hand about the famous South Omaha mission, or of his days as a seminary professor or as an able and beloved rector.  It was in 1919, shortly after the founding of THE WITNESS that he asked me to become the managing editor, filling the place of the Rev. Charles Shutt who had died suddenly.  When I declined for what seemed to me adequate reasons, he said: ‘Well, get the sheet out for a few weeks until I find someone to take over.’  That was the end of the matter.  He never did, nor do I know whether he ever tried. After a few months of intimate association with him I was more than satisfied that he did not.

            He edited the paper by remote control from Denver, or from where he happened to be as he travelled about the country holding missions and preaching, for in those days, and for many years that followed, there was no man in the Church in greater demand.  The arrangements were haphazard.  His job was to write a weekly essay, which he did unfailingly week after week for nearly twenty-five years.  And it can be said that the vast majority of those who took the paper did so only to get his masterpieces.  The rest of the job was mine–news gathering, circulation promotion, advertising solicitation, make-up, finding the cash to pay the bills.

            Bishop Johnson was a conservative, both ecclesiastically and politically, and there were many times, during our long association, when articles a;pp;eared with which he thoroughly disagreed.  Not infrequently we discussed them.  But never once during those many years did he even hint that I should write other than as i pleased.  Never once did he fail to back me up when attacked by a critic, no matter how thoroughly he agreed with the critic.  He was a liberal conservative who genuinely believed in complete freedom of expression.

            As for his own contributions to THE WITNESS, they were characterized by sharp thinking and common sense.  Shams, unrealities, conventionalities made him impatient.  But he dealt with them with his trenchant wit, never with caustic comment.  His large hearted sympathy for people, whatever their ;position or task, lifted his message to a high plane where he challenged his readers to live realistically and constructively for the Kingdom of God.  As he travelled about the country, with railroad trains and stations for his editorial office, and the top of a suitcase for his desk, he saw the foibles and weaknesses of ordinary men.  And good-naturedly and with ready wit, he revealed them to themselves.

            His faith was unfailing.  He believed wholly in God’s power to redeem; he believed thoroughly in the Church as the Body of Christ, even while he was pointing out her failings and weaknesses.

            He was also a man of tremendous intellectual attainment and ability, a side of this great man which many missed because of his humility and complete lack of pretense.  I recall very well being told by one of the great scholars of the Church how he had gone to hear Bishop Johnson lecture on Church history prepared to scoff at this unconventional looking westerner.  He remained to sit at the feet of a man with greater knowledge than he himself possessed.

            Bishop Johnson was always one of the most–perhaps the most–colorful and able men in General Convention.  It was a common saying that if you wanted to know in advance how a debate was to come out, find which side Johnson was on.  He was also an expert on parliamentary procedure, as many will remember who attended the Atlantic City Convention (1934?)  The House of Bishops got themselves into a terrific parliamentary tangle–with amendments, amendments to amendments, and all the rest of it.  Finally the Presiding Bishop gave up, completely at a loss to find a way out of the jam.  So the House went into a Committee of the Whole and Bishop Johnson was called to the platform to straighten them out if he could.  He walked down the aisle, chewing his tongue in characteristic fashion, his hands deep in his pants pocket.  Then, in two minutes, like an expert butcher dressing a chicken, he took the whole procedure apart, carefully labelling each step that had been taken, so that the men at the news desk where I was sitting sat up starry-eyed and began saying: ‘What a guy.’

            And to a great man that I loved there is no better tribute I can pay than to repeat: ‘What a guy.”  I have never known a more able man; I have never known a man with finer Christian instincts and values;  i have never had a more genuine and loyal friend, and i know there are hundreds throughout this nation who are saying the same thing.

            He ran a straight race, unencumbered with things of this world, and he has attained his goal.”

Bill Jr.  Every sermon I ever heard Dad preach at a burial office for a friend, he quoted Tagore.  He chose a quote from this Nobel Prize poet to introduce ‘A BLIND MAN’S GROPING’.  And, thus, he honors his mentor and friend, Bp. Irving Peake Johnson.

            It was said that, on occasion, Bp. Johnson. would show up with his vestments stuffed in his golf bag.  Apocryphal, of course.  But his vestments were usually rumpled (Bishops, you know, don’t have altar guilds away from home!) and his black vest usually carried lingering ashes from his many cigars.  I recall that he did chew on his tongue and, the one time I caddied for him in golf, I remember wondering whether this relaxed him as he addressed the ball.  If it did, it didn’t seem to work very well. Dad was an absolutely terrible golfer — once hitting nine straight drives into a rather small pond — and Johnson was only slightly better.

            And what has that got to do with anything?  To them, when they got together, the important thing was to talk things over, agree to disagree, work as colleagues and hold up to each other one vision with different routes to it.

            I think that, for the rest of his editing years, Dad missed the absentee freedom that Bishop Johnson gave him.  Perhaps under Dr. Fred Grant’s editorial leadership, THE WITNESS was tighter and better, and surely it got more involvement from the editorial board, but Bp. Johnson was, for Dad, the epitome of a good boss and a wise bishop!

LIFE Magazine Article (April 4, 1949)

Bill Jr.          On pages 42-43, in a double-spread, LIFE published pictures of those whom it believed were ‘fellow travellers’ of the communists either in the Soviet Union or the Communist Party USA in this country.  It didn’t accuse them, necessarily, but implied that they could be such, or at least were “dupes’.

Those whose pictures appeared were:

  • sculptor Jo Davidson;
  • playwright Arthur Miller;
  • actor Charlie Chaplin;
  • German novelist Thomas Mann;
  • novelist Norman Mailer;
  • clergyman and congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.;
  • physicist Albert Einstein;
  • literary historian Ralph  Barton Perry;
  • composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein;
  • playwright Clifford Odets;
  • poet Langston Hughes;
  • classical scholar Vida Dutton Scudder;
  • literary critic and poet Louis Unermeyer;
  • liturgical scholar and bishop Edward Lambe Parsons;
  • literary critic and scholar F. O. Mattheissen;
  • political affairs historian Frederick L. Schumann;
  • film writer and satirist Donald Ogden Stewart;
  • playwright Lillian Hellman;
  • scientist Kirtley Mather;
  • clergyman and editor Guy Emery Shipler;
  • philosopher and author Corliss Lamont;
  • composer Aaron Copeland;
  • poet Wm. Rose Benet;
  • composer and conductor Olin Downes;
  • actor, athlete and singer Paul Robeson; and, of course,
  • editor, clergyman and parish priest, Wm. B. Spofford

            The pictures caused a stir, of course.  By and large, it rolled off Dad’s back; he thought that he was in some of the most splendid company.  In the small town of Tunkhannock, however, it meant some confusion and, for Mother and my sister Suzy, who was still in high school, a certain amount of ‘shunning’.  They weathered it but lost some friendly acquaintances who feared that Wyoming County might be a prime target for ‘The Russians Are Coming; The Russians Are Coming,’ a brilliant comedy that satirized the red hysteria a bit later.

            Shortly thereafter, Polly, the five boys and I were moving to Payette, Idaho, to open the Western Extension Center of the National Town-Country Institute of the Episcopal Church.  This involved being vicar of five counties in which there were nine altars–i.e. two organized congregations and the rest house churches.

            One of my parishioners was Senator Herman Welker who, somewhat later, was one of the very few senators who voted not to censor Joe McCarthy for his abuse of his office.  Welker’s law partner was James McLure, later to be congressman from our district and Idaho senator in his own right.

            We had some dust-ups as to whether I was ‘guilty by nativity’ or ‘by association’.  My bishop then, Frank Rhea, told them to knock it off and let us all get on with the Church’s mission and ministry.  Very quickly we were debating the more important topics of whether the Payette Pirates were going to beat the Weiser Prospectors or not — and whether Payette’s 17-year-old third baseman, Harmon Killebrew, would get a big league contract.  It was Senator Welker who brought the Washington Senator scout to a game during which Killebrew got four powerful hits and he was on his way to the Senators and eventually to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

            Many of those whom LIFE depicted  like so many mug-shots on a post office wall were later recognized as champions in their fields.  Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Miller all received National Kennedy Center Awards; Charlie Chaplin was given and Honorary Oscar and a Lifetime Award,  and at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention,  Bp. John E. Hines, Vida Dutton Scudder and Wm. B. Spofford were all honored with awards.

Dark Hollow in Tunkhannock

Bill Jr:

Following my older sister’s death in 1947, it seemed to me that there was a loss of energy in Dad.  Marcia had been a vibrant person who, in Ohio, had organized unions, started nursery schools, was accused of being a ‘Red’ and still managed to start a family. She died, very quickly of polio at the age of 27 on June 1st, her birthday.

Shortly thereafter, Bill and Dot moved to Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. I was executive secretary of the C.L.I.D. for that brief period and had convened a weekend retreat at the camp of St. Stephen’s Church, Wilkes-Barre, which was located along the Susquehanna River, for purposes of setting goals and planning program.

One of the attendees was Davis Hobbs, a local attorney, member of the A.C.L.U. and, eventually, Spofford family and Episcopal Church Publishing Co. lawyer. The ‘Squire’, as Dad always referred to Dave in letters, drove Dad around the area during a conference break and he was enormously attracted to the area’s ‘ENDLESS MOUNTAINS’. So, too, he was driven past the Wyoming County Press office, a struggling paper and odd-job shop. I am guessing that, sometime on that tour, Dad’s mind fantasized…..’what if we got our own printing shop, got other contracts than THE WITNESS, and slowed down a bit?’

At any rate, by 1949, Bill and Dot had a lovely piece of property on Dark Hollow Road, a mile and a half up a mountain from Tunkhannock. It included the site of an old house, which they fixed up most comfortably, and which looked like a replica of the Portland, Connecticut., home from which they were married. It was, in a way, a ‘going back’. The land had on it an abandoned school house with a bell that they moved close to the house and painted red. The bell they detached and mounted at the entrance of the property. And they owned the mountain in back of the house as well as the deteriorated apple orchard to the side.

In short order, as a fine gardener, Mother had things in picture-perfect, post-card order: flowers around a working hand pump on a well, wicker furniture with lovely yellow cushions on the porch, newly refinished antiques balancing some of their regular things. It became, if you will, mother’s retreat and, in some sense, her prison, while Bill was building, organizing and ‘selling’ the print shop.

Dad scouted for press equipment and bargained for it.  He said, when it was done, that he had built the most modern print shop in Pennsylvania. Alas, he also didn’t reckon with developing technology.  He had all he needed but, even as he got it, the technology of printing became cleaner, quicker and more efficient.

He contracted with dioceses like New Jersey and Washington to print their monthly magazines which, in format (although not in content), simulated THE WITNESS. It is obvious that he was highly responsible in both printing, laying-out and delivering on time their productions. So, too, local print jobs were available.

He was a compulsive worker and, therefore, a very hard boss.  If someone missed deadlines, and he had to cover for them, it was difficult. He had build in to the employment contracts that, if the company grew to a certain size, there would be obligatory membership in a union. The operation, of course, never got close to the required size.

It was a struggle to keep enough work on hand, however, or else it would pile up. At the same time, except for the first week in January, THE WITNESS was to come out every week. When the move was made from the print shop in Chicago to Tunkhannock, the format changed a bit.  Color was introduced mildly on the cover; pictures were clearer; sizes were adapted. Comparing the production with other church publications of the time, it was still –.at least to Dad — the “W.G.W.,” the World’s Greatest Weekly, that he had called it way back when he became its young interim editor.

But, in a sense, the move to Tunkhannock was an isolating experience. The original plan was that, although they would live in the mountains near the Wilkes-Barre – Scranton area, they would get to New York regularly, via the train, for editorial board meetings. Briefly that worked. But, shortly, the crack train, “The Black Diamond”, discontinued its run, never to be replaced. The drive by auto became more difficult and neither of them really appreciated flying. And, besides, advancing years and accumulating duties on the property and at ‘The Shop’ brought different priorities.

Dad kept in touch by letter and, occasionally, by phone. His network of friends and opponents was extensive and he had only to look up at ‘The Gallery’ on his wall to have leads. But, by and large, he became a desktop editor, using ‘stringers’ and the Religious News Service to cover things, and enriching the mix by writing editorials and his column, ‘Talking It Over.’

Also, local talk about his leftist activities, much of it years earlier, but invigorated by testifying before the Subversive Activities Board, had a chilling effect on their winning their way into the community. The local rector and wife, Bill and Happy Schmidgall, were close friends.  Ralph Weatherly, diocesan rector, was most supportive, as was the bishop, Fred Warnecke, who had been editor of the Episcopal Church News and therefore knew something about ‘the trade,’ and members of nearby churches where he often functioned as priest, including the one attended by Governor Wm. Scranton.

I believe that Dad gave up Christ Church, Middletown, with a dream but never truly stopped being a parish pastor and priest. For, in many correspondences, he is seen suggesting to small congregations, and their bishops, that he might be able to help them out two or three days a week, just so long as he had time to get out THE WITNESS.

So, too, during the 6-10 years after they moved to Tunkhannock, the Episcopal League for Social Action, which the Church League for Industrial Democracy had become (actually as a result of the discussion at the retreat at the camp along the Susquehanna,) lost its focus and withered away. Dad tried to save it, in a sense, by saying that he would be willing to give some time and energy to it from his office as, once again, acting executive secretary, but the Church was moving into the Civil Rights era and the issues of ‘Industrial Democracy’ were not primary. As a matter of fact, by and large, labor unions tended to be viewed as protectors of privilege and job security rather than agents of justice and change, at least by the press and citizens at large.

Most of those who were in the ELSA group were active in the struggle for interracial justice and equality and, later on, in the concerns for the urban church and issues of peace-seeking and peacemaking during the S.E. Asia war years. The editor of THE WITNESS, from his roll-top desk in Tunkhannock, was always supportive and, actually, through friendship with and permission by ‘Izzy” Stone, helped with using many of I.F. Stone’s brilliant analyses of current events.

Mom and Dad were extremely happy at the house and the shop in Tunkhannock, just isolated and divorced from their usual stimuli. That is an issue in all retirement planning and since my sister, Suzanne, and I were living elsewhere and were busy, it was difficult to be reinforcing as a family. Their home was a spot that grandkids enjoyed visiting, first because Mom was a good Connecticut cook and, second, because Dad had a Jeep and loved to take his grandchildren for rides down to the shop or around the Dark Hollow area.

When they first got the property, the apple orchard was a tangle of debris, black-berry briars and host site for innumerale ‘critters’. It was unsightly. First, the fallen apple trees and branches were sawed up and ‘cured’ for fine fires. Then, having heard that it was efficient and easy, Dad got a ram and two or three ewes. They did a great job of cleaning up the orchard. Also, they did an adequate job of reproducing.  But, this basically urban land-owner really didn’t know that lambs get born in February and March in the cold…it doesn’t say much about that in Luke’s Nativity story!  He muddled through, swearing all the time, I am sure.

Since the orchard was on a hillside, often, when the ice-freeze was hard, he would get up in the morning to find all of the flock piled on top of each other against the fence in the lower northeast corner. Their hoofs could not hold them on the glare ice and, zoom, down they went.  So, still cussing, Dad would get them on their feet and eventually on to a place where they could stand.

He was, biblically, a ‘good’ shepherd — he could call his own by name. That was o.k. when it was shearing time, because the wool was useful to Mom for her rugs and weavings and countless lovely sweaters. It was definitely NOT o.k. when it came time to think of the other ‘utility’ of lamb and sheep…namely roasts and lamb-chops. If you call your sheep by name, it is impossible to kill them, even if you send them away to do it. Ultimately, he had someone come in and buy the increasing flock and a sigh of relief was heard, not only along Dark Hollow but, probably, down in Wyoming County’s agricultural extension office.

Following Marcia’s death, the folks went up to Lake Sunapee and scattered her ashes in the waters. They brought back a small pine tree and planted it along the fence line running from the Red School House to the mountain fence. When last seen, the Marcia Tree was still standing, although now reaching high into the sky. It has a lot of family meaning for, beneath it, mixed well, are the ashes of Bill and Dot Spofford, known to their son and daughter and grand-daughter, Lynn, as Dad and Mom and Grandparents.

When we last checked with Dave Hobbs, who entered into his eternal adventure in April of 1993, the property on Dark Hollow Road is well kept and, thankfully, is owned by the president and secretary of the Wyoming County Historical Society. That indicates that the spirit of the laughs and stories and adventures of the past is cared for and honored, even if the present owners don’t know anything about it, and that should be sufficient.

In my office is the roll-top desk from Dad’s printshop, which he inherited from the first Bishop of Eastern Oregon, Robert Paddock. Every time I write something, as the retired fourth Bishop of Eastern Oregon, I have to reflect how small and intimate God’s world and creation really is, or should be!