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Lowenstein, Allard Kenneth

LOWENSTEIN, Allard Kenneth

(b. 16 January 1929 in Newark, New Jersey; d. 14 March 1980 in New York City), political activist and congressman from New York in the 1960s who supported the civil rights movement and opposed the Vietnam War.

Lowenstein was born in Newark but grew up in Harrison and Scarsdale, Westchester County, New York. He was the youngest of three boys and had a younger sister. His father, Gabriel Abraham Lowenstein, was a physician and biochemist who taught at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons before becoming a prominent New York City restaurateur. His mother, Augusta Goldberg, died when he was a year old, and his father remarried. Not until his thirteenth birthday did Lowenstein learn that Florence Lowenstein was actually his stepmother.

Following his 1945 graduation from the Horace Mann School in New York City, Lowenstein attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he challenged the university's discriminatory policies toward Jewish students. He was also an admirer of the school's liberal president, Frank Porter Graham. In 1949 Graham was appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, and following his graduation that same year Lowenstein moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for the senator.

After Graham was unsuccessful in retaining his Senate seat in 1950, Lowenstein served as president of the United States National Student Association from 1950 to 1951. He entered Yale University Law School in 1952 and was the national chairman of Students for Stevenson during Adlai Stevenson's presidential bid. Lowenstein received his law degree from Yale in 1954 and served two years as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army. From 1956 to 1957 he was an educational consultant to the American Association for the United Nations, working closely with one of his political idols, Eleanor Roosevelt. Following a year laboring in the offices of Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Lowenstein returned to the United Nations, for which he traveled to Southwest Africa (Namibia) and prepared a report, later published as Brutal Mandate: Journey to South-West Africa (1962), on conditions of apartheid in that region under the control of South Africa.

Lowenstein began to be called a "Pied Piper" who motivated college students to become politically active when, in 1961, he was appointed assistant dean of men and a political science lecturer at Stanford University. Although he was at Stanford for only a single academic year, Lowenstein established a following among students, often referred to as "Al People," who would join him in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. His ability to attract the support of young male students also revealed a degree of sexual ambiguity. Lowenstein would hug and sleep with some of his young male devotees, but he evidently avoided genital sex. Of Lowenstein's sexuality, his biographer William Chafe asserts, "His closest companions were men, and from adolescence onward he struggled with the issue of whether or not he might be homosexual. In his appeal to the young, he often inspired devotion and worship. Yet these same emotions could turn to hatred and alienation when the magic of the moment, as the intensity of the crusade, had passed."

In the fall of 1962 Lowenstein began a two-year tenure in the political science department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he actively encouraged integration efforts. The charismatic teacher attracted numerous northern students to the South to participate in the civil rights movement and register black voters. He helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Vote, the predecessor of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the white power structure of the state's traditional Democratic Party. He also served as an adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lowenstein sought to maintain an alliance between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with whom he had close ties, and more radical elements within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Many young African Americans in SNCC resented what they deemed his efforts to dominate the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. For example, Lowenstein urged that the committee reject the support of the National Lawyers' Guild and Southern Conference Education Fund because these organizations were tainted by ties to the American Communist Party. His final break with SNCC occurred at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, when Lowenstein urged that the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation accept a compromise on the matter of seating and credentials. Although he was an insurgent who questioned the political establishment, Lowenstein was a liberal rather than a radical, preferring to work for change within the system.

Returning to New York City, Lowenstein was defeated in 1966 when he attempted to garner the Democratic congressional nomination for Manhattan's Nineteenth District. In the same year he married Jennifer Lyman. They had three children but divorced in 1979. From 1967 to 1968 Lowenstein taught political science at the City University of New York. After serving as a civilian observer for 1967 elections in South Vietnam, he returned to the United States and founded the Conference of Concerned Democrats and the Coalition for a Democratic Alternative, organizations opposed to President Lyndon B. Johnson's reelection and policies in Vietnam.

Failing in his efforts to get senators Robert Kennedy and George McGovern to oppose Johnson, Lowenstein announced that he would support the antiwar candidacy of Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy, who challenged Johnson in the Democratic primaries. With the endorsement of Lowenstein, thousands of young people campaigned for McCarthy, who shocked the president by capturing twenty of twenty-four delegates in the March 1968 New Hampshire presidential primary. Johnson responded to this stunning turn of events by withdrawing from the race. With Johnson out of the race, Kennedy, for whom Lowenstein had great admiration, entered it. Lowenstein, however, remained loyal to McCarthy.

Lowenstein may have succeeded in toppling Johnson, but the system was resilient. Kennedy defeated McCarthy in the California primary, but his candidacy was cut short by an assassin's bullet in June 1968. When it appeared that Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, would gain the Democratic nomination at the party's Chicago convention, Lowenstein formed the Coalition for an Open Convention. His labors to thwart Humphrey's nomination were unsuccessful, and he eventually agreed to support Humphrey's candidacy after the Johnson administration consented to a bombing halt in North Vietnam.

In the fall of 1968 Lowenstein put most of his energies into a congressional contest in the heavily Republican Fifth Congressional District, located in New York's Nassau County. Using his Pied Piper appeal to the "Al People," he had his enthusiastic supporters canvass almost every home in the district in an effort to dispel allegations that he was a radical. Urging an end to the Vietnam War, Lowenstein upset Republican Mason L. Hampton by the narrow margin of 99,193 votes to 96,427. In Congress, Lowenstein voted for tax relief and to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee. He opposed the Safeguard Antiballistic Missile, the District of Columbia anti-crime bill, increased military appropriations, and a proposal to abolish aid to students involved with campus unrest. The congressman also established advisory councils on such issues as housing, jet noise, transportation, and wetlands preservation.

The Republican-controlled New York state legislature undermined Lowenstein's reelection bid in 1970 by gerry-mandering the Fifth Congressional District to exclude many Jewish and liberal Democratic voters. This contributed to Lowenstein's narrow defeat by Republican Norman F. Lent.

Following his electoral disappointment, Lowenstein joined the faculty of the Yale University School of Urban Studies, but he was hardly finished with politics. In 1971 he headed a national nonpartisan voter registration drive among young people, and served two terms as chair of Americans for Democratic Action. In the late 1970s he worked as U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, denouncing the system of apartheid in Rhodesia and South Africa. Lowenstein's dream of returning to Congress was thwarted by electoral setbacks in 1972, 1974, 1976, and 1978. He continued to teach and lecture, remaining a gadfly on issues of peace and racial justice, and allegedly earning seventh place on President Richard M. Nixon's enemies list.

Lowenstein's life ended abruptly when he was murdered in his New York law office by Douglas Sweeney, who was suffering from mental illness. Sweeney had first met Lowenstein at Stanford in 1961, becoming an enthusiastic supporter of the political Pied Piper. The two had a falling out, however, over what Sweeney perceived as Lowenstein's betrayal of SNCC in 1964. He also apparently blamed Lowenstein for the death of his stepfather, who was being sued by a company represented by the New York attorney. Lowenstein was hit in the chest by five bullets, and doctors at Saint Clare's Hospital were unable to save his life. Edward Kennedy, whose 1980 presidential bid Lowenstein was supporting, rushed to the hospital, declaring that Lowenstein was a "powerful lobby for progressive principles" and a man who truly made "a difference." During the radical 1960s Lowenstein had labored to keep the tradition of American liberalism alive. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Lowenstein's papers are available at the Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A collection of his speeches and writings may be found in Gregory Stone and Douglas Lowenstein, eds., Lowenstein: Acts of Courage and Belief (1983). Important biographical treatments of Lowenstein may be found in Richard Cummings, The Pied Piper: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream (1985), and William H. Chafe, Never Stop Running: Allard Lowenstein and the Struggle to Save American Liberalism (1993). For a critical account of Lowenstein and Sweeney by a former associate, see David Harris, Dreams Die Hard (1992). An obituary is in the New York Times (15 Mar. 1980).

Ron Briley

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