ABRAHAM JOHANNES MUSTE(1885-1967), born Zierikzee, province of Zeeland, the Netherlands; immigrated with his parents and siblings 1891; settled in Grand Rapids, where his father worked in the Quimby furniture factory; entered Hope Preparatory School at the age of thirteen; graduated from Hope College as valedictorian 1905, having excelled in sports and oratory. Taught for one year at Northwestern Academy in Iowa in order to be near his fiancée, Anne Huizenga; studied for the ministry at New Brunswick Seminary, where he was ordained in 1909. Served as pastor of the Fort Washington Collegiate Church in New York City (fortuitously close to Union Seminary, where he took courses, and Yankee Stadium) until he found himself unable to affirm “the literal inspiration of Scripture and the whole corpus of Calvinist dogma, at least as then interpreted”; served as pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Newtonville, Massachusetts, until finding that his allegiance to pacifism kept him from consoling the families of soldiers in World War I.
Joined the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1914. Assumed leadership of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile workers strike in 1919, with the result that the strike was settled and the workers’ demands were met. Served subsequently as general secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Works of America (“I do not recall a week when there was not a strike on somewhere in our union”). In 1921 became educational director of the newly established Brookwood Labor College in Katonah, New York, later praising his colleagues there as “people of integrity . . . solid and clean, incapable of playing cheap politics, though by no means political babes or bunglers.” Laid foundations for the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (CPLA, later known as the “Musteites”) in 1929. Left Brookwood Labor College in 1933 after disputes there regarding the mission of the institution). In the 1930s merged his group with the Trotskyist Workers Party of America.
In 1936 met Trotsky in Norway—but returned to Christian pacifism following a reconversion in the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris. After heading the Presbyterian Labor Temple in New York became Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a post he held from 1940 until 1953. In 1949 Martin Luther King heard Muste lecture at Crozer Theological Seminary, where King was then a student; this was apparently his first confrontation with nonviolent protest, and Muste became a lifelong mentor.
In his years of “retirement,” Muste planned, sponsored, and participated in a string of protest activities: the Montgomery bus boycott, the Polaris Action anti-nuclear protest, the anti-nuclear protest at Mead Air Force Base, where the seventy-five-year-old Muste climbed over the fence into the grounds; the Sahara Project to oppose nuclear testing in Africa; the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace (“The World Must Disarm!”), the Quebec-Guantanamo Peace Walk. the Birmingham Campaign, The March on Washington, and efforts to stop the war in Vietnam. In 1966 A. J. led a group to Saigon, where they were quickly deported. The next year he flew to Hanoi and met with Ho Chi Minh. Less than a month later Muste died of an aneurysm in New York.