baltimore four poured blood on draft records forty-five years ago today

by Tim Phillips

On October 27, 1967, Philip Berrigan, Tom Lewis, and Dave Eberhardt poured blood on Selective Service files at the Baltimore Custom House. Jim Mengel donated blood in advance and distributed a version of the New Testament while the others destroyed the records. “Part of the symbolism of many American Plowshares actions involves human blood, often poured on the military object being damaged,” writes journalism lecturer Harry Browne.

None of the four attempted to avoid arrest. Before they were sentenced, however, Berrigan and Lewis burned draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, with seven other Catholic activists on May 17, 1968. According to Baltimore-based historian Joe Tropea,

After facing the openly hostile Judge Edward Northrop and a lengthy appeals process, the Baltimore Four were sentenced on May 24, 1968. Berrigan and Lewis faced six years in prison. Eberhardt received three years, while Mengel was released on his own recognizance and scheduled for sentencing but never [served] a day in jail for his participation in the Baltimore action.

The U.S. tradition of Catholic Worker-based actions, as opposed to the British version, tends to involve “a more jaded view of the law,” writes Browne. While British activists in this tradition take action and then expect to successfully justify that action in court, U.S. activists “have been more likely to politicize their trials, get shouted at by the judge, and lose.”