A local man’s memoir focuses on tumultuous times

HIMROD – So many people knew about Jim Wilson, who led The Arc of Schuyler County for 32 years, but very few knew all the secrets he carried in his heart from the choices he made over the course of his career. dynamic 1960s.

Jim Wilson

Wilson died on January 8 of this year. But as he came to terms with his personal story after retirement, and knowing his time might be short due to a chronic health condition, he began to document the twists and turns of his personal story to leave a fuller picture of his life. time on earth. .

In his memoir, “Choosing the Hard Path,” Wilson relives the events in his life that took him from the front lines of the civil rights movement to the working-class Catholic soup kitchen in New York, to an iconic card-burning demonstration. , and beyond.

Wilson was the youngest son of an upper-middle-class New Jersey family with strong ties to the Catholic Church and schools. An early interest in social justice led him to St. Anslem’s College in Manchester, New Hampshire. There, he and his classmates shared their concerns about the Vietnam War, the draft, the civil rights movement, poverty and more. In March 1965, spurred on by television footage of the bloody and brutal attack on peaceful protesters in Selma, Alabama, Wilson and others decided to travel south to support the protests.

Civil rights marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

He wrote: “Timetables and plane tickets have been purchased; people started packing small bags and getting ready for the trip to the airport. As I was cleaning in the dorm bathroom and showers, my group of friends walked in with long faces. I asked what was wrong, and one of them spoke up and said he couldn’t go. I said, ‘What do you mean you can’t go?’ One of the guys said they all called their parents and were told they couldn’t go to such a dangerous place. I laughed and asked, ‘Why did you call your parents? Of course, they would say no.

He made the trip alone. “I would arrive on Tuesday, alone and scared to death.”

Fear did not prevent him from taking firmer positions in the months to come. He and four other young men stood on a platform in Union Square in November 1965 and burned their draft cards in a public demonstration attended by around 1,500 supporters. The sentence was five years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. Rather than challenging the law’s constitutionality like others, he said his position was in line with the philosophy of the Catholic Worker – planning to plead guilty and live with the consequences.

A news clipping showing Jim Wilson (left) and his co-defendants accused of burning their drafts.

How this choice impacted the rest of his life includes his interpretation of his parents’ reactions; his encounters with others involved in anti-war and civil right movements; the move of his young family to rural New York; an attempt to seek public office; and her career in disability services.

In recent years he has retraced his trip to Selma and started sharing his thoughts and memories in a personal blog “The Gadfly”. Some of his blog posts have evolved into chapters of his memoirs.

On July 1, 1973, the project officially ended; but by then Wilson was already bearing the scars of the consequences of his actions. A discussion about the book will take place at 4 p.m. on June 29 via Zoom and will be hosted by the Penn Yan Public Library. The event will begin with the presentation of a video interview with Wilson followed by a discussion on the book.

“Choosing the Hard Path” is available from Longs’ Cards & Books in Penn Yan and through Amazon.