Mike Davis : The Eloquence of Carl Oglesby

Carl Oglesby. Image from Kngine.

Eloquent orator of the New Left:
Remembering Carl Oglesby

Carl Oglesby sadly left this world Tuesday morning after a long bout with cancer. President of SDS from 1965-66, he was a passionate American radical and one of the New Left’s most eloquent speakers and critical thinkers. I made several trips to Antioch College in the 1960s just to pick his brain. His main books then were Containment and Change and The Yankee-Cowboy War, from which many of us learned to look at our society in a deeper way, to be better able to change it. — Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog

By Mike Davis / The Rag Blog / September 15, 2011

In my lifetime I’ve heard two speakers whose unadorned eloquence and moral clarity pulled my heart right out of my chest.

One was Bernadette Devlin (nee McAlliskey), speaking from the roof of the Busy Bee Market in Andersonstown in Belfast the apocalyptic day that Bobby Sands died.

The other was Carl Oglesby, president of SDS in 1965. He was 10 years older than most of us, had just resigned from Bendix corporation where he had worked as a technical writer, and wore a beard because his face was cratered from a poor-white childhood. His father was a rubber worker in Akron and his people came from the mountains.

I’m not capable of accurately describing the kindness, intensity, and melancholy that were alloyed in Carl’s character, or the profound role he played in deepening our commitment to the anti-war movement. He literally moved the hearts of thousands of people.

He was also for many young SDSers — like myself and the wonderful Ross Altman (original UCLA SDSer and Carl’s close friend, whom I salute) – both a beloved mentor but also leader of the wild bunch. At a crucial moment in the tragic history of this desert country, he precisely and unwaveringly defined our duty. He was a man on fire.

To those who knew him, I send my deepest love and solidarity — as I do to those yet to discover this great, tormented, and most-old-fashionedly American radical.

[Mike Davis is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. An urban theorist, historian, and social activist, Davis is the author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles and In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire. Read more articles by Mike Davis on The Rag Blog. This tribute was originally published by counterpunch.]

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6 Responses to Mike Davis : The Eloquence of Carl Oglesby

  1. Anonymous says:

    is this by the Mike Davis, city of quartz etc author?

  2. Jay D. Jurie says:

    Yes, it’s the same Mike Davis.

  3. Tom Cleaver says:

    I don’t think there was anyone of us who ever met Carl Oglesby for even a moment who wasn’t profoundly influenced by him thereafter. His analysis of “what’s wrong” has only become more cogent and important over the years. To read his November 1965 speech today is to realize how far down we have come.

  4. Didier says:

    “…why can’t we see that our proper human struggle is not with Communism or revolutionaries, but with the social desperation that drives good men to violence, both here and abroad? …
    We are dealing now with a colossus that does not want to be changed. It will not change itself. It will not cooperate with those who want to change it. Those allies of ours in the Government – are they really our allies? If they are, then they don’t need advice, they need constituencies; they don’t need study groups, they need a movement. And it they are not, then all the more reason for building that movement with the most relentless conviction. “

    Carl Oglesby Let Us Shape the Future 1965 Wahington D.C

  5. bglobe313 says:


    I have been pleased to see in many different places and from many different people tributes like this to Carl Oglesby. They all seem to be consistent in praising his sincerity, his eloquence, his integrity, and his ability to give voice and inspiration to what so many were feeling but could not quite articulate.

    I was born just before the 1960s started and so I was too young to experience this first hand. But I became a student of both the 1960s counterculture and the JFK assassination, encountered mentions and works of Oglesby in both and at some point realized it was the same guy!

    Sounds like he had an amazing life. I hope it was satisfying for him. If his hopes for the good side of America did not fully come true, I would hope that he was able to appreciate some of the improvements that did come to pass.

    (And let us all try to preserve them NOW.)


    Ace K.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I grew up in Akron,born 1949, and it was a pretty awful city. The dirty factories and poor housing. I am proud that I was a member of the Summer SDS Collectives in Akron in 1969. I never heard anything about Carl, but I am proud he was from Akron, home to the factory workers and jobless from Appalacia for many years. Looks like we are still ground up today and Carl is even relevant now, thank

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