William K. Hefner Papers
An accountant by trade, and a peace and civil rights activist by nature, Hefner was already a veteran of twenty years in the struggle for social justice when he became the sole peace candidate for national public office in 1960. Although he failed to secure the Democratic nomination for the seat in the First Congressional District of Massachusetts, and lost again two years later, Hefner never relented, remaining a passionate public voice for social justice for many years.
A native of Logan, West Virginia, William K. Hefner (1915-1993), had his first taste of practical politics shortly after high school when he worked for the County Board of Education. By his student days at Antioch College, he had already become a deeply committed pacifist, so much so that after graduation in May 1940, he helped found Ahimsa Farm in Aurora, Ohio, a center for study and discussion of simple living and nonviolent direct action modeled on Gandhian principles. During the Second World War, Hefner refused military service on religious grounds and was assigned to alternative duty in civilian public service camps for the duration. After his release, he married Elizabeth Mutsch of Brooklyn, New York, in 1947, and in the following year, the couple moved to western Massachusetts, where Hefner began work as a certified public accountant in Greenfield and later as an Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1951-1954). The Hefners had two children, Linda and Robert.
In many regards, Hefner followed a classic, old-line Liberal line on politics, though always distinguished by his ardent pacifism. His commitments hardly wavered, even at the height of the McCarthy era. As early as the end of the Second World War, he stood up publicly for widely unpopular causes on a number of fronts: arguing for the equality of the races, speaking out in favor of nuclear disarmament (urging his fellow citizens to match their "American patriotism" with "American ideals"), and calling for diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China. Informed by Quaker theology, his vision of patriotism fed into a steady stream of articles written for regional newspapers and into his annual Christmas messages, in which he called on his fellow Americans to act peacefully in accord with their Judeo-Christian professions.
Having already emerged as a local leader of SANE in western Massachusetts, Hefner helped organize Political Action for Peace (PAX) in 1959 to back peace candidates for public office and, as an early brochure stated, to "inject into the 1960 political campaign a set of ideas that does not lead to the inevitable failures stemming from the contradictory concept of 'maintaining peace through the arms race.'" Coordinating with national peace advocates such as A.J. Muste and Arthur Springer, PAX promoted their agenda with considerable energy and provided substantial support for Hefner's bid for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat in the First District. Although he lost that race, Hefner polled well enough to be encouraged.
In 1962, PAX had a greater impact, with Massachusetts (along with California) fielding the largest number of peace candidates for public office. Hefner, who had been the only avowed peace candidate in 1960, secured the Democratic nomination for the First District, losing to two-time Republican incumbent Silvio O. Conte in the general election, while-PAX backed candidates Elizabeth Boardman ran for the congressional seat in the Third District and Harvard History Professor and independent, H. Stuart Hughes, for Senate. Although Boardman and Hughes lost their elections, the organization that supported them endured, reforming as Massachusetts Political Action for Peace (Mass PAX) in November 1962 and merging in 1972 with a broadly similar organization, Citizens for Participation Politics(CPP) to form Citizens for Participation in Political Action (CPPAX).
Peace activism for Hefner went hand in hand with the struggle for social and racial justice, and from his college days, Hefner built working relationships with a number of nationally significant figures in the civil rights movement, including Bayard Rustin. Hefner lead contingents from western Massachusetts to at least three of the Marches on Washington, including the 1963 March led by Martin Luther King, and two marches against the war in Vietnam in 1964 and 1965.
Hefner was affiliated with a remarkably large number of peace and social justice organizations including the Fellowship of Reconciliation; War Resisters League; the Peace Committee of the New England Region American Friends Service Committee; the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns of the Middle Connecticut Valley Monthly Meeting of Friends (Quakers); the American Civil Liberties Union; the Congress of Racial Equality; the World Without War Council; and the American Committee on Africa. Locally, his commitments were equally varied, ranging from service as a member of the Board of Directors of Woolman Hill Quaker Conference Center in Deerfield, Mass., as Chair of the New England Committee on Political Action for Peace (PAX), Chair of the Hampshire-Franklin Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and, for two years, as a member of the Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee. A Presbyterian, he attended the Mt. Toby Friends Meeting. He died in Greenfield in 1993.