Before the Chicago Seven and the Wilmington Ten, there were the Bloomington Three.
Indiana University student activists Jim Bingham, Ralph Levitt and Tom Morgan were charged 50 years ago with plotting to overthrow the government of Indiana, and their case became a cause célèbre for the left, foreshadowing the anti-war and civil-rights politics that rocked America a few years later.
The case will be highlighted at an informal reunion this weekend of folks who were active in the local anti-war, civil-rights, feminist and gay-rights movements between 1963 and 1973.
IU Archives is helping plan the event, which will include a full day of discussions at the Monroe County Public Library and a night of music by performers who were active in Bloomington during the era. Archives staff will also be collecting oral histories. If you have an online subscription to the Bloomington Herald-Times, you can read more in a news column and letter to the editor.
Mary Ann Wynkoop tells the story of the Bloomington Three in her book “Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University.” And there’s a lengthy article about them in Against the Current, the journal of the American revolutionary socialist organization Solidarity.
The stage for the case was set when Bingham, Levitt and Morgan took part in a protest of the U.S. military blockade of Cuba in October 1962, the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. They and a few additional protesters met at the IU Auditorium, intending to march to downtown Bloomington.
According to Wynkoop, 2,000 pro-government students and onlookers gathered, and as the protesters started toward the square, someone grabbed a sign and struck Levitt. “Fistfights broke out and the marchers retreated up Kirkwood Avenue to seek shelter in the main library building at the head of the street,” she writes. “Students stood outside, jeering the protesters and singing the national anthem.”
No one was seriously hurt, and the story could have ended there. But the Monroe County prosecutor kept the issue alive: He charged Bingham, Levitt and Morgan with violating the Indiana Anti-Subversive Act, a 1951 law that made it a felony for two or more people to assemble with the purpose of overthrowing the government.
Wynkoop writes that the prosecutor wanted to evict from campus the Young Socialist Alliance, a radical group that was organizing the protests. (The charges cited a speech given on campus by Leroy McRae, a national YSA officer). IU refused to toss the group, and the case dragged through the courts for four years before the prosecutor left office and the charges were dropped.
Meanwhile, Bingham, Levitt and Morgan developed a multi-state reputation in the years when the college-based New Left was starting to become the face of political protest in the U.S. National organizations rallied around them. Famed civil-liberties attorney Leonard Boudin helped with their defense.
“The national office of the YSA sent the Bloomington Three to speak at campuses across the country,” Wynkoop writes. “Morgan, Levitt and Bingham were clean-cut, articulate and persuasive young men. They described the repressive tactics that local officials had used in their prosecution and their speeches generally elicited sympathetic responses.”
According to the Against the Current article, Levitt is now a retired transit worker living in Indianapolis, Bingham is a ranger in California and Morgan is a counselor living near Terre Haute. Organizers of this weekend’s reunion say two of the three are expected to attend.