In Memory

Steve Hamilton

Steve Hamilton

Feb 1, 2009 from Heart Attack while in Louisville, KY

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05/26/11 08:56 AM #1    

Wendell Jackson

SF Chronicle Obituary - March, 2009.

A memorial service is planned for May 16 for Steve Hamilton, a prominent Bay Area anti-war activist and member of the Oakland 7 who was acquitted in a notorious conspiracy trial.

Mr. Hamilton, 64, died Feb. 1 after a heart attack.

He was part of a group of anti-war activists known as the Oakland 7, which was charged with conspiracy for organizing huge demonstrations at the Oakland Army Induction Center in 1967 as part of nationwide protest called Stop the Draft Week.

It was one of a series of protests, arrests and court cases during the turbulent '60s involving the soft-spoken and passionate activist who came from a conservative working class family and once planned to become a minister.

Steven Charles Hamilton was born in 1944 in Watts (Los Angeles County). His father worked on an assembly line at the General Motors plant, contracted lead poisoning, and spent years in Camarillo State Mental Hospital in Ventura County, undergoing shock treatment. His mother supported the family by working in a tire factory.

Mr. Hamilton was graduated from South Gate High School and won an American Baptist Church scholarship to Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois.

In 1963, the crew-cut sophomore transferred to UC Berkeley as a divinity student. Some time later, his family saw televised reports of protests there showing a "rather scruffy-looking guy with long hair," recalled his sister, Shirley Metcalf.

His family was sure he never would participate in such activities, she said, and was shocked when on school break "in walked the scruffy-looking man."

In the fall of 1964, Mr. Hamilton was arrested during the Free Speech Movement, the first big student protest of the '60s. In 1965, he joined the anti-war Vietnam Day Committee and the Maoist Progressive Labor Party.

He was dismissed from Cal in 1966 for manning an unauthorized literature table on campus.

That August, he and social activist Jerry Rubin were subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. His remarks got him ejected from the witness stand.

In January 1967, Mr. Hamilton and four other prominent nonstudent activists - Rubin, Mike Smith, Stew Albert and Mario Savio - were convicted of trespass in a protest of Navy recruiting on the Cal campus. He also was convicted of contempt of court for holding a press conference on the case.

Despite resulting jail sentences, he was undeterred. He held that "if you believe in something, it's worth fighting for," his friend Smith said.

In October 1967, Mr. Hamilton helped organize Stop the Draft Week and sent a telegram to then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. "Debate has accomplished nothing; the war must be stopped," he wrote. "We plan to shut down the Oakland Induction Center."

Hundreds of protesters were arrested outside the center amid violence by both police and demonstrators. The Alameda County district attorney's office charged the seven with conspiring to induce others to commit the misdemeanors of trespass and interfering with police. It was said to be the first use of the state's conspiracy law against protesters. An 11-week trial ended in acquittals.

Mr. Hamilton later helped found the Marxist Revolutionary Union and organized at work in Richmond's Bethlehem Steel factory.

He became a therapist trying to better the mental health system in which his father had suffered, Metcalf said.

Married briefly, he was privately gay, coming out only in 1980, said his friends. "It was as hard to be a gay communist as it was to be a gay capitalist," said Reese Erlich, an author and co-defendant in the conspiracy case.

Mr. Hamilton moved to Kentucky in August and was planning to return to the Bay Area when he died on Feb. 1. He is survived by his sister, Shirley Metcalf, and his close friend Roman Esser.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. on May 16 at Finnish Brotherhood Hall, 1970 Chestnut St., Berkeley.

06/30/11 02:15 PM #2    

Judy Fitzhugh (Wilcox)

Steve was always willing to protest a cause to right what he believed was a wrong.  I remember that it was Steve who first called our 5th grade teacher, Mr. Stevens, the coined nickname, Mr. Spaceman. Even then he liked to poke fun at the establishment.  I also remember that he and I were named King and Queen of the Sweetheart Banquet at South Gate 1st Baptist Church.  I also remember when he told some of his friends about his first arrest at Cal Berkeley.  They charged him with possession of a deadly weapon.  This did not fit his non-violent nature.  He then explained that the charge was dropped when he showed the court that he was a pipe smoker and the "deadly weapon" was a pipe cleaner.  I will certainly miss him at our reunion.   

08/03/22 07:56 AM #3    

Michael Gorman

I went over to Berkeley from Stanford in the fall of 1964 to meet Steve and found Mario Savio on top of the police car. A famous event.

As I recall that time we weren't yet very interested in the anti-war movement.

I don't recall how I got back to Woodside, where I was living at the time.



08/04/22 07:42 AM #4    

Fred Brewer

Wow, what a guy and activist. I wish I had known him better in HS. I remember the protest riots about the Vietnam war while I was at UCSB as an undergraduate and graduate student. The Bank of America in Isla Vista, the student community off campus, was burned down and a student was shot and killed by the police during the riots. The student protests including those by Steve eventually shut down the Vietnam war, which was a lesson in activism for many of us. The last several years, I was an organizer for Black Lives Matter in NYC after the death of George Floyd. Lessons learned in the Vietnam protests were useful in fighting racism and police violence in America. Activism continues to be important for citizens of a democracy. I congratulate the life of Steve Hamilton for his activism. RIP. Fred Brewer

08/04/22 09:12 AM #5    

Jim Blumel

He did everything in his life that I wish I had done, but I just watched from afar. God bless him, he will always be remembered.


08/05/22 06:27 AM #6    

Judy Hanson (Dillard)

Steve was on the missing list for a while and when I finally found him I called him. Someone had said he was in Federal Prison for everything in Berkeley and when I mentioned this he had a good laugh. He filled me in on a few things and we decided he needed to attend the upcoming Reunion. He told me afterwards he was glad he attended. Kudos to Steve for standing up for what he believed in.

08/05/22 05:14 PM #7    

Margaret Mahar (Allen)

I'm sorry to disagree with many of you. But how can you support a Marxist? I do not honor Steve for this or many other reasons!

08/09/22 06:26 PM #8    

Hilaire Dufresne

I remember Steve well from SGHS. Like myself, after graduation we both quickly realized how conservative and non-inclusive the community we grew up in was and took individual steps to make the world a better and more accepting place to live in. It was the result of our and many other individuals' efforts that helped bring about a very real change in the Country and end a very unjust war.

Margaret is entitled to her opinion but her ability to still express an opinion is the result of Steve's unselfish actions along with the thousands of other activist in the 60's and 70's.

I was saddened to learn of Steve's passing but his memory lives on in his achievements. 

08/12/22 09:01 PM #9    

Margaret Mahar (Allen)

I would rather face God and answer to Him, that sin and agree with the world.  Prayers, Maggie

08/13/22 10:17 AM #10    

Dan Cathey

I agree with Margaret!!!!!

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