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Thu, 02.08.1917

Igal Roodenko, Activist born

Igal Roodenko

*Igal Roodenko was born on this date in 1917. He was a white Jewish Ukrainian American printer, activist, and pacifist.

Igal Roodenko was born in New York City. His parents, Morris (Moishe) and Ida, were from Zhytomyr, near Kiev, in present-day Ukraine. They fled persecution under the Russian Tsar and emigrated to Palestine in 1914, leaving soon after to escape the Turks drafting his father into WW1. They arrived in New York City in 1916, rejoining many members of their family who'd arrived a short time earlier. Morris Roodenko started with a pushcart on the Lower East Side and eventually had a small dry goods shop. Roodenko decided to become a vegetarian at a young age, and his entire family followed suit - his mother, father, and younger sister.

He was in a Zionist, Socialist, vegetarian home. He graduated from Townsend Harris High School in Manhattan, New York. There he was active in theater. He attended Cornell University from 1934 to 1938, receiving a degree in horticulture, intending to take these skills to Palestine. He became a pacifist and decided to stay in America: "aware of the conflict between my pacifism and my Zionism, and then ceased being a nationalist." Roodenko was a gay man active in the LGBT community.

He was also an active member of the War Resisters League (WRL) and was a conscientious objector to military service in World War II. Roodenko was on the executive committee of the WRL from 1947 to 1977 and was the league's chairman from 1968 to 1972. Early in the war, he was sent to a camp in Montezuma County, Colorado, to perform Civilian Public Service instead of military service. His principles led him to refuse to work, leading to his arrest, conviction, and imprisonment at the Federal Correctional Institution, Sandstone, Minnesota.

He sued the United States government, challenging the constitutionality of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. On December 22, 1944, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found against Roodenko, and the United States Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari on March 26, 1945. He and conscientious objectors in six other federal prisons began a hunger strike on May 11, 1946, to draw attention to the plight of war resistors. He was not released from prison until January 1947.

Roodenko was an early member of the Committee for Nonviolent Revolution, a pacifist group founded in New York City in 1946. Other prominent members included Ralph DiGia, Dave Dellinger, George Houser, and Bayard Rustin. After his release from prison, Roodenko lived in a tenement at 217 Mott Street on the Lower East Side of New York. Rustin rented an apartment one floor below Roodenko. This proximity, along with the unique number of young radicals living on Mott Street, nearby Mulberry Street, and elsewhere in the neighborhood, enabled his 20th-century American Civil Rights. In 1947 he was arrested with Rustin, Joe Felmet, and several other protestors during the first Journey of Reconciliation Freedom Rides for deliberately violating a North Carolina law requiring segregated seating on public transportation.

At their trial, four of the activists were convicted. Rustin was sentenced to 30 days on a North Carolina chain gang. The judge said to Roodenko, "Now, Mr. Rodenky (sic), I presume you're Jewish." "Yes, I am," Roodenko replied. "Well, it's about time you Jews from New York learned that you can't come down bringing your nigras with you to upset the customs of the South. Just to teach you a lesson," the judge sentenced him to 90 days on a chain gang. In 1983, discussing the difficulties of political activism with a reporter from the New York Times, Roodenko memorably stated that "if it were easy, any schmo could be a pacifist."

Roodenko was arrested numerous times throughout his life: in 1962 for leading a peace rally in Times Square (his sentence was suspended, as the judge was sympathetic with the protestors' aims). At other times for protesting the mistreatment of Soviet dissidents, against Cornell University's investments in South Africa, and, in Poland in 1987, along with four other members of the WRL, for trying to strengthen organizational connections with Polish dissidents. Roodenko died on April 28, 1991, of a heart attack. His niece, Amy Zowniriw, survives him. When he died, Roodenko was a member of Men of all Colors Together.

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