The UMBC Department of American Studies was awarded a civic engagement grant from the Maryland Humanities Council for the project, “Looking Forward from the 45th Anniversary of the Catonsville Nine Actions.” The project is slated to include several componets meant to engage, not only with the community of Catonsville, but with all students and community-based activists, to educate the general public about the historical significance of the actions of the Catonsville Nine and to critique the way we think about social protest, civic duty and citizenship in our time.
On May 17, 1968, the Catonsville Nine went to the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and took 378 draft files in protest of the Vietnam War. They then brought them to the parking lot, poured home-made napalm over them and set the files on fire.
The project consists of three parts. The first includes classroom visits with local filmmaker and UMBC alum, Joe Tropea, co-director of Hit and Stay, a new documentary that focuses on the innovative tactics used by activists in the late 1960s - including the Catonsville Nine. In the film, Tropea and his co-director examine how protesters escalated the nature of dissent, and the way in which a new attitude emerged. Protestors acted by burning paper or covering government property in blood and then waited for the police to arrest them. Yes, they challenged the law, but they also used their arrest and trial as opportunities to continue to challenge the public.
The second part of the project involves tours, open to the public, conducted by Dr. Joby Taylor of UMBC’s Shriver Center for applied learning and civic engagement. For years, Taylor has been taking community members and students on what he refers to as "un-tours" or, non-tourist versions of what to see in the Baltimore area. For this project, Taylor will create a tour based on sites related to the actions of the Catonsville Nine. Stops will include the Knights of Columbus building where the draft files were burned, the sheriff's office where the Nine was booked and the courthouse where the trial of the Nine took place, among others.
In the final part of the project, public events relating to civic engagement and social action will take place on UMBC’s campus on May 10, 2013, including a screening of selections from Hit and Stay and a panel discussion featuring two of the original Catonsville Nine, Thomas and Margarita Melville. The evening will also feature a discussion with Shawn Francis Peters, author of The Catonsville Nine, and Karin Aguilar-San Juan, who recently returned from Vietnam to cover the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Additionally, UMBC will welcome special guests from the community – allies and other activists who were close to the events of May 1968.