Contact: Judith Mahoney Pasternak (347) 423-7783;

June 25, 2006

Was Chair of War Resisters League

Norma Becker, teacher, civil rights activist, and towering figure of the peace movement during the Vietnam War, died of lung cancer in her New York City home June 17. She was 76.

A founder of the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, which drew tens of thousands to protest the Vietnam War, and a founder of the Mobilization for Survival coalition, she was crucial to the antiwar movement. She served as chair of the pacifist War Resisters League from 1977 to1983.

“One of the truly great has passed,” said longtime War Resisters League staffer David McReynolds on hearing of her death. “As much as any, and more than most, she provided leadership in hard times and for the long and horrific years of [the Vietnam] conflict.”

Becker was a New York City schoolteacher in 1963, when, as she said later, she was “recruited into the civil rights movement by Sheriff ‘Bull’ Connor of Birmingham [AL].” Appalled by media accounts of Connor’s use of dogs to subdue civil rights demonstrators, Becker went South to teach in the summer Freedom Schools.

Over the next couple of years, Becker—and the burgeoning movement against the war in Vietnam—found that she was as gifted an organizer as she was a teacher. In 1965, she helped to start the Peace Parade Committee, which organized massive antiwar protests in New York City. Wendy Schwartz, a younger WRL activist who came to the antiwar movement during those years, adds, “It was Norma’s energy, intelligence, and charm that helped make those demonstrations so large and so peaceful. She worked as well with the disparate peace movement factions as she did with the police.”

In 1977, after the Vietnam War had ended, Becker helped create the Mobilization for Survival, which linked the emerging movement against nuclear power to opponents of nuclear weapons and the wider antiwar movement.

But whatever other organizations she worked with, Becker also remained involved with the War Resisters League. Only a week before she died, at the annual WRL dinner, the organization paid tribute to Becker’s profound influence on the struggle for peace. WRL and peace activists across the country mourn her loss and send condolences to her daughter and son-in-law, Diane and Stephen Tosh, her daughter-in-law Anita Becker, and her four grandchildren, Sarah, Nicholas, and Katrina Tosh and Alicia Becker.