|Birth Day:||December 26, 1944|
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He was in the Bay-Area movement Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
In 1965, Ayers joined a picket line protesting an Ann Arbor, Michigan pizzeria for refusing to seat African Americans. His first arrest came for a sit-in at a local draft board, resulting in 10 days in jail. His first teaching job came shortly afterward at the Children's Community School, a preschool with a very small enrollment operating in a church basement, founded by a group of students in emulation of the Summerhill method of education.
Ayers grew up in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. His parents are Mary (née Andrew) and Thomas G. Ayers, who was later chairman and chief executive officer of Commonwealth Edison (1973 to 1980), and for whom Northwestern's Thomas G. Ayers College of Commerce and Industry was named. He attended public schools until his second year in high school, when he transferred to Lake Forest Academy, a small prep school. Ayers earned a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from the University of Michigan in 1968. (His father, mother and older brother had preceded him there.)
Ayers became involved in the New Left and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He rose to national prominence as an SDS leader in 1968 and 1969 as head of an SDS regional group, the "Jesse James Gang".
In June 1969, the Weathermen took control of the SDS at its national convention, where Ayers was elected Education Secretary. Later in 1969, Ayers participated in planting a bomb at a statue dedicated to police casualties in the 1886 Haymarket affair confrontation between labor supporters and the Chicago police. The blast broke almost 100 windows and blew pieces of the statue onto the nearby Kennedy Expressway. (The statue was rebuilt and unveiled on May 4, 1970, and blown up again by other Weathermen on October 6, 1970. Rebuilding it yet again, the city posted a 24-hour police guard to prevent another blast, and in January 1972 it was moved to Chicago police headquarters).
Ayers participated in the Days of Rage riot in Chicago in October 1969, and in December was at the "War Council" meeting in Flint, Michigan. Two major decisions came out of the "War Council". The first was to immediately begin a violent, armed struggle (e.g., bombings and armed robberies) against the state without attempting to organize or mobilize a broad swath of the public. The second was to create underground collectives in major cities throughout the country. Larry Grathwohl, a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant in the Weathermen group from the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1970, stated that "Ayers, along with Bernardine Dohrn, probably had the most authority within the Weathermen".
The school was a part of the nationwide "free school movement". Schools in the movement had no grades or report cards; they aimed to encourage cooperation rather than competition, and pupils addressed teachers by their first names. Within a few months, at age 21, Ayers became director of the school. There also he met Diana Oughton, who would become his girlfriend until her death in 1970 after a bomb exploded while being prepared for Weather Underground activities.
After the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970, in which Weatherman member Ted Gold, Ayers's close friend Terry Robbins, and Ayers's girlfriend, Diana Oughton, were killed when a nail bomb being assembled in the house exploded, Ayers and several associates evaded pursuit by law enforcement officials. Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson survived the blast. Ayers was not facing criminal charges at the time, but the federal government later filed charges against him.
Ayers participated in the bombings of New York City Police Department headquarters in 1970, the United States Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972, as he noted in his 2001 book, Fugitive Days. Ayers writes:
In 1970, The New York Times called Ayers "a national leader" of the Weatherman organization and "one of the chief theoreticians of the Weathermen". The Weathermen were initially part of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) within the SDS, splitting from the RYM's Maoists by claiming there was no time to build a vanguard party and that revolutionary war against the United States government and the capitalist system should begin immediately. Their founding document called for the establishment of a "white fighting force" to be allied with the "Black Liberation Movement" and other "anti-colonial" movements to achieve "the destruction of US imperialism and the achievement of a classless world: world communism".
In 1973, Ayers co-authored the book Prairie Fire with other members of the Weather Underground. The book was dedicated to close to 200 people, including Harriet Tubman, John Brown, "All Who Continue to Fight", and "All Political Prisoners in the U.S." The book dedication includes Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted assassin of Robert F. Kennedy.
In 1973, new information came to light about FBI operations targeted against Weather Underground and the New Left, all part of a series of covert and often illegal FBI projects called COINTEL. Due to the illegal tactics of FBI agents involved with the program, including conducting wiretaps and property searches without warrants, government attorneys requested all weapons-related and bomb-related charges be dropped against the Weather Underground, including charges against Ayers.
In June 1974, the Weather Underground released a 151-page volume titled Prairie Fire, which stated: "We are a guerrilla organization [...] We are communist women and men underground in the United States [...]" The Weatherman leadership, including Ayers, pushed for a radical reformulation of sexual relations under the slogan "Smash Monogamy". Radical bomber and feminist Jane Alpert criticized the Weatherman group in 1974 for still being dominated by men, including Ayers, and referred to his "callous treatment and abandonment of Diana Oughton before her death, and for his generally fickle and high-handed treatment of women".
However, state charges against Dohrn remained. Dohrn was still reluctant to turn herself in to authorities. "He was sweet and patient, as he always is, to let me come to my senses on my own," she later said of Ayers. She turned herself in to authorities in 1980. She was fined $1,500 and given three years probation.
Ayers has edited and written many books and articles on education theory, policy and practice, and has received several honors for his work. His book To Teach: The Journey of A Teacher was named the Kappa Delta Pi Book of the Year in 1993 and subsequently won the Witten award for Distinguished Work in Biography and Autobiography in 1995. On August 5, 2010, Ayers officially announced his intent to retire from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ayers worked with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in shaping the city's school reform program, and was one of three co-authors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant proposal that in 1995 won $49.2 million over five years for public school reform. In 1997, Chicago awarded him its Citizen of the Year award for his work on the project. Since 1999, he has served on the board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, an anti-poverty, philanthropic foundation established as the Woods Charitable Fund in 1941. The Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank praised Ayers as a "model citizen" and a scholar whose "work is esteemed by colleagues of different political viewpoints".
In an interview published in 1995, Ayers characterized his political beliefs at that time and in the 1960s and 1970s: "I am a radical, Leftist, small 'c' communist ... [Laughs] Maybe I'm the last communist who is willing to admit it. [Laughs] We have always been small 'c' communists in the sense that we were never in the Communist party and never Stalinists. The ethics of communism still appeal to me. I don't like Lenin as much as the early Marx. I also like Henry David Thoreau, Mother Jones and Jane Addams [...]".
The group Ayers headed in Detroit, Michigan, became one of the earliest gatherings of what became the Weathermen. Before the June 1969 SDS convention, Ayers became a prominent leader of the group, which arose as a result of a schism in SDS. "During that time his infatuation with street fighting grew and he developed a language of confrontational militancy that became more and more pronounced over the year ", disaffected former Weathermen member Cathy Wilkerson wrote in 2001. Ayers had previously been a roommate of Terry Robbins, a fellow militant who was killed in 1970 along with Ayers' girlfriend Oughton and one other member in the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, while constructing anti-personnel bombs (nail bombs) intended for a non-commissioned officer dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
In 2001, Ayers published Fugitive Days: A Memoir, which he explained in part as an attempt to answer the questions of Kathy Boudin's son, and his speculation that Diana Oughton died trying to stop the Greenwich Village bomb-makers. Some have questioned the truth, accuracy, and tone of the book. Brent Staples wrote for The New York Times Book Review that "Ayers reminds us often that he can't tell everything without endangering people involved in the story." Historian Jesse Lemisch (himself a former member of SDS) contrasted Ayers' recollections with those of other former members of the Weathermen, and claimed that the book had many errors. Ayers, in the foreword to his book, stated that it was written as his personal memories and impressions over time, not a scholarly research project. Reviewing Ayers' memoir in Slate Magazine, Timothy Noah said he could not recall reading "a memoir quite so self-indulgent and morally clueless as Fugitive Days". Studs Terkel called Ayers' memoir "a deeply moving elegy to all those young dreamers who tried to live decently in an indecent world".
Much of the controversy about Ayers during the decade since 2000 stems from an interview he gave to Dinitia Smith for The New York Times on the occasion of the memoir's publication on September 11, 2001. The reporter quoted him as saying "I don't regret setting bombs" and "I feel we didn't do enough", and, when asked if he would "do it all again", as saying "I don't want to discount the possibility."
The interviewer also quoted some of Ayers' own criticism of the Weathermen in the foreword to the memoir, whereby Ayers reacts to having watched Emile de Antonio's 1976 documentary film about the Weathermen, Underground: "[Ayers] was 'embarrassed by the arrogance, the solipsism, the absolute certainty that we and we alone knew the way. The rigidity and the narcissism.' " "We weren't terrorists," Ayers told an interviewer for the Chicago Tribune in 2001. "The reason we weren't terrorists is because we did not commit random acts of terror against people. Terrorism was what was being practiced in the countryside of Vietnam by the United States."
On September 9, 2008, journalist Jake Tapper copied to his ABC News "Political Punch" blog and opined on a four-panel comic strip by Ryan Alexander-Tanner from Bill Ayers' blog site. In the comic strip, the Ayers cartoon character says: "The one thing I don't regret is opposing the war in Vietnam with every ounce of my being... When I say, 'We didn't do enough,' a lot of people rush to think, 'That must mean, "We didn't bomb enough shit." ' But that's not the point at all. It's not a tactical statement, it's an obvious political and ethical statement. In this context, 'we' means 'everyone.' "
After the 2008 presidential election, Ayers published an op-ed piece in The New York Times giving his assessment of his activism. Feminist critic Katha Pollitt criticized Ayers' opinion piece as a "sentimentalized, self-justifying whitewash of his role in the weirdo violent fringe of the 1960s–1970s antiwar left". She says Ayers and his Weathermen cohorts made "the antiwar movement look like the enemy of ordinary people" during the Vietnam War era. Ayers gave this assessment of his actions:
Ayers was elected Vice President for Curriculum Studies by the American Educational Research Association in 2008. William H. Schubert, a fellow professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote that his election was "a testimony of [Ayers'] stature and [the] high esteem he holds in the field of education locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally". Writer Sol Stern, a conservative opponent of progressive education policies, has criticized Ayers as having a virulent "hatred of America", and said, "Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer."
During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, a controversy arose about Ayers' contacts with then-candidate Barack Obama, a matter that had been public knowledge in Chicago for years. After being raised by the American and British press, the connection was picked up by conservative blogs and newspapers in the United States. The matter was raised in a campaign debate by moderator George Stephanopoulos, and later became an issue for the John McCain presidential campaign. Investigations by The New York Times, CNN, and other news organizations concluded that Obama did not have a close relationship with Ayers.
According to Ayers, his radical past occasionally affects him, as when, by his account, he was asked not to attend a progressive educators' conference in the fall of 2006 on the basis that the organizers did not want to risk an association with his past. On January 18, 2009, on his way to speak about education reform at the Centre for Urban Schooling at the University of Toronto, he was refused admission to Canada when he arrived at the Toronto City Centre Airport although he has traveled to Canada more than a dozen times in the past. According to Ayers, "It seems very arbitrary. The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969. I have several arrests for misdemeanors, but not for felonies."
On September 23, 2010, William Ayers was unanimously denied emeritus status by the University of Illinois, after a speech by the university's board chair Christopher G. Kennedy (son of assassinated U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy), containing the quote "I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Robert F. Kennedy." He added, "There is nothing more antithetical to the hopes for a university that is lively and yet civil...than to permanently seal off debate with one's opponents by killing them". Kennedy referred to a 1974 book Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism, written by Ayers and other Weather Underground members. The book was dedicated to a list of over 200 revolutionary figures, musicians and others, including Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and sentenced to life in prison. Ayers denied having ever dedicated a book to Sirhan Sirhan and accused right-wing bloggers of having started a rumor to that effect.
On June 18, 2013, Ayers gave an interview to RealClearPolitics' Morning Commute in which he stated that every president in this century should be tried for war crimes, including President Obama for his use of drone attacks, which Ayers considers an act of terror.
Ayers is married to Bernardine Dohrn, a fellow former leader of the Weather Underground. They have two adult children, Zayd and Malik, and shared legal guardianship of Chesa Boudin, son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert. Boudin and Gilbert were former Weather Underground members who later joined the May 19 Communist Organization and were convicted of felony murder for their roles in that group's Brinks robbery. Chesa Boudin went on to win a Rhodes scholarship and was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in November 2019. Ayers and Dohrn currently live in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Bill married a fellow protester and now a law professor at Northwestern, Bernadine Dohnrn.
Currently, Bill Ayers is 78 years, 1 months and 12 days old. Bill Ayers will celebrate 79th birthday on a Tuesday 26th of December 2023. Below we countdown to Bill Ayers upcoming birthday.