Seth Rosenfeld, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, March 30, 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
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
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
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.
E-mail Seth Rosenfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.