Bill Ayers was born into privilege and is today a highly respected educator. In the late 1960s he was a young pacifist who helped to found one of the most radical political organizations in U.S. history, the Weather Underground. In a new era of antiwar activism and suppression of protest, his story, Fugitive Days, is more poignant and relevant than ever.
"Memory is a motherfucker," begins 1960s-era political activist and Weather Underground member Ayers, who went underground with several comrades after their co-conspirators' bomb accidentally exploded in 1970, destroying a Greenwich Village townhouse and killing some of the activists involved. Ayers (A Kind and Just Parent), now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, grew up well-to-do, attended private schools and became politicized at the University of Michigan. He describes his spiraling New Left involvement as he became aware of what he casts as the injustice of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, inner-city race relations, and police brutality and battle tactics, especially in Chicago during demonstrations at the 1969 Democratic convention. The terrific first half of the memoir details 1950s and '60s U.S. culture his own childhood, shaped by images of the atomic bomb and TV war movies; the influence of Bob Dylan, Mao and Che Guevara on American youth but the book really takes off once he goes underground. He and his colleagues invent identities (often using names such as Nat Turner or Emma Goldman), travel continuously and avoid the police and FBI as Nixon bombs Cambodia and My Lai is ravaged. Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn raised two children underground before turning themselves in in 1981, when most charges were dropped because of "extreme governmental misconduct" during the long search for the fugitives. Written without self-righteousness or apology, this memoir rings of hard-learned truth and integrity and is an important contribution to literature on 1960s culture and American radicalism.