“Death is not real when one’s life work is done well. Even in death, certain men radiate the light of an aurora.” –Jose Marti
Len was not a 60s radical. He was something more unusual. He was a 50s radical. He developed his values, his critical thinking and world view in a time when non-conforming was rare. He told a newspaper interviewer in Santa Barbara in 1980 that “I would classify myself as a radical American. I am anti-capitalist in this sense — I don’t believe capitalism is now compatible with democracy.” Socialism he thought could be, if given a chance. Len argued that socialism was still a young phenomenon on the world scene, that another world, a non-capitalist world, was possible.
He saw his legal work as his contribution to the collective work of the movement. He didn’t care a bit about making a fee. “I want to spend my time defending people who have committed their time to progressive change. That’s the criteria. Now, that could be people in armed struggle, people in protest politics, people in confrontational politics, people in mass organizations, people in labor.” Defending people against “the machinery of the state” as he put it, was his calling. He felt that one may have a fulfilled and satisfying life if one “aligns with the major thrust of forces in the time in which you live.”
The third of four children, he grew up in a Jewish community of 200 families in Bellville, NJ and attended high school in nearby Kearney, where he was a star on the football team and Vice-President of his high school class. He played saxophone, was tall and handsome, and sported a fifties pompadour hair style, spending a lot of grooming time behind a closed door in front of the bathroom mirror. His father jokingly complained that he had raised a girl.
When Len graduated he wanted to take a trip across the country to California. He got his father to drive him to the highway. His dad sat in his car weeping as Len hoisted his thumb at passing trucks. Soon an eighteen wheeler stopped and Len piled in. He called often from the road reporting that he was frequently picked up by cars and trucks, that everyone was nice to him, buying him meals and that he was making good time on his trip west.
He didn’t take any identification with him. There was a lot of anti-semitism in the US in the early fifties. Len didn’t want people seeing his last name was Weinglass and identifying him as a Jew. When he got to California he got work on a truck farm, doing stoop farm labor with Japanese agricultural workers. One night one of them was killed. Len was afraid that without an ID he would be a suspect. He jumped the fence in the middle of the night and got out of there.
He went on to George Washington University in DC for college on a scholarship. Len was an outstanding student and was accepted in 1955 into Yale Law School.
Len went from Yale in 1958 directly into the Air Force. In those days because of the draft there was no choice. One had to go into the military. Len was a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp and rose from second lieutenant to the rank of captain. The Air Force had charged a black airman with some sort of crime. Len was assigned the case and got him acquitted. This infuriated the brass, which was used to exerting its command influence over the results of military trials.