William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

Clergyman / Activist

Born: 1 June 1924
Died: 12 April 2006 (heart failure)
Birthplace: New York, New York
Best known as: The Yale chaplain who opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam
William Sloane Coffin, Jr., came to public attention as chaplain of Yale University for opposing U.S. racial segregation and the war in Vietnam. With an upper-class upbringing and experience as a World War II intelligence officer and a Cold War CIA agent, he gave patriotic as well as religious reasons for his sometimes controversial activism as a Christian minister. In the early 1960s he was jailed for challenging bus, lunch counter and amusement park segregation in the South. In 1968, along with Benjamin Spock and three others, he was convicted of conspiracy for helping hundreds of students return military draft cards to the government--a conviction overturned on appeal. He later crusaded for disarmament while senior minister of The Riverside Church in New York City and president of the political action group SANE/FREEZE.
Extra credit: A graduate of Yale and its divinity school, Coffin was ordained to the ministry by a U.S. Presbyterian denomination in 1958... It's only half true that a Doonesbury comic-strip character is modeled on Coffin. Creator Garry Trudeau, a Yale student during Coffin's chaplaincy, says the Rev. Scot Sloan is also based on Trudeau's roommate, Scotty McLennan, who himself later became a university chaplain... Coffin's wives were Eva Rubenstein (married 1956-1968), daughter of pianist Arthur Rubenstein; Harriet Harvey Gibney (1969-1983); and Virginia Randolf ("Randy") Wilson (1984-2006). He and Eva had three children: Amy, Alexander Sloane and David Andrew.

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