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John R. Kellam papers

Biographical note

John Roderick Kellam was born October 23d, 1916 in Duluth, Minnesota. His father, a former Navy man, was a pharmacist and his mother had been a school teacher. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1938 and was awarded a Master’s Degree in City Planning Practice from MIT in 1942.

His interest in a philosophy of peace began in college when, while training for a career as military officer in a ROTC program, he became a sharpshooter in rifle and an expert in pistol. He realized then that if he shot at another human, he had the skill to most likely kill them. He wrote in a letter in 1992, "When I turned my back on war, a pioneering step in my own family, I fell in with Quakers in D.C., and began to learn of the wider dimension of that philosophy."

John had already registered as a Conscientious Objector to all wars when he began attending the Friend’s Meeting of Washington, DC where his interests in conscientious objection and in race relations were supported and encouraged. In 1944 John’s boss discovered that he was a conscientious objector and he was instantly fired in those highly charged war years.

Within months, he married Carol Zens and shortly thereafter, he was ordered to report for induction. He refused to take the oath and was arrested and sentenced by a Federal court to serve 5 years in prison. He served a total of 22 and a half months before his release in November of 1946 because the war had already ended. While John was in prison, Carol gave birth to Susan and she and the baby were sheltered by a Quaker family where John joined her at the time of his release. Many years later John wrote and self published his book, An American Prisoner of Conscience in World War Two, about his wartime imprisonment.

Right after his release from prison, John worked for the National Council for the Prevention of War, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation where he was one of four in the office the year of its founding. In 1947 in a program under the American Friends Service Committee, John was hired at Penn Craft near Brownsville, Pennsylvania to manage the construction of self-help housing by coal miners. While there, John’s daughter Wendy was born.

The City of Providence, Rhode Island hired John in 1950 as a City Planner and he continued in that job until retirement. The family joined the Providence Monthly Meeting of Friends and they were active in the Monthly and Yearly Meetings. In 1952, John chaired the committee of the Equal Housing Opportunities Group that wrote the fair housing law for the State of Rhode Island. In 1958 he had a leading role in founding the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Carol Zens passed away of cancer in 1967 after a long illness. John re-married to Ruth Arnold in 1970. Following Ruth Arnold's passing in 1977, John married again to Ann Urey in 1978. After retirement, John and Ann went cruising in their sailboat "Peace" including an offshore voyage to Bermuda, and other destinations.

In 1987 John and Ann and the American Civil Liberties Union brought a free speech suit against the United States Coast Guard which had interfered with their sailing protest flying anti war banners from the rigging of "Peace" against the building of nuclear submarines at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The suit was successful and was covered as front page news in several major newspapers around the country.

In the spring of 2012, John was diagnosed with advanced and untreatable lung cancer and passed away on July 25 at the family home.