William Worthy, First U.S. Citizen Indicted for “Coming Home,” Dead at 92

I read this recently, but hadn’t had time, until now, to post this super-cool story about Bostonian William Worthy, a long-time reporter, correspondent and general hell-raiser in the best journalistic sense possible. Never heard of him? Here’s part of his obituary from The Boston Globe (bold, mine):

“As a reporter in the late 1950s and early ’60s, William Worthy interviewed a constellation of Communist leaders in their homelands: Nikita Khrushchev in the Soviet Union, Chou En-lai in China, Fidel Castro in Cuba.

William Worthy with Mao Zedong in 1957. Courtesy of The Boston Globe

William Worthy with Mao Zedong in 1957. Courtesy of The Boston Globe

When his reporting defied US rules prohibiting visits to foreign foes, though, the Boston-born journalist became part of the news he covered. On Christmas Eve 1956, he slipped into China and broadcast reports for CBS. Upon returning to his Nieman fellowship studies at Harvard, the government refused to renew his passport unless he constrained his travel, and he challenged the State Department ruling all the way to the US Supreme Court.

William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door,

Went down to Cuba, he’s not American any more,

But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say,

‘You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.’

The song chronicled Mr. Worthy’s decision to travel, absent a passport, to report in Cuba. At trip’s end he was arrested and convicted of entering the United States without a passport. “According to top civil liberties attorneys in this country, on April 24, 1962, I became the first person ever to be indicted for coming home,” he wrote in The Catholic Worker newspaper that year.”

THAT IS INSANE! He basically challenged his excommunication, head on, from a democratic society in which his rights were fully vested as a citizen – the Civil RIghts Act of 1964 not yet passed notwithstanding – and won when his conviction was overturned (legal friends, click!) in 1964. In this day, an age in which the control of information is even more heavily guarded, bought and sold, I have to salute someone who goes in search of truth just because it’s right thing to do.

For more on this man, read the full obituaries from The New York Times and The Boston Globe or watch a 1998 interview on Democracy Now

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