Samuel Day Jr. dropped First Amendment Bomb

from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
January 28 2001
by Peter Maller

Madison - Samuel H. Day Jr. was a peace activist and a journalist who launched a First Amendment legal battle when the government tried to stop him from publishing a detailed account of how to build a hydrogen bomb.

He died Friday at 74.

Day, then managing editor of Madison-based The Progressive magazine, fought to publish freelance writer Howard Morland's 1979 article "The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It, Why We're Telling It."

The Energy and Justice Departments, supported by President Jimmy Carter, asked The Progressive to censor the article. After Day refused, the government went to court.

Day insisted the article contained nothing but information gathered from public records. The government rejected the claim, saying the information was classified regardless of its source. The complete article was published after the government dropped its case six months later.

Though it never reached the Supreme Court, the case had major implications for freedom of the press.

Day, who became blind after a 1991 stroke that damaged an optic nerve, died after suffering another stroke Friday, said his wife, Kathleen. He was stricken while shaving and then taken to University Hospital. He was transferred to St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, where he died.

News of his death saddened those who had worked with him over the years.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, called Day "a lovable lefty." Day lived by a high set of moral standards, but he had an unusual knack for putting people at ease, Rothschild said.

"He was just a warm, cuddly man," Rothschild said. "He was a father figure to a generation of peace activists."

Day left The Progressive in 1980 to work on his own publication and later helped found Nukewatch, a public interest group monitoring nuclear weapons transportation and deployment.

"Sam had just an amazing unique gift for dealing with people," said Cassandra Dixon, Day's colleague at Nukewatch. "Whoever he was talking to, he made that person feel like they were the center of the universe. He lived his life for social change. But rather than forcing his views on other people, he always managed to bring out the best in them."

Day was arrested several times for entering missile silo enclosures and standing on silo lids with other activists. The protests were meant as symbolic opposition to the weapons.

He served six months in federal prison after being arrested in 1988 with 14 other protesters during the simultaneous occupation of 10 missile launch sites in Missouri.

Day started his career in journalism in 1949 as a messenger at the Washington Evening Star. He later worked for other newspapers and for the Associated Press.

"He was trained as a mainstream journalist, then became a crusader journalist for alternative publications," said Rothschild, who edited several articles Day submitted to The Progressive after leaving his staff position. "He wrote the fastest, cleanest copy of anyone I ever saw."

Day is survived by his wife; a brother, Christopher R. Day of Barnegat Light, N.J.; a sister, Mayflower Day Brandt of Berkeley, CA; three sons, Philip and Joshua of Madison and Samuel III of Chicago; and six grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.