Sam Melville August 1966
This website is dedicated to historic information about Samuel Joseph Melville, known in 1960s history as “the mad bomber.” Sam Melville is considered by some historians to be the architect of modern political radicalism in the United States. In 1969 he executed bombings of 8 government institutions. His motivations were stated as corporate imperialism, specifically the US involvement in the Vietnam War, social and racial inequality.
No one was killed in his attacks. By design he destroyed only property.
While groups, such as the Weather Underground executed numerous bombings as an organization, Melville acted alone or with a tight-knit cell of co-conspirators. Melville is often inaccurately referred to as “a Weatherman” as a historical generality, but Melville’s actions actually predated the Weather Underground which was formed in 1970.
The term coined by 60s historians for this type of protest was “responsible terrorism,” where only property is destroyed and where the target is one of political significance. This is distinguished from recent terrorism where loss of human life is intentional and targets are chosen for dramatic impact or ease of access. Melville was probably the most prolific of his kind in the US to date, having directly engineered for his Collective or having freelanced to other groups bomb devices for over two dozen successful revolutionary acts in 1969 without a single casualty.
This site is curated directly from sources who knew Melville and/or participated in the events of his life. It is designed for students, historians and journalists and to act as a clearinghouse for accurate information on Melville’s life, his campaigns and his controversial death at Attica. There are many inaccuracies that have been repeated in popular texts who site Melville. A list can be found on this site under the Historical Inaccuracies tab and in Sam’s Story tab.
By 1968, American youth, angry over race and gender inequality and the draft into the unpopular Vietnam War, formed activist groups collectively known as the “New Left.” They included SDS, the Yippies, The Black Panthers and the Weathermen. Their aggressive and sometimes theatrical activity was designed to inspire the US government to withdraw from Vietnam and enforce laws which guaranteed race and gender equality. J Edger Hoover, the Director of the FBI, felt the New Left to be a significant threat to National Security. It became a priority of the FBI in that period to put down the movement with a series of illegal activities known as, “COINTELPRO.”
Within this heated culture of resistance numerous small, ad hoc collectives formed to push the standard for “protest” to new levels. Inspired by the FLQ and the IRA, the “Melville Collective” formed in 1968. In 1969 they became the first in the US to use sophisticated, timed, unidirectional bombs as a form of protest. Their actions raised the standard that would inspire bombings by the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground and others. Melville was the principal bombing engineer for the Collective and other radical groups around Greenwich Village and Wisconsin.
Melville was an athletic outdoorsman, a vegetarian and a Marxist. In his writings he feared American culture was in decline because of the proliferation of corporate power, special interests and disregard for the environment.
Details of the Melville Collective’s targets, Melville’s life, achievements, and legacy can be found on this site.
INCARCERATION AND MURDER
After his apprehension, Melville was incarcerated in The Tombs where he organized a prisoner strike. Congressman Ed Koch documented in his autobiography “All the Best” his meeting with Melville to discuss better hygiene in exchange for Melville recommending prisoners return to work. Melville was then transferred to Sing Sing were he organized another prison strike against the censorship of mail.
Labeled a “problem” he was finally sent to Attica maximum security prison where he waged a one man war against the prison administration. In a racially divided prison Melville organized black, white and Hispanic inmates into protests against inmate brutality, censorship of mail, and a raise in wages from 25 cents a day. In 1971, three years into his 18 year sentence, he led a multi-race group of inmate activists in an uprising resulting in over 1000 prisoners taking control of Attica for four days.
The Attica Uprising became the bloodiest prison uprising in US history when Governor Nelson Rockefeller gave the order to retake the prison via an armed assault on September 13, 1971. The retaking resulted in 53 casualties and hundreds wounded. Melville was killed by an inspector working for the BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigation). Official accounts and ballistics concluded he was shot at close range while unarmed.
Several days later Prison Commissioner, Russell Oswald’s office was fire bombed in effigy for Melville. For years following his death other bombing groups formed using the Melville name and his bomb design method.
A three day memorial at a church in Greenwich Village was attended by many New Left personalities. The renowned lawyer, William Kunstler, delivered Melville’s eulogy. Melville has the singular distinction of being the only Caucasian whose corpse was guarded by the Black Panthers. This was to deter New Left radicals who had threatened to steal Melville’s remains and set them on fire on Governor Rockefeller’s lawn.
After the memorial, Melville’s remains were cremated and buried in an undisclosed location along the Appalachian Trail where he enjoyed camping with his son and boyhood friends.
Melville’s letters and essays, written from prison, survive and are often used as reference by historians on the prison system, racism and the 1960s social revolution.
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