Volume 76, Number 52 | May 23 -29, 2007


John Darr, 88, minister, teacher and peace activist

By Albert Amateau

John Darr, a Village-born minister and teacher active for more than 50 years in peace, civil rights and social justice groups, died Sun., May 13, in Cabrini Hospice at the age of 88.

His leadership in groups such as the World Council of Peace, of which he was a founder in 1950, the United Christian Council for Democracy and American Peace Crusade made him a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953.

He refused to tell the committee whether he was a Communist Party member. But in a biographical statement he wrote at the time, he noted that he had voluntarily said in a civil matter that he was not nor ever had been a Communist Party member. In the statement, he explained that he refused to respond to the question because he believed the H.U.A.C. did not have the right to compel him to answer such a question.

A Congregationalist minister like his father, he left the clergy in 1954 and became an elementary school teacher, first at the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan and then at Brooklyn Friends School where he became headmaster of the lower school.

With his wife, Sally Darr, a food editor at Gourmet magazine, he was an owner of La Tulipe, a highly regarded restaurant on W. 13th St. from 1979 until it closed in 1991.

“It was a wonderful place, but some of our friends at the time thought I had corrupted him,” said his wife.

“He was a friend of Norman Thomas [Socialist Party presidential candidate in 1944 and 1948]. He officiated at Paul Robeson’s son’s wedding and at the funeral of Lead Belly [blues singer who died in 1949],” his wife recalled.

John Darr was born in New York, the son of the Reverend John Whittier Darr, pastor of the Spring St. Presbyterian Church, and Vera Campbell Darr. The Spring St. church, destroyed by fire more than 20 years ago, was noted for its abolitionism and as a haven for black Americans in the 19th century. The site, a parking lot for many years, is where Donald Trump is building a 42-story condo-hotel.

John Darr attended kindergarten and elementary school at the City and Country Day School on W. 13th St., until the family moved to Northampton, Mass., where his father was pastor of the Jonathan Edwards Church. The family then moved to Claremont, Cal., where John Darr went to the Webb School.

Darr went to Harvard and then to Union Theological Seminary where he was ordained a Congregationalist minister in 1944.

He joined the Army near the end of World War II and served in France until 1948. His marriage to a French woman while he was in the Army lasted less than two years. Back in the U.S., he joined the American Labor Party and ran for governor of New York State as an A.L.P. candidate in 1950. He then served as a representative of the World Council of Peace in Paris and Prague until 1952.

His wife recalled meeting him in 1953 at a gathering of friends.

“I wasn’t eager to meet a clergyman, and I asked him if he believed in pie in the sky and all that. He said, ‘No, I believe in heaven on earth,’ and that’s what he devoted his life to,” she said. Married more than 50 years, they lived on W. 10th St. In recent years he was active in the Village Center for Peace and served for a time as its president.

A son, Joshua Darr, died in 1985. In addition to his wife, a brother, Guthrie, of Columbia, S.C., survives. Redden’s Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.

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