North Shore congregation gave financial aid to Pentagon Papers printer

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The Rev. Robert N. West, Unitarian Universalist Association President, and Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) hold a press conference on Nov. 5, 1971, concerning Beacon Press' publication of "The Pentagon Papers" and ongoing harassment of the Unitarian Universalist Association by the FBI. (Photo courtesy of Robert N. West)

The film “The Post,” about the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, is up for an Academy Award on Sunday, and a North Shore religious organization has a rooting interest because it played a role in the events decades ago.

In 1971, the Beacon Press in Boston, Massachusetts, was approached about publishing former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel’s Vietnam Archive, more famously known as “The Pentagon Papers,” a Pentagon history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Joan Minieri, executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, said the request put a financial burden on the publishing house because of the controversial nature of the Pentagon Papers, and Beacon Press needed more funding to print the documents, which had been published in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The North Shore Unitarian Society, now known as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, gave the Beacon Press $100,000 to help print and distribute “The Pentagon Papers” in 1971. (Photo courtesy of Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock)

“I can only hope for the opportunity to do something as daring and courageous as publishing these critical documents,” Beacon Press director Helene Atwan said. “The story of the Pentagon Papers is one of my very favorites about this press and what Beacon stands for.”

Minieri said the North Shore Unitarian Society, which resided on Plandome Road, made a $100,000 loan, immediately forgiven, through the Veatch Program to meet the “acute needs” of the Beacon Press, which also handled distribution for the Unitarian Universalist Association.

With inflation, the payment would have the same buying power as $622,781.41 in 2018.

Now 50 years later, the organization is known as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock and has continued to provide grants through the Veatch Program since 1959.

“Unitarian Universalism operates with seven core principles at its heart,” Minieri said. “It’s not a theological approach to religion. It has these values at its core: democracy, interdependence, dignity of every person. That’s what guides our grant making. Our strategy is to promote these strategies in the world.”

The Veatch Program, which Minieri said provides grants for about 188 organizations nationally, helps fund groups that are working on building the Unitarian Universalist denomination or are pursuing social justice causes such as immigration, worker rights, environmental concerns and women’s issues.

“It’s both a bold move on the part of the congregation but also of the Veatch Program as the funding arm of the congregation,” Minieri said. “The Veatch Program continues to act with courage and support issues around the country that are particularly under attack at this time. The decision to fund the Pentagon Papers is something the congregation is very proud of in their history.”

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