Emily L. Quint Freeman (Photo/Carlos Zarate)
Emily L. Quint Freeman (Photo/Carlos Zarate)

‘Failure to Appear’: At 73, this Vietnam-era anti-war fugitive is telling her story of 20 years on the run

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Using fake IDs and aliases, Emily L. Quint Freeman spent 20 years as a fugitive.

In 1969, the 22-year-old anti-war activist and her cohorts broke into a Chicago Selective Service office, raided files and carted out some 40,000 records of draft-eligible men, burning the documents in a parking lot. Police quickly arrived, arrested the group and threw them into jail.

As a ringleader, Freeman — whose given name was Linda Quint — faced a harsh, 10-year sentence in federal court. Instead of showing up for sentencing, she fled.

Now 73 and a resident of Napa, Quint (who later lived as Emily Freeman in San Francisco) has written the memoir “Failure to Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss.” It takes readers through her transformation from suburban-raised, UC Berkeley graduate to woman on the run. Estranged from family, she lived on the lam, reinventing herself several times and shunning intimacy until she could bear it no longer.

With support from her therapist and a rabbi, Freeman decided to lift the huge burden she carried, and surrendered to authorities in 1989.

Taking into account Freeman’s honest explanation of her moral opposition to the Vietnam War and her years as a productive citizen who’d built a successful career as an insurance company executive in Bakersfield, the judge sentenced her to the 10 days she’d served in the Cook County jail in Illinois and three years probation. She was fined $20,000.

To this day, she does not regret her crime.

“I haven’t turned into a conservative old lady,” she said in an interview. “My activism is based on deep, embedded things … part of my childhood and part of my Jewish heritage.”

Growing up, she attended what she called an “ultra-Reform congregation” in Los Angeles. “My family sent me off on Saturdays to become a Jew,” Freeman said dryly. “But I did absorb a lot. I think the ethics of Judaism aligns with me very well. I feel Jewish. It’s something that is part of my life: the idea of tikkun olam, repairing the world.”

Now a member of Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, “I would be missing something in my life,” she mused, “if I left [Judaism] behind.”

After graduating from college in 1967 and being disowned by her father and rejected by her sister and mother after coming out as a lesbian, Freeman moved to Chicago and worked as a draft counselor with the American Friends Service Committee. As she became more involved in the anti-war movement, she and a group of like-minded activists hatched the break-in plan.

“I have no regrets about the actions I took,” Freeman said of the break-in and raid on Chicago’s South Side. “My hope is that they never reconstructed any of those records — ledgers, cards, 1-A files — of those 40,000 mostly black men, and that they never went to Vietnam.

“I think about some guy in the South Side of Chicago who is a grandfather, who wouldn’t have been otherwise.”

As for whether she regrets her decision to go underground, Freeman has this to say:

“Becoming a fugitive was a huge fork in the road, something I couldn’t continue after 19 years. It was a devastating turn of affairs. It’s had lasting effects. … I can’t go back to my younger self and ask, ‘Why did you flee?’”

As a fugitive, Freeman could never reveal her secrets or build close relationships. And it was only after deciding to turn herself in that she reached out to her mother and father (who’d since divorced) and sister.

Though family members attended her sentencing trial in the summer of 1989, the damage had largely been done. “My father never accepted me as being a lesbian,” she said, “so we remained pretty distant.” And the tattered relationship with her sister “never healed.”

She did make repairs with her mother, whom she described as “a complex person.”

Now retired, Freeman pursues her passions: playing classical piano, gardening and writing articles on immigration, racial justice and other causes important to her.

Writing “Failure to Appear” was “a three-year journey,” she said. “I was spurred to action when the current regime took power in Washington. I just felt it was important to speak up … and to make sure that people know that there was a whole generation that struggled [for change] on many fronts.”

Napa Bookmine Pride Month virtual author event with Emily L. Quint Freeman, 5 p.m. Saturday, June 20. RSVP for Zoom details.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.