David Thoreau Wieck was born in St. Louis, Missouri on December 13, 1921. Named after David Henry Thoreau, he was the son of Edward A. and Agnes Burns Wieck. His mother, known as the Mother Jones of Illinois, was the daughter of a miner. She was a writer in the middle and late 1920s for the weekly journal Illinois Miner, and after training with the Women’s Trade Union League, she worked as an organizer for the Progressive Miners of America. His father was a self-educated coal miner and writer. In 1934 the Wiecks moved to New York City when Edward Wieck was hired as a research associate for the Russell Sage Foundation’s Industrial Studies Department. David Wieck joined the Young Communist League in 1935, but by 1936 had become, in his own words, a “dissident bolshevik,” much more enamored of the anarcho-syndicalists then fighting in Spain.
He enrolled at Columbia University in 1937 and graduated in 1941. He subsequently did post-graduate work toward a masters degree with Leo Wolman, writing an unpublished study of the process of centralization in the United Mine Workers of America. Registering as a conscientious objector following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he left New York City in early 1943 pending his appeal and was arrested in New Orleans for not notifying his draft board of his “change of address.” In July 1943 Wieck began serving a three-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut for refusing induction into the United States Armed Services. As prisoner #2674 Wieck was involved in numerous actions protesting racial segregation in the federal prison system.