Our Families and the Freedom Movement
A Discussion
April 2015

Recorded at "Past & Present: a Gathering With Freedom Movement Veterans at Stanford University," April 11, 2015.

If you were part of the Southern Freedom Movement, and are listed in the Veterans Roll Call, you are encouraged to add your comments to this discussion by emailing them to webmaster@crmvet.org. (If you add a comment, please indicate where in the transcript it should be inserted.)


Judy BelcherCarolyn Rogers
Cathy CadeNancy Elaine Stoller
Vicki PollackAlan Venable
Peggy Ryan Poole       


Vicki PollackTalking About the Movement
Allen VenableOur Youthful Ignorance
Nancy StollerOur Family's Reaction
Cathy CadeJews & Gentiles
Peggy PooleOur Children
Carolyn Rogers     Legacies We Gave to Our Children
Judy Belcher 

Vicki Pollack

Nancy: So what we want to do is, on this general topic of family, we're going to be talking about our participation in the Movement — or if you're connected to somebody who was in the Movement — how that Movement experience was affected by your family or how it affected your family. Or however you want to go from there. And then you can also think about, and talk about things that have happened through time since the '60s in terms of your family. Anything you have to say, any way it occurs to you, good, bad, whatever, perfect. There's no censorship.

And the main thing we're going to do is make sure first, people who were involved in the Movement get to talk, then everybody else gets also the same amount of time, then we just keep taking turns. Cathy, you want to add anything? I'm Nancy, and Cathy is my official assistant, but she knows as much or more as I do to help with this.

Who would like to go first?

Vicki: When I first joined the Movement I was 18. And the background, which you've heard a little bit, there was an amusement park near our house, and students from Howard [Univ.] came out and started picketing and tried to get this amusement park integrated. And our community, which is called Bannockburn, people came in and supported that.

But where my family comes in is that my father worked for the government, both my parents worked for the government. He was a lawyer, and she had worked in a {UNCLEAR}. And during the Spanish Civil War, she had given — my mother was never a very political person, but she just gave some money to the Loyalists. And it turned out my father was absolutely investigated.

[In the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, the Loyalists fought to defend a democratically-elected left-wing government against a right-wing rebellion that was militarily backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. After WWII, during the McCarthy "Red Scare" era of the 1950s, ultra-conservatives in the U.S. government investigated, attacked, and attempted to fire anyone they suspected of leftist sympathies. Since the Loyalists in Spain had included Communists, Socialists, and Anarchists, Americans who had supported them in the 1930s became targets for political persecution in the 1950s.]

So when this thing happened, when we started picketing, he was afraid. There was no way that he would go down to the line, but it was fine for him though that I was involved. But my family itself didn't do very much.

I have a brother who is 2½ years younger, and he went down there maybe once. And then I have a very much younger brother and sister, and even though this video that they're making, there's a picture of my brother at the picket line, really what my much younger brother and sister were feeling was they wanted to go to the amusement park. And they were gypped. I mean, they're 7 and 9 years old, and we were picketing, and they couldn't go to Glen Echo. So that was their view point of it.

But my parents had already taught us to be — it was like, you never use the "N-word." I mean, it was like the worst curse word you could possibly think of. I didn't even really know too much about prejudice until — because I think a lot — like we were growing up in Virginia, and we were also Jewish, and I didn't know people were really prejudiced against Jews either at this point in my earlier years. And we just never saw them. Like African-American people just weren't in our lives unless they came in as a maid, so it didn't exist.

But then in high school, we moved to Maryland, and our community had a lot of Jews, and it was also a very political community, but all the communities around it were restricted. No Jews were allowed to live there. And we're going to this very sort of upper class middle school where people from neighboring areas are very wealthy. There were even people from Washington and Blue Books. The Governor of Arkansas' daughter was in our class. And this is a public school. And that was when I first learned about prejudice personally.

My friends in seventh grade — and seventh graders were giving — the thing to do was to give a really big party. And two of my friends and I were going to give a party together, and my parents said that was OK. And it was going to be at a country club. Well, one day my friend Jeannie came in, and she said, "Vicki, you can't give the party." And I said, "Why not?" She says, "Because you're Jewish, and Jews aren't allowed at our club." And I thought, "Whoa!" You know?

And also at our school, because Bannockburn was just starting, there were very few Jews. There would be like maybe out of a class of 300, there were five Jewish kids in my seventh grade class, and they all came from my community except for one girl. So my parents let me go to the party. I'm really grateful, even though my mother had thought about not letting me go. But that was when I started understanding about prejudice. But growing up, we really didn't — Black kids weren't in our lives. So anyway, that's when I learned about prejudice, and that's when I started being sympathetic to other people.

And then when I was in Girl Scouts, I went to Girl Scout camp, and there were actually some African-American girls there, and I got to be friends. But I came home, and I said, "Mom, I'm so proud of myself. There were African-American girls, and I was friendly with them." And my mother said, "Vicki," she said, "you're not proud. You know, that's another kind of — you know, don't do something just because they're African-American." And that was my whole relationship.

Then they integrated the schools. I mean, for a long time the schools weren't integrated. In my high school, they come up with a few African-American kids that are absolutely from a different social strata. I mean, they would've been different no matter what. And this I'm going to have to continue later, but one of my worst moments was, my girlfriends and I decided — there was one little African-American girl, and we invited her to sit with us at lunch, but then the popular girls said, "If you sit with her, we won't sit with you." And we decided not to sit with her. I mean, that's where we were coming from. Anyway, I'll go on. It's somebody else's turn.


Allen Venable

Allen: I grew up in Pittsburgh, which I thought was a liberal city when I was growing up and then later in life learned that Pennsylvania was considered to be — Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between. And Pittsburgh itself was no easy place for Blacks.

My father was a Socialist in the '30s, a Unitarian. He was very interested in family history. I have a great-grandfather who grew up in Cincinnati and went South in the 1850s to look at slavery and wrote about his time there and what he saw, the evils of slavery. And my father pointed up to us the ways in which previous generations had actually taken part in the Underground Railroad and so on.

My father was a Scoutmaster, and he recruited Black boys and their fathers into the Cub Scouts and into the Scout troop that I was part of, which I just took for granted at the time, but I look back and I say, "He was really working on it." The Unitarian church was integrated, not a lot of Blacks in the church, but it was integrated. My schools were integrated. I looked up to — the hero of my grade school was a guy named John Edgar Whiteman who later became a well known novelist. He was kind of the star of the school when I was growing up.

So I grew up with a certain amount of adoration of young Black heroes. And I was fortunate enough to become part of the — I was a manager on the football team in high school, and through that, I was able to meet Black kids at my school that I wouldn't have known otherwise, because they weren't in the AP classes and so on.

So I came from a family that gave huge support, in a way, to our being in this, though my parents were both very indirect about any kind of political involvement in the '50s. They had felt burned by the Democratic Party in the late '40s. They were living in Pittsburgh which is a Democratic machine, so they were Republicans, as an opposition party. And they didn't talk politics with us at all, but we did grow up in connection with Unitarian Quaker kids. And the Quaker, the Friends Service Committee began to network those families, and I began to learn about Civil Rights as something to talk about, something to explore around Pittsburgh through the Quakers.

In high school, I looked around and I saw — there was a small percentage of Black students in our high school, and I looked at them, and I thought they were doing great; everything was fine. And then when I was a sophomore in college, I decided to do a sociology paper looking at what had happened to the Black male students in my high school in my class, and I discovered that there had been 18 who had been there in the freshman class, and there were 6 that graduated. This was a school where kids graduated. But this is what happened to the Black kids.

And I ended up writing to a friend of mine, one of the classmates I was friends with, who had gone to Howard, and I basically asked him to tell me about his experience in high school. And he wrote me back, and I was really surprised by his letter. He said, "You know, I was really lonely, because I had come to your high school from the Black neighborhood. And because I came to this mixed high school instead of the Black high school next door, I led a very isolated life as a child." That stunned me. And that was one of the things that led me to get more serious about doing something and eventually getting involved with the Civil Rights.

The reason I joined this group was that the thing that kind of interested me in the long run is not all that history anymore, but just the paths that my children have taken. My wife and I were active a bit with anti-war and Caesar Chavez & stuff like that, on and off, in the '70s and so on, but when our kids came around, we no longer had anything that looked like political activism at all. Except through school, through an alternative school, and that's where I began to interpret life through family. It's what you do with your children, that what you do in your community kind of made the most sense to me. And we didn't do a lot of talking to our kids either about what our values were but hoped they just showed through.

What I found was that neither of them became politically involved particularly. But both took interesting routes that I feel are the right ones for them even though they don't necessarily align or at least hearken much to, I thought, what our generation experienced.

Nancy: And I know, at least for myself and probably other people, we're also going to be wanting to talk about our children and what we've done with them. So that's great that you've ...


Nancy Stoller

Nancy: In the [earlier] intros outside, I said I was born and raised in the South. My parents were secular Jews from New York. We were in the South because my father got a job in this little town, in Hampton, Virginia. And for me, both of my parents were opposed to segregation, but I grew up in a completely segregated environment — schools, everything. We weren't allowed and our friends weren't allowed to say the word "nigger" at our house or to talk in a prejudiced way about Black people. And I had to explain to my friends, "Sorry, you can't come in the house if you're gonna talk like that."

Starting in elementary school, I guess. We would come home from school — I had a lot of friends who were brought up to believe in segregation, to believe that Black people were dangerous and so on. And my parents encouraged us to talk about the things that we heard at school and to critique them. So I would say I was probably brought up with a kind of emphasis on critical thinking or something like that, to try to unravel the things that people would say.

Like I remember this friend of mine [Witt Hold?], he said, "Well, you know, the reason Black people have to sit in the back of the bus is because they're more likely to carry weapons. They carry knives. So they're dangerous, so it's safer for you to sit in the front of the bus." So I went home and said this to my parents, and they said, "Well, the next time you talk to him, you say, 'Have you ever seen a Black person with a knife?'" Like how to critique it. "And don't white people carry knives?" And so on and so forth.

So that was the kind of environment that I grew up in. And my father was less active. I don't think he actually was politically active at all. He just went to work, you know, and came home. But my mother, together with another person, helped to desegregate the Girl Scout Council, and she also, with another person, desegregated the League of Women Voters in our area. It didn't really mean anything to me, because I was talking to somebody earlier today, and I just thought, "Oh, this is what families do, or how things happen." [Laughter]

I didn't realize. This was in the '50s, and some of these activities were really, you know, from a kind of marginalized political position. But when I got out of high school and was in college — oh, I should say that right when I graduated from high school, the same time, my father got transferred to an office in Washington, DC, and my family had to move. So my mother swore that we would not live in a Virginia suburb of DC because she wanted to get out of Virginia. So she would either live in DC, or she'd live in Maryland. So we ended up actually living in the same neighborhood where Vicki grew up, the same liberal enclave in Montgomery County. And that's how I got involved with the same set of demonstrations that Vicki was talking about at the Glen Echo amusement park.

But then, my experience with my family — and I was also involved in my college as well doing various things, other activities in Boston of a Civil Rights nature, but as soon as I got involved in the Movement in the DC area, I got in conflict with my parents, because they were afraid that I would get hurt. And once I was out on a demonstration when we went to a bowling alley in the evening, and all of the men in our group, white and Black, got arrested. All the women were not arrested. I had to drive somebody's car. It was terrible. It was a stick shift. I thought I would not be able to drive it.

But the next day, all of our names were in the paper, so my name and address was in the paper because I posted bond. That night, my parents' phone number was called by people threatening me and threatening them, etc. So that was just the beginning of the conflict that I had with my parents not only in that area but also when I was further in the South, where I felt like they were behind and I was in front. I'm sure other people here have had those experiences.


Cathy Cade

Cathy: I grew up in an all-white, middle class, Midwestern family. I went to integrated schools in Chicago before we moved to Memphis. And as early as fourth grade, I liked being with people who were from different backgrounds than I was. In seventh grade I was reaching out to a working class white girl to be my friend. There was something about her that was different that I really liked.

When I was in high school, my father got transferred to Memphis to work for International Harvester inventing new cotton pickers, and I ended up going to segregated Central High School in Memphis, just as Central High School of Little Rock, Arkansas was being forcibly integrated. Most of the students at my school were saying, "Two-four-six-eight, we don't have to integrate."

I was raised Unitarian, and the Unitarian church was right across the street from my Memphis high school, which made for some critical comments from other high school students. My mother was an activist liberal — Democrat; my father was a Republican.

I started trying to reach out to some Black students through my church, and I didn't get very far in either way community and group support versus individual achievement, which I was getting big-time at my house. And I wanted to add that to my life.

So, I'm living in Memphis, and I'm trying to connect with Black students. It was really hard. I was attracted to their emphasis on community, while my white middle-class world was emphasizing individual achievement. At the Unitarian church, we had two meetings with students from a Black Baptist church, but that was it. Then I went to Carlton College in Minnesota, and I had a chance to be part of their new exchange program with Spelman College in Atlanta, which was a Black women's college. Deciding to apply for the exchange was my first decision independent of my parents. I didn't ask them, I just applied for it. I got chosen to be the one to go.

For me the exchange program was fabulous. It was the turning point of my whole life. I spent a lot of time hanging out at the SNCC office and going on demonstrations. I learned a lot. I worked with SNCC in different places for the next seven years as I also went to school.

At the end of the '90s, there was a group of women who were working together to make a book that did finally come out in 2010 called Hands on the Freedom Plow. It is a wonderful anthology of women in the Southern Freedom Movement. Based on the invitation to write something for that book, I wrote a little memoir called, My Family, the Movement, and Me. [It is also on the crmvet website. In my mind it's actually a better version on the website, because it's the full version, not the edited down version that's in Hand on the Freedom Plow.]

Writing for the book gave me the opportunity to interview each of my four siblings, and my mother, about what it was like for them to have me be in the South. I learned a lot that I didn't know, especially from my siblings. One thing that happened was the family got a letter from the KKK in Indiana saying they were going to come bomb my parents' house. I think I knew about that, but I didn't take that seriously. Hey, I was in Mississippi. I was driving around there. What's a little letter from Indiana to the rich suburb where the police were going to protect my parents' house?

But I got to see what it meant to my brothers and sisters to be living in the Chicago suburbs and having gotten that letter. Well, to make a long story short, I'll say that my family is now very — well, all the generations — is very racially mixed. We are no longer an all-white family.

Woman: Great lead in.


Peggy Poole

Peggy: I was born in Vallejo, California and grew up in the Bay Area. There was no church affiliation, and we lived in pretty much of an all white suburb in my high school years in Pleasant Hill, California, if any of you are familiar with that. My mother was not politically active at all. My father was active in local Democratic Party politics but very middle of the road. You know, segregation, I remember news stories on the television from various things that happened in the South, and they certainly were upset by that, but it wasn't something that was really ever discussed outside of that.

My first political involvement was when Kennedy ran. I was 13, and I think like many 13-year-old girls, I brought a lot of passion to everything that I did. And so when he ran, I was very active in the campaign, stuffing envelopes and that sort of thing. And I really believed. I mean, I was a child as we all were, I think, or most of us anyway, of the '50s, and I believed in fairness and the American government and so forth.

And so the other thing that probably had an effect on me in terms of fairness and judging people was that our neighbors across the street, the parents were Holocaust survivors. He had been in Auschwitz, and his entire family had been killed. She had been a Dutch Jew in hiding in Amsterdam throughout the occupation, and she was a teenager. And I remember her stories very vividly about the first time she saw a mirror after the liberation and looked at herself. And she had pimples all over her face and how horrified she was by that. But those stories made a deep impression on me.

I was electrified by the work that SNCC was doing, especially in the summer of '64, and so I wanted to go down South in '65, and I was 18. I was just finishing my first year of college, a very conservative college, which was a compromise with my parents, because they did not want me going to Berkeley which is where I wanted to go. But in those days, you did what your parents told you. I was 17 when I graduated [high school]. I mean, I couldn't have legally at the time.

So anyway, I applied to SNCC, and I probably wrote them in November or December of '64 saying I wanted to come down in '65, and they sent a letter back saying we're not planning anything for the summer of '65. Then of course with Selma and King inviting people down for the SCOPE project, I applied and was accepted to that. And I knew that if I wanted to go down South I'd have to have my parents' permission, because you actually — and I've still got it — the thing from SCLC saying that my parents gave permission for me to go.

So I thought, 'How am I going to do this? Because I know they'll say no if I ask them.' So I went to the student counseling center on campus and talked to a psychologist and said, "OK, so how do you do this? You know psychology, how do you do this?" And actually, I was very naive. But he gave me great advice. He said, "Write them a letter. Their first response will be no, but you won't be right there. So then they don't have to go back on that first response." And so I did. And not only did they say OK, but my father gave my letter to the local assemblyman who had it read into the Assembly record for the State of California. So then it was a part of legislative record, so I was going. [Laughter]

But my family involvement was all on a very personal level. They were very worried about me, but it wasn't a political commitment on their part. More to come.


Carolyn Rogers

Carolyn: I'll start off with my family, I guess, of origin. I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and my parents are both white. I'm white, and of German and Scottish descent. My mother's family came over before the Revolution, but I don't think they fought in the Revolution. They were Quakers. But they were Republicans, but their only political thing was to go and vote, you know, when you're supposed to vote; that was it.

I was in a white working class neighborhood during elementary school, and then we moved to a primarily Jewish neighborhood. So I was the Gentile on the block. And then the high school was very segregated. The Jewish kids went and partied together, and the Gentiles ran around together. I still don't understand that. They still do that at the reunions. [Laughter] I have a really hard time with that.

But at any rate, my way of evolving into going to Alabama was through a variety of experiences. I remember listening about sit-ins when I was in high school. I had one African-American teacher of social studies in high school. The only other Blacks that we probably knew were the maid that came to the house once a week, the waiters and the maids at the country club, so there weren't any friends or connections that way.

My connections came after I left home and went to college. I went to Oberlin Conservatory first, and in music, you just listen to whose —  I mean, there wasn't — I don't even think we were aware that there was prejudice at that point. Then I didn't finish there. I went to Wittenberg University for a year which is very — it's a Lutheran school. I met a sociology professor, because I escaped from daily chapel and went and met in his office and talked with him. He got me to go to Chicago for a summer and work in a settlement house. And then he encouraged me to get into sociology. And then I said, "Oh, I can't stay here." I mean, you had to wear hose and heels on campus on Sunday and this daily chapel. I grew up Lutheran, and we went to church every Sunday, but this was overkill.

Woman: What year are you talking?

Carolyn: I graduated from high school in 1959. OK, so this was probably '61, I think? So then I said, "I've got to get out of the school earlier than staying here for the next two years." So I applied at all these different schools. Cal [University of California, Berkeley] accepted most of my credits. So I was like, "OK, I could go to California." [Laughter] So I came, and I wasn't real political at that point.

I got a sociology degree, and then I went and got a job, but the placement center sent me to be a secretary and a receptionist. And I didn't spend four years in school to do this. So I found social-work school, and I went to the University of Michigan. There they had an exchange with Tuskegee, so when I graduated from social-work school, I went as part of a group of people who went to do work in poverty program which hired Tuskegee Institute students during the summer to do tutoring in 12 rural counties around Tuskegee, around Macon County.

And that was sort of my — I sort of plunged in to it. That's where I met my husband, Jimmy, who was in SNCC at that point. And so I met a lot of the people, like Rap Brown and Stokely and another crazy guy, Scott B. Smith, who was my husband's best friend at that point. And I didn't go with the people who went to Mississippi to do the [Meredith] march in Mississippi [in 1966] where Black Power came out. I'll talk about the rest next.

Nancy: That's the beginning.

Carolyn: That's the beginning. It gives you the history.


Judy Belcher

Judy: OK, I grew up in Oakland. My family lived in West Oakland until I was five years old. My father was going to law school at that time, and he opened his first law practice in West Oakland. And my stepmother recently, we were just talking about it, and she said that his clients just walked in from the street, and they were mostly African-American. West Oakland was all African-American. My brother was the only white kid in his class, and we have this Kindergarten class picture. And my parents always had African-American friends. My father was very politically involved and my mother and my grandmother. And I grew up with politics as just sort of normal.

We were Unitarians. My father was part of the case that went to the Supreme Court challenging the loyalty oath, requiring churches to declare their loyalty to keep their nonprofit tax status.

[For generations, people who held political office, worked in government jobs or joined the armed forces were (and still are) required to take an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. But during the McCarthy "Red Scare" of the 1950s, loyalty oaths were applied to occupations that had never been required to take them before, and the oaths themselves were enlarged to prohibit "subversive" beliefs or membership in organizations suspected of disloyalty to current government policies.

If you took such an oath in order to keep your job, you could later be charged with felony perjury if it were discovered that you had once signed a petition against nuclear weapons, or were a member of a "radical" labor union, or later joined a leftist political organization. In the South, the NAACP was declared a "subversive" organization, and in order to keep their jobs teachers had to sign loyalty oaths that they were not NAACP members. In California, churches were required to sign such politically-motivated oaths in order to maintain their tax-exempt status. Over the course of many years, this kind of expanded political loyalty oaths were overturned as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.]

You know, growing up there were five kids. We just had this regular family. We were very rambunctious and just did family stuff. But both my parents are very intellectual and very intense, and they did a lot of political things. My mother was very outspoken. They met at Reed College. You can imagine. [Laughter]

My parents were very forward progressive thinkers and one of a kind. We did a lot of things in our family that other people took them years. We were the first family to have parents get divorced. And the first family to have interracial adoptions. And my whole family is very interracial. We have everything in our family. We were sort of the first to start doing that, and it seemed normal.

So I think, you know, growing up, we went to the Unitarian church, and all their friends, all their family friends and the children were friends. They were Jewish immigrants, so they were all very liberal and politicized already. So they sort of did a lot of stuff. And I really had a lot of fun as a child in my family. It was a really fun family. My dad was always doing political things. He was good friends with Lionel Wilson [the first Black mayor of Oakland], and he was always breaking barriers, doing stuff. And I was aware of it, and it just seemed normal, because all their friends were like that.

But it did start to get a little iffy in our family. In 1963, my father ran for school board in Oakland based on changing the school board boundaries, because they had built Skyline High School. The school district was 12 miles long and 1 mile wide, the 12 miles along the hills, with all the white people. So his platform was to change the school district to go from the hills to the bay [meaning integrate the school with Blacks and Latinos from the flatlands]

You can imagine how that went over! He didn't win. But it was really controversial, and in 1963, this hate magazine plastered — we moved to Montclair [an affluent suburb] later as the family got bigger. They plastered Montclair with this hate thing, accusing my dad of being a Communist. And I didn't really know about it until years later, although I was just doing my thing. But recently, one of my younger sisters said that she remembers going to school, and some kids — she would've been about 12 or 11 — some kid came up to her and accused — said, "Oh, your father's a Communist." And it was really devastating to my mother, but you know, that kind of thing, you know that hate stuff.

And at the time my parents got divorced, their divorce was final in 1964, so there were a lot of emotional, traumatic things going on during that period already. And then this hate thing was devastating to her. It was really devastating to her, you know? And Oakland was changing from a white city. When we grew up it was all white, and it was becoming more — you know, Blacks were moving into Montclair and everything. It was getting more integrated.

Later in life, I've been very politically active all my life. My brothers and sisters aren't particularly political. One of my father's partners is Bobby {UNCLEAR}, and he changed how juries were selected in Alameda County. And he was African-American. His other partner was Japanese, and he became a Japanese activist, did a lot, even to this day.

Cathy: Judy, say that your father went to Mississippi in '64.

Judy: Oh, I'm so sorry! Yeah, so my dad, in 1965 went — you know, [Bill] Kunstler invited — well, SNCC invited the Lawyers Guild lawyers, 150, to come to Mississippi and do these depositions, 600 depositions, for the challenge to the sitting, to challenge the election, and it went to Congress. So that's the sort of famous thing we did. We did a lot of other stuff. Thank you. [Laughter]


Talking About the Movement

Nancy: So, when we go around again, I'd love for you to explain how you ended up here today and how you ended up in this particular — 

Judy: I'm Unitarian, so we go to the same school. Or church, same church.

Cathy: Well, we could just say it right now. Judy is a child of a lawyer who was working in Mississippi in 1964, and she grew up in this scene that she's just described, but he didn't tell her very much about what he was doing in Mississippi. I think that may be — that may be some other people's experiences of not being clearly told about things, or how much did we tell our children?

Nancy: Right. Which I think is a thing we should be talking about. Would you like to start with your two minutes right now?

Judy: Yeah, I would, because I was getting going there. And I wanted to give that background. I know my family's political. We didn't believe in — it was just part of my upbringing, as opposed to a lot of other families, where they had to challenge their parents. All my friends had to challenge their parents. I didn't have to challenge my parents on the [Vietnam War] or anything.

But he didn't talk about the specific things, and to this day, my sisters and brothers are sort of unaware of exactly — I just recently sent them something about what he was doing in Mississippi and how important it was to the Voting Rights Act. You know, it was a step. It contributed to the Voting Rights Act. It put pressure on Johnson to get the Voting Rights Act passed. And we, until this day, were all very confused about exactly what — because he didn't come home and talk about being there.

Of course, my parents got divorced at that time, but you know, for a gazillion years, I don't ever remember him sitting down and saying, "Oh yeah, we went there; we took these depositions; it affected the Voting Right Act. Johnson had to pass it, because we put the pressure on Congress to unseat the Mississippi Delegation." He never said any of that. I just had learned it on our own, and I'm proud of him for doing that. And my stepmother just recently said that he wanted to protect the kids. He wanted to protect the kids from the fight that they were going through.

Cathy: Do you know what fight?

Judy: Civil Rights and all the struggles, the Free Speech Movement. And in Oakland, they were marching, and the Highway Patrol and the sheriffs and the police were beating people up.

Cathy: So are you saying protect them from the internal fights within the Movements?

Judy: No, no. Just from — 

Carolyn: From the outside.

Cathy: From the reaction to maybe — 

Judy: Yeah, yeah. The hate. From the hate. Yeah. I graduated in 1964 from Skyline High School, a mostly white high school. And like I said before, these hate groups leafleted Montclair, and that was very traumatic, accusing my family of all these things. I didn't feel it; I didn't notice it, but I was graduating. I was not aware of it. I didn't even know about it until many, many, many years later. But my mom moved from Montclair in 1966. She moved to Auburn [CA], and nobody could talk about anything. So I don't know. I think there were more things directed at our family, but my dad was out doing everything. He was doing great stuff, but anyway, I just wanted to say that.

Nancy: Anyone can speak. We're just going to give you two minutes each.

Vicki: So when I was growing up and being Jewish, my parents never mentioned the Holocaust. And we were living, as I said, in my immediate community there were Jews. Most of it was in schools {UNCLEAR} very, very little but Jewish. And when I was in seventh grade, for instance, there was a boy that would sit behind me and say, "Kike, kike, kike." And he was one of the really popular boys. And my friends and I, one of them is here, we would have conversations like, "What do you do?"

And people didn't — they'd either know you were Jewish or not know you were Jewish. But when we would go out on dates, we would say, "What do you do when they start telling Jewish jokes in front of you?" or "Do you tell the boy you're Jewish?" And all these kinds of things. And then in the middle of that, I was like 14 years old, and I find out about the Holocaust, which I just could not believe. I mean, I hadn't heard one word of it in my whole life, and then all of a sudden, it was just poured on me. And I'm going, "Oh my God," you know?

Judy: I'm just thinking about all these things. So my parents got divorced in 1963, and my father married his secretary in 1964 and they went to Mississippi in 1965 in February. And my mom had a breakdown in 1965. And what part of it was just getting divorced or what part of it was the struggle that my father — my mom had the five kids, and his secretary was there supporting him while he was doing the big fight. So you know, the breakdown with the mom was all combined. You can't say which was which, and it was all combined. And my mother died a couple of years ago, and she would not let us talk about it. We could never talk about that time period, or my dad or anything all these years.

But now that she's dead, this is the first time I've ever said this about her breakdown in '65. And I think her loss of position as the wife of an attorney, and I think personally, for a woman of her age, it was devastating. And then my father's secretary was like that with him, you know, she was there everywhere. And there's a lot of animosity in my family still towards her, but I speak to her. But you know, she was there supporting him, and he was out there fighting, doing the fight. So you know, all this sexist stuff, you can see it at a lot of different levels going on there. And I'm very politically active, so you know, I'm probably my father's child. I recently just got arrested at the Board of Supervisors a couple of weeks ago.

Cathy: In Oakland?

Judy: In Oakland.

Nancy: Is your father still alive?

Judy: No, he died about 15, 16 years ago. But yeah, he'd be very proud.


Our Youthful Ignorance

Vicki: But in the mean time, I'm in high school, as I said, I probably would've sold my mother to be a cheerleader. I thought I was just this regular person, but all that was still going on with me. And my parents, they were Democrats, but they didn't talk. Obviously, they never talked about the Holocaust. They didn't talk about any of those kinds of things. So all of a sudden, one day, I come back, and I've been in New York, and people said, "They're picketing in Glen Echo, and you should go down there."

So I went down there, and I think the thing that surprised me so much is I was reading that the Black kids — I mean, basically they were kids just like I was — were from Howard [University]. They were educated. I know I've said this before to Nancy, and I figured well, oh they're just like me. This is the first time I've met African-American kids that are like me. And I decided at that moment in all my wisdom, "Oh we're all just the same." I could not ever take into consideration — until just recently — that our backgrounds were so different and what they were facing.

And just one quick story. I went testing with this African-American girl in our neighborhood, and there were places that were segregated, and afterwards, she was crying. And I realized, she's the one who's not getting in. I'm the one who is having the interesting experience. And it was just really enlightening. Now I'll start talking about my children in the next round.

[Civil rights groups "tested" to see if establishments serving the public would serve Blacks (or not) by first sending in a white person and than an Afro-American.]

Nancy: Anyone. If you all would prefer, we can go around, but I think the best thing is just people should speak when they feel like speaking.

Allen: Well, let me just say, a theme here is not knowing the lives of your peers. I mean, that was certainly true for me. I grew up in a family that was a bubble. The family was a very strong structure, and it limited a great deal of my experience of anybody else's family when I was growing up.

So that even though I grew up with Black kids in our school, in a minority but they were in our school, I never really learned anything about their lives until after it was all over, until after high school was over. And then I was astonished to learn that the incredibly talented, bright, gifted in every way Black kid at our high school, when he went to the guidance counselor and said, "I want to go to art school," the counselor said, "They don't hire Blacks to do art."

Or the other very, ultimately quite successful, strong, Black kid in my high school who eventually went on to become a principal, was told in the high school, "You don't belong in the academic track." And this is Pittsburgh. This is the North. I don't know; I've had to change my notion over the years of what the North is, of what Pittsburgh was. He was told by the counselor, "No, no, you don't belong in academic courses." And this is not AP courses, just academic courses. Until his mother came in and said, "My son's going to college." But it just struck me how little I knew of what my peers were experiencing around me.

Nancy: So I want to go back to the thing that Vicki and Al said about what you know about other people, like when you're a teenager or whatever. And I wanted to say a couple of things. One, I have two brothers. They're twins and a year and a half older than me. When I, for years, looked back on my involvement in the Movement, I completely did not remember that either of my brothers ever walked on the same picket line that I did or that they did this or that. And recently, I told them — you will appreciate this — that I was going to write a memoir, and I was going to write about some of this stuff. And one of my brothers said, "Oh yeah, remember when we did such and such?" And I had no memory of it. Because it was so much my experience that — and because I continued to do a lot of this work, and I worked full-time and stuff like that, they just became invisible in my memory.

So that was a shocking educational experience for me, about my own family. And the other thing, something that you said, Vicki, about like meeting people who were from Howard, well these are my real fears, feeling that way because of similar class and educational situation. One of the things that happened to me in the Movement in general, like I said, I grew up in this totally segregated world, I was so happy to be in an integrated environment and to actually meet and hang out with Black people my age. And through SNCC and everything else, all of a sudden I had what I thought was in a certain way, my new family, my new world.

And of course, something we haven't talked about here yet, except indirectly, my significant early heterosexual relationships were with African-American men. I married an African-American man. I have a daughter who is now 45, and I have a grandson and so on, and I'll talk more about that further on. But for me, all of a sudden in a certain way, I had a new — where I was going to — a world that I knew I would make my life in.


Our Family's Reaction

Peggy: So I was thinking a lot about family involvement, knowing that I was going to be in this group, and so, as I said, my family involvement — they were very committed to me on a personal level but not a political level. My uncle told my mother that this experience going down South would ruin me, which was very frightening to her. I didn't know anything about it until years later. She didn't tell me. Because of course — and my parents were midwestern; in white midwestern families, as you know, girls should get married and have children. I was the first of my family to go to college. That was even a big deal.

So and then I had an aunt that went to Mass every day when I was in the South for the whole 10 weeks. Every day she went to Mass to pray for my safety, which of course at 18 I totally dismissed. It's like, right. You know, I'd flip a coin. But anyway, but now I can kind of appreciate her sacrifice and her commitment.

My father spoke to clubs. I mean, being he was in real estate, so he belonged to a Lion's Club and a Toastmaster's. They used to give speeches and practice giving speeches and so forth. He spoke to them about me going down South, and a couple people sent me some money to help out.

We didn't have any money. That was a major issue for me going down South, was how was I going to finance my next year of college? How was I going to finance my time down South? Because I needed to work during the summer. And my mother sent a couple boxes. I remember she sent me a couple of dresses, because of course you had to wear dresses. We were going to church all the time, because that was how you organize. And then she also organized a box of school supplies that she sent, because we did education classes. And then the last thing that she did, just to finish this, is a friend of hers wrote for the local paper, the Contra Costa Times, wrote a column. And so she would give Doris updates, and so then it would appear in the column about what I was doing. Next chapter will be my children. [Laughter]

Cathy: Well, I'm glad you broke it down like that. I could start off by saying I have a new understanding of how my parents felt having me in the South now that I have children who have been old enough to go. One of my sons is Black, Black and white. I am deathly afraid of him wanting to go to Mississippi. Every time I think about him maybe going to Mississippi I think, "Oh my God, my poor parents." I was not thinking that at the time in the '60s.

It was scary for my parents. My father came down to Albany, Georgia when I got arrested, and he ended up interviewing both the leaders of the Black movement and the leaders of the white racist movement. He was an engineer, so interviewing people and getting the facts was his way. He wrote it all down, he kept it, I have it, and it's part of my memoir. He ended up having a nervous breakdown, which in part was his fear that the Communists were taking over the Albany Movement. But his breakdown was also based on traumatic experiences from his own childhood.

Nancy: Did he have the nervous breakdown while he was in Albany?

Cathy: He came down to get me while the trial was going on. I flew home with him; I said I'd go home for the weekend with him. We got home; I went to sleep; I woke up, and he was in a mental hospital. So he didn't literally have the breakdown until he got home. He eventually recovered from that, and actually changed quite a bit in the last years of his life.

My mother had some very positive experiences — besides having to deal with her husband, her fears about me, and the letter from the KKK. The positive things that she got out of it were that she got to meet with Black leaders of the suburb of Chicago where she lived who she hadn't known before. I met some of them too, and they were wonderful, wonderful people. She also got to meet with union leaders who were helping the Movement and were bringing clothes and shipping food down to Mississippi for free. My mother had grown up in an owning-class family with a father who was an engineer on the Board of Trustees at John Deere. For her to be in the home of a union person was more radical than to be with Black people. She embraced this; it was an opening up for her.

Nancy: I want to say one quick little thing about ways that my family responded. Generally speaking, they didn't seem to me to have any real interest in what I was doing, and part of that was because my father got really ill and died in June of '63. I had been very involved with the Movement all this time, and my mother was very focused there [at home]. So what I was doing was like really unimportant to them. They were dealing with life and death.

However, a year later, while I was still very active in the Movement, my mother was in a show that was held at a community house where I had been living during college, and she performed in this musical which was about — they would take songs from Broadway shows, and they would put different words to them. The musical was about a Civil Rights worker in the South, and she played somebody just like me. And she got to sing this song about — you know, how like when women — when people get arrested, and the police would take you to jail, and the women would have to have these internal exams, so she sang this song which went sort of like this, [Singing]

"No pelvics for me..." [Laughter]
"Even though they are free..."

So I discovered this later, and it was like suddenly I realized like the community, my mother, people were proud of me. It was like a great moment for me, even though you could say maybe I should've realized that, but I didn't until then.

Carolyn: I will speak. Probably the biggest change for me with my family was when I said I was going to marry my husband, because my family could not accept that at all and particularly my father. So he disinherited me at that point. When I called them, he threatened to come out and shoot me which was — 

Woman: To shoot you?

Carolyn: Yeah, me. Oh, it's really just — that's bizarre. My father had a shotgun that he went hunting with, that he always kept in his closet, but it was never put together. So I mean, guns were not something that I grew up with.

So at any rate, they basically never saw my son. I think my mother would have at some point. But I mean, they were married for 60 years. They were like entwined like this. When my father died, my mother died a year later. I went back for visits at a certain point ever year. I would spend my vacation going back and visiting, and then I guess I'm still not [crying].

I would go back to spend time with my mother. She died several years ago. At any rate, so I think my brother went the opposite way than I did. He was the one primed to take over the family business, and that's what he's done. [crying]

Woman: Do you have a relationship with your brother? Did he accept you?

Carolyn: I don't have a real relationship with him.

Allen: Do you think he was alienated by the marriage too?


Jews & Gentiles

Carolyn: He also was alienated in high school. We were a Gentile in a Jewish neighborhood. And so he was friends with guys through grade school. When they got to high school, they wouldn't invite him to their social events, because he was a Gentile, and their Jewish girls might not be interested in him or something. And I was aware of that, because I didn't want to participate in going to parties where people drank, because that's the way the gal down the street ran her parties during high school. But my family was very Republican, very conservative. And when I would go back to visit, I would see maybe a handful of Blacks.

Allen: That just gave me a funny insight about what was going on among us back in the '50s and '60s in relation to Jews and Christians. Well Jews and non-Jews — Unitarians aren't Christian — and Blacks. And suddenly it occurs to me that one of the things of the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for Black rights did was it made, it simplified the issue of crossing over between Christian and Jew, between Jewish and non-Jewish. And that was going on in my high school. I graduated in '62, and it was around then that that was beginning to collapse, that dating was really beginning to happen on a more and more substantial scale between Jews and non-Jews. And somehow I think there was a common focus on Black people that made the rest of us — well, you know, America has this evolving definition of white, basically. [Laughter] And some day, we'll say Black people are white too, because that's kind of the word that's used for —  Judy: Or having privilege.

Allen: Right, yeah, whatever.

Cathy: Or maybe we'll get rid of white. [Laughter]

Allen: Yeah, maybe!

Cathy: I wanted to say that when I was in high school in Memphis, there was this same, that you mentioned, there were a lot of Jewish kids in my particular high school. It was the high school that Jewish families chose to send their kids to. And they very much stayed — you know, there was this separation, and there wasn't social crossing over at all. And, when I got in jail in Albany, Georgia, there were seven of us quote "white women" in one cell block with four beds. And I know three or four of us were Jewish. From radical Jewish families in New York who had been doing a lot of stuff since the '30s.

And that's where I learned a lot about Jewish people and Jewish politics. I mean, my mother had always been supportive of Jewish people, but this was a big step forward from the segregated groups in high school, even though we were in the same school, to being in the Movement. And it was a huge change. I totally support what you were saying.

Vicki: Because we were so much in the minority, we didn't have that separation. I always went out with non-Jewish boys. I was in my elementary school, my first one in Virginia, my best friends were not Jewish. Some were and some weren't, because there were some Jewish kids. But that was never an issue until — and I was never attracted to Jewish men for one thing! So it was just like that part wasn't there, because there were just so few of us. And we were living in a community where a lot of the people didn't practice religion. A lot of people were from — doing ethical cultural. It wasn't like we were — you know, so that wasn't an issue in the same way as in other places.

Nancy: I wanted to add something which is that for me, as an adult later in life, I've been involved with some kind of Jewish/feminist/queer stuff, and people always say things to me like, "Well, you come from a Jewish family. It must've been Jewish values that brought you into the Movement." But that was never the case for me. What brought me into the Movement was growing up white in the South with parents who were critical of segregation. I always thought my identity as a white person was the most important identity that I had, that I had to address.

Judy: As opposed to be Jewish?

Nancy: Definitely as opposed to Jewish. And I also really didn't like being — I mean, in school, like in my high school, there were 7 of us out of about 1700 students who were Jewish. But I always made clear if somebody asked me — well, you can't tell now, but I didn't look Jewish. I have blonde hair, blue-green eyes. My brothers had red hair, green eyes. Nobody knew that we were Jewish. And people would say anti-Semitic things, and we were kind of trained to speak up to say, "Yes, I am Jewish. And as long as Hitler thinks this is what a Jew is, I'll always be a Jew."

But at the same time, to me, I felt I had to act as a white person, and when people would say to me, "Oh well, Jews are different than other white people," I would just go, "Who are you kidding? You live in the U.S." And we also faced anti-Semitism when I grew up, the same kinds of things that other people are talking about. But still, the privilege that I had as a white person, I mean, you can't join the local yacht club, or you can't be in the local high school sorority. It was nothing compared to the difference between my life and a Black person's life.

Cathy: I want to add that I learned a lot from the Jewish activists who were in SNCC and from the years, the generations, that their families had been [activities] activists. My mother taught me to respect Jewish people and the Jewish experience also.


Our Children

Carolyn: We were talking about politics and our children, and I think my husband and I have always talked politics and who's running for office, you know, etc. So my son got a scholarship to a private prep school in Pebble Beach [CA] through his athletic ability. And when he went down there he was in this class, which the teacher loved to have him in the class, and he said, "You know, these people think that Reagan is a good President." [Laughter]

Judy: And that's because we're from Oakland. [Laughter]

Judy: I lived across the street from her for 11 years.

Carolyn: So he told us that story, and I thought, you know, he came home with that, and I thought it was classic. So that's the kind of culture we developed for him.

Peggy: So I have two sons that were born in the mid to late '70s, so they were in school in the '80s, graduated in the mid to late '90s in Berkeley. We've always lived in Berkeley, or they have. And so Berkeley public schools. So when my oldest son was in fourth grade which is when kids are around what? Nine, ten years old. Everything was very — you had to make sure everything was balanced in the classrooms. The principals went through, and every school, equal numbers or proportions of Black and white and Hispanic students in the class. So my son was the only white boy in his class. There were eight white girls, but at that age —  [Laughter]

Woman: When boys and girls don't get along.

Peggy: Right. At that age, boys and girls don't talk to each other, so he was totally isolated. He was picked on terribly.

Woman: Why?

Peggy: Because he didn't share. So he liked — he was a swimmer. He liked to climb. He wasn't into baseball. The Black boys — the culture of the boys in the class was baseball, Ricky Henderson. If you didn't share in that — the music was different. The church was different. It was a different culture. So he was totally isolated and beat up waiting in line for the bus. I mean, kids at that age, there's not — and so we took him out of public school for a time, for a few years.

My youngest son, when he was in high school, at Berkeley High, which is the only high school in Berkeley, Berkeley has a program on race. I forget what it's called, but it's something like racial sensitivity. And again, so Matthew weighed maybe 75 pounds and was about five feet tall. He didn't grow until much later, so he was a young, very blonde, blue eyed, young white boy. And he came home just carrying the weight of slavery and the guilt of slavery, because the teacher didn't do very well with that.

And then in his freshman year, there started to be a lot of attacks on white boys. And he was hit alongside the head. He never saw who hit him, hit into a door jamb leaving one of the buildings during school. And you know, I went to school to pick him up one day, and it was like a war zone. I mean, there were no doors on the bathrooms, because there'd been beatings and there'd been all this other kind of stuff and drugs. And so we took him out of public school, because they were developing prejudices against Black students, because that was who was hitting them.

And so actually, I ended up putting Matthew into a Catholic school that was well integrated, but it was all middle class. And so then the prejudices went away, but it had a lot to do with the way things were handled in the public schools, and it had a lot more to do with economic differences.

Carolyn: It had a lot to do with that period. I'm responding to that, because my granddaughter just went through Berkeley High.

Peggy: And it's different now?

Carolyn: She's biracial, but she looks African-American. She's very dark. She doesn't have those kinds of concepts. She didn't have that kind of experience, and neither did her cousin who was two years older.

Peggy: Just to respond to wrap this up. There were no guards then. The campus was open then. It is totally changed.

Carolyn: No, I think they've really done a good job with diversity, and well, I just think that kids today have a real different concept. They do. She just doesn't have those kinds of same things. When her mother and I took her to see some state colleges that she got into, we were saying, "Well, how many Blacks did we see when we were down here? How many African-Americans?" She could care less. You know, it was just like, "What are you talking about?"

Cathy: She doesn't even know, yeah.

Nancy: Let me just get something clear here. Could you say what the dates were when you were talking about that?

Peggy: I did. I said that they were born in the mid '70s, and they were in Berkeley public schools in the '80s and graduated in the mid-'90s.

Carolyn: And mine graduated last year [2014], my granddaughter.

Peggy: A 20-year difference.

Nancy: So we're talking about 15 or 20 years later.

Peggy: 20 years.

Carolyn: Yeah, I say it's very different.

Cathy: My kids grew up in the Oakland public schools. My oldest son is white, and my younger son is Black and white. I think I should interview my sons on this question of how well did we talk to you about our Civil Rights experience and our values.

I don't really know how well we did. We modeled certain things. We had friendships across class and race, we lived in a working class integrated neighborhood in Oakland, and they went to those neighborhood schools. I was glad they were in the integrated, working class schools; that they weren't in the middle class schools that I grew up in. My white son was one of the few white kids in his school when he was growing up, and I always felt like he was learning a lot, that he was having an advantage.

He has actually has told me that he feels that advantage. When he got to college, a prestigious college, he was meeting all these other white students there, he said, "Mom, they don't know anything. They don't get it." That was very affirming of me.

But my sons were also growing up with lesbian moms, and they were kids conceived by donor insemination. There was no father around. But they were around other lesbian moms and other kids.

Woman: It's not unusual in Oakland.

Cathy: Back then, we were the beginning group, but we were a group. We had a lesbian mothers group, which met at least once a month. The moms met in one of our houses and at the same time, our kids met at another house, so they had this support. At one point, my son said, "I don't care if the moms start meeting again, but I really want the kids to start meeting."

Woman: I think that's interesting.

Allen: I want to say more about the family too. We have two children, a daughter who's 38, and a son who's 34. And we got active in alternative schools in San Francisco because it was an opportunity to find schools where there was some creativity and where there was some real sense of integration that might work. Both kids had difficult interracial experiences growing up. I think mostly of my son, and his problem was not one that — it's one I understood from childhood too, which is basically bullying. He would get bullied by Black gangs on the way home and stuff, and that was traumatic for him.

Woman: That's an economic kind of thing.

Allen: That's economic, yeah. And it reflected the kind of privileged system that goes on in the San Francisco schools where our kids, when they were in middle school, they were in the "gifted" program.

Vicki: Which school?

Allen: Everett.

Vicki: Oh, my kids were there probably at the same time your kids were there.

Allen: OK.

Vicki: And Everett was not only — the problem is that by the time — so Nick is going to be 36, and Noe is 34. I think she just turned 34.

And Everett was very interesting, because it had this wonderful GATE program, except that when my son started it, it wasn't existing anymore. But other than that, it was a very diverse school. But I think it was very valuable for that, because they really met — 

Allen: Yeah, but Everett was a school where the GATE program wasn't exclusively white, but it was a pocket of middle class and mostly white kids in a school that also had immigrant kids, that had other clusters that were really on the bottom, kind of.

Finally, our kids went to — and {UNCLEAR} which is a private school with an enormous budget for scholarships, and that was great. And I think that was a great tonic for him after the challenges at middle school actually. Because {UNCLEAR} is integrated too, fairly good.

Vicki: So they were at Everett more or less at the same time. But they learned a lot from there. My son was just — but it was also really different cultures, and so then when my son came home in sixth grade, he was very little and he was 11. He says, "Mom, the Asian kids smell." And I said, "You know why?" I mean they do smell to him, because they eat so much fish. I said, "Well, Nick, but you smell to them because you're eating all these beef." But I mean, that's the kind of experiences.

But he's really glad, and he feels like — and he really had — my daughter was a student and went on and got a scholarship to [U.C.] Irvine], but Nick on the other hand just went — he started at Lowell [High] and went to Lincoln [High] and ended up independent. And he was not a student. But he's grateful, he says, because he feels like he wasn't protected.

I think when they were little — you know parents protect their kids so much. And when my kids were 11, I said, "You know, I am not driving you ever again. You get to school on your own. You can ride these buses, you know?" And they had all these experiences. And my son came out very — he's like a computer genius kind of person, so he's done very well. But I'm glad they had those experiences, that they were living in the city, and they were meeting all kinds of kids from all different cultures.

Judy: It's really come around. Now the colleges are looking for urban students. They don't want the suburban kids. It's just really changed.

Cathy: You said earlier that your kids aren't activists, but they have found a life that is good for them. I would say the same thing about my sons, that they're not activists, but I see in them a lot of the values that I learned in the Black community—wanting to serve their communities. Sometimes these days we call them people-skills.

My sons have a lot of sensitivity to other people. They're really good listeners and things like that. I partly credit this to my living in the Black community, which is more than being in the Civil Rights Movement. Its also the result of being raised by women, and women who were in the women's movement.

Nancy: So, I wanted to say something else about children. So I mentioned I got married to an African-American man, and first of all, both of our families were opposed. We each only had a mother left at the time, and they both thought that we should not get married. His mother thought that I would take advantage of him, because I was a graduate student and I was somehow going to like live off of him until I got my degree and get rid of him. And my mother thought it was going to be terrible for our child, if we had any children. And we specifically got married because we both wanted to have a kid, and we each thought the other person would be a good parent.

Judy: That's a good reason.

Nancy: Which was interesting. But as it happened, by the time my daughter was three years old, we got divorced, because we had very different views on child rearing. And this was also at the of the beginning of the feminist movement, also. When we were first together, we each shared all the work in the house; he did the cleaning and all of that. But once our daughter was born, he believed that I should just completely add that in. So we had huge fights for a long time.

But we were living in an African-American neighborhood in Boston. We were living in Roxbury, if any of you know Boston at all. And our landlords were [SNCC activists] John and Amanda Perdue. I don't know if anybody knew them from the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia. It's a white guy married to an African-American woman. And they owned the house, and we were renting from them. And so when we were getting separated, my husband said, "Well, we should stay here. It's in a Black neighborhood. I should stay here, and Nancy should move."

And John and Amanda who have great SNCC values, said, "No." [Laughter] "Nancy's going to be taking care of Gwendolyn, our daughter, and she should be able to stay here and bring her up in our community, etc."

So I brought my daughter up as an interracial child. And also a lot of people have said to me, because I was the white parent, and I'm bringing up — and you probably dealt, all of you who dealt with interracial kids understand this too, but at the same time, I raised her to think that of course people are going to treat you as an African-American, but it's important to critique race. So she grew up that way.

Also, my husband's family, thank God for one aspect that I think is a really great aspect of African-American culture, which is the linkages among women in terms of sticking together, rearing children, etc. So I'm still, and always was close to all the women in his family. And that created something really special for my daughter.

She now teaches art history, and her focus is African-American art history. So in terms of this thing about activism, she would never — she'd support demonstrations and so on and so forth, but she teaches in a certain way that we're talking about here. I have a grandson who's a very light-skinned African-American, and he jokes about how — and also there's Native American background in the family, so about all these different ways that he's viewed and is treated.

And the last thing I want to say about this is in 2010, I went to the 50th anniversary of the founding of SNCC that was held at Shaw [University] in Raleigh [NC]. And I arranged for both my daughter and my grandson to come for the last two days, and they went to some workshops, and there was also this thing where people who were members of the Movement got to introduce their children in this big church environment. I introduced my daughter, she introduced her son. And they also went to workshops. So when they were leaving at night, I asked my grandson who was like 15 or 14 at the time, "What did you think?" He said, "I'm so glad that I came here, because now I understand why you're the way you are." [Laughter]

It was fabulous, but it also made me realize certain things that I hadn't communicated to him, but for our children and grandchildren to be at events like this, it's so powerful for them, even if they don't hear me speak. Can you imagine what it would be like for all our kids just to be in that room? So that makes me think about the future, things that we want to do. OK, I've spoken enough, and the rest of the speaking should be the rest of you. And we didn't get to the new families topic.

Cathy: I just want to add that I've observed that among many of the Civil Rights activists, our children are not activists, but they're disproportionately artists, either writers or musicians or history teachers. Keep looking around and see if you don't see that.

Carolyn: Not in our family.

Cathy: I mean, I'm sure it's not all the time.

Carolyn: No, athletic ability was probably a more prominent thing.

Cathy: In your children?

Carolyn: Yeah. My son played four sports, and my granddaughter played two sports.

Judy: Just to pop in. I'm an artist, and it's the healing nature of art. And if you've gone through a lot of trauma, art can heal. There's a huge, humongous healing aspect to art, so if I look back at my life, that's exactly why I got into what I did and how I became creative.

Cathy: The way I interpret the artists of the next generation is that to be an artist you have to think big and think outside the box and think freely, and go for it. And you also have to be willing to do it without making enough money to support yourself. So I see the economic part is all kind of in line with the activism part.

Allen: First, I want to thank you for this question, "How well did we talk to you?" I think I need to have that conversation with my 34 and 38-year-old children. I hope I can do that.

And what you just said too about kids becoming artists. Well, I became a writer which is a would-be artist, but I never really see it as an artist. But my daughter became a serious songwriter. I think more about my son, because my son is an engineer. And in many ways, he's not an activist in the sense of adopting liberal causes. But he's an activist in the sense of being really concerned with trying to understand what's going on. And challenging the myths that we live by. There's a solution to rent control, and this is it. And he says, "Well, that's not it. Let's reason this out and see — "

Cathy: That's an engineering mind.

Allen:  — And I love that about him. And it's pleasant to think that maybe, that somehow, what we did helped to make that happen, although I never thought of it that way before. [Laughter]


Legacies We Gave to Our Children

Nancy: Allen, just based on what you've said, I'm thinking we might have our kind of go round, check out, and you could say anything you want, but one possibility is the question of the legacy that you think you've brought to your family.

Vicki: Vicki. What I was thinking about was that what I'm proud about my children is they're both kind. They're good people. They made most of their friends — well, my son's friends {UNCLEAR} my daughter's not as much. But I feel like they're good people; they're not racist. They make good decisions. And Allen, our kids have to know each other. [Laughter]

Vicki: They were both at the GATE program the same year.

Allen: Morgan and Noe.

Vicki: And so anyway, I feel like that's a good legacy. There's one thing that happened to my son though that I feel really bad about. When we were all demonstrating against [the Iraq War], and he proudly went down there and he had his flag and everything, and then we went down there a couple times. And then we left to go home, and Nick stayed down. And he's a skateboarder, so he had his skateboard in his hand, and a cop came and Nick does not like physical {UNCLEAR}. So the cop hit him with a billy stick, and Nick went like this but not — he didn't — you can't miss with a skateboard, but he threatened this cop. He is thrown off into jail. I get a phone call saying, "Your son has attacked a policeman." Well, it turned out at the end, it was OK. He got community service. People went and talked for him, because there was no way that he could actually attack this cop. But I think it made him very really leery in demonstrating anywhere at this point.

Carolyn: Well, these demonstrations have been different.

Peggy: So neither of my sons is politically active, but I think the legacy is that they treat all other people with dignity and respect. And if I can take anything — well, one of the main things that I take from my experience is treating everyone with dignity and respect. And I have worked at San Francisco General [Hospital] in the emergency department with very, very difficult people, and just treating people with dignity makes a world of difference. And if we can do that, then we've accomplished a hell of a lot.

Cathy: Well, what came to my mind when you asked for our legacy was that when I was with my sons yesterday I was really struck with the fact that they are such big talkers. My God! For which I'm grateful.

Woman: Now they couldn't have gotten that from you! [Laughter]

Cathy: Really! And I'm often surprised at how much they're willing to tell me stuff when we're in each other's presence. And I do recognize my talking. [Laughter]

But I am also a listener. I learned that at Spelman, sitting in the SNCC office, and I did a lot of it. I've done it the rest of my life, and I value listening very much. And I think my sons also value the listening. It's related to what you're saying about the dignity and respect for other people. So I feel like the value in listening is my legacy.

Nancy: I didn't think about answering this myself! [Laughter]

Cathy: It's a great question.

Nancy: One of the things I think maybe is a kind of legacy is a really kind of deep commitment — or it's in their cells for my daughter and my grandson — is a kind of commitment to nonviolence, which I cannot imagine my grandson ever doing anything violent. So it's related to that, treating people with respect and stuff like that, but there's something about — it's a kind of belief that we can act in the world, and we can just bring our bodies and our minds and our voices to what we think needs to happen in a peaceful way. Because I saw it happen in the Movement in so many ways, I think I've always communicated it, and I think they really have that.

Judy: And being fair, a sense of justice.

Nancy: I think that's there, but what seems the most important to me is the peaceful way of making change and doing things.

Judy: OK, I'm just going to speak for my Dad. In the '60s, '70s, '80s, he was a huge beacon for all my friends. I mean, I'm a child of the '60s, and a lot of my friends, their parents were conservative Republicans, and they looked to my Dad, because he was out there fighting the fight. They highly respected him, and it gave them confidence to do the demonstrating that they did. But a lot of them, their families were not on board at all. So my Dad was a beacon for a lot of my friends, and then as a child of my father, my father had a deep sense of justice and I do too. I just have it. And it was only when I went out in the world where I found out not everybody thinks that. Not everybody believes that. Not everybody believes that things should be fair.

Carolyn: I have no idea, because my son's not able to come forward with anything. So my granddaughter is still young. She's 18, and she didn't even register to vote, so I don't know where that's going to go. Which is a big strong problem in the family. [Laughter]

We'll see what happens. It depends upon who runs, probably.


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