Questions From Teachers
A Discussion
July-August, 2020

In August of 2020, Rachel Reinhard of U.C. Berkeley organized a pair of Zoom webminars with Bay Area Veterans of Civil Rights Movement (BayVets) discussing the Freedom Movement and how it is (or should be) taught with public school teachers. In preparation, prior to the webinar, BayVets discussed the questions that Rachel asked us to address. This is an edited and extended transcript of our pre-webinar discussions.

Video recordings and chat logs of the actual webinars that this discussion was preparation for can be viewed at:

August 4th Webinar
August 4th Chat Log

August 6th Webinar
August 6th Chat Log

 

BayVets Discussion Participants:

Chude Pam Parker Allen  
R Cole Bridgeforth
Cathy Cade
Miriam Glickman
Bruce Hartford
Marion Kwan
Eugene Turitz
  

Contents:

1st Question: About the Freedom Movement?
  Cole: A True Peoples' Movement
  Gays and the Movement
  Gene: The Movement Exposed the Realities
  White Awareness
  Chude: White Allies
  Bruce: Four Thoughts
  Miriam: Responses
  Marion: Diversity
  Capitalism & Exploitation
2nd Question: How Teach the Freedom Movement?
  Bruce: Beginnings & Locations
  Miriam: Experiential Education
  Marion: Emigrant Experience
  How is Empathy Taught?
3rd Question: How Does Change Occur?
  Bruce: Small Groups & Mass Support
  Cole: Earned Insurgency
  Genge: Anger As Motivation
  Marion: There Were Differences
4th Question: Consequences & Personal Affect?
  Chude: From a White World to an Interracial World
  Mirian: Politics and Peoples Lives
  Gene: Immeresed in a Black-Led Movement
  Marion: Breaking Out of Confinement
  Bruce: Responses
5th Question: Role of Teachers?
  Bruce: Courage Comes First
  Chude: Taking a Stand
  Gene: Teachers Who Buck the System

What would you want students to know about the Southern Freedom Movement?


Cole: A True Peoples' Movement

Cole:

That's broad. I did some notes. I'd like for them to know it was a true people's movement. Often driven by youth power. Students, Freedom Rides, Southwest Georgia, Mississippi Summer Project, Selma, all had huge youth components. The thing I want them to know, the Southern Freedom Movement morphed into a nationwide movement. For example, the Free Speech Movement at Cal [University of California, Berkeley], Women's Liberation Movement, Anti- War Movement particularly in San Francisco, Farm Worker's Movement, Black Panther Party, the BSU [Black Student Union] Educational Movement. All of those movements had folks who were radicalized, trained to gun up, whatever, in the South.

Gays and the Movement

Cathy:

LGBTQ...

Cole:

How much do you think that the development of the LGBQ Movement — does that have some roots in the South?

Cathy:

Yeah, connected through the Women's Movement.

Cole:

A-ha! The men not so much, right?

Bruce:

It could be. The people I knew in the gay rights movement here in 'Frisco, I can't think of any who were active in the South, though there may have been some active with Act Up or something like that. On the other hand, the Southern Freedom Movement sort of set a template for social action that's been applied for the last 50 years. So, even if Sally Smith or Joe Blow were not in South, there's that general connection...

Cole:

Is that something would want students to know? What Bruce just said?

Cathy:

I think it's important.

Gene:

I would raise the question, what inspired [Bayard] Rustin? Some of the feelings about him have to do with him being gay and how that worked both positively and negatively within the Civil Rights Movement. I don't know whether people saw him as an important link or not. I have no idea.

Cole:

You know, because we're kind of — are a little stiff. People denigrated him because he was a gay man. But Billy Taylor, I think that's his name — 

Gene:

Billy Porter.

Cole:

Billy Porter, the actor, has a nice video. It brought tears to my eyes. When he brought up a picture of Bayard ... Anyway, he talked about the movement, Billy Porter talked about the movement and the fact that his brother got aggrieved, but it's time for us to own all of this, because Bayard was one of the architects.
[Cole, if you can provide a link to the video, I'll link it into the paragraph above.]

Chude:

Just the one thing I would add there is that if we're going to bring up the question of LGBTQ I think we need to just acknowledge that the movement was very anti-gay. It was homophobic back then. It doesn't mean there weren't gay people involved, but there were an awful lot of homophobic people, too.

I don't think it needs to be a main point, but especially for kids, I think kids need to understand that people are uneven. Movements are uneven. You don't become radical about everything the first day. You still have conservative tendencies and ignorances. I mean, Bruce's story about the young kids asking where his horns were because they'd been told that Jews had horns.

[Referring to a previous discussion regarding Jews.]

I think it's important to say. The level of sophistication there is today wasn't there then.


Gene: The Movement Exposed the Realities

Gene:

I wanted to answer a little bit about [the first question]. Yesterday I thought about this question in the background that because there's kind of a consciousness that's happened today around with — talk about Portland that there are more people with Black Lives Matter signs than there are Black people in Portland. This idea that what's happened in the last few years that suddenly white people are "believing" Black people when they tell them that cops murdered them or that kids get harassed in school. Because of cell phones and stuff like that, there's this evidence. So, suddenly Black people become believable.

I think something like that happened at the time of the Civil Rights Movement. I don't think the country believed before then what Black people who lived in the South were saying about the South — that you could be killed for looking at somebody the wrong way, that you could be killed for not stepping off the sidewalk. That Black people living in the South were living in a society where really every aspect of their lives, from their housing to their ability to work, to their jobs was controlled by a white power structure which would kill them with no negative things happening to the killers at any time. That this was a fact of life which I don't think people in the country, many people in the country, understood until this Black movement that people began to say, "Oh, my goodness. This is really true."

When the kids got blown up in Birmingham they said, "Oh, my God. This really does happen."

Now, that they didn't know that before wasn't because nobody talked about it. So, something happened when people started opposing, people in the South started opposing — whether it was the school desegregation stuff, Brown versus Education or the Montgomery Bus Boycott where people suddenly were organizing and coming up, that other people started to believe more of this. I think the Civil Rights Movement accentuated that because all these people suddenly went out to the South and saw it for themselves. Also all of us saw things that we never exactly — we never had experienced it in that way.

I think that's an important thing to try to say, it's an important part of teaching about the Civil Rights Movement that that was a change that occurred for hundreds of people who went into the South as well as their families and the communities they came from began to believe that this was happening.

[But] not enough to get the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party seated, not enough.

Cole:

But enough for the Civil Rights Bill and for the Voting Rights Act.

Gene:

Yes, yes. But I'm just saying there's certain ways it didn't happen, but it did expose these things. I think that's an important thing. I wish — I don't think teachers teach that.

White Awareness

Bruce:

I have to say I disagree with Gene that whites didn't know what was going on in the South. I would phrase it as they knew but didn't want to recognize.

Some were completely ignorant, I'll grant you that. But I think that most people did know what was going on and didn't want to look at it. What the movement did, it wasn't so much as give them the information, it forced to deal with it.

Gene:

No, I think people saw it individually, not as that it framed the lives of people who live there, I think people saw even Emmett Till's killing as an individual situation where it was horrible and people were horrified with the way he was killed. But they didn't think that that meant that every 14-year-old boy was walking around with that possibility happening to them.

I never sensed that from people that I lived around and I was just a kid at that time, too. I don't remember the adults saying, "Oh, my God," and to imagine, and my mother was a social worker who worked with children, I don't remember her talking about the horror that every kid in the South is walking with that hanging over them. I don't think people understand that today and that that's happening in the Black community now for a lot of kids.

Cole:

Black and white TV brought the movement into their living rooms. It also put it on the front page of the national news. People have various ways of reacting to. What you could ignore about the noise we were making down there and the confrontations and the burning of the buses and the Freedom Rides, and lunch counter stuff. We didn't allow them to look away and then, of course the final blow was when white folks started to come into the South and join in Selma, Mississippi, and other places but they brought their families with them.

Chude:

But I just wanted to say as a good Episcopalian growing up in essentially a white, upper middle class neighborhood, I didn't know much of anything. I mean I was raised that it was wrong to think that people of color, essentially African-Americans or Negroes were inferior. But that was it, you know? I certainly did not know anything about Emmett Till, I was in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't even in the city.

Cole:

Did you say you were taught that people of color were inferior?

Chude:

No, the opposite. I was taught that everyone was equal. But I was not taught anything about systemic oppression and discrimination. We were good people. There was one Black family in the community.

Like with Marion and you, Ron, in terms of how you start to get there, it was partly the church. It was partly going to North Philadelphia, North Philly in the summer of '63 and working in a Black community. That's when I discovered there were Black communities. Then, going back to my hometown, what we three white girls would say when we came back after the weekend is how pale everybody was.

But I just want to say that Gene is right that until I went south to Spelman College, I did not know anything really. And understand, I was raised that my people were abolitionists. I was raised with being against slavery, against racism — but with no knowledge. So, I think that is an important point. These kids will know a lot more than I ever knew.

Cole:

Well, in fact, I didn't know. My family knew. But I didn't know until I got there or shortly before that people started disappearing, that it's different.

Chude: White Allies

Chude:

I want to partly talk about the importance of students [today] knowing that there were white people involved. And that there is a role — white allies is a viable role.

As far as I'm concerned, it's historical. The abolition movement, whatever their limitations, there were a lot of white people in the abolition movement. I think that's an important thing I would want students to know about the Southern Freedom Movement. I mean, Jane Stembridge, wasn't she in the first SNCC office? She was white. So, from the beginning, in those years, whites were there.

They were not the leadership — and that's the other point to make. We are not talking about white leadership. We're not talking about whatever is it, Tarzan going down in ... I can't remember. They used to use it for a white woman. Queen of Sheba or whatever it was, anyway.

The point is we were not going down to save the poor natives. We were going down to be followers, to actually follow Black leadership. I guess — not necessarily for Cathy and Miriam who were earlier — but for the rest of us, we were asked — And Bruce, I guess, when you went, I don't know if you were directly asked — but certainly the request was out there at that point, you know, we need whites in the South so that people in the North will pay attention. The news media will let people know.

And Bruce, you've always made the point too that in some of these communities, just knowing that other people knew about them was huge after having always been isolated. That's what I think I would say.


Bruce: Four Thoughts

Bruce:

In preparation for this discussion of teacher questions, I did a bit of homework and I came up with several points in response to the question "What would you want students to know about the Southern Freedom Movement?."

The first is that the Freedom Movement was an up-from-below mass people's movement as opposed to a movement of great leaders leading their followers. That the fundamental truth of the Freedom Movement was the central role played by ordinary people transforming their lives through extraordinary courage. And that it was the movement that made the leaders, not the leaders who made the movement. That is, that without the courage, determination, and activity of hundreds of thousands of men and women, and boys and girls of all ages in cities, towns, and hamlets across the South and the nation, there would've been no Civil Rights Movement, no famous leaders, no court rulings, no new laws, no changes.

The second point is that we called it a "Freedom Movement." The press called it the "Civil Rights Movement," and because that's the name most people know, we have to use it too. But for most of us, it was a "Freedom Movement" because it was about so much more than a few narrowly defined legal rights. For us, the essence of the Freedom Movement was to first defy, and then to overthrow a century of systemic racial oppression and exploitation across all aspects of society. At heart, the Freedom Movement was a demand for social and political equality, an end to economic injustice, and a fair share of political power for Blacks and other non-whites in an America that had historically rejected that concept.

The third thing I would say is that the Freedom Movement did not spontaneously come into being. It grew out of everything that came before and it did not, and has not, ended. It is never-ending. But like a living organism, it has evolved and flowered into the many different movements for social justice and equality that continue to this day. As I see it, for example, both Black Lives Matter and the fight for $15 an hour minimum wage movements are the political descendants of the Freedom Movement.

Finally, I want to say that the Freedom Movement was probably the first, and maybe the only, major social movement in American history in which young people played a significant leadership role explicitly as young people. Of course, there were adults in leadership too. It wasn't exclusively led by youth, but youth were the cutting edge. Youth exerted leadership in changing history to a degree that's never been matched before.


Miriam: Responses

Miriam:

I would like students to understand that we were only a couple of years older than they were. In fact, one of the people who went down there Stu House was only 16. A number of people on the projects I worked on had just graduated from high school. I was 21. A lot of people were college-age. Our leaders like Bob Moses and Jim Foreman were a couple of years older than we were. The people who went down were young.

Now, we tried to encourage the local people to take leadership positions and they were often a little older. But basically, it was the young people very much like today with [today's] climate movement. The kids walking out of the school on Friday and Greta, whose last name I — Thornburg, is that her name?

Bruce:

Thunberg, I think.

Miriam:

Well, I'll just say "Greta." High school age. When we were down there, the high school and even younger were very active in the movement. The youngest when I was in the Albany, Georgia movement, the youngest kid to go to jail was eight years old and his mother did not send him because she was working 60 hours a week as a maid. He chose to go to jail. I think that's very important for today's students to know.

I think they need to understand that the role I played and a lot of other people played was as a community organizer. We went out in pairs and knocked on doors, and talked to anyone who would open their door to us. We didn't try to convince them of anything, we tried to get them to share with us what their biggest concerns were, what they wanted to see changed. I think what was so important for organizing is that we were in-touch with the community.

I would like them to know the role of music because it was immensely important. When I go to a rally now and there's not a single song, I am offended. How can you have a movement without music? Because music was inspiring us, soothing us, encouraging us, and it was an important part of what we did.

We made up songs about — saying to the police chief, "Pritchet, open them cells. Open them cells." We ad-libed as we went.

I also would say that I was not encouraged. for the a year and three-fourths, I spent working in the movement. I didn't see that we were making progress. There was so much that stood in the way of making the kind of changes that needed to be made. Yet, we did it. And in fact, it did change things. I would encourage students to persevere if they work for a year or two years, and they don't see the results, not to give up.

I also didn't understand how important our tactics were, where we were working on getting the vote. The people we were trying to help needed everything. They needed to be able to unionize. They needed to not be on dirt roads without [decent] houses and no running water in the house. They needed enough food. They needed a better education. It was typical for Blacks to have less than a sixth grade education, sadly. With all the things that were needed, I didn't understand the value of working on the right to vote. But fortunately, that turned out to make the difference. When the Blacks could vote out a brutal sheriff or run for office themselves, then that's where the change begins. Anyway, that's my ...

Cathy:

I just can't help but add that our civil rights group meetings used to start with singing freedom songs and we haven't done that for a long time.

Marion: Diversity

Marion:

I thought of several words. One is "diversity." I think today's young people need to realize that in the beginning, for the longest time, when we think about civil rights, everybody thinks about Black and white issues. It really is the human issue because I got really involved. It's not because I'm Black or white or whatever, but because I care about what's happening to humanity and I was curious. I went down a blank slate, and I came back not realizing that in my retiring age, I'm more active now than I ever was; down there in 1965, I feel like I'm fighting for the same thing now.

One of the things that I learned from speaking at schools these past years, was the notion from students that the Movement was triumphant, we had heroes, we overcame, and we succeeded. A fairy tale come true. I recall one Asian student asked, 'Why are we still talking about the Civil Rights Movement when the Civil Rights Bill was already passed? Why are we still talking about it?' This really was an awakening teaching moment, and I realized we were teaching that our struggles for equality and justice never ended — there is no light at the end of the tunnel; but there is the heroic act of standing up for justice anywhere and for everyone, especially today, especially now.

Every generation has to work through their own struggles through the same mess that we're in. That's one thing that I like to let people know; the movement did not end in '64 or '65. Another thing that I learned after I left the South was that the people that were left behind in the community, they're the ones who had to fight the long battle. I didn't have to fight the long battle there. I could leave. The heroes of this whole movement were in the communities in the South, in the fields in the South, in the courthouses; it's with the courageous young Black people who in the 1960s and before Freedom Summer, who showed the world the sit-ins at lunch counters, police hoses and filling up jails. The fight, it still goes on and I have a different fight. I didn't realize that when I left. I thought it was behind me.

I went for an experience, I realized. Then, I left. For many, many years didn't have to do anything. I just went and I'm back, and I don't have anything that I need to be responsible for. That certainly is not the case. But it took an awakening for me. And now, I have a different quest reaching out to Asian-Americans. It's an expansion. I feel like the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s seem like a simple black-white issue, but it's now not a black-white issue. It's everyone of us having to be at allyship with each other, to fight a good fight and that's what I'm getting at.

Cole:

What do you all think? Some of the things you all said brought tears to my eyes and I don't want to do that on the panel. So, this is a good practice for me.

Cathy:

I want to suggest that if in your presentation, you cried a little bit, it would be very much of a step forward for the students.

Capitalism & Exploitation

Cole:

Some of the other things I would've said, we discovered that we were fighting for the hearts and minds of our people. We were confronting, and attempting to break, the whole — this sense of invincibility of white supremacy. White male supremacy, actually.

Then, I kind of started thinking about racial capitalism. The truth is we're not going to have racial freedom in this country until we have economic freedom. I think that's an important thing you folks to walk away with. Capitalism versus racism are conjoined-twins in America's past and present. So, I'm not saying we have to rid of capitalism, but we can't have capitalism built on exploitation of people of color. Slavery provided the money for the industrial revolution. It fueled this economic engine that is America. I think if we could get people to start think in terms of that, the reality of it, of how we got here, that might be important.

Gene:

I was going to say that I think, I agree about the bringing in the question of capitalism and how it relates. But I think it's a very difficult one to bring in to this discussion in the sense that I was ... Somebody asked me about what I thought about Isabel Wilkerson's article in the Times on the caste system. I don't know if you saw that. One of the things that disturbed me was that in that whole article, she didn't really talk about capitalism. She talked about the caste system, but she didn't make that link that Coates makes when he talks about slavery being the very basic form of capitalism and exploitation. I think that's a long and important discussion to have and I'm not sure whether we can think that these high school teachers or any are going to be prepared to talk about that, and how we should do that I think is a real serious question of how we present that.

Marion:

But at the same time though, we need to also hit on, besides race, class and it's connection to economics. I think it's important to talk about that but not in context of the race thing.

Cole:

Maybe the word we use is not capitalism. Maybe we talk about the economics.

Miriam:

Yeah, right.

Bruce:

Or exploitation.

Cole:

Exploitation.

Chude:

And poverty.

Chude:

I think I've mentioned before, sometimes in classes I ask the question, "If we could end racism so that the [class] divisions on our society were comparable in the different ethnic groups, would that be fine? Would it be fine with everybody to have more representation of white people [at the bottom of the economic pyramid]?" Huge numbers of white people are already poor, but you know what I'm saying.

The issue isn't just that there's a disproportionate number of Black and brown men in jail. The issue is that people are being sent to jail in order for profit. [Crosstalk]. I mean, ... We may not be able to say any more than that, but that's something that kids can think about.

And to just finish on that, one of the things that I was thinking of, if it's appropriate to say, is [that] I don't like the word "privilege." I don't like "white privilege." "White privilege" means what? That I have a house and that somehow is a privilege? No. It's a right that every human being should have shelter, food, and clothing. Some people have been discriminated against, some people have been not allowed to have enough and to live decently. But it's not because I'm privileged, because privilege should mean giving it up.

I don't live in a society where none of us have good housing, and only the rich folk have plenty. I want to live in a society where everybody has decent housing. That's just one of my things.

I do think it's legitimate to [oppose] the concept of "entitlement." That some white people think because they are white, or because they are middle class, that they're entitled to things other people aren't entitled to. I think that's racism and I think that's real. But under no condition — 

Cole:

I like that better. I like it.

Chude:

You know, I learned so much about poverty when I was in the South. But then, Don Jelinek's book just took me to a whole other level and of course that was what happened to him. He got taken to a whole other level of the degree of poverty and misery, and the callousness of white people who knew. Not me, I didn't know enough at that point. Don's story includes going to Washington. The bureaucrats told him, "Yeah, we know all that and it's not going to change this year." Because they didn't care.
[Referring to the passage in Don Jelinek's book White Lawyer, Black Power where he and a delegation of impoverished sharecroppers go to the Department of Agriculture and present compelling evidence of how their policies and programs are directly responsible for segregation, exploitation, and starvation. Only to be told that the white officials who ran the department were aware and didn't care.]

How would you want teachers to teach about the Freedom Movement?


Bruce: Beginnings Locations, & Economics

Bruce:

Three thoughts. First is that I disagree with — It seems to me that the way the Civil Rights Movement is sometimes taught in schools today, it's as if the Supreme Court started the Civil Rights Movement with the Brown decision in 1954. The decision is put forward as the "beginning," but that's not true because there are Afro-Americans in southern communities who risked their lives, their livelihoods, and their homes to file those cases in 1950 and 1951. They pushed those cases through the lower courts at the risk of great violence to themselves. It was they who began those cases in 1951 that the court finished with its ruling in 1954.

Brown v Board of Education was a collection of five separate, different, cases. One of which was Brown v Board of Education in Topeka, from which the Supreme Court case drew its name. One of the others was from Prince Edward County, Virginia where Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old student in a segregated Colored school, organized and led a student strike against segregation in 1951. The Civil Rights Movement, what we call the "Freedom Movement," grew out of all the long history and struggle that came before, but if we want to talk about the part of it that we participated in, that part should not be presented as if it was started by the Supreme Court — it was started by the parents and students who organized and filed the cases.

Gene:

In my mind, I keep thinking that in a way, the beginnings of the Freedom Movement was when people start believing that they have rights. Whether it was in First World War, the soldiers coming back, whatever it was that people in those communities began to not accept the fact of their oppression and whether that, you know, you go back to the slave revolts, I don't know, but the idea of people believing those rights you were talking about, Chude, the right to housing, the right to education, the right to vote. Vote came very late, but that whole notion, the right to be free as a people, any time that people started having that and seeing that as integral to their life is what the Freedom Movement comes out of.

Bruce:

The second thing I would want to say is that all too often, the Civil Rights Movement is presented as something that happened in a couple of places in Mississippi and Alabama, and a big march in Washington. But the Freedom Movement lived and fought in every state, in every city and town, north, south, east and west. Including California.

If you judge the size and power of a local Freedom Movement by the number of people arrested, the biggest local movement was Selma where they had, I think it was almost 5,000 people arrested. The second largest was Birmingham where there was a bit over 3,000 arrested. The third largest was the San Francisco- Oakland-Berkeley Triangle which had almost 3,000 people arrested. The issues being fought in the north such as California were slightly different, but they were still the fundamental goal of overthrowing a whole system of racial subjugation and denial of political power. Those are the two things that I wish teachers would change in how they teach.

Cole:

I just Googled about the timeline for the Civil Rights Movement and on History.com it actually started out in 1948 with President Truman issuing an Executive Order.

Bruce:

The Executive Order that desegregated the armed forces. But that too was forced {UNCLEAR/Crosstalk}

Cole:

Got it. He didn't do that for fun.

Bruce:

Yes. You could also go back to Roosevelt's Equal Opportunity Order which was forced by A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin threatening to bring 100,000 Black people to Washington to protest segregation in the Armed Forces and the war industries. But that was during the earlier 1940s-World War Two period — 

My third thought is that it's not enough to teach that Jim Crow and segregation were morally evil, cruel, and essentially un-American — though that's all certainly true — but systemic racism is more than just bad beliefs that some people have in their heads. Segregation, Jim Crow, system racism are deliberately used by some people, businesses, and institutions to make themselves rich and politically powerful. They imposed it because they benefited from it, regardless of their personal beliefs. Which is why some of those who committed the worst racist acts, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, for example, could sincerely claim that they did not personally hate or loath nonwhites.

Wallace used vicious racism to win elections. When Black folk finally won the vote, he dropped his racist rhetoric, apologized for his past actions, and sought their support. Here in California, the real estate industry reaped fortunes from the "Redlining" system of residential segregation that they imposed on Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Banks like Wells Fargo made big profits on predatory loans targeting nonwhite customers and bank officers earned fat bonuses for racially discriminating regardless of their personal beliefs. So too did the insurance industry by charging people of color higher premiums for substandard policies.

Cole:

Let's go back to the question. How would you want teachers to teach about the Freedom Movement? Let me ask a question. Does anybody understand the question? I'm having trouble with, how would you want teachers to teach about the Freedom Movement?

Miriam: Experiential Education

Miriam:

I would want the students to be assigned to pick a student to study. Or a family. There is a lot [written about] kids who were involved in the South, so it's out there and available. I would want them to find a real person and be able to give a report on that.

I would also like the students to pick some kind of hands-on project where they look at their chosen area maybe to report back on the music, or the art, or the poetry, or the photography, or maybe pick a civil rights worker, that somebody who came down from the North. So, each student has a project in an area of their interest.

Also, I'd want the teachers to help the students link up to something that they're involved in now. When we go to speak in the high schools and students will come out afterwards and say they're involved in the climate movement or they're involved with gay issues.

Cathy:

LGBTQ.

Miriam:

So, a link to real people, a link to the breath of the movement including theater, art, writing, and all those stuff and a link to what the students are involved in today.

Cole:

I want to step on that a little bit. I really liked that. It strikes me that sometimes, they do that in Holocaust museums. They'll give a kid a picture of someone. Then, in the process of going through the museum, they'll discover what happened with that individual.

I think that the other thing you said about what is occurring today, the movements, if a student is involved in that kind of movement, maybe they do go back and look for its roots, and how it connected to the Southern Freedom Movement or other movements. I think those are great ideas. {UNCLEAR/crosstalk} — are you a history teacher?

Miriam:

I taught for 50 years, kiddo. But I was never a high school History teacher.

Chude:

But she is the teacher. What I was going to also say I know from Karen Trusty up in Portland, this was a college class, but every student was required to do a report on someone that was not a known leader. She said it was very moving to have these students come in, and whether it was some of the ones that we might know but they could go on the website and find people. But it couldn't be the big leaders. It needed to be people that they didn't know about. Somebody they didn't know about that they could learn about and then, share.

That's similar, Miriam's is just more complex. But whether it has to be a young person or whether it could be an elderly person, I don't think it's as important who it is as that it'd be somebody that is not known to them.

Miriam:

I like that.

Marion: Emigrant Experience

Marion:

I have another take which is none of the above.

I think of the word "emigrate" with an "E," I would like students to know where their ancestors, or relatives, or family members had originated from, because we all came from somewhere. What I like to see happen is that every kid in the United States or in the world actually knows that they came from somewhere, that there's a common denominator that we all start with aside from Native Americans. The Indigenous on this continent have their own beliefs. We all have our different stories of emigration and of origin. I like this concept because all human inhabitants have roots from somewhere; can we teach respect of our own roots as well as those of others' roots?

Some came because of famine , escaping their kind of government, or for freedom of religion, or whatever. Some of us were tourists, some of us came as refugees, some of us came as immigrants, some of us came as slaves. However form we came in, we also came to inherit an American culture of fear and of control.

If you arrived as a slave, I wonder if you have any control whatsoever about your life. If you arrived as an immigrant, you know that you could pack your bags, you know that you can do X, Y, and Z, and say goodbye before you leave. You're maybe more in control of your life and you know your identity. When you come to America, you still have some idea of what it's like to be a first generation or second generation or third generation. But if you were a slave, you have none of that. You were taken away. Your whole identity and your family can be somewhere else and God knows where members of your family would be going to sold to whatever place. How we come here, I think sometimes, identifies with our attitude about ourselves and about being an American. As a first-generation of immigrants I think of that.

Cole:

Some of that makes me uncomfortable, Marion.

Marion:

Oh, it does? Okay. Talk about it.

Cole:

Probably the descriptors of what it was like to be my ancestors. That's all. How do you tie that together with how they should teach?

Marion:

I thought of how can students understand the problems of racism if we don't connect ourselves with what caused it? How we are different and yet we have something in common being Americans, because this is a land of immigrants. Now, if that doesn't take me there and then, I don't want to open up ... I don't want to open that up because it needs time to get into that.

Cole:

Yeah. I don't disagree. I mean, I started out with classes, particularly with college students, even high school students and asking them to think about how they got here. That there's somebody in their family that's traveled a long way and paid the price for them to be able to sit in these classrooms, and they need to know that story. If they don't know it, they need to start talking to their families. When I tie that to the 14th and 15th Amendments, who is a citizen? Who gets to be defined as "We, the people"?

Certainly, the Southern Freedom Movement was about who has the right to be a citizen.

Marion:

Let me think about that and if you have more comments, that will really help me. Because that can go down another road that might be very confusing.

Cole:

I think you got in the weeds when you started describing the experiences that were not something you were intimately aware of, that is, you don't really know if you haven't read the slave narratives and all of that to really understand what that plantation life was like and how ... Yeah. There's a great book called, what is it?

Female:

Incidents in the Life — 

Cole:

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. Most of the narratives are about men's lives, that's about a woman's life. Extraordinary woman. You could also read the narratives of Frederick Douglass but I like them both. But I think Harriet Jacobs ...

How is Empathy Taught?

Cole:

Someone else about how would you want teachers to teach about the Freedom Movement?

Gene:

Is it how or what? Miriam goes to "how" more than the rest of us have.

Cole:

Yeah. She went to experiential learning.

Chude:

I think it was Gene, you and I once went to a school. I think it was us, and they'd done this horrible thing where they split the kids in half, and in the morning, the kids with green on them, got to be privileged and the kids that had blue on them, got to sit on the floor. Then, they switched it. I don't agree with that.

Marion:

Brown eyes and blue eyes. Blue eyes, brown eyes.

Chude:

Whatever it is, I do not agree with that. I do not agree with that's the way to teach children how to have empathy for those who have been oppressed and discriminated against.

Cole:

It traumatizes the kids who are sitting on the floor.

Chude:

Not only that, at least in the afternoon, I said to the class, this one class I said, "You can organize to say, "No, you won't do this." And the teacher told me afterwards, one of the kids said, "Hell, no. I'm getting the cookies this time." Now, I do think that's a real issue, but I don't think it's how you teach the Southern Freedom Movement.

I think it is a real issue. How many people, how many immigrants coming over here are happy to step right on top of — especially African-Americans — and move on into getting more and not worry about who's at the bottom? That's a question. But I don't think that's one we can be addressing [in a short panel].

Cole:

No, I don't think so.

What do you want students to know about how change making occurs?


Bruce: Small Groups & Mass Support

Bruce:

Political activists are always a small minority in any society. Even during the largest of mass movements, the great majority of people do not actively engage in protest though they may vote and support a strike or boycott. Margaret Mead taught: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Our experience in the Freedom Movement, taught us that she's right — so long as you add that the small group has to eventually win mass support for their ideas. Small groups that take action, which alienate or frightened the very people whose support they need do not change the world, which is why nonviolent tactics are so much more effective than tactics of violence and hate.

In a democracy, effective change requires both affecting the culture of what is tolerated and expected in people's behavior. And also institutionalizing social change in legislation and court ruling such as Brown V. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and '65.

Both of those things take mass support, but not necessarily majority support. In the 1960's, American voters would probably not have approved either of the Civil Rights Acts. Twice in the 1960s, California voters overwhelmingly voted to maintain housing and school segregation. And in 1996, California voted against using affirmative action to mitigate racial discrimination. This coming election in November 2020, will have a ballot initiative to overturn that ruling — I'm curious to see what happens. But even though the majority would have voted against Civil Rights Bills, and in some cases did, there was enough mass support to enact those laws, and through them enforce social change.

In terms of winning mass support, for us humor and audacity proved to be far more effective than hate and rage. When we were protesting job discrimination at bank of America, for example, we blocked up the teller lines by slowly counting out our pennies one by one. That was far more effective than shouting slogans at or breaking windows. At Lucky Markets, now Albertsons, we filled up our shopping cart with groceries, went through the checkout line, and then when presented with the bill we pointed out the window at the picket line and said, "Oh, wait, I see you racially discriminate. I won't spend money here." We went out, leaving the bagged groceries behind. That was far more effective politically and culturally in winning support for the movement than shouting slogans of hate or using violence.

For me, one of the fundamental lessons of the Freedom Movement was that you don't win your human rights by asking or pleading for them. You win your rights by asserting them and taking the consequences if necessary. When demanding justice, you don't ask for permission from those in power, you defy their authority.

One of my favorite slogans from back then came out of the Black colleges and high schools: "If you don't like the history you're being taught in school, go out and make some of your own."


Cole: Earned Insurgency

Cole:

I'm paraphrasing something that Bob Moses talked about, he talked about an "earned insurgency." He basically said we had to prove to the people of Mississippi that we could be counted on when the chips were down. That we would just not start trouble and run away. My take on it is, the job that we had to do in Mississippi was to demonstrate that one could stand up in the middle of Mississippi and take a position and survive. That's one.

Number two, when they sent you to jail, which was inevitable, you didn't go home — back home to California, you came back to the office in whatever little town you were in. You build credibility and you also changed the idea of what was possible.

People have to believe that change is possible. And when they saw a 19 year old Black kid from LA walking up and down on dusty roads, {UNCLEAR} on the sheriff and the police chief, they'd have said, "Oh, that's something we didn't know that was possible." Now, I had lawyers coming in because we had my allies there and my mother was back in LA calling governors. No, they didn't see all of that, but that's what was keeping me alive really. We had to break the whole white-supremacy on the minds and hearts of those people. And the only way to do that was with your body. I don't know if that differs. That's just my take on it.


Gene: Anger As Motivation

Gene:

I would add that for me it was also that the people there understood some of their... see I don't know about the breaking windows and all that, but the question of having rage, that accepting that people are furious and that in fact, that's what motivates a lot of people.

I don't think that the students who sat in at a lunch counter did it out of just an intellectual process of how the laws were going to change. I think they were truly angry. I mean, like the woman you wrote about in Oklahoma, when the kids said it's "outrageous," essentially even the eighth graders, that they can't buy food at the Woolworths. That gave them the strength to say, "we're going to take that next step which is to go be there, sit in."

And I think that the freedom rides motivated a lot of us — there was a lot at stake, but you had to be pretty angry to be willing to put your body out there. I don't think you do it out of an intellectual process. You do it out of a process where your anger is so great, yet you control it. You don't go hit somebody. But I think it takes extreme anger and outrage to become involved in these things.

And that people who came back from the Second World War and said, "How come we were forced to give our lives there [for democracy] and then they don't want to allow us?" They were furious about that. It wasn't just a discussion. I think it's legitimizing the anger that students felt when we were at Berkeley High School, when that girl told the story of being in the store and being watched, and then it made her cry. She was so furious that when she walked in the store they followed her around.

That [anger] part of the movement was legitimate... however you say that word, thinking that legitimate, that's what I think builds a movement as you control that and bring it together.

Cole:

Now, I think I just disagree with that because when I think about John Lewis and the things that I've read and heard about him, I don't think he was driven by anger. I think he was driven by love. And oddly enough for me, I think that's what you got to have.

Miriam:

I just want to correct one thing, a factual thing Gene said. In some places in the South, the kids could go in and buy food. What they couldn't do was then sit down and eat it inside the restaurant.

Chude:

I think one of the questions here is the vision. That belief that things can change and you have some kind of vision of how you want it to change. Jean Wiley, another veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement, was always very clear about the need for vision and without the vision people aren't going to take the risks and stand up. There has to be that belief, not only that there can be change, but change into something — whatever it was — powerful enough to motivate us.

In my case, part of it was the beloved community. The concept of an interracial group of people who could in our work begin to model the kind of society we wanted. And that continues to be for me one of the keys that whoever's acting, we need to be modeling what we think is important. When we slip in doing the techniques of the enemy as it were — violence to violence would be one example — then we've lost that vision of a difference.

Miriam:

I think it's okay for Gene to say it was an anger, and for Cole to say it was love. And I could then say that I didn't do it for either of those reasons. I was young and idealistic. I wanted to help make the world a better place and that's different. I think it's okay for us to not have a monolithic uniform answer to these things.

Marion: There Were Differences

Marion:

I was listening and I see differences. Some of us got into the movement because of a sense of purpose. Some of us got into it out of emotional anger of what we don't like to see happen. I mean, justice wasn't served and so I got angry enough to get into it. And I don't see what's wrong with those different answers. I went out of curiosity. I went because I felt like I have to find out what the hell is going on. And I wanted desperately to find out what it's all about. I went not out of purpose, anger came much later and anger actually freed me. I didn't have the anger until in the middle of the movement when I felt so much going on that I was more aware and I started getting angry, it came later.

But that was an important outlet for me to begin to change by being out there, being present with the movement, instead of watching it from the sideline. I was in it because I was too angry not to be in it. And so all this is okay, I think.

I like the idea of the nonviolence too because — the violence and the nonviolence that Bruce talked about — that's really crucial for me to see the movement.

But another thing, I didn't even have any of those feelings. I wrote down that I realized that change comes for me slowly. And just because I finished one rally or one march that everything's going to be fine, but it comes free slowly and sometimes unexpectedly and to me that was important. And for me when I went back home, I didn't know I had changed.

So, that was changing. For 50 years I didn't know I was changing. I didn't know I had trauma. I didn't know that I had nothing to talk about. It was changing, but it was very slow a bit, that's an internal change, but for a global community change, I could see the difference between marching against the war in Vietnam, against the Middle East. The people at that time were very different from the change I see now in a way young people are gathered and they're more diverse and there are so many different ages involved. There's a lot of changes, but it occurred in a way that I never thought would what happened in the so many forms. So I don't know if I'm all over the place, but that's what I've been.


What have been the short and longterm consequences of your participation in the Freedom Movement? How has this experience in your youth informed your choices and decisions as an adult?

Cole:

We need about five to six hours for that, but let's see what we can do.

Chude: From a White World to an Interracial World

Chude:

I think the short and longterm consequences for me began with moving from being in what is essentially a white world into an interracial and Black led world when I was in the South. And the respect that I developed for Black leadership. But also that I grasped, by being in the Movement, first in Atlanta and then in Mississippi, that integration did not mean that African Americans should become like white people. That if they could prove they were as good as white people then everything would be fine. I really grasped that integration meant that in an interracial society, leadership was going to come from every community and that whites could not be dominant for it to be a viable community.

Cole:

How has this informed the decisions that you've made and informed your choices and decisions as an adult?

Chude:

Well, it informed my organizing in the Women's Liberation Movement. I always knew that for the movement to be viable, it needed to be multi-racial that white women by ourselves could not define women's oppression. I focused partly on trying to teach white women in particular about racism, that was one. And the other is that I ended up marrying inter-racially and that, also of course, had a strong effect on my life.

And I'd say lastly that I was radicalized, just plain radicalized. When I went South, it was much more a moral question. I was a good Christian and racism was bad. But when I came out of the South, I had a much better sense of the fact that the problems in the South were not a cancer sore on top of the body politic, but rather a cancer that went all the way down deep into the root of the body politic. That informed me for the rest of my life till today.


Miriam: Politics and Peoples Lives

Miriam:

One of the things I learned was that laws and politics made a difference in people's lives. When we saw people without enough food, and there were federal food programs that were not going to them, I realized politics actually matters. And so I'd had a lifelong interest in following politics. Whereas most of my friends find that not much of interest.

It informed how I felt about making money. Where I grew up and the community I grew up within in Indianapolis, those who had more money and were more affluent, were more admired. In high school I knew whose family had the latest Cadillac, this year's Cadillac. From the Movement, I decided and still feel that, that's not an important value. Making money which kind of gives people status in our society, isn't something that I see as giving status. I understood when I saw real poverty that I hadn't grown up poor. My mom had always said we were poor. Well, we were "poor" compared to some other people, but we were not poor.

For me, what replaced wealth as status was status for doing meaningful work that helped others.

I had some consequences, like it took me years to be able to go and eat in a restaurant. I had seen so much food deprivation and starvation, and just the idea of sitting and having these people bring you more and more food. I couldn't do it, it took a long time.

And it took me 30 years to be able to stand in front of the window at night where I could be a target for somebody shooting through the window, even though I was living in a very safe suburb. And I had to teach myself little by little by trying it for a minute one night and a few minutes, another night. Teach myself to get over that. Well, that was something that was so drummed into us that you don't want to make yourself an easy target for someone with a gun. Those are major changes.


Gene: Immersed in a Black-Led Movement

Gene:

Well, I think I can't, not necessarily. To go South — before choosing to go South — was part of the same process where I moved from mostly thinking about myself as an individual who had these goals, to be a composer, to be someone who had some importance that way. To becoming immersed in a movement where making the changes that we were talking about and that we started acting upon became the center of what I've done the most of my life.

And being in an organization that was Black led and seeing that as integral to most of the changes that we have been fighting for. And also to realize what I learned in the South, [from] what some people would have called the common people. The strength of the vision, both of what the issues really are, or how you talk about issues. And learning to listen to what people had to say and taking that as a type of leadership, but while having an understanding of what your own values were or what you've developed as your own values.

It's not just what anybody says, but how those things fit in with a view. And so for me, that's sort of how my whole life has been. I mean, whether it was in the antiwar movement or — Politics to me became not defined as working on elections, which it had been when I was a kid. Politics meant you worked on elections and I realized that politics was building movements and movements are things of change and so you have to be able to one learn about what changes would necessary and how you are making those changes. That for me was kind of what the movement meant and what I learned, and it's sort of what I've tried to carry out since then.


Marion: Breaking Out of Confinement

Marion:

I only have one thought. After leaving the South, I immediately got a job working in Headstart. It's not different from where I might be doing if I were stuck in Hattiesburg. And I ended up going from there to working in all kinds of public service or nonprofit groups. And I thought to myself, "Why did I do that?" I could have gone to be a teller at the bank, or I could have done something else. But I went from one to another and all had to do is serving low income students in college which I did for 30 years. And then I volunteered for community boards, which is a conflict resolution neighborhood organization.

Why did I live in the outer mission in San Francisco so that my kids ended up going to a Spanish-speaking and a Canadian-speaking school in the city. Why did we — my husband and I decided to do that. And I was looking at all these things that I've done since the Civil Rights Movement in the South, and I realize I never left the Civil Rights Movement. It was always with me wherever I went, and that was a short come. And I'm retired now. What am I doing? I'm talking about civil rights, that's my answer

Chude:

I have a couple of comments. Marion I don't see how you can possibly have answered all that and not said you're a Chinese woman who could not go back into Chinatown and live as you had before. Because that's so powerful in the interview that we did with you.

And it made me think about for all of us coming back, that is, coming out of the South, all of us. That's one of the rude things that we were hitting up against. We can't go back [home]. Whatever we do next, we can't go back to who we were. And Miriam, I do remember you saying in the past, and would recommend when it's appropriate to add, is that you learned the tools that allowed you to get a stop sign at the bottom of your street, if my memory's right. And I just think that's so marvelously concrete.

Cole:

Marion, you said you went because you were curious. My next question is, why did you go back [the next year]? You said that you were curious, and that's why you went the first time. My question for you is always, why did you go back?

Marion:

It's such a long story, I just didn't want to get into it because I have to start with talking about being confined. It's the word "confinement." I realized that in Chinatown, being brought up where I was brought up, my world was less than one square mile. That was my whole world for I don't know, 16 years or so. I had a very rich community that I grew up in. And then when I went to Hattiesburg, I just couldn't figure out why I was so comfortable in Hattiesburg. And it turn out that it's the same community.

It's just another Chinatown to me. People were the same. I mean, we looked different, we talked differently, but it's still a sense of community, the same kind of atmosphere that I would feel if I were in Chinatown. And there was also the same suspicion, the same feeling of being repressed, the same everything, because it's a minority within a white city metropolis. And so that's why I went back because it's my home. It's a second home.

And as what you Cole had said earlier about how you got to love the people down there, that's how I felt.

Chude:

Marion, it does raise the question to me of women. You say it was so similar in Hattiesburg, but wasn't there more respect for the strength of women in Hattiesburg?

Marion:

I'm not sure if I were looking constantly any more into women in Hattiesburg. I'm not sure if I see the difference. I did, go back to Chinatown. It was still home, but I had moved out of there. My family moved out and we moved up a mile away. But it's still home. I'm still proud of the fact that I'm from there. I don't think about the poverty, but did you just, I was just so surprised that those two communities are so similar and it's because of discrimination and poverty, it's the same thing.

Bruce: Responses

Bruce:

I think that what the Freedom Movement brought home to me was the relationship of wealth and power to race and racism. That so much of the racism that I saw during the movement was not just a matter of attitudes, or prejudices, or mental opinions about other races, but it was rooted in greed because the racism was used to acquire wealth and political power. And that it couldn't be understood without looking at the money and the political power aspects of it. And so ever since then, I've always integrated those factors into trying to understand what's happening in regards to race.

The other thing is that I came out of the Freedom Movement with a lot of self confidence. I learned that if I put my mind to it, I could do pretty much whatever I felt I could do — within reason. The Movement grounded me in a sense. It empowered me.

Cole:

The question is, how has this experience in your youth informed your choices and decisions as an adult? That's really a hell of a question — short and long term consequences of your participation. I didn't go to college for quite a while. And the thing you say about confidence is really quite important, but it also gave me a real sense of purpose in life, and it lifted my self esteem in ways that I didn't know. The relationship that I had with people in Mississippi and the trust they put in me really was humbling. And I fell in love with them. And yeah, the anger came out too, because now I was pissed for what I was seeing. And of course I nearly got myself killed and had to eventually get back to love.

And that shaped my life. I had to find what to — I was in a battle. I knew we were in a war, when I left Mississippi. I didn't know before we got to Mississippi, we're in a war. I had to find the weapons that I could use and education became my weapon. So short term effect is that I started college late, longterm effect is when I did start college, I had a real purpose and I was driven.

Connecting part of the question is how has your youth informed, your choices and decisions as an adult? Stay alive. Stay out of jail.

As an adult, I've spent my life trying to make a difference in the lives of folks in my community. As a young person, I simply believed in the mythology I was taught about the American dream. Mississippi disabused me of those thoughts and lifted the veil from my eyes. Then I get to be the seven year old that says, "this is not fair." I'll stop there.


How do you want teachers to teach about how change making occurs? How can they support their students in taking action? And what is the role of the teacher in change making?


Bruce: Courage Comes First

Bruce:

If I were to teach students one thing about how change making occurs, it would be this, courage is the inescapable requirement of resistance to injustice. Today our culture tries to make us believe that courage can only be shown in contexts of committing violence. Not true. Today people ask us, "Weren't you scared?" We used to sing, "We are not afraid," but we were afraid. We were always afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is doing what you know is right, even though you're frightened.

Today the mass media and popular culture almost always portray courage as a Man With a Gun. But the Freedom Movement was nonviolent and women played leadership roles. We didn't use guns or other forms of violence to change society. It was not that we were afraid to fight. Nonviolence was by no mean safe. Rather we used nonviolence because we wanted to win. Nonviolence gave us a chance to win — a chance, not a certainty. But with violence there was no chance of winning significant social change.

Yet physical courage to face danger and arrest is not the only kind of courage. It's not even the most important kind of courage that women and men, girls and boys, of the Freedom Movement had to have. Deeper, more important, and more difficult to achieve than physical courage is social courage. The courage to take a public stand for what you believe is right when others among your family peers and those in authority over you do not agree.

Even when the majority are against you. Even when friends laugh and jeer at you. When confronted with a racist or a sexist put down, a homophobic joke or an ethnic or culture sneer, it takes social courage to stand up and dissent. To stand against your friends, and maybe even your own family and say, "No, that's not who I am." The truth is that for most of us it is harder to stand apart from custom, family and friends than it is to risk physical danger, which is why it's often harder to show social courage than physical courage. But social-change is built on a foundation of social-courage, the courage to say, "No, this is wrong. This has to change."


Chude: Taking a Stand

Chude:

I'm not sure teachers can help students stand up to make change because in many ways, teachers are representing an institution of mind control and oppression. I think I have to start there.

I mean, I think we have to be realistic that no, you teachers really do not want these students to raise questions around certain things. You just don't.

I remember my son, Casey, going to school after having seen a film on the Black Panthers in which — oh, I hate that I forget names now — but the man in Chicago was shot in the bed [Fred Hampton]. So my son goes to school, and the next day they're talking about some country where it's oppressive, and my son says, "Well, the same thing happens here." And he got told, "We don't compare societies until 11th grade." Needless to say, Casey did not work well in this school.

The point being that I think what's important in school is that the kinds of ways in which students can bully and hurt each other, can say things, whether racist, sexist or whatever, that those are the kinds of things that they can learn to stand up against. Even if their peers are being obnoxious, they can take a stand. And my thought is, if you can take a stand on the things that are happening right around you, when you know it's not right, rather than be one of the passive ones that let it happen, then students will be learning skills that they can then take out into the broader world.

And it might happen that they will climb out of the windows or run out the doors and go join demonstrations even though their schools don't give them permission. Because remember, in the last year or the year before, there were some of these [Black Lives Matter] demonstrations that the more progressive schools would give them permission to go. So those students didn't risk anything by going. But other schools were more repressive and in that sense, they have to be ready to take the stand and whatever consequences come. That's when — 

Cole:

How can teachers support their students in taking action?

Chude:

Well, I think in terms, as I say of what's going on in the classroom and in the social life of the school, they can be supportive of students that come to them for help. And they can certainly arrange within this classroom for questions that allow the students to talk about those things. And they can even use the Southern Freedom Movement as a way to talk about certain issues that are too close to home and the classroom itself.

But what Bruce was saying about courage being more than just facing the troops as it were, but courage to be able to stand up and say what you know is true and hold with that even when the people you're closest to are telling you, "You're wrong." That's hard. And so it would be wonderful to have teachers be able to support people when they're doing that. I helped to start the womens liberation movement and women told me I was wrong. Not just men being obnoxious, but women.

Gene:

I'm going to take a little of, well, I wouldn't put all teachers as one. I have three teachers in my family who stand up against the system. All three of them, and they do it in their schools, through their unions. They do it in their classrooms through teaching things that weren't the way they were taught to teach or told to teach.

I remember when we went to Jeannette's school, which was elementary school, we were all wondering how come in her school they were being taught things that we weren't finding being taught in other schools and she said, "Well, we sort of fly under the radar out here. We figure out how to do it." I think we have to recognize that there are teachers who aren't just teaching the system. I was someone who grew up believing that most teachers were teaching the system, but I have found that, as I say, there are three in my family who clearly aren't teaching the system, so I have to believe that there are others. That I think we have to be careful of how we phrase that.

Chude:

Why? On one hand, if I say something that extreme, and you come back and you say what you think and your experience, why is that a problem?

Gene: Teachers Who Buck the System

Gene:

It's not. I don't think it's a problem, no. I'm just saying, I want to recognize that there may be teachers sitting there who are saying, wait a minute, I'm doing something else. I want to know how to do it better. And I do think that the things that you've mentioned are important. The acknowledgement of, well, I said it as "anger" before, but as a kid I grew up, I always thought the system was wrong. I never believed the system. I didn't want to be the American dream. I had no interest in it. And so the teachers I responded to were ones who gave me more tools about that, and when I found at the end of the '50s, teachers weren't willing to talk about communism in any significant way, anti-capitalism, some of us kids decided to do it.

So we learned about it. But I would like teachers who can talk about plantation-capitalism, and that's a way to talk about history that's different than most might, but it gives a recognition to where movements for liberation came from, that the struggle against plantation-capitalism wasn't only a struggle to be free, but it's struggle against a system that became encompassed by the whole United States.

And that's a significant thing to recognize that young people who say, "I don't want to be part of this system," should be given the tools to develop their thinking even more than that. And I think that the Freedom Movement are some of those tools, give them some of those tools, how to think differently, how their thoughts of being different from their general society are similar to the ways that those students who sat-in or who decided to [integrate] white schools, or who decided to not do what they were being told to do all the time, to register to vote. Those are people speaking against the system.

Miriam:

I'd like to make a suggestion to Chude, the teachers that signed up for this, one would expect are not a bad character, her way. So you could say what you said, if you excuse the audience we're talking to. Something like, I know none of you would ever do this, but this happened. You don't want to put down the teachers you're talking to.

Chude:

And you know if it came to it, in the webinar, if you felt I was doing that, you could tell me that and correct me. That would be very — I think Rachel is very happy with us challenging each other. That makes it alive and not just a bunch of talking heads, right. It can also show, how we both respect each other, and can disagree. And learn from each other. Change, or at least alter, our point of view. I don't want to insult teachers. They work very hard. But the system itself is not going to help them encourage critical thinking.

Miriam:

I think it's tricky. I think one of the roles of teachers is to listen and ask questions to get the kids who want to be more active to think through their strategies and tactics to support it that way.

Marion:

I don't have a whole lot to add. The only thing that I'm thinking about, and I don't know where it goes — What this is all about?

But I'm thinking of classrooms with ESL [English as a Second Language] students and they're Spanish-speaking or Chinese-speaking or other speakers and where are they? If you're a teacher, how would you approach certain questions or certain issues and how much do they know and how would they approach it with certain kinds of students who may not understand what you're saying? That's one thing.

Then another thing I thought about was role models, and it's like, I'm not sure where to go with those. I really don't have an answer to this question.

Cole:

I would say, listen more than you talk. Question more than you tell. Helping students to ask questions. Not necessarily to give them the answers, but helping them to look for answers that make sense to them is perhaps I think one of the greatest gifts that educators can give.

[End of transcript]

 

[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.)]


Copyright ©
Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
(Labor donated)