A WASP in the Movement
Stephen Bingham

[As told to and discussed by Freedom Movement veterans and family members at a story-telling session, U.C. Berkeley, September 30, 2018.]

Movement VeteransGuests
Stephen Bingham SNCCRachel Reinhard (UC Berkeley)
James (Jimmy) Garrett, SNCC 
Miriam Cohen Glickman, SNCC     
Rick Sheviakov, CORE 

Stephen: So some quick context, because it's important. My background is so different than almost anyone else I know in the Civil Rights Movement.

I'm an absolutely quintessential old money WASP from New England. My direct ancestors came over on the Mayflower, and so obviously, in my past, there are people who had slaves, lived in New England, clearing land on the farms and so forth. Although the family knows that, they have never really been willing to take ownership of that issue to the extent that we now know there is even a slave graveyard on one of the family properties. I was lucky in one sense, because I grew up in this entire universe of conservative WASPs, except for my parents who were both liberal Democrats, pretty progressive people.

My dad founded a magazine called Common Sense with Selden Rodman. They were known in the pre-New Deal period as part of the intellectual center of a lot of ideas that eventually made their way into the New Deal. But before that happened with Roosevelt, they were considered off the charts. The Communist Party was pushing a lot of that, and my father was tempted but never became a Communist. But he got arrested in a labor strike in New Jersey and was involved in the Farmer Labor Movement in the upper Midwest and stuff like that. But culturally, he was a WASP [White Anglo- Saxon Protestant] till his dying days.

So as I grew up, that WASP culture later created conflict, more cultural than political. I grew up with people talking about different sides of the issue of justice in the world. And when I got to college, my political awakening happened through working on the Yale Daily News. Yale, Michigan, Harvard and a few other campuses had daily newspapers. At the Daily News I gravitated for a variety of reasons towards Civil Rights issues, as there were regularly sit- ins and Freedom Rides. I was trying to bring the outside world onto the campus.

My early wake-up moment was driving home from a job on the West Coast in 1961, before my sophomore year. I had read that the schools were going to be integrated in New Orleans for the first time. I decided, probably more the budding journalist in me than a desire to be present during that historic moment, to swing through New Orleans and do a first-hand account of that event. All I remember now is these absolutely frothing at the mouth, visceral, just apoplectic white women that looked otherwise middle class, screaming at these 8-year-old girls being protected by National Guardsmen. I mean, it sears into your memory.

So that kind of ripened me for a really transformative moment the following fall, the fall of '63 in October. Al Lowenstein had connected with Bob Moses and other people around the idea of students going South to help out. One of the reasons to do this was that black bodies were showing up headless in the Natchez River and nobody was paying any attention. At the very least, some white — not just white but people from the North would mainly be white -- had to get their heads beaten in if not killed before anybody would pay attention. And sadly, that was exactly the case.

So Al and Bob organized a meeting in the living room of William Sloane Coffin who later got indicted for conspiracy to help people evade the draft, burning draft cards with Benjamin Spock and all of that. He really was an amazing guy. I'm not religious, and he didn't push his religious thing when he talked as a chaplain in Battell Chapel, but he was an extraordinary human being on the campus. Yale was so closed in on itself. One of my other activities had been to try to get Yale to join the National Student Association, which brought students around the country together to address various social issues. The Yale students voted it down. That's who they were. 'We're too important to mix with other people.'

So we sat around the living room while Al and Bill Coffin explained the Aaron Henry for governor campaign. This was intentionally an experiment, small scale, with the view that, if it worked, there would be a bigger project the following summer. The only two campuses that were involved were Stanford and Yale because Al had gone to Yale Law School and had been the Dean of Men at Stanford.

And so, I don't know, we might've been 40 or 50 people from Yale and Stanford that were spread out in different Mississippi communities.

Because of my journalism background, I actually didn't get out into the field the way other people did. I worked with Julian Bond who was running the press office. Then, as well as later, the connection to the media was absolutely huge because, what's the point if you do all of this great work down there and nobody's paying attention. And so we made sure through the WATS line that volunteers' local newspapers were getting information about what was going on.

I got arrested at one point. I was with Bob Moses and Al Lowenstein, and we were meeting with Aaron Henry in his hometown of Clarksdale, and we got there late at night. We were driving around looking for a hotel and got lost. We were arrested for not stopping at a stop sign We all knew how to stop at stop signs in Mississippi. So that was my first experience in jail. But that experience got me totally into the whole effort and committed to coming back. We were only there about a month. 80,000 people voted for Aaron Henry and Ed King.

Having a white person on the Freedom Ballot as candidate for lieutenant governor showed that this was not Blacks against whites. It was an important element in the whole effort at the Democratic convention the following summer. Despite the embarrassment of the Democratic Party, knowing that there were these 80,000 people who wanted to vote in the Democratic Party, the white Mississippi delegation that was there was seated. Even though there was no victory at the convention, I think it contributed to the shifting of the whole dynamic, leading to the Voting Rights Act.

Once back at school, I basically dropped out for the rest of the year. Because using northern volunteers had been successful, SNCC decided to do the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. Bob asked me to set up a recruiting operation. We went all over New England recruiting Students to apply to go South and helping to set up interviews with SNCC staff.

It was my one moment of meeting Martin Luther King. Before a major speech he was giving in Hartford CT, he agreed to spend 10 minutes in a room in his hotel, speaking via fancy technology to students assembled on eight different campuses. King gave a short speech, encouraging people to apply.

I went South as a voter registration worker in Freedom Summer, stationed in Holmes County, Mileston. One of my roommates was Mario Savio. At the end of the summer. I entered law school at UC Berkeley and Mario quickly became involved as a leader of the Free Speech Movement there.

My voter registration work was typical but I did have two unique experiences. One involved my dad who, acting as his good WASP power-control self, concerned that the FBI was not doing anything to protect civil rights workers, even though we were making a big deal of that with the Justice Department. He thought — never talking to me beforehand — that, because he had connections, he would try to do something about it. One of his connections was to Senator Stennis [D-MS] because my grandfather had been a U.S. Senator from Connecticut and had known Stennis. Stennis served in the Senate for over 40 years. My dad complained to Stennis that the well-meaning civil rights workers were in danger. Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman had already disappeared.

Parents all over the country were freaked out, but my dad was someone who thought he could do something about it. No one knows what happened behind the scenes, but it's certain that Stennis communicated the conversation with my dad to Mississippi Governor Johnson. The first I knew anything of that was when Hartman Turnbow showed up at the abandoned farm house our group was living in to say that at two in the morning, the Mississippi State Police showed up at his house with dogs and shotguns. Turnbow was one of many Blacks in Holmes County who owned his own land, highly unusual for Mississippi. He was one of the few blacks willing to be known as supporting SNCC. He made it very clear to the State Police surrounding his house that. while SNCC's philosophy was nonviolence, that did not apply to him.

James: No, it didn't apply to him.

Steve: And he let that be known to the troopers outside who told him they were looking for me as they had orders to protect me.

After Turnbow left, our group had a meeting at the house and decided that it was critical that I immediately go to the State Police Office in Greenwood and find out what was going on. So I took with me the biggest volunteer in the group kind of as a body guard, Bob Kenny I think his name was. And we just innocently drove up to Greenwood. If I was going to be somehow hemmed in by the police, I would be screwed and would have to leave Mississippi but at least nobody else would get hurt in the process. We didn't have any idea until later of my father's role in all this. We asked to meet with the head of the Greenwood State Police office. He said, 'Yes, we've been given instructions to provide you 24-hour a day protection.'

Rick: Which could mean one of two things.

Steve: Well, it was pretty clear right away.

James: Yeah, it only meant one thing.

Steve: Well, no, at that point I don't think I was afraid they were going to go off and kill me. It was too public but it was clear instantly that there was no way I could function as a Civil Rights worker with these people anywhere near me. And so at that point, we went directly from the police office to Jackson to talk to Bob and people at the central office about what was going on. And out of that came a brilliant strategy. We concluded that, had the police succeeded in picking me off so I had to leave Mississippi, they would've picked someone else off who would leave and then another and another.

Bob in particular, and I don't recall who else was involved in the discussion, understood that we had to have a different strategy. At the Oxford Ohio training, a small group of us were asked to consider going into southwest Mississippi in the Natchez area. We had a long discussion because the Klan had openly invited us to come, saying 'Nobody will get out alive.' The Klan was the worst in that part of the state in terms of the arms they had and the violence than almost anywhere else. We actually pulled back in Oxford. We said as a group: 'It's just too fucking dangerous.'

Bob and others respected that, and I don't think that SNCC leadership wanted people picked off. They wanted shit to happen, but they really, really didn't want anybody being killed. Their sense on the ground was that this was serious stuff. At our meeting in Jackson about what to do with my 'body guards,' Bob remembered our discussion about the dangers of the southwest and proposed that we call their bluff by telling them 'This gives us an opportunity with an armed guard. We'll go back into southwest Mississippi.'

Miriam: That's what Bob had you do?

Steve: We have in the back of our minds that the police have no intention of providing real protection for us as we go about doing our work. Now, if they had said, 'OK, that's fine,' we would have had to figure out next steps. How could we possibly work with these suckers nearby?

In fact, I forgot to mention that on the way to Jackson we had stopped off at Tougaloo College, I think to talk to Ed King before going to Jackson. We were thirsty and went into this little African-American place to buy Coca-Cola or something. These cops got out of their car with their shotguns and came into the store and stood at parade rest inside the door, one on each side. And when we were in downtown Jackson, the cops were joking to passersby on the main street (we had to stay in a hotel in the white part of town): 'Yeah, these are some of the nigger-lovers from the North, and we have orders to protect them.' People are laughing and sneering at us and it was a little scary. The cops were certainly not trying to protect us.

So we went all the way back to Greenwood to the police and played our bluff: 'We actually really appreciate that you're willing to provide this protection, because there are places that we feel that we can't work in without protection.'

James: That's great.

Steve: 'And so we need to talk about ground rules.' So we had a whole discussion, making it appear that we were absolutely committed to going forward with this. Like, 'You can't leave us in the middle of the night like Cecil Price.' [Referring to the way the deputy Price left Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman in the hands of a KKK death squad]. The officer in charge assured me: 'Oh no, no. We'll take you to where you want to be left off.' And we went on negotiating for 20 minutes or so and then left. The two cops followed. We get about halfway from Greenwood to Mileston and the cop car's flashing lights come on and they pull us over. [General laughter] We kind of freaked out, because it's lights; it's cops; it's Mississippi. He says, 'Well, we just got instructions to pull the guard, so where would you like us to leave you?' [General laughter]

And we said, 'You know what?' It was broad daylight, and we're on the main highway. 'This is fine right here.' Because we certainly didn't want them to see where we lived and whatever. So we dodged a bullet and maybe in some ways served some purpose, because the authorities I guess were trying to figure out how the hell do we get all of these people out of the state? And my dad, inadvertently helped us. I questioned him at great length, I knew him well, I knew his ethic and he would never have asked for something special for his son. I really, truly believe that.

The only other anecdote: I got beaten up like a lot of people doing voter registration but I was lucky enough to get the license plate of the car. We called the FBI and said, 'We have the license. Two people beat him up. Do something.' And, surprisingly, the driver was arrested. certainly one of the few if not only times anyone was arrested in Mississippi for beating up a civil rights worker. The FBI was under great pressure as we all know at that point because they weren't doing diddly.

But the trial was a sham. We take two carloads of people to the trial for protection. The prosecutor is the judge.

To play out the sham, I think partly to persuade the FBI to back off, because we know how to take care of justice, the driver was fined $60 [equal to almost $500 in 2018], at which point of course he said, 'I appeal.' And the judge set the appeal hearing for October, knowing that I would be long since gone and that the whole thing would be dropped. So it looked like one thing, but in fact it was another. Leaving the courthouse is the only time I think I've intentionally driven over 100 mph. We were really freaked out. My parents, to their credit, had said, 'You can't take your VW Bug to Mississippi, because it doesn't go fast enough.' So I had rented a Nash.

Because I had "incompletes" in my classes from college and was accepted to go to law school in the fall, I had to figure out some way to get my diploma. So I had to cut my time short with Freedom Summer and spend the last six weeks of the summer at the University of Mississippi in an amazing, totally different experience. My history professor in college knew James Silver who wrote Mississippi, the Closed Society, which is an extraordinary book. I wrote a research paper under his supervision for six weeks at 'Ole Miss so I could get credit to graduate from Yale.

Being on the campus was hard, emotionally and mentally. Most volunteers only saw the other side of the tracks where it's all dirt and sometimes raw sewage, no street lights. At Ole Miss, it was such a weird contrast, with green lawns on the campus, nice houses. Everything just stood out for me. One time, Bob and a couple of other people came up to meet about something, maybe the future of working in Mississippi. I don't quite remember, but we were sitting at a campus dining room table, an integrated group. Some people came over and just dumped their coffee on me. That was my 'Ole Miss experience.

Miriam: Well, let me tell you [a story about Martha Prescod], because I've not heard of your story, and hers is a parallel one. Martha is an African-American woman who started working with SNCC in Albany, Georgia in 1963 when I did. And within two weeks, our project directors had arranged that we would all be arrested; that is, all but Martha. The police would not arrest Martha, so she explained to me many years later that her parents had gone to somebody, the Attorney General or somebody with some high power position. I think she was from Michigan. And they had arranged that she would be protected, not by police presence, but they were not to arrest her. And somehow — 

Steve: And she didn't know this?

Miriam: Well, I don't know if she knew at the time, but I didn't. They did not arrest her in Albany, Georgia. So that's the second story I've heard of the family making a difference.

Steve: Yeah, interesting.

Rick: And there were two people on my Freedom Ride who were not arrested. One was blind and really couldn't see which room she was not supposed to be in because she was blind.

The other one was an exchange student who was from Indonesia whose father was the former ambassador to Pakistan. And he was studying I think at UW in Seattle, and they wouldn't arrest him either. They couldn't figure out which waiting room he was not supposed to be in, as an Indonesian. Plus, we are quite sure — some students came in and hustled them out, and we're pretty sure the FBI just said, 'We don't want that kind of an incident; we're just going to remove him.' Don't know that, but it had that quality.

And then we had a third guy who was a reporter for Quick magazine, which was the German Life magazine, and he was just along, and he was arrested, but apparently some powers that be got to the judge, and the judge said that he was a foreigner from a foreign land who was a victim of overzealous zeal and really didn't know what he was doing and therefore would not be convicted. So yeah, there were three people there.

Miriam: OK, so we have some time to ask Steve questions or make comments.

James: Just at the personal level, I don't think — I met you several times before at Capp Street Foundation. Capp Street Foundation was the guild for creation. And I was very close to Angela [Davis], before Angela was Angela. Angela was Angela. Those are the people I knew before they knew who they were.

Steve: When she was at UCLA.

James: Well, she ended up at Third College down at UCSD, so she was down there when I was doing campus traveling and stuff like that. And the story that you just told about your — I mean, I read about the history of your family, and I mean, I read everything. I'm crazy like that. I read the framework, and then I was a part of it, so I had that history of being a part of the formation of both of the Black Panther parties. So I have a mixture of the kind of the theoretical and the practical histories. And actually, I'm interested in how you felt about the role that your family, which is a prominent as you have already described, family, old money family that had this kind of like weird two or three people in it in that extended family who were liberal and the rest who were on the other side.

Steve: Well, in my family, we're the only two.

James: Well, that's what I mean. That's weird. They're not like — they're not the rule; they're the exception.

Steve: Right.

James: And my interest is — I mean, you were involved in all of these things, and your parents have a certain response, which you've said how your father responded. How do you think your other people responded in the 1960s in your family? Or how did they respond to your various adventures during that time?

Steve: Well, they never let on, but I think they thought I was off the deep end, I'm sure.

James: But did you communicate with them?

Steve: No, not really.

James: Oh, OK. All right.

Steve: I never really tried. I mean, I was kind of a lost cause. I have a cousin who was a lawyer during his whole career with the INS [Immigration & Naturalization Service]. He and I are exactly the same age; we went to grade school together. And you know, he's my cousin. He's one of my closest cousins, so we're friends, but I never really confronted any of his INS work. But he knew where I stood. I didn't hide my politics when I was at family gatherings.

To my cousin's credit, after he had retired from the INS, he began representing people trying to adjust their status to be able to remain in the U.S. And he has even made a very decent proposal to deal with the Dream Act issue, that he kept putting out there and saying, 'Look, I worked for the INS; I'm credible, and this will work.' And it just blew me away. I like to think that he was forced to confront things that I had been saying all along and deal with them in terms of justice and fairness issues.

[The Dream Act was a proposed congressional bill that would allow children who had been brought into the U.S. without legal papers by their parents to remain in the country that they grew up in. As of the end of 2018 it continues to be blocked by Republicans and the now-adult children remain in legal limbo under threat of deportation.]

The conservative position is a pretty mean-spirited thing. I mean, there's no way around that, but if a lightbulb of consciousness turns on about a broader picture of humankind, it's going to inevitably bend' in the direction of what Martin Luther King called 'the long arc of justice.'

Rick: Yeah. The essence of nonviolence though is to do that very thing. It's to confront someone with the impossibility and inhumanity of their position, and in doing so, they will change. That's the very essence of nonviolence.

Steve: Right. And in some ways, although my cousin and I weren't in a physical confrontation, it's almost a type of verbal nonviolence. I'm going to tell you what my position is. I'm not going to argue with you that you're wrong because I know that's going up against a brick wall. I'm just going to display what you should be thinking and leave it up to you to come to your own conclusion. Even today, I think that plays out, even within the last couple of days with [Senator] Jeff Flake's[R-AZ] comments about the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing and all the rest of it. He's forced to realize that the world may be different than the one that he believed in all his life.


Miriam: Yeah, I thought all our stories were quite a story. Well, we have time, and we can talk about other things, like how we got there, how it was for us when we left the Civil Rights work and the kind of reentry crisis, how it's affected our lives.

Steve: Well, I think it's interesting to talk about how Freedom Summer changed our lives. I think the one thing we probably all agree on is that it did change every one of us. It changed what we did with the rest of our lives but obviously in different ways.

For me, it reinforced my idea of being a progressive lawyer. I had never really gone to law school with the idea of being anything different than that. I joined the National Lawyers Guild within weeks of entering law school and wouldn't have survived there aotherwise, surrounded by people whose goal was to make lots of money. So that was already fixed in place in my mind before Mississippi Summer, but it was a revelation to see in Mississippi how different attitudes about the law' governed much of what was going on in the South: How come the FBI wasn't getting involved? How come these people I sort of believed in, like the Kennedys, were basically thumbing their nose and saying, 'Oh, we can't do anything.' What are the legal dynamics?

So social lawyering just became part of my frame and the following summer after '64 I returned to Mississippi briefly. I spent that summer working for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department as a legal intern. One of the projects I worked on was to show how demonstrably false was the claim by Mississippi that their segregated schools were equal. Part of our work was to actually measure the number of books, windows, etc. in different schools. We had all kinds of parameters to measure. It was a weird feeling personally to return to Mississippi, where I now had to wear a necktie and a jacket because I was working for the Justice Department.

But the other thing set in place for me — maybe because of my family background and its relationship to slavery — was that my commitment to justice work was for the rest of my life in one way or another. The peculiar institution of slavery created a people whose peculiar historical experience needed more attention than anything else. And that played out in my life.

I went into the Peace Corps in West Africa, Sierra Leone. Part of me was interested in knowing where Blacks had originally come from. I chose to become a legal aid lawyer where most of my clients on public benefits were people of color, with a high percentage being Black. My decision to work with the Black Panthers.

So I guess the critical first stepping stone for me that set me on my path was the meeting in the fall of 1963 in Rev. Coffin's living room at Yale. I often talk about with young people about a moment which happens in every young person's life where they're going to have an opportunity to go down a completely different road than they thought they were going to go down. And you just have to have the willingness to look that choice in the face and see it for what it is and then seize it if it makes sense for you.

Once I'd seen Mississippi, it's not like you continue to make a conscious choice to continue to do justice work rather than get out of the Movement and go and do something else that's supposedly more fun and so forth. I mean, you're basically hooked at an emotional value-driven way that you don't have any choice to do anything different. I did my time. I was underground for 13 years. I could've said, 'Shit, I've paid my dues. You know what? I'm gonna go and have a good time.' But that's not who I am.

The people who live outside of that framework say, 'Oh wow, it's so amazing you keep doing this stuff.' And it's like, I don't have any choice. And it all started with Mississippi.


Steve: I think one of the things that made it easier for me is that I had this legal skill that could be used very directly to help out the Movement through the National Lawyers Guild. To this day, we in the Guild say we're the legal arm of the Movement. The Guild allows its members to be in the Movement any way they want individually.

If somebody needs help creating a community organization, doing legal paperwork, or help with an arrest, these are very concrete tasks. And that's how we in the Guild were able to have a fairly privileged role working with Blacks, even though we were a mainly white organization. There were very few Black lawyers; they weren't allowed to go to law school. Guild members slept in the national headquarters of the Black Panthers because they were afraid the cops were gonna come and kick the door down the way they did with Fred Hampton [in Chicago] and just assassinate people. Having young lawyers or law students in the house might give the cops cause to hesitate and not just come bust the door down without a warrant.

Rick: And it may very well have done that.

Steve: Maybe. You don't know. A negative that doesn't happen, you don't know if you have anything to do with it.


Miriam: So what about [your high school experience in the 1950s]?

Steve: Well, I don't recall anything progressive going on. Predictably with my background, I went to a private boarding school outside of Boston. And it was liberal, if you want, compared to all the other ones. I only did one politically interesting thing which was so minimal it's seems laughable today. We had a student newspaper. There was a boys school and a girls school across the street. The girls were all expected to buy the newspaper because it was the only student newspaper but they didn't have any writers for the paper. The boys would do all the stories about what was going on in the girls school. So I changed that. I got two girls to write the stories for the girls school.

Unlike most private schools then, Milton Academcy did have Jews. They weren't a big percentage, but they were significant. There were one or two Blacks. It was the '50s. Even to this day, although there are exceptions, American high schools tend not to get that involved in national affairs. I was struck with that after living in France underground for 10 years. I learned a lot about French militancy. In 1968, French high school students all over the country had gotten very involved in all the activity surrounding the May '68 [uprisings]. Whereas in this country, there's little of that.

Rick: There's even less now.

Steve: There's less now.

Rick: Yeah. And that's what worries me. The only time I've really seen the high school kids get involved, and God bless 'em, is on guns. They're worried.

Steve: Yeah, this Parkland thing just is very exciting.

[Referring to the mass shooting that occurred at Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland FL on February 18, 2018 and the subsequent gun-control protests and political action that students from that and many other schools took up.]

Rick: Yeah, they're worried. I love it.

Steve: I just keep hoping it's going to take off.

Rick: I had hopes for the sit-ins around the 2%, the 98%. I had great hopes for the Occupy Movement. It didn't quite move. It just kinda died.

Steve: There were a lot of teenagers, young people involved in Occupy, but it was all off campus.

Rick: Well, then it got taken over by some crazies, and then it kind of fell under. But I had great hopes for Occupy. I have great hopes for Parkland. I'm one of those people who has hopes for this election. I really do. I hope and think people finally get it. 'Oh yeah, this is real.'

[Referring to the midterm election of November 2018]

Steve: Yeah, in France, young people organized an incredible movement around some North African immigrant kids that were were roughed up. Police came on campus. I can't remember the details. And they set up this spontaneous movement that spread like wildfire, all over the country. "Ne touche pas mon pote." Which is "Don't touch my buddy."

Rick: OK, good.

Steve: And it was huge.

Miriam: When was that?

Steve: That was over 30 years ago. And student actions happen regularly, ever since '68. The government in France is national not a federal system as in the U.S. The French government regularly proposes big educational reforms. Students protest and get unions to support them. It's inspirational. It's interesting that my wife back in the '60s had a philosophy class in high school. How many schools in this country teach philosophy?

Rick: We tried to start kind of a club like that at Berkeley High, and we wanted to study various political/social philosophies, current stuff. So we called it the Ism Club. We were going to study isms. No, we couldn't do that. That was not allowed. It was prohibited. It was too much like Communism. Red scare.

Steve: Some isms are religions.


Rick: ...well, I think it's an issue that needs to be talked about.

Steve: Black Power.

Rick: Black Power and the alienation of whites, and when the whites were kicked out of SNCC.

Steve: Yeah, it's been an ongoing thing. I remember at the 50th reunion in Jackson —

Rick: I think it was a big mistake.

Steve: — there were some of us — I didn't take any leadership role, but there was somebody who proposed a meeting of white volunteers just to sort of be able to emotionally vent — you're a psychologist, so you would've understood. There was a need to just let it hang out, and we went off in some room and talked.

Rick: Well, as I said, the other thing for me is I then went to Wisconsin, the Antiwar Movement just blew up there, and a whole lot of other stuff happened. And by the time I came back, it was like, 'God, I got no place to latch on to.'

Miriam: I think that's important. That after, you know what happened to people after.

Steve: You've seen "Berkeley in the Sixties," the film?

Rick: I have not.

Steve: Mark Kitchell's film? You really should. Everyone should. It's about Mario [Savio], the Free Speech Movement and all that. But it ends in a really interesting way. At the very end of the film Mario says, 'Well, hey folks, we won! What do we do now?'

Rick: Yeah. What did we win?

Steve: Mario continues: 'Well, there's a war going on.' And then the films ends. It's nicely done. You know, the Antiwar Movement will be next. In its beginning phases, the anti-war movement was very white. I've always felt ambivalent about choices I made then. When I went in the Peace Corps after my first year of law school, I didn't do it as a calculated thing to stay out of the draft but, after the two year stint, I was entitled under the draft law to finish law school. When I graduated, I was too old for the draft, so I ended up escaping it

Rick: When we went to the "all volunteer" Army — which is basically poor kids who can't get a job elsewhere — all the energy went out of the Antiwar Movement, because the whites were no longer being drafted.

Steve: Well, that's right, but what I was going to get to is there was a subliminal guilt thing I didn't know how to deal with because, for every white person that went to Canada or did something else that avoided the draft, a Black had to go over to Vietnam.

Rick: Had to go, yeah.

Steve: And there was, I suspect, within the Black community, a resentment. Whites had different ways of figuring it out. You know, it's not everybody that can figure out financially how you're gonna escape to Canada and survive. For a street kid from Los Angeles, it's not an option. I think it was an ambiguity within the whole Anti-war Movement which, less than the Civil Rights Movement which has tried to grapple somewhat with the implications of Black Power to white participation, what it meant and what our role was. I don't think the Antiwar Movement has grappled or come to terms with that.

Rick: No, well the Antiwar — the Peace Movement kind of lost a whole bunch of energy with the end of the Vietnam War and then the Bushes.

Steve: Some of it. Not entirely.

Rick: No, I know. It's still active.

Steve: I mean, the bombing of Cambodia and stuff.

Rick: Yeah.

Steve: You know, you go from a ground war to just let's throw a million bombs on the country. There was a core that stayed engaged and there were still major demonstrations. And some of those people are still with the same movements they were with then, and they're still doing good stuff. We always have a war that we could be fighting against.

Rick: Sadly, sadly. Yeah.

Steve: And then of course, you know, the fragging and all of this stuff that was not being reported on. It started to filter back and you know, "Nobody ever called me Nigger in Vietnam." That whole dynamic began to meld the Civil Rights and Vietnam War Movements together.

["Fragging" refered to incidents in which active-duty GIs in Vietname killed their officers as a form of rebellion. "No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger" was a slogan used by African-American activists to link the opposition to the war and the Civil Rights Movement.]

Rick: There's a story. There's a history that needs to be told, and maybe there's enough time that has passed that that story can be told.

Steve: Well, some of that is happening. Tom Hayden, who sadly, passed away, helped start a counter-narrative following the announcement of an official 50th [anniversary] around the Vietnam War. Movement people began to organize around the idea that, while we don't mind an official narrative, our anti-war movement story has to also be told. We're not going to shame the U.S. military and the soldiers but we insist that the movement is part of the overall narrative. All this comes front and center with Ken Burns' film. Did you see it?

Rick: I saw little bits and pieces of it.

Steve: Because it's shameful what it does with — 

Rick: Oh it is? That's why I couldn't watch it.

Steve: It gives voice to the Vietnamese, which is wonderful. I didn't expect that. It gives good voice to Vietnamese generals and all kinds of people in Vietnam, but it basically doesn't give any legitimate voice to the Antiwar Movement. The Vietnamese themselves have told many anti-war activists I know: 'You really played an important part in this war being won.' Most Americans don't think that's the case, to this day. Even people who were relatively progressive think the movement was only a fly in the ointment and that it was the Vietnamese that did it all on their own. But yeah, that part of the story still needs to be told.

Copyright © 2019

Copyright ©
Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the story and commentary above belongs to the speakers. Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
(Labor donated)