John Paull Harper

NAG, 1961-62, Washington DC, Maryland
Current Residence: New York City

At the Center of a Storm: My Involvement in the CRM

The civil rights movement inspired me to do something about racial equality. Since I was a white college student, I figured that I would study for a year at a black college, and so I enrolled in Howard University in September 1961. I joined NAG (the Nonviolent Action Group, a SNCC affiliate).

As a NAG activist, I helped plan and participated in a half-dozen sit- in demonstrations to de-segregate restaurants in the boarder state of Maryland. We always were confronted by menacing right-wing white crowds and I was thrown around by policemen when I was arrested twice in Baltimore, but I escaped any serious injury. My NAG friends included Stokely Carmichael, Courtland Cox, Ed Brown, Mary Lovelace, and Bill Mahoney.

Other NAG activities included sitting-in Attorney General Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy s office, demanding the release of Dion Diamond from trumped-up charges of criminal anarchy in Louisiana, and helping organize the legendary debate between Malcolm X and Bayard Rustin at Howard University.

During the summer of 1962, I was arrested with Stokely Carmichael and other civil rights activists in a sit-in a Brooklyn hospital, demanding union recognition for the mostly-minority workers in Local 1199 of the Health Care Workers in New York City, and the next summer I volunteered a marshal at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The civil rights movement profoundly influenced me. Living in the dorm at Howard and being involved in the civil rights struggle, I got to know black people as people, and I witnessed racial oppression first-hand. Although I already knew that racism was wrong, it is quite another thing to be there when it happened. I came to identify more closely with the black struggle and reaffirmed my commitment to do something about promoting racial equality.

While I admit to having helped all kinds of people over the years, I paid special attention to racism as the transcendent moral issue in the United States. I helped to establish a predominately-black college campus at a city workers union, and I later taught at that campus as an adjunct professor one night a week for twenty years.

My activities also included using my union connections to help Rap Brown get out of prison the first time; using my university credentials and radical connections to help a black local union official become the regional education director of a national union; using my influence as a white district leader to help three black judges win election to the New York State Supreme Court, and using my position and connections in city government to help black colleagues and prot g s advance their careers. I try to do what I can.


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