I come from a revolutionary family. My father was an organizer for the IWW, Industrial Workers of the World. He was one of the men who brought Joe Hill's body back from Utah to Chicago in 1915. My lullabies were the songs from the Wobblies' Little Red Songbook. As a cultural activist I was simply continuing the" family business".
I was born in Greenwich Village, New York. In the late 1940's I met Pete Seeger and others in Washington Square Park and the authentic folk songs and contemporary political songs they sang so passionately influenced me. These singers and songwriters maintained, in their songs, a culture of resistance. My first $5 as a singer came from Seeger's People's Songs. This was the beginning of a national movement known as the Urban Folk Revival. The political culture in which I grew up now seemed to have deeper roots and wider branches.
In 1956 I moved with my five children, to Atlanta Georgia. My first time in the south I saw a fountain that said "Colored only"; I turned the spigot, believing that colored water would flow from that font. A cross was once burned on our lawn because we had Black musicians at the house, and I learned that being idealistic is one thing, but that being ideologically naove could get someone killed.
During the years of the Civil Rights Movement I was at the right place at the right time to sing with the Movement. Bernice Johnson Reagan and I organized the Atlanta Folk Music Society and then a " folk festival" that including authentic folk cultural artists as, Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and new songwriters such as Peter LaFarge, Len Chandler, and Buddy Moss. We were officially thanked in a letter from then Gov. Jimmy Carter for, "Peacefully integrating the Georgia State Parks". With the Student Non-Violent Organizing Committee, SNCC, and SSOC, white Southern Students organizing Committee, I went with, a first of its kind, integrated southern college cultural tour. In 1974, when black and while solidarity had been destroyed by the FBI's Cointel Program, I left Atlanta for Berkeley, California. My essential disappointment with the Civil Rights Movement was that it did not develop the capacity to fight capitalism, which, by its nature of exploitation for profit, is the root of racism.
After the destruction of black and while solidarity by the FBI's Cointel Program, I left Atlanta for Berkeley, California. I received a BA and Master's Degree in folklore from UC Berkeley. In 1982 I helped organize the Freedom Song Network; a loosely defined group of singers and songwriters who perform in support of labor, civil rights, civil liberties, social justice and economic equality causes. I am active in the development of a Juneteenth festival in Sacramento to commemorate the date in 1864 when the slaves of Texas learned that they had been emancipated by a proclamation that gone into effect on January 1, 1863
I have continued the cultural work that has been the hallmark of my life. I helped organize the Freedom Song Network, a group of singers and songwriters who perform in support of social justice causes. I've worked to promote the Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival which has emphasized Labor Culture. I received a Master's Degree in folklore from UC Berkeley and a Master's in Arts Education from San Francisco State University. I'm working to build an integrated chorus for the "Juneteenth" commemoration at Negro Bar, meaning dunes not saloon, in Sacramento. On that date, June 17th, 1864, the last slaves in Texas learned that they had been emancipated by the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. This fact has always been honored within the African-American tradition, now it is gaining more widespread acknowledgement.
I am currently engaged in a project of Community Works, a Berkeley based organization, called The Long Walk to Freedom, a public art project that explores a crucial time when ordinary people did extraordinary things. The exhibition features photographs, archival materials, quotes, an interactive DVD and a 15 minute video that highlights the contributions of 12 civil rights activists who, together with hundreds of others, changed the face of the nation. The example of their lives provides a blueprint for future activism for young people today. The project honors Robert Allen, Frances Beal, Janel Clinger, Bettie Mae Fikes, Jon Fromer, Matt Herron, Phil Hutchings, Yuri Kochiyama, Carlos Munoz, Willie Wazir Peacock, Eleanor Walden, Cecil Williams.
Social activism is a lifetime engagement not a seasonal fashion. I know which side I'm on, I know where I stand, and I know how to keep on keeping on!