Stories about events in 1965

Selma

This story takes place in 1965. It was told on January 2nd, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Studs Terkel called me and asked me to escort Alvin Albright, Clinton King and some other Chicago artists down to Selma. “These guys need somebody to take care of them,” Studs told me. Chad and the group were already there; they had come down on the bus with Belafonte. So we all flew together and got a hotel and went to Selma and marched.

It was a big, impressive march, but it was the wrong type of performance altogether. You had a crowd of mostly rural southern blacks, trying to listen to Peter, Paul & Mary and the Mitchell Trio. (At least there was Sammy Davis.) It all had an air of incongruity to it. But that didn’t take away from the value of their presence. What was important was that all these people showed up, and these southerners who had just taken their battle to a new level could feel that, at least for a moment, they weren’t alone.

After the march, Clinton King, Chad and I drove to Atlanta together. Everybody had dispersed. That was scary. Suddenly, released from the solidity of the mass, we realized we were in enemy country. Later on we found out about what had happened to Viola Lucey.

Those kids went through all the problems related to developing a movement in the 60s: feminism, racism, and whether they solved them or not, they were the early soldiers in the civil rights movement, and most of them were casualties. If anybody should get pensions, they should. In the beginning they played totally by the rules, did everything the way they were supposed to, and white society, instead of acknowledging the justice of their demands, all they did was terrorize and kill people.

The types they developed were the ones you see when a movement is at its high point. It makes people better than they are. Even I could see that in SNCC, even though I was a spectator and a voyeur.

Missionaries

This story takes place in 1965. It was told on October 16th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

The last formal contact I had with the Socialist Workers Party was when George Novack came to see me on a Sunday morning right after I got married. They’d heard l was raking it in; I had no objection to that. He was doing the missionary thing.

I’ve used the same technique. ln my SWP days, when I was very young, I used to go out to Michigan City to see an optometrist who had somehow become a sympathizer. We would paint a thrilling picture of what was going in the steel union and so on. You interpreted history for the person in a way that would make them want to give you some money.

I also knew that when the movement was on a roll, money chased the movement. When the movement was under attack, on the other hand, money, like everything else, was scarce. Don’t ever blame the demise of the radical movement on the fact that the ruling class has more money. When you were riding the tide of history, money was not a problem; there was always some out there. During the height of the movement against the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement, money was pissed away all over the place.

The favored approach during drought periods, though, was that of the missionary coming to gather in the lapsed faithful who, having fallen away, needed an inside report on what was going on. You would be full of glad tidings, to which only a few were privy, about the great things that were happening and all the new converts being found. Of course the single aim was to get some dough, but you offered all sorts of entree to the most exciting radical circles.

After Novack had gone on for a time, I started interjecting my own views, which were rather sharply defined by then. I had not regressed back to SWP politics; in fact, by that time I had read Trotsky for myself, and had some ideas of my own.

Novack stopped and looked at me in surprise. “l didn’t know you were still interested in politics, Frank.” I said, “George, I didn’t leave socialism, I just left the SWP.”

SNCC

This story takes place in 1965. It was told on September 29th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

I remember watching a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in San Francisco, when for the first time, instead of cowering and taking the Fifth Amendment, people were answering, “Sure I’m a communist. Aren’t you?” And in essence, that was the end of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

I think this was the spirit I identified with when I met the young people who were running the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1965. I was interested in SNCC from the very beginning. The kids in SNCC were putting their butts on the line and doing everything they were supposed to. The students had organized themselves, they had gone down to the south, they had conducted a struggle that I think to this day was an example of what a movement should look like and how it should conduct itself. And they inspired people all over the country. They brought out the best in black youth, and they brought lots of white youth out too. Above all, they blew the shop whistle and told us it was time to get back to work. It got my political juices flowing again.

We recorded the Freedom Singers for Mercury, the only commercial label that ever did that, something I took great pride in. It took some guts on Green’s part, too, because at that point there was still great fear. I worked out the terms with Mike Standard, the lawyer for SNCC. They produced it themselves; we did nothing but roll the tape. Everybody was scared to interfere, which was ironic because the always-pompous left press reviewed the album as a crass commercialization of what had been a good, pure folk group.

One night we had Henry Mancini and Peter, Paul and Mary doing McCormick Place, and we decided to throw a fundraiser for SNCC before the show. John Lewis was there to give a little talk. It was not a big event, to say the least; if there were 15 people there it was a lot. We did it on three days’ notice and it was at 4:30 in the afternoon because they were doing two shows at McCormick Place. We raised two or three thousand dollars, because my neighbor and Peter, Paul and Mary and I and Mancini each gave $500. But to Henry it was one of the most significant things in his life. Twice I ran into him years later and he remembered it as a big thing he had done. Each time he had to remind me, because I’d forgotten it – it wasn’t very successful, really.