(This is an abridged version of Jerry’s memoir as of 6/4/15. For the full version, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Ohio to Alabama
I was born in 1936 in Columbus, Ohio. My father had two years of business college and worked as a bookkeeper for a coal company. My mother had two years of art school, raised five children and after we left home, opened a small art studio. Our family’s social life centered on a Methodist church. I was involved in a brief rebellion in Sunday school class over the story of Abraham. By the age 9 or so I was a non-believer.
We never had a car, never ate in a restaurant, and never had a family vacation. We lived in one half of a three bedroom double in a working class section on the south side. There was a small park across the street and the really poor people, black and white, lived on the other side of the park. I never went over there but all the children used the park and we all went to the same schools. We knew each other, socialized, and sometimes played together. Racial integration was a given.
My Uncle Frank came to visit us from time to time. He was married to my mother’s sister. He was a wealthy Ph.D., chemical engineer and corporate executive. He was also a dedicated amateur archaeologist. I was around 10 when he began to take me on field trips when he was in town. I loved it. He invited me to visit him in Arkansas one summer and we dug and searched fields for artifacts.
My aunt and uncle could not have children. So, in 1954 when I was ready to start high school they invited me to live with them. They were moving to Decatur, Alabama, a town of 20,000 in the northern part of the state. We were Yankees and the Civil War was not over yet. I went to the newly built white high school. My aunt and uncle joined the country club. I was a bit out of place there, a working class Yankee at the country club. I saw how the “other half” lived and I marveled at it. “Housewives” lounging around the pool all day. Booze at the club in a dry state.
My uncle and I had many adventures boating up and down the Tennessee River looking for archaeological sites, bring our loot home, washing it and scientifically cataloging it. I read books on archaeology in my uncle’s library and, looking back, I realize that it was during that time that I developed a keen sense of the existence of people and cultures that no longer existed and of the fascinating process of societal evolution.
Our maid had a degree from Stillman College. She lived in an unpainted wooden shack. All I can say is that she was quite stoic about things. She was the only black person I talked to in four years in Decatur.
After graduation I went to the University of Alabama. My uncle paid. He was a generous man who paid for college for a number of people. There was no archaeology or anthropology to speak of. The closest thing was sociology so I majored in that. My professors were incredible bores; the courses didn’t seem to say anything of significance. Southern universities at that time did not attract quality faculty but I did not know that then. It was segregated of course. The curriculum was ultra- conservative but I did not know that either. I had no politics. In 1958, without any warning my uncle suddenly lost his job. I could not enroll again and I promptly got a draft notice. I decided to join the Navy. After four years of this forced labor (electronics tech) I returned to the U of Alabama.
Back to Alabama
In 1963 I watched Governor Wallace make his “stand in the doorway”. Despite his stand, Jimmy Hood and Vivian Malone integrated the U of A. The federal government sent troops to maintain order. Jimmy Hood dropped out, though, because of the death threats. As it happened, I was at the U of A in 1958 when Autherine Lucy tried to integrate the university for the first time. I witnessed the subsequent student riot and a large KKK march. Many hundreds of Klansmen in full regalia marched down University Avenue led by a couple of dozen mounted horsemen. There were no federal troops then. Ms. Lucy was soon expelled on a pretext.
When I had returned in 1962 my goal was to complete my undergraduate degree in sociology but I had no direction, no notion of what I was going to do. I found to my surprise that most if not all of the old faculty in the department was gone. They had been replaced by young men, a number of Yankees and even a Jewish man. The meaningless stuff that had passed for sociology was gone too and something really good had taken its place, some of it was rather radical. A switch in my brain that had never been used simply turned on. I began to get a grasp on the world I was living in then I had a passion to learn all I could. My remaining undergraduate degree work was soon completed with good grades and I was recruited into the M.A. program there.
The Civil Rights movement took off in Tuscaloosa in the spring of 1964 when Martin Luther King’s SCLC encouraged Reverend T. Y. Rogers to become a pastor there and help organize the movement. Following the example of two young professors, James Jaquith, a young anthropologist and Harold Nelson, a sociologist, I went to a number of demonstrations where we were often the only whites, along with some State Bureau of Investigation men there to intimidate (and do worse to) the participants.
Tuscaloosa was the home of Bobby Shelton, the Grand Wizard of the KKK. He had managed to out-maneuver rival organizations across the South and was the central figure in their movement. In Tuscaloosa many policemen were in the Klan. The police as well as the Klan openly and repeatedly engaged in violent attacks on protestors. Mobs controlled the streets as times. Jaquith was assaulted and I narrowly escaped an attack.
Jaquith took a job at another university and left. I never saw him again. Recently, I located his son who told me he died in 1999. By the end of the summer I understood “the Southern way of life”. The movement had cracked it open for all to see what it was. Of course, I was beginning to understand that it wasn’t just the South; there were terrible things about the whole country, much worse than I had ever imagined.
I wanted to be a professor now, this new kind of professor who taught things that mattered, did things that mattered, and changed people’s lives for the better. Especially, I wanted to contribute to the struggle against racism. I was still young and it was the 60’s. I finished my thesis and left for Chapel Hill.
On to North Carolina
Among the papers that I had to sign when I arrived at UNC in the fall of 1964 was one that said that I agreed not to overthrow the government of the State of North Carolina. It gave me pause but I signed it and I did not overthrow the government of the State of NC. I did not know it at that time, but that loyalty oath was just one small part of the McCarthyism that was controlling the university system of the state. As I would soon learn, in 1963 the state legislature had passed a Speaker Ban Law which banned from all campuses any speakers who were “Known members of the Communist Party”, or people who had taken the 5th Amendment, or people who advocated the overthrow of the Constitution of North Carolina or the U.S. (Of course, the Speaker Ban, which sought to deny the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech, could be seen as an “overthrow” of the Constitution.)
I was a doctoral student in the sociology department which is where I met Gary Waller. We both had become acquainted with the civil rights movement, Gary in Chapel Hill and me in Tuscaloosa. From our independent experiences we had arrived at the same conclusion: there was something fundamentally wrong with “the system”. Gary came up with the idea of starting an SDS chapter to get discussion going on the campus about the Speaker Ban law. We were aware of the struggle that had taken place at Berkley. The administrators at Berkley had restricted student political speech on campus and a powerful student movement had contested the restrictions. The battle attracted national attention.
At UNC the position of the administrators was that the law should be rescinded but since the legislature refused to do that, they, being sworn officers of the state, had to uphold it. How did they know who to ban? They asked HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee and the FBI which shared information with each other. In addition, they actually required suspect speakers to answer questions in writing about their activities. They were, in effect, an extension of HUAC.
With HUAC, if you took the 5th you were assumed to be a member of the CP. If you didn’t and you named names you might be let off. The FBI started a program called COINTELPRO in 1956 to use legal and illegal means to destroy the CP and a variety of other organizations that had little or no connection to the C.P. They did break-ins and used illegal wire taps. They hired or found informers to infiltrate organizations. The informers were directed to sabotage the organizations anyway possible. Files on individuals were created and filled with slander and accusations. These files were used to send people to jail. They were also provided to government agencies and private employers to get people fired. They worked to see that targeted people would never work again. They went after suspect professors throughout the academic world. This did not stop in the 50’s. In the 1960’s civil rights organizations and organizations like SDS were added to the COINTELPRO hit list.
At UNC, administrators not only used information from these files to ban speakers, they supplied the FBI with information about activist UNC students and suspect faculty. The FBI developed informers in various departments and among the students. Across the country, universities and the FBI collected and exchanged information on campus protestors, demonstrators, activists, and so forth. As before, graduates classified in this way might be denied employment. Would-be professors could be screened out. All of this was done secretly behind the façade of “America”, the champion of free speech in the free world. For me, learning about this was similar to finding out that the police were in the Klan. A university is not what you think it is.
UNC administrators argued that the problem with the Speaker Ban was that censorship existed by legislative fiat rather than being in the hands of the universities. If censorship was returned to the university, administrators said, the problem was solved. But SDS protested that the banned categories would still be banned; this was a charade.
We had before us the example of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement which had shown us that under certain conditions principled people should neither enforce nor obey bad laws. Such laws should be broken using non-violent means. UNC administrators, of course, did not get that lesson.
In 1966, two and a half years after the law was passed, SDS invited a real live communist, Herbert Aptheker, (scholar and one-time professor) and a person who had taken the 5th, Frank Wilkerson, to come and speak. All kinds of pressures were exerted by administrators to get SDS to back down. The UNC president told two SDS leaders that it would be bad for their careers if they persisted. But a broad-based student movement and some faculty got solidly behind the demand to hear the speakers. We had protests, pickets, and a spontaneous nighttime march to the President’s house. As it worked out, we more or less took the administration off the hook. Their open banning of the speakers would provide a test case and the courts could settle the matter. Our two invited speakers came several weeks apart.
In a nice bit of staging, each speaker first stood on a public sidewalk on Franklin Street and spoke over a low wall to hundreds of students sitting on the grass on the other side of the wall. Then the speakers went on campus a short distance to the Confederate monument and tried to speak. The campus Chief of Police told them he would arrest them if they spoke. Later they gave lectures off campus to large gatherings. The law was struck down in 1968. (See Communists on Campus by William Billingsley for a good account of this history.)
It was a nice victory for SDS. After that we concentrated on the war in Vietnam.
A Visit to Oklahoma
I went out to Tulsa to visit my aunt and uncle in the summer, 1965. The subject of civil rights came up and for the first time ever I quarreled with my uncle. In all the years that I had known this intelligent, kind, ethical, generous, moral man, not once had he uttered a racist word or shown any race prejudice. We had never been angry with each other. I was the son he never had and he was the type of father that I never knew existed. But racism was pouring out of him and there was rage building between us. Then the subject became Vietnam and he said “I wish they were all dead”. I started to leave but my aunt, in tears, begged me to stay still morning. I stayed but my uncle had gone to work by the time I got up. I left to drive back to Chapel Hill. What had happened to me had happened to other people in the movement, they were “disinherited” by their parents. It happened to black people too. It was terrible. Some years later at my aunt’s funeral he kissed me so I guess it was o.k. by then. We only saw each other a couple of times after that and we didn’t mention the conflict. I really wish it had not happened. I later became aware of the racist nature of our archaeology and that was a problem too. I donated my collection of artifacts to a Cherokee tribe in Alabama.
Martin Luther King was to speak in Raleigh and the KKK was to have a big rally there on the same day, July 31, 1966. Our merry band of SDSers made the short trip from Chapel Hill in several cars. Somebody suggested we take a look at the Klan rally before going to hear King. As we approached the park where the KKK was, we saw a young black woman with about 20 black kids going into the park ahead of us. The KKK attacked them and they ran. The few cops around did nothing. We split up and wandered around listening to the speeches. KKK security thugs had steel helmets, steel toed boots and carried huge flashlights with pipes in them. At one point, one of them, a very tall one, stood alongside me and placing one hand beside my ear, pounded the flashlight into his palm. I suggested it was time to leave. Some of us went on to the King rally and some stayed. At the King rally those who stayed straggled in later covered in blood. Louise A. became a legend that day for punching out three Klanswomen before the rest of them got her down. Photographs of the assault on Louise resulted in a conviction in court –virtually unprecedented.
That same summer four of us took a car to Jackson, Mississippi to join the end of the James Meredith march. A dangerous drive since we were white and black together. I was introduced to Stokely Carmichael there. Our paths crossed a number of times after that and we corresponded some on Marx on the “national question”. That march was the first time the Black Power slogan was publically used I think and the marchers really loved it. I loved it too. It was incredibly hot on that march. On the way back home we stopped at a large tent city occupied by former tenant farmers who had been evicted after they had gone to the Poor People’s march in Washington. It was a sad sight. I wonder what happened to those people.
My FBI file details my activities organizing for the March on the Pentagon in Oct, 1967. Informants were obviously abundant. The march itself was an incredible experience. I think there were a half a million people there. At the last minute they shut down one of the two bridges agreed upon. People stood in line for hours and hours without even getting onto the one bridge. I got very close to the Pentagon. We had engulfed an isolated squad of soldiers. One soldier hit a young woman with a rifle butt which prompted a collective yell from us. They put on gas masks. Then we were trapped by a lot of soldiers who moved in behind us. They opened up with tear gas and didn’t stop. We, a vast mass of people, tried to go around their flank only to run into a 15 foot chain link fence. Everybody was saying to the person behind them, don’t push, don’t push. Suddenly the whole fence went down from the weight of all the people pressed against it. We escaped but I couldn’t see well for several hours. I will always remember the incredible power, joy, and anger in that great sea of people.
We crossed back over the bridge long after dark, tired, dirty, and angry. Walking through the city we encountered people of wealth and power going up the steps of a great building all dressed in formal clothes, fine long dresses, and jewels. We cursed and screamed at them and they responded in kind. It was surreal.
- Martin Luther King was murdered. I could not stop crying for several hours. The next day I asked one of my black students what was going to happen and he said it would be best to stay at home. Cities were on fire everywhere in America that night and for many nights afterwards. We organized a march on the capital the next day I think. We rallied at a black college in Raleigh from all over the state. The state police blocked us from marching. Some of us piled into cars and drove to the capital, raced up the steps and took over the observation chamber. The cops wisely left us alone and we, wisely, eventually left.
I don’t remember what year it was but I happened to be in Washington, D.C. My car was stopped at an intersection as a long line of marchers passed. It was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I blew my horn and stuck my fist out of the window and a bunch of them ran over and shook our hands. That was the day they threw their medals over the fence onto the White House lawn.
March, 1968. Dow Chemical of napalm fame was to recruit on campus. Not our campus, said SDS. We called for a rally and it was well attended. We confronted administrators. Finally, about fifteen of us went in the building where the Dow person was but we had no plan at all. A new woman, very beautiful, with a baby on her back was with us. Cops came. When the Dow guy opened the door, Betsy, the new woman just sat down in the doorway. She was arrested after a while. Somebody else sat down and so it went. By time it was up to me, the cops were mad and I got slammed against the wall. At the jail the Chief told Betsy that a baby couldn’t be in a cell so they were taking the baby. Betsy: “You can’t.” Chief: “Why not?” Betsy: “Because I’m breast feeding” Chief: (a long silence) Betsy: “I’m keeping the baby.” Chief: “O.K.” In court we pled no contest and paid a small fine and got probation.
Later that semester we picketed, along with SDS from Duke, as two students turned in their draft cards at an induction center in Raleigh. We held anti-war rallies on campus and a march through Chapel Hill. We did draft “counseling” and put people in touch with people who had fled to Canada.
In the Spring of ’68 a Progressive Labor guy arrived in Chapel Hill and came to a few of our SDS meetings to denounce our liberal politics. If we weren’t organizing the working class, we were doing nothing. He got a couple of people to join PL’s efforts to organize the Cone Mills plant in Greensboro. Their effort quickly failed.
Off to California
1968: the Tet Offensive, King dead, Chicago police riot, Kennedy dead, uprisings in France, Mexico, etc.
I became ABD in 1968 and took a job at Chico State College in northern California. My good SDS friend Gary, also ABD, took a job in Portland. That was the end of SDS in Chapel Hill. Informants reported where I was going before I left and informants reported from Chico when I got there, what I would teach, where I lived, etc. Sacramento FBI now checked me off as: “potentially dangerous, or a communist, or under active investigation as a member of group inimical to U.S
There was a student strike at San Francisco State to get the first Black Studies program in America. They asked for support from other campuses and I supported the idea.
In the Spring I was fired (contract not renewed because I was “incompatible”) along with four other faculty. A vigorous student protest followed. I refused to go through the grievance procedure. A friend of mine, Jim C., a librarian, filed a grievance saying that he was aggrieved because I had been fired. They fired him. Actually, he quit before they could fire him. Years later I learned he was helping illegals over the border.
During this period of time I got death threats over the phone late at night. I made a bed in a hallway so I could see the door. I slept with an axe, a knife, and my dog. Later I borrowed a shotgun loaded with deer shot.
FBI file, May 9, 1969. (informer) ” …the subject teaches both sociology and Negro History at CSC and is certainly an influence on the black community at the college for no other reason than his teacher-student relationship. They noted that I was faculty advisor to the BSU which had made demands on the university. (note: I did not teach “Negro History” )
The file shows that FBI was trying to track where I was applying for other jobs around the state. I found no employment and returned to Chapel Hill, N.C. where I would soon be fired again. When I did not arrive when expected in Chapel Hill, FBI agents went to my mother and other relatives around the country to ask where I was.
Chapel Hill, Fall, 1969-70
With California behind me, I arrived in Chapel Hill in time for the Fall semester.
Some in the department didn’t seem very happy to see me back. I saw the Chair in the hallway. He said: What happened in California? I began: Well, I joined a union and… What! he yelled. A union ! I know what kind of people join unions! They gave me a research assistant job for the year. My job was to do a literature search for a professor in another department. It was about $3,000, so with the GI Bill I could survive. I was abruptly terminated in December, however, because, it was said, I had not done enough work. After some discussion and delay, the Chair gave me a job ($500 for the semester) cataloging books in a tiny room called the “library”. A few months later, the Chair called me in to tell me that he had learned that the FBI had obtained a copy of my personnel file from one of the department secretaries and that he had told her not to let them have files like that in the future. Poor secretary, I thought, they must have really pressured her. I would not be able to put these things together until 1977 when I got a copy of my FBI file.
Cafeteria workers at the university were striking. Student support was strong. We had to picket at night according to the time of shifts. One night someone from Durham spotted a cop he knew who was picketing as one of us. He called the cop out and the cop quickly fled the scene. We also demonstrated during the day. One day about 35 of us marched to the administration building to get an answer on something from a certain administrator. He wasn’t there. A lone campus policeman warned us to leave or he would arrest us. We pointed out to him that a lone cop couldn’t arrest all of us. We marched to another building where we thought the administrator might be but he wasn’t there either. When I got there I saw some people throwing pennies at the lone cop. That was the wrong thing to do and a serious a mistake as it turned out. (From the movie Bonnie and Clyde: never humiliate a man.)
That night or the next night a large contingent of police showed up at the picket at the cafeteria. (I wasn’t there.) The police suddenly attacked and beat the hell out of a lot of people. One of the people injured was John, a sociology graduate student and a Vietnam veteran with a steel plate in his skull. He was clubbed in the head and it looked bad for a while but he was o.k. I think he left the university after that.
The U.S invades Cambodia. Massive student protests erupt coast to coast.
May 4, 1970. Four dead in Ohio. Shot down by the National Guard.
May 5, I am walking across the UNC campus when I see a huge march of students coming towards me. I run to the front and ask, “Where are you going?” and they said they didn’t know. “How about the ROTC building”, I said. They made a u-turn and headed that way. At the building the crowd grew and many people jumped up and spoke. Very soon campuses were being shut down across the country. It turned into a national strike. UNC quickly closed down. At Jackson State in Mississippi, state troopers opened fire on a dormitory killing two and wounding many.
One night soon after the murders at Kent, someone carried out vandalism in Alumni Hall. Someone threw journals in toilets and set a fire in the computer room. SDS people didn’t do stuff like that. There were two sociology graduate students, a man and a woman, who were never active in SDS. I never had any political conversations with them because I didn’t think they were political. They simply disappeared after the fire.
Word came that Gary had been terminated in Portland. I saw a film once showing something of the huge street barricades they built to close the campus and the fighting that followed. Gary didn’t come back to Chapel Hill. He threw away his uncompleted dissertation and went to organize in a factory. I couldn’t see doing that. I couldn’t believe that it would succeed. New parties were springing up. I was happy to work with the good ones but I never considered joining one because I was certain that if they ever became at all viable, they would be destroyed.
After ten years doing factory work and radical work in Chicago, things collapsed and Gary eventually found a way to make a good living. He became religious and conservative. We are in touch but I try to avoid talking politics with him. I told him I always thought he would have made a great professor.
- Still ABD and living in Chapel Hill, I interviewed for teaching jobs in the area. I interviewed at N.C. State in Raleigh. In the office of an anthropologist I noticed two skulls on a shelf. They each had a bullet hole at the temple. They looked like they had never been in the ground. I asked what they were and the professor told me that a student who had been in Vietnam had given them to him. I didn’t do or say anything and I don’t remember anything more of that day. They called and offered me a job. I declined. I took a non-tenure track job instead at Guilford College in Greensboro, a beautiful, little Quaker college.
1972 In the spring, a professor in Chapel Hill, Dick Cramer, asked me to nominate my two brightest students at Guilford and he would pick one for a summer fellowship in Chapel Hill. I picked a man and a woman. The woman was Janice Kohl and she was the one he picked. One summer evening in Chapel Hill, Janice and I had dinner together. After 41 years together, we were married on December 22, 2013 (for tax purposes). She has not only been a pillar of strength for me all these years, but my best intellectual companion. In addition to joining me in the kinds of things I had been doing, she became an outstanding feminist leader and organizer. The thing about Janice is that everybody loves her. We had a daughter June 14, 1990.
I taught at Guilford for two years and during that time I twice took students up to the Twin Oaks commune in Virginia. We camped out. Later, I visited there several times. It was appealing and it interested me as a sociologist but “counter-cultural” things were too apolitical for me.
I finally finished my degree in the spring of 1973 and with very little help from the department I found a job. I would be going to the University of Akron where I would experience yet another firing, a protracted fight, and what looked for a time like the end of the road.
Up to Ohio
Akron was in sharp economic decline when we arrived. The great rubber and tire plants were slowly shutting down to move to other places. People were moving away or to the suburbs. In the downtown there were a lot of prostitutes and a lot of empty buildings. The one street where black businesses once flourished was desolate. Unionism was in the culture of Akron
I did surveys and cranked data. I published. I gave papers at ASA meetings. I met the black activists and they were good. I met the Palestinians and they were good, as were the Iranians. A Palestinian friend told me simply, “Israelis live in our house”. The white activists looked good too. Janice went to the NOW meetings and they looked good.
In my theory class in Chapel Hill, the professor mumbled something about Marx’s “labor theory” and said, “Of course he never worked a day in his life.” Another professor there, Lenski, advised me to take ideas from Marx but not identify them as such. I did have two professors in Political Science who incorporated important readings by Marx in their courses. In Akron I studied and learned enough to put more Marx into my courses. At a certain point I realized that this was a coherent theory of the structure and evolution of human societies and of the systems of thought within them. Sociology, as such, has never had such a theory.
Catholics were very big in Akron; they had a majority on City Council. They decided to be the first city to pass an ordinance that made abortion virtually impossible. NOW geared up for war. Janice and I were heavily involved. The ordinance passed but the courts eventually ruled it unconstitutional.
- I got an evaluation from the department that was favorable but it contained a statement suggesting that I had to change my teaching perspective. I told them they could not require that. They said they could. I did not change my perspective. Around the same time, a group of graduate students came to me saying that a certain faculty member was trying to coerce them into attending Bible study with them. This woman was an ex-Catholic when I first met her but she had become a “born again” Catholic of the talking in tongues kind. She wore a huge cross and carried a huge Bible to her classes. She invited graduate students on departmental stationary to join her in worship. I discussed this with the Chair who said he would look into it and I should mind my own business. Things were not going well.
- I was told I would be terminated after the 1977-8 school year. It was a year early for a tenure decision but they said my publications indicated I would not receive tenure. I pointed out that I had more publications in my fourth year than the last person to receive tenure had in his fifth year. No dice. I would receive a terminal one-year contract. I said it was political and reminded them of the letter directing me to change my teaching perspective. No dice. Student protest and some community protest began to build. The demand was for academic freedom and free speech. The black students were active and Stokely Carmichael, on campus to speak, privately encouraged them to help me.
AAUP (American Association of University Professors) came out in my favor. I talked to my union. They decided to finance a lawsuit on my behalf. I couldn’t find a lawyer. Paul Nyden a sociologist in Pittsburgh was in a similar no-tenure situation. I went there to get advice from his lawyer. He noticed that my tenure committee had not followed proper procedures. Back in Akron I pointed this out to the tenure committee. They had to redo the decision. I had gotten another publication in the interval. Same decision, no dice. I appealed. No dice. The final stage of appeal was with the university President. He was furious. No dice.
O.k., I would try to win my job back legally. Since that was rather unlikely, I would also send out job applications. I had always been able to get a job. I had another year at the university and I had already been fired. That had possibilities.
In the spring, students at nearby Kent State learned that the university had secret plans to build a large gym annex in the summer over a good part of the site where the students had been killed in 1970. This led to a protracted protest where I was involved.
I learned that Staughton Lynd was in Youngstown doing labor law. He agreed to take my case against Akron U. We filed suit. He would advance the argument that I had a property right in my employment. We did a lot of preparation. I asked several Kent State sociologists to evaluate my publication record and they found that it was excellent. One volunteered to testify to that effect. I thought we put on a pretty good case. But the judge, a Nixon appointee and friend of the university president, ruled against me.
More troubling than the decision was the fact that I was getting no response at all to my job applications. That had never happened before. Something was wrong and I didn’t know what it was.
I don’t remember when I got the phone call from an old friend from grad school. He was teaching at a place where I had applied for a job. You’ll never get a job with that letter from Dr. X., he told me.
Dr. X had always been one of my important references. I had seen him recently in Chapel Hill and had had a slightly uneasy feeling. So, I had written to him and asked him if he would continue to send a good reference letter for me. He wrote back that he would. He could have said no and given me the chance to get another reference. He simply decided to end my career. These things are done in the academic world. The damage was done; it was too late to get a job for the upcoming year. I wrote to Tad Blalock who said, sure, he could write a good letter for next year’s search. In the meantime what was I going to do?
Here I am in the unemployment line with all the other working people. You stand in line in back of this yellow line on the floor until it is your turn. I recognize somebody behind a desk. He sees me. Dr. Carr, he says. He motions to me. It is one of my former students. He knew all about my trouble at the university, it was in the papers. How could he help me? He showed me the ropes on unemployment.
One of our good friends needed some cabinetwork done in the kitchen. In junior high they gave us an aptitude test. My aptitude was for shop courses, wood and metal. I liked those courses. I like to work with my hands. In my neighborhood everybody had those aptitudes; you worked on your house, your car, whatever. I had started making my own furniture in grad school in Chapel Hill. Anyway, I made a little money on that job. Then one of my former grad students at Akron called me from Cleveland. She worked at Cuyahoga Community College. There was one course to teach as an adjunct. Sure, I was interested. I think it was Tuesday and Thursday night 8 to 10 or something like that. I don’t remember what the subject was, probably Intro, but it was a horrible class. I had to drive from Akron. It was dark and late. There was slush on the road and lake-effect snow in the headlights. There was this one place on the interstate in Cleveland where you went by the gates of Hell. It was the steel mills. They had this unearthly orange glow and an ungodly smell. How dothey work in there, I always thought.
A friend in the teacher’s union got me hired as a consultant. I went to a few meetings out of town and picked up a little money that way. Janice was working. We got by. A Kent sociologist invited me to work with her on redlining research. We co-authored a paper so I had another publication.
I made a Freedom of Information Act request for my FBI file to see if it showed anything on Akron. It didn’t because it stopped in 1971. What I did find, however, was a page proudly reporting how actions taken in Chapel Hill had gotten me fired from my RA job in the department in 1969. So, when the Chair told me in 1970 about the secretary and my FBI file, he knew then how I had lost my RA job but did not tell me. In recent years people who were also activist graduate students in Chapel Hill at that time were interviewed and it appears that their files were also turned over to the FBI and this had gone on for some time. Of course the Chair did not tell me about that either. It appears that the secretary in question may have been an informer for the FBI for some time. (Smiling in your face, the back stabbers …). My file showed the FBI decision to contact NASA, the source of funding for the professor I worked for. Then it showed that their informer in the department, the secretary, told them I had been terminated. They were quite proud of their achievement. They said it would be a financial hardship for me and they had saved federal funds.
During my terminal year at Akron, we took up South Africa divestment work at Akron University. We had a pretty good working group now, people from Kent State, black and white students from the university and some NOW townspeople. We put a lot of heat on them. The university brought in the head of some great conglomerate in South Africa to talk about how well reform was going. When this man walked in to give his PR rap the room was jammed with us —-including a large part of the black student population at the university. He was well grilled by the time it was over.
Down to Virginia
In the spring of 1979 things were looking up. I had two invitations for job interviews. One was North Dakota. No, said Janice. No way, not North Dakota, she said. O.K. then its Old Dominion University. ( I later learned that one of my grad students at Akron had gone to ODU and had told some sociology faculty there about me and my problems at Akron.) We went to Chapel Hill and stayed with friends. I went to Norfolk. I was introduced around the department, with a little time to talk to everybody in their office. There was an intense guy with careerist written all over him, there was a jolly chubby guy, a nice little guy, etc. And here is the office of Steve X. Turns out I was interviewing for his position. He was leaving, an early termination, only in his second year. Not enough publications. Steve was with an anti-racist group on campus, had written letters to the editor and had done a survey showing white racist attitudes on campus. Anti-apartheid stuff. (Steve got a job at Hampton U.) The call came, I got the job. Drinks all around. I needed that job. It was not the end of the road.
While we were in Chapel Hill we visited a friend in Durham, Sam. He had joined the CWP. They had been having some rumbles with the KKK. We went to a CWP party that night. It was very crowded in the house. It was hot. People were out in the yard. It was nice, the people were nice. It was very multi-racial. We met a lot of people. There were some doctors. That was unusual.
Akron. We could barely get all of our stuff in that U-Haul truck. Lots of friends and neighbors helped us load the truck. I have a photograph of all of us at the back of the loaded truck. Alan Canfora from Kent was there. Val and Janice cried and cried and hugged and couldn’t let go. Good-bye. Good-bye. Come to Norfolk we’ll go to the beach.
Norfolk, Virginia was so familiar, it was just like Alabama (except for the Navy). It was the old South, the deep South. The truth is I like the South. I need full sun. I like Norfolk, the rivers, the tidal water, the bay. I need water. The department didn’t seem bad at all. We had a softball team. I was shortstop. One guy, the careerist, had been in SDS but he didn’t want to talk about it much.
November. It was cold. It must have been Saturday. I was working on something in the house. It was late in the afternoon. The news was on. Five people dead in Greensboro, North Carolina. Shot to death by the Klan. …members of the Communist Workers Party died today at a public housing project where a march…
We called and called and finally got Sam’s wife. He was o.k. They killed the doctors she said.
People had to come, now, to Greensboro. From all over, people had to come to a march and a rally. It had to be big. There was a bus load of people from Norfolk who went. It was a big rally. Yes, yes, we would fight on. No, no, we will never forget. It was too sad.
There was a trial. A jury found the Klan innocent.
- Norfolk. Political conditions were different now. It is not the way it used to be. The end of the war really began to put the brakes on the movement. To look at it the other way, if the war had continued, the movement would have continued to grow and the young parties might have also grown. The movement did not end the war, the Vietnamese ended it but the movement helped convince the ruling class that they had to cut their losses and accept defeat. Of course there was also outright rebellion growing in the military.
. What the hell! Ronald Reagan President? Just a glitch, I thought. Won’t last.
September 15, 1981 Virginian-Pilot editorial: The Norfolk School Board’s decision this week to try to find a way to reduce busing is as welcome as it is surprising” (I have a big file of newspaper clippings.)
December 27, 1981. Virginian-Pilot. …”Among those who addressed the school board was King Davis, a 39 year old professor in the school of social work at Norfolk State University.” There is a picture of King Davis along with the article. Isn’t that a great name? He has an Afro and a beard. He’s with a coalition called Norfolk Citizens for Quality Public Education.
I said to Janice, I think I’ll go to the next meeting. Janice looked at me. I’ll just go to the meeting, I said. We looked at each other. O.K. she said, let’s go.
Our political work in Norfolk was primarily local. Some of it lasted for a number of years. It often over-lapped and ran simultaneously and was interconnected. We built long-lasting ties in the community across race, class, and gender lines. Our enemy was usually “city hall” and the vast network of organizations in the local superstructure that defend inequality. We built coalitions as needed. I was able in a few cases to put scholarship to work in the service of praxis.
Paul Schollaert (a colleague) and I did a critique of a school-district study by outside sociologist David Armor. He was hired to help make case for an end to busing to achieve racial desegregation of the schools. In 1984 the Justice Department entered the court case on the side of Norfolk. This whole matter deeply disturbed the black community. There were many demonstrations and outraged confrontations with the School Board. Having been tenured now, I was quite free to be involved. In this way I came to know and work with the major leaders of the black community and a lot of ordinary folks as well.
In this struggle we met two people I will call Jane and John, two black people who came to Norfolk as organizers. They turned out to be two of the best organizers we would ever see. Jane was a working class woman with a high school education. Her husband, John, was a laborer and a fine man. Jane won respect quickly with her intelligence and integrity. She had an exceptional sense of strategy and tactics. She was a great speaker and a real leader. Janice and I became very close friends with Jane and John. We worked with people of all persuasions if they could do the work. We are still in touch.
Norfolk won in Federal district court and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Thus, in 1986 Norfolk became the first integrated school system to resegregate its elementary schools. Other schools around the country followed suit. For years I received phone calls from reporters in cities that were starting the process. Gary Orfield, at Harvard, routed many of them down to me. In 1990 I co-authored and article with Don Zeigler which showed that the predicted white return to Norfolk had not occurred.
The Institute for the Study of Minority Issues
Having seen the usefulness of social science research (our critique of the Armor study), black leaders in Norfolk asked my university to set up an institute to do more things along those lines. One of the black leaders on the busing issue who I was close with was hired in an administrative position. She made the proposal for the institute. There was some reluctance and resistance but my chair and dean approved it and it was eventually approved by the university. No black faculty was interested in heading up the institute so I was asked and agreed to do it. I designed, along with others, the institute and headed it up for five years. In 1986 the institute took up its first project, Lafayette Shores. (Unfortunately a new university president was hired. He invited me to meet with him. He assumed I was a fellow racist. He thought my job was managing black people in Norfolk.) He promptly fired the black leader that had been hired following the busing struggle. This cut off the only friendly connection I had in the administration.
The Low Income Housing Struggle
My friends Jane and John had lived in Lafayette Shores for several years. About 400 poor families lived in this privately owned complex. The owners wanted to bulldoze it and develop it and they wanted a big subsidy from the city. The complex of apartments was quite livable and it was cheap. Norfolk had destroyed about 10,000 units of low income housing in the past several decades. There was a real shortage of housing for poor people. This demolition hit the black neighborhoods the hardest and black people saw it as racist. If white flight was occurring, the loss of black population through displacement could prevent the racial balance from tipping too far in the black direction. The survey done by the Institute showed that 66% of the residents in Lafayette Shores received welfare, 85% were black. On average they had 10.7 years of education. Analysis of their income showed that 50% could not possibly afford to pay more rent for housing.
The tenants had been promised a year’s notice but in August 1987 they got notice that they all had to be out by December 1. The city took the position that since it was private housing they had no obligation to do anything. The small coalition grew rapidly and protest began in earnest. We brought in people from the previous busing struggle, groups from the public housing projects and NOW people helped too. We bought red T-shirts and went to city council meetings where we raised holly hell. On one occasion the city manager was holding a meeting at city hall with certain “Uncle Toms” that had been appointed to deal with the issue and we busted into the meeting. Meeting adjourned. The Urban League asked the city to buy the land for low income housing. We went to court and got an extension of time. People could stay until March.
The media was generally quite sympathetic to the cause. One of our more creative ideas was to appeal to other countries for foreign aid for the tenants of Lafayette Shores. We sent letters to a number of embassies in Washington that we were coming to talk with them on a certain date. We took a van to Washington and were received at a number of embassies. They were particularly nice at the Australian embassy and we later got a letter from the Prime Minister himself offering sympathy but no money. The Cuban “embassy” was set far back from the street behind a locked gate. When we arrived a poor black man was yelling into the speaker phone that he wanted to live in Cuban. We got our turn but they did not let us in. At the Soviet embassy they were very receptive and wanted us to come back for a recorded interview. Spooky guys followed us with cameras when we came out and chased us around in their car for a while. When they parked behind us Jane went back and told them off. We made the rounds of the other embassies. We had a little party that night at the Rock Creek Motel where we stayed, Jane and I and the ladies from Lafayette Shores.
Norfolk TV stations and the newspaper reporters loved it and city hall was suitably embarrassed. Not long after that the editor of the newspaper came out for the city to get busy and help the people of Lafayette Shores.
The owner of the complex also owned a paint store. We picketed the store and called for a boycott.
The coalition wanted people to stay but recognized that if they had to leave they should. Bulldozers started knocking down vacant buildings in October. The city declared that the housing was unfit and cut off section eight vouchers. They sent in social workers who told people to move or loss their checks. Shores residents were bumped ahead of others on the public housing waiting list. That put a lot of poor people out of the city. They put them in places they could not afford. People were evicted and their belongings were dumped on the ground. Arson over a number of nights terrified people into moving.
I noticed that the apartments had asbestos shingles. I contacted EPA and they stopped the demolition. This caused about a delay of a month or more.
There really were a lot of people who could not move. They had no money. They couldn’t pay a deposit on a place. They had no credit rating so no one would rent to them. They were behind on their utilities so even if they got into a place they had no utilities. People illegally doubled up with relatives in public housing. People had to send some of their children to live with relatives. It was bad. About 300 elementary school children had to leave their school in the middle of the school year. Many of these people had been displaced before. Many would be displaced again. The city spent about $50,000 on relocation. They spent 5.7 million to improve the site for the developer. (I published an article in 1994 called the ” The Must Move—Can’t Move Contradiction: Displacement of the Poor and Social Stress” in the Journal of Social Distress.)
We created CARA primarily to take up the issue of South Africa and join in the international campaign for divestment. We discovered that there was a store called Smiley Blue at one of the malls that was part of a South African owned chain. It sold clothes from South Africa as well as from other places. We decided to start a boycott of the store. We held a rally complete with speakers and leaflets and TV coverage in the mall. We caught them by surprise and they swore they would arrest us if we tried that again. So, we picketed the store with TV coverage. Same thing. This is private property you will be arrested. Now what ? Janice had a great idea. We had shopping bags printed up that said Boycott Smiley Blue. Thirty or forty of us went into the mall and spread out with our bags and leafleted. After a time we formed a picket line in front of the store. Back and forth we walked with our bags. What are you doing?, said the cops. Shopping we said.
The cops gave up. We persuaded people not to go in the store. We were persistent. One day we went to picket and the store was gone. A victory! They were rare you know.
CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador)
This was a national organization. There was a local chapter in Norfolk which was based at my university. We activists joined them for a lot of their activities. We meet a lot of new people. It grew pretty big. We brought a speaker who was from El Salvador. I remember her, Maria. She spoke at a black church. She had been a union organizer. Garments, I think. She talked about arrests and torture. Afterwards she showed us the scars on the back of her hands where they had burned her with cigarettes.
We went on a CISPES-sponsored march in Washington. The march was to the Pentagon. We were marching along when I heard cheering and applause. Here comes this little band of old men. They were wearing berets. At the front a black man held one end of banner and a white man held the other. The banner said Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. They were smiling and looking so proud that day. I ran ahead of them to try to get a good picture. I got one. I had it enlarged and I framed it. I put it on my wall in my office at the university so I could look at it every day. There they were, still marching. Nobody ever knew what it was.
The National Question
From the beginning, the left in this country experimented with various strategies or “lines” to unite white and black people in a common struggle; it wasn’t easy, it was perplexing. The conventional “minority relations” textbooks which I used knew nothing of this history. The dramatic development of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement in the 1960’s really brought this issue to the fore. The New Left was strongly influenced by the Old Left as it searched for answers to this problem.
It was in this context that I interviewed Harry Haywood in Atlanta. He died not long after the interview. Harry was a black man who joined the CPUSA in 1922 and studied in Moscow. In reading his autobiography I saw that he had met an old man in Moscow who had been in the revolution in France (I don’t know which one. ). I told my students then that I had met a man who met a man who had been in the French Revolution and now they could say they met a man……. They laughed.
I published an article based on this interview and Harry’s autobiography. This turned into my book Color-Blind Racism (Sage, 1997).
Janice’s work with the local NOW chapter began soon after we arrived in Norfolk in 1979 and ran simultaneously with all the other political activity previously described. When we arrived NOW was only working on the ERA . Over a couple of years, four new task forces were set up: Reproductive Freedom, Violence Against Women, Combating Racism, and Lesbian Rights. The chapter grew into a big, active one as a result of the efforts of many women. From our experience in Akron, Janice knew that abortion rights would be an area of great concern so she headed up the Reproductive Freedom Task Force.
Before I go further, I need to explain that I was a guest in the women’s movement. When you are a guest in someone else’s movement, if you are a good guest, you will be invited back. I called myself the Men’s Auxiliary but I was usually the only member of that group. I attended many rallies, and marches, pickets, parties, and so forth but never a chapter meeting. It was the same self-determination approach that I took with regards to the black struggle. I (or my group) was a guest who was there to be of help if help was wanted. If I was invited to attend meetings and participate I would do so. A coalition might come out of this contact. In fact NOW people joined CARA people on anti-racist actions and vice versa.
We did “Take Back the Night” marches from the university to downtown. I was on the board of the rape crisis center. We went on marches in Washington and other places.
Universities are notorious for wicked internal politics and ODU was no exception. I never wanted to be in administration where the big money was but I was sometimes caught up in big conflicts, dumping deans, presidents, department chairs. I resisted the inroads of business with such manipulative crap as “goal-setting”. I questioned the conversion of sociology and anthropology positions to criminal justice. I questioned the whole idea of criminal justice. Some of the many white faculty women we hired to advance affirmative action turned out to be racists who opposed affirmative action for black faculty and were highly insulted when it was pointed out that that was how they were hired. There was a very nasty quarrel once between a black and a white graduate student, both of whom were at fault. A few of the black and white faculty at the university were unscrupulous opportunists. One of the presidents was a racist. I didn’t hide my opinion on some of these things. I really wasn’t a careerist. I didn’t do campus politics. My teaching and my political work in the community brought pressure on the university and the department but I had tenure and they couldn’t fire me. What they could do was pretend I didn’t exist, deny me raises, and separate me from the Institute.
I taught the required undergraduate and graduate courses in Sociological Theory for some twenty years. I loved it and it was popular.
In the spring semester of 2001 I had a great Black/White Relations class. One of my students was leader in the black community. After the class he invited me to attend a large regional cultural black program that was coming up. That in the auditorium he asked me to stand and spoke of the work I had been doing. I think the applause that night was the most meaningful award I ever received.
That semester though, I had difficulty walking up stairs to my classes. I had to stop and rest. In August I had quad by-pass surgery on my heart. My recovery was quite difficult. I was out for the fall semester. I had a sabbatical for the spring semester. In the spring of 2002 I retired. I had a contract for a book exposing the fascist tendencies in the young Max Weber which were completely hidden in sociology. I worked on that for several years but a young historian (Andrew Zimmerman) scooped me with an excellent, lengthy, journal article. By then, though, I had come to realize that even if I published the book, it would not really affect the discipline. The role that Weber plays as the antidote to Marx is deeply rooted. The revelation of his fascist tendencies would simply be ignored.
In 2003 we reactivated to oppose the invasion of Iraq with local protests and organized for the big protest in Washington. In that context, the issue of Israel heated up. In Norfolk every time Palestinians spoke, Zionists turned out in large numbers to disrupt the program. They displayed the most incredible arrogance toward the Palestinians, the racist arrogance of colonizers.
In 2011 Janice retired and we moved back to Chapel Hill. We were there when the university dedicated a small memorial to those who fought against the Speaker Ban law. The memorial recognized SDS and I was recognized that day as representing SDS. But as I listened to the university congratulate itself for it bold stand for free speech I thought about the unknown informer role played by university. My letters to the campus paper, my public speeches– my activities, my employment were all there in my FBI file, dutifully forward to the FBI by the UNC informers. I thought about the nefarious things the FBI did with information like that. I recalled how the administrators worked with HUAC to screen speakers while the law was in effect. I thought about the threats to SDS leaders if they did not drop the invitations. I thought about the files that were opened on the faculty who spoke out about the law. (I donated my file to UNC archives.) Well, anyway, if I am on campus these days, I sometimes go by to look at the memorial.
When we moved here Republicans had just taken control of all branches of government and soon North Carolina distinguished itself as perhaps the most reactionary state in the union. They are making ominous moves towards the UNC system.
We participated in some of the Moral Monday protests against the reactionary developments. I really can’t do rallies and marches in 90 degree heat though, too old for that. I turned 79 in March.
Today,( 6/4/2015) a letter of mine was published in the Raleigh News and Observer. It was the fourth one of mine trying to assist the movement addressing the issue of buildings and monuments at UNC dedicated to slave owners, Klan leaders and so forth. So, I continue to do, as best I can, what I set out to do in 1964 in Tuscaloosa; to be an activist sociologist engaged in the real world in the day to day struggle against inequality in all its forms, especially racism. That began half a century ago. We helped stop a war, we helped end the old system of segregation, and we made great progress in women’s rights. Those were big things that engaged many thousands of people and involved great sacrifices. Much was accomplished but, of course, there is no end to it. It has no end.
Submitted June 2015