Category Archives: History

Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Studs_Terkel_-_1979-1The National Endowment for the Humanities has funded the creation of a publicly accessible digital archive which will stream nearly 5,000 oral history interviews conducted by the great Studs Terkel from his 45 years on Chicago radio. The site is active but currently only a fraction of the material is up. Much more to come. Check it out here:

Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Listen to a sample: Studs interviews Alfred McCoy in 1971 about his book on the drug trade in Southeast Asia and it’s effect on American soldiers in Vietnam.

Prelude to Freedom Summer – Hubert Humphrey 1948

Hubert_H_Humphrey--1948_Democratic_National_Convention--Watched “Freedom Summer” on TV the other night. It was based on Bruce Watson’s excellent book that came out a few years ago. Although the documentary didn’t break any new ground it is nevertheless a worthy treatment of a watershed moment in American history. And there was some footage that I had not seen before, from the personal collection of Richard Beymer, an actor from Hollywood who went to Mississippi with the students and filmed.* But like many other treatments of the civil rights movement, it left out a discussion of the many previous attempts to pass civil rights legislation in the US over the years, attempts that were always squashed by the southern dominated Senate. No civil rights legislation was passed into law in this country between 1875 and 1957! In fact, did you know that LBJ voted against civil rights legislation many times early in his career?

Arguably the most important early event in the chain that ultimately led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, now largely forgotten, occurred at the 1948 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. A young Hubert Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis and relatively unknown nationally, gave an impassioned and eloquent speech in support of a civil rights plank. He was pressured by the Democratic establishment not to give it, they said it would alienate the south and hurt Truman’s chances. But he was forward-looking and realized that, in addition to being the morally right thing to do, African Americans would soon be a powerful constituency in the north, and one day everywhere, and needed to be brought in to the Democratic tent. So he stood up and gave the speech. It is only 10 minutes long, but one of the great speeches I have ever heard. Much of the South walked-out, they formed the Dixiecrat Party under Strom Thurmond. But it turned out that they couldn’t stop the tide, they did carry a few southern states but not enough to save their cause, and Truman won. It was a turning point as the speech inspired many northern and western legislators who heard it. When Truman won the election, many realized that they could support civil rights and still survive politically.

“The time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights”

Read the text and listen to the speech here:

Humphrey Speech – Philadelphia 1948

* In addition to being a film maker, Richard Beymer was an actor of some renown. Among his credits are major roles in West Side Story and The Diary of Anne Frank, and a significant part in The Longest Day. He also starred in the television serial, “Twin Peaks.”

Who Spoke Up? – Voices of Protest Against the War in Vietnam

chicago68_blankfort_smallDuring the Vietnam War nothing got under the skin of the war managers– LBJ, Nixon, their generals, top cops and political cronies — more than public criticism from liberal, and sometimes moderate, members of the intelligentsia, college campuses and the media. The war pushers tried every dirty trick in the book, and then some, to shut these voices down– they labeled dissenters as traitors, commies and un-American; used the FBI to spy on them (Cointelpro) and the IRS to audit them; created laws to throw them in jail for protesting, or sent in ringers and police to start riots during peace marches; and in some cases even shot them dead.

But these tactics ultimately failed. Over time the chorus of voices demanding peace steadily grew in strength and in retrospect history has shown that the opposition interpretation of the war was not only more informed, but also much more honest, than that of the establishment. In fact, we know now that, from Tonkin to Cambodia, there was no lie too big for LBJ and Nixon if it served their purposes of continuing a failed policy in the hopes of pulling off a hail Mary pass late in the game–which of course did not happen.

A true turning point in modern American politics, the shady events of the war years marked the beginning of a damaging turn toward cynicism by the American public regarding the honesty and integrity of their government. Prior to Vietnam, people may have disagreed about politics, but they essentially believed their leaders were, for the most part, honest people, public administrators with honorable intentions. But the Vietnam War– with its phony after battle briefings, trumped up body counts, constant false optimism, secret bombing campaigns and duplicitous foreign diplomacy– shattered that glossy veneer. The trend was accelerated by Watergate and then officially codified into right-wing ideology by Ronald Reagan. The fallout from the war, the war at home, started the nation on the path that has left us deeply divided, and apparently paralyzed politically.

Listen to archival broadcasts from the period featuring those who stood up against the war:

IF Stone – Vietnam Day Protest UC Berkeley 1965:

 

Writers Against The War 1967:

 

MLK  Beyond Vietnam – April 1967

MLK Santa Rita Jail and Los Angeles 1968:

 

UC Berkeley Sproul Hall Sit-in 1968: 

 

Columbia University Student Strike 1968:

 

Chicago 1968:

 

Soldiers Against the War 1968:

 

Noam Chomsky on Draft Resistance 1968:

 

Dr Benjamin Spock – UC Berkeley 1968:

 

Seymour Hersh Exposes My Lai Massacre 1969:

 

The Complete Pentagon Papers 

List of Anti-Vietnam War Protests

Note: with the most recent national military debacle – the Iraq War – flaming out of control again, and the hawks circling above calling for US involvement, these recordings take on a renewed significance, if for nothing else than to remind ourselves that it is possible to speak out and influence events– it’s one of the only real powers “we the people” have.

Chavez Ravine: Ashes and Diamonds

Went to Dodger Stadium a few weeks ago for a ballgame. It’s a beautiful park in a beautiful setting. Had a great time with my mom. We had Dodger Dogs, heard Vin Scully and rooted for the home team. But I couldn’t help thinking about what had happened there in the years leading up to the team’s move from Brooklyn. I first learned of the struggle for what is now the “Home of the Dodgers” from the musician Ry Cooder when he put out his “Chavez Ravine” record about ten years ago. The music is excellent. The story…. 

Related Material:

Music: Thee Midniters – Chicano Power

Music: Lalo Guerrero – Los Chucos Suaves

Video: The Zoot Suit Riots

Video: The Battle For Chavez Ravine

Video: First Game at Dodger Stadium – April 10, 1962

Video: Barry Goldwater at Dodger Stadium 1964

Video: Club Scene from Criss Cross w/ Lancaster, De Carlo and Curtis

Link: Independent Lens: Chavez Ravine

Nixonland: A Colony of Reaganville?

Richard Nixon  played upon the growing resentments of “regular Joes” across the country. He defined this target audience as a great “silent majority,” and rallied them to his cause by railing against the elites, not the least of which were anti-war college students and professors with draft deferments. Nixon cheered in 1970 when construction workers brutally attacked peace protesters in New York. “Thank God for the hard hats!” he said. He was so successful that he rode his silent majority to electoral victories in 1968 and again in 1972.

Nixon’s political and social maneuvering was masterful, Machiavelli would have been impressed. His scheming led to wins in two presidential elections but in so doing he created a deep rift in American society that persists to this day, polarizing the United States. But Nixon didn’t dream all of these tactics up on his own. He didn’t have to look far to find the prototype for his winning strategy. It was right there in front of him, devised by another California Republican, a lesser known personality to the nation at the time, but that would change….

Continue Reading Nixonland – A Colony of Reaganville?

Read About Ronald Reagan’s War With UC Berkeley and His Rise to Power

Free Speech Movement Timeline

Toledo Electric Auto-Lite Strike 1934

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80 years ago this week, the ELECTRIC AUTO-LITE STRIKE begins in Toledo Ohio over union recognition and wages. The strike lasts nearly two months, during which occurs a brutal five-day pitch battle between some 6,000 strikers and the Ohio National Guard, leaving two striking workers dead and more than 200 injured. The highly publicized struggle happens at the height of the Great Depression and comes to be known as the Battle of Toledo. The strike is regarded by many labor historians as one of the most important strikes in U.S. history…

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BBC Documentary – The History of Islam in Europe

Letter from Ho Chi Minh to President Harry S. Truman, 02/28/1946

ho-chi-minh-telegram-truman-lFDR had stated he was against the re-acquisition of Indochina by the French after WWII. Unfortunately he didn’t make it that long. Truman ignored Ho Chi Minh’s plea for help and backed the French.

Ho Chi Minh had come to power in Vietnam with the assistance of the OSS in the wake of the Japanese surrender in September 1945. He had not yet been tarred with the Communist label– that came later for political reasons. Truman sacrificed Ho in order to keep the French solidly in the Western bloc against the Russians at the end of the war…the rest of course was tragedy….