Monday, October 25, 2004

The Berkeley Woman as Leader

Freeman argues in her autobiography At Berkeley in the'60s when the whole adult world including her own mother came down hard on the young civil rights protestors in the Bay Area in the early1960s, it helped her and her colleagues bond together as they went through the jails and then the lengthy trials. Jo also does something “good” girls never do: she hitchhikes alone across the country to participate as a foot soldier for the civil rights in a vigil trying to get black Mississipeans a vote at the Democratic national convention in Atlantic City in summer of 1964 and as she travels from Washington to Atlantic City to New York, her new friends in the civil rights movement put her up and feed her along with hundreds of others. How do you forge a leader: by making them go overcome obstacles.

Jo was one of many summer ’64 civil rights foot soldiers who quickly became leaders on campus in the fall of 1964 when the Berkeley administration tried to end the political tables on campus. Jo is no longer like her mother, a volunteer following Democratic Party male leaders, but is now certified leader herself. What’s invaluable about the second half of the book is her description of the crucial Free Speech Movement (F.S.M.) from the point of view of a moderate leader from the Young Democrats.

The F.S.M. was always divided between the radicals (civil rights activists) and the moderates—Young Democrats, Young Republicans, young civil libertarians. Freeman shows in student politics the play of democracy, the fights over tactics, and the short-lived “right” revolt that she led. Further, she points out that the administration by threatening to expel seven students finally pushed the moderates to side with the civil rights radicals to have a sit-in and campus-wide strike. In the photo of the sit-in itself she includes two sit-inners: Don Castelberry of the Young Republicans holds up an American flag as he stands next to Jo, a leader of the Young Democrats, addressing the crowd. What Freeman shows so brilliantly is that moderate Democratic Party youth and even Republican Party youth made the ‘60s possible when they joined the civil rights and anti-war protests.

As Freeman says, the newspapers and other mass media did a terrible job reporting on the events in Berkeley saying that student mobs participate in riots and strike at Berkeley which were Communist led—all was untrue. She points out that UC President Kerr, even though he know the allegations about Communist influence was untrue, still redbaited the students in the papers. Given the blast of negative media, polls said 74% of Californians disapproved of the students in Berkeley, so the state legislature quickly rushed to punish the students with a host of bills and also two investigations, one led by State Senator Hugh Burns.

Burns issued a report slandering the Free Speech Movement saying that it was Communist-controlled and President Kerr was a Commie dupe. The next year after her graduation Freeman went to work in the South to register voters in Alabama and Mississippi where such activist had already been killed; leaflets in Alabama and a Mississippi newspaper cited the Burns report’s slanders as evidence that she was a Communist agitator. Further, the redbaiting against Kerr cost him his job as head of the University of California after Regan was elected governor. Thus Freeman showed that redbaiting slanders continued well into the 1960s still costing a few people their jobs and endangered their lives. As an historian looking back, she says that the early 1960s in Berkeley helped limit the McCarthyism redbaiting allowing democratic space to open up.

I hope she writes a second autobiography describing how she faced segregationists in the Deep South to register blacks and voters and then how she fared during the late 1960s during the Vietnam War and the beginning women’s movement. Freeman was indeed a trailblazer, so I’m interested to find where she went next.

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