Disability Pride 2017

This Saturday is Chicago’s Disability Pride parade, to celebrate Disability Awareness Month.

“Disability” used to have a very limited application and although not everyone is aware of it, the definition has widened to include people with chronic physical illnesses or conditions, learning disabilities, cognitive disorders or delays, mental illnesses, and autism spectrum disorders.

We’ve hunted through the archive to find three recordings that demonstrate the broad mindset of the disability community, and that remind listeners, then and now, that being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Continue reading →

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Happy Birthday Gwendolyn!

We in Chicago are very proud of our hometown star, Gwendolyn Brooks.  She was poet laureate in Illinois and the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize.  Often her works, such as In The Mecca and A Street in Bronzeville, brought readers from around the world into the living rooms and front stoops of Chicago.  The Poetry Foundation describes her work as “express[ing] the poet’s commitment to her people’s awareness of themselves as a political and cultural entity.”

Ms. Brooks joined Studs in the studio in 1961, 1967, and 1975.  He introduces her to the listening audience by saying “through the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, we learn more of the dreams, the hopes, the visions of the Black people of Chicago better than through any other form, I feel.”

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Memorial Day 2017

In memory of those we’ve lost, we’ve put together this special collection of voices.  The first two are stories from those who fought alongside soldiers who were killed; the last is the recollection of a man who saw the aftermath of Kristallnacht as a child.  All of us at STRA are grateful for the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces and their families.

David Schoenbrun was a foreign correspondent for CBS, and according to Studs’ introduction, “took part in the liberation of certain French cities after World War II.”  He joined Studs in 1980 to talk about his book Soldiers of the Night: The Story of the French Resistance.  Here he tells Studs about Marie-Madeleine Foucarde, the leader of a resistant intelligence network.

Ron Kovic is best-known for his book Born on the Fourth of July.  He talked with Studs in 1977 about the emotional difficulties he encountered while writing the book and what inspired him to finish it.

Werner Burkhardt was a German jazz critic and the author of The Story of Jazz: From New Orleans Jazz to Rock Jazz.  He and Studs got together in 1967 to talk about jazz but also about Werner’s growing up in Germany as a teenager during World War II.  Here he tells Studs about his experience the morning after Kristallnacht.

 

Photo by Tony Hisgett, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21113089

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TBT: The Pentagon Papers

Map of Communist positions in South Vietnam, 1964

In 1971, analyst Daniel Ellsberg gave parts of a Department of Defense study on American involvement in Vietnam to a New York Times reporter, Neil Sheehan.  This DOD study, officially known as the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Task Force” came to be known in common parlance as the Pentagon Papers.  The Pentagon Papers revealed to the American people that they had been misled about American actions in Vietnam for nearly a decade.

The following year, Neil Sheehan and his wife Susan (also a writer) joined Studs in the studio.  They are forbidden to discuss the legal matters surrounding the Papers’ publication (there had been a Supreme Court case over the publication, which was decided in favor of the Times), but they do discuss the relationship between journalism and truth (or, as we think of it these days, “alternative facts”), the expected and assumed honesty of people in power, leaks to the media, phone tapping, and FBI investigations.

Interview Highlights

Here, Neil talks about his career as a journalist and why he writes what he does.

In this clip Neil talks about how a “dissatisfaction of conveyance of truth” has started to change journalism.  Susan picks up the thread and points out that “They’ll always cover what President Nixon says in a press conference, but it’s much harder to get into the papers why what he’s saying is untrue.”  Neil goes on to talk about government using the media to manipulate, rather than inform, the public.

As an example of this manipulation, Neil talks about how information about North Vietnamese infiltration was leaked to the press in order to influence public feeling about the war in Vietnam.  He implicates Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and General Maxwell Taylor, a diplomat in Saigon.

Finally, Neil and Susan tell Studs how their lives have changed since the Pentagon Papers were published.  They had become the subject of an FBI investigation, and as a result their bank statements were subpoenaed, friends and relatives were questioned, and investigators even tried to get photographs of the Sheehan’s children.

Neil Sheehan has continued to write.  His ebook The Battle of Ap Bac came out in 2014.  His 1986 book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the National Book Award for Nonfiction.  Susan Sheehan has also continued to write, including articles for Architectural Digest through 2010 and The New Yorker through 2006.  She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1983 for Is There No Place on Earth for Me?

Photo credit: United States Military Academy (http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/maps/0005.cfm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Meyer Weinberg on desegregation

May is Teacher Appreciation Month and today we’re featuring an interview with Dr. Meyer Weinberg.  Dr. Weinberg taught at Wright Community College (then Wright Junior College) in Chicago, and was a co-founder of Teachers for Integrated Schools.  He also edited the journal Integrated Education.

In 1971, the Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education case was decided by the Supreme Court, allowing busing to be used to desegregate schools.  This was a controversial decision for a variety of reasons, from students not wanting to leave their neighborhoods, to Richard Nixon’s awareness of George Wallace’s impending presidential campaign.

Dr. Weinberg spoke with Studs in 1975, and is a voice strongly in favor for busing as a method to desegregate schools.

In this first clip, he talks about how the media covers the schools where busing has led to protest and violence, instead of those schools where it hasn’t; and about the success of desegregation in the South.

Here, Dr. Weinberg replies to Studs question about the relationship between educational success and desegregation, saying, “The whole society is stacked against the education of minority kids.”

Finally, Dr. Weinberg compares the desegregation experience in Pontiac, MI and Kalamazoo, MI, saying, “You can’t just analyze a specific problem with generalities.”

Over 40 years later, we can see that desegregating schools requires a far more complex solution than busing students across city lines, but this interview is a valuable snapshot of another facet in the work for civil rights.

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Thich Nhat Hanh, poet and activist

line from Thich Nhat Hanh's "Condemnation"

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, peace activist, and poet.  By 1971, when he joined Studs in the studio, he had spent years campaigning for peace in Vietnam; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh and Studs discuss the Vietnam War and two books of his poetry that had been translated into English at that time: Cry of Vietnam, and Vietnam: Lotus in A Sea of Fire.

In this clip, Studs tells Thich Nhat Hanh that he has heard about American soldiers finding poems in the pockets of the dead Vietnamese.  Thich Nhat Hanh uses this story to demonstrate how important poetry is in the Vietnamese culture.

They continue the conversation about poetry in Vietnam, and its importance even among non-literate populations.  Thich Nhat Hanh recites an example of one of the spontaneous poems of the farmers.  This leads to a conversation of the ongoing destruction of this culture: “The kinds of things imported, together with this war, has been destroying much of our way of thinking and creating.”  To show how hopeless things have become, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of Vietnamese people trying to raise earthworms in order to save the land that was destroyed through defoliation.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks with Studs about his experience of speaking and reading his poems to a group of anti-war veterans in Washington, D.C.  He tells Studs they are “very, very brave in recognizing the truth.” One of the poems he reads to the veterans is “Condemnation,” which you can read here.

Studs asks Thich Nhat Hanh about his feelings on the war.  Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the policy of “Vietnamization” as opposed to a cease-fire.  He also says that “most of the Vietnamese people feel the same way — they want the war to end at this very moment.”

Thich Nhat Hanh tells Studs about a family he knows whose home was burned six times in five years; they continually moved to escape the violence but were unable to.  “Sometime[s] we don’t know [if] what we have in our heart is hope or just illusions, because life would be impossible without some hope in the future.  That is why sometime[s] we are very ready to accept illusions as hope.”

Photo by James K. F. Dung, SFC, Photographer – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 530610. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78487

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“We’re all sisters together”: Remembering the 1970 Women’s Strike

This post was written by one of our interns, Rachel Newlin.

On March 8th 2017, women across the world are planning to strike in an effort to create an International Day of Action in honor of International Women’s Day.

High schools and college campuses are closing in anticipation of the strike, unable to continue business without their female employees. This international strike is seen as ‘the beginning of a new international feminist movement’ and has been garnering great media attention across the United States. Women across the country are striking from paid jobs, childcare, housework, among other truths of female existence – and it all feels very familiar. That is because this will be the second Women’s Strike where thousands of women rise up and demand equal treatment and change under the law.

On August 26th 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, thousands of women marched across the country for many of the same things.

Second-wave feminist Betty Friedan led the strike, organized by NOW, the National Organization for Women. Friedan was met with a lot of resistance when she first brought up the idea of a strike – older women were scared that the strike wouldn’t turn out and the media would mock, them while younger generations of women were sure that the move wasn’t radical enough. Still, Friedan moved forward with the idea, and across the country, the idea caught on. Studs met with a few of these women in March of 1970, where he parsed complex ideas of oppression and the female experience with them in a fascinating two-part interview.

1970 Women's Liberation March, Washington, D.C.

1970 Women’s Liberation March, Washington, D.C.

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Cultural Connections with James Baldwin and Merce Cunningham

I Am Not Your Negro has opened to major critical acclaim.

It features the writings of James Baldwin, and is an exploration of a book on Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X that Baldwin never completed.  The film’s website describes it as “a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.”

In 1985, James Baldwin returned to Studs’ studio after a twenty-three year break, but their connection had not waned.  Studs starts off the hour by playing an excerpt of their 1961 conversation, which included a Bessie Smith song, and then asks Baldwin what has changed since that day.  He responds with very thoughtful observations on race, language and identity.

Closer to home, catch “Merce Cunningham: Common Time” at the MCA.

The Museum of Contemporary Art’s retrospective focuses on Cunningham’s many collaborations with his artistic contemporaries, including John Cage.  In 1971, Merce Cunningham and John Cage joined Studs in the studio to talk about their work together.  In the featured clip, they talk about chaos and experimentation in art, and what it means to “accept the mess.”  Merce Cunningham talks about what this means practically, while John Cage speaks more conceptually about Thoreau, forests, and thunderstorms.  This brief conversation makes it easy to see why they were such a synergistic pair.

Baldwin photo credit: By Allan warren – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22305867
EyeSpace photo credit: By Daniel Arsham – Daniel Arsham, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42645611

Happy Birthday Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte

Two lights of the entertainment and civil rights worlds are turning 90 this year, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier.  Both men used their artistry and their fame to bring awareness to the plight of African-Americans in our country, as well to shine a spotlight on the amazing contributions African-Americans have made to our nation.

In 1959, Sidney Poitier visited Studs in the studio to talk about his new film The Defiant Ones.

In this clip, he tells Studs how he first became interested in acting.  It leads Studs to ask him, “Has the thought of playing a role, a person who is not necessarily Negro, just an actor; he is neither Negro nor white, just a certain character?  Has this thought occurred to you or come into your ken?”

“Oh of course it has,” replies Poitier.  In his response, he describes his hopes for a future we still have not attained.

In one of the earliest interviews we have in the archive, Studs sits down to talk with Harry Belafonte about music.

In this clip, Belafonte talks to Studs about how he perceives his responsibility as an artist: “I am intellectually conscious of the time when it first became evident to me that I had a responsibility as an artist, but my responsibility in relationship to my people, and in relationship to the culture of my people far surpassing anything else.  It was the recognition of this responsibility that I gave my artistic life a direction.”

Later on in the same interview, Studs and Belafonte talk about the role of the church in the African-American community.  Belafonte goes on to talk about Mahalia Jackson, how he believes that she embodies the role of a leader in the community and admires the way she connects spirituals and popular music.  He gives the example of her version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and after talking about the history of the song, Belafonte asks to hear it.  You can hear it below.

We’re proud to have these men’s voices as part of our archive, and wish them both very happy 90th birthdays!

 

Poitier photo credit:  U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. (ca. 1953 – ca. 1978) – NARA – ARC Identifier:542075 (use http://arcweb.archives.gov/arc/basic_search.jsp and search Actor and Vocalist Harry Belafonte), Avalik omand, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=146400
By United States Department of the Interior National Park Service – http://www.nps.gov/features/malu/feat0002/wof/Sidney_Poitier.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28814756

“If Emmett Till lived, he’d have been your age”

In 1975, when Studs interviewed Muhammad Ali about his book The Greatest, Studs said to him, “If Emmett Till  lived, he’d have been you’re age, wouldn’t he?”  Hear Ali’s response here:

It’s likely you’re familiar with what happened to Emmett Till.  Twenty years before Studs interviewed Muhammad Ali, 14-year-old Till was visiting Mississippi from Chicago when he was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman.  His murderers were acquitted and then confessed publicly.

Earlier this month, Vanity Fair ran a story about author Timothy Tyson‘s new book, The Blood of Emmett Till. In that article, Tyson revealed that the woman who was the alleged whistle-target (Carolyn Bryant Donham) has reneged what she said at the trial for Till’s murder.  The murder, and subsequent trial and acquittal, is credited by many as being the first spark – or last straw – that ignited the Civil Rights movement.

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