This blog post was written by Meghan, one of our summer interns from the MLIS program at Dominican University.
In the month when we remember our country’s birth, it is time to reflect upon the principles on which our nation is founded and the principles for which many Americans have fought and died. John Henry Faulk, an American storyteller from Austin, Texas, shared with Studs some of his insights into who we are as Americans, drawn from reflections of his travels across the country.
“And [Momma] said, ‘Don’t you know a chicken snake won’t hurt ya?’ And Boots Cooper said, ‘Yes ma’am, I know that, Miss Faulk, but they can scare you so bad, you’ll hurt yourself!’
And I use this as my theme.”
-John Henry Faulk
There is neither any volume of text nor elegance of prose that can sufficiently portray the passion with which John Henry Faulk expressed his message through the spoken word. This interview must be heard in order to fully grasp Faulk’s emotion, which is woven through his stories, and which he brought to college students and prominent community members across the country during the sixties. Faulk, speaking with Studs Terkel in this 1969 interview mused:
Who are we, the American people? What is our purpose? How did we get started? And I go back to the colonial days, see, and describe the Boston Tea Party: an act of vandalism against the constituted authority, old King George, but a protest, in reality, against oppression and against repression and against tyranny, and it was a spark that caught on over the colonies, and we won our freedom.
And then, I get to, what I love best, 1787, the summer that those magnificent men gathered there in Philadelphia and slapped mosquitos and sweated all summer to lay the groundwork for the nation that became the United States of America; conceived the idea of a free people governing themselves, set up the framework for a society where man would be totally free, hedged him ‘round with every defense in the world, his freedom ‘round with every defense in the world, so that the government would be the servant and the people would be the sovereign. And this is a magnificent idea, you see.
Faulk’s travels across the country, speaking to what he termed, “the knife and fork clubs” and students at university, helped him discover not that Americans differ greatly in their views and opinions, but that, in all the ways that matter, they were seeking the same things. The United States was going through a tumultuous time when Faulk began his tours. He himself had been a victim of the blacklisting in the media industry during the McCarthy era, and openly and colorfully shared his own experiences with his audiences of having been “stampeded by fear.”
The central message of his story, and the most resounding lesson he learned from his audiences was that America was in the process of being transformed back into what it was when it had first begun. This rebirth of awareness American citizens’ had of their responsibility to direct the actions of the government, he attributed primarily to African-Americans, who led the Civil Rights movement, and the youth of our country – those he calls, “the least privileged of our citizens.” And, he tells Studs, “I don’t believe they can be stampeded by fear anymore – they’ve started thinking.”