“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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Take me out to the ballgame!

I knew this program was about baseball, and about Boys of Summer, “regarded as one of the best books ever written about baseball,” according to Baseball-Reference.com.  I was really looking forward to writing a cheery post about my favorite sport.  But what WorldCat and Wikipedia didn’t tell me about the book is that it’s actually about the integration of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the struggles of a young reporter to tell it like it is.

We will not be Jackie Robinson’s sounding board.  Write baseball, not race.  

Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1954

Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1954

Studs says the book is “more than about baseball, [it’s about] what happens to lives of men.”  That includes Clem Labine, talking about the debilitating injury his son suffered in Vietnam; Carl Erskine, who “saw a lynch rope when he was eight or nine;” and all of the men whose professional careers had ended by age 35, who returned home to run stores, work on construction sites, and to deal with the pain that is “a condition of their lives.”

Despite the struggles the players face on and off the field, the program is essentially joyful; Studs and Roger both love baseball and that comes through loud and clear, and they are in awe of the players and proud of the work they did as athletes and as civil rights leaders during “the glory moments of their lives.”

Looking for more baseball?  Hear Studs talk to Jackie Robinson’s biographer, Arnold Rampersad.  And we’re looking forward to someday (in the next year or so) having digital copies of interviews with Doc “Moonlight” Graham and W.P. Kinsella.  Stay tuned!

Photo credit: By Photo by Bob Sandberg, Look photographerRestoration by Adam Cuerden – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsc.00048.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | українська | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32162285

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Talking with activists in Montgomery, Alabama

Fifty-one years ago this month, Studs was in Montgomery, Alabama talking with people who had just marched from Selma to Montgomery, others who were joining the movement in Montgomery, and Montgomery natives both for and against the march.

Abernathy family with Dr. and Mrs. King leading the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Abernathy family with Dr. and Mrs. King leading the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Studs recorded nine programs’ worth of interviews in Montgomery, capturing the candid voices of a nation undergoing a great change.  Reminiscent of today’s campaign trail interviews, these Montgomery interviews include voices of hope and voices of hate.

Today we’re featuring the second program in the series.  Studs is at the home of his unnamed host (well, it slips out partway through, but we get the feeling it’s not supposed to), a bustling place that sounds full of people with even more calling every few minutes.  He first speaks to Rachel and Sarah, two college students who joined the march and were arrested and sent to jail for their trouble.  Next, he speaks with a middle aged woman who has returned to her home in Alabama after living many years in California.  She is familiar with the perspective of upper-middle class Montgomery citizens, and gives some insight into it.  In fact, she is so closely tied with that world that she decides not to attend the final rally: “I would alienate myself from my family… I would lose my job… and I would be criticized by my friends.”

Finally, he speaks with the host.  This man had a career in Washington, D.C., including time spent on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration.  He is a proud Southerner, and offers a thoughtful account of Southern identity as well as a broader view of the problems in the South.  What it all comes down to, he believes, is passivity and fear: “We got afraid to think anymore.  Not only to express our opinions, but soon we got so we can’t think.”

Photo credit: By Abernathy Family (Abernathy Family Photos) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Sidney Poitier and Studs Terkel in 1959

We are in the thick of awards season – the Golden Globe and SAG ceremonies are recently behind us, and the Oscars are just a few weeks away.  This year we are again facing what has become an all-too-familiar issue – the lack of diversity in the nominations.

Sidney Poitier made history in 1964 as the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (the next African American man to win the award would be Denzel Washington in 2001); and in 1968 (the year In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner won Best Original Screenplay) he, among others, refused to attend the ceremony if it was not moved from its planned date of April 8 – the night before Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.  The ceremony was moved to April 10.

Five years earlier, in 1959, The Defiant Ones won Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.  (One of the writers, Nedrick Young, had been blacklisted, and the Oscar was awarded to his pseudonym, Nathan E. Douglas.  In 1993, the credit was restored to his proper name.)  The film was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and four members of the cast were nominated, including Sidney Poitier.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones

Later that year, Poitier joined Studs in the studio.  Although their conversation took place only five years before Poitier’s historic win, in terms of Civil Rights setbacks and triumphs, those years covered a lot of ground: the SNCC was founded, the Freedom Rides began, Dr. King made his “I Have a Dream” speech, and Medgar Evers, President Kennedy, and Dr. King were all killed.

But before all that happened, Poitier was talking about his experiences in the West Indies and in Hollywood, and his hopes for future African American stars.

Photo credit: By trailer screenshot (United Artists) (The Defiant Ones trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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SNCC members share their stories

Studs Terkel was committed to breaking down barriers.  The best tools he had were his microphone and his recorder, and he used them to great effect during the years of the Civil Rights struggle.  In 1962, he sat down with 10 members of the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) who were visiting Chicago for the SNCC/SOCC “Gospel for Freedom” event at McCormick Place.

North Carolina SNCC members at the Tottle House lunch counter in Atlanta, 1960. (Library of Congress)

North Carolina SNCC members at the Tottle House lunch counter in Atlanta, 1960. (Library of Congress)

The program begins with the students each relating memories brought up by the song “We Shall Overcome.”  The stories they tell are about protests, sit-ins, arrests, and shootings.  These young people are talking about their everyday life, but they’re saying things like

Every night someone had to go to the hospital, group of… four of five had to go to the hospital.

I have this little hat I wear around Mississippi.  Before I left town, the State Patrol called and said the next time they saw that hat in the streets they were gonna shoot it.

They call every night, they threaten to burn your house, and they shoot.

All Americans owe these students a great debt for the changes they helped to bring about in our country.  We are honored to be able to share their words with you.

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Paul Chevigny on Police Power

Shortly after the publication of his 1969 book Police Power: Police Abuses in New York City, Paul Chevigny spent an hour in conversation with Studs.  At the time, Mr. Chevigny was a lawyer practicing in Harlem and working with the New York Civil Liberties Union; in 1977, he began teaching law at New York University and he is now the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law Emeritus.

After the introductions, Studs plays a clip from an earlier interview with an unnamed Puerto Rican man recounting his harassment by multiple Chicago police officers as he leaves his workplace.  Mr. Chevigny and Studs go on to talk about how race and class affect arrests and acquittal rates, and the strategy of bringing false charges in order to cover up inappropriate police actions.  But they also talk about society’s responsibility in police brutality and corruption: a society must change in order for its police force to change.

Toward the end of the interview, Mr. Chevigny predicts that our society will not make any great changes toward ending police brutality and corruption: “I don’t think that the powers of the police are going to decline, and I don’t think that society’s going to want to limit their abuses any more than they’ve done up to now, and probably less.”

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Rosa Parks & Myles Horton

December 1 marked the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest, and December 5 will mark the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott.  To mark these important dates, and to honor those involved, we’re sharing a very special interview.

“What you do is the thing that says to people what you believe,” said Myles Horton to Studs Terkel in 1973.  Mr. Horton and Rosa Parks were in Chicago receiving honorary degrees from Columbia College, and they join Studs to discuss the events that led up to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.  Mrs. Parks tells listeners in her own words exactly what happened to her on December 1, 1955, and in the days following her arrest.

Mr. Horton was the founder and director of the Highlander Folk School, and knew Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mrs. Parks was working for the NCAAP in 1955, and by 1973 was on the staff of U.S. Representative John Conyers.

Their conversation is educational and inspiring, and a glimpse into a time in our history that cannot be forgotten.

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