Women’s Voices, Women’s Work

Are you marching (or supporting someone who is) this weekend?  Then get inspired by these ladies!

Looking forward to the Women’s Marches this weekend, we’re bringing together a collection of women’s voices: women who worked hard, pushed the envelope, and took risks to make their communities a better place.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire won the Nobel Peace prize in 1976

for starting Community of Peace People.  When she joined Studs in the studio in 1993, he asked her what sparked her action.  She told him that her sister’s children had been shot and killed as a part of the violence in Northern Ireland, which prompted her and others to start Community for Peace People.  In 1976, the Peace People began marching; after 6 months, the violence in Ireland dropped 70%.  They are still working today and are “committed to building a just and peaceful society through non-violent means.”

When Dolores Huerta joined Studs in the studio in 1975,

she talked about the terrible conditions that led her to fight for farm workers’ rights, and against the racism that Mexican-Americans were facing.  During that conversation, she takes some time to point out how especially terrible it was for women working in the fields.  Her mother did not let her work in the fields while she was growing up, so she was spared some of the worst abuses and humiliations.  Here she explains to Studs why the field work is so brutalizing, and what makes it even worse for women.

In 1969, Studs brought his microphone and recorder to a Puerto Rican street festival in Lincoln Park.

The festival was celebrating a new daycare that would be opening to serve the Puerto Rican residents, particularly those families on welfare.  The Puerto Rican community was facing a lot of backlash in the neighborhood.  The successful creation of the daycare would help stabilize families and as a result, the community as a whole. The combined factors of a community of immigrants, racial tension, and a changing neighborhood made the daycare and the street festival very hot-button issues.  In this clip, we hear an unnamed woman talk about the need for the center and the support it has received from community members.

In 1970, Studs spoke with Mrs. Alberta Patterson.

One of her sons was autistic, and in 1970 there were very few affordable resources for children with autism and their families.  Mrs. Patterson tells Studs about her struggles with doctors and schools, and a misdiagnosis which, had she complied with the doctor’s mistaken orders, would put her son in a group home.  She told Studs, “I was not satisfied with that solution.”  After much hard work and research, this led her to collaborate with “a blundering group of parents with an idea and a goal”  and educators to start the STEP school.

When Maya Angelou was in the studio talking with Studs about her memoir

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, he asked her to tell the story of getting a job as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco.  It turns out that Maya, as a teenager, was the first Black female conductor on the streetcars there.  Her readers and fans will not be surprised to know that this was the result of great perseverance on her part.  As Studs said to her, “You did not take no for an answer.”

These voices show us how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.  Just like these women, those marching this weekend are out there for education, workplace conditions and equality, and peace.

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Othello in the Age of Black Lives Matter: 3

Sidney Poitier receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, August 12, 2009

This is the final post on Studs’ 1968 conversation with James Earl Jones on his role as Othello at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.  This post takes a look at the racial prejudices that exist in casting film and stage roles, and includes excerpts of Studs’ conversations with Sidney Poitier and Peter Sellars.

Studs opens this clip by asking about prejudice in Elizabethan times.

James replies that there was prejudice against Jewish people and Black people in England at that time.  Studs had a related conversation nearly thirty years later with stage director Peter Sellars.  Here is Sellars talking about his production of The Merchant of Venice in the wake of the LAPD trial and the LA Riots.

Shortly afterward, Studs remarks to James, “The very interesting theme always comes up, open casting…

You said earlier that playing Othello calls for maturity almost as much as Lear does.  Does the idea of playing Lear, someday, not now, but someday occur to you?”

Studs asked Bahamian-American actor Sidney Poitier essentially the same question in 1959, when Mr. Poitier was on the program talking about his film The Defiant Ones.  Mr. Poitier replied, “I play Negro parts because this is the period in history when I must play Negro parts.  I think that in five, six, seven, eight, ten, twenty years, there will come a time when there will be more stress on merit and on creative ability than is paid now.  Now we give credence to casting according to type… I see no reason why an American Indian cannot play Shakespeare if he happens to be a tremendous Shakespearean actor, you follow?”

James also responded to Studs in the affirmative.  They go on to talk about Ira Aldridge (as Sidney Poitier did) and Diana Sands, and then James makes the assertion that “after the first fifteen minutes or so, you’re involved in the heart of the play as the playwright wrote it”: how the actors look doesn’t even matter to the audience.

Have we seen that change that Mr. Poitier predicted?

Not exactly, but here in Chicago, we’re seeing the second production in three years of Red Velvet, Lolita Chakrabarti’s play about Ira Aldridge.  Tarana Burke shook the nation when her Me Too campaign took off this year, joining the voices of celebrities and everyday people into a single chorus insisting on change.  Clearly the conversation about “Negro parts” is not over yet, but it has been incorporated into a broader conversation about Black voices and Black lives.

Hear the entire interview with James Earl Jones here.

Visit our post featuring more of the 1959 interview with Sidney Poitier here.

Visit our post featuring more the 1994 interview with Peter Sellars here.

Photo credit: The White House (White House video (around 29:10)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sidney_Poitier_PMF.jpg

Othello in the age of Black Lives Matter: 2

We’re returning to Studs’ 1968 conversation with actor James Earl Jones.  They’re talking about his role of Othello at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and the conversation naturally moves to other aspect of race.  In this post, we’re listening to their thoughts on Othello’s marriage to Desdemona.  This was recorded only a year after the Supreme Court had made banning interracial marriage illegal in Loving v. Virginia but state laws in opposition to this held out much longer: South Carolina only took theirs off the books in 1998, and Alabama not until 2000.

This excerpt from the conversation begins with James Earl Jones saying “In this country, when a Black person asserts himself, if it does not quite fit in with the power structure’s aims… he becomes a figure of fear and suspicion.”  This was true in our country long before 1968, and certainly continues to be so.

This clip centers on Othello’s marriage to Desdemona, and the contemporary and current beliefs surrounding the love between a Black man and a white woman.  But before Studs and James really get started talking about Desdemona, Studs “had to get on that soapbox for a minute” and defend Muhammad Ali’s right to choose his own name.  Studs says that if we accept name changes from people such as Danny Kaye (born David Daniel Kaminsky) and Dean Martin (born Dino Paul Crocetti), we have no right to question Cassius Clay’s adoption of a name that does not reflect the heritage of slavery.

The subject of boxing came up because James Earl Jones had also recently performed in The Great White Hope, a play about boxer Jack Johnson (who, like Othello, had a white wife – more than one in Johnson’s case).

James compares Ali and Othello, noting that after his name change people began to question him and wonder “was he practicing some kind of social witchcraft.”  This leads back to Othello again and the notion that a Black man can only have the love of a white woman by “practicing something” on them – drugging or doping them, or as Desdemona’s father says,

Is there not charms
By which the property of youth and maidhood
May be abused?

James picks up this idea of making another human being an outsider, or other, and says, “There is two ways to approach that which is foreign to us.”  He uses Haitian Vodou as an example and lays out the two ways: trying to find a connection with this foreign idea, or “you can approach it like it’s a boogie man.”  He goes on to talk about the ways humans can be taught to think of people as different (and therefore dangerous) through brainwashing and media.

Hear Studs and James’ entire conversation here.

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Othello in the age of Black Lives Matter: 1

Fifty years ago, in February of 1968, actor James Earl Jones sat down with Studs to talk about his role as Othello in an upcoming Goodman Theatre production.  Jones was playing the role at the height of the Civil Rights movement; he and Studs never reference it explicitly but they talk a great deal about race in our nation.  What can this conversation about Othello bring to the age of Black Lives Matter?

We’ll be breaking their intense and insightful conversation into three parts.  Today, we’re exploring the character of Iago, the villain of Othello and the man who orchestrates Othello’s downfall.

The conversation begins when Studs asks James about growing up in Mississippi, and leads to James making the comparison between Iago and poor whites in America. They discuss Iago’s sense of being inexplicably passed by, and that he “resents everything he feels is oppressing him.”  Speaking of both Iago and poor racist white people in America, Studs remarks, “to survive the day, since his life is bleak and empty, he must subscribe to the myth that there is someone less than he.”  This is a fascinating comparison, considering the impact that rust and coal belt voters had on the recent presidential election.

For the next post, we’ll be looking at how Othello and Desdemona’s interracial marriage was viewed in the play.

You can hear the entire conversation here.

Best of 2017

It’s just about time for Auld Lang Syne!  We’re looking back at our most popular posts of the year, in case you missed any of them, or you want to check them out again.  Not surprisingly, our listeners (that would be you) are most interested in conversations about relevant political and social issues: women’s rights, minority voices, and censured content (banned books).  Thanks for making it such a great year.  Listen up and here’s to 2018!

On March 8, for International Women’s Day,

we featured a program from 1970 in which Studs talked with three members of the Chicago chapter of NOW about the 1970 women’s march.  This post was written by one of our interns at the time, Rachel Newlin. Check it out here: “We’re all sisters together”: Remembering the 1970 Women’s Strike

On May 18, we returned to 1970 for a conversation with journalists Neil and Susan Sheehan.

Neil Sheehan was a reporter for the New York Times, and had been the recipient of the leaked Pentagon Papers.  They talk to Studs about what we might term these days as “fake news,” as well as phone tapping and FBI investigations.  Good thing they didn’t have email and text back then.  Check it out here: TBT: The Pentagon Papers

On June 6, we featured a conversation with one of Chicago’s favorite poets, Gwendolyn Brooks.

She talks with Studs about her poetry collections, as well as the individual poems “We Real Cool” and “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed.”  The blog includes links to read and listen to Ms. Brooks read the poems they discuss . Check it out here: Happy Birthday Gwendolyn!

On August 29, in preparation for Chicago’s annual Jazz Fest,

we posted one of Studs’ conversations with Dizzy Gillespie, recorded in 1961.  They talk about the Latin influence on Dizzy’s music, and how his playing has a percussive style.  The post includes embedded videos so you can listen to the compositions they discuss.  Check it out here: Countdown to Jazz Fest: Dizzy Gillespie

On September 20, we were gearing up for Banned Books Week

with a 1977 conversation with Toni Morrison about her National Book Critics Award-winning novel Song of Solomon.  The post also serves as a primer for Banned Books Week: why books are challenged or banned, and how banning books is a First Amendment concern.  Check it out here: Banned Books Week: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

On October 5 we shared a 1969 conversation with the Latin American Defense Organization.

The members talk with Studs about the day-to-day work they do for members of the Puerto Rican community, as well as their direct actions.  Chicago still has a growing and vibrant Puerto Rican community, and this program gives insight into its early accomplishments.  Check it out here: Talking With Puerto Rican Activists

Thanks for making 2017 such a great year for the archive!  We’re looking forward to more social justice, music, poetry, and history for next year and we hope you do too!

An archive intern listens to motivational records

This post was written by one of our description interns, Bithiah Brown.

Studs Terkel was a radio talk show host for forty-five years with over 5,000 interviews in various topics. These interviews are conducted with people in professions, such as civil rights activists, actors, musicians, journalists, writers, and so much more. Diversity selection is at its best with Mr. Terkel’s interviews. There is so much wisdom to be obtained by listening to these records. I became an Archive Description Intern since August 2017. As an archive intern, I have worked primarily with digital recordings from the Studs Terkel interview collection. In this collection, there is an enormous amount of recordings, that can be difficult for an intern to navigate and choose a record that may need revision. To help ease this stress, our supervisor and the archivist for the collection, Allison Schein, sends all interns an Excel spreadsheet that details the records that require editing.

But how do we choose and begin editing a record? During the introduction to the internship, we were given mandatory tools to use for our position, such as, an Excel spreadsheet, Slack program, and Starchive. Slack is a messaging application for team members. There are four channels used within Slack, such as; “general” for announcements, “intern” for any questions regarding work related tasks, “programs” for interns to announce their chosen records, and “random” for any non-work related topic. Starchive contains the wide range of records of the digitized radio programs from the beloved Studs Terkel.

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Talking With Puerto Rican Activists

Puerto Rican people started to come to Chicago in the 1930’s, and there is still a vibrant Puerto Rican culture here today.  According to a report prepared by Puerto Rican Agenda, most Puerto Ricans in Chicago live in Logan Square, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, Belmont, Cragin, West Town, Avondale, and Portage Park.  11% – 38% of residents in these areas are Puerto Rican.

As with many immigrant minorities, Puerto Ricans in Chicago have faced a language barrier, poverty, racism, and struggles with housing.  Following the lead of African-American civil rights activists, Puerto Rican community groups began forming to work for better conditions.  One of these groups was LADO: Latin American Defense Organization.  In 1969, five of their members joined Studs in the studio to talk about their mission and what they had accomplished so far.  These five were Obed López, Martha Sanchez, Daniel Meléndez, Olga Pedroza, and Georgina Novarra.

At the start of the program, Mr. López introduces LADO and tells Studs how it came about.  Mr. Meléndez talks about some of the difficulties faced by the Puerto Rican community in Chicago.

In this clip, Mr. López describes LADO as “an organization the people themselves have created,”  which he believes to be as important as anything the organization has specifically accomplished.  Mr. Meléndez goes on to talk about what was “left behind” in Puerto Rico, and also about the places he sees the city administration failing the Puerto Rican community.

According to the article written by Clara López, Obed’s daughter, LADO’s fourth principle of action was “in the absence of any mechanism to resolve our legitimate grievances, we believe in the right to direct action.”  In this clip, we hear about problems that Mrs. Sanchez had with the Welfare office, and the direct actions that were taken by LADO to help her.

Mr. López and Mrs. Novarra talk about the differences between life in Chicago and life in Puerto Rico.  Studs brings up the common invective, “go back where you came from,” which leads Mr. Meléndez talks about what motivates Puerto Ricans to come to Chicago.

It might surprise relative newcomers to Chicago to learn that Wicker Park, Noble Square, and Lincoln Park were once Puerto Rican communities.  Ms. Pedroza talks about the housing problems within the community, and tells about a successful rent strike.  Mr. Meléndez points out that another obstacle to finding good housing is racist rental practices, and cites his own mother’s experience as an example.

To learn more, check out the Puerto Rican Cultural Center here in Chicago. This report also provides a great deal of information on Puerto Ricans in Chicago. For more information on LADO, check out this article written by Clara López, Obed’s daughter.

Image Credit: By Darwinek [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Banned Books Week: Allen Ginsberg & William S. Burroughs

Welcome to the final installment of our Banned Books Week celebration!

Why are books challenged?

Taking a look at the top ten books challenged in 2016, five of the ten list LGBT characters, transgender characters, or LGBT content as a reason.   But challenges change with time: from 2000-2009, “homosexuality” accounted for only 361 of 5099 challenges.  Butler University Libraries notes that additional reasons include racial issues, encouragement of “damaging” lifestyles, blasphemous dialogue, violence or negativity, and presence of witchcraft, among others.

Who challenges books?  In 2016, 42% of challenges were made by parents, 31% by library patrons, and 10% or less were made each by library board members or administrators, librarians or teachers, political and religious groups, government, or other.  From 2000-2009, challenges came primarily from parents, schools and school libraries, and public libraries.

Challenges to the Beat Generation

Last week, we talked about the Persepolis debacle in Chicago, but that certainly isn’t the first time a book has drawn such attention and fire.  Sixty years ago,  People v. Ferlinghetti was heard in San Francisco over the publication of Allen Ginsberg‘s book Howl and Other Poems due to “graphic sexual language of the poem.”
“Howl” is probably best known for its opening line

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

Expert witnesses for the defense included professors, editors, and book reviewers, and Ferlinghetti was eventually found not guilty.  You can read more about the trial here, and get a sense of how “Howl” fit into the world of bebop and modern art here.  The first recorded reading of “Howl” was at Reed College in Portland; hear the recording here.  Today, “Howl” is one of the Library of Congress’s “Books that Shaped America.”

William S. Burrough’s novel Naked Lunch, which NPR describes as “a dark wild ride through the terror of heroin addiction and withdrawal, filled with paranoia, erotica and drug-fueled hallucinations” was brought to court to face an obscenity trial in 1965 after a Boston bookseller was arrested for selling it.  You can read more about the trial here, including excerpts of testimonies from Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg.  You can read an excerpt of the court documents here, including the statement that “the book could not be said to be utterly without redeeming social value, and so was protected by the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution from being adjudged ‘obscene’.”

Conversation Highlights

In 1975, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs were in Chicago to give public readings.  During their trip, they stopped in to the studio to chat with Studs.  In this first clip, Allen Ginsberg talks about first meeting William (Bill) Burroughs, and how Burroughs was a teacher and mentor for him. This leads to a conversation on the addiction to language, or “language as dope,” as Studs puts it.  Ginsberg explains that Burroughs taught him “That language itself was an addiction and that we were all addicted to ticker tape repetition of conditioned concepts.”

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, among others, are part of a group known as Beat generation authors or Beat poets.  In this clip, Studs asks about what that word means.  Later, they talk about both Ginsberg’s and Burroughs’ time in Europe.

Studs and his guests make two Chicago connections during this conversation.  In 1959, the University of Chicago’s literary magazine Chicago Review planned to publish the last of three installments of Naked Lunch.  Once it was challenged, former Review editors Irving Rosenthal and Paul Carroll planned to publish it in Big Table instead, which also faced anger and pushbackAllen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso were in Chicago to give a reading to raise money for the Big Table publication.

In 1968, and Burroughs were in Chicago for the Democratic Convention protests. In this clip, Ginsberg talks about his testimony as a witness for the Chicago Seven and his attempts to chant “ohm” and “Hare Krishna” the courtroom.  This video shows Ginsberg chanting with a group before the convention.

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Banned Books Week: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association designates the last week in September as Banned Books Week.  (We’re starting our celebration a little early.)

Their FAQ page explains that a book must be challenged before it is banned, and that most challenges are not successful.  But some are, even if only temporarily – such as the attempt to take Persepolis out of Chicago Public Schools.  The American Library Association points out that most challenges are made with good intentions, such as CPS’s concern that “some students would not be developmentally capable of handling the mature content,” but they strongly believe in the freedom to read.

Fundamentally, the censorship and attempted censorship of books is a First Amendment issue: those who challenge have the right to express their opinions and concerns, and writers have the right to express themselves.  This dissent, rooted on both sides in freedom of speech, is an essential piece of our American democracy.  As such, we’re proud to have an archive full of challenged writers including James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and Madeline L’Engle.

Toni Morrison, 2008

Today, we’re featuring a 1977 conversation with Toni Morrison about her book Song of Solomon.  The book was #84 on ALA’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999, and had moved up to #72 on the 2000-2009 list.  Morrison’s books Beloved and The Bluest Eye are also on both lists.  Morrison has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize.

The Conversation

For much of the hour, Studs and Ms. Morrison talk about storytelling, transcendence, memories, and love. Here they talk about the very beginning of the book that sets up for everything else that occurs.


They go on to talk about the women in the book, who Ms. Morrison describes as “the lovers, nurturers, as well as builders.” The story she tells about Not-Doctor Street highlights the conflict between an oral tradition based in memory and the world of “official” memory as kept by bureaucratic records.

The Atlanta Black Star highlights some occasions when the book was challenged; the word “filth” is rather prevalent.  (Check out its entire list of “10 Black Books You May Not Have Known Were Banned or Challenged.”)  The Marshall University Libraries also highlights some instances, and cites “profanity, sexual imagery, and a story line about an incestuous relationship” as possible reasons. In this clip, Studs and Ms. Morrison talk about the relationship between Milkman and Hagar, who are cousins.

But the most upsetting elements in this book may be the facts, not the stories.  Taking a page from the chaos that ensued after the Civil War (and the racially driven apathy that accompanied it, in the best of cases), Ms. Morrison explains how her protagonist, Macon Dead, got his name.  She and Studs go on to talk about instances in which the poor and illiterate in America have been taken advantage of.

There’s a good deal more to the interview, but we didn’t want to spoil the ending of the book!  You can find Song of Solomon at your local library and decide for yourself whether or not it should stay on the shelves.  Scroll down and enter your zip code in the box: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/990594296

Photo by Angela Radulescu via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingthedeepfield/2301126276/in/photostream/ CC BY-SA 2.0


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