"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in Urban Habitat.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Traveling in Texas

We spent a day in San Antonio  visiting three missions -- The Alamo, Concepcion and San José.  The  following  were my reactions:

Our conversation  with the  docent  at  the Alamo was very interesting.  He was very well informed, articulate and passionate.  He was a retired Lt Colonel (fought in Iraq), then taught 6th grade math, now volunteered as docent at the  Alamo.  His thesis was that the defenders  of the Alamo were "fighting to defend the Mexican Constitution  of 1824 -- for democracy".   The Texans were "trying  to  bring  democracy  to  Mexico just like they tried to do for Afghanistan"  But  you  just can't get  "peons to vote"

He said Santa Ana made a good devil because he was ruthless and politically astute and when  in power curtailed  the  rights of citizens --  so easy to organize rebellion against him. The docent said that the importance of the Alamo, at least for Texans, was  that it represented  the little guy (the individual) fighting  against  the big guy (federal government).

He  called himself a RINO, and thought the Trump supporters  were  crazy and that  people shouldn't want to deny unpleasant  history (like some of the Texans from the US  brought slaves with  them  and that slavery was a "very  small part" of the  cause of  the war.).   One should learn the unpleasant  facts   and move on.  I suggested that perhaps we could learn from the past so we don't  make the same  mistakes?  He agreed to that.

What was so interesting about his version of the history was the lack of context.  There was no mention that the battle of the Alamo was part  of  the  campaign of Santa Ana to RETAKE the Mexican garrisons (plural) that the Anglo Texans had seized after declaring  independence  from  Mexico.  That the defenders of the Alamo were  expecting reinforcements that never came because of political infighting among the newly declared Texan government. That the most important "right"  that the Texans were fighting for was the right  to  hold slaves, which the Mexican Constitution had abolished.

The literature re the Missions put out by the national parks was equally problematic.  Quoting  from National Park Service pamphlet, San  Antonio Missions:

Imagine life as a hunter gatherer...survival depends on  the mercy  of the wilderness...this was the world of the Native Americans of South Texas before the arrival of Europeans. The Coahuiltecans, rich in tradition, were people  of survival, in harsh harmony with their environment.  The arrival of Europeans brought devastating diseases and irreversible change, threatening American Indian lifeways.  Mission living offered a chance for survival, which these people seized..(my emphasis)...Mission leaders introduced stationary, year-round  community  living......

.......Franciscan friars aspired to teach community harmony through Catholic sacraments....Trusting in the united group and learning specialized skills, the mission inhabitants  protected, sheltered, fed, and clothed each other.  By combining these efforts, they achieved a sense of security they had lost. But they also paid a price.

Upon entering the mission, Coahuiltecans were expected to give up their own religion, culture and traditions -- even their names.  They were expected to become Spanish. Despite  this, elements of their native lifeways blended with Spanish and  Catholic cultures.  Today this blend comprises the rich cultural heritage of San Antonio.

A few of the plaques mentioned that the Spanish military helped to "pacify" the Indians.  but no mention of  how or why and by what  means.  

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Kendi and Tufekci on the January 7th attempted coup

 These are the two points made by two of several guest speakers on NPR’s Here and Now today. These are two of my very, very, very favorite academics ever.

·      Zeynep Tufekci: Yesterday was an attempted coup. It failed.  Will they try again?  That depends on what each of us do next.

·     Ibram Kendi: Is American exceptional?  Was yesterday exceptional?  No. If you think so, you don’t know American history very well.


Today on NPR, Ibram Kendi and Zeynep Tufekci were interviewed about their reactions to yesterday’s demonstration and invasion of the capitol.  I have written on FB already about my irritation with Biden who keeps speaking of “we” and “our” as if American is one nation, one people with one soul – it is not.  I had a partner once who always interrupted me when I started a sentence with “we”.  She would say abruptly, “who’s, ‘we’ white woman?”  Kendi addresses this issue in reference to yesterday’s events.


I also wrote yesterday about my irritation with the CNN coverage of the attempted coup that happened yesterday.  I always HEARD the criticism of 24-hour news stations.  They turn serious events into entertainment, however morbid or frightening the nature of the entertainment was.  I had never watched them do this.  They did that yesterday by blowing the coup attempt out of proportion.  Tufekci argues that the key take away yesterday was that 138 Republicans voted to overturn the PA election. This was lost in the mayhem of reporting yesterday.


Of course, this doesn’t make for compelling TV.  Compelling TV distracts most viewers from what is really serious (Tufekc might say, “mistaking the ridiculous for the serious).  I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lot of commentary about the double standard on clear display between how police treat white people v people of color.  But even that tended to get buried by the looping video of protesters breaking windows and wandering around the House and Senate floor as well as by the competition among the pundits to say the scariest thing.  But that is what the audience wants.  If a car seems like it is going to crash (and fortunately, it didn’t yesterday), then we definitely want to be there to see it happen live, yes?  And while we are watching for hours-on-end to see if it happens, we need to be entertained, an unenviable job. 


From HERE AND NOW, January 7, 2021


Interviewer: Comparing the storming of the capitol with what happens in Third world countries – we are better, we are above devolving into chaos?  What are you thoughts on this?


Ibram Kendi: It’s ahistorical. To read American history, to remember American history, is to remember coup attempt after coup attempt, whether political or economic.  I am thinking, of course, about Tulsa, Oklahoma, or about all sorts of attempted or actual coups during the Reconstruction era, or even the Civil War itself. Or, even in the last year, what happened at the US capitol, has happened at state capitols. And as a result, particularly of people violently opposing shutdowns in their states as a result of Covid 19, or even plotting to assassinate sitting governors.  This is America.  People need to recognize that.  [when people argue that] This is not a third world country  [they are not acknowledging this history].


Interviewer:  is this chaos a sign of progress against the yearning for regression?  Is this a by-product of what happens during great progress or is this just truly a devolvement of our democracy?


Kendi: I think it is a fundamental clash, and I wrote about this recently the Atlantic.  Historically, American has had two forces  -- the force of justice and the force of injustice.  And certainly when the forces of justice have advanced, the force of injustice has tried to stop that advance. Often times, violently.  Americans need to recognize that both forces are inherent, have existed historically in this country.



Interviewer: what did you see yesterday?  Was it a coup?


Zeynep Tufecki:  It was an attempt to steal an election….maybe not very competently, but an attempt…so it was some sort of coup attempt.


Interviewer: [given that you grew up in Turkey and experience many kinds of coups], did this feel familiar?


Tufecki: absolutely, and, in fact, when you see that picture of the insurrectionists sitting at the Senate and the House…..and basically yelling “Trump won!”, it is intimately familiar…..the President of the United States was attempting to steal the election by falsely asserting that he won it, and trying to mobilize all the extra-legal forces he could muster from his office to try to get them to overturn the election in his favor.


Interviewer: and you were making it clear (in your article a while ago) that this was happening long before yesterday…what role you think Republicans and Trump’s allies had in helping him get to this point?


Tufecki: of course, the key thing here is, is that people are mistaking ridiculous with not serious.  There are a lot of things going on that are kind of ridiculous, for example the President tweets with all sorts of punctuation errors.  Some people yesterday wearing hats with horns. It looks ridiculous, but it is not unserious.  It’s important to realize that even after the mob disrupted the certification process, The majority of the GOP caucus in the House, 138 representatives voted to overturn the results of the Pennsylvania election. Even the PA representative who was just elected with those votes voted against that election.  These are not normal hiccups of a transition.  These are attempts to steal the election.  There are a lot of ridiculous coup attempts around the world too!  A lot fail the first, second or even third time and then they succeed.  I have to say that the vote in the House and the Senate, trying to throw out perfectly legitimate votes, that should scare us.  Even the armed men and women breaking into the capitol  did not alarm the Republican legislators enough for them to say, fine, this is it, we’re stopping this.


Interviewer: You said in your December article “what often starts as a farce may end in a tragedy” Do you still think that after yesterday?


Tufekci: it depends on how we react.  A line has been crossed….it’s how we react that determines if they try again.  ….next time it might be more competent…. This is an alarm for a potential 5 alarm fire.  …we need to focus on the crucial need to unite as a country and react.  This is not a partisan issue.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Local Lynching Stories and their relevance to activism today

 These two recent videos tell the stories of a lynching in 1885 and in the 1930s.   The details of specific stories like these are excellent entry points for people to understand the reality of lynching and then to understand how lynching was a tool to reassert white supremacy after the First Reconstruction (1867-77). Thanks to Amy and her friend for sharing the video links with me.

BURN: The Lynching of George Armwood

Outrage in Rockland
Lynchings were not about punishing a black person because he or she committed a specific "crime."  The purpose was to terrorize a population, it was about power, about systems and not about individuals. Most white people today think racism is not systemic -- that is the hurtle that needs to be jumped today.

These are excellent videos to show how widespread and deep lynchings have been. They become "family affairs" as a way to forge a white community bonded by the belief that black people are not human - their lives don't matter.   Fear is fundamental and expressed through hatred, anger, arrogance and condescension.  Until whites confront their fears, guilt and ignorance, they will continue to act to suppress black humanity.

The Armwood video:  would allow people to explore how Maryland was an upper South state -- compare it with the state and federal governments' responses to lynching in the deep southern states.  A good discussion of the politics of the different state reactions would lead to an understanding of how the Southern Freedom Movement (SFM) evolved its tactics from 1955-65, and why SFM (aka civil rights movement) morphed into black power/black studies.  

It is essential to the Armwood lynching in its historical context of lynching.  One can do this by starting with James Allen's "movie" of postcards of lynchings"They Say" is a very good book to accompany Allen's movie.  Then move to a bigger lens: The First Reconstruction and formation of KKK; The end of Reconstruction and the creation of Jim Crow with lynching as enforcement; then the formation of the NAACP (out of earlier organizations and campaigns) and it's anti-lynching campaign (including the failure of the Dyer Bill, and the NAACP's failed campaign against Birth of a Nation)

To bring this incident up to date:  the mob left Armwood's dead and burned body in the street for a long time -- like the police did to Michael Brown's body in Ferguson The police forced Armwood to confess.  The "Exonerated Five" have recently written an op-ed piece in which they call for support for a NY State bill to tape all the interviews, not just the one leading to a confession.  The video ends with a plea: unless this story is talked about, recognized by whites today, this local history remains a "stab in the heart" to the local black community.  I would add, that because there was a clear pattern to these lynchings, it was systematic, we need a federal reparations commission to make sure white Americans are confronted by lynchings and other crimes against humanity.

Outrage in Rockland, actually provides some of that historical context missing in the Armwood video as well as really offering an access point to discussing the importance of infrastructure. No current story illustrates the importance of infrastructure to the success of political goals than the one involving Stacey Abrahms and many more  (it takes a village).  Over the last 15 years, they created the infrastructure leading to yesterday's Democratic win in the Georgia US Senate races (yes, building infrastructure is hard and tedious and takes a long time (which is why it is mostly women who do it?). Without the proliferation of local civil rights organizations that developed before 1910, there would never have been an NAACP.  What happened in Rockland was repeated throughout the South.  The Churches and local civil rights organizations provided the infrastructure for the "Second Reconstruction" of 1955-65.  

I love and hate the intimacy that these two videos.  Both the heroics of individuals and the depravity of the mob are riveting.  It is really the only way to generally connect people to the larger context, which is more abstract and harder to grasp.  This is where most education fails, the inability to make connections betwee the personal and the political.  And leads people to have no faith in their ability to change things. That Johnson was able to raise money and have a track record of legal successes meant he was a serious threat to white supremacy.  Whites believed that the black community needed to be put on notice  --  blacks might win in the courts, but would not win in the world. This is about power ("justice" v "law").  This is why both legal and nonviolent direct action are required for social movements to succeed.

The Brother of Liberty's legal wins described in the video: RR car, MD bar admission and others I am sure) certainly provoked backlash that including lynchings? The main goal of Ida Well's research was to expose as a myth that black men were lynched because they had raped (or otherwise threatened white womanhood) as justification for lynching.  She had hard data to prove it was not the case. The truth was that white men were raping black women systematically.  The deeply rooted and prevalence of the myth suggests that white men projected their barbarity onto black men.  The apparent arbitrary nature of the targets chosen by mobs conveniently terrorized the entire black community.  This terrorism was part of an entire toolkit used to eliminate the civil rights gains of the First Reconstruction and reassert white supremacy.  Again, the strategy to appeal to federal courts (get it out of state courts) presages the strategy of the Civil rights movement, of the NAACP.  But, again, you can win at the Supreme Court (Brown v Board) but not win in reality (southern states shut down public schools and created private white only ones).  This then required the use of nonviolent direct action in concert with legal action.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Testing, Meritocracy and Inequality

I am now retired and have time to begin to write a bit.

Here is my first foray -- letter to NYT re their editorial on Betsy DeVos

Dear Editors,

I continue to be amazed at our bedrock assumption that test scores are a measure of learning despite the fact that they can never be so.

During the first 16 years after graduating from college, I taught high school history at Groton, and then at three NYC independent schools - was fired three times and then blacklisted, so I moved to San Francisco and got my PhD in education. I then became a community organizer around school reform in San Francisco and co-founded the SF Freedom School.  This led to a job at SF State University teaching political science.  I taught at SFSU for 13 years. During the last four years, I helped to revive the Experimental College (became its first director) and am now just retired at 65.  During my entire educational career, standardized tests have been my nemesis.

While teaching U.S history to rich kids in NYC, I refused to make history boring, a mere recitation of dates, the names of white, rich men, and battles. I wanted them to see history as crucial to their lives as active citizens.  I got in trouble for being good at that.  The constant complaint from administrators and parents was, I "wasn't preparing my students for the test" -- the US History Achievement and US History Advanced Placement tests. So, when I entered my PhD program at UC Davis, I was particularly interested in my Educational Testing and Policy courses.   I learned how standardized tests scores have been misused by policy makers and the media and that business leaders have always driven educational policy.  I have tried (and failed) to persuade teachers and parents that standardized tests CREATE the achievement gap so they can NOT be used as a tool to reduce it. I gave up this fight around 2007, totally defeated.  I had hoped by now that, at least, there might be some question about the role of standardized tests in measuring educational quality if not learning.  Your editorial disabused me of that notion.

Of course, I wonder why?  The only answer I can come up with is that standardized testing is inextricably intertwined with basic American mythology.  Simply, it goes like this:
We often speak of a third rails in the political system.  But standardized tests seem to be the engine that drives the system.  Never to be questioned or seen for what it is.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wazir Peacock RIP

Wazir Peacock died this year.  He will be missed.

We in Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement (BayVets) were privileged to work with Wazir, and learn from him. In the South in the 1960s, his Freedom Movement brothers and sisters usually referred to him as "Peacock," but here in NorCal in the late '90s and after we used his self-chosen name "Wazir."

"So many Willie's in the world," he told us. "For awhile, I came to Islam right after SNCC around 1966, and I was given the name. It means essentially one who shares with the people. One of the persons who translated the Koran into English -- he said that the best meaning was one who worked on behalf of the people for God, for Allah. A servant of the people in its truest sense."

Wazir was one of our founding members when we first came together in 1999. He became an important guide and contributor to our Civil Rights Movement Veterans website ( Most of us had been active in the Movement in Alabama and Mississippi from 1963 on, so he was our link to the early pioneering days when young students were first stepping up and, "daring to stand in a strong sun and cast a sharp shadow."

We originally formed BayVets around the idea of finding ways to help our Movement sisters and brothers who had fallen on hard times -- the "walking wounded" as we called them. It was Wazir who showed us that we whose boots had been on the ground in the hard and dangerous days of the freedom struggle were all of us walking wounded ourselves. All of us were carrying hidden scars and emotional wounds that only others who had shared similar experiences could help heal. That healing became a vital part of our BayVets work.

Wazir loved to speak about the Freedom Movement to community groups, churches, and most definitely school kids. He had a special affinity for reaching the younger children in elementary school with whom he could talk about what it was like growing up as a child in segregated, Jim Crow Mississippi. And he loved -- and they loved -- being able to share with them the freedom songs of the Freedom Movement.

Recently, Milton Reynolds of "Facing History" wrote to Wazir: "I appreciate the fact that we have had the opportunity to connect as colleagues in the struggle, but also that I've been able to share your work and your beloved community of freedom fighters with hundreds of students. I can only tell you that they are inspired, and moved to action by your life of dignity and purpose."

For six years, Wazir was a primary resource expert for the San Francisco summer Freedom School program that worked to bring the lessons of the Movement to today's teachers and students. And until he fell ill, he was a regular guest speaker in San Francisco State University history and political science classes.

Professor Kathy Emery of the S.F. Freedom School and S.F. State said, "I can't tell you how much my students miss your semester visits to San Francisco State University. Your guest speaker visits have become legend.  Veteran students have told new students that you used to come to class and tell compelling stories of growing up in Mississippi; running away to protest your father's decision to move you all to the plantation; why you changed your name to Wazir from Willie B. (they are particularly outraged by the doctor naming you Willie B when you were born)... You gave your life to the movement and your stories have inspired hundreds of my students to participate in social justice action today..."

Two years ago Wazir recorded a video oral-history titled, "Stand For Freedom: The Life and Times of Willie B. Wazir Peacock" which is now available on You Tube ( He took great pride in being able to share his legacy with those who are picking up the freedom torch today. A transcription of an earlier oral history is also available on the CRMVet website (

Bruce Hartford and Chude Allen
For BayVets