Category Archives: Book Excerpt

Read an excerpt of one of the books that inspired the documentary film “Promised Land” — Join us for a free screening in Seattle

In Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place, Second Edition (published Spring 2017 in the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series), Coll Thrush brings the Indigenous story to the present day and puts the movement of recognizing Seattle’s Native past into a broader context.

Native Seattle and several other UW Press titles (including Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia edited by Robert T. Boyd, Kenneth M. Ames, and Tony A. Johnson, and the forthcoming Chinook Resilience by Jon D. Daehnke) helped form the framework for the documentary Promised Land,” about the Duwamish Tribe and Chinook Nation fight for federal recognition. “Promised Land” filmmaker Sarah Samudre Salcedo says:

“The book not only informed our film’s research for the Duwamish, but so well described the tribe’s modern day struggle for recognition that it inspired our focus to the broader federal policies that eventually drew our attention to the Chinook story, and stories like it across the nation. Those histories and struggles are so well-documented in these books and our film wouldn’t have made sense without them and the appearance of the authors within the documentary.”

We are thrilled that Seattle Theatre Group (STG) is hosting a free screening of “Promised Land” at the Neptune Theatre on July 6 and bringing the Duwamish Tribe and Chinook Nation’s struggle to the people of Seattle. Both tribes will be on hand before and after the show at tables in the lobby, and at a post-film panel discussion, to talk to the community. University Book Store will also have a table at the event to sell our books. Doors open at 7 p.m., the Duwamish and Chinook start drumming at 7:30 p.m., and the film starts at 8 p.m. We hope you can join us!

In celebration of the screening event later this week, we feature the following excerpt from the new preface to the second edition of Native Seattle:

Please join us for this special event:

STG & Tall Firs Cinema present
Promised Land
Special Guests: Duwamish Tribe, Chinook Nation, and the Filmmakers

Thursday, July 6, 2017
Doors at 7 p.m.
Event at 8 p.m.

Come early at 7:30 p.m. for preshow songs and drumming with the Chinook Indian Nation and Duwamish Tribe.

Post-film Q&A with Chinook Nation, Duwamish Tribe, and Tall Firs Chinemas.

Free and open to the public. All ages / bar with ID. GA seating – first come, first seated.

RSVP on the STG site

RSVP on Facebook

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SaveBeyond the federally recognized tribes, Seattle’s urban Indigenous community has also become increasingly visible in the decade since Native Seattle was first published. Performers like Red Eagle Soaring, a dance and theatre ensemble made up of Indigenous youth of many backgrounds, took stages across the city. Artists such as Seminole-Choctaw filmmaker Tracy Rector, whose “You Are On Indigenous Land” photography installation, made up of intimate portraits of members of her community taken by her and her colleagues, received praise from the local press. And in 2015, Blackfeet legal advocate and jurist Debora Juarez successfully campaigned for the city council, representing the city’s northernmost district. A far cry from the place of Indigenous people in the city’s consciousness in earlier eras—symbols of a vanishing race or threats to urban order—Indigenous women and men have become important players in the city’s cultural and political landscape.

Indigenous institutions are also on the rise. Daybreak Star cultural center, located in Discovery Park and founded by the activists who took over Fort Lawton in 1970, remains a crucial resource for many people in Seattle’s Indigenous community, including hosting the annual Seafair Days powwow. At the University of Washington, meanwhile, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (Intellectual House) opened in 2015, after years of organizing by activists both within and outside the UW community. It serves as a center for Indigenous concerns on campus and is already a much sought-after venue for academic and other events. But wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ’s place-story goes deeper than that. According to Tseshaht Nuu-chah-nulth professor Charlotte Coté, “when you walk into Intellectual House, you really do feel the spirits of their ancestors. This is not just a building.” Designed by Cherokee-Choctaw architect Johnpaul Jones in a style reminiscent of the longhouses that once graced the nearby Duwamish community of Little Canoe Channel, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ was described by organizing committee member Denny Hurtado of the Skokomish Tribe as “a home where we can share our culture with the non-natives, and build bridges amongst us.” And down at the Pike Place Market, Nooksack artist and entrepreneur Louie Gong has opened the famed market’s first Indigenous-owned business, Eighth Generation. Together, all of these new additions to Seattle’s Indigenous landscape speak to the ongoing work of the city’s Indigenous community to be seen, to create, and to flourish.

Seattle’s Indian-inflected self-image has also continued to grow and change. In 2008, for example, the city unveiled a new trail circling Lake Union that was named after Cheshiahud, the Duwamish man who had once lived on the lake’s shoreline. Nearby, at the Museum of History and Industry’s new location, the 1950s diorama of the Denny Party no longer serves as the starting point of the city’s history; instead, a gallery curated under the guidance of local tribal members reminds visitors that they, as was Denny, are on Indigenous land. In 2014, meanwhile, the city council ruled unanimously to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day, making Seattle one of the first cities to reorient itself in relation to a long-honored and much-excoriated commemoration of colonialism’s ultimate bête noir. That same year, the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, and even that victory was framed in part through Indigenous imagery: the Burke Museum displayed a Kwakwaka’wakw eagle transformation mask thought to the be the inspiration for the football team’s logo, while during the team’s victory parade, running back Marshawn Lynch received a drum from Lummi tribal member John Scott. Lynch’s beating of the drum received worldwide attention and once again highlighted Indigenous presence in the city. Finally, in the years to come, the city’s much-debated redevelopment of the waterfront will feature the work of Puyallup artist Qwalsius (Shaun Peterson), whose Coast Salish–style works will push back against the North Coast imagery so associated with Seattle’s public image.

In the midst of all this, with the deepest place-story of all, the Duwamish remain. Despite being denied federal recognition yet again in 2015—a decision the Department of the Interior described as “final”—the tribe’s members continue to fight for legal and cultural recognition. In the wake of the 2015 ruling, more than fifty Duwamish people and allies protested at the West Seattle home of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and in one newspaper account of the decision, tribal chairwoman Cecile Hansen stated firmly, “we’re not invisible.” This is true. As they had during the 2001 sesquicentennial of the Denny Party’s landing at Alki Beach, the Duwamish continue to make their presence known in very public ways while attending to their own cultural revival. Former tribal councilmember James Rasmussen, for example, is one of the leaders of the Duwamish Cleanup Coalition, whose goal is to continue the work of remediating the Superfund site that is Seattle’s only river, while the tribe’s dance group T’ilibshudub (Dancing Feet) often performs around the city and elsewhere. Most notably, the Duwamish opened their long-planned longhouse and cultural center in 2009, just across West Marginal Way from the site of their ancient town of Crying Face. The tribe has also been involved in documenting its own history, perhaps most importantly through the work of University of Victoria graduate student and Duwamish descendant Julia Allain who collected stories of many of the tribe’s leading families. These activities and others show that federal recognition, as a colonial legal framework, does not necessarily determine Indigeneity: as Indigenous people around the world have asserted, they can exist regardless of someone else’s rules.

None of the events described above have happened without significant Indigenous activism, as has been always been the case throughout Seattle’s history, in which Native people have had to struggle to claim a place in the city and to combat the stereotypical images of the doomed, vanished Indian. In doing, so, they have exhibited what Ojibwe journalist and scholar Gerald Vizenor has called “survivance.” Survivance, a neologism that connotes both survival and resistance, speaks to something beyond simple persistence:

Theories of survivance are elusive, obscure, and imprecise by definition . . . but survivance is invariably true in native practice and company. The nature of survivance is unmistakable in native stories . . . and is clearly visible in narrative resistance and personal attributes, such as the native humanistic tease, vital irony, spirit, cast of mind, and moral courage.

The character of survivance creates a sense of native presence over absence, nihility, and victimry. Survivance is a continuation of stories, not a mere reaction . . . survivance is greater than the right of a survivable name.

Nothing captures this notion of survivance more than the 2015 protests against oil giant Shell, whose enormous drilling rig was anchored for a time in Elliott Bay. Hundreds of “kayaktivists” took to the water to speak out against drilling and block aquatic access to the rig, but this was more than the usual Seattle environmentalist action. There, among the brightly colored plastic watercraft, were tribal canoes, leading the charge in defense of the earth. Such is survivance; such is the truth that Seattle’s Indigenous history is far from over.

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The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir

In The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir (published Fall 2016), Tlingit elder Ernestine Hayes explores the challenges facing Alaska Natives in their own land and recounts her own story of becoming a professor and a writer. This powerful follow-up to her previous memoir Blonde Indian asks: what happens once the exile returns home? The 2016-2018 Alaska State Writer Laureate will soon visit Washington State for a series of book events.

The following excerpt from the book’s prologue tells the story of Raven and the Box of Daylight:

At a time so long ago it can be measured neither by following the moon’s slow dance nor by tracing the sun’s brightened path, had moon and sun then been part of life, darkness was upon the face of the world. This circumstance made it difficult for human beings to conduct their ordinary lives. For example, how much more difficult to impress one another when decisions are made in the dark. How much more difficult to recognize an ally, how much more difficult to praise another’s significance, thereby increasing one’s own importance. How much more difficult to confront a shadow, to challenge the gloom. In an unbrightened world, light does not reveal itself. It must be stolen.

Please join us for these events:

Saturday, February 25, 5 – 7 p.m. // Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, “Sacred Breath: Writing & Storytelling” featuring Ernestine Hayes, Raven Heavy Runner, and Elissa Washuta, Seattle, WA, RSVP required

Sunday, February 26 at 4 p.m. // Village Books, Bellingham, WA

Monday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. // Third Place Books, Seward Park, Seattle, WA

Liberated. Reclaimed, some might say.

Raven has always and not always been around to be amused at the pitiful antics of self-important human beings, and no doubt he found amusement in the ill-composed conditions of a darkened world. But, although he may have discerned intrigue and opportunity, although he may have sensed illicit adventure, although he could well have been distracted by wonders that he alone could see, nevertheless Raven decided to do something about the darkness.

Raven knew about an old man who lived with his daughter in a well-fortified house in an isolated place at the top of a river far away. This old man, it was said, kept in his house precious bentwood boxes in which could be found answers to the darkness. It was said that this old man guarded these boxes even more carefully than he guarded his daughter. He allowed his daughter to venture outside the house for such purposes as gathering roots and collecting water, but never did he allow his precious boxes to be removed from his house or even to be opened, or even to be looked upon, or even to be named.

Continue reading

Remembering Pearl Harbor 75 years later: Excerpt from “Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War” by Noriko Kawamura

Wedemperorhirohito-kawamuranesday, December 7, 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that thrust the United States into World War II. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe will visit Pearl Harbor with US president Barack Obama later this month, making Abe the first Japanese leader to visit the site of the attack since 1941 (Washington Post). This excerpt from Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War by Noriko Kawamura explores the decision by Japan to go to war with the United States.

The final decision to commence war with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands was made at the imperial conference on December 1. The nearly two-hour-long meeting simply formalized the decision for war that had already been made a month earlier, and “His Majesty, ever the silent spectator of the scene,” as Robert Butow puts it, “left the chamber.”  It is not too difficult to document the emperor’s personal agony and hesitation to sanction the final decision for war. Deputy Grand Chamberlain Kanroji Osanaga recalled in his memoir,

The anguish he [the emperor] suffered on the eve of war with America was extreme. . . . At such times the emperor would be in his room alone. . . . But we could hear him pacing the floor, sometimes muttering to himself, and we knew that something had happened again, and was worrying him, but it was not our place to ask what. The pacing would continue for a long time, each step resounding painfully in our minds, so that we wished to stop up our ears.

On November 26, the emperor suggested to Tojo that the jushin attend the imperial conference to deliberate the war question, but the prime minister did not accept that idea.  Instead, the emperor invited eight jushin to a luncheon on November 29 and listened to their opinions for about an hour afterward. Although recognizing the grave situation Japan was facing in the wake of the failed negotiations with the United States, most of the jushin expressed doubts or hesitation about making a hasty decision for war, but without directly saying that it was not the right time to go to war.  If the emperor was looking for a strong voice against war from the jushin, he must have been disappointed. Later he recalled, “The opinions of those who were against war were abstract, but the cabinet argued for war by providing numbers to back up its case, and therefore, to my regret, I did not have power to curb the argument in favor of war.”

On November 30, the day before an imperial conference was to be convened to endorse a final war decision, the emperor briefly withheld his order to convene the meeting, after being told by his brother, Prince Takamatsu, that the navy still had lingering doubts about going to war with the United States. Neither the emperor nor his brother was able to get rid of worries that Japan might not be able to win the war. The emperor consulted with Kido, who in turn advised him to summon Navy Minister Shimada and Chief of the Naval General Staff Nagano and ask for their candid opinions.

According to Navy Minister Shimada’s November 30 diary entry, the two admirals had an audience with the emperor for twenty-five minutes in the evening. The emperor asked them, “The time is getting pressed: an arrow is about to leave a bow. Once an arrow is fired, it will become a long-drawnout war, but are you ready to carry it out as planned?” Admiral Nagano expressed the navy’s firm resolve to carry out an attack, upon receiving an imperial mandate (taimei ), and told the emperor, “The task force will arrive 1,800 ri  [4,392 miles] west of Oahu by tomorrow.” The emperor turned to Admiral Shimada and asked, “As navy minister, are you prepared in every aspect?” Shimada replied, “Both men and supplies are fully prepared and we are waiting for an imperial mandate.” The emperor continued, “What would happen if Germany stopped fighting in Europe?” The navy minister replied, “I do not think Germany is a truly reliable country. Even if Germany withdrew, we would not be affected.” At the end of the audience, “in order to make the emperor feel at ease,” in Shimada’s words, the navy chief and the navy minister guaranteed a successful attack on Pearl Harbor and the navy’s resolve to win the war at all cost. The navy minister observed that “the emperor appeared to be satisfied.”  After the audience, the emperor told Kido that Shimada and Nagano were “reasonably confident” about the war, and consequently he approved of holding an imperial conference the next day, as originally scheduled. This was the point of no return.

Thus, the role that Emperor Showa played in Japan’s decision to go to war with the United States could be compared to Max Weber’s discussion of the absolute monarch who is “impotent in face of the superior specialized knowledge of the bureaucracy.” The emperor was personally against war with the United States and exerted his influence to delay the war decision for one and a half months; but his influence was circumscribed within the nebulous triangular power relationship among court, government, and military. Emperor Hirohito eventually succumbed to the persistent pressure of the military bureaucracy and accepted the argument that war was inevitable and possibly winnable. But though Hirohito eventually sanctioned the government’s war decision, he was never free from the fear that his country might lose the war.

December 1 is World AIDS Day

December 1 is World AIDS Day. This excerpt of Indian Blood: HIV and Colonial Trauma in San Francisco’s Two-Spirit Community, by Andrew J. Jolivette, looks closely at the ways in which the Two-Spirit community has been impacted by HIV/AIDS and offers a path toward a better understanding of and by the Indigenous world.

Burning sage fills the room at the Native American AIDS Project in San Francisco with pungent smoke. It’s a cold winter day when I begin my first focus group with gay, Two-Spirit, and transgender American Indians who also identify as mixed-race. As each participant enters the room, I introduce myself and explain that the goal of this project is to understand how we can reduce rates of HIV/AIDS infection in American Indian and Indigenous communities. I also suggest that this is a story about healing, not about sickness. This is, I tell them, a story that will produce meaningful interventions for other American Indian people in San Francisco and across the United States.

As prayers are offered for the office space to become ceremonial and safe, I can see the members of the group begin to stand closer together. One participant, an older man in his fifties, speaks first. His tone, as he tells of his transition from the reservation in Nevada to urban life in San Francisco, is one of authority. He describes unbelievable trauma and yet there is hope in his message. He recalls a time when San Francisco was a beacon for gay, Two-Spirit, and transgender Natives, but explains that there has since been a decline in leadership within the community. Other participants are nodding in agreement. A transgender participant in her early forties suggests that the only way a community can heal is if it remains a community. I hear the relevance of this insight to HIV prevention efforts: focusing on behavioral change at the individual level causes a greater degree of stigmatization and isolation, which in turn increase harmful behaviors and lead to higher HIV transmission risk. Continue reading

Excerpt: Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West

This National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we wanted to share a selection from Erasmo Gamboa’s book Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West, for a close-up look at the contributions of Hispanic and Latina/o Americans to the United States. The bracero program is better known for its contributions to agriculture, but there was another industry that benefited from bracero labor—the railroad. Over three hundred thousand Mexican laborers did unskilled “pick and shovel” work in isolated places to maintain the railroad tracks during World War II. While the men, who came to the United States as braceros, dealt with onerous regulations, indifferent or racist supervisors, unsuitable living conditions, and an unfamiliar culture and environment, the women they left behind also had their share of struggles. These women—wives, mothers, and sisters—had to navigate bureaucracies in the railroad companies and in both the Mexican and U.S. governments to advocate for themselves and the braceros.

Most historians have overlooked the manner in which women in México acted on behalf of their loved ones working temporarily in the United States. Unlike the case of Bahamian and Newfoundlander women and children who were permitted to accompany contracted workers to the U.S., the War Manpower Commission (WMC) never considered allowing Mexican spouses or female members to accompany the braceros.[1] Brothers and sons, however, did serve as braceros, and in some instances they were assigned to work together.[2] The role of women in México in support of the braceros and the war deserves to be highlighted.

From the start of the bracero railroad program in México City, the WMC made note of the scores of women eagerly volunteering with the hope of joining the labor force soon leaving for the United States.[3] They were not attempting to take advantage of the opportunity for employment, as that opportunity rested with men, but they stepped forward wanting to do their part in the war effort. This level of gender consciousness prevailed in México stretching back before the Revolution of 1910, the Cristero Wars, and through the Great Depression of the 1930s. During the Depression, women organized the Frente Único Pro Derechos de la Mujer to represent the economic and political concerns of working-, middle-, and upper-class women in México. With the outbreak of World War II, the Frente Único Pro Derechos de la Mujer became the Coordinating Committee of Women in Defense of the Fatherland (Comité Coordinador Femenino para la Defensa de la Patria).[4] The role of women in national defense stretched far beyond this one organization. The Central Committee for the Civil Defense of México City and the Defense League of Women organized women to come to the defense of the city during the war. Nurses volunteered to act as first responders in case of Japanese or German attacks, while other women trained to enforce emergency blackouts, manning search lights in case of aerial attacks. Women, as they did in the United States during the way, prepared to respond to any wartime emergency and do their part in the overall national war effort.[5] Continue reading

Excerpt: Onnagata: A Labyrinth of Gendering in Kabuki Theater

For a close-up look at transgender expression in another time and place, this Pride Month we wanted to share a selection from Maki Isaka’s book Onnagata: A Labyrinth of Gendering in Kabuki Theater. Onnagata, usually male actors who perform the roles of women, have been an important aspect of kabuki since its beginnings in 17th-century Japan. Isaka examines how the onnagata‘s theatrical gender “impersonation” has shaped the concept and mechanisms of femininity and gender construction in Japan. The implications of this study go well beyond the realm of theater and East Asia, informing theory about gender more broadly.

—Lorri Hagman, Executive Editor

Quatercentenary kabuki theater in Japan is a “queer” theater. That is not so much to say that kabuki is an all-male theater, in which male actors play women’s roles, as to note how radically this art form has altered the connotations of the word “kabuki.” Just as with the word “queer,” the implication of which has changed fundamentally over the years, the meanings of the word “kabuki”—nominalized from a verb, kabuku (to lean; to act and/or dress in a peculiar and queer manner)—have transformed dramatically. Not only did it shift from a generic word (that which is eccentric, deviant, queer, and the like) to a proper noun (this theater), but its connotations also altered tremendously from something negative to something positive. That is, kabuki theater was born as a kabuki thing—merely another stray entertainment among many, which was considered akin to prostitution—and ended up proudly styling itself the kabuki theater. With a checkered past marked by bans, shutdowns, exile, and even capital punishment for the parties concerned, kabuki—once a theater of rebellion for the common people—is now one of four classical genres of Japanese theater that the nation proudly presents to the world, along with noh (a medieval Buddhist theater a few centuries older than kabuki), kyōgen (a theater of mime and speech that accompanies noh), and bunraku (a puppet theater), all of which are all-male theater.

Continue reading

Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West

In Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West, historian Erasmo Gamboa shows us just how important Mexican workers were to the U.S. war effort during World War II. While most people associate braceros with farm work, Gamboa reveals a parallel story of Mexican workers being lured to grueling railroad work by major railroad companies and both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

With the majority of the U.S. labor force off fighting the war, Mexican workers were needed to quickly build railroad lines so that key supplies could be transported across the country for shipping to the frontlines. Though the bracero railroad program was sold to these workers as a noble cause—and they were promised suitable housing and fair pay—it quickly became clear that they were being exploited by all sides. If it wasn’t the railroad companies cheating them out of pay or making them live in inhumane conditions, it was the Mexican banks denying them access to the accounts that held their earnings; and of course there were always corrupt government officials on both sides who turned a blind eye to the workers’ complaints.

This particular excerpt details the squalor many braceros railroaders were forced to live in: pest-ridden boxcars in the middle of nowhere often without running water or electricity. The work was grueling and thankless but nonetheless crucial. This Cinco de Mayo, as we sip margaritas and eat endless baskets of chips and salsa, let us also not forget how Mexican workers helped us during one of our nation’s darkest hours, and how their hard work not only aided that war effort but also left us with an infrastructure that enabled our nation to develop as rapidly as it did throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

—Ranjit Arab, Senior Acquisitions Editor

Box cars represented the most degraded type of housing. Originally constructed to haul freight or passengers, but now well beyond their useful life, these wooden cars were converted by the railroads into makeshift living quarters. During the summer, when temperatures reached 90 degrees or more in many areas of the West, the old steel freight cars became unbearably hot. In the winter, when temperatures plummeted, the cars were excruciatingly cold. Being mobile, however, the box cars were practical. Companies could easily move the laborers from work site to work site or situate the cars somewhere as semipermanent quarters. Inside, a single wooden partition often divided the interior to lodge separate groups of workers or two or more nonbracero families per unit. Continue reading

The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl

In 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day in the United States—a celebration of the life and legacy of the important Chicano civil rights and labor leader. With the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) and Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conferences also in full swing this Cesar Chavez Day, it’s only fitting that we are sharing a preview of Sarah D. Wald‘s forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl (May 2016). Analyzing fiction, nonfiction, news coverage, activist literature, memoirs, and more from the Great Depression through the present, Wald’s book looks at how California farmlands have served as a popular symbol of American opportunity and natural abundance, and addresses what such cultural works tell us about who belongs in America, and in what ways they are allowed to belong. By bringing together ecocriticism and critical race theory, the book addresses an important gap in how we understand questions of citizenship, immigration, and environmental justice.

The excerpt below focuses on what Wald calls “the often-overlooked points of intersection between the UFW [United Farm Workers] and environmentalism.”

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl, by Sarah D. Wald:

Most environmental historians cite Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) as the modern environmental movement’s birth announcement. They distinguish mid-twentieth-century environmentalism from the conservationism and preservationism of the Progressive Era in large part through its concern for toxins and other forms of pollution. Many participants in the environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s expressed concern that human use of technology fundamentally threatened the circle of ecological life and imperiled humanity’s ability to sustain itself. Carson echoed these themes, linking the death of songbirds to the potential loss of human life. The popular concern for such issues congealed with the first Earth Day in April 1970. Organizers billed Earth Day as a national teach-in that included events at fifteen hundred colleges and ten thousand schools. As historian Adam Rome wrote, “The teach-ins collectively involved more people than the biggest civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s.” Millions participated.

Join for the launch event in Portland, Oregon hosted by Bark:

Sunday, May 15, 5:00-9:00 p.m. //
Bark, 351 NE 18th Ave., Portland, OR 97232

Pre-order books at 30% off using discount code WSH2275

The history of modern environmentalism is entangled with the remarkable story of the United Farm Workers, the first successful unionization effort for farmworkers. In 1962, the same year Carson published Silent Spring, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta resigned from the Community Service Organization to focus on organizing farmworkers, and Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). In 1965, the largely Filipino farmworkers union, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), began the famous grape strike, with Chavez’s organization voting to strike in solidarity. In 1966, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and AWOC merged into the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). On July 29, 1970, just three months after the first Earth Day, the United Farm Workers (UFW) achieved a major victory, signing 150 contracts with the major Delano grape growers, covering thirty thousand workers. The success was short-lived, as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters began undermining the UFW by signing “sweetheart” deals with the growers. This controversy led to a renewal of the strike and boycott throughout the 1970s. The UFW never again had as many unionized workers. Continue reading

The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City

Burke-PortlandBlackPanthersFrom Ferguson, Missouri to Flint, Michigan, African American communities across the nation continue to struggle for the same basic rights, protections, and social services demanded by the civil rights movement exactly a half century ago. In their timely new book, The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City, authors Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson Jeffries remind us of an earlier case of concerned citizens, in a similarly overlooked black community, who took matters into their own hands when they felt they weren’t being heard by local leaders. While most of us easily associate the Black Panthers with berets and bullet belts, Burke and Jeffries show us that the Portland branch, which was much smaller than its more infamous counterparts in the Bay area, was more concerned with taking care of neighborhood kids and opening a free health clinic for the community.

Though there definitely are stories of violence, angry protests, police brutality, and other more dramatic episodes in their book, the excerpt I’ve chosen focuses on the group’s early attempts (before it was an official Black Panther branch) to start a free breakfast program for kids in the Albina district. I chose this passage for several reasons. For starters, it’s a warm, “feel good” moment that demonstrates the Portland Panthers’ ability to build community, countering the stereotype that portrays them only as angry and combative. Instead, we see Kent Ford and other Portland Panthers working to secure food donations, and organizing early morning schedules for cooks and servers, actions that clearly take a great deal of planning and effort. Secondly, we see through the press coverage how the Portland branch challenged those very preconceived notions about the Black Panthers. Reporters came in expecting militant ideology and instead found pancakes and syrup.

Finally, I chose this particular excerpt because it also speaks to the vision of the Panthers. Providing free breakfast to school kids might seem like a minor thing, but, as they argued, the idea that everyone is entitled to a healthy diet is truly a revolutionary concept. These days that concept is known as the “food justice” movement, but, as the authors show, it was being fought for in Portland long before it had an official name. Though the Portland Black Panthers branch dissolved by the 1980s, its legacy lives on in the city through the various activist groups fighting for fair housing, living wages, environmental justice, and an end to police brutality, among other issues. By shining the spotlight on the little known Portland Black Panther branch, Burke and Jeffries show us how even the smallest group—in the unlikeliest of places—can affect major change by building up its community and relentlessly pushing back against the powers that be.

Ranjit Arab, Senior Editor

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City, by Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson Jeffries:

Even though they were not yet card-carrying members of the Black Panther Party, NCCF (National Committee to Combat Fascism) members in Portland worked diligently in the fall of 1969 to establish a free breakfast program for school kids. “The government had money to fight a war thousands and thousands of miles away . . . and send astronauts to the moon,” Kent Ford said, “but ensuring that kids received a well-balanced meal before heading off to school was not a priority . . . so the Panthers made it a priority.” In 1967, the US government spent a mere $600,000 on breakfast programs nationwide. But as more and more Panther branches started their own free breakfast programs, government-sponsored breakfast initiatives proliferated. By 1972, government-sponsored breakfast programs were feeding more than a million children of the approximately five million who qualified for such aid.

Doing the work of a Panther without being acknowledged as a Panther frustrated some of the Portland members. Their community survival initiatives, among other things, were indicative of the NCCF’s burning desire and commitment to be recognized as full-fledged Panthers. Becoming an official Panther came with a tremendous amount of responsibility, but to some it was not significantly different from what they had become accustomed to doing as members of the NCCF. Oscar Johnson remembers how he structured his days around Panther activities: “My work as a Panther was not all that different than what I was doing as a member of the NCCF. I worked nights, so I was the driver. I’d finish my shift and pick up kids who needed a ride to breakfast. Go home and sleep. We solicited cash and food from neighborhood businesses in the afternoon and attended political education classes at night. It felt good. . . . We were doing something. We had the respect of the community.” Drawing on a small but diverse group of young working-class and student activists, these African American men and women used a variety of networks and connections to build a robust breakfast program. The Portland NCCF made the announcement that it was going to start a free breakfast program at a community meeting. “From the outset, people were receptive to the program,” said Black Panther Patty (Hampton) Carter. Believing the program to be a worthwhile endeavor, Rev. Samuel L. Johnson, head pastor of the Highland United Church of Christ, offered his church as the venue for the program. The church, located at 4635 NE Ninth Ave, was ideal, as it was spacious, met building and health code inspections, and was in close proximity to Martin Luther King Elementary School, which was located at 4906 NE Sixth Avenue. One week into the 1969–70 school year, NCCF members distributed leaflets (outlining the schedule, goals, and objective of the free breakfast program) to various community groups and passed them out to kids as they walked to and from school. Ford remembered that “people were so supportive of the program. . . . Rev. Johnson didn’t charge us a dime . . . neither did the Wonder Bread company that gave us fifty loaves of bread each week, no questions asked . . . then there was this one nice lady who (within a month of starting the breakfast program) came in one day with seventy-five cartons of eggs. When I attempted to pay her for her trouble, she turned me down flat saying, ‘You guys are doing good work.’ ”

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Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement

Stars for FreedomEmilie Raymond’s Stars for Freedom turns our understanding of the civil rights movement on its head. Though popular narratives emphasize the movement’s grassroots origins, it’s equally important not to overlook the role that a handful of African American celebrities played in not only helping to fund the movement, but also in serving as ambassadors, liaisons, cheerleaders, and even foot soldiers for the  cause.

I’ve chosen to highlight this particular section from Emilie’s book because it covers a period exactly fifty years ago from this summer—a time that still resonates loudly with current events. Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act was passed; recently, however, the Supreme Court invalidated key parts of it. Similarly, exactly a half century ago this summer, rioting broke out in the Watts district of Los Angeles over police treatment of a black man; today, we see similar incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore as well as widespread outrage through the #BlackLivesMatter social movement.

Along with these similarities, what also stands out to me about the excerpt is Emilie’s ability to simultaneously view the movement from multiple levels:  we see comedian Dick Gregory on the streets of Watts risking life and limb with protesters; we see Harry Belafonte hustling behind the scenes writing letters and organizing last-minute benefits; and we see the grassroots Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) grappling with whether it had sold out by collaborating with glamorous celebrities. 

The result is an excerpt that, I think, demonstrates how deftly Emilie blends civil rights and entertainment histories—and it provides just a small glimpse of the exciting book she has written. I hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I enjoyed working with Emilie on this amazing book!

Ranjit Arab, senior acquisitions editor, UW Press

On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, and Dick Gregory commemorated the event at the Sumter County Courthouse lawn in Americus, Georgia, with a group of avid African American registrants. Surrounded by a cordon of white state troopers in white helmets who were dispatched to protect them, Gregory observed, “When everybody gets to voting, we are going to get us some black faces under those white helmets. And it ain’t going to be from no suntan neither.” He foretold of the dramatic effect voting rights would have on the daily lives of African Americans.

Only one week later, the comedian rushed to the Watts district in Los Angeles, where a race riot was threatening to destroy the city. Sparked by the arrest of a young black man for drunk driving, the altercation had grown into a widespread armed confrontation with the Los Angeles police and the National Guard. Wanting “to help in any way I could,” Gregory drove into the riot area near a housing project and was shocked by the “stark and horrible expression of raw violence.” He started to walk between law enforcement and the rioters when “the bullets started to fly.” When he was shot in the leg, Gregory rushed into the street, yelling “Alright goddamn, it. You shot me, now go home!” With a burning wound, Gregory was in disbelief that “after all the times I’d been arrested by red neck deputies in the past four years, here I was shot by a black man in California.” He charged forth, believing “somebody had to stop it.” On that street corner at least, the rioters retreated. Across town, Belafonte, already booked at the Greek Theater, continued to perform nightly when most other public venues were closed. Admittedly “apprehensive” about potential problems in an audience of five thousand, he also saw it “as a challenge” to show a capacity for unity in such dreadful circumstances. Belafonte even brought in youngsters from Watts to give them safe haven. The riot lasted six days and resulted in thirty-four deaths and $40 million in property damage. August 1965 foretold of the movement’s impending “crisis of victory” and of the stars’ varying roles in its progression.

Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sammy Davis, Jr. at the “Broadway Answers Selma” benefit show at the Majestic Theatre.

Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sammy Davis, Jr. at the “Broadway Answers Selma” benefit show at the Majestic Theatre.

For the time being, however, the leading civil rights organizations optimistically planned their futures, and celebrities were instrumental in their efforts. In March 1965, the New York [FOS Friends of SNCC] office held a workshop emphasizing their new fund-raiser of choice: the house party. Although such events were admittedly “small, exclusive receptions,” the group still called their efforts “a grassroots public relations program.” They instructed workshop attendees to ask themselves “Is the money there?” before planning a party. “Regardless of their goodwill, a constituency must be people of means or the funds realized will be commensurately small,” the literature explained. The program emphasized cultivating “prominent” and “wealthy” individuals, as well as members of the media, and highlighted obtaining artists for the parties. Another development from the conference included the creation of a contact information sheet (with addresses and phone numbers) for the artists willing to sponsor SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] events. This long-awaited list could be distributed among the FOS groups and made for more streamlined planning. It also reflected the importance of Selma to bringing more celebrities into the movement on a more permanent basis. The list included the regulars from the 1964 house parties, as well as those individuals, such as Tony Bennett and Shelley Winters, who had marched in Selma, and those, such as Alan Arkin and Eli Wallach, who had participated in Davis’s Broadway benefit. FOS groups went on to hold an unprecedented number of star-studded house parties in the coming months.

The successful house parties led to benefit concerts devoted to SNCC alone. With the help of Julie Belafonte and Diahann Carroll, the New York FOS organized an elegant black-tie dinner and dance at the New York Hilton Grand Ballroom on April 25, 1965, to benefit freedom schools and voter registration drives in the South. The program featured Harry Belafonte, Brando, Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr., Streisand, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. Tickets cost $100 per person, and a number of celebrities and wealthy New Yorkers sponsored entire tables at $1,000 each. SNCC netted an estimated $80,000 from the event, and held a similar dinner, again hosted by Julie Belafonte and Carroll, the following year.

The organization also succeeded at having more parties in Los Angeles. Brando headlined one party at a Hollywood home in June 1965. Poitier cohosted a SNCC fund-raiser with Belafonte, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory and Richard Burton, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, and Mike Nichols at a posh Beverly Hills discotheque in August. The event resembled a movie premiere. Such guests as the actors James Garner, Lauren Bacall, and Lee Marvin, and the filmmakers Stanley Kramer, Arthur Penn, and Robert Blumofe arrived wearing tuxedoes, long gowns, and lavish jewelry. The event was held only a few days after the Watts riot, and Poitier used it to plead for funds, arguing the disturbances were “only a symptom of the underlying social diseases eating away at the fabric of society.” The stars shouted their pledges, challenging one another until they reached $50,000. The party was written up in the New York Times for the “surprising number of Hollywood luminaries” willing to publicly support the “most radical and controversial of all the major civil rights organizations.”

Since the parties targeted only a select few, “for the balance of the community,” SNCC used “broadside direct mail appeals for money,” but it employed celebrities for this task as well. Belafonte penned a series of letters in the spring and summer of 1966, alerting recipients of the continued impoverished and terrorized conditions of the rural South and pleading for funds. Ultimately, the organization raised $637,736 in 1965, its highest income to date, and double what it had raised in 1963 before house parties and close collaboration with celebrities became routine.

Despite this impressive fund-raising record, SNCC did not always manage its celebrity supporters effectively. This largely stemmed from a lack of organization outside of the New York office. FOS groups failed to coordinate with the New York staff members, and wealthy supporters complained of being inundated with requests for parties and benefits. Betty Garman, a fund-raiser in the New York office, admitted, “I don’t know they are sending letters off and thus can’t explain that this is not the way to obtain talent for concerts, etc.” She expressed confidence only in the Bay Area (San Francisco), Boston, and New York groups as being “competent” to handle major events; Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington was “where smaller events could be planned.” A Philadelphia FOS volunteer, however, complained, “We cannot understand how it is that New York can easily have a dozen top stars where not one can be available for Philadelphia.” She reported that they had started plans for parties, “but on one condition. We must have top name stars like Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., [opera star] Leontyne Rice, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston” or “big fund raising in Philly is a dead issue.” Meanwhile, a report on fund-raising at the Baltimore FOS office expressed disappointment that despite its proximity to Washington and its potential to obtain “big-name people,” the full-time staffer there “somehow . . . does not follow up.”

Moreover, SNCC bungled some lucrative opportunities. A celebrity billiard tournament to be chaired by James Garner, cochaired by Steve Allen, Milton Berle, and Sammy Davis, Jr., and held in Los Angeles in May 1966 had to be aborted within a week of the event due to disorganization and friction among the Los Angeles FOS activists. One embarrassed SNCC organizer admitted, “I feel very badly about this because I have had contact with all these stars in the past and as you can understand, it can leave a feeling of ill-will.” The event would have brought in a number Hollywood’s white stars, such as James Coburn and Dennis Hopper, and rising black entertainers such as Bill Cosby and Ivan Dixon, who were rather new to the movement, as well as many others who had done little civil rights work since the Prop 14 campaign. Fifty-seven celebrity participants had to be notified of the cancellation. SNCC likewise failed to follow through on a benefit concert with Frank Sinatra and benefit screenings of the short film Ivanhoe Donaldson (1964) about one of its own activists. The film’s distributor offered to screen previews in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, but after seeing little follow-through, complained about “the lack of any action at SNCC.” These lapses resulted largely from SNCC’s unusual makeup as an organization without a membership or a traditional hierarchical structure.

They also perhaps reflected a growing discomfort within SNCC about its connection to wealthy liberals. In a Northern staff meeting in 1965, several activists raised concerns that SNCC was becoming “elitist” due in part to its income stream. Indeed, after the fund-raiser in Beverly Hills, Belafonte acknowledged, “The irony of partying at a discotheque was not lost on anyone.” Stokely Carmichael became SNCC chair that same year. He was openly critical of nonviolence, and Belafonte felt Carmichael and his cohorts had begun to view him as “part of the establishment,” which in the 1960s was tantamount to treason. James Forman denied that guilt-ridden liberals constituted SNCC’s support. “I think they are sophisticated people who understand the importance of what we are doing,” he asserted. “These are people who have been red-baited, who pulled out of politics in the late ’40s, and have been waiting for a new generation of political activists.” He cited Belafonte as an example, saying, “Harry Belafonte, who is wealthy, is more radical than anyone in SNCC. He really understands the social forces involved.” Longtime activist Bob Zellner said, “Most SNCC folks were grateful for all political and financial help from whatever the source.” Betty Garman, another SNCC activist engaged in fund-raising, concurred, saying that the fund-raisers were “helping us to tap resources we could never reach ourselves because of who we are and how we work. On the other hand,” she continued, “there is some concern that the people who give wouldn’t give to us if they knew more about who we are and how we work.”

SNCC attempted to deal with these contradictions and critiques. Under pressure from New York FOS volunteers to hire a salaried professional fund-raiser, Forman repeatedly refused, saying “that would destroy the philosophy of the organization.” When those at the winter 1965 fund-raising conference continued to insist on such a position, Forman took on the responsibilities, but not a pay increase, himself. Meanwhile, Betty Garman encouraged FOS offices to reach out to “all sections of a community” in broader programs. She challenged the advice pushed at the fund-raising conference in terms of pursuing elite donors. Acknowledging that “house parties work,” she also insisted “they work on all levels of a community. Some people think of a house party as a way to raise BIG money—which means a fancy house and a star and expensive food and free drinks and NAME people. But there is no reason to feel,” she continued, “that a house party cannot be successful if it raises $50 or $100 or $200,” as long as SNCC held many such parties. Thus, SNCC could “involve people,” meaning a broad cross-section of average folks. Others in the organization expressed concern that if students wanted to begin direct action in the urban North, they could well find themselves in conflict with the very liberals that supported the Southern projects. This anxiety led SNCC activists to brainstorm how to reach more blacks in Northern ghettoes and in the South, and, ironically given SNCC’s suspicion of the NAACP, the black middle class. This debate would come to naught later in the decade due to radical policy changes within SNCC, but it foreshadowed a growing critique of liberal celebrity activism and its paradoxes.