A witness to the takeover of the US embassy during the Iranian Revolution (an interview with former political officer Michael Metrinko)

On November 4, 1979, amid the chaos of the Iranian revolution, a huge crowd of Iranian militants and students stormed the US embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran and took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage. One of those diplomats who was taken hostage was a young political officer by the name of Michael Metrinko. For 444 days, he and the other 51 hostages were held against their will by the Iranian regime, who sought to profit from the hostage takeover by demanding that the United States hand over the exiled Iranian Shah in return for the hostages, something the US President Jimmy Carter refused to do. Finally, on January 20, 1981, after over a year in captivity and a failed rescue attempt by the US, the 52 hostages were released into American hands. Forty years later the incident still casts a large shadow over US-Iranian relations, which continues to be strained.

Iran hostage crisis - Wikipedia

Militants and students storm the embassy on November 4, 1979.

In order to understand why the revolution occurred, one has to go back to the year 1953. It was at this time that the Iranian government under Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh was removed from power in a coup orchestrated by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United Kingdom’s M16 (foreign intelligence branch). In Mossadegh’s place, the US helped put back into power Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah. While the Shah had been on the throne since 1941, his political powers increased considerably after the events of 1953. Under the Pahlavi Dynasty (1926-1979), Iran witnessed huge economic and modernization programs. In one of the most famous efforts to bring about political and economic reform, known as the “White Revolution,” the Shah implemented policies that sought to significantly reduce the powers of major landlords. He also gave women the right to vote in elections, a step that angered the conservative religious clerical establishment.

To his critics, the Shah’s regime was not a modernizing force but a very repressive political model. On the Shah’s watch, thousands of Iranians were arrested, tortured, and sometimes even executed. “I had students who had been in jail because they were opposed to the Shah. I had one student who was executed, wonderful student, after being tortured by the Shah’s secret police”, Michael recalled.

By the late 1970s, dissatisfaction with the Shah’s regime had reached a boiling point. Thousands of Iranians from all walks of life came out to protest against the Iranian monarchy. “There was a lot of demonstrations here and there. Anyone who could not see the revolution coming had to be blind, death, dumb, and incredibly stupid. You could sense it. You could feel it. You could hear about it” Michael stated. In January 1979, after much thought, the Shah, who was sick with cancer, boarded a plane and left Iran for the last time into exile. “It was time for him to go. He didn’t understand that”. Shortly after his departure, a man by the name of Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile and became the leader of what was now a full-on revolution.[1]

As the United States had been a major supporter of the Shah’s rule, there was a lot of anti-American sentiment expressed among the Iranian revolutionaries. Outside the US embassy in Tehran, there were often large protests against the US government by Iranian militants and students from the nearby university. On the morning of November 4, 1979, there was what seemed to be another usual protest by militants and students. Then, suddenly, members of the large crowd began to scale the embassy walls and some managed to get the embassy gate open. A sea of people began to storm the main embassy building itself within the compound. “I had gotten there early. I was sitting there doing some paperwork with my back turned to the window. I heard this rumbling noise start. I eventually went to the window to check it out and saw a huge crowd of people storming the gates. That’s when the alarms went off. We just sat there and waited.”[2]

The militants and students quickly took control of the embassy grounds and seized 52 American diplomats and citizens hostages. For over a year the hostages, Michael included, were held in tight conditions. “Spent ten months in solitary confinement. I was routinely beaten. I slept on bare concrete floors a lot of the time. I was often handcuffed. I sat in a room in solitary with a guy sitting ten feet away pointing a gun at me. I was never allowed to write a letter. My parents did not know I was alive until December 1980. Nor did the State Department. One of the guards smuggled a letter out for me” Michael recalled. Many of the hostages were interrogated and beaten. Some were forced into mock executions, where the prisoners were lined up against a wall where they thought they would be killed.[3]

Michael Metrinko, political officer, held hostage in Iran, 1981 vintage press photo print - Historic Images

Michael Metrinko as a foreign service officer in the United States State Department

In April 1980, the United States military, with the go ahead from US President Jimmy Carter, launched Operation Eagle Claw, a military attempt at rescuing the hostages from Tehran and returning them to the US. A group of US military helicopters and transport aircraft were sent into the Iranian desert from the USS Nimitz and the USS Coral Sea. Unfortunately, as the operation was underway, the aircraft encountered a large sandstorm that forced the group to land. Upon landing, it was discovered that one of the helicopters had a damaged rotor blade and was subsequently abandoned. To make matters worse, a bus carrying a group of civilians arrived in the area and had to be captured and guarded by members of the US Delta Force team that was part of the operation.[4]

Seeing that the operation seemed to be going nowhere, President Jimmy Carter ordered the team to abort the mission and return back to base. As the aircraft took off, one of the transport planes collided with one of the helicopters, bursting into a massive fireball that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 8 crew members. Operation Eagle Claw had resulted in a total failure and a large propaganda victory for Khomeini, who claimed that God had protected Iran by sending in the sandstorm to stop the US operation. President Carter was forced to take full responsibility for the failed mission, and it greatly hurt his reelection chances in 1980, which were already not that great to begin with thanks to domestic economic troubles.[5]

In September 1980, Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and soon the two countries were deadlocked into a full-blown war with warfare tactics not seen since the First World War. It was around this time that other countries began putting more and more pressure on Iran to release the hostages. Also, due to the death of the Shah back in July of that year, the Iranians now had little use of the hostages as a bargaining chip. Furthermore, with the war with Iraq raging on, Iran was in desperate need for military supplies. Since Iran had mostly American-made arms and equipment, Iran was forced to go to the US for extra supplies. As a result, Iran and the United States with the assistance of Algeria, began to negotiate for the release of the hostages.[6]

On January 20, 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan had been inaugurated as President, the hostages were finally released after 444 days in captivity. “Free at last. Felt good. I was glad to be out. I don’t think I had any ill effects. I got into very good physical condition while I was in my cell” Michael stated. Forty-two years later and relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to be nearly nonexistent as Iran considers the US to be the “Great Satan” and still celebrates the takeover of the US embassy 42 years later. When asked if he regretted anything, Michael simply replied, “Yeah that I didn’t stay home that morning,” as he laughs out loud.

The Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981 was and continues to be an important historic event. To this day, this major diplomatic incident shapes American public and government opinions of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Maybe one day the two countries can put the bad blood behind them and normalize relations. Until that time, however, the two will remain at odds and seek ways to challenge and undermine the interests of the other.[7]

 

Interview subject: Michael J. Metrinko, age 75, retired US Political Officer who worked in the US State Department during the late 1970s and was taken hostage during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979

-Audio recording with Michael Metrinko, Carlisle, PA, April 26, 2021

Q. Could you describe your position as a political officer?

A. I had served in the Peace Corps in Iran for three years from 1970 to 1973. I went back in 1977 and it was my third assignment. First in Turkey for two years and then in Syria. I was initially assigned to the visa section in the embassy. Then a few months later I was asked to go up to Tabriz and take over as principle officer at the American consulate in Tabriz. I was in the consulate there until February 1979. Because of conditions and an attack on the consulate in Tabriz I was brought back to Tehran and given an assignment in the political section. I was one of the few people that stayed on from the old staff that had been there prior to the revolution. I stayed on because I could speak Farsi and I had a lot of contacts within the Iranian government. The embassy wanted me to stay on because I was one of the few people that could speak Farsi and so I became one of the new officers in the new political section. Later in 1979 I was in the political section reporting officer responsible for a wide variety of subjects when the event occurred on November 4th 1979 the attack on the embassy, which resulted in the taking of hostages.

Q. Did you sense that a revolution was on the horizon? Why, or why not?

A. Of course. It was obvious to anyone who wasn’t a total idiot. I had students who had been in jail because they were opposed to the Shah. I had one student who was executed, wonderful student, after being tortured by the Shah’s secret police. All I ever heard from Iranian friends was their dissatisfaction with the Shah’s government. When I went back in 1977 I was getting this all the time. It was talked about quite openly by a lot of Iranians. There was a lot of demonstrations here and there. Anyone who could not see the revolution coming had to be blind, death, dumb, and incredibly stupid. You could sense it. You could feel it. You could hear about it.

Q. What did you think of the Shah, as a man and as a ruler?

A. I have a prejudice against dictators. I have a prejudice against people who think that God himself has bestowed a kingdom upon them and ignore the laws and ignore morality and rule it as if it is a family business. He was a fairly weak ruler. He’s family was fairly corrupt. He was basically incapable to have the ability to rule. He had been there since the 1940s. It was time for him to go. He didn’t understand that. Maybe a nice guy to his family. Shallow, vain, thought he was great when he wasn’t.

Q. How did you feel about the revolution of 1979?

A. It was necessary because the Shah wasn’t going to leave otherwise and his system wasn’t going to change otherwise. Initially it gave promise. Almost immediately it started breaking its promises.

Q. How did you end up at the embassy that morning?

A. My standard work day was I would be out every night. I had a vast network of friends. I was out almost every night with Iranian friends. There was martial law so often I would not come back until early in the morning. That meant that I could not get to the embassy at 8 o’clock in the morning to start work because I had gotten back home at maybe 5, 6 in the morning. The day before all this I had a call from a good friend. He said that he had to talk to me the next day around 10 o’clock or so. I said I couldn’t do it. He said his brother and him were going to leave Tehran and meet with Yasser Arafat. I said sure I’ll be there. They never showed up.

Q. Could you describe the morning of the takeover?

A. I had gotten there early. I was sitting there doing some paper work with my back turned to the window. I heard this rumbling noise start. I eventually went to the window to check it out and saw a huge crowd of people storming the gates. Thats when the alarms went off. We just sat there and waited.

Q. Were you surprised when they stormed the embassy?

A. No. I was highly annoyed. What surprised everyone was how long it was going to take. We thought that even if we were attacked it would be over in a few hours and then we could go back to some degree of normalcy.

Q. How did you feel when you were taken hostage?

A. Pissed. Royally pissed. Annoyed because it messed up the rest of my day. As it gradually sank in that this would not be over anytime soon I became more and more angry. I could not feel outraged, however.

Q. Could you describe your captors?

A. Combination of bad educations. They knew very little about the real world outside of Iran. Many of them were not students. Some had actually studied in America. They were aided and abetted by people around Khomeini.

Q. How were you treated as a hostage?

A. Spent ten months in solitary confinement. I was routinely beaten. I slept on bare concrete floors a lot of the time. I was often handcuffed. I sat in a room in solitary with a guy sitting ten feet away pointing a gun at me. I was never allowed to write a letter. My parents did not know I was alive until December 1980. Nor did the State Department. One of the guards smuggled a letter out for me.

Q. Did you think you would be rescued by the US?

A. I never thought I would be. You know when I was going through Junior officer training. During orientation we had a long lecture. A guy told us that if we were kidnapped while you are a diplomat they would not pay a ransom. It was an effective policy.

Q. How did you feel once you were finally freed on Jan 20, 1981?

A. Free at last. Felt good. I was glad to be out. I don’t think I had any ill effects. I got into very good physical condition while I was in my cell.

Q. When you look back at this event is there anything that you regret?

A. Yeah that I didn’t stay home that morning hahaha.

Q. Do you think that the Iranian revolutionaries intended to drag this event to 444 days?

A. No. They continued to use this to stay in power.

 

Bibliography

[1] FARBER, DAVID. “TAKEOVER IN TEHRAN.” In Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam, 73-101. PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press, 2005. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/j.ctt7sts9.7.

[2] FARBER, DAVID. “444 DAYS.” In Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam, 137-80. PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press, 2005. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/j.ctt7sts9.9.

[3] Smith, Steve. “Policy Preferences and Bureaucratic Position: The Case of the American Hostage Rescue Mission.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 61, no. 1 (1984): 9-25. doi:10.2307/2619777.

[4] McDermott, Rose. “Prospect Theory in International Relations: The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission.” Political Psychology 13, no. 2 (1992): 237-63. doi:10.2307/3791680.

[5] Smith, Steve. “Groupthink and the Hostage Rescue Mission.” British Journal of Political Science 15, no. 1 (1985): 117-23. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/193750.

[6] Nuechterlein, Donald E. “Iran Hostage Crisis: The Changing Mood in America.” In A Cold War Odyssey, 167-94. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/j.ctt130hzr1.12.

[7] Schachter, Oscar. “SELF-HELP IN INTERNATIONAL LAW: U.S. Action in the Iranian Hostages Crisis.” Journal of International Affairs 37, no. 2 (1984): 231-46. http://www.jstor.org.envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/stable/24356927.

 

A Snapshot of Dickinson in the 1960s: Zoom Interview with Ms. Judy Rogers

A Snapshot of Dickinson in the 1960s: Zoom Interview with Ms. Judy Rogers

By Amanda Sowah

       While the 1960s and 1970s reflected progressive change and great upheaval in American history, the impact of certain changes were not always felt by those going through those moments. As a 1965 Dickinson alum, Judy Rogers narrates her experience during her time at Dickinson. Through her narration, one comes to understand that the huge components that shape history are not always understood or experienced by those who lived in those time periods. The momentous events we can pinpoint throughout history may have been insignificant to those that lived in the era.

Ms. Rogers came to Dickinson in the year 1961. Already, there were changes that separated the sixties from the previous decade. One of those foreshadowing moments for Ms. Rogers that helped characterize the progressive laws that was enacted was the fact that her family “integrated” the community of East Orange, New Jersey in the early 1950s. The prevalence and easy access to home ownership was facilitated by the G.I Bill which made home mortgages and loans much easier to get. The G.I. Bill, also known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, provided educational resources, low mortgages, low interest loans and unemployment funds for war veterans.

“City of Richmond, Virginia and Environs,” National Archives (1937). https://catalog.archives.gov/id/85713737

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights of 1965 call into question the existing oppressional practices that needed to change. The American Yawp chapter reminds us that while this widespread financial boost from the G.I. Bill helped many American families, black Americans were sometimes excluded from this growth. Practices like red lining, created in the 1930s through the Home Owners Loan Cooperation (HOLC), were adopted into 1960 agencies like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Veteran Administration (VA). Red lining was the process in which neighborhood were color-coded on maps to show the demography, and in-turn the financial value. The lowest valued areas were colored red and were inhabited by communities of color, specifically black people. Ms. Roger’s experiences show that not all black veterans became a victim to these discriminatory practices. Her father was a recipient of the G.I. bill, and this allowed him to buy a house for his family in East Orange. While the Rogers were lucky, they were far from the quintessential 1950s family. Ms. Rogers remembers that her parents still had to work to be able to keep the family afloat. She explains: “What was different, I think for many black families, as opposed to the idealized- on TV show, was that they really needed two incomes in order to, you know, to make it.”[1]

Yet the Rogers family was better off than most. Ms. Rogers recalls that while her nuclear family was comfortable, her other relatives were struggling in other parts of New Jersey. As a child, she would recall seeing difficult circumstances surrounding her family that lived in the city of Nork, New Jersey, when she visited them. According to her, “They didn’t own their house, they were renting, and it was city life, life was very different. Although it was still a neighborhood. I also remember you know people who weren’t doing so well.”[2] The “people” that she refers to were not specifically familial relations but rather, community members she could tell were struggling to get by. By the 1950s, black individuals in the northern cities were much more common in northern suburbs. The presence of African Americans began in the 1920s during the movement known as the Great Migration. Before the move, 90% of African Americans lived in the south and by the 1970s, 47% of them lived in the North and the West.[3] They were fleeing from lynching practices, poverty, and constant racial oppression in the south. But the north did not provide better opportunities. There held the highest unemployment rates, experienced bad working conditions, and lived in horrible conditions.

The ideals of the second World War incensed African Americans to mobilize and advocate for equality. The economic downturn in the north and racial hierarchy enforced by Jim Crow Laws ushered in the Civil Rights Movement. It began with famous protests like the Montgomery Boycott in 1953. There was also the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision which ruled that segregation was illegal and required all states desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”[4] While this decision was momentous, it did not lay out a plan to ensure its enforcement, so it took several decades to have any effect. Additionally, the lynching of fourteen-year-old Emmet Till in 1955 and the failure of the Civil Rights Act in 1957 pushed the momentum of the movement.

After the Montgomery Bus Boycott, student and Christian organizations took up the mantle and began to make their demands known. Groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked together and individually to reiterate the social injustices faced by black Americans to the media. Leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcom X rose in prominence and in popularity. The Black Panther also gained notoriety and pulled together resources to provide for their communities and used armed self-defense to fight against police brutality.

“Mid-Winter Ball,” Microcosm (1964): 76-77. http://archives.dickinson.edu/microcosm/microcosm-yearbook-1963-64

Dickinson did not reflect the Civil Rights movement. Majority of the student body were not heavily concerned with outside matters. There a few like Judy Rogers who expressed their disdain for Dickinson’s social apathy. An example of this was when the student body hosted the Midwinter Ball on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Ms. Rogers fondly remembers that “Dickinson was very different. Students were very focused on sorority and fraternity life. In fact, when President Kennedy was assassinated, we were doing the Mid-winter Ball. The students decided not to cancel it. They went to the Ball and did not care.”[6] Ms. Rogers was not alone in her remarks as several students wrote to the editor of the Dickinsonian newsletter after the event complaining about the student body’s ambivalence. A student, Steward Glenn, admonished his fellow in the following statement: “it seems to me that we might be shallow people if we react this way.”[7] Two students agreed with Glenn and emphasized that the “ball was a symptom of a definite moral disease.”[8] The Ball did not reflect all of Dickinson but its existence attests to the communal values of the student body.

While the Ball did go on, Dickinson took some steps to commemorate the death of the president. Dean of the college in 1963, Samul Magill, cancelled classes on Monday to join the rest of the nation in mourning and on Tuesday and Wednesday morning as well to give students ample time to process the events that occurred. They felt it was too late to provide accommodations to the attendees of the Ball on such short notice.[9] Additionally, there was a memorial the day of the assassination to address the tragedy before the Ball. However, to students like Glenn and Ms. Rogers the most effective decision was to cancel the Ball.

The Ball confirmed for Ms. Rogers, the student’s detachment from political issues, and in turn, the fight for social justice and equality. Ms. Rogers explains that most of these students hailed form neighboring states like “Virginia and Maryland and Pennsylvania and small suburban communities that had a conservative leaning.”[10] The conservative leaning that Ms. Rogers refers to is the implicit racism that existed in the north. As mentioned earlier, racial practices by the FHA and the VA reinforced racial stereotypes and removed racial inequality from the purview of those it did not impact. Students absorbed these differences and did not really regard the protests in the south as a universal concern. Three female students wrote to the editor with the following words: “we at Dickinson are fortunate enough to know that although the President of the United States has been assassinated, there will always be someone to take care of us.”[11] Not only does this statement speak to their privilege, but it also speaks to how disconnected they are from the ongoing social movements. So, when the president is assassinated, they can grieve about the event in a chapel and then continue their planned events.

Pam White, “CORE Silently Picks Barber Shop To Gain Equality for Carlisle Negroes,” Dickinsonian, December 11, 1964, 31. https://www.flipsnack.com/cisproject/dickinsonian-1964-1965.html

There were some individuals on campus that were interested in the Civil Rights movement. They came together and formed a local chapter on the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), another student run organization that aimed to fight racism in local spaces and on national platforms. Ms. Rogers remembers that “Ten or fifteen of us who were interested in what was going on down south. We formed a CORE chapter, and we were practicing.”[12] CORE worked in the local community, working with landlords to ensure that they were following integration laws and focusing on small businesses like the Winkleman’s barbershop. While Ms. Rogers was part of starting the organization, she was overwhelmed and uncomfortable with what she had to deal with as a protestor. She explains: “I don’t want the white folks calling me names and whatnot. And I’m not in the cell.”[14]

The 1960s brought about a lot of upheaval. While Dickinson was struggling to appease its students and pay tits due respects to social changes, Judy Rogers was looking for ways to be a part of a movement that defined her future. She tried her best to bring about change to Carlisle and the Dickinson campus. In her freshman year, she was part of a lawsuit that desegregated the local Carlisle diner. Her narration was part of the Dickinson’s experience, but it was not reflective of the values of the student body.

[1] Judith Rogers (Dickinson alum) in discussion with Amanda Sowah, April 24, 2021.

[2] Judith Rogers (Dickinson alum) in discussion with Amanda Sowah, April 24, 2021.

[3] Smithsonian: Isabel Wilkerson. “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration,” Smithsonian Magazine, September, 2016, Accessed May 10, 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/long-lasting-legacy-great-migration-180960118/.

[4] “Documents Related to Brown v. Board of Education.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 10, 2021. https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/brown-v-board.

[5] Slonecker, Blake. “The Counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. 28 Jun. 2017; Accessed 6 May. 2021. https://oxfordre.com/americanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-392.

[6]Steward Glenn, “Shallow Reaction,” letter to the editor, Dickinsonian, December 13, 1963, 2.

[7] Marilyn Walz and Larry S. Butler, letter to the editor, “Shallow Reaction,” Dickinsonian, December 13, 1963, 2.

[8]  Samuel Magill, “Statement on College Decisions Following Assassination of President,” circa December 1963, RG 4/99 Records of the Dean of the College, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

[9] Judith Rogers (Dickinson alum) in discussion with Amanda Sowah, April 24, 2021.

[10] Sue Godwin, Dorothy Lohman, and Renie Hirche, letter to the editor, Dickinsonian, December 13, 1963, 2.

[11] Judith Rogers (Dickinson alum) in discussion with Amanda Sowah, April 24, 2021.

[12] Judith Rogers (Dickinson alum) in discussion with Amanda Sowah, April 24, 2021.

 

Student Interview with Judith Rogers on April 24, 2021

Transcript:

Amanda Sowah: How would you characterize your parents’ generation?

Judy Rogers: In my parents’ generation, we were working class. My parents were working class people. What was different. I think for many black families, as opposed to the idealized-on TV show-the father working and the mom at home taking care of things-they really needed two incomes in order to, you know, to make it so my mother always work. My father was a machinist and my mother worked for Westinghouse, those that put in the filaments and light bulbs. And you stayed at your job until you retire. It’s not like today where if you didn’t like your work, you just move from job to job. That’s quite common and it’s seen as a good way of climbing. But they [her parents] stayed with their employer forever. I think my mother was at Westinghouse for 37 years.

Amanda Sowah: I know you said you were a minority in your neighborhood. What was it like for the rest of the African American community?

Judy Rogers: East Orange was a suburb and everybody every black person who lived there was in the suburbs. Now I lived in Nork as a child and that was a city and so did my grandmother and relatives. I would go back and visit and spend weekends. It was very different. They didn’t own their house, they were renting, and it was city life; life was very different. It was still a neighborhood. I also remember people who weren’t doing so well. We lived next door to the Salvation Army and black people were not allowed to live in the Salvation Army. But my mother tells me that they could use a library.

Amanda Sowah: My question is that you graduated Dickinson in the height of the Civil Rights movement. How did you experience those difficult times at Dickinson? What was the Dickinson atmosphere?

Judith Rogers: Dickinson was very different. Students were very focused on sorority and fraternity life. In fact, when President Kennedy was assassinated, we were doing the Midwinter Ball. The students decided not to cancel it. They went to the ball and did not care. I was very upset. I was like, this is our president. They were not concerned with social and worldly matters. These students mostly came from, like, Virginia and Maryland and Pennsylvania and small suburban communities that had a conservative leaning. But a few of us reacted to the sit-ins going on in the South. And you know that I had worked to desegregate the restaurants in Carlisle. But there were ten or fifteen of us who were interested in what was going on down south. We formed a CORE chapter, and we were practicing. I don’t even know why we were doing it. It seems kind of silly, but we were sort of practicing the techniques. And then I found I didn’t want the white folks calling me names and whatnot. And I’m not in the cell.

Amanda Sowah: Moving on to the seventies, the Vietnam War was interesting because there was a lot of protesting about it, and from your point of view, like, how would you describe the movement against it? There was also a lot of commotion about the Equal Rights Amendment. In contrast to your college years, how did you react to

Judy Rogers: Yeah, I protested the Vietnam War and I was anti-war. The ERA came after the blacks protested and, and got some civil rights, then other groups began to demand fights as well. So, the ERA movement were women were saying listen we have rights, and they were burning their bras. But the basis of that was the bloodshed and that went on with the Civil Rights Movement. I was also into Angela Davis when they were looking for her. And I went to lots and lots of Angela Davis protests. And when I was in grad school she was in the women’s prison, which was in the village in New York. I went to NYU, and so you know sometimes we will be protesting outside the jail to free her. Also, the Black Panthers had been formed as well. In the 70s, I had become a social worker and I went on lots of protest for Welfare Rights.

Amanda Sowah: I know you said you mentioned that Angela Davis and also other movements are happening at a time. But do you what do you think was the most impactful for you? Movements like the ERA were popping up, did you feel included?

Judy Rogers: I didn’t really feel like a part of that, because it was really about white women and the middle-class movement, they weren’t really inclusive. I felt that I had issues as a woman, but I thought I had bigger issues as a black person. So it was, you know, I really wasn’t part of that. But also, it was more of what was going on in the black community like Angela Davis and Black Panthers. And it was the moment I became a mother. In the middle of the 70s. And that, that sort of took you know a lot of my energy. The thing that I guess I did get involved in was the abortion rights part of it. Women needed to be able to control their bodies. It is our conversation today too; it’s just a lot of things we thought we conquered in the civil rights in the era keep coming up. It’s a sad lesson that nothing is permanent, and you can’t let up.

 

 

Living the Change: Illustrating the Importance of Title IX with Paul Richards

Mary Washington Swim Team in 1988. Richards pictured in top right.

“Title IX has never been about reducing opportunities for men. Title IX is simply about creating and maintaining opportunities for women.” [1] Through his participation in the local summer league as a child, Paul Richards discovered a passion for the sport of swimming. Joining the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania men’s swim team in 1972, Richards quickly found success in the pool, going on to break the school records in the 200 individual medley and 400 freestyle relay. [2] Crafting dedication to the sport, Richards quickly turned his passion into a coaching career spanning more than four decades. Leading teams at Hartwick College, Mary Washington College, and eventually Dickinson College, Richards is celebrated for his humble demeanor, competitive coaching style, and ability to create meaningful interpersonal relationships. Retiring from his coaching position last year, Richards persisted through times of change. As he had witnessed, the efforts made to overcome prejudice based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion helped to define the twentieth century. [3] Soulful in his words, Richards experienced the introduction, the reaction, and the consequences of Title IX on the athletic progression of women in collegiate competitive swimming. His anecdotal recollections illustrate the ways in which Title IX created a platform for women in collegiate sports that helped to dismantle the negative societal expectations of women, further advancing the fight against gender inequality. The devotion to which the American Yawp authors analyze the civil rights advancements, focusing on the help of organizational-led efforts, throughout the 20th century are in-depth and written with care. However, the text lacked an explanation of the societal and cultural shifts generated through the passing of Title IX. Title IX provided American citizens with the appropriate tools needed to combat gender inequality in our country.

Coined the Godmother of Title IX, Bernice Sandler was told that she “came on too strong for a woman” [4] when interviewing as a new hire in 1969. Overcome with frustration, she joined the efforts of the Women’s Equity Action League [5] to continue to fight towards gender equality. Title IX was conceived in 1972 in part by the education amendment under the federal civil rights act following the persistence of Ms. Sandler. Designed to eradicate the gender-based dissimilarities of any program receiving government funding, Title IX states that  “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” [6] Signed under the presidency of Richard Nixon, Title IX is responsible for the creation of societal paradigmatic shifts that allowed for the forceful redefining of female expectations, magnified through athletic competition. [7] Following the commencement of Title IX, Coach Richards recollects how it was “ it was a slow cultural change of what we thought was safe for women to do and what was culturally acceptable.” [8] The interview with Paul Richards helps to illustrate the ways in which Title IX has created groundbreaking advancements for the equality of women in which no legislature has mimicked before. 

Snapshot of a headline published in the New York Times in 1974. Courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspaper.

“No. I don’t actually. I think people were scared, and that was the unfortunate part,” [9] Richards responded when asked if Title IX was well received. According to the American Yawp authors, “women were active in both the civil rights movement and the labor movement, but their increasing awareness of gender inequality did not find a receptive audience among male leaders in those movements.” [10] Undeniably, the initial response to the passing of the bill brought fear and discomfort. Richards remembers how there was a misconception that women did not have the physical capabilities to successfully participate in collegiate sports. Used as reasoning to continue the exclusion of women in college athletics, Richards humbly recollected that “there are all kinds of misconceptions… it all comes back to culture where they say ‘I can’t push the women as hard as I push the men.’ People were scared, and that was the unfortunate part.” [11] However, such sentiment did not overwhelm the immediate action taken towards change. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, less than thirty thousand women participated in college athletics prior to Title IX. [12] Shortly after in 1980, more than one hundred twenty-five thousand women were in participation. [13] The American Yawp attributes the societal progress to the success through “the formation of consciousness-raising groups” [14] that “crafted networks of women from which activists could mobilize support for protests” [15] in chapter 27, mimicking the recollections of Richards.  

Previous organizations, while also fueled through inequality-driven pressures, set the stage for the emerging societal nonconformists behind Title IX. Prior to the passing of the bill, a lack of women sponsorships allowed for the creation of organizations such as the AIAW, Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, [16] Richards explains. The AIAW was an institution “ that was created to develop and administer championship-style opportunities for women in collegiate competition.” [17] Their presence communicated and revealed to collegiate institutions the competence and dedication women exhibited to sports. While impactful, the AIAW lacked the power to spotlight and acknowledge women’s athletics. Jill Sterkel, a devoted member of the AIAW, strove for excellence in the pool. [18] As she acted as an example of a strong, victorious, and hard-working woman in collegiate swimming, her talents have not dwindled under the direction of the AIAW. However, the acknowledgment of her athletic abilities was unfortunately undermined. 

Hartwick College Women’s Relay Team, under the coaching of Paul Richards, at the second women’s NCAA sponsored championship in1983.

Through the momentum gained in the fight for equality, the passing of Title IX allowed for the NCAA to begin representing women in 1981. [19] While the American Yawp claims that “no longer would women allow society to blame the “problem that has no name” on a loss of femininity, too much education, or too much female independence,” [20] they neglect to discuss how the social advancements were directed through the formation of Title IX. While coaching the second-ever NCAA women-sponsored event, Richards remembers how “when the NCAA took over most of women’s sports, and started adding them as championship events…it was good for women’s sport because it gave them a bigger platform..” [21] An athletic establishment singularity represented by men for more than one hundred years, the NCAA’s decision to sponsor women’s sport illustrated that ever-so-changing societal climate. 

Fear and discomfort transformed into understanding and unity. The success of women in athletics, magnified through their acceptance in the NCAA, catalyzed furthering gender equality efforts. After winning the national championship in 50 free, Jill Sterkel’s acceptance into the NCAA propelled her to go on and successfully compete in both the 1984 and 1988 summer Olympics. [22] The pressures created through the passing of Title IX helped to advance the involvement of women in larger, more powerful athletic organizations. Richards humbly recollected that “Title IX has helped build community. Although some think it may be divisive, I think when we lift each other up, all others in the community are lifted up as well. We instill a sense of responsibility for each other.” [23] Interestingly, Title IX “also created employment opportunities and professional career paths for women that may not have been there previously,” Richards explains. While the  initial impact of Title IX was focused on athletics, the effect of the legislation has evolved to beneficially impact women in both the workforce and education system, illustrating the platform it had created on American society; a platform that was built on equality and integrity. 

Richard’s progression throughout his coaching career ran linear with the progression of societal gender advancements. Title IX created the tools needed to lay the foundational platform needed for the recognition of women. Today, Dickinson has felt the presence of the adoption of Title IX as Coach Katie Wingert McArdle, Richards professors, represents female leadership in athletic competition. Breaking down stereotypes based on gender creates a free-thinking, adaptable society. As Richards illustrates, a culture that promotes gender equality is a culture that can progress. Without the cultural shift originating from the adoption of Title IX, American society would have difficulty detaching from the traditional ideologies that prohibited societal development. 

[1] Interview with Coach Paul Richards, April 18, 2021

[2] Paul Richards,” Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame – John Louis Popple Chapter, 2020.

[3] The American Yawp. Chapter 20. The Progressive Era

[4] Alexander, Kerri Lee. Bernice Sandler. 2020. 

[5] Ibid.

[6] What is Title IX,” The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2021.

[7] Howe, William. Title IX Coordinator Roles and Responsibilities Local School District. US Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights, 2021

[8] Interview with Coach Paul Richards, April 18, 2021

[9] Interview with Coach Paul Richards, April 18, 2021

[10] The American Yawp. Chapter 27. The Sixties

[11] Interview with Coach Paul Richards, April 18, 2021

[12] Dusenbery, Maya. Charts: The State of Women’s Athletic, 40 Years After Title IX. 22 June, 2015

[13] Wilson, Amy. 45 Years of Title IX; The Status of Women in intercollegiate Athletics. April, 2017

[14] The American Yawp. Chapter 27. The Sixties

[15] Ibid.

[16] Interview with Coach Paul Richards, April 18, 2021

[17] Sougstad, Emma. Recounting the AIAW. 18 September, 2017

[18] Ibid.

[19] Where Are the Women?: An NCAA Champion Feature. December, 2017

[20] American Yawp Chapter 27. The Sixties

[21] Interview with Coach Paul Richards, April 18, 2021

[22] Where Are the Women?: An NCAA Champion Feature. December, 2017

[23] Second Interview with Coach Paul Richards, April 27, 2021

 

Selected Transcript with Coach Paul Richards on April 18, 2021 on the Academic Quad at Dickinson College:

Question: From an early age, what experience did you have with women in sport?

Answer: There was a girl’s swim team. I can honestly tell you that I do not remember ever talking about it. My sisters were both on water ballet and I think that swam. I knew they [the women’s swim team] were there, but I do not remember any exposure particularly for them. 

Q. When the Title IX legislature was passed in 1972,  how did people react?

A. The first time I heard in-depth conversation about Title IX was when I was coaching in Virginia. So in the mid to late 80s, we are talking fourteen to fifteen years after the passage of the bill, people were starting to talk about it. It took a long time for people to actually realize that we needed to have conversation [regarding] that we were not really meeting the intent of the legislation in women’s athletics. For example, [they] probably were not getting the same financial support as men’s athletics. And one of the pieces of the bill is proportionality. What that means is that you are supposed to be spending proportionally the same amount of money on women as there are women in the school. So for women’s athletics, that budget should be the same for women and men.

Q.Do you think that Title IX was well received?

A. No. I don’t actually. I think people were scared, and that was the unfortunate part. I think male coaches [and] male athletic programs look at it oftentimes as a threat because they assume that there is this much money in the budget, so where is the money going to come from? Well, if there is not new money, it is going to come from all of our budgets. So, I think initially the response was defensive.

Q.  Do you think that it was defense because they wanted the resources to allocate towards the men, or do you think it was because they were female and they did not respect them as much?

A. That is an interesting point and my guess would be both. But my guess would be originally, you know, financial. Like, where is the money going to come from, and ‘I am not giving any of my money for them to do their thing, cause they are not as important as me anyways.’ But I think it was a financial piece. And unfortunately, the perception sometimes is that men’s programs are being cut to protect women’s programs. And unfavorably, an administrator starts throwing Title IX around as the cause. Title IX has never been about reducing opportunities for men. Title IX is simply about creating and maintaining opportunities for women.

Q. How did your peers perceive you for coaching a women’s team? Did they have any sentiment towards women in sports?

A. Yeah! They never worked with women and they did not want to. There are all kinds of misconceptions, and again, it all comes back to culture where they say ‘I can’t push the women as hard as I push the men.’ Or ‘you can’t yell at the women, they’ll cry,’ those kinds of things. I think there were a lot of misconceptions and there were coaches who were probably concerned that, if I have to coach the women, I do not know how I am going to do this.

Q. Is there any experience that you can remember that made you realize that there is a problem here?

A. I think I might have became more aware of it when I moved to Virginia and I was coaching at Mary Washington College. Mary Washington College originally was a women’s college of the University of Virginia… I think it was a growth over time. Because people talked about it more. You know, when we have a law, like you said, if nobody talks about it and nobody looks at this and makes sure we are in compliance. So what I think happened was, and again, anecdotal, just a guess, but I think what happened was there came a point where women just got tired. They got tired of being nice about it. You know, we always say to people, ‘this is the way it is. We are going to change but we can’t do it right now. It is going to take some time.’ And I think that got tired of hiring that and women started taking actions.

Second Interview with Coach Paul Richards on April 27, 2021 over E-mail:

Q. Are the any anecdotes that you can remember to the way in which Title IX has had impacts here on Dickinson’s campus?

A. Title IX has helped build  ‘community.’ Although some think it may be divisive, I think when we lift one up all others in the community are lifted up as well. We instill a sense of responsibility for each other. I think there could be an argument made that some men’s teams in co-ed sports have benefitted from attention that was paid to the women’s teams.

Image

The Farm from Caravan to Changeover

“We were raised to think that we were that we were the people in the world who were living the right way.

– Jen Cort, The Farm resident from 1973 to 1984

 

“’The cultural cliché has it that the flower children danced at Woodstock, crashed at Altamont, and gradually shed their naïve ideals as they made themselves into ice-cream moguls, media magnates, and triangulating politicians,’ Jim Windolf wrote in Vanity Fair in 2007. ‘But the 200 people who live at the Farm,” he added, ‘have managed to hang on to the hippie spirit.’”

-Stephen Gaskin’s Obituary, NYT

 

The American Yawp textbook calls the 1960s and 70s a time of the counterculture that was defined by “Rock ‘n’ roll, liberalized sexuality, an embrace of diversity, recreational drug use, unalloyed idealism, and pure earnestness.”[1] However, the counterculture was more than just a common group of sentiments and pop-culture items. Many who considered themselves members of the counterculture launched new ventures and made attempts to change the world. One type of attempt at changing the world was the creation of communes. My mother, her siblings, and her stepfathers lived on a commune called The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee.

Gaskin teaching on The Farm in 1972 – Courtesy of LA Times

Stephen Gaskin was an English professor turned activist who lectured on the use of psychedelic drugs and world religions. Gaskin amassed a following of roughly 300 people in a caravan of brightly painted school buses and VW vans. The group traveled around the country gaining followers on the way to a 1050-acre farm just south of Nashville. [2] Jen Cort, her mother Carol, and her sister Michelle joined the caravan. “We started our trip from Seattle to Tennessee when I was three and I arrived right after I turned four.” The rolling hills and open fields that later became The Farm were undeveloped, “I lived with my mom, my sister, and my mom’s friend in our bus” with little insulation a small camp stove for cooking and heat.[3]

The bus Jen Cort, her sister Michelle, and Mother traveled and lived in. -Courtesy of Jen Cort

New Farm commits were drawn to the commune for a variety of reasons. “There were a lot of things that went into the decision-making factor. One of the biggest drivers was fleeing the draft, Vietnam. But also, Ina May, who’s considering one of the Mothers of midwifery in this country, she really wanted a place to develop her midwifery practices and Steven, our founder, was her husband.”[4] Though the Vietnam War was coming to a close when Cort arrived at The Farm, anti-war sentiments ran hand-in-hand with an interest in returning to a simpler way of life; “we were creating the ideal life and being very centered on being in touch with nature, working to help people…and very close to the earth.[5] To ensure proximity to the earth, Farm residents followed a few expectations that fit with the commune’s philosophy; “the Farm’s young men in straw hats and beards and women in long skirts lived an almost puritanical life. They took vows of poverty and pooled their assets. Vegetarianism was mandatory. Mr. Gaskin banned alcohol, tobacco and, to the surprise of many, LSD, though not marijuana. Plenty work — considered a form of meditation — was assigned. Artificial birth control was forbidden.”[6] Future Vice President, Al Gore was friendly with Gaskin and wrote about The Farm for the Tennessean. “Gaskin’s followers eat no meat because they say they have made a ‘spiritual agreement’ with the animals. ‘There would be a lot more vegetarians if everyone had to kill his own meat,’ Gaskin said later.”[7] Gaskin’s followers also participated in the use of drugs and psychedelics, “he admits that his followers smoke it and occasionally do stronger drugs like peyote and psylocybin — or ‘mushrooms’ as they refer to it.”[8]

Cort, a child during her time on The Farm, did not participate in the drug use, however, she remembers her time growing up on The Farm as revolutionary and happy, “we always took history from different people’s perspective, like we had Native American history and women’s history…I remember our 5th-grade history class was around socialism and communism and how countries like Russia had done it wrong and failed with communism, but that we were doing it right.[9] The Farm was a largely idealistic place and was known internationally for its revolutionary ideals. “[Gaskin and The Farm Band] were on the Donahue show…[in] Time magazine, in the New York Times…Globally, they thought that we were doing right…At one point there were famous musicians and scientists, and you know writers who would come and spend time there because we were living in the way that people should live and not being as interested in what they call the material plane meaning physical things. “[10] One famous visitor was the mathematician Buckminster Fuller who was Cort’s math teacher and who she remembers teaching her to use a compass.

The Farm School Class Photo -Courtesy of Jen Cort

Despite idealistic and peaceful appearances, the conservative and rural local community surrounding The Farm did not always appreciate the communes presence. “We had a sign at the end of our road, and we couldn’t have advertisements about where we were because people would want to attack us, throughout my whole childhood people tried to attack us.[11] In an attempt to protect members of The Farm community and children from aggressive locals, most children weren’t allowed to leave the property unaccompanied and when they did they were buffered by adults speaking to locals for them. At the start of Cort’s freshman year in high school, she decided to secretly attend the public school off The Farm. After she started attending school she was exposed to the full brunt of local criticism, “We were called Devil worshippers, which I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it was bad.” After classmates at her school learned that Cort was living on The Farm, “I lost my status at school. I had sleepovers at my friend’s house all the time and then I couldn’t go to people’s houses after they found out I was from The Farm. I was a cheerleading alternate which at our school was a really big thing but then I was kicked off the team. Teachers started treating me differently because they suddenly knew where I was from. And so, it was very hard.[12]

Cort and Farm kids -Courtesy of Jen Cort

Cort says leaving The Farm school to attend a local high school was a contentious decision. After our recorded conversation, Cort explained that Gaskin grew angry with Cort and her mother for deciding to let Cort attend school off The Farm. She said Gaskin was verbally abusive to her. Gaskin’s relationship with Cort and her mother Carol may have also been related to Carol’s role in what is now called “the Changeover.” The Changeover was a moment in which The Farm reached a financial tipping point. The Farm had established many companies including a book-publishing business, a pickle company, a sorghum syrup brand, a Geiger counter-producer,[13] an ice cream company, and a successful midwifery clinic.[14] Despite many business ventures, The Farm was not making enough money to continue to feed the commune’s population or make payments on loans. Cort remembers “we were almost always hungry and cold and without shoes.[15] As a last effort to keep The Farm economically viable a fellow community member,  “Michael and [Cort’s mother Carol] worked together to orchestrate what is commonly referred to as the Changeover…The local bank was saying if you don’t pay back some of these loans, were going to take the land.”[16] Effectively, the 1983 Changeover meant “each adult Farm member was required to contribute financially toward the annual budget and operating expenses for the community.”[17] The Changeover marked a fundamental change in the history of The Farm, “Mom knew, and Michael knew before anyone else that the decisions they were making were going to completely alter the future of The Farm.”[18] The Farm was transformed overnight from a place mostly free of financial obligations in which the essence of the counterculture lived on to an intentional community which maintained some ideals of the old Farm. However, with the reintroduction of money to The Farm, it was nearly unrecognizable. “Nobody had any income like I don’t remember seeing a dollar bill when I was little, I had no idea that…something that was paper could buy me something,” said Cort.[19]

The Farm changed fundamentally after the Changeover and many families who came for the idealistic community that existed before began to leave The Farm. Cort and her family stayed for only a short while later before leaving themselves. By 1983, the Vietnam war had ended eight years previous and the peak of the counterculture movement had ended about a decade before. The Farm was an attempt to prolong and live out the values that anti-war and counterculture movements espoused. The end of The Farm as a commune and its transition into an intentional community was “entirely financial;” most of Gaskin’s and The Farm’s beliefs had remained intact until the very end, proving that intentional living and a radical way of life was possible.

 

[1] Samuel Abramson et al., “The Sixties,” Samuel Abramson, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

[2] “History Timeline.” Accessed May 7, 2021. https://thefarmcommunity.com/history-timeline/.

[3] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Martin, Douglas. “Stephen Gaskin, Hippie Who Founded an Enduring Commune, Dies at 79.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 3, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/stephen-gaskin-hippie-who-founded-an-enduring-commune-dies-at-79.html.

[7] Gore, Albert. “Church Group Swaps Views with Gaskin.” The Tennessean. March 13, 1972. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2014/07/07/from-the-archive-church-group-swaps-views-with-gaskins/12312875/.

[8] Ibid

[9] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Martin, Douglas. “Stephen Gaskin, Hippie Who Founded an Enduring Commune, Dies at 79.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 3, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/stephen-gaskin-hippie-who-founded-an-enduring-commune-dies-at-79.html.

[14] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] The Changeover. Accessed May 8, 2021. https://thefarmcommunity.com/the-changeover/.

[18] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[19] Ibid

 

Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

Selected Transcript

Q: How long did you live on the Farm and with who?  

A: We started our trip from Seattle to Tennessee when I was three and I arrived either right after I turned 4 or right around that time and we left when I was a junior in high school. And when I went there, I lived with my mom and my sister and my mom’s friend and our bus. 

 

Q: As a kid on the Farm did you think of the Farm as different than the rest of the world? 

A: Oh yeah, we were raised to think that we were that we were the people in the world who were living the right planning. But I mean, the world was literally on the farm and off the farm and off the farm. People living on the Farm were people who were living the right way, and everyone off the Farm was living wrong, which was really weird to me because. A lot of my friends didn’t have both their parents on the farm, but I was one of the only ones who saw my dad regularly and I knew he was a good person so I didn’t understand that. But we were absolutely raised that we were the only ones living in the right way. 

 

Q: Did people living on the Farm make it seem like they were there to make an intentional community or were there other intentions for being there? 

A: There were a lot of things that went into the decision making factor. One of the biggest drivers was fleeing the draft, Vietnam. But also Aina May, who’s considering one of the Mothers of midwifery in this country, she really wanted a place to develop my midwifery practices and Steven, our founder, was her husband. I know that there was a couple of years where people scouted out land around the country to try to find where we could go live. And then it was supposed to be that we were creating the ideal life and being very centered on being in touch with nature, working to help people, but very much in a white savior way and very close to the earth. 

 

Q: How would people that lived on the Farm describe the Farm when they talked about it? 

 

A: That’s a really good question. And part of why I’m struggling with that question is because I didn’t hear people on the farm talk about it much because we didn’t spend time with people who weren’t from them, so I didn’t hear them describe it up. I know when Nan would take us to our grandparents and my dad’s. She would always just talk about how we were having fun and we were planting and growing our food and we were learning a lot and that you know it was very much the idealized version of it. She certainly never talked about that we were almost always hungry and cold and without shoes. It was always like the girls are learning to ride horses and things like that 

By the way, if we would leave and go to Summertown like where Roberts from, we were told not to talk to him. As kids we didn’t talk to people from who weren’t part of the farm. Often the grownups did because we had companies that made money in other places, but we would even ride our bikes from the farm to the little like general store that was across from Robert’s house and we would be told, you know that we had to go with the grown up and the grown-up was going into and speak for us. We weren’t allowed to go in and speak for them for ourselves. 

 

Q: Was the farm nationally known at the time you were living there? 

A: It was internationally known. They were on the Donahue show which is, you know, it’s like Oprah then Time magazine in the New York Times there was a of lot of interest in U.S. and we had centers all over the world. Globally, they thought that we were doing right and that we were just people and that we were being raised in the right way. You know we had people from the farm and my family who were invited to go be on Greenpeace. At one point there were famous musicians and scientists, and you know writers who would come and spend time there because we were living in the way that people should live and not being as interested in in what they call the material plane meaning physical things. 

  

Q: Did people on the farm think of it as like a philosophical thought experiment, or was it like a political statement? 

A: Both. I remember in one of our history classes we always took history from different people’s perspective, like we had Native American history and women’s history, and one of the history classes that we took was. I remember in 5th grade history class was around socialism and communism and how countries like Russia had done it wrong and failed as with communism, but that we were doing it right. 

And so, it was very much like a physical experiment and the centers around the world were designed to go in and do things like run irrigation to towns that didn’t have it and teach women in Guatemala how to nurse and care for their babies? And then it was also a philosophical experiment because Steven was considered to be on a higher level; a higher ordered person than other people. He was a spiritual leader, and he was known internationally for. 

Q: Could you just talk a little bit about what the Farm’s relationship to local was?  

 

A: Like I said, we didn’t have a lot of experience with people from off the farm. We didn’t meet very often and when we did we, you know, we were fairly protected. My dad, grandpa Dan. He was our postmaster and so he had this truck that had always all post boxes in it and so I would get to go into town with him about once a week to go pick up the Mail and then I would get to go to the store and sometimes I would be able to get a V8 or a banana or something like that. There I would hear people talk about us in a different way. 

I’m not relating it to racism or anything, but the way people talked about us was kind of some of the things you hear people say about black people. As a kid, I distinctly remember somebody saying that they couldn’t believe how articulate I was and that they couldn’t believe I was clean. 

I didn’t know the full extent of it until I went to public school and Robert told me not to tell anyone where I was from, and I had to sneak to get off the farm to go to school. I would leave in the dark, walk a couple of miles in the dark to the bus stop and wait for the bus to come. When I got to school, I started hearing people talk about the farm. Nobody knew I was from there, but they would say things like we didn’t know who our dad was, and that we had free loves and free drugs and all these other things. 

We were called that Devil worshippers which I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it was bad. I didn’t know what they meant because we didn’t talk like that on the farm and then  I was in public school for a year. My friend Peter came to school from the Farm school, so he and I knew, but we didn’t tell anyone, and then everyone, all the kids from the Farm school started to go to our public school. Then everyone knew who we were and all of a sudden, I lost my status at school. I had sleepovers at my friend’s house all the time and then I couldn’t go to people houses after they found out I was from the Farm. I was a cheerleading alternate which at our school is a really big thing but then I was kicked off the team. Teachers started treating me differently because they suddenly knew where I was from. And so it was very hard. 

So, and one other thing about the locals, we had a sign at the end of our road, and we couldn’t have advertisements about where we were because people would want to attack us, throughout my whole childhood because people tried to attack us. 

 

Q: Did adults on the farm talk about the counterculture and larger political movements outside the farm 

Yeah, so people would come to the farm you couldn’t just walk in and say I’m going to live here. You had to go through this whole process called soaking. You had to live up by the gate for a couple weeks and then hope to be sponsored by somebody and live in their house and then the house would decide if you should get membership. But there were people who came who were fleeing the draft and the local people at the local government had no idea who was there, although they tried to raid us and bust us all that. Steven went to jail for avoiding the draft at one point and they were always trying to imprison him. That’s why we had that holiday 4/20 because they came and said that we were growing weed all over the place, but we weren’t we’re growing ragweed. There were all these helicopters came and landed in our field and people and guns came after us. 

Stephen would leave the farm all the time and he would preach around the world and even preach on TV. He was considered a leader and teacher of the counterculture narrative like you know now if I tell people, I’m from the farm, it’s not uncommon that people know what I’m talking about.  

There was a huge amount of media attention on us. And we had our own school system and local universities would come in and send their teachers to observe us because we were presented as like an idealized version of education. So, we were very well known and very much thought to be one of the leaders of deep thinking and higher-level thinking. 

 

Q: Do you think the reason that the farm stopped operating the way it did was because of bigger global changes? Or because of smaller things within the community? 

A: It was entirely financial. The thing was that a lot of the people who lived on the farm were highly educated and came from fairly welltodo families, however we did not make enough money to support what we were doing. There was a book publishing company which my uncle ran and you know Hops and Grampa Dan operated the ice cream company, and all those companies were meant to bring money into the farm. And we had a clinic and an ambulance, and doctors and midwives but we did not have surgical facilities and we were going into debt. Michael and my mom worked together to orchestrate what is commonly referred to as the changeover. The changeover is thought to be the end of the farm as it was because. The local bank was saying if you don’t pay back some of these loans, we’re gonna take the land. Which is why the land grant is written in such a weird way that it can never be sold because they’ve made it really complicated to protect it from being seized. 

So, the changeover happened, and Nana was part of it. Auntie Shell was considered a teen elder. We had elders who made our decisions and Stephen blamed Nana and Dan for the fall of the Farm economically and blamed me for the fall of the education system.  

People were told you can stay here, but you’re gonna have to pay rent, which was the first time ever. 

And if your kids go to our school, you have to pay tuition. But Nobody had had any income, like I don’t remember ever seeing a dollar bill when I was little like I had no idea that paper, something that was paper could buy me something. 

When the changeover happened, if you worked for a company on the farm, and you wanted to own that company, you could. The whole reason why we moved from being a commune to what was then referred to as an intentional community is the changeover, and it was entirely financial. 

Steven was verbally abusive tome. 

Nana and Michael were working so long and so hard and they would take a couple quarters and get a thing of M&Ms and divide them up because they knew before anyone else that what they were doing to make the changeover happen. Mom knew, and Michael knew before anyone else that the decisions they were making were going to completely alter the future of the farm. 

 

Selected Images – Courtesy of Jen Cort

The Three Mile Island Incident at Dickinson College: March 28, 1979

Karen Edler: Class of 1981

Karen Edler was a recently transferred college student at Dickinson College when the Three Mile Island Incident occurred on March 28, 1979. Although the American Yawp Textbook mentions that Jimmy Carter was “a nuclear physicist and peanut farmer who represented the rising generation of younger, racially liberal “New South” Democrats,” it does little to display his expertise on nuclear energy when considering the Three Mile Island Incident of 1979, failing to mention the man-made catastrophes of the decade. [1] Edler’s story serves to fulfill its gaps, giving historical context to the crisis that sparked the debate over nuclear energy from the late 1970s to the present day.

Rendering of Reactor 2 Meltdown

Thursday, March 28, 1979, marked the first day of the crisis. According to Dickinson College archives, at 4:00 am, “a false valve went open unnoticed and allowed thousands of gallons of coolant water to flow from one of the plant’s reactors.[2] This caused temperatures within the unit (Reactor 2) to rise to over 5000 degrees, causing the fuel core to begin to melt.”[3] As conflicting information by the Metropolitan Edison utilities and plant officials ran rampant, Edler recounts the lack of information concerning the Three Mile Incident when it occurred. “I think it took at least a day for it to spread around campus. When you were in class, professors would briefly mention it, but we didn’t have a lot of information about exactly what happened or how it would affect us.”[4] Edler reflected how many Dickinson students had little understanding of the direness of the situation or the existence of the plant itself. “I knew that there was some kind of a plant. I did not know it harnessed nuclear energy at the time. It was clear since we used to see it when my parents drove me to or from Dickinson because of the huge stacks and the smoke coming out from them.”[5] It would lead to a score of confusion within the student body, as many awaited the response of the college president and local governmental officials.

Aerial View of Three Mile Island 1979

Edler recounts Dickinson’s response to the crisis on the following day of the incident. “Dickinson asked us to voluntarily leave campus if possible on the first weekend after three-mile island. They asked people to leave by that Friday because they were going to be an evacuation center. No one was quite sure when these things were going to happen or how international students would be affected.” [6] She also mentions that “the school didn’t shut down until the end of that weekend. Still, college President Samuel Banks decided to close the college for a full week.” [7] She notes how the swift action of the college reflected the growing concerns of parents at the time, who had been listening to the conflicting reports of the situation in both the local and national media. The power of television in adding to nuclear hysteria was also clear in the student body. “It was common to see students in their respective dorms gathered around a single silver screen. It brought fast information on the rising crisis, especially through the local ABC Action News 27.” [8] Newspaper articles like the Dickinsonian further disseminated the details of the crisis in the days following. Reflecting on the heightened emotions on campus in the face of a rising student exodus, “parental inquiries flooded the College switchboard, necessitating that it remains open round the clock throughout the weekend,”  as a United Telephone Company shift supervisor reported that “it’s a mess.” [9]

President Carter at the Three Mile Island Plant: April 4, 1979

The rising crisis at Three Mile Island soon enveloped the White House and the national media. According to the American Experience site at PBS, President Jimmy Carter ordered that “phone lines be connected between the White House, the NRC, and the State House at Harrisburg” with Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh.[10] A former nuclear engineer for the Navy, Carter inspected the embattled plant on April 1, 1979. In a show of presidential support for Pennsylvanians and the surrounding Harrisburg area, Carter’s visit gave a “much-needed morale boost,” according to former Mayor Robert Reid of Middletown, Pennsylvania.” People weren’t talking to one another. They were cooped up in their homes, and when he came, it seemed like everyone came out to see the president, and it was really a shot in the arm.” [11] The wave of optimism Carter brought to the growing crisis reflected a change in tone from the national media, as the highly influential CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite stressed that the incident was “a “horror” that “could get much worse.” [12]

 CBS News coverage of the crisis

The ongoing effects of the Three Mile Island Incident met that Dickinson College would have to serve a more significant role in the Cumberland and Dauphin County area. Edler reflects how Dickinson College would serve as an evacuation site and a command center on the crisis for the local area. “I understood that Dickinson was going to be used for evacuated residents of a nursing home and for a staging area for what we would call first responders today, fire companies, and others that were there to assist” as “It was a time of real uncertainty, and no one really understood what would happen exactly.”[13] According to the Three Mile Island archives at Dickinson College, “physicists on campus, including John Luetzelschwab and Priscilla Laws, brought together a student group to

WDCV Broadcastings 1979

monitor radiation levels, and found that there was no detectable radiation from the TMI accident in the Carlisle,” advising “local emergency management authorities on radiation monitoring and safety.[14]” Edler notes that “I did not learn later that Dickinson used some of the professors and international students who could not leave campus at the time to interview and create archives of information about people’s experiences surrounding the incident,” but pointed to the role of the WDCV radio station amid the crisis.[15] According to an article by the Dickinsonian on April 12, 1979, the “WDCV provided special news shows every hour and released statements from the college. The station also provided the community with reports from the Physics department, and broadcast live the informational meetings that were held evenings.”[16] The WDCV broadcastings that would spark a debate on nuclear energy when students returned to campus reflected a national anti-nuclear energy movement that was quickly rising.

Comparison of anti-nuclear energy protests to anti-nuclear weapons protests after Three Mile Island

The Three Mile Island Incident made many Americans aware of the dangers of nuclear energy, leading to the explosion of anti-nuclear energy movements across the country. In a comparing anti-nuclear energy and anti-nuclear weapons protests, anti-nuclear energy protests rose from 25 protests in 1978 to around 32 protests in 1979 after the Three Mile Incident, a 28% increase.[17] Anti-nuclear energy movements found solace on college campuses like Dickinson. Edler portrays, “There were definitely more people on campus who became more interested in the anti-nuclear movement, as the accident at Three-Mile Island really kicked conversations about the safety of nuclear energy into gear. Many people were worried, predicting there could be another nuclear accident in the future that could affect even more people in the country.”[18] Edler remembers her own uneasiness returning to campus, reflecting on the mood of the student body at the time. “I remember my mother driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike when we returned to Dickinson College the following week, and you could still see quite an ominous cloud over the three-mile island. It left me with a sense of uneasiness initially, as I gauged my trust with local authorities who felt they contained the situation.”[19]

In the immediate aftermath of the Three Mile Island Incident, there was an anti-nuclear energy protest in Harrisburg on April 8, 1979, that called for the plant’s closure. Only “1,000 people marched on the Pennsylvania State Capitol to protest the weekend after the crisis.”[20] However, according to student Jenny Jordan of The Dickinsonian, “3000 people showed up for a rally in Groton, Connecticut and 5000 showed up for one in San Francisco. In Germany, demonstrators yelled, “We all live in Pennsylvania.”[21]According to the Atlanta Constitution, it foreshadows the “largest anti-nuclear-energy crowd to assemble in the United States – upwards of 70,000 by official estimates” on May 7, 1979.[22] Demonstrators marched on the Capitol building to “protest the nation’s growing dependence on nuclear energy,” chanting “No more nukes- No more Harrisburgs.”[23] Many began to realize the long-term health and environmental effects of the incident on the Harrisburg area.

Anti-nuclear energy protest in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 1979

According to the York Daily Record, in 1980, it “may be 12-15 years” before the TMI cleanup happens, as almost “700,000 gallons of accident water” had seeped into the soil surrounding the Susquehanna River.[24] The Pane (People Against Nuclear Energy) Report of 1979 sought a departure from nuclear power. “To use coal we must demand the safest, cleanest coal possible, even though it means lower profits for the coal industry. With proper mine safety and miners rights, with adequate pollution controls and a strict program of land restoration, coal can continue to serve as an interim source of energy.”[25] Coal plants produced pollution that was easier to manage through desulfurization units that trapped the particles away from the atmosphere, versus nuclear plants that used uranium, resulting in “hundreds of dangerous radioactive elements with half-lives,” being stored at TMI.[26] As the protests became more widespread, the nation debated the Pane Report’s suggestions, suffering in the midst of a growing energy crisis.

Although the American Yawp textbook failed to include the Three Mile Island Incident of 1979, it leaves behind a complicated history that served as “a spark that ignited the funeral pyre for a once-promising energy source.” [27] It is important for history textbooks to mention the historical debate over nuclear energy that is rooted in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island Incident, holding corporations and government officials accountable for man-made disasters. The American public must be informed of nuclear energy’s long-term health and environmental effects on their fellow citizens to mark a return to more conventional nonrenewable energy resources in the future.

________________
[1] Seth Anziska et al., “The Unraveling,” Edwin Breeden, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).
[2] “Three Mile Island,” Dickinson.edu, 2019, http://tmi.dickinson.edu/.
[3] “Three Mile Island,” Dickinson.edu, 2019, http://tmi.dickinson.edu/.
[4] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[5] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[6] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[7] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[8] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[9] Jefferey Blinn and Sarah Snyder, “College Responds to Three Mile Island Nuke Accident: Coping Student Exodus,” Three Mile Island Website (The Dickinsonian, April 12, 1979), http://tmi.dickinson.edu/index.php/category/item-type/newspapers/.
[10] “President Carter: Meltdown at Three Mile Island,” | American Experience | PBS (WGBH Educational Foundation), accessed May 4, 2021, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/three-president-carter/.
[11] “March 28, 1979: Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Accident,” cbsnews.com (CBS Interactive Inc, March 28, 2019), https://www.cbsnews.com/video/march-28-1979-three-mile-island-nuclear-power-plant-accident/.
[12] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[13] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[14] “Three Mile Island,” Dickinson.edu, 2019, http://tmi.dickinson.edu/.
[15] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[16] Peggy Collins, “Small Crew Keeps WDCV Broadcasting,” Three Mile Island Website (The Dickinsonian, April 12, 1979), http://tmi.dickinson.edu/index.php/category/item-type/newspapers/.
[17] Victoria Daubert and Sue Moran, “Origins, Goals, and Tactics of the U.S. Anti-Nuclear Protest Movement,” March 1985, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/notes/2005/N2192.pdf.
[18] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[19] Audio recording with Karen Edler, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021
[20] Thomas Fortuna, “U.S. Anti-Nuclear Activists Campaign against Restarting Three Mile Island Nuclear Generator, 1979-1985,” The Global Nonviolent Action Database (Swarthmore College, September 18, 2011), https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/us-anti-nuclear-activists-campaign-against-restarting-three-mile-island-nuclear-generator-19.
[21] Jenny Jordan, “Student Participates in Protest,” Three Mile Island Website (The Dickinsonian, April 12, 1979), http://tmi.dickinson.edu/index.php/category/item-type/newspapers/.
[22] “70,000 Stage Anti-Nuclear Rally in D.C,” The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984), May 07, 1979, 2. https://envoy.dickinson.edu/loginqurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fhistorical-newspapers%2F70-000-stage-anti-nuclear-rally-d-c%2Fdocview%2F1614163941%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D10506.
[23] “70,000 Stage Anti-Nuclear Rally in D.C,” 2. https://envoy.dickinson.edu/loginqurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fhistorical-newspapers
[24] Patrice Flinchbaugh, “Nuclear Wastes from TMI2 Could Stay on Island for 25 Yeaes,” York Daily Record, August 26, 1980, http://tmi.dickinson.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2017/04/Article7.pdf.
[25] “PANE Newsletters,” (Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections, 1979), http://archives.dickinson.edu/sites/all/files/files_tmi/PANE_1979.pdf.
[26] “PANE Newsletters.”
[27] Kiyosh Kurokawai and Meshkati Najmedin, “10 Years After Fukushima, Safety is Still Nuclear Power’s Greatest Challenge,” The Conversation : Environment + Energy, March 5, 2021, 1https://envoy.dickinson.edu/loginqurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fnewspapers%2F10-years-after-fukushima-safety-is-still-nuclear%2Fdocview%2F2497315252%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D10506.

Selected Transcript

  • Audio recording, Mahwah, NJ, April 20, 2021

Question: Where were you when you heard of the Three Mile Island incident? What was the reaction when the news first broke out?

Answer: When I first heard about the incident, I was in the now Global Community house, sometimes referred to as Todd House. It was early dawn on March, 28th 1979, and I had transferred into Dickinson College as a sophomore from the University of Delaware freshman honors program.  

Q: Since social media, referring to Twitter, Instagram, and other various outlets, did not exist at the time, how fast did information spread around campus?

A: I think it took at least a day for it to spread around campus. When you were in class, professors would briefly mention it, but we didn’t have a lot of information about exactly what happened or how it would affect us.

Q: Did you have any previous conception of nuclear energy and its uses? Or were you mostly indifferent?

A: While I certainly knew nuclear energy existed, I didn’t have any negative feelings about it. To me, it was just a source of energy for the country. It was only after the three mile island accident occurred that I learned the dangers of nuclear energy and strict safety protocols that need to be in place. However, even with the safety protocols, I realized it could still endanger a large portion of our country.

Q: Were most students even aware of the existence of 3 Mile Island at the time? Did you have any prior knowledge?

A: I knew that there was some kind of a plant. I did not know it harnessed nuclear energy at the time. It was clear since we used to see it when my parents drove me to or from Dickinson because of the huge stacks and the smoke coming out from them. In fact, visiting Harrisburg with a friend, I drove right by the plant not long before this happened. Most people didn’t realize that it was a big nuclear plant unless you were studying in a physics field at the time. This accident was really what made us the most conscious that its existence wasn’t far from campus.

Q: What were the main modes of communication students used to gain information about the crisis at its initial breaking?

A: The main mode of communication about the three-mile island crisis was initially through television. It was common to see students in their respective dorms gathered around a single silver screen. It brought fast information on the rising crisis, especially through the local ABC Action News 27. It was due to the concerns of a reactor two meltdown, which would have put thousands at risk within the Carlisle area.

Q: When did you mention the incident to family members back home? Was it that Wednesday, or at a later date?

A: I did not initially tell my mother about the incident or the college asking people to voluntarily leave. I had a conversation with her days later when she became aware of it. She demanded that I come home because she was afraid I would not be safe. I called once a week on Sunday, so she became more fully aware of the situation on April 1st.

Q: What was the president’s initial response to the crisis? What did Dickinson do about the international students on campus?

A: I recollect that Dickinson asked us to voluntarily leave campus if possible on the first weekend after three-mile island. They asked people to leave by that Friday because they were going to be an evacuation center. No one was quite sure when these things were going to happen or how international students would be affected. Many international students did not have someplace to go easily, so they were permitted to stay if they lived too far from campus. The school didn’t shut down until the end of that weekend, but college President Samuel Banks decided to close the college for a full week. This was to keep the students safe, as many parents were worried and upset, leading to much nuclear hysteria.

Q: What role did Dickinson serve to those evacuated from the suburbs of Harrisburg and Cumberland County?

A: I understood that Dickinson was going to be used for residents of a nursing home that were evacuated and for a staging area for what we would call first responders today, fire companies, and others that were there to assist. It was a time of real uncertainty, and no one really understood what would happen exactly. Evacuation zones kept expanding as more information was learned about what was actually going on at the plant. I did not learn later that Dickinson used some of the professors and international students who could not leave campus at the time to interview and create archives of information about people’s experiences surrounding the incident.

Q: What part of the 3-mile incident was the average Dickinson student deeply concerned about? Did students think about its potential long-term effects?

A: People were really concerned about health problems as a result of the incident. Once we were past the point where people were concerned about a potential explosion, students knew radioactive gas had been admitted but didn’t understand how far it would go or whether it could reach dangerous levels at the campus. Many were worried about having long health side effects as a result. As a result, there were definitely more people on campus who became more interested in the anti-nuclear movement, as the accident at three-mile island really kicked conversations about the safety of nuclear energy into gear. Many people were worried, predicting there could be another nuclear accident in the future that could affect even more people in the country. What resulted in the aftermath of Three Mile Island was a big anti-nuclear energy protest in Harrisburg on April 8th, 1979, which called for the immediate closure of the plant.

Q: Where did you go when you were first evacuated? And how long did Dickinson keep students off-campus?

A: Initially, I left campus thinking it was just for the weekend. I went to my boyfriend’s dorm at the University of Maryland to stay for the weekend. But then, come Sunday, they announced that the school would be shut down for a week. At that point, my mother was furious that I decided to stay with my boyfriend for the weekend and ordered me to drive home back to northern New Jersey. I remember my mother driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike when we returned to Dickinson College the following week, and you could still see quite an ominous cloud over the three-mile island. It left me with a sense of uneasiness initially, as I gauged my trust with local authorities who felt they contained the situation.

Q: As I am in the midst of an off-campus learning experience during the COVID-19 crisis, I am wondering did Dickinson students have any communication with professors during the week-long shutdown? Did you get a chance to get ahead on schoolwork?

A: We did not have any communication with our professors while the school was closed, and I recollect that the school made up the classes that we missed throughout the rest of the semester. It is not like today, where you could email and submit assignments through a computer or school portal.

Q: Since Dickinson has been the cornerstone of sustainable education, even in the 1970s, what was the reaction of Dickinson students to the incident when they returned to campus? Was there a shift in tone over nuclear energy?

A: Certainly, everyone was talking about nuclear energy and whether it was safe. The three-mile island incident kind of became a piece of the culture of our time at Dickinson, and many people began to at least look into any nuclear movement and learn more about what nuclear energy was. Many would speak out at the capitol in Harrisburg, questioning why the plant was close to residential neighborhoods.

Q: Reflecting on your time at Dickinson, do you feel the fallout from the Three Mile Incident was one of your most influential experiences? If so, why?

A: The aftermath from the Three Mile Island Incident definitely defined my time in Dickinson. It was certainly the most exciting thing that happened, exciting in a terrifying way. I think it also helped students bond some over a collective sense of fear for the future, similar to what current Dickinson Students are experiencing with the COVID-19 crisis. It opened a debate for how nuclear energy was being used at the time and how it might affect us going forward in our lives.

 

 

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Oral History Project Interview

Sarah Whittemore

Oral History Project Interview 

4/29/2021

I asked my Father, Arthur Snow Whittemore III about the 1980’s; which correlates with the American Yawp Chapter 29. At first I asked my father if he would consent to answering my questions and he did.

Q: What was your opinion on Reagan’s political movement the “New Right?”

A: I believe that a focus on conservative values and personal responsibility is an excellent foundation.  I agree with Jefferson that the government that governs best is the government that governs least and with Ford that a government that is able to give you everything you want will take from you everything that you have.

Q: How did the “New Right” affect your life?

A: The reascent of conservative principles, especially with regard to reduced taxation provided a huge economic uplift – a rising tide that lifted all boats.  Perhaps more importantly, though, the engineered demise of communism fundamentally changed the world.  We no longer fear global nuclear war — there are other terrors – but the unthinkable is no longer a threat.  That is thanks to Ronald Reagan more than anyone else.

Q: How did the media portray Jerry Falwell and the moral majority? 

A: I didn’t pay much attention to the Moral Majority or any of their ilk.  They were conservatives for a different reason that I was.  But the evangelicals were necessary to create the voting bloc we needed to slow the tide of progressiism.

Q: Is the religious right more powerful today than in the 1980’s in your opinion?

A: I don’t think the religious right has much sway today right now.  So No.

Q: Did you notice the difference between President Carter’s “New Deal” and President Reagan’s “New Right?” If so, what are they?

A:  The New Deal was FDR not Carter.  And the differences between the New Deal (and also the Great Society of the sixties) and the conservative movement of the eighties and nineties is a stark contrast.  The success of the conservative movement changed the democratic party from a new deal / great society mindset to a more business focused type of democrat.  As your article says, the democrats of the nineties looked and talked a lot like the republicans of the sixties.

Q: Do you think that the moral majority is still a force in the Republican Party and have they become more radical?

A: I really don’t think the evangelicals have much sway.  The conservative pundits on FoxNews still defend religious freedom, and point out injustices against christians, but the thought leadership is not there — it’s about economic ideology not religious ideology.

Q: Do Political Action Committies (PAC) have more influence today than they did in the last 1970’s early 1980’s? 

A:  Sure — they didn’t really exist until the eighties when the campaign finance laws changed.

Q: Do you remember the Energy Crisis? How were you and/or anyone you knew affected by the crisis? 

A: Gas prices rose by a factor of five and even then you couldn’t get any.  You sat in line in your car to fill your tank and could only get gas on even or odd days depending on your license plate.  But it went way beyond the energy crisis.  The 70s (despite some good music) was a period of terrible malaise in America — first Watergate, then Stagflation and the Carter Years, including the loss of American exceptionalism around the globe.  We were on the verge of falling apart.  Reagan comes with both good ideas and great optimism.  It really changed the trajectory.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t permanent.

Q: My textbook states: “Americans increasingly embraced racial diversity as a positive value but most often approached the issue through an individualistic—not a systemic—framework.” Do you think race relations were better when Reagan was in office or are they better now? Why do you think this?   

A: Race relations have been on a steady improvement over time.  I think they were better in the 80s than in the 60s and I know they are better today than they were in the 80s.  Forget all the George Floyd riots.  Look at neighborhoods.  Look at mixed marriages.  My son-in-law is black.  My grandchildren are mixed race.  That would not have happened a generation ago.  And certainly not two generations ago.  Things are getting better every day.  The left just doesn’t want us to believe that — perhaps they think the pace of change is not fast enough – but the direction of change is one of constant improvement.

Q: Do you remember what it was like when Democratic candidate Walter Mondale named his running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to ever run in a debate?

A: In my opinion, her gender was irrelevant.  She just wasn’t qualified.  I would have voted for plenty of women for VP if they were qualified.  So her gender wasn’t a factor for me, and I really didn’t think it mattered to most voters.  It was a curiosity but I don’t think her sex affected the election.

Q: How did your life change when the The Apple II computer came out in 1977?  

A: Not much.  My first computer was an IBM PC in 1985.  I’ve had a computer ever since.

Q: What changed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s that fueld the rise of conservatism?

A: The fifties were a soft and easy time in America, but with a looming threat from the USSR.  The sixties were a time of radical change (much as now) that left much of middle America uneasy, but unsure where to go.  Nixon called them the silent majority, but they were unable to make a difference.  So in the sixties we saw the Great Society BS and riots and hippies.  It came really fast as a reaction to a failing war in Viet Nam.  Nixon came along and tried to slow it, but then the Watergarte scandal put the conservatives on the run.  But there were no real conservatives thenn.  It was the failure of economic policy and foreign policy under Carter that brought us to the point where conservatism could truly emerge.

 

Email Reflection: 4/29

Email Reflection 4/29 

Sarah Whittemore

 

I decided to reflect upon Sam Drabkin’s article: Fighting the Epidemic- Grass-root HIV suppport groups in the 80’s. This article stood out to me due to the fact that President Ronald Raegan and his administration was very slow to fund the HIV epidemic along with AIDS due to the fact that it was labeled as a “‘gay compromise syndome’” As the article state: “The equivalence of AIDS with the gay community made the conservative Reagan administration sluggish in its response to say the least.” I find it interesting that even though AIDS was around in the 1970’s that the disease itself was not deemed as a disease unitl the 80’s. I find this reckless due to the fact that in 1982, 618 people that had the disease died because of the lack of response and the article states that “By the end of 1983 that number had more than tripled” However, once the Reagan administration “changed its position” on this disease, Reagan “increased the federal budget for AIDS research, to half a billion dollars over 5 years.” The budget that the Reagan administration funded for AIDS research allowed Catherine Drabkin to direct her own support group. I also find it interesting that after one of Reagan’s friends: Rock Hudson died due to AIDS, “marked a turning point”. After movie star Rock Hudson died, “funds were made available for research and treatment.” I find this article fascinating because only after movie star Rock Hudson died of this disease, did the Reagan administration actually take action to attempt to control it. 

 

Discussion –Combatants

Overview

STUDENT COMMENT:  This week’s reading in American YAWP covered racial, social, and political tensions, the strain of the Vietnam War abroad and at domestically, the crisis of 1968, and the rise of Richard Nixon. The 1960’s, particularly 1968, is noted as one of the most tragic years in American history and it is not hard to see why. The Tet offensive occurred, which was a series of surprise attacks in Vietnam on the U.S. and South Korean forces, which led to the highest casualty toll of Americans in the Vietnam war. Not only that, but Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and through all of this, the support for the Vietnam war continued to dwindle with protests sparking up all across the country leading to the fear that “civil society was unraveling.” (YAWP, 28) Richard Nixon “played on these fears” when he ran for president, also promising that he would end the war, but not win it. (YAWP, 28) Needless, to say, 1968 was a tumultuous year.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The oral history projects of Braxton, Huber, and Nolan tell the story of U.S. troops deployed in Vietnam. These three stories help illustrate the danger of the Vietnam war for combat troops as well as some of their reluctance to be stationed there.

Black Panthers

Black Panthers

New York Times, May 14th 1971.

STUDENT COMMENT: In 2015 Christina Braxton wrote about Dennis Braxton, a black veteran who did not receive appreciation after his return from Vietnam, “When he returned to California in 1971, he describes the area as “hippie-land.” Peaceful protests were now extremely common but movements like the Black Panther Party also rose in popularity. One of the first things Braxton did when released from the Navy was to join the Black Panthers”(Braxton, 2015). This goes to show that while Braxton was fighting for the nation there was a public reform, the amount of change that occurred must have been bizarre to him. Braxton did not hesitate to join the Black Panthers, a political group for African Americans, as the civil rights movement was one of key movements going on at the time.

Galiano

Dane Huber, Lawrence Galiano in Vietnam, November 1, 2017, http://blogs.dickinson.edu/hist-118pinsker/2017/11/01/vietnam-war-3/.

Lawrence Galiano

STUDENT COMMENT:  Huber’s interview with Lawrence Galiano reveals the ways in which the U.S. was unprepared for the war and how the effect of it led to the loss of lives of soldiers and even the vilification that the soldiers received after coming home. The YAWP chapter explains in depth the response of the war on the Johnson presidency and the country’s response to the war, it notably leaves how the soldiers fared under these conditions and their experiences when they came back home. After the war, he was criticized and even asked to take off his uniform on a plane to protect himself. Before the war, Sergeant Galiano was drafted into the war leaving behind his girlfriend and his dream of going to architectural school to fight for his country. This was a decision that was made for him. The whole experience from being drafted to his arrival in Vietnam was littered with inadequate leadership and lack of preparation. Firstly, he was taken to Fort Dix, where he had to sleep in the parking lot because there were no beds. Upon arriving in Vietnam, the soldiers were given little training and their practice with m14 was rendered useless when they were asked to use the m16s. This change seemed more futile when he realized that the communist forces used AK47s, a far more superior weapon that he claims, “didn’t jam [and] you could hold it under water and it would fire.” Additionally, they were wholly unprepared for the war because as thy never had the numbers and military officials did not have insight to provide resources. The YAWP narrates how networks like CBS displayed the violence enacted on the Vietnamese at the hands of the U.S. and this fueled the protest across the country. While the protest against the war is justified, and the violence against the Vietnamese by soldiers like Lt. Calley were truly horrifying, some of the soldiers were just victims of circumstance. The individual stories of Dennis Braxton, who as a black man was belittled and conflicted about the war or Galiano who was blamed for something he could not control, show there is no single narrative in a war. It holds different stakes for all involved.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The story that really struck me was the life of Sargent Lawrence Galiano in the Vietnam War. Galiano was drafted in 1966, and was first dropped off in Pleiku, Vietnam with little training or mental preparation. He states, when he was dropped out of the helicopter, “everything was under fire”. I can’t sit here and begin to imagine how horrifying that is, not knowing if you are going to make it out, especially when you are fighting in a war you did not voluntarily sign up for. I also want to point out the aftermath of the war, because I think the mental effects of soldiers are overlooked. Galiano talks about how he struggled mentally after coming home, probably a form of ptsd/depression. My grandfather was also in Vietnam, and he experiences this to this day. In addition to this, the treatment of Vietnam soldiers is something I had really never heard about. Today, our troops are highly respected, whereas back then the veterans were treated horribly because of instances like the “US troops [raping] and/or [massacring] hundreds of civilians in the village of My Lai” (YAWP Chapter 28). I find it really heartbreaking that the American people shamed the Vietnam veterans because their service was not by choice, and not all soldiers participated in these horrifying activities like the instance of My Lai.

Intelligence Operative

STUDENT COMMENT:  There are many interesting yet forgotten stories about the soldiers in the Vietnam War. Aside from Dennis Braxton, Jimmy Bracken had the role of gathering social intelligence in Southern Vietnam. He took on ASA missions which he was not even permitted to speak about till long after the end of the war. When reflecting on the war Bracken stated he “didn’t really have that much of an impact”(Nolan, 2018). In the outcome his role may not have been very influential but “As the war deteriorated, the Johnson administration escalated American involvement by deploying hundreds of thousands of troops to prevent the communist takeover of the south. Stalemates, body counts, hazy war aims, and the draft catalyzed an antiwar movement and triggered protests throughout the United States and Europe” (YAWP 28, II). South Vietnam, where Bracken operated the most, was the center of global attention at the time. His role in the war had an effect on foreign policy throughout the world, even if he did not feel it did. The action of the US to have troops in Southern Vietnam outraged the US public. Regardless of the outcome of the war it is tragic that these two veterans did not get to experience the appreciation other veterans received in other wars.

Sample Outline

There are many effective ways to organize an oral history-based essay.  Here is one sample outline:

I.  Introduction

  • Narrative vignette (with quotation from interview)
  • Thesis statement and interpretive overview

II.  Background

  • Personal history (subject’s story)
  • General context (focused on secondary sources)

III.  Narrative

  • Heart of the story (mix of quotations and sources)

IV.  Analysis

  • Explain or interpret significance (address Brands book)

V.  Conclusion

  • Return to narrative vignette and deepen insights

Chasing the American Dream

Chasing the American Dream
by David Ndreca

[NOTE:  Both the subject and the interviewer switch languages as per convenience, therefore, the transcript has been translated and appropriated.]

“Immigrants dreamed the same dreams that immigrants always have–of opportunity in America for themselves and their children” Brands writes in his American Dreams.[1]

In this short piece, I will introduce the story of Marcello Cardillo, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1966 to chase the American Dream. The focus of my story is the description of Cardillo’s journey, which demonstrates the hardships and sacrifices an immigrant had to go through to get to the land of the free and opportunities. Not only will I describe his journey, but also the nature of his success and his consequent ability to help others, who, just like him, dreamed of America. This piece follows the spirit of Brands’ statement, supplementing it and giving it a more sensitive perspective.

In the late 1930’s, Marcello Cardillo’s father, Peppe Cardillo—a U.S. born citizen—was taken back to Italy by his parents and, he was never allowed to come to the U.S. again. In 1940 he was drafted to Africa.[2]Specifically, he was drafted in the Italian Eastern Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), a complex of territories made up of ancient Italian colonial possessions of Somalia, the Eritrean Colony and the Ethiopian Empire.[3]During the war, Peppe lost a leg and was sent back to Italy. Unable to provide for his family, Peppe sent his young kids to work in the fields but it was not enough to feed a family of seven, with a sick mother and a disabled father.[4]Many Italians who emigrated to the United States during the 20s and 30s eventually returned to Italy, “a rarely noted fact that reveals a fundamental ambivalence about being in the United States.”[5]Known as “soujourners” or “economic opportunists” these immigrants came to the U.S. to make money and return home to buy land and open businesses.[6]

At the age of 16, Marcello Cardillo applied, along with his other two male siblings, for a U.S. visa, but it was denied since their uncle was an outspoken communist. Overtaken by desperation, Marcello, the youngest of them all, undertook a journey to Northern Italy, hoping to make it to Switzerland. In Milan, the young Cardillo had to spend the night under a bridge waiting for the seven o’clock bus to Zurich. He said “It was the end of September but I wasn’t cold, I didn’t feel it. I had six starving people at home and the simple idea that I could provide them with a piece of bread kept me going.”[7]

In Switzerland Cardillo was sheltered by farmers and was allowed to sleep in a barn. His hosts found him a job and also forced him to go to night school. “They told me that if I wanted to work, I had to go to school so I could do something better, perhaps find a job in the city.”Soon, Cardillo moved into a little apartment in Zurich, which was “expensive, but it was worth it” he said, “I could make double of what I made working in the farm, and I could send my family twice as much.”[8]

Two years had gone by, and it was time to go see his family. Cardillo had now purchased a car, a Fiat 600 Vignale Spyder, a car he could only afford without much sacrifice. “I was poor, I gave most of my money to my family, but I had saved a lot and now I could pass as middle-class kid, but I was nowhere close to being like [them].”[9]

While visiting his family at the age of 18, Cardillo got arrested for intentionally avoiding the draft. “The communists of the village had reported me, who else?” he stated, “poverty led people into committing evil actions against each other” he continued. Because of his family’s many connections, Cardillo was granted 24 hours to spend with his parents before he could be taken by the authorities and escorted to a military base. However, Cardillo decided to flee and with the help of his neighbor, a marshal of the Carabinieri (Italian police), he was escorted in the marshal’s car trunk to a train station in Rome. “You must cross the Lugano border tomorrow at 9:15, my brother’s shift starts exactly at 9. I will call him, tell him I sent you. He will help you cross the border” the marshal told Cardillo. Once arrived at his apartment in Zurich, Cardillo no longer felt safe and he knew it wouldn’t have been long before the police would find him. Cardillo shared his concerns with his family in New York, and his aunt promised that she’d help him leave Europe.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the Quota Acts which were based on national origins and opened the borders to people with skills needed in a developing American economy.[10]It’s 1966, just a year after the passing of the new immigration law. Cardillo’s aunt sought the help of Congresswoman Edna F. Kelly who, according to Cardillo, “called the U.S. consul in Zurich and arranged a work visa” for him (There is no evidence of such correspondence nor is Mr. Cardillo aware of the relationship between his aunt and the Representative Kelly).

Representative Edna Kelly was a Democrat from New York and had different roles in American politics; most importantly, she was known for her contributions to foreign affairs and women’s rights. Kelly served as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe and later as the third ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.[11]Many Representatives, including Kelly, favored immigration reform. The House Immigration Committee took the issue of race and racial discrimination as legitimate grounds for supporting a new reform.[12]Most Congressman in support of the immigration reform “represented eastern European interests, either in their ethnically mixed regions, or in their own or biographies.”[13]

“The plane took off and I thought about that good-hearted woman (referring to Rep. Edna Kelly). I wouldn’t be on this plane without her, and without my aunt.” At the age of 20 Cardillo arrived to the United States and was not expecting what he saw. “It was dark and rainy but I couldn’t take my eyes off the high ceilings of the airport” he said. “I was asked my passport by a very tall officer. He asked me many questions to which I didn’t know how to answer, of course, but I do remember very well his big mustache.”[14]The American Dream turned to be a bit bittersweet: the demand for laborers was very high but Italian immigrants had socialist approaches to work organizations and were organized into mutual-aid societies. Italian Socialists provided leadership and protection to garment workers, barbers, and construction workers. The Italian Socialists also built a bridge between Italians and labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor or the Bricklayer’s, Mason’s and Plasterer’s International Union of America of which Cardillo was a part of.[15]

Once settled at his aunt’s house, Cardillo quickly started working as a construction laborer with his uncle but was unsatisfied with the attitude of his superiors. “Our bosses would give us the worst positions, the risky ones and many times they withheld a portion of our salaries to pay for the tools but in reality those filthy bastards were putting that money into their pockets” Cardillo stated.[16]In fact, immigrant workers took, and arguably still take, jobs with higher health and safety risks than native-born laborers. This phenomenon occurs because of the immigrants’ levels of education, language abilities, and different perceptions of job risks. Many immigrants obtained their work authorization directly through their employer and were tied to the company for an extended period of time. Undoubtedly, this leads to a system prone to exploitation but because of the aforementioned factors—particularly those immigrants whom immigration status depended on their employer—laborers did not seek for alternative employment or working rights out of fear of the consequences for them and their families.[17]

At 23 years-old Cardillo had just gotten married and wanted his family to live comfortably and still had parents and siblings to feed back in Italy.  He said “I needed to do something, I was an angry young man that needed opportunities and not a [slave-like operated employment].” With the help of family and friends, Cardillo opened an Italian deli in downtown Brooklyn. There, he employed his wife Adele while he continued to work as a construction laborer. In two-year time, Marcello and Adele Cardillo saved enough money to buy a house in Yonkers, New York.[18]Italians were known for the many entrepreneurs and workers engaged in the manufacturing, construction and food businesses. Italians did not assimilate in America, but they created a cultural pluralism that allowed them to keep their Italian traditions and values while becoming good Americans.[19]

In 1983, Cardillo decided to sell his Italian deli and invest the earnings into a construction business. “It was a Sunday, I remember it because we had just returned from mass at St. John’s church. We sat down outside the fig tree and I [consulted] Adele whether or not we should sell our deli. She did not hesitate and supported my idea without any questions” Cardillo said. Within a few weeks Marcello opens his construction business called M & C, S & D Mason Contractors, Inc. and hires five laborers. It was a hard beginning working as subcontractors in Westchester County, NY, there was a lot of competition, and Cardillo’s English was very limited.  However, only a few years later, Cardillo became one of the most renowned construction businessmen in the county. His projects quickly increased and were comprised from 50 to even 100 condominiums. “I did 50 condominiums for Jack Nicklaus. I know [him] very well, we don’t hangout anymore but I knew him very well” Cardillo proudly said. This business not only allowed him to chase his American Dream, but to help his employess do so as well. He made sure his they were protected by a union and partnered with the Bricklayer’s, Mason’s and Plasterer’s International Union of America, the oldest and still operating trade union in the United States. After 30 years in business, the union awarded him with a plaque of excellence in craftsmanship.[20]

After many years in business, Cardillo started supporting both politicians and people in need. He donated to humanitarian organizations and sponsored campaigns. He held beneficiary events and distributed food to the poor. “After 50 years working with immigrants, [Hispanics], people of color, with everybody, [I can say] for me, working people are all the same. America is the number one [compared to any other country] in the world. I am Italian but America is the number one for me. When you’re born in another country and you come to the United States you got to suffer a lot” Cardillo concluded.[21] 

[1]H. W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 384.

[2]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[3]Giuseppe Morandini, Enrico Cerulli, and Ugo Leone, “AFRICA ORIENTALE ITALIANA in “Enciclopedia Italiana”,” Treccani, , accessed April 28, 2018, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/africa-orientale-italiana_res-13a6efa4-87e5-11dc-8e9d-0016357eee51_(Enciclopedia-Italiana)/.

[4]I Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 28, 2018.

[5]Stephen S. Hall, “ITALIAN-AMERICANS COMING INTO THEIR OWN,” The New York Times, May 15, 1983, , accessed April 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/15/magazine/italian-americans-coming-into-their-own.html?pagewanted=all.

[6]Ibid

[7]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[8]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 4, 2018.

[9]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[10][10]H. W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 371.

[11]“Kelly, Edna Flannery,” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, Accessed April 28, 2018.http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/16168.

[12]http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=e9f5d25d-9e01-4437-887e-4dac1b08ff44%40sessionmgr101page 58

[13]Ibid page 64

[14]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[15]Wang Xinyang, Economic opportunity, artisan leadership, and immigrant workers: Italian and Chiense immigrant workers in New York City, 18090-1980, (Labor History, 1996) 492-493.

[16]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[17]http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=c33255e9-d7cc-420f-8aee-a4cec4dca146%40sessionmgr104page 142-143

[18]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[19]Mary Brown, Italians of the South Villages, report, ed. Rafaele Fierro (New York City, NY: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation , 2007), 80, October 15, 2015, accessed April 28, 2018, gvshp.org/blog/2015/10/08/italians-of-the-south-village/

[20]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 4, 2018.

[21]I Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

 

Interviews

–Video recording, Yonkers, NY March 17, 2018.

–Inteview, Yonkers, NY March 28, 2018.

–Phone Interview, April 4, 2018.

–Phone Interview, April 24, 2018.

Selected Transcript

– Video recording

[NOTE: Both the subject and the interviewer switch languages as per convenience, therefore, the use of certain terminology has been appropriated.]

[English]

Q. I know your father was a U.S. citizen. What happened to him?
A. My father was born in this country and then my grandpa [took him] back to Italy when he was 12 years-old. He never came back in this country because in 1930 [there was a draft to Africa]. In Africa, he lost his leg and never came back in this country.

Q. Where were you born? When did you come to the United States?
A. I was born in Italy, in the province of Rome, I left [the country] when I was sixteen years-old and went living in Switzerland. In Switzerland I used to go to school. During the day at work and at night I used to go to school. Then in 1966, I came to the United States to find my [wife]. I was 23 years-old when I met my wife, we got married and after a little while, in a year, we bought a house.

Q. How were you able to sustain your family and buy a house?
A. I used to work all over the place to make money. After three years, I bought my first store, an [Italian] deli. During the day, I would work at the construction site and at night at the deli.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. Were there any obstacles that hindered your business?
A. At the time, everything was managed by the mafia but I was never, I mean … How can I say it … A man from the mafia came to collect the “protection fee” but I told him I didn’t make enough money to pay for the protection.

[English]

Q. What happened afterwards?
A. After that, I closed the store and opened my [construction] business. I stayed in [the construction] business 33 years. I started with three foremen and ended up with 80, 90, 60. [All] union people, everyone used to be a [union man] and I was glad to be a union man and still am a union man, up to today.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. How big were your projects?
A. All the projects consisted of 50, 100, 80 condominiums depending on the various projects, but they were all new.

Q. I know you’ve worked for famous people.
A. Yes, I did 50 condominiums for Jack Nicklaus. I know [him] very well, we don’t hangout anymore but I knew him very well, we ate together… Then I know many political figures such as Nita Lowey (D-NY 17thDistrict), (former state) Senator Spano. I know many of these judges, they’re my friends because the have respected me as a [working] immigrant and I respect them for who they are.

[English]

Q. How did you engage with the community?
A. When I was 26, I started joining [various Italian clubs]. At first, [I joined the] Columbus League, named after Cristoforo Colombo, after that, I joined the Italian-American Organization. After two years, they made me the President of C.I.A.O. A lot of people did not like it because I was an immigrant, I don’t speak very well English. [Afterwards] I started [sponsoring] politicians, I started helping them, helping people and this is my story. After 50 years working with immigrants, any kind of people. I worked with immigrants, Spanish, people of color, with everybody. For me, working people are all the same. For me, America is the number one [compared to any other country]. I am Italian but America is the number one for me.When you’re born in another country and you come to the United States you got to suffer a lot.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. A bizarre question but would you go back to Italy?
A. No. Because I’m planted here and I no longer like the Italian [socio-political] environment. However, Italy is still Italy, it’s beautiful! When you spend your whole life abroad, it’s hard to get used to the Italian environment again.