Integration of Atlanta Public Schools In The 1970s

By David Drawbaugh

In 1947, Lester Maddox, one of the Nation’s foremost segregationists, opened a fried chicken restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia called The Pickrick (1). The restaurant quickly became well known for its quality food, reasonable prices, and strict whites only policy. Axe handles called “Pickrick Drumsticks” were sold in its souvenir shop, and came to symbolize the resistance to African American civil rights in Atlanta (2). In 1964, Maddox came to national attention after he violated the newly signed Civil Rights Act by refusing to serve three black men at The Pickrick (2). When the men tried to order, Maddox threatened them with a pistol and yelled “you no good dirty devils! You dirty communists!” (3). On July 22, 1964 The US District Court of Georgia ruled that Maddox was in contempt of court for failing to obey the Civil Rights Act, and ordered him to desegregate his restaurant within 20 days of the ruling (4). Maddox ultimately decided to close The Pickrick rather than integrate it (5).

Following the Pickrick scandal, Maddox served as Georgia’s 75th governor from 1967 to 1971. He campaigned hard for states rights, and maintained his staunch segregationist stance while in office (6). He was succeeded by Jimmy Carter, who ushered in a new age of Georgian political culture. During his gubernatorial inauguration speech on January 12, 1971, Carter declared that “the time of racial discrimination is over…No poor, rural, weak, or black person should ever have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity for an education, a job, or simple justice.” (7). Carter was a stark contrast to Maddox. He increased the number of black judges and state employees in Georgia. He hired Rita Jackson Samuels, a black woman, to advise him (3). He placed a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr in the capitol building, despite resistance from white supremacists, and pushed policies through the legislature to provide state aid for poor black neighbourhoods so that they could improve their schools, parks, and community centers (3).

Among the social reforms that were accomplished in Georgia in the early 1970s was public school integration (8). The nationwide movement to desegregate public schools started with the Brown vs Board cases in the 1950s. Brown I in 1954 found the separate-but-equal standard to be unjust “on the principle that mere separation of the races violated the constitution.” (9). Brown II in 1955 required public schools across the Nation to integrate with all deliberate speed, “giving Brown I’s vision of equal justice under law enough time and enough legitimacy to enter the hearts and minds of the American people in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” (10). The widespread integration of public schools did not follow any coherent plan. Different states and cities went about it in various ways. One approach that was proposed in Georgia was to bus African American kids from predominantly black neighbourhoods into white neighbourhoods so that they could attend the schools there (8). Although Governor Carter strongly supported African American civil rights, he did not support this method of integration (11). Regardless, mandatory busing was implemented throughout Georgia in 1973, albeit at a limited scale (8).

Kevin and Andrew Drawbaugh were in 7th and 6th grade, respectively, when the busing started in Atlanta. They attended Sutton Middle School, a large public school located in Buckhead, Georgia, a white suburban neighbourhood in central Atlanta. Kevin recalls that on the first day of school in 1973, “the principle said over the intercom that a number of new students would be arriving soon.” (12). This was the first time he, his brother Andrew, and most of his classmates heard about the integration. “We were completely unprepared” he recalls, “there was no direction or warning from the teachers or administration.” (12). The failure of school board officials and administrators to prepare students and parents for the integration worsened the already tense situation it created. “It was a shock to the system” Andrew recalls (13).

Most of the kids bussed into Buckhead’s public schools were from Sandy Springs, a black neighbourhood just north of Buckhead. Kevin estimates that about 2,000 kids were introduced to the school system in 1973, roughly 600 of whom were sent to Sutton. Kevin and Andrew recall things being generally chaotic as a result of the busing. Andrew remembers “two girls getting into a fight with razor blades in the school parking lot, kids spraying hairspray in others kids’ faces, and a student hitting a teacher with a desk during class.” (13). Kevin remembers being regularly attacked on his way home from school, and being unable to learn in class due to disruptive students. “Some classes were alright, but others were pandemonium”, he recalls, “my history class was fine, but I didn’t learn anything in 7th grade math.” (12). Kevin also remembers about one quarter of his white classmates leaving Sutton over the course of the year to go to private schools. After the busing started, “private schools popped up all over the place, seemingly overnight” he recalls. (12). Things calmed down after a few years, and by the time Kevin was a senior at Northside High, Buckhead’s public high school, the violence had more or less ended. “The whole situation was destabilizing” Kevin recalls, “but once things settled down, I came to realize that it was a good thing.” (12). Andrew is grateful to have experienced integration first hand, and feels “sorry for the kids who missed the experience by going to private schools.” (13).

Berkeley Davenport grew up in a black neighbourhood in the southside of Atlanta, and was bussed into Sutton Middle School in 1973. Despite what Kevin and Andrew remember about integration, Mr. Davenport had an overwhelmingly positive experience at Sutton and Northside High. “I was excited to go to Sutton. I had never been in school with white kids, and I wasn’t at all afraid of it” he recalls, “acclimating myself to new teachers and students was a pleasurable thing.” (14). Mr. Davenport was exposed to one instance of violence, but he does not remember it being racially charged. “I was attacked by a bully in a bathroom, but I don’t think he attacked me because I’m black” he recalls (14). In fact, he does not remember experiencing or witnessing any significant black on white or white on black animosity. “I was nice to the white kids, and they were nice to me” he recalls (14). Mr. Davenport befriended Kevin in high school through ROTC, and looks back at his time at Sutton and Northside High with nostalgia, likening it to “a Simon and Garfunkel song that’s been implanted in my brain.” (14).

H.W. Brands’ American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 discusses the immediate reactions to Brown vs Board II’s requirement to desegregate public schools with all deliberate speed, but does not discuss how sentiments towards that requirement evolved throughout the mid to late 20th century. Brands uses Orval Faubus’ resistance to desegregating Arkansas’ public schools in 1957, just two years after Brown II, to represent national discontent towards integration. However, he fails to mention another example of public school integration, and thus provides a somewhat lacking account of it.

The evolution of Georgia’s gubernatorial political culture between the 1950s and 1970s is what paved the way for integration in the state. Marvin Griffin, Georgia’s 72nd Governor who served from 1955 to 1959 was stalwartly against African American civil rights (15). Ernest Vandiver, who succeeded Griffin, defended segregation as well, using the motto “No, not one”, meaning not one black child in a white school (16). Carl Sanders, who followed Vandiver, was also a segregationist, and endorsed Lester Maddox, who was his successor (17). It was not until Jimmy Carter was elected Governor in 1971 that Georgia’s approach to Brown II’s requirement changed in any marked way (3). Understanding how sentiments towards Brown vs Board I and II changed in the 1960s and 1970s is pivotal to understanding the desegregation of public schools. Brands does not discuss this in American Dreams. His account of Faubus’ resistance to integrating Little Rock’s Central High School is valuable but limited. It does not show the important evolution of political culture that occured in states like Georgia, and examines public school integration, an issue that spanned many decades, through a relatively small lense.

Sources

  1. Nystrom, Justin. “Lester Maddox (1915 – 2003).” New Georgia Encyclopedia, April 20, 2004. Accessed December 10, 2017. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/government-politics/lester-maddox-1915-2003
  2. CNN. “Former Georgia Governor Maddox Dies.” CNN Archives. June 25, 2003. Accessed December 10, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20080115140729/http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/06/25/maddox.dead/
  3. Balmer, Randall. Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter. Basic Books, 2014. https://books.google.com/books?id=ezBnAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false
  4. Willis vs Pickrick Restaurant (US District Court for the District of Georgia July 22, 1964). https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/231/396/1444843/
  5. The New Georgia Encyclopedia. “The Pickrick Trial.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. September 1, 2017. Accessed December 10, 2017. http://crdl.usg.edu/cgi/crdl?userid=public&dbs=crdl&ini=crdl.ini&action=retrieve&rkey=&rset=001&recno=2&numrecs=25
  6. The Guardian. “Lester Maddox.” The Guardian. June 25, 2003. Accessed December 10, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/jun/26/guardianobituaries
  7. Carter, Jimmy. “Governor Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Address.” Speech, Inaugural Address, Georgia, Atlanta, January 12, 1971. Accessed December 10, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20161201224225/https://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/documents/inaugural_address.pdf
  8. Weems, William. “The Desegregation of Atlanta Schools.” Freedom on Film: Civil Rights in Georgia. 2007. Accessed December 10, 2017.
  9. Brands, H.W. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945. Penguin Books, 2010
  10. Chen, James Ming. “Poetic Justice.” University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series, August 16, 2005, 1-42. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=778884http://www.civilrights.uga.edu/cities/atlanta/school_desegregation.htm
  11. Mohr, Charles. “Carter on Busing.” New York Times. Accessed December 10, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1976/05/26/archives/carter-on-busing.html
  12. Phone interview with Kevin Drawbaugh, November 11, 2017
  13. Phone interview with Andrew Drawbaugh, December 5, 2017
  14. Phone interview with Berkeley Davenport, December 8, 2017
  15. Buchanon, Scott. “Marvin Griffin (1907-1987).” New Georgia Encyclopedia, August 20, 2013. Accessed December 10, 2017. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/government-politics/marvin-griffin-1907-1982
  16. Carrier, Jim. A Travellers Guide to the Civil Rights Movement. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. https://books.google.com/books?id=Sh2fEcB7vVwC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false
  17. Cook, James. “Carl Sanders (1925-2014)” New Georgia Encyclopedia, March 12, 2015. Accessed December 10, 2017. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/government-politics/carl-sanders-b-1925

Timeline

Selected Interview Quotations

  1. Interview with Kevin Drawbaugh, November 11, 2017.
    1. the principle said over the intercom that a number of new students would be arriving soon.
    2. We were completely unprepared, there was no direction or warning from the teachers or administration.
    3. Some classes were alright, but others were pandemonium. My history class was fine, but I didn’t learn anything in 7th grade math.
    4. Private schools popped up all over the place, seemingly overnight.
    5. The whole situation was destabilizing, but once things settled down, I came to realize that it was a good thing.
    6. Middle school is hard enough, and integration made it even harder.
    7. It was a hard few years, but things eventually calmed down.
    8. In shop class I saw one black girl slam another black girl in the head with a two by four.
    9. It was tough, but something had to happen. It was just unlucky that it had to happen to us.
    10. By Junior year I was going out to parties and restaurants with black kids. There was this pizza place on the border of Buckhead and Sandy Springs that we’d go to.
  2. Interview with Andrew Drawbaugh, December 5, 2017.
    1. It was a shock to the system.
    2. Two girls getting into a fight with razor blades in the school parking lot, kids spraying hairspray in others kids’ faces, and a student hitting a teacher with a desk during class.
    3. I feel sorry for the kids who missed the experience by going to private schools.
    4. Some teachers were indifferent, some were scared.
    5. I skipped like half a year of high school. I didn’t go because I was terrified. Why was I gonna go there, man? That’s crazy!
    6. There was a guy who would play drumsticks on the bell like 10 minutes before class was actually out. It was like a mental zoo, man.
  3. Interview with Berkeley Davenport, December 8, 2017.
    1. I was excited to go to Sutton. I had never been in school with white kids, and I wasn’t at all afraid of it.
    2. Acclimating myself to new teachers and students was a pleasurable thing.
    3. I was attacked by a bully in a bathroom, but I don’t think he attacked me because I’m black.
    4. I was nice to the white kids, and they were nice to me.
    5. Like a Simon and Garfunkel song that’s been implanted in my brain.
    6. The Jewish students were the friendliest. I don’t know if it’s because they were more open minded than other students. I would go out to parties with them and hangout with them.
    7. I learned how to respect people there. I learned how to be a person there.
    8. Everybody was trying to make life better it seemed, the white kids and the black kids.
    9. Prejudice is because people haven’t grown up, because people haven’t been exposed to other cultures.

The Los Angeles Riots of 1992

Driving down Vermont street 

By Heidi Kim

Fires erupting, glass being broken, people running with items they have stolen from stores, police driving up and down the streets, civil unrest; the latter is what most use to describe the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Judy Daley had been living in the neighborhood in which the riots erupted and recalls the “whole situation [feeling] surreal because I was in the car and everything is happening around me as if I was watching a movie.”[1] She remembers her disbelief in the actions of the civilians after news broke of the acquittal of four white officers. Daley recounts, “it was kind of scary because you know what’s good and bad and you see all the people stealing. So, you’re thinking, “My God, what is happening in the world?”[2] The LA Riots are an important event that is omitted from H.W. Brands’ book, American Dreams. Brand mentions and describes the Watts Riots of 1965, but omits any description of the LA Riots. The omission of the LA Riots and its outcome does not enlighten readers about the continued racial tensions and injustices that have occurred and continued to occur in the U.S. well after 1945. 

Courtesy of George Holliday

Still from Rodney King beating video

The LA Riots were a result of the acquittal of four white police men who severely beat a black motorist, Rodney King, during a routine arrest stop. Unbeknownst to the arresting officers, the arrest was recorded by local, George Holliday, who “sold [it] to a local television station, [which] subsequently broadcasted on television thousands of times.”[3] The video clip sparked national debate and produced many reactions. The police men responsible were indicted, but their trial was moved from Los Angeles to Simi Valley in the Ventura County, a “white, prosperous, suburban [neighborhood].”[4] Moving the trial gave an advantage to the police men awaiting their trial because the trial would now be held in a community that was predominantly white, upper-class citizens. By the end of the trial, while many were angry at the video, they were even more furious at the verdict. This erupted into angry crowds and mayhem; the riots lasted from April 29th – May 4th and resulted in “more than 50 people killed, more than 2,300 injured, thousands arrested, 1,100 buildings damaged, and total property damage [at] about $1 billion, [making] the riots one of the most-devastating civil disruptions in American history.”[5] Many extreme measures were taken because of the severity of the riots; these measures included shutting down public transportation, cancelling schools, and deploying the California National Guard. The LA Riots became another symbol for racial tensions that progressed and continue progress in urban cities. 

Courtesy of J. Albert Diaz / LA Times

National Guard troops deployed after California declared state of emergency

As stated previously, the LA Riots resulted in looting of stores and physical violence amongst races. The LA Riots were also known as a “race riot” because of the tensions between different races. One of the focal points of the riots was the beating of Reginald Denny. Reginald Denny was a white truck driver who “was pulled from [his truck] by several black men, kicked and knocked to the asphalt, where one of the men smashed his skull.”[6] This, in addition to the looting and arson, contributed to the increasing tensions and disputes.   

The LA Riots further intensified the racial tensions not only between blacks and whites, but among other races as well, in particular, Asian-Americans. Many Asian-owned business were targeted for looting and destruction. Historian Shelley Lee explains that the LA Riots represented a “shattered ‘American Dream’ and brought focus to their hold on economic mobility in a society fraught by social and ethnic tension.”[7] Many Asian-Americans looked forward to their hard-earned success with their businesses because Asian-Americans lie in the gray area between whites versus blacks. For Daley, being an Asian-American during these looting and arson incidents of Asian-owned businesses made her fearful because “what was happening on the streets, you don’t know if you’re going to be the next victim. You see that these people are looting already, then what is the next thing they are going to do?”[8] Asian-Americans were a significant part of the LA Riots and a part of racial tensions in history. Brands’ omission allows for readers to forget the racial tension between blacks and other races rather than just blacks and whites. The impact it had on Asian-Americans was a saddening thought to Daley because “these Asians worked hard to get their business up and running and they were being looted by these bad people.”[9]  Driving down Vermont street (the main street leading into the Asian populated area of Los Angeles), many storefronts had shattered glass and broken structures. Daley recalls witnessing “a lot of people who were carrying appliances, like TVs, stereos and bags and carts of goods and foods; I saw them coming in and out of the stores.”[10] Tensions between the black community and the police had already erupted, so while the riots occurred police efforts were no match for the angry citizens. Many took advantage of the uprising and of “the ‘no police watching’ and [thinking] that they could take anything they want.”[11] Brands’ omission of the consequences of the LA Riots in his book does not reinforce that racial tensions are still high and very much alive even after previous events. 

Courtesy of thewordisbond.com

LA Riots resulted in looting, among other consequences

The rioting continued until May 4th, when “6,000 National Guardsmen and another 4,000 federal troops and Marines”[12] were deployed to ratify the incident. For most, many had started to resume their day-to-day activities towards the end of the riots. Public transportation that had been shut down was up and running again, children were going back to school, and adults were going back to work. For others who were spectators, like Daley, work did not really stop; “yeah, we still have to go to work. It’s not like the work is going to close. People are just talking about it [riots] at work; what they have seen, what has happened, what’s going on.”[13]

Daley’s account of her experience of the LA Riots offers a different perspective on racial tensions. While Brands does not discuss the LA Riots, Daley’s memories are able to give insight to the chaos that was a result of racial injustice. 


 

[1] Phone Interview with Judy Daley, November 11, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jacobs, Ronald N. Race, Media and the Crisis of Civil Society: From Watts to Rodney King. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2017).

[4] Reference List. 1992. “Days of rage.” U.S. News & World Report 112, 20. Readers’ Guide Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2017).

[5] Wallenfeldt, Jeff. “Los Angeles Riots of 1992.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified November 17, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/event/Los-Angeles-Riots-of-1992.

[6] Reference List. 1992. “Days of rage.” U.S. News & World Report 112, 20. Readers’ Guide Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2017).

[7] Lee, Shelley Sang-Hee. “Asian Americans and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots/Uprising.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Accessed November 11, 2017. http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-15?rskey=jAFWiP&result=1

[8] Phone Interview with Judy Daley, November 11, 2017.

[9] Interview conducted by e-mail with Judy Daley, December 3, 2017.

[10] Phone interview with Judy Daley, November 11, 2017.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Staff, History.com. “Los Angeles Riots.” History.com. 2017. Accessed December 4, 2017. http://www.history.com/topics/the-los-angeles-riots

 

Phone Interview with Judy Daley 11.11.17 

H: In your own experiences, what were the LA Riots of 1992? 

J: Well, let’s put it this way: I was oblivious of what’s going on because I’m not really watching the news, but the day of, I had to pick up your uncle Dick at the airport at LAX and I drove downtown – not downtown – to LAX, not knowing that the riots were happening. So I was on the freeway on my way to pick up uncle Dick and your uncle Dick was saying, “how come at the airplane, when looking out the window, there’s a lot of fires?” And I said, “I don’t know.” So I picked him up, I drove him to his place, came back to LA, but there’s a lot of traffic already. The next day, when I went out, that’s when I see troubling sceneries. So, it was like watching a movie and I was driving. The people are more interested in looting the stores than hurting people. 

H: Oh, okay. 

J:  So that’s why when I was driving at Vermont, between Beverly and 3rd street. So there’s a lot of people who were carrying appliances, like TVs, stereos and probably, uh, bags and carts of goods and foods. And I see them coming in and out of the stores, and I see all the stores on that street before, the glasses – the front glasses – are broken. So they’re just – for them it’s like having a party where they could just get everything. It was kind of scary because you know what’s good and bad and you see all the people stealing. So you’re thinking, “My God, what is happening in the world?” 

H:  So did you feel the need to call someone? Or you were just like, “This isn’t my problem”? 

J:  No, like I said, it was like watching a movie. I was like a spectator, I was just seeing all this happening in front of my eyes. So it’s not just like black people are stealing, it’s everybody: Asians, even those white people.  

H: So how was it being an Asian-American during that time?  

J: Well, it was kind of scary because what was happening on the streets, it’s like you don’t know if you’re going to be the next victim. You see that these people are looting already, then after what is the next thing they are going to do? It’s like they’re having a big party of something doing bad. So you don’t know what the next thing they’re going to do.  

H:  Do you remember watching all of this during the six-day period? 

J: It was just like, um, during that week it was more on the vigilantes, because we still have to go to work. 

H: Really? 

J: Yeah, we still have to go to work. It’s not like the work is going to close. Because I was at the City of Commerce at the time, which is more industrial, so people are just talking about it at work; what they have seen, what has happened, what’s going on. So we feel secure when we’re at work, but then when you go to the street, especially in the streets with retail [stores]. You start to wonder, “Okay, are there they again? What’s the next move they’re [rioters] going to do?” 

H: Did they ever try and aim for neighborhoods or did they stick to stores? 

J: Where we live, they’re more [focused] on the stores. 

H: Oh, okay. 

J:  So I think it was like people took advantage of the situation. The people who were looting during that time was taking advantage of this ‘no police watching’. That they could take anything they want. 

H: Do you remember where you were when you, I guess, or when the news that the police men were acquitted of the Rodney King arrest? 

J: I think it was Thursday/Friday. I’m not really sure, I might be at work. 

H: So was that day kind of normal until you left work? 

J: Until we went home. So it’s like, you know, after watch The Purge [movie], everybody stays inside. And all these people who wanted to do something bad are all on the street.  So that was the part where we don’t really go out as much at night during that week. And then I think it was concentrated on some areas. It’s not like everybody just went berserk. 

H: So when did you guys come to the U.S.? Around the sixties? 

J: No, oh my God, you have to talk to your mom more often, haha. [We came here] in the eighties.  

H:  So you guys came in the eighties, what were your expectations of America and how did seeing the mayhem of the riots kind of changed that, if it changed at all? 

J:  Well, we were at Riverside, so which is more of a rural place. And then, ten years after – we came here in [nineteen] eighty-two and now it’s [nineteen] ninety-two, ten years – we have nothing to compare it except for what we know, which is that the United States is cold, weather wise. Okay? But other than that, it was like more of a fascination of what we see. We’re fascinated that they have all these freeways, we’re fascinated that people are driving. So it’s not like, how would you say it? It’s not like we would say that – I would say probably America was really rich. That everywhere you go, there is – its organized. Because in the Philippines it’s not that way; people are being resourceful, they do their own thing. 

H: So you guys thinking that the U.S. is organized, it’s rich, and it’s well resourced, what was your guys’ initial reactions? 

J: Oh, when the riot came? 

H: Yeah. 

J: Yeah, we were just saying, “Where did these people come from?” That people started beating each other, that there’s no remorse. Why are people being violent? Because we were not raised in a violent environment. And then you are seeing people, there’s so much hatred. So we were saying, “Where did this come from?”. Because in the Philippines, even though we had typhoons, we had all these monsoons, people tend to look at it – people tend to look at the brighter side.  

H: And so seeing the LA Riots… 

J: Seeing the LA Riot, we were just starting to say, “Why is there so much hatred? Why is it that you hate something and then suddenly they become violent with everybody else who’s not hurting you? Why are you taking their belongings that’s not yours?” 

H: So prior to the actual riots, did you know of the case of Rodney King? Were you following the case? 

J: Not closely, but it’s more of a what we call a “cooler” – “water cooler” discussion. It’s a “water cooler” conversation. Because before water bottles, when people wanted to get a drink of water in the office, there’s a water cooler, which is like what your Lola has at home. And then we just go there and get our water and then the people are going to say “oh did you hear? Oh did you know?” Things like that. And then people started discussing. And that’s how I know my news.  

H: Is there anything else that you want to add? 

J: Nothing I’ve already told you. 

H: Okay, thank you!

 

Email Interview with Judy Daley 

H: How did it feel being an Asian-American during this period of “white v. black”? Why did it you feel this way? 

J: The whole situation felt surreal because I was in the car and everything is happening around me as if I was watching a movie. The people looting didn’t bother me at all. They were focused on getting as much as they can from the store. 

H: How did it feel seeing Asian stores being looted and destroyed? 

J: I felt bad because morally, what the they are doing was wrong. Felt disappointed to the looters because these Asians worked hard to get their business up and running and they were being looted by this bad people. 

H: What was the difference in Asian-Americans rioting (if there were any) versus the Blacks rioting? 

J: I think black rioting is more physical riots – hurting people of other races. 

H: What were the reactions of other Asian-Americans during the riots? 

J: Some Asians were indifferent because they don’t want to be involved. Very few Asians were involved with the protesting. 

 

 

 

 

A Witness to the Post War Baby Boom

By: Max Menkes

Photo of Dr. Stephen Menkes and his two sisters. – Courtesy of Stephen Menkes

Stephen Menkes was a 9-year-old boy when World War II ended in 1945.  He had spent most of his early years being raised by his grandmother while living in her small apartment with his parents and his Uncle Joe. As the fear of war subsided a whole new era began, the Post War Baby Boom. As H.W Brands writes, “After World War II the combination of more time, more resources, and more kids created a child-based culture unlike anything previous in American History…But they grew up with a sense of entitlement, a feeling that the world existed for their benefit.” [1] Stephen would probably agree as he recalls, “I remember vividly the day my dad loaded my mom and me in our brand new black Packard and drove us out to Atlantic Beach on Long Island to show us our new house. I was so excited to discover that I would have my own room and a huge backyard. It got even better when I learned that my mom was quitting her job to stay home and that she was pregnant.” [2] It would be a whole new way of life for Stephen, “my dad commuted to the city each day to go to work but he spent most nights and every weekend at home. We had barbecues in the backyard and block parties with friends and neighbors.” [3] Long gone were the days of pinching pennies, eating cabbage soup, sleeping on a cot in the living room, collecting fat for the war effort and preparing bomb shelters. The post war baby boom was a new beginning for the nation.  “They would grow up more confident and secure with who they were and what their future would hold.  They had no worries, no money problems and no war!” [4] The Post World War II Baby Boom gave birth to a society comforted by a more focused family life and homogeneous suburbs and raised to believe that the world was theirs for the taking.

As a child of the Great Depression Stephen lived through both emotional and physical changes that affected his family life. “A worldwide depression struck countries with market economies at the end of the 1920s. Although the Great Depression was relatively mild in some countries, it was severe in others, particularly in the United States, where, at its nadir in 1933, 25 percent of all workers and 37 percent of all non farm workers were completely out of work. Some people starved; many others lost their farms and homes.” [5]

People waiting in Bread-lines. – Courtesy of history.com

Money was tight so Stephen’s mother was forced to find a job to help support the family. Since his mother went back to work as a secretary and money was tight his family was forced to move into his grandmother’s two bedroom apartment over a bakery in the Lower East Side of New York with his Uncle Joe. He candidly admits, “At first I was excited at the idea of living with my grandmother since I had grown accustomed to her amazing Friday night dinners that included homemade Rocky Road candy but I soon discovered that all that was a thing of the past.” [6] The living space was so crammed; he slept on a cot in the living room and as a young boy he remembers, “Playing stick ball in the street with my friends until the sun went down because none of us wanted to go home to our cramped apartments and cabbage soup dinners.” [7] Things got worse as the war started and demanded more of his family.  He barely saw his parents that worked all day and then volunteered for the Civil Air Patrol in the evenings. His parents now committed to helping the war effort after work and he rarely spent time with them. Even as a young boy he realized the significance of contributing to the protection of his family and his country and he states that “ I remember my mom and grandmother collecting fat and putting it in coffee cans and then I had the proud job of bringing it to the District Office. I felt very proud and grown up that I could do something to help the war effort.” [8] President Franklin Roosevelt helped create the significance of the war effort in his Third Inauguration speech on January 20, 1941, “Democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists the full force of men’s enlightened will… It is the most humane, the most advanced, and, in the end, the most unconquerable of all forms of human society. The democratic aspiration is now mere recent phase of human history… We… would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.” [9] The war occupied the nation’s thoughts and their activities. Stephen and his family lived in fear of sirens going off warning of bombs. Then to make things worse his Uncle Joe enlisted and the family now had to rely on one less income and live with the new fear of losing a loved one to the war.

Soldiers storming beach in WW2. – Courtesy of thinglink

 

In 1945 as the war came to an end, a new car and a move out to the suburbs would be the start of a whole new life for Stephen and the beginning of a new era for the country. The move to family centered neighborhoods was not easy, “In the years after World War II, however, not everyone could attain that promised tranquility. One problem was a severe housing shortage. A combination of unusually high birth rates (which bred the baby boomer generation) and plummeting construction left many families struggling to find any suitable shelters, sometimes living in boxcars, chicken coops and large ice boxes. To many of those families, the Levittown’s in Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the answer to their prayers.” [10]   

Levittown Suburbs. – Courtesy of travelstudies.org

The house provided a new spacious way of life and the new car provided a way for his father to spend more time with him and just commute to the city for his job.  H.W Brands writes the new way of life was partially due to, “the eight-hour day and forty-hour week that became a standard during the Depression, partly as a way of rationing the available work.” [11] Family life for Stephen changed for the better and his younger sisters benefited from this new way of life, “my parents were very active in my sister’s lives and attended recitals and school functions.  They each had their own room and they were constantly bringing friends over to the house for dinner and parties. Our house was filled with laughter and good food not like the somber home of my grandmother.  They didn’t know how sick you get of eating cabbage soup or how it feels to sleep in the living room.” [12]

The move to the suburbs provided a sense of community and a much needed sense of safety that deeply affected family life. Since the families no longer feared sirens Stephen and his sisters were allowed to stay out late and walk into town, a new freedom that he cherished.  But it wasn’t just the fact that the war was over, the suburbs provided a sense of community that gave them a needed sense of security.  Stephen remembers fondly that, “We all knew one another, my dad worked in the city with the other dads, I went to the same school as my friends, and my mom was surrounded by her friends.  Everyone had common interests which seemed to provide a sense of safety that was important after the war.” [13] William Levitt believed that nothing was wrong with the homogenous suburbs he created, “The plain fact is that most whites prefer not to live in mixed communities. This attitude may be wrong morally, and some day it may change. I hope it will. But as matters now stand, it is unfair to charge an individual with the blame for creating this attitude or saddle him with the sole responsibility for correcting it.” [14] This sense of safety that came from common interests and backgrounds was later looked at as discrimination but for my grandfather Stephen Menkes it was no different than living in the city, “I guess it wasn’t a very economically or racially diverse neighborhood but most people didn’t care about that back then.  In the city we had neighborhoods for Jews and others for Italians so living with people that were similar was nothing new.” [15]

The increase in the family’s disposable income after the war also changed the family dynamic.  The purchase of a television was one of the factors that contributed to this shift.  The family dinner was an important part of family life but the time in front of the television also became a new family activity.  The dinner table provided a formal time for the family to discuss their day but even that was different after the war, “ When I was younger my dad did most of the talking and conversations were more solemn but when we moved out to the suburbs my mom definitely had more to say. I think working had given her the confidence to feel like she could contribute something more to the conversation.” [16] The television was a source of information for those conversations, “My mom would always tell us about the latest and greatest soap or new product that she saw on TV that would somehow greatly improve our lives!” [17] Stephen admits that, “his conversation at the dinner table was more about his class work and hearing that with good grades the world was his for the taking.” [18] After dinner the family now gathered in the living room and bonded over shows on television.  Stephen laughs as he remembers that it wasn’t just the shows but the close proximity to each other and to the television that brought them closer, “We all sat close to the television because it wasn’t as big as the ones we have today and it was black and white!” [19] The shows were mainly family shows that enhanced the quality of family life.  Stephen shared that his favorite show was Howdy Doody which he watched every afternoon but says that as a family he remembers watching the Milton Berle variety show in the evening.  Stephen is quick to confess that the TV commercials were just as important as the TV shows, “We all got our cues as to what was the latest and greatest from TV” [20] and that was definitely the intent of those commercials.  The new purchasing power that existed and the new idea that the purchaser deserved those purchases, especially after years of war and financial difficulties, was a boom for advertisers.  Stephen remembers his favorite commercial was the one for Bosco chocolate syrup, “my friends and I wanted it on everything after we saw the commercial and the chocolate egg cream soda became my favorite, and still is.” [21]

The family car also contributed to a change in family life.  The car provided a way for his father to commute to the city and come home to a house and family with a better quality of life than what they had previously had in the small apartment in the city, “Postwar Affluence redefined the American Dream. Gone was the poverty borne of the Great Depression, and the years of wartime sacrifice were over.  Automobiles once again rolled off the assembly lines of the Big Three: Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. The Interstate Highway Act authorized the construction of thousands of miles of high-speed roads that made living farther from work a possibility.” [22]

1946 Packard Clipper. – Courtesy of cargurus.com

A road trip now provided a new form of family entertainment that brought the family closer together.  Family time was valued as Stephen looks back, “I remember the long car trip to Florida but it was a family adventure that became a family tradition.  We took more car trips to visit relatives or go up to the country for the weekend and my world got bigger” [23] The baby boom was not just a boom in the number of children being born but a boom in the quality of family life that gave children the sense that they could do anything and go anywhere.

The Post War Baby Boom was a welcome reprieve from the dark days of war and it created a confident and self-assured new way of life.  “Almost exactly nine months after World War II ended, “the cry of the baby was heard across the land,” as historian Landon Jones later described the trend. More babies were born in 1946 than ever before: 3.4 million, 20 percent more than in 1945. This was the beginning of the so-called “baby boom.” In 1947, another 3.8 million babies were born; 3.9 million were born in 1952; and more than 4 million were born every year from 1954 until 1964, when the boom finally tapered off. By then, there were 76.4 million “baby boomers” in the United States. They made up almost 40 percent of the nation’s population.” [24]

Picture of St. Joseph Hospital, Chicago, during The Baby Boom. – Courtesy of St. Joseph’s Hospital

The new generation of baby boomers had never experienced poverty or war.  They were born post-depression, after incomes had increased, and during a time after the war when opportunities for spending were at a new high for several reasons.  Firstly, production lines and factories that had been directed to produce products necessary for war were once again producing cars and televisions.  Secondly the new commercials on televisions were targeting the parents with new disposable income and tapping into their desire to give their children what they had done without. Thirdly the man power for assembly lines returned to the normal strength as men returned from war.  As Stephen Menkes describes the baby boom era allowed his younger sisters to be raised by their mother who was able to return home from the workforce and concentrate on improving the life of her family. The new quality and quantity of time spent with family and community led to a confident and secure environment which for him was a positive not a negative. As H.W Brands writes, “parents and grandparents wanted their children to have what they had been compelled to do without.” [25] So while Stephen boldly admits to agreeing with H.W. Brands characterization of the generation as one with “a sense of entitlement” he proudly confesses, “they were spoiled but even I enjoyed spoiling them.  There was a ten-year difference between me and my sisters so I am just as guilty as my parents of trying to make sure that they had everything they ever wanted.” [26] The new attitude associated with the Baby Boom propelled the nation into a time of prosperity through increased spending and created an attitude that they deserved everything that the world had to offer.  This sense of entitlement could be why the nation grew to consider itself a leader among nations with an air of superiority but could also have been the reason that our nation is in debt today.  The baby boom generation that was coddled by their parents and brought up to believe that they deserved to have it all was a symptom of the previous generation suffering through a financial crises and war. Stephen’s experiences describe that this was a natural and protective response and not one intended to harm others. In fact, the new sense of love and security that was a byproduct of larger families with greater resources greatly influenced Stephen in becoming an OBGYN with a specialty in infertility, “I chose to become an OBGYN so that I could help bring that same feeling to all families.” The more focused family life, child centered environment, and homogeneous suburbs allowed Stephen to reach for the stars and go from sleeping on a cot in the living room to providing a much needed service that would bring forth a new generation.

[1] H.W. Brands, American Dreams, p.70

[2] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

[3] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

[4] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

[5] Smiley, Gene. Rethinking the Great Depression: A New View of Its Causes and Consequences. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002.

[6] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

[7] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

[8] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

[9] Quoted in Second world war history, President Franklin Roosevelt (secondworldwarhistory.com, 2003-2017)

[10] Galyean, Crystal. “Levittown.” US History Scene. 10 Apr. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2017.

[11] H.W. Brands, American Dreams, p.70

[12] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

[13] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[14] Kyle Sabo, “The Levittown Legacy: Segregation in Suburbia?” Newsday, September 2, 1957

[15] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[16] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[17] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[18] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[19] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[20] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[21] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[22] ushistory.org. Suburban Growth. U.S. History Online Textbook, 2017

[23] Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

[24] History.com Staff. Baby Boomers. A+E Networks, 2010

[25] H.W. Brands, American Dreams p.70

[26] Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, November 10, 2017

 

Second Interview with Dr. Stephen Menkes, December 5, 2017

  1. How did you like moving out to the suburbs and who lived there?

Answer:  I loved living where we could all get together in backyards instead of just playing on the street or in the park.  My parents let us stay out late because they no longer feared sirens going off and having to worry where I was. My sisters never had that fear of trying to get home because you were afraid a bomb was going to get dropped.  My friends and my parent’s friends all lived close to us.  We all knew one another, my dad worked in the city with the other dads, I went to school with my friends and my mom was surrounded with her friends.  Everyone had common interests which seemed to provide a sense of safety that was important after the war!  I guess it wasn’t a very economically or racially diverse neighborhood but most people didn’t care about that back then. In the city we had neighborhoods for Jews and others for Italians so living with people that were similar was nothing new.

  1. Did you eat dinner at a table or did you eat in front of the television?

Answer:  We always waited for my dad to get home from work and we always sat at the kitchen table.  It was a little more formal then today.  I helped my mom set the table and we had conversations at the table and then we all moved to the couch to watch a show.

  1. What did you discuss at dinner?

Answer:  We usually waited to see my dad’s mood and then conversations went from there. When I was younger my dad did most of the talking and conversations were more solemn but when we moved out of the city after the war my mom definitely had more to say.  I think working had given her the confidence to feel like she could contribute something to the conversation. My mom would always tell him about what the latest and greatest soap or new baking product that she and her friends were now using and how it would greatly improve all our lives!! I usually discussed my classes and was always reminded of how my academic success was the key to my future.

  1. What kind of shows did you watch?

Answer:  I loved Howdy Doody and at night I remember watching Milton Berle, which was a variety show.  We always sat together probably because we only had one TV but all the shows seemed like family shows anyway. We sat close to the TV because it wasn’t as big as the ones we have today and it was black and white!! The commercials on TV were just as much fun as the TV shows.  We all got our cues as to what was the latest and greatest from TV.  I remember the Bosco commercial for chocolate syrup!  My friends and I wanted it on everything after we saw the commercials and chocolate egg creams sodas became a favorite!! Commercials were definitely product driven and designed to make us feel like we deserved to have the best so why not shop and get them.

  1. How else do you think your life changed after you moved out of the city?

Answer:  We were all together more and we planned family activities more.  We always had backyard barbecues at someone’s house but we also had more things that just my family did together.  Family vacations were new to me.  I remember the long car trip to Florida but it was a family adventure that became a family tradition. We took more trips in the car to visit relatives or go up to the country for the weekend and my world became a lot bigger.

Image

Facing the Draft Lottery During the Vietnam War

By Noah Frank

Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) draws the first number of the Vietnam draft lottery. Courtesy Selective Service

On the night of December 1, 1969, hundreds of thousands of young men across the country anxiously held their breath. For the first time in over twenty-seven years, a national draft lottery was being held.[1] Congressman Alexander Pirnie, ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, drew the first number. “September 14th… September 14th is 001.” Pirnie had selected one of 366 capsules from a large bowl. Each capsule contained a day of the year (including leap years), and was pulled at random and given a corresponding number. [2] Those with birthdays corresponding with low numbers were faced with the imminent prospect of being drafted into the army and sent overseas to fight in Vietnam. For Joel Frank, the specter of the draft loomed large. “I was very worried. I did not want to be drafted.” [3] Though Joel didn’t face the immediate possibility of being drafted that night in December 1969, it was a distinct possibility on the horizon that couldn’t be ignored.

During the era of the Vietnam War, roughly 26.8 million men between the ages of 18 and 26 were eligible for the draft lottery. Of these, around 8.7 million eventually wound up serving overseas in Vietnam. [4] Prior to the implementation of the lottery system, the draft had operated under the principle that the oldest eligible men were drafted first. [5] President Nixon hoped that the draft lottery would reduce anti-war sentiment on college campuses around the country, by making those with higher lottery numbers feel less immediately threatened and creating a sense of “randomized fairness.” A key feature of the draft lottery was that each age group was only at risk for a single year. [6] Despite Nixon’s hopes, many resented the draft and saw it as unfair. [7] A key feature of the draft lottery was that each age group was only at risk for a single year. [8] Men eligible for the draft would have their lottery number called the year before they turned 20. Those with lower numbers would be ordered to report for physical exams as part of pre-screening. Those fit for service were given the classification 1-A. [9] Even with these measures attempting to create an image of “fairness” associated with the draft, there were still 570,000 draft offenders and 563,000 less-than-honorable discharges from the military during the Vietnam War Era. [10]

An example of the capsules containing dates throughout the calendar year that would be drawn at random and paired with a draft lottery number. Courtesy Selective Service

Historian Michael S. Foley notes that young men confronting the possibility of being drafted essentially faced the three choices of fighting in a war many of them considered futile and immoral, going to jail, or finding a way avoid both the war and jail. These decisions arguably inspired cynicism and weakened American’s faith in their government. [11] While historian H.W Brands in his book American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, makes much of how many young men protested the war, sometimes violently, most young men facing the draft lottery confronted their fate in ways far less dramatic. [12] Depending on their socio-economic status, young men facing the draft lottery had a variety of options. As Natalie M. Rosinsky writes in her book The Draft Lottery that “men studying to be ministers, priests or rabbis could be exempted from service.” [13] Men could also join the National Guard to substitute their military service, an avenue future presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both took. Some men tried, usually without success, to qualify as conscientious objectors and avoid service altogether. [14] The draft lottery also faced criticisms from those who said it favored the middle and upper classes, by offering deferments for those seeking college degrees. Men from working class families often could not afford college, and so this possibility was closed off to them. [15] Young men who managed to stay in college were able to delay their risk of being drafted through most of the years of the draft lottery. [16] For many men from working-class families, the draft lottery must have hardly seemed random.

Joel Frank, however, grew up in a middle-class family in Brooklyn, New York City. [17] Asked whether people he knew were concerned about being drafted, Joel recalls that “most of my friends were concerned. Living in a middle-class neighborhood. Most [sic] guys I knew where [sic] going to college and expecting to get student deferments.” [18] Joel also decided to enroll in college. On his college experience, Joel stated “I was commuting to college, but eventually I dropped out. When I was 19 I moved to upstate New York and enrolled in Ulster County Community College to renew my student deferment, but I soon dropped out there as well. Schools were slow to inform the government that students had dropped out in order to prolong their deferments, and I re-enrolled in the fall when I was 20, though I would drop out again not long after I got another deferment.” [19] Joel’s draft lottery occurred mid-year in 1971, and he recalls his draft number being 187, though he initially thought it might be 179. [20] The ceiling number for Joel’s lottery group was 95. [21] Joel remembered that his high lottery number for that year “made it less likely for me to be drafted.” [22] An article from 1971 appearing in the New York Times would seem to confirm Joel’s memory. The article declared that men born in 1952 (like Joel, who were 19 that year, and facing the lottery for next year’s draft) were safe from the draft, and that those with low numbers would only be drafted in the event of a national emergency. [23] In June 1971, the rate of induction for draftees had slowed to a trickle. [24] Though Joel may not have realized it immediately, he was essentially safe from the draft lottery from this point forward.

Joel’s story with the draft lottery, and the story of countless other men from the period who faced the draft, seem to contradict Brands’ narrative in his book American Dreams. In discussing how young people viewed the war, Brands spends several pages focusing on the SDS movement and its violent off-shoot known as the Weathermen. Brands writes “The Weathermen and similar groups espoused violence in America as a way to end the violence in Vietnam, and members bombed college ROTC buildings, draft board headquarters, army induction facilities, and research laboratories conducting defense-related work.” [25] Brands also makes a tacit acknowledgement that most protest of the war was peaceful, but still misses the larger picture. [26] In focusing his narrative on dramatic storytelling, Brands arguable misses out on the less dramatic, yet no less compelling story of the vast majority of young men facing the draft lottery. Most men did not burn their draft cards or sympathize with the views of groups like the Weathermen. The majority of young men seem to have been ambivalent or opposed to the war, but to primarily be focused on simply finding a way to stay out of it. Joel Frank’s story reflects this more common narrative, which Brands neglects in his discussion of the period.

[1] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[4] Maxwell, Donald W. “Young Americans and the Draft.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25162083.pdf

[5] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[6] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[7] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[8] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[9] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[10] Maxwell, Donald W. “Young Americans and the Draft.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25162083.pdf
[11] Ibid.

[12] H.W Brands. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 152-155, 170.

[13] Rosinsky, Natalie M. 2009. The Draft Lottery. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books. Google Books. 10.

[14] Ibid. 10-11

[15] Ibid. 13

[16] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[17] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[18] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[19] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[20] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[21] Selective Service. “Vietnam Lotteries.” https://www.sss.gov/About/History-And-Records/lotter1

[22] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[23] Rosenbaum, David E. “Men With Numbers Over 125 Safe From Draft in 1971.” The New York Times. October 6, 1971. http://www.nytimes.com/1971/10/06/archives/men-with-numbers-over-125-safe-from-draft-in-1971.html?_r=0

[24] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[25] H.W Brands. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 154.

[26] Ibid. 154.

NOTE: This transcript is reconstructed from detailed notes taking during a phone conversation with the interview subject on November 12, 2017.

Joel Frank is the father of the author, and was a some-time college student of prime drafting age from Brooklyn, NY in the years immediately after the height of the war in 1968 with the Tet Offensive.  

Q.  What do you remember of the Tet Offensive? Were you surprised?

A. It was on the news a lot. Every night there would be news from Vietnam on the TV. At the time of the Tet Offensive (January 1968) I was a sophomore in high school, but I would turn 18 in June of 1970. I was certainly worried, but I primarily remember domestic events that were happening around the same time as the Tet Offensive, particularly around the issue of civil rights with riots of the previous two years in Newark and Detroit. I went to an all-boys high school, and all the talk of the issues of the day filtered down to us. We even pulled off our own small protest, walking out of class to demand that we be allowed to wear blue jeans, which we felt was a big deal at the time. My older sister was more involved in issues of civil rights at the time, but it was something I became concerned about and the issue gradually gained traction at my school.

Q. Were you concerned about the prospect of being drafted?

A. Not when I was a sophomore in high school, though I was against the war. I was definitely not worried in 1970 when I turned 18, because even though I didn’t have the best grades in high school I managed to get into York College and get a student deferment. If it weren’t for that though, I most likely would have been drafted that year. 1968 and 1969 had seen some of the largest number of draftees into the war. The draft worked on a lottery system, and I had a high number, possibly 179, which made it less likely for me to be drafted. They would use a bingo-type machine to choose draft numbers. I was commuting from home to college, but eventually I dropped out. When I was 19 I moved to upstate New York and enrolled in Ulster County Community College to renew my student deferment, but I soon dropped out there as well. Schools were slow to inform the government that students had dropped out in order to prolong their deferments, and I re-enrolled in the fall when I was 20, though I would drop out again not long after I got another deferment. The draft was polarizing the country, with half the country thinking those who tried to avoid the draft were cowards and the other half thinking they were standing up for their rights. Some people were burning their draft cards and heading across the border to Canada.

Q. What was your opinion of LBJ before the war? How did it change?

A. LBJ became president in 1963 after JFK was killed, and I didn’t know much about him [LBJ] then. I was very young at that time, but I remember I was very sad when JFK died. My family had visited Washington, D.C in the summer of 1963, I remember keeping a postcard with JFK on it. This was also around the time I first became aware of politics. I remember that the death of Kennedy had an intense effect. At first, LBJ focused on civil rights, which I hadn’t been fully aware of [as a child] but supported once I became more aware in high school in 1966. My sister’s involvement with civil rights issues also had an effect on me. As I got older and became more worried about being drafted, I started not to like LBJ so much. The war was always in the news, and there were a lot of bad feelings surrounding it in 1967-68. I remember they announced in 1971 that men born in 1952 wouldn’t be drafted that year, which was a temporary relief due to the high draft number I received. After LBJ announced he wouldn’t run for reelection I supported Humphrey as I had never liked Nixon. I thought Nixon was vague and remembered watching JFK debate Nixon on TV and not liking him even then. By 1968 though, my opinion of LBJ was greatly diminished.

Q. H.W Brands, in his book American Dreams, describes how the assassinations of MLK, JFK, and RFK happening in such a short span of time, along with the Vietnam War, lead to a decline in American liberalism which helped elect Nixon. Do you agree?

A. I find that slightly odd. There was certainly great anger, especially after the deaths of MLK and RFK. I suppose it’s somewhat true, there were riots, and many people were scared. It seemed that a slow end to white dominance in society was occurring, and whites were polarized with some seeing no issue, while others were viciously opposed to their loss of influence. There was pushback which helped elect Nixon. There were also racial equality marches in D.C in the 70’s.

Q. What was your reaction to the 1968 DNC Convention protests in Chicago? Did you sympathize with them?

A. They were terrible, the police were very violent. The polarization the country was experiencing surrounding the war came to a head. There was fierce anger, which only grew in the wake of the assassinations. Different groups at the time had different agendas, the police were provoking the protesters into acts of violence and beating them up, and anti-government sentiment was growing with resistance to the war. There were also rumors that Nixon viewed himself as a king, that he wanted White House staff to have fancy uniforms and a “palace guard.” That was a general time of upheaval, and I also remember the black athletes in the Olympics of ’68 who held their fists up, similar to the NFL protests today. I also remember Kent State a few years later, where the anger over the war again came to a head with the shooting of several students protesting the war. Some people in the country viewed the protestors in Chicago and elsewhere as traitors, and others agreed with them that the war was wrong.

Q. How did you react when Nixon won the 1968 election?

A. I was not happy. I was about 16 at the time. There were so many crazy things happening at the time, with riots, and the events in Chicago, that the election felt like just another thing. Many people were disturbed by all that was happening, and people rallied around protests related to the war and civil rights. There were also conspiracy theories floating around. People were worried that the FBI was spying on them, that they kept files on people and tapped their phones. There were also infiltrators in movements like the Black Power movement in which Malcolm X had been a prominent figure. He had been assassinated himself only a few years earlier.

Q. Do you remember Nixon’s phased ending of the war through “Vietnamization,” and the invasion of Cambodia? How did you react at the time?

A. Nixon had been waging a secret war in Cambodia. I remember during high school in June of 1970 things were all “helter skelter” just like in the then recent Beatles song. Many different things were visible in the media, from issues relating to civil rights to rumors of soldiers “fragging” [killing] incompetent or poorly trained officers to avoid getting killed pointlessly themselves.

Q. Were you relieved when the war ended?

A. Yes. I had been living with a fear of the possibility of my going to war. There were mixed feelings in the country generally, with people talking about whether or not the U.S had been defeated. For most, losing the war had a negative effect on their self-image of the country. Not long after the war, President Ford granted a mass pardon to those who had burned their draft cards and fled to Canada.

Q. How did you feel when South Vietnam fell a view years later? Did you sense a “Vietnam Syndrome?”

A. A little. I remember there were “boat people,” thousands of South Vietnamese refugees trying to get out of the country before it fell under communist control. There was some debate at the time over letting them into the U.S, but ultimately there was a fear that U.S-Vietnam babies (babies with a GI father and a Vietnamese mother), who were ostracized in their society, would be killed once the North took over, so many were let into the U.S. In general I was simply glad the war was over. It seemed that it had been a huge waste, with many Americans and Vietnamese dying for no reason. Nixon had campaigned on ending the war, which he eventually did, but half of all U.S soldiers to die in the war died under Nixon’s administration. Petty politics seemed to needlessly cost lives.

NOTE: This transcript is from an email interview conducted on December 7, 2017.

Q. What do you remember about registering for the draft when you turned eighteen?
A. I remember feeling very worried. I did not want to be drafted. For me this occurred in mid-1970.
I had spent the previous 5 years (1965-1970) “watching the war” on the nightly news broadcasts.

Q. What do you remember of how the draft lottery system worked? How much of the draft lottery
system did you personally experience?
A. I was in the third Vietnam war lottery. I was thankful for a relatively high number (187). This
occurred mid-year 1971 when I was 19.
Q. Do you remember ever appearing before a draft board?
A. I do not really remember, I may have to go when I turned 18to appear but did have to send in
documents occasionally.
Q. Were many people you knew at the time worried about being drafted? Were there a significant
number who were “draft-resistors,” or were most people simply trying to go about their daily life
while avoiding the draft?
A. Most of my friends were concerned. Living in a middle-class neighborhood. Most guys I knew
where going to college and expecting to get student deferments.

Q. What was the process for getting a student deferment?
A. College or University registrar had to send information about full time enrolment.

Q. Was getting a deferment a significant reason you went to college?
A. ABSOLUTLEY. I enrolled and dropped out of college 3 times when I was 18, 19 and 20 years
old. I would wait for my daft board to be notified that I was a full-time student, then drop out. It
seemed schools did not notify when I dropped out. So each fall I made sure I was registered.

Q. Did your draft-eligibility, or potential eligibility, strongly affect your views of the war?
A. Yes. I had an anti- Vietnam War sentiment and draft just helped to personalize that feeling.

The Secret Bombing of Laos and Cambodia

By Jake Pesko

Courtesy of Crime Magazine

Frank Letteri was a member of the US Navy Intelligence Services and he recalls being drafted into the Vietnam War in 1969. Mr. Letteri remembers his sentiments after being drafted to serve in one of the most controversial wars in history; he states, “I understood the implications. I have never been a person with much fear. The uncertainty of what we were to accomplish was the most bothersome factor to me.” [1] In the same year President Nixon implemented the policy of Vietnamization to slowly remove United States troops from the battlefront. Yet simultaneously Nixon was pushing the war into Laos and Cambodia through a bombing offensive. Frances FitzGerald shows the magnitude of this strategy by stating “extensive bombing campaigns wreaked more destruction on the Indochinese than had been visited upon them in all preceding years of war.” [2] Mr. Letteri’s company played a significant role in these campaigns.

The escalation of war did not come without criticism from the home front, particularly on college campuses. Although Vietnam War Protests were not a novel event in the early 1970’s, President Nixon’s escalation of war efforts sparked more organized and frequent protests. In the book American Dreams the author H.W. Brands describes how the bombings drove the country into protest, he writes, “Whether or not these efforts conveyed to the communists the message Nixon intended, they got the attention of the antiwar movement in America.” [3] The experiences of Mr. Letteri enhance this statement by Brands as he not only had a significant role in these war efforts that were a catalyst for protest, but he can also recall his own reaction to the antiwar movement while still being stationed in Vietnam.

Mr. Letteri’s experience in the war cannot be explained without understanding the policies of the Nixon Doctrine and Vietnamization. Furthermore the events surrounding these policies are what inflamed the antiwar culture in the United States. The goal of Vietnamization was to slowly remove American troops while training and supporting the Southern Vietnamese troops and government; this reflected the need to maintain the anticommunist regime in Saigon. [4] Yet, this is not what happened and as Jeffrey Kimball said “These customary understandings of the Nixon Doctrine are erroneous in whole or substantial part.” [5] Instead of pursuing the policies of the Nixon Doctrine, the President initiated one of the largest offensives in history by secretly bombing the Northern Vietnamese and National Liberation Front forces in Cambodia. [6] Cambodia was not previously a participant in the war and acted as a safe haven for the aforementioned groups. [7] This was followed by ground operations in Cambodia by United States troops; they proved to be deadly for the United States as 20,000 causalities were recorded. [8] This is where Mr. Letteri’s story fits into the historical context. The bombings did limit the effectiveness of the National Liberation Front as a military power but they also created the instability that led to the rise of the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. [9] The acts of war also caused a great deal of skepticism on the home front where the ideals of the Nixon Doctrine were being preached but not executed leading to discontent and protest. [10}

Courtesy of UPI

These actions also reflect Nixon’s personal sentiments during the time period. Kimball argues that Nixon placed “the value of threat and force over negotiations”. [11] Furthermore Kimball argued that the main purpose of Vietnamization was to buy more time on the home front so these bombings and other strategy such as the “China Card” could unfold. [12] This was the complex strategy to play China and the Soviets against each other to end Vietnam. Yet this façade didn’t last for long, and Nixon’s opposition began to use the contradictions between policy and action against Nixon especially after the events in Cambodia. [13]

Mr. Letteri provides stories that directly support the claims by many such as Kimball and FitzGerald that Nixon was in fact escalating a war during the time of Vietnamization. Mr. Letteri’s job was inherently risky, as a member of the Naval Intelligence Services he had to set up listening stations for Long Range Patrols; these stations provided communications for the patrols operations. [14] The job of Long Range Patrols was to get intelligence from deep behind enemy lines and then these groups helped locate the areas where bombs should be dropped. [15] Although he was not a member of these dangerous patrol groups, Mr. Letteri still exposed himself to the high risk that comes from being behind enemy lines. This description of his job alone shows that United States troops were still working at high frequency even after the implementation of the Nixon Doctrine.

Specific missions described in great detail further this claim. For example he describes an operation called Sanctuary Counter offensive conducted by the 1st cavalry as well as the 4th and 25th infantry divisions of the Army. [16] He set up the listening stations for this campaign and he describes firefights as the troops pushed into Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh. [17] Out of the 14 members in his company they lost 2 men in 3 days. [18] He also describes Operation Rockcrusher. During this operation he was part of a task force called Shoemaker in which the United States sought to raid Northern Vietnamese bases in Cambodia, he set up the landing zones for United States air forces. [19] Mr. Letteri describes the danger of this task and ends this story with an extremely personal example that is hard to preface, he says, “We did incur quite a few injuries myself included. I was hit by a 60-mortar attack that hit a troop carrier and pinned me between them. I than took 2 rounds, one to the chest and one in the back, not a good day. My right leg was badly damaged and I was medevac’d out to a MASH unit.” [20] This is one significant example that demonstrates how the United States troops were still in harms way throughout much of this time period. Those are just two isolated examples of American involvement in the area but these are the types of events that fueled protest on the home front.

As the war in Vietnam followed the opposite trend proposed by Nixon the American public grew more polarized on wartime policy then ever before. [21] College campuses were the setting for protest. The shooting of protestors during a demonstration at Kent State University thrust these problems to the forefront of national news. [22] Jackson State in Missouri saw eerily similar events unfold on their campus. [23] It is also important to note that not all protests were violent and many remained peaceful such as on the campus of North Carolina State, which was a historically conservative institution. [24] Nixon maintained that the “silent majority” still supported the war and a 1970 poll served him right as a majority of the population supported the Cambodian effort. [25] Nonetheless the news of these major events had an impact on the members of the armed forces still stationed in Vietnam such as Mr. Letteri.

Courtesy of CNN

His responses to questions about protest indicate that there was a strong knowledge of the major protests at home by United States soldiers abroad. When questioned broadly about what was one of the most significant events of his entire experience he cited the Kent State protest. [26] He blamed mass media for dividing the nation and hurting the backing for troops abroad. [27] He claimed “This event stirred a lot emotion in guys like me that were willing to go to war.” Followed by this had “a significant impact on us.” [28] Of interest is also the confusion he felt, receiving limited news caused him to be unsure who was to blame. [29] Furthermore he said “you always saw the bad days on TV” which shows how he was not able to get the full grasp of the climate at home. [30] Looking retrospectively on the events and getting the full picture when returning home he formulated a more focused opinion. He said that “those kids have every right to voice their opinion peacefully” and that he sees “this as a senseless act of violence by the US on its own people.” [31] He was much more critical of those who went to college to avoid the draft, which is logical considering his situation. [32]

Mr. Letteri’s experiences in Vietnam strengthen Brand’s claim that growing the war was the backdrop for protest in a way that the scope of his book did not allow for. His description of the events that unfolded show that the Nixon Doctrine and Vietnamization did not do all that they promised. This is also reiterated in Kimball’s critical analysis, and his story fits directly into FitzGerald’s summary of the events in unfolding in Cambodia. The encounters he endured are examples of events that stirred domestic emotions towards the war and created an antiwar movement. Hearing first hand the impact and mixed emotions of soldiers towards the movement provide an additional lens that none of the authors consider but does reinforce a connection between escalation and protest. His injury is an example that specifically highlights why the public was becoming more frustrated. Mr. Letteri now works in communications at Montefiore hospital using a lot of the skills he learned setting up listening stations to create a successful communications career for himself. [33]


[1] Email Interview with Frank Letteri, November 9, 2017

[2] Frances FitzGerald, “Dissent.” Symposium: Getting Out, no. 158-080 (2009): 53, accessed November 9, 2017, http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=5337f9bc-6c7c-4f80-bf38-bda13a2a8a4e%40sessionmgr4009

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York:Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[4] Frances FitzGerald, “Dissent.” Symposium: Getting Out, no. 158-080 (2009): 53, accessed November 9, 2017, http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=5337f9bc-6c7c-4f80-bf38-bda13a2a8a4e%40sessionmgr4009

[5] Jeffrey Kimball, “ The Nixon Doctrine: A Saga of Misunderstanding.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1 (2006): 60, accessed November 9, 2017, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/27552747.pdf

[6] Frances FitzGerald, “Dissent.” Symposium: Getting Out, no. 158-080 (2009): 53, accessed November 9, 2017, http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=5337f9bc-6c7c-4f80-bf38-bda13a2a8a4e%40sessionmgr4009

[7] Ibid, 53.

[8] Ibid, 53.

[9] Ibid, 54.

[10] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York:      Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[11] Jeffrey Kimball, “ The Nixon Doctrine: A Saga of Misunderstanding.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1 (2006): 66, accessed November 9, 2017, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/27552747.pdf

[12] Ibid, 66.

[13] Ibid, 67.

[14] Email Interview with Frank Letteri, November 9, 2017

[15] Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine: 1942-1976 (Washington D.C.: Defense Dept., Army, Center of Military History, 2006), Google Books edition.

[16] Email Interview with Frank Letteri, November 27. 2017

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Email Interview with Frank Letteri, November 27. 2017. Also see John (Jack) Peel, Walk Tall: With the 2nd Battalion 1st ARVN Regiment (Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris, 2014), Google Books edition.

[20] Email Interview with Frank Letteri, November 27. 2017

[21] Frances FitzGerald, “Dissent.” Symposium: Getting Out, no. 158-080 (2009): 53, accessed November 9, 2017, http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=5337f9bc-6c7c-4f80-bf38-bda13a2a8a4e%40sessionmgr4009

[22] Christopher J. Broadhurst, “We Didn’t Fire a Shot, We Didn’t Burn a Building”: The Student Reaction at North Carolina State University to the Kent State Shootings, May 1970.” The North Carolina Historical Review vol. 87 no. 3 (2010): 283, accessed November 9, 2017, http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=8007b651-ebdf-43f9-b1cb-270a7cfd97c9%40sessionmgr104

[23] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York:      Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[24] Christopher J. Broadhurst, “We Didn’t Fire a Shot, We Didn’t Burn a Building”: The Student Reaction at North Carolina State University to the Kent State Shootings, May 1970.” The North Carolina Historical Review vol. 87 no. 3 (2010): 309, accessed November 9, 2017, http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=8007b651-ebdf-43f9-b1cb-270a7cfd97c9%40sessionmgr104

[25] Ibid, 288

[26] Email Interview with Frank Letteri, November 9, 2017

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid

[30] Ibid

[31] Email Interview with Frank Letteri, November 27. 2017

[32] Ibid

[33] Background Information Received from Mr. Letteri and Joseph Pesko

Interview Conducted:

11/9/17 via email

Selected Interview Responses:

Q. What branch and position were you?

A. US Navy, Naval Intelligence Services

Q. Did you enlist or get drafted into the war?

A. I was drafted in 1969.

Q. Did that change your perspective on the war? Maybe compared to others around you?

A. I did not, I was going to enlist. I was not collage material and I needed to learn a trade. I eventually was trained on many devices you see in the market today.

Q. After being drafted what was going through mind at the time, realizing you were heading into a jungle half way across the world?

A. I understood the implications. I have never been a person with much fear. The uncertainty of what we were to accomplish was the most bothersome factor to me. I grew up in the Bronx and it was a war zone in itself. On another note I believed and still believe that this country was worth fighting for so guys like you would have a free and hopefully productive future.

Q. I am going to try and hit on the major issues of the time but are there any experiences in particular either during your time in Vietnam or at home that you think is extremely important to telling your individual story, which is the main point of the interview. I don’t want to miss something that you think needs to be noted before we get started?

A. One of the most disturbing events to me was the killing of the students at Kent State University. This was an indication of how divided the US was on the war and how much mass media (TV) hyped the events and pulled support from the troops. This event stirred a lot of emotion in guys like me that were willing to go to war.

Q. Were you apart of any major battles or events such as Operation Rolling Thunder, or the Tet Offensive?

A. It is funny that you say that. This operation [referring to the 1970 spring bombings] was actually carried out in Laos and Cambodia, in the “BVM’s” Black Virgin mountains where I was stationed. The US until 1989 would not admit that we were carrying out missions in the area. My job was to go in and set up listening stations in areas before the ‘LRP’s” Long Range Patrols arrived. This was why we had such a high rate of injured guys. I was detached to the 2nd Marines and it was not fun. The amount of ordnance dropped during this offensive has not be duplicated, even in the current situations we are in today.

Q. Generally speaking across all sources is there anything based on your experience that is always misinterpreted or wrong?

A. The actual communications from the field troops to the support facilities is always wrong. The radios did not work. We had delays in the Sat. COMM’s from the carriers that were providing coordinates and fire control information. We relied on the chopper pilots to give us the real feedback so we could make better decisions in the field.

Q. A lot of sources cite Nixon’s plan of Vietnamization as America giving up on the war, or do you think this is a misconception?

A. Well I do, the ruling government was handpicked by the US. Once it was clear the people of Vietnam were going to support the Khmer Rouge it was all over.

Q. Do you think that your view shifted and that you felt isolated by the government?

A. I did. It was clear that a shift in policy took place and once again it was back to business a usual, no supplies, short useless missions, and tons of red tape.

Q. Did you have any knowledge of the protests going on at home and did this have any impact on you, or was the focus on getting home and obtaining whatever objective was at hand?

A. As I said earlier we were very aware and it did have a significant impact on us. It was unclear if the kids were to blame or if it was a result of the incorrect information they were feeding us, was the issue. You always saw the bad days on TV not when it was business as usual.

Q. Transitioning back to the home front can you talk about some of your experiences returning home?

A. I was in a hospital for an extended period of time having my leg rebuilt. My experience was much different than the grunts. With that said once I was back home some folks respected you while others felt you were just another “Baby Burner”. This was not what you would expect for putting yourself in harm’s way.

Follow-up Interview Conducted:

11/29/17 via email

Interview Responses:

Q. Can you elaborate on your experiences in the BVM’s providing specifics about operations and your role?

A. In May of 1970 through June of 1970 there was an operation called Sanctuary Counter offensive. This was the prelude to the carpet-bombing to follow. There were operations conducted by the 1 cav, 4th Infantry Division, and the 25 Infantry among others. My company was there in April of 1970 and we encountered many opposition points. There were 14 members of my company at this time.  The first firefight we encountered took place in Phnom Penh and the city of Kampong Cham. There was an ARVN Battalion that took the NVA base with in the border of Cambodia. My company had set up the Listening Stations and the forward perimeter for this campaign. We were there for 3 days and lost 2 men. The NVA had retaliated for the US closing down the port of Sihanoukville.

The next operation was “Rockcrusher” officially known as Operation Toan Thang 43. I was part of the task force code named “Shoemaker” and the attack was on an area called the “Parrots Beak”.  There were 10K US troops and 5K SVA regulars. My company set up the LZ for the air dales. We were there for 10 days and my company did not lose any men. We did incur quite a few injuries myself included. I was hit by a 60-mortar attack that hit a troop carrier and pinned me between them. I than took 2 rounds one to the chest and one in the back, not a good day. My right leg was badly damage and I was medevac’d out to a MASH unit.

Q. Can you give me in-depth details about your opinion on the student protests?

A. As to the Kent State issue I view this as a senseless act of violence by the US on its own people. In one of my Humanities classes we studied this in a class called ” Mans inhumanity to Man”.  This was a group of kids that had an opinion. There were allowed to voice it in a peaceful way. Yes there were a lot of participants but they had the right to be there. The National Guard was not ready for this and they were not prepared in my view. I did not agree with hiding in collage to avoid the draft but it is what it is. Some of us decided that the US was worth fighting for and we did.  Because of people like our Veterans you and your piers can attend collage if a county that is free of Communism.

 

 

 

How Life Really was on the Automotive Line: A Baby Boomer’s View

By Cole Pellicano

“The 1950s were the heyday of the modern corporation. Detroit’s Big Three- General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler- were models of stability and steady growth.”- (H.W. Brands, American Dreams, p. 71)

“Manufacturing, having supplanted farming as the signature occupation of the American people around the turn of the century, remained the beating heart of the economy, but a growing segment of the workforce provided services.” – (H.W. Brands, American Dreams, p. 72)

Jerry Emerson was just like every other baby boomer of his time, a young adolescent trying to find work in the postwar era. Emerson recalled, “On the farm you could never get more than thirty hours a week. Our Chrysler factory opened in fifty-five and offered the most pay in the area.”[1] H.W. Brands expresses the idea that the “Big Three” automotive makers of Detroit were symbols of stability and growth. However, after conducting research and interviewing Emerson, there is evidence that challenges Brands’ claim and portrays a different angle of the automotive industry throughout the postwar era. Through the descriptions of the earliest Chrysler factories, the bailout the company faced in 1979 and the foreign production that would cripple the company completely. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the Chrysler Corporation was anything other than stable.

Chrysler Rotterdam Plant 1970. (Courtesy of Allpar)

When World War II ended, a wave of domesticity crashed over America, and with this wave came a surge in the demand for automobiles. The “Big Three” companies, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler received this wave with open arms.[2] Facing high demand, the assembly line was vital to the manufacturing of cars at this time. The increase of demand for Chrysler’s cars led to a much tougher life for the men and women on the assembly line. Low level workers were starting to become severely mistreated across the entire auto industry. It was this mistreatment of employees that would eventually lead to the formation of the Union of Automotive Workers (UAW).[3] The UAW was formed to eliminate the mistreatment of assembly line workers and relieve some of the pressure on lower level managers. In 1937, the UAW had their first organizational drive, it ended up being a major success.[4] The drive won the Union recognition from General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation. By bringing Chrysler and General Motors to terms, the UAW was able to put itself on the map.[5] Since it’s recognition, the UAW has won privileges for assembly line workers that would have never been gained had the workers fought alone. These privileges could consist of anything between lengthening lunch breaks to a bump up in pay. When WWII ended, the baby boom spiked America’s population and eventually created a working class larger than any before.[6] It was within this group of baby boomers that Emerson found himself applying to the Chrysler Corporation. Although the Union had gained national recognition, the fight for automotive workers was not over. There still remained a shortage of breaks, poor factory quality, and workers were not given the proper safety equipment. However, people of the post war era needed to find jobs and the automotive industry was notorious for providing a large amount jobs and good pay. This is what attracted Emerson to work for Chrysler in 1966.[7] Emerson claimed that everyone was interested by the Chrysler Corporation after the war, “People were constantly asking me what it was like to work there and if there was any availability.”[8]


UAW Workers Striking Against Chrysler Bailout 1979 (Courtesy of World Socialist Web Site)

Although Brands described the “Big Three” as stable, Emerson’s experience with the company was quite unstable. Emerson worked for Chrysler from 1966-2000 and speaks very highly of the work that the UAW did during his time on the line. When first asked about his experience with the UAW, Emerson said, “If it wasn’t for the UAW we wouldn’t have gotten a decent wage, safety improvements, any type of job security, or a decent retirement plan.”[9] However, it seemed that during his time at Chrysler, there still had not been any major changes to how workers were treated or the quality of the factories. Emerson described the factories as, “horrible…hot, dusty, and dirty,” and later saying that they were treated as disposable by management.[10] Managers were also distanced from the workers, they were given a number of cars to produce and would meet that quota by any means necessary.[11] Safety was never a priority and workers were never standing still, Emerson explained, “We used to joke around by calling ourselves the hourly dogs.”[12] Throughout his career, Emerson eventually became a Union official for the UAW and was able to have a first hand vote in some of the negotiations for better work quality and help be a voice for his fellow employees. Emerson encountered many experiences in his time at the Chrysler Corporation that were not astray from the trends of general history. Every three years the UAW would do a progress evaluation at various plants across the country. If it had been a good three years the union would make a push for more rights, if it had been a bad three years, the union would struggle to even keep previous rights.[13] Emerson was able to recall vivid memories of some of these three year evaluation meetings. Emerson commented “You never wanted to be a part of one of those negotiations after a bad three year mark, I only sat in on one evaluation in my time, but I was one of the lucky ones that got an evaluation after three positive years.”[14] Emerson also was a part of the Chrysler Corporation during the Chrysler Bailout of 1979. The Chrysler Bailout of 1979 was the first major hit Chrysler took in its tenure.[15] Out of fear of being overrun by foreign importers, Chrysler attempted to take its operation overseas.[16] Unfortunately, the Chrysler European division failed miserably, Europeans did not share the same love that Americans had for Chrysler’s American muscle look.[17] Chrysler was forced to ask the government for a loan, the government granted the loan, but not without requiring major federal involvement. Emerson recalled his experience of the bailout, “They kept us in the dark, especially us UAW workers, they didn’t want us asking questions, the worst part was that the only thing that wasn’t in the dark was the dollar and a half that came off of our hourly pay, that definitely hurt.”[18] At the end of his career at the Chrysler Corporation, the company had begun a steep downhill decline. The 1980’s and the turn of the twenty-first century brought with it an oil crisis that would allow foreign car companies with incredible gas mileage to dominate the market.[19] This was the last hit Chrysler could withstand, they simply could not keep up with the foreign importers that were now the new American favorite. Emerson claimed, “People wanted better gas mileage which allowed the Japanese to market how great their gas mileage was, by the time we caught on to that it was too late, the Japanese were very smart for that.”[20]

Chrysler Pay Stub 1976 Right before the Bailout. (Courtesy of Jerry Emerson)

There are many major events that happened over the course of Emerson’s time at Chrysler that enable a transparent look into what life truly was like on the assembly line at one of the “Big Three” corporations. Emerson’s memories are so important due to the fact that he had a first person experience as an employee and labor union official in the postwar era. Emerson was a part of a Union that gained national recognition in 1937, almost thirty years before he joined the work force. Even in today’s society, the UAW is still relevant and fights for assembly line workers’ rights in the auto industry. This allows for a different perspective of history that Brands is unable to truly capture. In today’s society, when people recall the “Big Three,” the idea of three corporate giants that are rooted in American culture is conceived. What people don’t get to see is the true practices that these corporations used to achieve their wealth, or eventual downfall in the case of Chrysler. The transcripts also give insight for people to see the undercover horror that these assembly line workers had to go through on a day to day basis. Emerson’s experiences can also be correlated with literary works. In Kevin Boyles novel The UAW and the Heyday of Liberalism, Boyle discusses functions of the UAW in the postwar era that are reflected by Emerson’s personal experience as a UAW official. Emerson’s memories allow for insight into a lifestyle that was not irregular for the postwar time period and is why it challenges Brands’ claim.

H.W. Brands claims that corporations such as the “Big Three” of Detroit were symbols of the modern corporation due to their stability and growth. After closer research and analyzing the transcripts provided by Emerson, it can be argued that corporations such as Chrysler were not as modern and stable as Brands claims. Emerson offers a closer look into the Chrysler Corporation that Brands would never be able to attain. The auto industry’s poor treatment of employees and lack of rights was far from how a modern corporation in today’s society would treat its employees. If it had not been for the UAW and its officials like Emerson, the workers would have been treated even worse.[21] Along with a lack of modernistic ideas, Chrysler was unable to make it to the twenty-first century without being merged with Mercedes Benz and eventually Fiat.[22] These facets joined together challenge Brands’ portrayal of the “Big Three” as being signs of stability and growth.

[1] Audio Interview with Jerry Emerson, November 7, 2017.

[2] Kevin Boyle, The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism 1945-1968 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995) [Dickinson Library]

[3] Kevin Boyle, Rite of Passage (Labor History 27 no. 2) [Google Books]

[4] Kevin Boyle, Rite of Passage (Labor History 27 no. 2) [Google Books]

[5] Kevin Boyle, Rite of Passage (Labor History 27 no. 2) [Google Books]

[6] Ronald Freeman on American Population Growth: A View from 1957 (Population and Development Review) [Ebsco}

[7] Audio Interview with Jerry Emerson, November 7, 2017.

[8] Audio Interview with Jerry Emerson November 7, 2017.

[9] Audio Interview with Jerry Emerson November 7, 2017.

[10] Audio Interview with Jerry Emerson November 7, 2017.

[11] Kevin Boyle, Rite of Passage (Labor History 27 no. 2) [Google Books]

[12] Audio interview with Jerry Emerson December 4, 2017.

[13] Kevin Boyle, The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism 1945-1968 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995) [Dickinson Library]

[14] Audio interview with Jerry Emerson December 4, 2017.

[15] James M. Bickley Chrysler Corporation Guarantee Act of 1979: Background, Provisions, and Cost (Ithaca NY: Cornell University, 2008) [Digital Common]

[16] Charles K Hyde Riding the Rollercoaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003) [Google Books]

[17] Charles K Hyde Riding the Rollercoaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003) [Google Books]

[18] Audio Interview with Jerry Emerson December 4th 2017

[19] Charles K Hyde Riding the Rollercoaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003) [Google Books]

[20] Audio Interview with Jerry Emerson December 4th 2017

[21] Kevin Boyle, The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism 1945-1968 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995) [Dickinson Library]

[22] Charles K Hyde Riding the Rollercoaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003) [Google Books]

Timeline

Selected Transcript

From Phone call on November 7, 2017

Q. Can you describe for me what the factory was like?

A. In one word, horrible, we were treated as disposable by the management, but we needed the money. You typically worked five eight-hour days and you were constantly moving. It was hot, dusty, dirty. There was no such thing as ergonomics. The safety was non-existent, we were at risk every day. I’ll give you an example, one of my good buddies Mel Underwood went to work every day and sprayed the carriages under the cars with this lubricant. They never gave Mel respiratory gear to keep the harmful fumes out of his lungs. He was forced to wrap his face with old towels and t-shirts. In the end, the damn stuff ended up being what killed him. Same thing with my good buddies that worked in the tire durability station of the line. They would spin the wheels and burn rubber and I swear these rooms would fill with smoke you couldn’t even see into them. They never got any safety gear for that, not until a few years down the road they added some ventilation. However, that didn’t come until Nixon signed OSHA into law. OSHA definitely helped a decent amount with safety inspections, but like I said that wasn’t until the seventies. If you saw a problem, management didn’t want to hear about it, all they wanted was to see sixty cars roll out the door every hour.

Q. What do you remember about the UAW(United Automobile Workers)?

A. What don’t I remember would be a better question. If it wasn’t for the UAW we wouldn’t have gotten a decent Wage, not as many safety improvements, any type of job security, or a decent retirement plan. By the way, I was an appointed Union official in the joint union and management division of the quality program. That was designed to give the hourly employees some input to help ensure quality.

From Phone call on December 4, 2017

Q. What do you recall about the Chrysler bailout of 1979?

A. We took a big hit, they kept us in the dark, especially us UAW workers, they didn’t want us asking questions, the worst part was that the only thing that wasn’t in the dark was the dollar and a half that came off of our hourly pay, that definitely hurt.

Q. What were labor management relations like during your years at Chrysler?

A.You never had a relationship with your manager, they were the bosses we were the workers. We used to joke that we were the hourly dogs, you may have liked the guy but never had a great relationship. It wasn’t until after the bailout that we as workers were able to have a say in the quality of car parts. It was a part of the product quality improvement program, which was used as more of a marketing strategy. Besides making sure you had the right tools, you would do what they say and sometimes make a suggestion.

Day in the life of a Vietnam Soldier

By Dane Huber 

“One day, I was just like you, walking down the street. I had a brand new car and everything and a beautiful girlfriend…24 hours later I was down in Fort Dix sleeping in the parking lot because they didn’t have enough room for us. They had boarded so many people at once, [I would] spends nights in the parking lot on the asphalt before they could even give us a bed” recalls Sargent Lawrence Galiano on his first moments as a solider preparing for the Vietnam War. [1] His plans to attend architectural school following his graduation from Barringer high school in downtown Newark, New Jersey would now be forfeited to fight for his country. Drafted on July 10th, 1966, Sargent Galiano would go onto serve in Vietnam from February 5th, 1967 to February 1st, 1968 with Company C of the 1st Battalion 12th Infantry Regiment 4th Infantry Division, also known as the Red Warriors. [2]

Lawrence Galiano in Vietnam

H.W. Brands, the author of American Dreams, provides a memoir of Marine Corps second lieutenant Philip Caputo, as he “and his fellow junior officers frequented the Officer’s Club in Okinawa, waiting and doing what off-duty officers do while waiting: drinking.” And “for seven weeks Caputo’s battalion saw no action,” when finally sent out into the jungle. [3] Sergeant Galiano’s experience does not deny Brands depiction of the battle in Vietnam, but offers a typically overlooked perspective of a drafted soldier fighting in the central highlands of Vietnam.

February 5th, 1967, Galiano was headed to Saigon, Vietnam with 90 fellow Americans on an Air Force c-131, but orders were quickly altered following a pit stop “in Wake Island to refuel for about an hour…they recut our orders and sent us to a 4th division in Pleiku, [Vietnam].” [4] Pleiku was the location of Camp Enari, the 4th division headquarters. [5]

Once arriving in Vietnam, preparation for battle consisted of “a little bit of training, [a] little country orientation, a couple Vietnamese words, and we had a chance to zero in our m16s.” [6] The zeroing of his m16 was a first, as Galiano was trained on an m14 prior to the war. However, there was little time to adjust to the environment of war Galiano recalls, as on “the morning of the 12th of February, [the United States] put us on helicopters and sent us out into the field.” [7]

Galiano’s first day in the jungle transpired so quickly, he didn’t even have a moment to touch ground before under attack. He remembers “everything was under fire…when we land, we cover about ten feet out of the helicopter; we got thrown out.” [8] But the next moment his luck would change along with his role in the war. After his ejection, he jumps into a “foxhole where one of the guys was dead; he was the gunner…So, because the gunner was dead, the assistant gunner had [to] take his place, the ammo baron became the assistant gunner, and I became the ammo baron.” [9] The gunner squad gave Galiano protection and comfort in a war that provided little. Unlike other members of the infantry, the machine gun squad had to stay together at all times.

The Red Warriors spent time along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an area where all three boarders of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia meet. Galiano’s regiment’s main objective was to protect the area and conduct bomb assessment. [10] Between August and December of 1967, it was an intense period as the “Americans bombed almost every target of military and economic importance in North Vietnam, flying 55,000 sorties and dropping 100,000 tons of ordnance.” [11] The intensity of the bombs imposed on the enemy could be heard and felt by the soldiers themselves. Galiano states they would wait “to hear the bombs fly over [and] the Bombay doors open” to then “feel the jungle bounce” as they hit the ground. [12] Following the bombings, the regiment would enter the area under attack, to conduct analysis on accuracy of the bombings and gather death intelligence information. Galiano can remember going in to “dig up bodies and see what rank [the soldiers] were” because the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) would hide the bodies. [13]

Dak To, a village in the central highlands, was home to a US Special Forces Camp “composed then of mountain tribal mercenaries led by experienced and canny Army noncommissioned officers.” [14] The US learned of NVA development and preparation of attack in the area. [15] Early in November of 1967, the US decided to bring in the 173rd airborne Brigade and battalions of 4th infantry under Major General William R. Peers. [16] Though not directly involved from the beginning, Galiano and the 12th regiment were called in for backup during the final battle of Hill 875 after many casualties. He recalls the 173rd airborne, “was on guard duty…and a couple of their guys…fell asleep and the NVA came through the wire, cut their throats, and started blowing up anything they could find.” [17] The US army finally forced the NVA out and decided they must follow them up Hill 875. Galiano states this was a costly mistake because the “army did exactly what the NVA wanted them to do. They chased them up the hill. And when they chased them up the hill, they ran into a whole regiment of NVA’s.“ [18] Leadership is key to success in the military, and on Hill 875, those leaders failed their soldiers.

The lack of leadership was not only issue during Galiano’s time in Vietnam. According to Brands, the US was far superior in every category of firepower and logistics compared to the NVA. [19] However, Galiano’s experience does not reflect Brand’s opinion. The weapon given to Galiano and his fellow soldiers was an m16, while the NVA were provided AK47’s. The AK47 was a far superior weapon to the M16 rifle because “[an AK47] didn’t jam [and] you could hold it under water and it would fire.” [20] The enemy was not only better equipped, but often outnumbered the United States military. Galiano, as sergeant, had a platoon that “fluctuated, sometimes it was 12 guys, maybe there [were] 15” and his infantry company was “supposed to have 120 members and at best we had maybe 70.” [21] As stated earlier, The United States felt no need to better equip or reinforce their troops because they believed their airstrike capabilities were plenty to support the troops. Galiano and his regiment would be sent out into battle with a 9 enemy to 1 soldier disadvantage in hope of support through the air. However, Galiano explains that the “operations were up in the high canopy jungle, sometimes 3 [level] canopies…and when they fired artillery, [the soldiers] would get airbursts” as backup. [22] And the environment not only affected airstrikes, but resupply of replenishments. There were days, Galiano says, “we were on our own, and we would have to fight our way in and fight our way out” of the jungle. [23] 

Home was the jungle for Galiano in Vietnam. Following his departure from base on February 12th, Galiano would only return “three times because [he] had malaria…and once to go to Hawaii.” [24] His infantry was resupplied every six days if conditions permitted and received one hot meal throughout his whole tour on Thanksgiving. He can recall, “everyone got sick because no one was used to eating hot food, we were used to C-rations.” [25] As a member of the 4th infantry division, the war took a burden on your body.

The bodies of the soldiers would eventually recover; it was the mind that suffered lasting impacts. When Galiano finally returned home February 1st, 1968, he states his “head was so messed up, I really didn’t want to think about [war]…I just couldn’t sit in chair.” [26] However, his time as a solider for the United States was not complete, as he had to return to Fort Campbell in Kentucky for 3 months. This was a difficult time for Galiano, as his mother was recovering from breast cancer and he was newly engaged to his girlfriend. He often flew back and forth from Fort Campbell to his hometown of Newark to see his family. [27] His treatment from people at the airport was disturbing, as he states “they used to curse me, spit at me, if I had my uniform on. And that was the only way I could afford to fly because I used to fly military standby.” [28] Many disputed the acts of disgust towards returning veterans, such as professor Jerry Lembcke in his book The Spitting Image. [29] However, employees of the airport understood how people treated the veterans. A stewardess approached Galiano in the airport and handed him a student standby pass. He recalls her saying, “it’s breaking my heart to tell you this, but from now on you fly student standby and this card will say that you are a student. Please take your uniform off.” [30]

Galiano’s life was put on hold for his country, fighting a war that lacked direction and leadership. However, no matter how much harm, mentally and physically, was inflicted on him during and post war, Galiano states, “I love this country. That is one thing. I have learned from being in Vietnam there is no country like this country.” [31]

[1] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[2] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguins, 2010), 143.

[4] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[5] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[6] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[7] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[8] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[9] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[10] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[11] Buzzanco, Bob. “The American Military’s Rationale Against the Vietnam War.” Academy of Political Science 101, no. 4 (1986): 559-76. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2150794.pdf.

[12] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, December 5th, 2017

[13] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, December 5th, 2017

[14] Sheehan, Neil. “David and Goliath in Vietnam.” The New York Times , May 26, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/opinion/sunday/david-and-goliath-in-vietnam.html.

[15] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, December 5th, 2017

[16] Sheehan, Neil. “David and Goliath in Vietnam.” The New York Times , May 26, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/opinion/sunday/david-and-goliath-in-vietnam.html.

[17] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, December 5th, 2017

[18] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, December 5th, 2017

[19] Brands, 137

[20] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[21] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[22] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, December 5th, 2017

[23] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, December 5th, 2017

[24] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[25] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[26] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[27] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[28] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[29] Sirota, David. “The myth of the spat-upon war veteran.” Star Tribune, June 7, 2012. http://www.startribune.com/the-myth-of-the-spat-upon-war-veteran/157945515/.

[30] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

[31] Interview with Lawrence Galiano, November 6th, 2017

Interviews 

-Audio Recording, Carlisle, PA, November 6th, 2017

-Audio Recording, Carlisle, PA, December 5th, 2017

Selected Transcript

Q. Where did you first land in Vietnam?

A. “Well, from Texas, we went to Oakland, California. And then from Oakland, California we flew over to Vietnam. We stopped at Wake Island to refuel. When we stopped at Wake Island to refuel my original orders from Oakland California were to go into south, south Vietnam below Saigon because I was originally trained as an army personal carrier driver. And that was the only place they used them, the APCs. All right, so once we landed in Wake Island to refuel for about an hour, they recut us. There was 90 of us onboard the air force C1 31 and they recut our orders and sent us to a 4th division in Pleiku. When we landed, we landed at Pleiku airstrip in central Vietnam, in the central highlands. We stayed over there for a couple nights and they moved us into camp Enari, which was the fourth division headquarters.

At that point, so say we landed on the fifth, they gave us a little bit of training, little country orientation, a couple of Vietnamese words, and we had a chance to zero in our m16s. Prior to that, I have never shot an m16. I was trained on an m14. The morning of the 12th of February, they put us on helicopters and sent us out into the field. That morning was a good morning for me and a bad morning. Because during that time, the day before that, my infantry company, which was C company of the 1st and 12th infantry of the 4th division, came under heavy heavy attack on hill 501. And I never even been in a helicopter before, but there was six of us as replacements. We were thrown in early in the morning on the 12th. The place was like flying into hell. It was, everything was under fire. We were trying to overthrow the perimeter. When we land, we cover about ten feet out of the helicopter; we got thrown out. And when we got to the ground, I looked around and there was one helicopter on the other side of the delzida. They had cut through the jungle mountaintop and that was on fire and I jumped into this foxhole and that’s where my luck changed.

So the foxhole I jumped into was part of an m16 machine gun in place. Now, I landed in the foxhole where one of the guys was dead; he was the gunner. The they way they run a machine gun slide, you have a gunner, assistant gunner, and an ammo baron. So, because the gunner was dead, the assistant gunner had take his place, the ammo baron became the assistant gunner, and I became the ammo baron. Which was a lot better than being just a regular infantry simply because the machine squad, the machine-gun squad had to stay together at all times. So when they sent other troops out for ambushes and mission posts, we did not. Only a few times was I sent out away from the machine gun squad. So I was protected from that. And I ended up become a machine gunner for six months. And I eventually moved up the rank of sergeant and then I became a sergeant in charge of a platoon.

And that about, I don’t know, fluctuated, sometimes it was 12 guys, maybe there 15. We were always under strengthened because the infantry company is supposed to have 120 members and at best we had maybe 70. So, and basically that was it. The other thing I wanted to tell you, which was important, when we landed, or first came into Vietnam, we landed in Pleiku airstrip. We stayed overnight there one or two nights at a reception center. We were called on guard duty and I happen to look around and I saw these two big build boards. They were basically two pieces of 4 by 8 plywood and they were painted over and they had a sign on it. One was the 25th division, with its emblems and all the other stuff that go along with the 25th, and the other sign was the 4th division along with all its emblems and everything that went along with the 4th. And they were having a contest, who can stay out in the field the longest. And when I got there, the 4th tact was beating the 25th by 20 days. Both divisions were in the field for over a year. So that meant when we went, unlike a lot of these what I’ve seen on TV and and when I came back and talked other guys, when my company and my regiment went out, we stayed out in the jungle.

We were supplied every 6 days with food. The only time we came back, and you know I came back three times because I had malaria three times and I came back once to go to Hawaii. But other than that, once I left that division headquarters on February 12th, I didn’t come back out of a jungle. You know like other people, I’ve seen marines on TV. They would go out for two weeks, come back for two weeks. Go for a week, go out for 3 days, come back get some hot meals. We got one hot meal and that was on thanksgiving. Everyone got sick because no one was used to eating hot food, we were used to C-rations”

What do we owe this man?

Taney statue

 

This was how the statue of Roger Brooke Taney looked on the grounds of the Maryland State House in Annapolis until about midnight, August 17, 2017.  Then it looked this:

 

Taney statue removal

It was a metaphorical hanging for a man whose legacy has come to be defined by the worst Supreme Court decision in American history –the Dred Scott case (1857), which denied blacks any rights as citizens, attempted to preserve the institution of slavery, and arguably contributed as much as any other single event to the coming of the Civil War.

Yet Taney was also a complicated figure.  Now, his statues now being removed in the wake of the 2017 tragedy at Charlottesville, but in ways that raise important questions, especially for graduates of Dickinson College.  Taney (Class of 1795) was a slaveholder who voluntarily freed his own slaves, defended a noted abolitionist in court and once called slavery “a blot on our national character.”  He was the country’s second longest serving chief justice (1835-1864) and widely respected as a jurist in his own era.  He was also a Unionist, who never joined the Confederacy, and tried, in his own cantankerous and polarizing way, to rein in President Abraham Lincoln’s aggressive use of presidential war powers.

But there is little doubt that Taney was an incredibly controversial figure whose memorials, like the one in Annapolis authorized in 1867 and erected in 1872, were designed to make post-war political statements.  That is why figures like former University of Maryland college student Colin Byrd have been lobbying since 2015 to have the Taney statue either removed or supplemented with other memorials to African Americans (like Harriet Tubman, also from Maryland) or with contextual wayside markers that could explain his troubled legacy.  In 2015, Maryland governor Larry Hogan called such efforts “political correctness run amok,” but in 2017, he suddenly changed his mind, and voted along with a majority of the State House Trust Board to have Taney’s 13-foot bronze memorial carted away and stored out of sight.

Here are some additional resources for those who want to understand this surprisingly complex and fast-changing debate over history and memory:

 

Newark Race Riots in 1967

The Newark Race Riots of 1967

By Nick Reese

“Local and state officials dreaded the approach of each ‘long, hot summer,’ as the rioting seasno became know. Riots broke out in dozens of cities in 1966 and in more than a hundred in 1967. Riots in Newark and Detroit in the latter year provided a grim counterpart to the summer of love in San Francisco” (H.W. Brands, H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945, page. 149).

Thomas Schettig was a 22 year old, newly wed husband and a father of two when he decided to join the Newark fire department in 1964. His decision to enroll as a volunteer firefighter came from his immense admiration for his father-in-law, Arthur Phillip Devlin, or known around the station as “Doc”. Doc was the fire department’s volunteer orthopedic surgeon who took young Schettig under his wing while they served together. The two volunteers paired up at the same station which was the company that was in charge of Newark’s inner city.[1] Schettig explained how the 1967 summer calls were routinely fires in the same communities.[2] “Doc and I were responding to a fire. The fires were in the predominantly black neighborhoods where they [the residents] were setting their own houses and buildings on fire.”[3] The tensions between the races had escalated to the point where firefighters were unsure of their safe return, not just from fires but also from the violence due to civil unrest. While historian H.W. Brands briefly describes the importance of the 1960’s riots role in race relations and civil rights in his book American Dreams: The United States since 1945,the actions that unfolded from these events influenced the civil rights and race relations.

A picture of John Smith, the murdered cabdriver

The beginning of the riots had started on July 12th when the Newark police had taken in a young black cabdriver by the name of John Smith into custody. [4] This was not an uncommon event, white police officers taking young black men into custody but with the recent deaths of the young black men Lester Long, Bernard Rich and Walter Mathis who all died in custody had the city on edge. [5] Newark was about to implode, it seemed the slightest misstep would do just that. The police have been repeatedly accused of abusing their power, especially on young African American men, when reports came out that John Smith was not only beaten but killed by the police, there was no fixing this problem. [6] Schettig remembers the fear of having to go out during these couple first days, “They had to respond because they were firemen and it did not matter where the fire was in the city of Newark, they had to go regardless.” [7] The situation escalated further when there was not a formal autopsy of John Smith’s body which brought bricks, bottles and molotov cocktails to the police precinct responsible for the man’s death.[8] All hell had broken out, the death of the young black cabdriver, John Smith, had finally ignited the Newark riot that seemed inevitable. The next  upcoming days would change the city of Newark forever.

A large crowd protesting the death of John Smith

The current Mayor of Newark at the time, Hugh Addonizio, wanted to control the situation by publicly saying that the previous night had been an isolated insistent. [9] Though this did not seem to fix the problem, but only made everything worse. For the second straight night, a large crowd gathered to protest the same precinct, this lead to rioting and then the looting began. [10]. Around midnight on the second night, the looting had spread to Newark’s major commercial district in the ghetto. Mayor Addonizio gave police permission to use firearms to defend themselves.[11] The use of weapons by the police was matched by the civilians rioting with cheap guns and homemade weapons like molotov cocktails, zip guns, knifes, and creating fires.

During the 1950’s and the mid-1960’s “pipe guns’ or more for
pipe guns or more formally known as “zip guns” became popular in New York and New Jersey organized crime.[12] The use of these homemade guns were useful during the riots because of the simplicity of firing and

The pieces needed to create a zip gun

its large blast radius. [13]. Schettig recalls these homemade weapons and their sheer power, “They made a gun out of two pieces of pipe. I actually fired one of them. You take two pieces of pipe, six to eight inches long, and then you get a second piece of pipe that is one size bigger than the first. The smaller pipe holds the 12 gauge shotgun shell. You would insert the shotgun shell into the small pipe and then on the bigger pipe, its threaded, you put a cap on the end and then put a screw through [the cap] and thats your firing pin. When you yank the two together it discharges a round, and I fired one [of these pipe guns] into a wall in the basement of the of the rescue squad building. I had the pipe up against the wall and i banged it. That damn thing about an 18 inch circular pattern of the shotgun shell. For about two dollars you could make a weapon, they used these [guns] during the riots.[14]

 

This “Urban warfare” as Brands describes it, had needed the national guard to bring peace to the city. The warfare that is briefly discussed in American Dreams: The United States since 1945, but it does not give enough justice to the sheer chaos that the city experienced. Schettig recalls, “One of the only nights I was there for the riots was when we [the firefighter squad] were being shot at while trying to put out a fire.”[15]  Brands brings more clarity to why rioters were shooting at Schettig, “Snipers, presumably black, targeted the mostly white emergency and police personnel,” which Brands explains how “[this was] provoking the police and their national guard reinforcements, also predominantly white, to fire almost indiscriminately on looters, suspected looters, and anyone who looked suspicious.”[16] The violence had allowed for police and the national guard to open fire on anyone that they saw fit, which put Schettig and Doc in even more danger. The fires and violence at this point had become too big to contain.

The cover of LIFE magazine depicting the violence of the Newark Riot

“While the people were shooting at us, we hid under the firetruck. The shot wasn’t aimed at me, but the shots were in our direction. Once the shooting stopped, we got the hell out of there because all of us in the squadron had a family. I was just a couple years older than you with two kids and a wife at home. I never told your grandmother about this because I needed to support my family and I really looked up to your great grandfather.”[17]. Like many other white residents in Newark, Schettig left after the race riots of 1967 because he did not feel like his family was safe to grow up there. The importance of Newark in the early and mid 19th century was immense. Newark acted as a commerce and manufacturing outlet that was close to New York City as well as had major harbors and an airport.[18] The “white-flight” had decimated the city and its previous importance, the significance of the 1967 riot had crippled Newark’s economy and caused the crime and corruption to increase dramatically.[19] Relocation of many white residents out of the hearts of many American cities resulted in what happened to Newark. The economic implications were obvious but the divide between America’s races became deeper. The race riot showed the clear division between white Americans and black Americans.

H.W. Brands’s description of the Newark riot gives an explanation on how the racial tensions became worse but he does not express the pain that it caused so many families, black and white. The fear created in Newark, Watts, and Detroit changed the cities as well as the people in them. The riots were so powerful in changing race relations are seen today. It took the destruction of cities to see how the divides were in America. Schettig still shivers at the thought of those nights, “One of the nights of the riots, Doc had a fireman die in his arms.” Schettig paused and signed. “He bled to death trying to save someone out of a burning building.” [20]

“I couldn’t. I just could not and would not tell my wife. If she knew how much danger I was in that night and how much danger her father was, I do not think she would ever forgive either of us.” [21]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview Subject

Thomas Schettig, age 72, retired small business owner who graduated from Saint Francis University and Penn State University and is a retired Newark volunteer firefighter during the 1967 race riot.

Interview

-Audio Recording, Carlisle, PA, April 1, 2017

Selected Transcript 

Q. When you were a volunteer firefighter with Doc. [Great Grandfather] what were some of the incidents you remember about the race riots in 1967? When did the things seem to go wrong that started these riots?

A. I was there for the riots as a matter of fact. That was when they had the tanks coming up from the National Guard on Springfield Avenue.

Q. Why did they bring the tanks into Newark?

A. It was because the people [citizens of Newark] were rioting. The rioting started because of the raised tensions of between the Black and White communities. At this time most of Newark had become black and the start of the riots on a hot summer night in 1967, many people were sitting around drinking and one thing led to another and people began to riot. I know one of the nights your great grandfather had a fireman die in his arms.

Q. What happened [With great grandfather]?

A. He [firefighter] was climbing up a ladder to stop a fire from one of the riots but while in the process, he was shot in the back by an unknown assailant. He [firefigher] bled to death in about two minutes in Doc’s arms.

Q. In Newark, were these riots the result of the city being segregated? Were the riots in the predominantly black neighborhoods or were they in the predominantly white neighborhoods?

A. They [African Americans citizens of Newark] rioted and burned down basically burned down their own homes and buildings. Many of their homes in these neighborhoods were government own homes. These homes were called scudder homes which they [residents of the homes] burned them down in an act of protest. They would rip all of the copper piping out of the houses before they burned them down because they could sell it for scraps .

Q. Were the riots the white communities vs. the black communities? Why were there not more riots in the white communities of Newark?

A. There was not a lot of violence in the white communities, especially in one area called the North Ward. Black people were afraid to go there [North Ward] because of a guy by the name of Anthony Imperiale, who was one of the local councilmen, and he didn’t take any crap from anybody. One day his mother was molested and mugged by an African American man and I don’t if they killed him or if they found him and beat the man to death. So after that, African Americans were afraid to go to the North Ward. I can still see him [Councilman Imperiale] driving around in his old black car with the flags on it and nobody messed around in the North Ward that was black, nobody.

Q. What was the view towards African Americans before and during the riots?

A. The view towards African Americans during this time were the impression that they [African Americans] were uneducated, childish, and liked to drink. This is the stuff that they do not teach you in school, this was not right how they were perceived but this was just the stigma of the time period because this would be, from what I understand, politically incorrect. This is how we were taught to perceive them back then.

I’ll tell you another story that a policeman told me, they [African American residents] were rioting on sunset avenue, they were looting a tv store. And the one cop had a Thompson submachine gun, with gun, and they were shooting people. The guy [assailant] reached and stole a tv set and the cop said “that was a big guy and I ran after him into a building” and he [the police officer] said “I was not more than two seconds behind him and I jumped into that doorway and I open fired. By the time I stopped firing, there was nobody in the hallway.” I heard the story from that cop.

And then, during this time period, African Americans could not afford guns so they made a gun out of two pieces of pipe. I actually fired one of them. You take two pieces of pipe, six to eight inches long, and then you get a second piece of pipe that is one size bigger than the first. The smaller pipe holds the 12 gauge shotgun shell. You would insert the shotgun shell into the small pipe and then on the bigger pipe, its threaded, you put a cap on the end and then put a screw through [the cap] and thats your firing pin. When you yank the two together it discharges a round, and I fired one [of these pipe guns] into a wall in the basement of the of the rescue squad building. I had the pipe up against the wall and i banged it. That damn thing about an 18 inch circular pattern of the shotgun shell. For about two dollars you could make a weapon, they used these [guns]  during the riots.

Q. Can you tell me more about the riots from your experience?

A. One of the only nights I was there for the riots was when we [the firefighter squad] were being shot at while trying to put out a fire. While the people were shooting at us, we hid under the firetruck. The shot wasn’t aimed at me, but the shots were in our direction. Once the shooting stopped, we got the hell out of there because all of us in the squadron had a family. I was just a couple years older than you with two kids and a wife at home. I never told your grandmother about this because I needed to support my family and I really looked up to your great grandfather [my grandmother’s father].

Q. During the night of that particular riot, what was the call that you and Doc were responding to?

A. Doc and I were responding to  a fire. The fire was in one of the predominantly black neighborhoods where they [the residents] were setting their own houses and buildings on fire.

Q. Did the fire station have to respond even if they knew that the fire was because of the rioting?

A. They had to respond because they were firemen and it did not matter where the fire was in the city of Newark, they had to go regardless.

 

-Audio Recording, Carlisle, PA, April 25, 2017

Selected Transcript

[Q] Can you tell me about the emotions you were feeling during those for days in July 1967.

[A] I was terrified for my family because the night I went out people were shooting in our direction. I wasn’t sure If I would make it home. One of the nights of the riots, your great grandfather had a fireman die in his arms. He bled to death trying to save someone out of a burning building.

[Q] Can you tell me more about why you didn’t tell your wife about your involvement in the riot?

[A] I couldn’t. I just could not and would not tell my wife. If she knew how much danger I was in that night and how much danger her father was, I do not think she would ever forgive either of us.

 

WorkCited:

[1]- Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[2]- Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[3] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[4] – Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[5] – Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[6] – Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[7] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[8]- Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[9]- “Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered And Reclaimed”. 2017. Blackpast.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/newark-riot-1967.

[10] – “Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered And Reclaimed”. 2017. Blackpast.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/newark-riot-1967.

[11] – [8 -11]”Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered And Reclaimed”. 2017. Blackpast.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/newark-riot-1967.

[12]- Goldstein, Joseph. 1364. “The Very Brief Revival Of The Homemade Zip Gun”. City Room. Accessed April 28 2017. https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/the-very-brief-revival-of-the-homemade-zip-gun/?smid=tw-nytmetro.

[13] – Carter, Gregg Lee. ABC-CLIO. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Cremona , CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2012.

[14] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[15] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[16] – H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 149 – 150.

[17] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[18] – NOAH, ADAMS. “Profile: Newark, New Jersey, upgrades its trolleys.” All Things Considered (NPR) (n.d.): Newspaper Source Plus, EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[19]- NOAH, ADAMS. “Profile: Newark, New Jersey, upgrades its trolleys.” All Things Considered (NPR) (n.d.): Newspaper Source Plus, EBSCOhost (accessed May 29, 2017).

[20] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (second recorded phone conversation), April 25, 2017.

[Fig. 1] – 2017. Img.Timeinc.Net. Accessed May 1 2017. http://img.timeinc.net/time/magazine/archi

[Fig 2] – 2017. S-Media-Cache-Ak0.Pinimg.Com. Accessed May 1 2017. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/04/eb/9f/04eb9fab6ebdd089ad031f81fe5b8e8b.jpg.

[Fig 3] – 2017. 2.Bp.Blogspot.Com. Accessed May 1 2017. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-DonwzxyZFC0/U2URsITGS8I/AAAAAAAADWI/9RkZFZ-SuSA/s1600/41372349-SS_Americas_Most_Destructive_Riots_Newark_1967.jpg.

[Fig4] – 2017. Whowhatwhy.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://whowhatwhy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/123-26.png.