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Friday, February 09, 2018

Portion of letter from Tel Aviv by my father

October 28, 1959
     Life on a kubbutz is a wondrous thing.  I could gladly spend my life here.  The people... every single one of them an idealist.  They are strong, they are smiling, they are beautiful.  There is much laughter and song here.  There is much togetherness:  as a community we eat and work, sing and play.  But often we can be alone to read, to listen to music, to wander along the beach.  There is complete freedom here.  One works with, not under.  There is no director, no boss.  Each person is an equal individual.

     Today as I was standing, pitch fork in hand, on a huge pile of green silage, I was exultant.  I was exultant looking first upon the many bales of golden hay, the neat houses with well-trimmed lawns, the barns, the cattle, the white waving wheat, the dark citrus groves, the deep blue sea, and then, all around us, grinning in defeat, the dry waterless desert.  There are still jackals on the sands, howling at night.  Here is something one can truly feel for.

     From nothing was this land conceived.  It is one of the driest, most sterile, rockiest places I have ever seen.  But Israel blooms.  There are green fields and cool orchards, gleaming white cities, immense irrigation projects.  And there are people!  People who have been persecuted for five thousand years.  Jews from Iraq and Morocco, Jews from Germany and Yemen.  And on their faces is not only the dream of a hundred generations, but the spirit of Israel today.  I have never felt so alive and aware as I am now.  I have never been so proud as I am now.  And I have never believed in anything so strongly as I believe in Israel.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Letter from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1963

Dear Mom and Dad,
     There are two fights here, and not one: the negro insisting upon his rights often takes second place to the internecine strife between the "Uncle Toms" who want to go slowly and take things easy, and the liberals who push and push-- sometimes so hard that they push themselves out of any Negro backing.  There are resignations and counter charges: the Pine Bluff Youth Movement becomes the Pine Bluff Progressive Movement and a new faction takes over.
     Seven months ago the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee sent a white field representative to Pine Bluff.  Bill Hansen is 24, dedicated, lives and dreams civil liberties.  He has had a very difficult time getting accepted by the Negro community(46% of the total population of Pine Bluff), but now is accepted wholeheartedly by the liberal faction and has been complained about to SNCC headquarters by the conservative Negro faction.  They want him out since one of his ideas is to fill up the jails.  His idea--which I subscribe to entirely-- is that once a kid gets sent to jail for freedom he is more than ever committed to the movement.
     I am living at Freedom House, the headquarters of the Pine Bluff movement.  There is another white boy from California.  What I do is difficult to say.  They won't allow us to picket or demonstrate or sit-in.  White agitators-- "nigger lovers"-- are the quickest means of starting violence.  Therefore, anything that we do must be circumspect.
     This afternoon, Governor Faubus spoke at the dedication of a new building at the Negro College.  Since yesterday, when I got here, I have been making posters for the kids to carry, such as
                                            Governer Faubus--
                                              Would you send Your children

                                        New Buildings Don't Teach--
                                        They only salve consciences.

     Who carries these signs?  Who has sat in or lain in or stopped buying at certain stores?  Who has gone to jail repeatedly?  A bunch of negro kids whose average age is 15!  Many 13 and 14 year old girls.  There are a few older boys of 17 or 18.
     There is a terrific spirit here in the 15-year-olds.  Unfortunately, this age group is the only communication with SNCC though they have tried the high school and "college" ages with little success.
     Yesterday we arrived an hour or so before 25 kids were released after 3 days in jail for sitting in the public library and demanding that they be issued library cards.  It was amazing to see how sophisticated in the ways of non-violence they were and also how backwards they were in most of their education.  Adamant about civil rights and ambitions no higher than the army or being a bootlegger.  But to hear them talk!  How they walked into the paddy wagon with their heads up and singing freedom songs; how they insisted that their names be spelled correctly when booked-- that their parent's name have a Mrs. or a Mr. in front of it.  How they sang for 3 days in jail with only 1 meal all that time, with very little water in cells that were 120-130 Fahrenheit.  (It is 2 in the morning now and the temperature in this cool house with a big fan is about 85 degrees.)  How they had no mattresses and slept on the stinking, filthy floors, eaten by roaches and fleas.  How they sang until they were hoarse.  Many of these were kids who had just finished taking part in a sit-in where they were locked in a part of a restaurant, hundreds of whites were jeering outside and the owner threw in large Dixie cups of ammonia and acid after thoughtfully turning the heat up full blast in the middle of the day.  When some of the kids got sick and passed out, the other sit-inners panicked and tried to get out.  After someone was knocked through a plate glass window the rest got out and by some miracle only a few were hurt by the white mob outside.
     So these were many of the same kids who just got out of jail and yet they all picketed Faubus.  We couldn't go because we would be white agitators.  Therefore we strolled up to the college which was swarming with police and troopers.  We passed the first cordon of them-- just going to hear Faubus and nowhere in sight of a picket line--when a policeman stopped us and motioned us into his car because we "looked funny".  After all, not too many whites ever step on the premises of a negro college.  Then we were driven downtown and locked safely up in the city jail.  A short time later we were released.
     This evening we went to a mass meeting where there were spirituals sung, and the preachers exhorted the negroes to stand up, to fight, to register, to vote.

     All this in two days.  How much I can do is doubtful.  But we are working on some sort of education plan that perhaps can be of some service in.

     Do not worry.  We do not want to get into any violence or go to jail since we are told this only hurts the civil rights movement.

My dad travels to Iceland

August 1, 1965
Reykjavik, Iceland

Dear Dad,
     It is cold here in Iceland and the wind blows at almost all times, but always in the back of the wind.  Surrounding one wherever one goes is the silence of an island somehow removed from the rest of the world in time and space.  I walk along deserted roads that lead nowhere, through meadows filled with flowers blowing furiously in the wind and shining in the clear northern light that only goes out for about one hour every 24.
     After the South, with its hot, humid violent days, Iceland is just the place to be.  Nothing to do, few people to talk to and a chance to get to know myself as well as nature.  I walk a great deal: 7,8,9,10 hours a day along the great, deep fjords, from one tiny village to another, through the streets of Reykjavik.  My body feels hard and healthy.  I can respond well to the quiet beauty of Iceland.  It is eerie here the wild ponies running through the green meadows, the forbidding clouds, the ruins of a 1000 year old civilization, the days that never end, the nights that never come, the boiling springs, the glaciers.  Iceland is a place that exists in dreams, in old books.  I feel that I have stepped into another age.
     This is all vague -- no facts, just musings, just wanderings.  But for this month I shall continue to lead a vague wandering life that has no relation to my life at home or in school but maybe closer to me that my usual life.
     In the evenings, I read French poetry -- by day I walk.  Now-- this is all that I desire.

Letter from my father to his parents during the civil rights movement in 1965

                        Tuesday morning, July 12  (1965, Bogalusa, Louisiana)
Dear Mom and Dad,
            As usual, no one in the Civil Rights movement knows what will happen in advance.  You may have heard that the Voter’s League rejected the 30 day moratorium on marches and demonstrations suggested by the Governor.  Therefore we will probably march this afternoon without a permit, probably cross the river to the court house and there may be mass arrests.  I will march at the end as usual in my white coat but I will not get arrested if I can help it.  I’m more useful now out of jail.
            Marching is an amazing experience; one is reminded of the Roman prisoners being paraded back in Rome.  Shouts and curses by the onlookers, there are confederate flags waving everywhere and gangs of teen age boys walk along taunting us.  As a white and as an obviously medical personnel I am often singled out: white trash, they jeer and their favorite epithet: Nigger Ben Casey!
            Along side of us and separating us from the white Bogalusa populace are long lines of blue shirted state troopers carrying pistols, rifles, machine guns, billy clubs.  We are followed by a bevy of police cars, some canine corps filled with barking German shepherds and a school bus (to pick up the demonstrators and take them to jail) flying a confederate flag.  With all the police we are presumably safe.  So far, only one shooting incident has occurred.
            The Medical Committee is housed with a Negro family- the Smiths.  He works in the Crown-Zellerback corporation, is a deacon and carries a gun wherever he goes.  His wife is a deaconess.  When the Klan rides at night, all lights go out in the Negro community and men and women sit up on their rocking chairs talking and cradling their shot guns.
            The spirit here in Bogalusa among the Negros is very high.  Mass meetings are well attended.  Last night I heard Lomax speak: poetry, as well as a gift of $15,000 for the Bogalusa Voter’s league.
            It seems like a very long time that I have been down here in the South!  I suppose this is partly because each moment is made important by the fact that one cannot take anything for granted.  At night we are not supposed to drive except with an armed armed deacon.  Like the front lines of a war, there are things we can do, things we cannot.  We do not know what to expect.  Therefore the present becomes of much greater import.
            Dad—I am looking forward to your description of your trip, especially when you were in Hungary.  Mother, you should be leaving soon and therefore Bon Voyage.  Don’t worry—things are fine.  I’m looking forward to my trip to Iceland.