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Interview with Dr. Nancy Bristow

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Transcription

McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Nancy Bristow
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: Lynn Bijou
Date of interview: 24 June 2022
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(Start of Interview)

SM: 00:01
Nancy Bristow.

NB: 00:01
Okay, we are all set. Can you hear me? I can hear you perfectly.

SM: 00:07
Okay, great. I always start out with my first question, finding out a little bit about the person I am interviewing. Could you tell me about your background, where you grew up, your early influences, your family, and early interests?

NB: 00:21
Sure.

SM: 00:21
And high school, college and-and how did you pick history as your career?

NB: 00:27
But what, sure. So, I was born in Portland, Oregon in 1958. So, I grew up during the period of the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggles, but was just a child during it. I was not aware that I was interested in history as a young person. In fact, if you told my high school history teacher, I went to Beaverton High School in Portland, Oregon, if you asked him what I became, and then told him it was a history professor, I think it would, would cause of heart failure. He could not have imagined, if I had a course that I hated, it was history. But, that was because I had not gone to college yet. I went to Colorado College, which is a small liberal arts college in Colorado Springs, at a remarkable undergraduate education. And I had planned to major in German, but turned out not really to have the capacity for that. And so by chance, I took a history course because I thought it had a really neat name, it was England Age of Kings. And I thought, well, that sounds cool. And it changed my life, the Professor George Drake, who went on actually to be the president of Grinnell College, was my professor for that class, that I discovered that history was about people, and about what happens to us, and helps us understand who we are now. And that course, it literally within a couple of days, my life path was set I suppose, but I did not know it then. But I just, absolutely loved the class, had a kind of intellectual excitement that I had not really felt with any of the other classes, I had taken though I was a successful student all the way along, I thought I would major after I gave up on German, I thought I would do English, but always felt sort of ungrounded in that field. And history gave me that sort of grounding in the lives of actual people, people that had really lived the lives that, that you know, I was reading about, and ultimately would write about. In terms of early influences, my family has been tremendously important to who I became, I think, reaching all the way back to, to great grandparents that I knew who were working class people from Pittsburgh. And they raised up my father who was fortunate enough to get to go to college, as did my mother, they were both first generation to college students, that we did not have the language for that at the time. But both came from working class families, my mom's mother came from Ireland, was an immigrant. And both of them I think, were really serious about education. So for instance, when I went off to college, my parents gave me a credit card, which I could use for any kind of emergency, or to buy books, could just use it, for emergencies-

SM: 03:01
[chuckles] Yes.

NB: 03:01
-the kind of empathy that is necessary to be successful in the craft. And I think it can be learned, I was lucky that I think I learned that as a, a pretty young person. My grandma was a church going woman and who really, lived the Christian ethos, I think, in a way that that so many, perhaps do not, she really did embody that. I lived it seriously. I was not thinking of it through a Christian lens, but she very much was kind of, you know, just always cared about other people and really looked after other people. And I think my parents instilled in us the sense that, that was an important part of being a human being and second, that you are not anybody better than anybody else. And do not go fooling yourself because of what you do for a living, or where you live, or what language you speak does not make you better than someone else. And I think that was also really formative for me. -and books, and they just really have this deep investment in the value of education. And they paid for college for myself and both of my siblings, which is an extraordinary gift, not as expensive a gift as it would be in 2022. But nevertheless, a real contribution to the lives of their children, again I think it speaks to the value that they both placed on education, and the things that it would make possible for you. It had been a really meaningful experience for both of them, and I wanted us to have that same experience. But the other thing I think they gave me was a real sense of, and this goes to my grandparents as well, a sense of the importance of every, every human being. And again, I did not have language for it growing up. But, a real profound concern for injustice, and a preoccupation with-with the wellbeing of other people was really instilled in me through my grandparents and my parents. And I think it makes you a better historian because it helps you begin to have-

SM: 04:03
I can see that as a scholar that what you have done in this book, your, you care about everybody. I, you know, it is just a tremendous book, you went to Berkeley too, correct?

NB: 05:00
I did. I got my PhD at Berkeley, my masters and my PhD. I had not known what I would do when I finished college. And it was really a singular lack of imagination that took me to graduate school. I thought, well, I will just keep studying since I like doing this. And, then I was very lucky. Berkeley was good for me. I had some very, very valuable educational experiences there, obviously with people like Lawrence Levine and Paula Fast were my primary advisors. [crosstalk] But it was more important almost just to be in the Berkeley context, which was a place with a lot of activism-

SM: 05:38
Yes.

NB: 05:38
-and a community that was very, very diverse. And that was really good for me because I had grown up in Portland, Oregon, which is a, you know, relatively small town back in the day and still quite residentially segregated, as I was growing up.

SM: 05:50
Did you take any courses from Harry Edwards or Todd Gatlin?

NB: 05:54
No, I did not, I did not. They were not in my, then this is one of the things I regret about my education, is it was not as interdisciplinary as it would be if I did it again. So they were over in, you know, psychology or excuse me, sociology, so it was not even occurring to me to go over and take courses from them. And I was not studying the (19)60s yet. It is the other thing.

SM: 06:14
Right.

NB: 06:15
I think was intimidated by the subject matter, because I had lived it and it was still pretty fresh in my mind, not in a, in an adult kind of way. But I knew that it mattered a lot to me, and I was not ready to take that on. Like, I do not think I understood that at the time. But it is clear to me now because I love teaching the (19)60s. But I did not write about the (19)60s Initially, I wrote about the First World War era, because I think it had some of the same kinds of issues.

SM: 06:40
Now you are also, in terms of, you are the chair of the African American History Department?

NB: 06:46
No-no-no-no-no-no, I am, was the chair of the History Department. My term ends on like, next week, Thursday, for which I am very grateful. So I am just a professor of history. There is an African American studies program that I teach in, but I am not the chair of it.

SM: 07:03
Okay, very good. Could you give a brief description of your books, the other books that you have written before this current one, just your scholarship up to this point?

NB: 07:15
Sure. My first book was called "Making Men Moral: Social Engineering during the Great War," and my purpose in that book was really to explore how the military conceptualized the relationship between its fighting forces and the civilian population. And to get at that I studied, one particular agency that had its purpose, the creation of moral crusaders would be the kind of language I might use. That, they were thinking about the soldiers through a very particular lens, and what that crusader would look like had very particular sort of social and moral positioning. And so, the agency I studied, how does its job creating these soldiers who would be as pure in body and mind as you were in spirit, I mean, just this, really wanting to create an ideal kind of American so it was sort of an Americanizing program for all the American troops through recreation, social hygiene, education, and ultimately law enforcement, as needed. So, it was a really interesting study about the power of the state, and what it looks like when the state has the power to implement its moral vision. And, really a piece of sort of my interest in the progressive era. And then my second book, looked at the influenza pandemic of 1918. So, staying in the same time period, interested still in the role of the state in the lives of individuals, but looking at it in a particular, sort of social catastrophic moment. Turns out, I am really interested in the idea of, sort of culture and catastrophe, and how we as a people, as a community, as a nation engage with, and work our way through, and ultimately remember or forget these major moments in our history. So that one, I was really interested in the social experience of American people during this pandemic, and the ways in which social identity really differentiated the experiences. So, it mattered whether you were male or female, it also mattered profoundly as it did in our current pandemic, what your racial and class situation was.

SM: 09:19
Yes.

NB: 09:19
It also mattered whether you were a healthcare professional, if you were a doctor or a nurse, because those were such gendered positions at the time. And then also really interested in how public health navigated both popular interest in being saved and then ultimately, popular frustration with the ongoing difficulties of the pandemic. So both an interest in the social experience, and the sort of, role of social identity, but also interested in the sort of, state civilian relationships as well. So, those two are connected because of the time period because of my interest in, in issues around social reform, issues around the state, and the individual. And also really interested, increasingly across time in the meaning of race, and the meaning of class in people's lives. And the reality that even in these moments when we talk about being a singular nation, right, we are unified by the world, we are unified by the pandemic, the ways in which that is simply not true.

SM: 10:22
This leads into the new book, which is, "Steeped in the Blood of Racism." What drew you to the Jackson State story? And I love your title too, because the subtitle "Black Power, Law and Order and the 1970s Shootings at Jackson State College." I just did an interview yesterday with Mr. Ruffner who took pictures at Kent State.

NB: 10:47
Right. Right.

SM: 10:47
And the fourth and he talked about, we talked about the whole concept of law and order that was happening at Kent State with Governor Rhodes and-

NB: 10:55
Oh, that is right.

SM: 10:56
-and all those people there they were, you know, some of the students were so called criminals and all this other stuff.

NB: 11:02
Right. So, criminalizing of the young people is one of the things that the two stories have in common.

SM: 11:07
Right.

NB: 11:08
So I, I came to the Jackson State story, actually, by way of interest in, I was really interested in state's repression in the Black Power era. And my original plan was to write a book that looked at a series of events in the late (19)60s and early (19)70s: the murder of Black Panthers, the, assault on civilians during civil disorders, the treatment of Black college students. So, looking at different contexts within which the state is enacting violence against Black people, and using new language, the language as you suggested of law and order to justify it. For the wake of the civil rights legislation of the mid (19)60s, the sort of straight out you can just murder Black people does not work any longer. It does not mean that the murders will not continue to happen, but that the state will need new justifications for that kind of behavior. And Jackson State, it was a really classic case of it. I had planned to write this larger book and then an editor at-at Oxford asked if I wanted to, write on a single one, and create a volume that was more focused. And I was like, "Well, yeah," and I have started with Jackson State, so let us go with that one. I got onto Jackson State, though, to do justice to him, a student of mine and one of my courses, a young man named John Moore, wrote a paper on the shootings at Jackson State and it really intrigued me, because they had not known much about the shootings prior to his paper. And it really inspired me to want to know a lot more about what took place there. And the discovery that this was really racial violence, this was, you know, the state perpetuating violence against Black bodies, which it had done, you know, with a history reaching all the way back to slavery. And so, I was really interested in exploring how the shootings were justified because, of course, no one ever did, no one was ever prosecuted for the crimes. No one, ever you know, they, it-it is just a horrific injustice that went, you know, completely, a pursuit of justice was-was unsatisfied, I will-will say that, so interested both in how that could be possible, when this was clearly murder. And then secondly, really interested in why so few people my age, remember what happened to Jackson State, and everybody knows Kent State. And so, that really telling this as a story of racial violence and the ways in which white Americans do not remember racial violence so, that each police shooting can be treated in a sense as a one off, right. Trayvon Martin should not have had a hoodie on or he would have been fine.

SM: 13:43
Right.

NB: 13:43
Eric Garner should not have been selling illegal, so you know, go down the list of things. Tamir Rice should not have been playing with a plastic gun. Right? No, the fact is that each of these people were part of a long arc of history in which we talk about needing to pursue law and order, and we do it as a justification for, the control of, of Black citizens.

SM: 14:04
In the state-

NB: 14:05
I was really interested in that.

SM: 14:06
-the state of Mississippi and that whole period, I just did not read off of another person, on the Freedom Summer, and what was happening in Mississippi at that particular time, and in (19)64. But, this whole business of Jackson, understanding the history of Jackson in conjunction with this school that had many different names over the years since its founding.

NB: 14:17
Yeah. Yep.

SM: 14:28
And I, just imagine what African American students were going through, through that whole period-

NB: 14:35
Right.

SM: 14:36
-living in that community.

NB: 14:37
Right. And that is the thing that I think is really interesting about Jackson State, which is, right, it is a historically Black university at that time, a college within a state system run by a higher education board that is all white.

SM: 14:51
Yes.

NB: 14:52
And, that wants nothing more than continue to control these Black students. They have to have a good Black school. So, they put limited resources into this institution, it is always under resourced, even today I suspect it is still deeply under resourced. But so, they have this institution, but they are going to control these young people to the best of their ability. So, they have president after president who really keeps a lid on any kind of activism and even up into the 1960s. You know, students who do protest in the early 1960s who were Jackson State students are expelled, if they are caught, for instance as, as supporting the Tougaloo nine in the early 1960s, at a sit-in locally, those kids are thrown out of school, the Ladner sisters, for instance. And so, you have a campus that is sitting right on the edge of Lynch Street. And again, that is a name that may sound, may resonate differently to our ears, but it is actually named for senator John Lynch, who was a Black, a Black representative in the U.S. Congress that was a Black man out of Mississippi during Reconstruction. So, John R. Lynch Street is actually a name with some pride behind it. But right on Lynch Street, literally a block off campus, is the place where the major NAACP rallies are taking place when Jackson is up in arms, when African Americans are really protesting in Jackson, and, you know, the city is, is, you know, in the midst of a, of a, of a revolt by the Black community, its headquarters are, you know, a block off campus.

SM: 16:28
Wow.

NB: 16:29
So, you have kids who are trying to navigate that. So, the institution is seen as, sort of very repressive, and ultimately regressive, that Tougaloo gets all the praise for having been activists. But in fact, there were always students at Jackson State who were pushing the edges of, of the envelope, so to speak, some of them being expelled as a result. And starting in 1967, the school gets a new president, who really does begin to give students more voice. He reestablishes the student government, the student newspaper begins to have an actual voice to talk about, you know, issues that are social political issues. So, it is really an institution and a transition time in 1970, it is still primarily kids coming first generation to college, many of them coming off of farms, you know, the children of sharecroppers, so kids who cannot afford to get in trouble, kids whose whole families are counting on them, to get an education, and to help the family. So, it is a very, as you say, unimaginable the kind of tensions that these young people were living in the midst of, even as what they were trying to do is get an education.

SM: 17:36
You did a great job on explaining all of this. And if, if, if a young African American student got involved in an activist activity there that he could be kicked out of school, or it could affect his remaining at the school because he wants to graduate, get a job, and for a long period of time the school is involved in preparing young people to be, I think teachers in Black schools.

NB: 18:01
Yep, absolutely.

SM: 18:02
And, and they, this was a job opportunity. And, so there was that. And also, it is interesting with, some of the people I have interviewed about Kent State, is, you know, Kent State was not known as an activist school for a long time. It was more of a conservative school. And I know they had a real big and strong SDS chapter there. And, they played a major role. But still, when-

NB: 18:29
When, they had had, there were a lot of children of, of Labor Union activists.

SM: 18:30
Yes.

NB: 18:31
In fact, there is the wonderful book, I do not know if you have had a chance to interview Thomas Grace. But-

SM: 18:39
Yeah, I did.

NB: 18:40
-yeah, his book is just terrific on establishing that there was a history of activism at that school. It just was not well known that you would this- -these assumptions that were made. And I think there is some of the same story at Jackson State that, Robbie Luckett-Robert Luckett, who runs the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State has done a really good job, I think, recapturing that history in the current exhibit that they have on campus right now, about the Lynch Street corridor and the ways in which Jackson State was very much always a part of what was going on, even if it was a great risk to those students who participated.

SM: 18:48
Yes. Yeah. One of the most important things that was happening in America and certainly in the south, and all over America was in 1966. Could you describe the meaning of "Black power"? And when these two words became the slogan for African American students in the (19)60s. We all know the Stokely who had been a member of Snick for many, many years. He was there in Freedom Summer doing all his thing, but he had different views than some of the others in Snick. He and H. Rap Brown and others became more radicalized. Could you explain when this kind of happened and the effect that it had on college campuses?

NB: 19:55
Sure. And it is hard to track. I would say that though the terminology comes popularized at that point in 1966. The ideology, A, had not had long been there. Many people think of, say, the Black Panther Party as being the heirs of Malcolm X. So, we have other voices-

SM: 20:12
Right.

NB: 20:12
-throughout the civil rights era that are calling for a different kind of, of approach to making social change. Civil rights activism based in nonviolent direct action really is an appeal to the conscience of those who have power. Right. It is asking white people to see that they are wrong, that it is immoral to do things like segregate and appealing on them, to change their minds and to become as, in a sense, better neighbors, better citizens. By the summer of 1964, when you have civil rights, you have the murder of civil rights activists during Freedom Summer, you have, you know, an extraordinary number of acts of violence against civil rights activists, generally speaking, and then in 1964, at the Democratic National Convention, you see mainstream, liberal Democrats really turn their back on the activists from Mississippi who come to the convention-

SM: 21:03
It is amazing cause-

NB: 21:03
-with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party asking that the Democratic Party itself unseat the white Mississippians and see other delegates to the convention who have created a Democratic Party that includes Black people as well as white people. And when the white liberals do that, for some who had gone along with nonviolent direct action, it is kind of the final straw. The idea is you even the people who purported to be our friends, cannot be counted on when push comes to shove, when their political well-being is threatened in any kind of way. So, I think for a lot of young people who had thought of nonviolent direct action, not so much as a way of life, but as a tactic, that shift was underway by 1964, even though we do not talk the language of "Black power," really, until 1966. I think the other thing that is really essential here is that by 1966, you could see that even with the passage of civil rights legislation, a lot was not changing. If you live in Oakland, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of (19)64, does not do anything for you, neither does the Voting Rights Act. So even as we see political empowerment taking place in the south, by the late 1960s, for a lot of African Americans, the civil rights legislation did not actually have much meaning. So, there was a kind of raised and disappointed expectations that encourage people to think about the need for a different strategy to make change, that what is really essential in the United States is power. And so you have got to get some and the way you get that as you start to think about Black nationalism, you think about economic determinism, which is or excuse me, economic Black nationalism, which is to say, spend your dollars in stores owned by Black people, spend your dollars where it will come back in tax revenue to your own community. And political Black nationalism; do not vote for anybody who does not have your back, they may not be Black, but they have got to have your back, spend your vote wisely. And then sort of social or cultural, Black nationalism, that just speaks to the need to look to your own community for wellbeing and to think about creating change from within rather than looking to the white community for change from without-

SM: 21:03
Yes.

NB: 21:45
-and so by 1966, I think it is a combination of frustration. And the reality that things are not changing, and experiences with the white community that suggests the sort of limits of what is possible through nonviolent direct action in a country that is so steeped, so deeply immersed in, in a white supremacist history and system.

SM: 23:21
It is, it is, it is something here also, it is kind of a deja vu story in America. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, you know, people were supposed to have the right to, you know, for a lot of freedoms, probably up to about 1877.

NB: 23:47
Yep.

SM: 23:47
And after that, then all these, did the extreme opposite. And, you know, everything that we knew about Mississippi in 1964 was, was it all had dots going back to that 1877 rights, right up to the Ku Klux Klan, and the-

NB: 24:09
Yep.

SM: 24:09
-citizen councils, and all these things, preventing African Americans from just about everything. They were never treated equal. The one thing that shocks me the most over and over again, it is in your book and in other books, is how they talk to people of color by using the N word. It just-

NB: 24:26
Right.

SM: 24:26
-it just upsets me terribly.

NB: 24:28
Right. Well, I think it was not only that, but even the kinds of, sort of basic slights all the time, so, not calling you by your last name, not using Mr. And Mrs., forcing you to get off the sidewalk, or out of the way for a white person was very intentional. It was intended to degrade, right. And I think that is why the N word is so powerful is that, it was a representation of a whole system of slight and of degradation that was intended to send a message that you are less than I am. And-and, you know, just the ways that, that would then, create ways of living in the world for white, think about white young people growing up in that world, of course, they assume that they are better. And for young Black people how hard it is then to assert yourself and to understand your own capacities, right. There is ways in which, you know, it just was so cruel. It just it, yeah, I agree with you. It is just, it is unbelievable. It is, it is easy to be upset by things like lynching, of course we should be. But that is only one piece of this whole system that was designed to degrade people's lives.

SM: 25:41
And, and what is happening today in America, I worry, again, is this, the third chapter of-

NB: 25:46
It sure feels like it.

SM: 25:48
-like two steps forward and three steps backward, two steps forward, three steps backward, especially in the area of voting. I mean, even John Kennedy, when he was president, you know, he wanted to get a bill passed. But one thing he did not include in that bill was voting.

NB: 26:05
Right.

SM: 26:05
And-

NB: 26:06
No, that is right.

SM: 26:07
-so when you look at the killings at Jackson State, and I am so glad you wrote this book, because, you know, Kent, I have been to 14 remembrance events at Kent State and they have done a fantastic job-

NB: 26:19
Yeah.

SM: 26:19
-in making sure that what happened at Jackson State is part of the Kent State story as well.

NB: 26:24
They sure have, they sure have.

SM: 26:26
And could you, describe the history of the school? You have done it a little bit already, about the, it, what, it is your, it is your material that you built up proving that what happened on the 18th of May was racist. Yeah, 14th, 14th of May. Oh the, yeah 14th, excuse me, yes 14th.

NB: 26:46
No, I think it is really important because it is very, I mean, I think it is important to note that the young people who suffered at Kent State and at Jackson State feel a real sense of community with one another. And it is something, I think there is great gratitude, both directions for that. Kent State itself has done a great job, retaining the story of Jackson State alongside their own, and I applaud them for that. But one thing that has happened is, Kent State become the kind of iconic story for the period, which made it really easy for Jackson State to kind of just slip off the page, so to speak, that itself, I think is-is a result of white supremacy and our failure to recognize that this was a racially based murder. And, you can see that so clearly. So, Jackson State was a historically Black institution. By 1970, I think there is three or four white kids going to school there. There is the children of professors, I think. But, there is really just a couple of kids there. It is, it is really silly, historically Black and predominantly, or actually exclusively Black school at that point. And it has a history of over the course of the 1960s, having engagements with the police that end in, in police violence. They are always overreacting to the slightest, any kind of unrest on the campus will bring in Thompson's tank, which was an armored tank, purchased for Freedom Summer, will bring in, you know, large numbers of heavily armed police in a way that just was not happening nationwide, right. This is a period of great activism on college campuses. And in general, you do not see the immediate response being sent in, in, you know, a large armed force. At Jackson State that is the routine response to any kind of unrest. And there is unrest every summer, starting in 1964, of some sort. The other way you could really see this, that this is a result of racism, that this is white supremacy being enacted, is you could look at a number of things first, when they hear that there is a dump truck on fire on the campus, instead of saying okay, so what should we do? They instead, quickly hand out a bunch of riot gear, and shotguns, and run out to Jackson State. There is no talk about what the mission for the night is, they do not brief the troops. So, everybody goes in without a clear sense of what their job is when they get there, right. That is, so they are in complete panic mode. Because, why? Because these are young Black people. So they assume, as one guy says, "Well, once they started burning the, you know, burned that, we figured they burned down the town." So, they have already conceptualized these kids as criminals. Now, why is that racially infused, because in Mississippi, that is something that had long been done, A, but also as you start to look at some of the things they do: A, all the way through, they refer to the young people using the N word, they come in with armory, with armaments that are better suited for, for warfare than they are for crowd control. If you had any regard for these young people's lives, they would not have been armed in the way that they were. And then finally, that they opened fire on them. They open fire and shoot for 28 seconds because a bottle broke on the pavement. You do not, it is completely against protocol to do so. They would not have opened fire on a group of young white people. But, because there is no regard for these young Black people's lives, they open fire and continue to fire for 28 seconds. They shoot over 400 shells. I mean it is, it is shocking. And they are shooting from almost point-blank range.

SM: 27:16
Owie.

NB: 27:21
I mean and to look at, and to hear these young people talk about what happened. It is so clear. And then in the aftermath, they literally do not assist the wounded, or the dead. They yell at the young people using the N word, and tell them to go check on these kids, two of whom die. Several others of whom are injured, they do not assist the kids. They pick up their own shells instead. It is, it is not until the National Guard arrives-

SM: 30:59
Yes.

NB: 30:59
that the students are assisted in helping those who are injured, or, and tending to the two who had died, Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green. So, it is so infused with racism. And yet it is, it is undeniable when you look at the evidence up close.

SM: 31:14
After it happened in your book, several people said the National Guard was supposed to take over for them, they were supposed to leave. Then, that probably would not have happened if the National Guard were there. But, it is the fact that the Jackson Police and the state troopers were there.

NB: 31:30
That is right. And they are called in because a dump truck is lit on fire in the middle of the street. And the night before, there had been some unrest but, the police never enter the campus. So even though there was unrest on campus, nobody was injured. Nobody was hurt, clear lesson there. The next night when this dump truck is lit on fire, the police and the highway patrol rushed to campus, all in a fluster. And when the, they are rushed to campus to, to, quote, "Protect the fire department." Well, the fire department leaves once the dump truck fire is out. And what do the police and highway patrol marched into the middle of campus, there is no reason for them to enter the campus, no reason for them to march toward the middle of it. The mayor says, the National Guard chair says, number of people who were on site say there was nothing going on in the middle of campus. I did not know why they were marching there, and it was against their orders. They marched in the middle of campus. They turn their weapons on a group of young people in front of a women's dormitory. Kids who until they arrived had been hanging out.

SM: 32:31
Right.

NB: 32:32
As one guy said to me, "Yeah, we were all just hanging out. It was a nice Mississippi evening, to where all the lovers world, were, it was a women's dormitory." Women had an earlier curfew, it turns out. So, the men were all hanging out in the sort of, sway in front of the dormitory. When these you know, this heavily armed crew marches on them, and turns their weapons on them. So, of course they yell at them. But, when they are asked to clear the street and to move away, the students do, there is no question about it. The students are behind a chain linked fence when the police opened fire, and the police had no reason to be there.

SM: 33:07
Where was the-

NB: 33:08
In fact, you know, the National Guard is, is completely upset the commander that they have done this, he says literally, "They have done it all wrong."

SM: 33:18
I-I know that the college president was around, he was keeping track of this. A plus over from Jackson State over Kent State, is the administration at Kent State was nowhere to be found.

NB: 33:30
Right.

SM: 33:31
And, talk about an inept administration, faculty members were kind of-

NB: 33:37
Right.

SM: 33:37
-doing their thing. But at least at Jackson State, the President was around, and was concerned, and but he was not at that scene.

NB: 33:45
No, that is right. He was actually at his home at the time, because, because he knew that there was some unrest. And as soon as the shootings happened, a number of young Black men primarily approached his home, which is right near campus, and said, "You know, you have got to, you have got to come out here you have to see what they have done to us," and he immediately did. And he helped probably, to prevent a much larger loss of life because some students were wanting to march on downtown, and that would have been catastrophic. And, he helped the students. He did not, I will not say calm them, what he did is he asked another student who was there who was well known among the students, highly regarded, and was known to be able to recite Martin Luther King speeches by heart. And he asked him to recite, and that young man did, and it slowed things down enough for students to then talk about what they ought to do, and they realized what they should do was to stay on campus, but they refused to, to go back into the dorms. The president said, "Go back inside," and they said, "Why? Well, we were not, we were not safe in there. We are staying out here tonight." And so, they spent the night in front of the dorm. It was shaped like an H, and so they were in the sort of lower part inside the two legs of the H. The west wing on the left is where the shooting took place. And they spent the night there, but President John Peeples absolutely was, was crucial and remains really close with many of the students from that era. They all speak so glowingly-

SM: 35:14
Right.

NB: 35:14
-of him. When they finally had their graduation, where they got to walk across the stage last summer. He was absolutely in. He was there and was the commencement speaker for them. So, he is well known to have been very, very important. And then that young man, Eugene Young, they nicknamed him, his nickname was Jughead, he, too, was really crucial in helping the students sort of slow down enough to realize that it would be, suicidal to leave the campus grounds.

SM: 35:45
You know, I knew Jean. He came here-

NB: 35:48
Did you? You are so lucky.

SM: 35:49
-I met, he came to Kent State several years to speak at some of the programs on the- 30th, the 1st or 2nd of May in some of the buildings there. And, I was sad when I heard he passed away. I know he had been on the previous year, he had been on Democracy Now, talking about it as he paid tribute to those who had died. But, he, he was so good as a speaker.

NB: 35:54
That is right. And that is what everyone says.

SM: 36:14
Yeah and, and he and, I remember he was staying at a hotel, and I was staying another hotel, and he did not have a ride. So, [chuckles] I took him back to his hotel. But, we were in another theater downtown because they were doing some programs in the, in the theater. And he was just, I mean, he was, it was like you go to grad school, and you meet your new grad students in your residence hall. You talked to him once and you were friends.

NB: 36:42
Yeah.

SM: 36:42
He was, he was that good, and that friendly. I remember when I came back to Kent State, I had heard that he passed and it touched the people at Kent State, so.

NB: 36:52
No, everybody, everyone has spoken so highly of him. It is one of my, I will not say regrets. But I just, I wish I had started my project a few years earlier. So, I might have had the chance to meet him. And honestly, not only for the story that I know, he would tell, and I would love to have had the chance to learn from, but also just, he just sounds like an extraordinary human being.

SM: 37:14
Oh, yeah. He is, he reminds me of a professor. I mean, he was,-

NB: 37:18
Yeah, that is right.

SM: 37:19
He was just, he was intellect, he is an intellectual. He is very calm, though. He is a gifted-

NB: 37:25
Yep.

SM: 37:25
-gifted speaker but calm.

NB: 37:27
And you know, he was a part of the civil rights activism in Jackson as a young child.

SM: 37:31
I did not know that.

NB: 37:32
Yeah, so in the early (19)60s, he is a part of the of the activism in Jackson. And in fact, he comes up if you read Dan Moody's book "Becoming of Age in Mississippi," which is an account-

SM: 37:41
Oh yeah.

NB: 37:42
-of, sort of, grassroots activism, she talks about little Jean Young.

SM: 37:46
Oh, I will check that out.

NB: 37:47
Yeah. So he came by his activism early, and was really a part of, of those, you know, the student efforts of the early 1960s in Jackson.

SM: 37:56
Now the Black power, I want to get back to the Black power situation again, around (19)66. That was coming to Jackson State as well. Some of the things that the students were demanding. And this is important to know, because I think it is in your book and another book I read. When people say how did these changes happen? It was because of the African American students.

NB: 38:19
That is right.

SM: 38:19
That made it happen. Not some, not Stokely Carmichael. Not-

NB: 38:24
That is right.

SM: 38:24
-it was them. And, and I saw this at Ohio State because that is where I went. I went to grad school at Ohio State.

NB: 38:30
Right.

SM: 38:30
And the Black studies, the arrival of Black studies-

NB: 38:34
Yeah.

SM: 38:35
-on campus and the legitimacy that it is an academic program was a big challenge-

NB: 38:39
Yes.

SM: 38:39
around there. And of course, the Black student unions were getting big, bigger, and the Black student papers, and student programs at Ohio State. This is the same time period; Ohio State had a lunchtime program from 12 to 1 in the Ohio Union. And it was for African American students, and on African American issues. I went every single one. And they only had 25 or 30 people, I was there as one of the few white people that was in there [chuckles]. But I will never forget when Jesse Jackson came, oh my god!

NB: 39:09
Yes, there you go right! And, I have heard him speak once when I was in, 1978. Yeah, at his church, quite a.

SM: 39:18
Yeah, well, yeah. Well, Jesse was there and of course, he had his afro and he was, you know, dressed like, he was young. [crosstalk] He was a young guy. And then I also remember Kathleen Cleaver coming to Ohio State, she spoke in Mercian auditorium, one Friday night, and I remember it was, and the place was packed and she had her own guard, you know, the Black Panthers guarded her. And, we were waiting and she finally came in. And, she spoke for a while and she said, "Well, I was met at the airport by the police," [laughs] of course, and they escorted her to get to Ohio State. And so, she started to speak and they had two guards up on the stage and they were just standing there, not moving, one fainted.

NB: 40:06
Oh wow.

SM: 40:07
And she is only into her speech for a couple minutes, and this, one guy faints and falls down, then somebody thought he had been shot. So-

NB: 40:15
Oh yeah.

SM: 40:16
I will never forget that. And, they ran up there to protect her and everything, but it was-

NB: 40:21
Oh yeah.

SM: 40:22
-but it was during this Black power and, and Black pride, and the afro hair dos, and everything.

NB: 40:29
Black is beautiful was a really important concept, right?

SM: 40:32
Yes.

NB: 40:33
Even today, I know that my own Black students still suffer from not only colorism within the Black community, but you know, being taught that to be the way they are, to look the way they are, is not going to get you where you are needing to go. So, they talk about you need to dress professionally. You need to wear your hair professionally. And they are telling kids even in 2022, right, that to wear your hair naturally, either does not look good or is not professional. So, it is still here, If you can imagine the power of the messaging of Black is beautiful, right? Wait, to be me is a beautiful thing? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SM: 41:06
Yeah. And they were, and they were challenging at Ohio State now, whoever were there, they were challenging the legitimacy of the new Black studies program. The person they had hired, his last, his last name was Nelson, Dr. Nelson. He was an academic scholar from someplace afar that came in to lead this. The credentials were unbelievable for this man. And he was given the chance to start at Ohio State and he did a great job.

NB: 41:34
Yeah. What an opportunity, right? And that is some of what is going on at Jackson State. Right. And in the, in the late 1960s, is the arrival of Dr. Peeples in 1967. He says, we are going to have a revolution in our books. And he talks about having, you know, a high-quality education, we are going to show them something, we are not going to do it by having you know violence, we are going to do it by having a great education, turning you lose on the world. And what he means by that is, that students will begin to have a voice, and that African American life, and culture, and history will be a part of what they have access to, and he found what becomes today, the Margaret Walker Center. He begins to invite Black writers to campus, He allows Stokely Carmichael to come, and others are like, "Why are you doing that?" he is like, "Well, you do not understand. You have to allow people to express themselves."

SM: 41:37
Yeah. Yeah.

NB: 42:23
You know, it was a brilliant move on his part, in terms of engaging a sense of trust with the students who are like, "Whoa, really, you are going to let Stokely Carmichael come," and Stokely Carmichael meets with him, and he is really surprised. And he says to Stokely Carmichael, "I am part of a new generation of college presidents, we are going to be a little bit different than what you remember," and so he is, he is also facilitating. So, even as students are, are claiming more power, they are fortunate enough to have an administrator that recognizes that, that is the right thing to allow. That, that is really important for their well-being. And so, it is this beautiful sort of, growth of, within the context still of a white board of higher education. So for that president, he is navigating something very difficult, which is trying to protect the students from this, you know, the white board of higher education, but also allowing them, and I should not even say allowing, but getting out of their way so they can do the things that they want to do, which is to express themselves to study, you know, what is going on with the war to ask, and raise questions about voting rights to, you know, explore the inequities that they are, they are experiencing its students at a college in a system in which the other schools are better resourced. I mean, they are so aware that what they have at Jackson State is not the same as what is at the University of Mississippi.

SM: 43:40
Yes.

NB: 43:40
And they are unhappy about that. And he is making space for them to know that at least. So it is, it is a, I do not want to say magical time. But I think it is a time of such extraordinary expansion of possibility. And I think that is important in understanding why the police might assault the campus, right. And that is the campus they attack. It is not a campus in which things are staying the same. It is a campus that is changing.

SM: 44:06
Right. You bring up another, other important thing that, it was not the first time has students died on college campuses. If you have, you know, we think about Kent State and the four that died and the two that died at the Jackson State but, do not forget the those who died in Orangeburg in 1968.

NB: 44:25
That is right.

SM: 44:26
Jack Nelson wrote a great book on this.

NB: 44:28
Yep. Yeah.

SM: 44:29
If you have not read the book.

NB: 44:30
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

SM: 44:31
But I you know, and I know that one, two died at Berkeley too, I think in, early on during shootings or something like that. So it has happened before, but the publicity for Orangeburg was just like the publicity at Jackson State, which was nothing.

NB: 44:50
Right. Well, that is one of the things I find really interesting is absolutely, there was no, no publicity for Orangeburg. Not only that, but the only person who does prison time for it right, is Cleveland Sellers who is actually a Black activist.

SM: 45:04
Yes, I, yes.

NB: 45:05
Right. There is this terrible assault on young African Americans, and the only person who faces prosecution is someone who is not responsible for it. But, the other thing I was going to say about Jackson State that is really interesting is that it actually does get publicity at the time. It actually is on the front page, and not in the same way that Kent State was, but it is on the front page of The New York Times, it is in, it is on NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, it is in the one-year anniversary, Playboy runs a multi-page story about the funeral for James Green. So, it is not that people did not know about it in 1970, many people did. And that is why the forgetting of it for me is all the more important to trace. Because it was known and then unknown, how do we do that? And, we do it again, and again, and again, as a white community, it turns out.

SM: 45:54
When the tragedy or the killings, Alan Canfora, used to say-

NB: 45:58
Oh yeah.

SM: 45:59
-let us start making sure we say the killings at Kent State not the tragedy, and it is the killings at Kent State and Jackson State.

NB: 46:06
Yeah, yeah.

SM: 46:06
And, but the shootings at Kent State or when it, it happened it, it affected America like I have never seen before.

NB: 46:18
Absolutely.

SM: 46:19
I will look at the college campuses reacting to it all over the country. You know, after Nixon gave the speech going into Cambodia, which we have been in for a long time already.

NB: 46:28
Right-right.

SM: 46:29
And the fact is that I am, I am just one example of probably millions of college students at the time who said, you know, it affected their lives forever. Now-

NB: 46:41
Oh, yeah, absolutely.

SM: 46:42
-but then 11 days later, the, to it, no one talks about the, it should affect their lives as well. And you get to thinking, well, who is creating a racial issue here?

NB: 46:56
Right.

SM: 46:57
Is, you know, we are not talking about Jackson, we are not talking about the state of Mississippi. We are talking about what is happening in the media. What is happening in the-

NB: 47:05
Yeah no, that is right.

SM: 47:06
-yeah, I am, I am still trying to, boggled, my mind is boggled on this issue.

NB: 47:12
Right. But I think it is a really, I mean, I think you are going right to the heart of, of what is so important, which is, how do we manage to make some things remain part of our national narrative? And, other things do not. So, if you look at a high school history book, I bet they will include Kent State today and I bet they will not include Jackson State. The very best college textbooks are beginning to include Jackson State. But again, how is it that we, we, you know, how is it that we move from knowing it to not knowing it, and it takes a great deal of effort, it seems- -to me, and it is, it is not somebody, it is not conspiratorial, it is not somebody saying, "Oh, let us remove this from the story." But rather, it is a much more insidious series of small laps by newspaper editors, I looked, I tracked the Chronicle of Higher Education. It was fascinating to watch how it went from having several pages on what happened to Jackson State at one point. I cannot remember if it is the fifth-year anniversary, but a few years out, they have a big come, you know, two-page story big spread on Kent State. And then they have a little you know, what do you have those little sidebars called "Others Who Died," and that is where they put Jackson State.

SM: 47:43
Right. Oh wow.

NB: 48:20
And that is that effort of like, again, they are not trying to be cruel, but they are imposing sort of a white supremacist historical lens, here is the one that matters, here is the ones that do not matter. Right?

SM: 48:31
Yep.

NB: 48:31
And it happens, and that is how we make it happen. It makes us, it just makes me very conscious of the ways in which white supremacy is so systemic. I mean, there is a reason we use that kind of language, it is because, it is in the air we breathe, we commit it constantly, without even realizing we are doing it. [crosstalk] The needing to be so conscious of that is, is one of the reasons I think to know history is so important.

SM: 48:53
When it first happened, I was reading the press about Kent State. And, it was the talk about "Well, why did not, why did not happen at Berkeley, or Columbia, or a University of Wisconsin, or Harvard Square," that were, you know, even Ohio State, and Ohio University, by the way, was the most liberal of all the campuses at that time and had some of the worst protests.

NB: 49:21
Right, oh yeah.

SM: 49:22
And so, but nobody died there. But they died at Kent State, which the press kind of made it look like they were a conservative campus that has not- -really been that active. And then the same thing is true you brought up in your book with Jackson Spade, Jackson State trying to compare with Tougaloo.

NB: 49:31
Right. Right.

SM: 49:40
And you know, that had a history of activism and Jackson State had not so-

NB: 49:45
Yeah.

SM: 49:46
-it is a, yeah, and your book is going to help this, definitely going to help this.

NB: 49:53
Certainly the purpose of it, and I think it is the reason people were willing to speak with me, because here I am a white scholar, they have never heard of contacting them out of the blue, asking them to talk about a horrific event in their life that has tremendous meaning to them. And yet, you know, you know, dozens of people were willing to tell me their stories. And I think it is because they want the story to be known, and they are frustrated by the way in which it has been forgotten. It irks people deeply, that the story of what took place on that campus is not broadly known. And so, if my book can do anything toward that, it is only because the people to whom it happened, want that to happen, and were willing to help me, with the work I was trying to do. It was a stunningly supportive and kind response that I received from every single person I interviewed that had some connection to the school at that time.

SM: 50:47
What is become, the Jackson State of today, I just want to know, I know they do have remembrance events every year.

NB: 50:54
Yep. Yep, absolutely.

SM: 50:55
And that is very good. And I know sometimes they have small numbers. Kent State has not had a high, a lot of, heavy numbers in recent years as well. But, it is still a steady group that comes. Is it important that it happens? How is Jackson State right now in terms of, you know, the school is, is it, you know, the courses is, is there activism on campus, is?

NB: 51:22
You know, I do not I, it is a very, very different place than it used to be. At the time when it was Jackson State College, it was a single campus, and a relatively small campus. Today, it is a sprawling University, with pieces all spread all over Jackson, the city, featuring different things. So, you know, schools of media or that kind of thing spread out, too, it is a very different place, it is much, much larger. The home campus, which was the original Jackson State College, I believe, is still desperately under resourced. They, the library, for instance, I know is understaffed, because I have spent a lot of time in that library. I do not actually know the personality of the school. I know that there are still a number of remarkable people working there. I have met some of the historians there, and they are just first rates and people who really care about this story, and have made an effort to keep it alive. So, they have been very actively involved in the memory work. As I mentioned before, Professor Robert Luckett, who runs the Margaret Walker Center has been fundamental to the efforts to keeping the story alive. But, I do not actually know the personality of the students per se. I did interview a couple of young people just out of curiosity, their familiarity with the story itself. And it was interesting, my sense is that many students who go to school there really do not know much about what took place. There are those that do, and who are part of the remembrance efforts. But I think, in general, most of the students are not aware, which is odd, because in fact, like the major, beautiful sort of walkway in the midst of campus is the Gibbs Green Plaza, named for the two young men who were killed. But, and my sense is that the campus is-is like Kent State, I think it is very hard to keep the memory alive, even though I think both institutions have worked hard at it. The other thing I would say about Jackson State is, for a time, the campus was, the administration was interested in remembering the killings. Then, there was a period during which I think they were tired of being known only for the killings. And, I think the administrator sort of pushed back a little against the remembrances. And, that was certainly the case when I was first starting my project. I was not, how can I put this, upper administration might not have been that excited about this being a story that people were talking about. There is somebody I supposed to interview, who was a staff member who was not actually allowed to talk to me, which was very odd. I think that is over. And, I think they are back to understanding just how important this is. And they had a, a wonderful series of events planned for the 50th anniversary, which were tragically undercut because of COVID. But last year, on the 51st anniversary, they had a beautiful graduation ceremony right on the plaza right at the site of the shootings. And it was, you know, supported by the University, and was really just a remarkable event. So, I think the campus today is a place where that story is, if not broadly known, it is nevertheless, one that is considered really important to the institution, and there are people working hard to make sure its memory is as present as possible.

SM: 54:47
You know that, that reaction or maybe lessening the remembrance events or something like that. It could be the generations are shifting here now, and that the boomers are now the older, the elders.

NB: 55:00
Oh yeah, oh yeah.

SM: 55:01
And millennials are now taken over in terms of leadership positions. Millennials themselves cannot stand the word diet and, that they say that is a boomer generation word.

NB: 55:17
[laughs]

SM: 55:17
So now the CEO of Coke is, I think, is going to be getting rid of the word diet on all their drinks, eventually, it is going to be zero sugar. Because, millennials let it be known to Coke and Pepsi that the diet thing should stop. That is from another era. [laughs]

NB: 55:35
You know what, oh that is very funny. I am sitting here with a Diet Coke in my hand.

SM: 55:39
[laughs] Well, I drink it all the time, so.

NB: 55:41
I literally have one in my hand as we are speaking, so. [chuckles]

SM: 55:44
Did-did you ever see the other book that was written on Jackson State by Mr. Stoppard?

NB: 55:49
Yes, I did. Yes, I did.

SM: 55:52
Yeah, he wrote that. I interviewed him-

NB: 55:55
Oh, good.

SM: 55:55
-maybe six, eight months ago on that book. And I think that, then that was a dissertation or something like that, he was writing a paper and then ended up becoming a book.

NB: 56:06
Yeah, yep. And he did a lot of really important research that was very helpful, helpful for me, because he had collected some resources, and that alongside with resources collected by Jackson State itself, meant that there is an amazing Gibbs Green collection that is held both in the archives at the university, but also in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, they have a microfilm copy of it. So I was able to access some things, that would have been much harder for me to find, without the work that he had done. So I am very grateful to him for the, the work that he had done on the story. I think the, the one place that I would, would push back is that he talks about, he uses the language of riot. And I think that is really a misrepresentation.

SM: 56:50
Right.

NB: 56:51
In the spring of 1970, the kinds of things that were going on at Jackson State can hardly be called rioting-

SM: 56:56
Yeah.

NB: 56:57
-in a time when there was such extraordinary unrest nationwide. So that is really, if there was one place I really wanted to push back on. It was, it was to, make the case that this was a murderer, and be racially charged, and racially motivated.

SM: 57:12
I-I was amazed that he had the courage to go to Jackson, and to be walking around, and be in that environment for a while because of, when he wrote the book, it was pretty close proximity to what had happened I guess.

NB: 57:25
Yeah, no, that is right.

SM: 57:26
So, you know, I asked him, if he was afraid he was not afraid, just wanted to get a story, so.

NB: 57:32
Yeah-yeah, no, exactly.

SM: 57:35
Yeah, I do not embrace it when you are talking about boomers, you are talking about African Americans as well. And what, as a scholar, what has been your thought on the boomer generation as a whole, it was 74 million, it was the largest generation in history. And now the, the millennials are the largest generation, they are about 78 million. So your thoughts on, you know, only about 7 percent of the boomers are really involved in any sort of activist activity. And, of course, 93, we are not, percent we are not in that large generation, so. And oftentimes, the media portrays the (19)60s is, it is all about that 7 percent and not about the 93 that were just going about their daily activities and trying to make a living. Your just, just your thoughts on the impact of that generation.

NB: 57:58
Wow. Well I think, and this is, it is such a large topic, but I would say that, to suggest that it is only 7 percent, I would not want to demean, nevertheless, the impact that that generation had, I think they were able to, in fact, awaken the nation to some really serious questions, and issues that changed all of our lives. Now, the fact that today Roe has been reversed, makes me feel like the changes we thought were permanent may not be. But when you think about the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, I mean, these are, and Roe for that matter. And you think about where we have come in terms of LGBTQ rights, you think about all of the transitions that have taken place, the ways in which the meaning of who is really a citizen, and what that means has expanded. It is extraordinary, what that time period made possible. And you really do have to credit especially the young people who, who, you know, did the work of calling and enacting change. It was not going to happen without the activism that, that 7 percent did. And so, I think the I think the boomer generation did extraordinary things. The other thing that is interesting to me is, is when we think about how are we defining who an activist is because my own parents were very traditional in the sense that my mother was a homemaker. My father was, you know, out working for a living, we were very traditional family in some ways, but we were also well aware of the war in Vietnam. And the day that Kent State happened, you know, my mom served dinner in what would be sort of our more formal setting, which we did not usually eat out, except if we had guests and because it was this big, terrible moment in our nation's history. So, we were not an activist family. But we were certainly awakened by and cognizant, awakened by that generation, and cognizant of the issues because of the young people of that generation. So, I think the impact is really quite extraordinary. And I know there has been enormous pushback. But I will use the language I guess, just as conservatives generally, to discredit that generation, in ways that I think are unfair. Surely there were, oh, what was the word I even want? There were people who went too far, there were things that were foolish, find me a generation of young people where that is not the case. [chuckles] And you show me a miracle.

SM: 59:39
Yes.

NB: 1:00:53
Right-right. I think for, for whatever failings that generation had then, and has had subsequently, its accomplishments, I think, are not to be, should not be misunderstood. I think they are enormous. And I think we continue to live with those. The fact that I am a college professor, as a woman, is because of that generation, right. Civil Rights Act made it possible for me to have the job I have to get into graduate school and to get a position that simply would not have been possible without it. How long and how permanent those changes will be, I think, is much, much more up for grabs than I ever could have imagined.

SM: 1:01:32
Yeah. I-I did not know that that vote took place today. I did not know, so.

NB: 1:01:43
Oh, sorry. I am pretty sure that is right. I have, yes. I believe it was overturned this morning.

SM: 1:01:47
Oh, my God.

NB: 1:01:48
I think the decision came down.

SM: 1:01:51
Wow. That is going to be, woah. One of the things I want to talk about here-

NB: 1:01:57
Yep. It overturned Roe v. Wade today.

SM: 1:02:01
Wow.

NB: 1:02:01
And apparently, the part by Thomas, has written something that says, you know, and this is only the first effort, you know, now we have really got to get to work overturning the, I do not know what he said. So, I will not repeat it.

SM: 1:02:13
Wow.

NB: 1:02:13
But I need to read it because it sounds like there is an intention. It is-

SM: 1:02:17
Right.

NB: 1:02:17
-sort of terrifying, if you have the values that you and I seem to have.

SM: 1:02:20
Yeah, and I am, I think the if, the voting issue is another thing that is-

NB: 1:02:26
Yeah, me too. Oh.

SM: 1:02:26
-scaring the heck out of me. I work on the elections and I cannot believe that we are talking about this.

NB: 1:02:32
No, me either.

SM: 1:02:32
2020, 2022. I want to talk about the, when Black power came about and of course, Dr. King and non-violence. When you think of non-violence, you think of the, think of Dr. King, you think of Byard Rustin. And, you know, most of the-

NB: 1:02:47
Reverend Lawson.

SM: 1:02:49
-Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, John Lewis, Julian Bond, Shirley Chisholm, that whole group-

NB: 1:02:55
Right.

SM: 1:02:55
-Roy Wilkins. When Black Power came, I can remember a picture of Stokely Carmichael standing next to Dr. King.

NB: 1:03:06
Yep.

SM: 1:03:06
And he is talking and Dr. King is kind of motionless, with his hands, I think, on his chin or something like that. And it, it almost made it look like he was lecturing to Dr. King, [chuckles] and I, you know, when you think of the changes that happen, nonviolent, nonviolent protests was crucial, in the changes we did in America. And then also, we know what happened with Black power, it also helped change in a different way.

NB: 1:03:38
Yep. Yep.

SM: 1:03:39
But then we get then we also have the Muhammad Ali's, of the world taking stands against the Vietnam War.

NB: 1:03:47
Yep.

SM: 1:03:47
And Dr. King in 1967, did something that no one thought he would ever do, and that is a– yes, speech at Riverside Church. And, of course, was Rabbi Heschel right next to him who had influenced him to do that speech.

NB: 1:03:55
Speech at Riverside Church.

SM: 1:04:04
So your thoughts on this whole business about, you know, Black power and nonviolent protest be the, you know, not a battle, but you know, a petition.

NB: 1:04:04
Right. Well, I think that is the key, well I think that is the key is that, I think it has really been unfortunate the ways in which at the time, certainly the media, publicized this as if it was an internal struggle, and certainly there was that going on. But, you know, Dr. King remains close friends with a lot of those young people who are advocates for Black power, right, the fact that they have different approaches to it does not mean that their end goal was not the same. And this is a point my students will always want to make. They will say, "Well, but wait a minute, what was Black Power trying to get and how is that different from what Dr. King was trying to get?" The point as well, different routes do a lot of the same things. And so for me, I continue to think about, the reason this is important to me is I think it is really relevant in the context of trying to make change in 2022, I would argue there is always room for lots of approaches to creating change, because you will change some things with that appeal to conscience, you will change some people with that appeal to conscience, non-violence, for me will always be the approach that I would have to adopt. There is nothing in Black Power that says it is not also nonviolent, by the way.

SM: 1:04:18
Right.

NB: 1:04:23
The thing that was different in Black Power is the articulation, both of a determination to claim power, but also a determination to create one's own lives and to be self-determining, and also to defend oneself. And that is, I think the part that was, was most troubling for someone like Dr. King. The reality is that Dr. King's people had carried guns in their, you know, in their, the trunks of their cars and, and many of the people involved in nonviolent direct action, were willing to be armed as needed. And so, in the context of that moment, historically, even the issue of self-defense strikes me as one that did not divide the camps as, as vividly as the press is portrayed. And I think many historians have worked hard to show the ways in which there was actually great continuity between those, the parts of the movement, not only in terms of people, but that many of the ideas that we associate with Black power have roots reaching back all the way through the Civil Rights period. Are they two different approaches? Absolutely. Are they necessarily in competition or in conflict? I am not as condensed.

SM: 1:06:28
Yeah, I know that, Snick, Stokely was part of Snick. And he, Black power to kind of took over Snick as well.

NB: 1:06:36
Yep.

SM: 1:06:36
And some people that had been there a long-time kind of left Snick, John Lewis- John Lewis went back and they became a congressman. [chuckles]

NB: 1:06:40
And some were eventually thrown out, [crosstalk] kicked out the white members in (19)66, so. Right, right.

SM: 1:06:50
I do not know, if, he really was not into that, so.

NB: 1:06:53
No, that is exactly right. No, but it was a very painful, very painful turn of events for those who are really dedicated to nonviolent direct action, as a way of life which clearly John Lewis was. And as Dr. King was, so that, yeah, there was there was so much tension and so much anger, and some of it right played out and sort of lashing out against one another, which you know, is, as I look at, as a historian, I am seeing, oh, divide and conquer, how effective and I can see it happening sometimes with young people today where, you know, those old notions of are you radical enough? Are you Black enough? Are you, you know, are you fighting the fight hard enough? You are not doing it my way. That is often, you know, you start thinking about agent provocateurs from the F.B.I. back in the day, right, some of that friction was surely promoted by right the F.B.I., and its COINTELPRO, and by others who were like happy to see conflict within the movement.

SM: 1:07:50
Right.

NB: 1:07:51
So, I am always cautious about seeing these things as a fight from within without also wanting to look for what, what are the external pressures creating that?

SM: 1:07:58
I think Black power also had somewhat of an influence on African American students in their protest against the Vietnam War. Because at Kent State University in 1970, you did not see any of Black faces, you might. There was an effort, James Michener wrote the first book on Kent State, it got full of mistakes, full of mistakes, and everything else.

NB: 1:08:09
Yes-yes.

SM: 1:08:11
But, what he does talk about in there is there was an effort made to make sure that no African American student was on the, out there with a white stripe-

NB: 1:08:23
That is right.

SM: 1:08:24
-on that protest. And that, you know, because our role is to be fighting for civil rights issues, not about the Vietnam War. And-

NB: 1:08:37
It is also because they knew they get, you know, they knew that they were, would get, you know, they would be the first ones to get hurt.

SM: 1:08:43
Right.

NB: 1:08:44
And they knew it.

SM: 1:08:46
Yeah, and that that is really interesting, because nobody talks about it.

NB: 1:08:52
Right.

SM: 1:08:52
And if you look at the pictures, I do not see any African American students.

NB: 1:08:56
That is why I think Tom Grace's book is really useful.

SM: 1:08:59
Right.

NB: 1:08:59
I think he really fills in the relationship between the anti-war activists and the Black union students who are also very active on campus, and were engaged in anti-war activism but that they were really aware of what were the danger moments, and when they saw white students acting out, they were not going to get in the way because they knew that they would be the, the targets.

SM: 1:09:17
I want to read something that you wrote in, on page 59 of your book.

NB: 1:09:22
Let us rip that bad boy open and see what I said.

SM: 1:09:25
And it is, it is the beginning of the second paragraph there is, I just I grew up down here. I just, I said I have to have this in the interview. "This was certainly true in Mississippi, where the growing influence of Black power prompted a hostile and militarized response by the authorities. Across the state at the historically white institutions that had begun integrating at the HBCUs, African American students are organized first on their own campuses, and then between campuses across the state. Like African American students around the country, they focus on the persistent white internalism of those who control their educations, the absence of student voices and campus governments. I know that, I experienced that, the need for an intrusion of African American curriculum, faculty and administrators into their educations and the career, and the under resourcing that lead to a second-rate educators and education." I thought that was a very well written, I had to, I had to quote it, and it is get into the, the law and order thing. So I just, I do not know if you have any more to say on that, or?

NB: 1:10:37
No, I just it goes back to a point that you made earlier, which is, as we think about the changes that were taking place, on college campuses, in particular, when thinking about Black college campuses, the ways in which students were in the lead, right, they were the ones who understood what they wanted and needed. And that is how we end up with a wonderful African American studies programs that we have today, with some of the, the still too limited Black leadership on our institutions. That, they understood what they needed, and what they wanted. And they were the ones really pushing for the change that, you know, so many of us, you know, came to be the beneficiaries of I would say, in my own case. And, and also, I would note that that paragraph is based on work that was done by other scholars who have done the work of researching, and helping us understand the kinds of things that were taking place in that, in that era, beyond the Jackson State campus.

SM: 1:11:32
Right.

NB: 1:11:34
I think especially of, of Professor Williamson, who's up at the University of Washington here, right in Washington state who has just done wonderful, wonderful work on the history of Black education in Mississippi and more broadly, Joanne Williamson, she wrote, "Black Power on Campus," on the University of Illinois, was one of her early books, and then she wrote, "Radicalizing the Ebony Tire, Ebony Tower," which was really, really influential for me.

SM: 1:12:01
You, you talked about the trials afterwards as well, and, and nobody was really charged with a crime.

NB: 1:12:10
No.

SM: 1:12:11
Yeah.

NB: 1:12:13
No, they were not. The two. It is really horrifying. The two grand juries are influenced by their, the first one is led by a federal grand jury by a horrific man who was well known as a racist, long beforehand, he had overseen the trials for Freedom Summer, for instance. And so, it was the murder of Cheney Schwerner and Goodwin, Goodman over Freedom Summer, and he, his, his sort of charges to the jury are just laced with the sort of law and order, racially inscribed law and order rhetoric that we associate with that time period, and that is so costly, and the same sort of viewpoint is done by the hounds, Hinds County grand jury as well. So, the only person who is ultimately charged with, first charged with a crime is a Black man, not unlike what happened in Orangeburg, and eventually, the charges against him will be dropped for lack of evidence, and he will plead out on another on another charge. So, no the legal system is a complete failure for them. When they tried to sue, they are unsuccessful in the first suit. But, they had known all along that they would likely be unsuccessful at the local level. But when it goes to appeal, they are successful. But, it turns out that all the officers are covered by sovereign immunity. So, they try to take the case to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court is unwilling to hear it.

SM: 1:13:45
The, Kent State is, has been paying tribute for years for the four who died and the nine who were wounded. And I know Jackson State has been paying tribute to the two who died. But, what about the ones that are wounded? And, do they keep, is there a list so that people do not forget the students who were wounded?

NB: 1:14:07
I think that is a really interesting question. I think the answer is kind of no. I think some of those who were wounded have been very outspoken and active, including one man whose-whose written a couple of personal accounts of what took place on those days, but the vast majority of them have, have been relatively quiet. Vernon Steve Weakley is the man, I should say his name aloud who has written a couple of books about his experiences with the shootings, and what it meant in his life, and he has been very active, and very public about it. But there are others who are, who are quiet about it, who have chosen not to, to be public figures about what took place in their lives. Some of whom were really anxious to be interviewed, some of whom were, I did not know how to find, but so it is, I can say that many of those who were at Jackson State in 1970, have gone on to really remarkable public careers. I tried to talk about that, in my book, the ways in which many people were inspired to try to make change, because they could not, you know, could not stand what had happened to them- and to, to the kids around them. But I also know that there are people whose lives were really influenced, you know, in negative ways by what took place, and who, you know, really feel that, that what was possible for them and, the capacities they had, went somewhat, unmet because of the, the derailing that, that shooting had-had in their life.

SM: 1:15:14
Right. You know at Kent State, I think two of the nine, just want, want to have their privacy, so.

NB: 1:15:40
Yeah, yep.

SM: 1:15:41
But, seven of them have been willing to come back to events and speak, and.

NB: 1:15:44
It has been interesting people who, who had not been to events who were there, not necessarily people were injured, but just even people who have been at the dorm that night. I talked to one man who had not been back in, I was there for the 45th. And he had not been back for any of the remembrances until that one.

SM: 1:16:03
Wow.

NB: 1:16:03
Turned out, he was a really close friend of Philip Gibbs. And he ended up letting me interview him, he was not sure about it. And I said, you know, just think about it. There is no pressure but, and we ended up having a really, really powerful conversation, and-

SM: 1:16:18
Is there anything for those two that had been done in their name, besides having a plaque or a-

NB: 1:16:26
We had a whole, there is a, the whole plaza walkway through the middle of campus, so they closed off Lynch Street. And it is a plaza, kind of walkway through the middle of campus, and it's named for both of them.

SM: 1:16:35
Very good. Very good.

NB: 1:16:37
It is really good. And that was, that was a plan that people had, I think in mind, perhaps, from the get go, because the students had wanted Lynch street closed for a long time.

SM: 1:16:45
And when you kill a person, or a young person you are, you are destroying a legacy of that person.

NB: 1:16:50
Yep, no that is right.

SM: 1:16:52
Every young person deserves a legacy.

NB: 1:16:54
Yeah, that is right.

SM: 1:16:55
That is why it is so sad. I have a simple question here. Did, did Black lives matter at Jackson State in 1970 and in the America of 2020? And again, the simple question, Do Black lives matter at Jackson State, In Jackson, Mississippi, and in America?

NB: 1:17:16
What, in today?

SM: 1:17:17
Today.

NB: 1:17:19
Whew. I cannot speak to Jackson, or to the campus, I think with the insider knowledge that the question deserves. I think that the state of race relations in the United States right now is, is, is, is devastatingly unchanged. For all of I think, very sincere concern expressed in the spring of 2020. I have not seen measurable change. I am seeing instead the taking away of Black votes, which is for me incredibly regressive, and will be devastating to the well-being of the country. I see ongoing police shootings of young Black people even in my own community. I see outspoken racism, being, you know, spoken by people in leadership positions. I see people being elected to office who have continued to support what I would argue with, you know, a horrifically racist president who was voted out in 2020. So, I think we are, I, do Black lives matter, they matter enormously. Are they treated with, that as if they matter? No, no.

SM: 1:18:39
It is another issue that I, you kind of reflect upon or, you know, these great stories, your books, revealing the truth about what happened at Jackson State. It is how all this hard work that was done for so many decades, is now being challenged, to, for setbacks and, and of course, everything's red state, blue state, you know, hawk and dove, and all these other things. So, you know, they always put you in a category so, if you even question, or bring it up, you are one of those. So it, it you know, I, keep bashing some of the people that gave their lives. We did a program once at Westchester University, about the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, the ones that Dr. King used to always talk about, the people will never hear from, but were involved again, never knew.

NB: 1:18:39
Yep.

SM: 1:18:40
And-and they are probably turning over their graves knowing what is going on, if they knew what was going on today. And that is why as you mentioned, I mean, I think the voting rights issue is such a substantial one, because its implications are so deep, and the vote was so hard fought, I mean to gain, and that it could be being taken away so insidiously. And with such, and yet with such openness is just, I just did not expect it. And I should have that is, that is my you know, that is my whiteness speaking that I can be so naive sometimes. Well at least we know there are two artists who sang songs that reflected on what was happening in Mississippi in the, in the (19)60s and early (19)70s.

NB: 1:20:22
Absolutely.

SM: 1:20:23
And that is Nina Simone.

NB: 1:20:26
Yep.

SM: 1:20:27
"Mississippi Goddamn."

NB: 1:20:29
One of my favorites.

SM: 1:20:30
And Sam Cooke.

NB: 1:20:32
Yep.

SM: 1:20:34
And his famous song. And, boy, when you listen to Sam Cooke, I did this with another person. I said, "it brings tears to your eyes."

NB: 1:20:42
Yep, it does.

SM: 1:20:44
And, and his life ended in a sad way.

NB: 1:20:47
Yep, that is right.

SM: 1:20:49
So, it is just amazing. I have a couple of general questions here that I wanted, I wanted to just ask you. Does, does time you know what happens in time, is things just like a cemetery, you put a stone up and it fades away over time, and does time kill all remembrance events, once those who were alive are no more?

NB: 1:21:15
I do not think so. I think Americans could name all kinds of historical moments and have actually really powerful deep feelings about them, that are far removed from themselves. And that is where what we choose to have, say in our history curriculum really does matter. It is why I think when you see right wing activists calling for the removal of what they are calling critical race theory, it is about trying to decide what we are going to remember what we are going to forget.

SM: 1:21:48
Right.

NB: 1:21:48
And they are very intentionally trying to make sure that we remember a very particular version of our national history, that is false. But that is, is what I would call whitewashed. And I choose that word very intentionally.

SM: 1:22:01
Right.

NB: 1:22:02
So, no, I do not think it is it, I think, in fact, Americans, and I would say, I think even human beings generally, part of what makes us human is having a connection to what came before, to having that sense of connection across time in many cultures, right, the ancestors remain alive and with us. So, no memory, and that it should always, but is it always lost, I just think, I just do not think it is true. I think what we remember is very carefully constructed. Again, I do not usually think of it as conspiratorial, increasingly in 2022, it feels very conspiratorial, or people very intentionally trying to decide what kids are going to learn to remember what they are going to be, not ever be exposed to so that it can be forgotten.

SM: 1:22:45
I only do this based on you know, I go to a lot of events, and I have seen the numbers get smaller and smaller.

NB: 1:22:52
Yep-yep.

SM: 1:22:53
And just, Josiah Bunting III, you know, a conservative, but he is the chair of the World War Two Memorial. He talks, he, when he speaks at the memorial, he has tears in his eyes because he says, "As time goes on, I am, we are doing this memorial to remember what happened in World War Two, that they saved the world." But as time goes on, and it is, it is a lot of people coming there. But the people, there is fewer and fewer attending the events, and fewer and fewer, World War Two vets alive. And then you go to the Vietnam Memorial that opened in 1982, the same thing is happening there.

NB: 1:23:32
Yep, that was really interesting.

SM: 1:23:34
The numbers are dwindling. And at Kent State, even though they were getting great numbers, sometimes. I know the 50th anniversary would have been a big one.

NB: 1:23:41
Yeah, that would have been amazing.

SM: 1:23:42
But, their numbers are even going down as well.

NB: 1:23:44
Yep.

SM: 1:23:45
So, I worry that, it is just me because I was a history major too, like you.

NB: 1:23:50
Exactly. [laughs]

SM: 1:23:52
We cannot forget our history. And that leads me into this question here. What are the main lessons from the (19)60s and early (19)70s that are still in with us? And what are the lessons learned that have been lost as time goes on?

NB: 1:24:10
Those are huge questions. I guess the first lesson learned is that change is possible, that collaboration work, that every person's life is of equal value. And then if we could learn that, it would make for a healthier world for all of us. And alongside that, that the forces in here, I am thinking both the systems in place but also literally the white supremacist, not only systems but the, the viewpoints that undergirded are deeply-deeply-deeply woven into the fabric of the country, and how we live and are, are not easy to unfurl or to pull apart. And we can see that I think in the backlash that, that takes place relatively quickly, and that we are living with even, you know, obviously living with right now, that change is never permanent. So, the hard-fought battles of the 1960s does not mean that we do not have to continue to fight for, for justice. And that justice, I mean, in particular, racial justice, because it is the center of this story. But the other forms of justice, for all human beings, for all the ways in which we are different, that does not change the fact that we are each valuable, but that battle is an ongoing one, that one can only avoid, if one has extraordinary privilege, and that it is incumbent on those that have it, myself included, to be a part of that fight. Because it takes it does, in fact, take some power, as well as a lot of hearts, and energy, and commitment, and sacrifice, to create the kind of change that, in the 1960s was made, not by those with power, but ultimately by those who demanded it. As many people have talked about, including Martin Luther King, those whose names we will not know, but who nevertheless, were the heart of the battle.

SM: 1:26:15
Yeah. In the past, there is a lot of dialogue. I know in the (19)90s, I can remember on college campuses, there is an awful lot of dialogue, but where is the action? Where is the deed? And-and-and many deeds have come but now the deeds are being challenged. And there does not seem to be the dialogue, because what happens now is that people do not listen to anybody they-they, we have very poor listeners. They, it is my way or the highway. And that kind of a mentality that kind of scares me today in the world. I am a believer that conservatives and liberals can work together-

NB: 1:26:56
Absolutely.

SM: 1:26:57
-that red and blue work together, the Black and white to work together.

NB: 1:27:00
Absolutely. Me too, me too.

SM: 1:27:01
And in the, in the interfaith councils of the 1960s, with-

NB: 1:27:05
There you go.

SM: 1:27:06
-Rabbi Heschel, and Dr. King and the civil rights leaders, and the Catholic priests-

NB: 1:27:12
That is right.

SM: 1:27:12
-Father Hesburgh. I mean, they work together, they had lots of differences in our beliefs, but they could work together for common cause.

NB: 1:27:21
Right, and it has to do with having an awareness. What do I want to say, being able to imagine lives that are not your own.

SM: 1:27:28
Right.

NB: 1:27:28
Even though you may disagree, you can understand why someone is coming to the place they come to, so that you can then find the commonalities that you might have as well. No, I agree completely. And I worry so much, because I think so much of what is happening right now, here my partisanship is right, my partisan position is so obvious, but I feel like so much of what is being pushed right now from the right, has a singular lack of that kind of empathy-

SM: 1:27:55
Right.

NB: 1:27:55
-or that kind of awareness of others whose lives are not the same, that you could use the kind of language that, that candidate and then, President Trump use to talk about people from other countries suggests a singular lack of an appreciation for the humanity of other people who are not you.

SM: 1:28:11
Right.

NB: 1:28:12
And I really feel like that is being rewarded now, in some ways. And, I find that horrifying.

SM: 1:28:18
I agree. I agree. I am going to, my last question is something that I have been asking everyone, and that is, what advice or message would you like to give to future generations of students, faculty, and national scholars who will be listening to this tape 50 years from now? What words would advise, 50 years, we are not going to be here. The Boomer generation will not be around anymore. The people who experienced all this stuff from the (19)60s will be gone and (19)70s. Just your thoughts, what words would you advice, give advice to future generations?

NB: 1:28:58
I am not a big advice giver. So, I will take this one to a very simple place, which is what I do for a living is teach history. And at the center of that is really teaching young people to both think critically and question everything, and everyone apt to do it with a little bit of humility. And those were lessons that have been taught to be brought to me by my colleagues, especially my colleagues in African American Studies. And I think that, that has been really sound advice that is been given to me, which is ask questions, think critically, question every source, and every person, and everything, and every idea. But as you do, so bring some humility to it.

SM: 1:28:58
Very good. That is great word of advice, I would say.

NB: 1:29:43
Yeah, I did not create it. It comes to me from others.

SM: 1:29:46
All right. Well, I think. that is it. I want to thank you very much for this interview.

NB: 1:29:50
Well, I thank you so much. It was a real pleasure to think about these things alongside you.

SM: 1:29:55
Yeah, let me turn my tape off here.

(End od Interview)

Date of Interview

24 June 2022

Interviewer

Stephen McKiernan

Interviewee

Dr. Nancy Bristow

Biographical Text

Dr. Nancy K. Bristow is a Professor of History at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. Her research focuses on the area of 20th-century American history, with an emphasis on race and social change. Dr. Bristow is the author of several books including American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic and Making Men Moral: Social Engineering during the Great War. She received her Bachelor's degree from Colorado College, and both her Master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Duration

1:29:57

Language

English

Digital Publisher

Binghamton University Libraries

Digital Format

audio/mp4

Date of Digitization

24 June 2022

Material Type

Sound

Interview Format

Audio

Rights Statement

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Keywords

Kent State, Jackson State, Blacks, Campus, Books, Students, History, Young lives, Shootings, Power, Martin Luther King, Mississippi, Boomer generation; 1960s.

Files

Nancy Bristow.jpeg

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About this Collection

Collection Description

Stephen McKiernan's collection of interviews includes more than two hundred interviews with prominent figures of the 1960s, which were collected between the mid-1990s and 2010s. The collection provides narratives of people who were actively involved in or witnessed events in the 1960s, an era which spurred profound cultural and… More

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Citation

“Interview with Dr. Nancy Bristow,” Digital Collections, accessed March 3, 2024, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/2472.