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Interview with Ellis Cose

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Cose, Ellis ; McKiernan, Stephen


Ellis Cose, a native of Chicago, is a columnist and editor for Newsweek. He is the author of a dozen of books including the best-selling The Rage of a Privileged Class. He became a columnist at the age of 19 and he became a contributor for the Times Magazine. Cose appeared on several shows and he has been interviewed frequently around the world. Ellis earned his B.A. degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois and a Master’s degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy from George Washington University.




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McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Ellis Cose
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: REV
Date of interview: 22 December 2010
(Start of Interview)

SM (00:00:05):
Testing one, two. One of the questions that I have asked everybody in the interview process, I normally ask it toward the end of the interview, but I am going to ask it in the beginning this time, is that do you believe, as a boomer, that the boomer generation will go to its grave like the Civil War generation, not truly healing from the divisions that took place in the (19)60s and (19)70s, the intense divisions between black and white, male and female, gay and straight, those who were for the Vietnam War and against it? I ask this question because I took a group of students to see Edmond Muskie in 1995, and we asked that same question to him, and the students felt that he was going to respond based on what happened at the convention in (19)68. And, of course, (19)68 was an unbelievable year with a lot of tragedy. And so, they thought he was going to talk about the 1968 conventions and the tremendous divisions in the country. I will let you know what he said, but what are your thoughts?

EC (00:01:18):
Well, I guess my thought is that I am not sure that I agree the whole concept of healing to begin with. I think that we are all shaped by our times in a huge way. We are shaped by the things that are important to us in a huge way. And if by healing we mean that as we approach old age, we resolve those issues and we agree about those conflicts and we reach a state of harmony with one another, I am not sure that that happened. I think that we have certainly put the Vietnam War collectively as a nation behind us, and I think that the emotions that were invested in that once upon the time are not nearly what they were, even among people who were directly involved with exception here or there. I also think that if we look at the question of race, clearly, we have come a huge distance in this country when it comes to the ability of white to see African Americans as [inaudible] beings. Though, interestingly enough, I mean, I just finished turning in the manuscript for a book that looks at generations, including the boomers, those who are treat boomers, the silence, so calls and also the millennials. And one thing that is very clear to me is that in terms of how capable different generations of races are of seeing each other as human beings, a lot of that has to do with the generation in which they were shaped. Not so much with the conflict of the generations, but just the ethos of a particular generation. People who grew up in segregated setting have an awfully difficult time getting beyond that, it is not a question of healing, it is just that their entire experience growing up was of believing that people were destined to be separate. People who came up right after segregation have a different way of looking at things, but they were still raised in society where it was a big deal for blacks and whites to marry each other for blacks and whites, to be close friends with one another. And those people in large measure never get to a point where they get beyond that. It is not a question for me of conflicts, it is not an issue of, " I was a segregationist or an integrationist," and therefore we heal somehow, there is a language of healing, and I am very familiar with it. I hear it a lot. There are different groups which come together to do what they call healing. That whole idea implies that once upon a time people were whole. Somehow in the course of event, they develop a wound and then they are going to go and somehow heal this wound. I just think it misconstrues human relationship. So I guess my answer to that is that yes, I think that to some extent we get over the conflicts of the past, but I just do not really accept the language of healing that...

SM (00:04:50):
Yeah, when Senator Musky responded, the students again that came with me, none of them were alive during the Vietnam War. They had all seen these on videos and so forth, and they were surprised that Senator Musky did not even comment on the (19)60s or anything to do with (19)68. He basically commented that we have not healed since the Civil War over the issue of race, and that he went into detail talking about it. And another thing too, when you think of healing, a lot of people from the Vietnam War think of Kim Phuc because she has come, the girl in the picture from the Vietnam War. I interviewed her and the whole interview with her was, she is a very forgiving and healing person, and we must move on. And one other comment before getting the next question is when I interviewed the late Gaylord Nelson at his office at the Wilderness Society, I knew him quite well. And he said, he was struck by the question, he says, nobody is walking around Washington DC talking about not healing from the Vietnam War or the divisions that took place at that time. They do not wear it on their sleeve, but he said it is permanently in the body politic. And that is where the impact really is in the politics itself. Just a little side light of this question now, do you feel that the Vietnam Memorial itself has helped the nation heal?

EC (00:06:17):
Well, it runs into the same issue. I do not believe in this concept of healing. I just do not. I mean, think it is great, and I think it has acknowledged the contributions of people who through no fault of their own, got involved in the conflict that the nation collectively ended up repudiating. And so I think that is a good thing. But I think healing is almost clinical therapeutic concept that does not really apply to what happens in the context of a national conflicts, except for people who were very much on the front lines of those and did suffer some sort of clinical result as a consequence of that. And in those cases, I think it goes individual to individual. Some individuals are capable of healing, some are not. But I do not think that nation heal in that way. I think that is something that individuals do within themselves.

SM (00:07:23):
I have done a lot of reading on your background. You have got your website's great, by the way.

EC (00:07:26):
Thank you.

SM (00:07:27):
I think you have a great website and there is some great biographies of you, just small biographies of your background and your books and the themes of your books, and certainly your growing up years. But I always ask this because the people that are going to be reading these interviews will not have read your books and will certainly will hope they will after the interviews. But how did you become who you are? What was it like growing up in Chicago as a teenager? What were your college years? Was there activism on your campus when you were an undergraduate student? And were you involved in any of the organizations at your college?

EC (00:08:11):
I came to writing for a very simple reason, and then I have written about this before. But basically the reason I became a writer was because of riots in my community. I came up on the west side of Chicago, and I was a kid in high school when Martin Luther King was fascinated in 1968. And my community literally went up in flames. And the same thing had happened to that same community on the west side of Chicago in 1966. It went up in flames in that instance because of a police conflict, which is actually what led a lot to the riot of the (19)60s of a conflict between a citizen and the cops. And that caused an uprising. It took indeed, of course, it came just the King. But in both instances, there were fires, there were tanked, the community, and there was pretty significant violence. And as a kid, we were watching that and then reading the press reports at the time, I realized that the press reports that I was reading about bore no resemblance community about my community, bore no resemblance to community that I was living in. And this gets, actually into your previous question about healing. And my point about generation, if we go back to the late (19)60s, this was the time when the major newspapers, firstly had no black reporters at all. There were an exceptions here and there, but the so-called major media simply saw no reason back then to hire blacks. And so when they covered something like a racial conflict or a riot, they covered it as if they were covering a third world community they did not understand, full of people who were irrational and who were not full human being. And you can see this very clearly in any of the coverage of those days, if you go back and read some of the accounts, the riots from back then. And I made the decision, even though I was not terribly interested initially in being a writer, that someone needed to write about these kinds of things that had some understanding of these communities. And it happened to coincide with an ongoing conflict I had was with an English teacher over doing assignments because I was a bright kid and the assignments in my way of thinking or mind numbingly stupid. I got her to agree that my assignment would be to write a paper on riot and why they occur in the communities [inaudible] have them. And she ended up agreeing to this for my assignment for English for that year. And for the first time, I got excited about writing and ended up turning in a manuscript of somewhere between 130 and 200 pages as I recall, which she received, took home, read, came back and told me, I am going to give you an A for the course, but I am not really capable of grading this, judging this, you need to send it to a professional." I had no idea what a professional writer was really. She advised me to send it to Gwendolyn Brooks. Because Gwendolyn Brooks was a poor [inaudible] Illinois. Gwendolyn Brooks read it, got in touch with me, essentially told me I needed to think about becoming a writer as the profession. And that launched me into becoming a writer. I also happened to get a job as a columnist for the Chicago Sun Time when, well, when I was 18 as a columnist for their school supplement publication, but I was 19, became a columnist for their actual newspaper. So all of that obviously influenced heavily my decision to become a journalist, to become a writer.

SM (00:12:40):
Was that experience in Chicago when you were young, how did that affect your psyche? You were having the experience of someone who was saying you were a really good writer. Can you hold on a second? My cell phones? Hold on one second. Hold on one second. Hello? Yes-yes. No-no-no-no. I am ready to head off. Yeah, well, I cannot get any over there any earlier though. Okay. Okay. Oh, just get me a couple hamburgers. That is it. Okay. Yep, that is it. I am actually on the phone with my landlord. Upper window. Okay. All right. Thanks, Jim. Bye. Ellis, you still there?

EC (00:14:06):

SM (00:14:06):
My brother has gone because he is getting an eye appointment today. That is why I am leaving early.

EC (00:14:13):
Well, you asking.

SM (00:14:13):
Yeah, I was asking about the psyche.

EC (00:14:14):

SM (00:14:15):
What was it about you personally that even though these very terrible things were happening in this country, that you felt within yourself that you were going to be a success as a writer? It was a kind of, nothing was going to stop you.

EC (00:14:31):
Well, I never thought, even as a very, very young man, that I was not going to be a success at whatever it was that I decided to do. Why did I feel that way? Well, it certainly was not the result of coming up in the projects. There were not a whole lot of folks who were particular successes in the projects. But I think it was my psychology, and my psychology was shaped, I am sure by some measure, by the fact that I knew I was a very bright kid. Despite the fact that I went to terrible inner-city schools, which had all the terrible things happening to them that you read about, and that the teachers, at least many of them were very uninterested in teaching much of anything. And despite the fact that the schools at least found that I went to did not but they were fairly violent. I was always acknowledged as a bright kid. I always tested off the charts. When time came for me to go to high school, I got into a high school out of my neighborhood, which was when high school considered, it was at the time the fitted the best public school in the city because I tested well and always tested well. And so I knew I was a bright kid, and so I knew I had potential, at least mental potential. I also knew that I was a hard worker. So despite the fact that there were lots of messages that came to kids in my community here, "You are never going to be anything. You are going to be a failure. You are never going to amount too much in life." I just found it very easy to tune that out because it is, from my perspective has just been a part of me.

SM (00:16:31):
I was talking at some of the major events when you were young, even very young. How did the following event shape your consciousness as a young African-American teenager and young adult, and obviously some of these things, you were born in (19)51, so you were very young, nine or 10, I am not sure if you were aware of all of them, but as you aged, I broke down in some of these events. You were 12, 13, 14, 18, 20. But I am just going to list some of the key events that in the civil rights movement that were part of that 20-year period, and just any brief comment you can and how important you felt it was not only for you personally, but for our nation. The Montgomery Bus Boycott.

EC (00:17:21):
Well, the Montgomery Bus boycott. I was barrel as an infant pretty much at that point. I read about it as an adult or as a young man I suppose. But we are talking in about (19)50s now. I would have been three or four years old. And so in terms of my having any consciousness of that happening at the time, I had absolutely none. I was just way too young for that.

SM (00:17:51):
And that would include also the Brown versus Board of Education decision, and-

EC (00:17:54):
Well, same thing.

SM (00:17:55):
Little Rock Nine.

EC (00:17:55):
Yeah. I was a bit older when Little Rock Nine occurred, of course, but still, I was the age of six, seven, eight, nine, not really consistently reading the newspaper at that time. We would probably have to get out of the (19)50s.

SM (00:18:16):
Yeah, they-

EC (00:18:17):
Get to a point where I would be aware of the conflict that is swirled around the whole issue of civil rights.

SM (00:18:26):
The other ones are when you were 13 and up, and that is the March on Washington (19)63, Freedom Summer in (19)64. And certainly the terrible tragedy of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman being killed. Were you aware of those events as of 13, 14-year-old?

EC (00:18:45):
That is interesting. I am sure I was aware in some vague way, and clearly the March Washington was a huge event and I would have been, what? 12 at the time that took place. I am sure I was aware of it, but looking back, I cannot say I have a cautious memory of what I was thinking at that time. I am certain I was not aware of. I am certain it was part of a lot of things I was beginning to be aware of that were happening around me. I remember realizing somewhere along the way, or at least concluding somewhere along the way, that the South was a very ugly place full of ugly, bigoted people. And I think really that was an opinion that was shaped by the news event at the time. But I cannot say if you go incident by incident, I did not know anybody who went down to Washington, yeah for the march on Washington. I did not know anybody who was involved with the with freedom rights, I mean, was a poor kid from a poor community on the west side of Chicago. The people I know were not doing those things. They were basically just trying to make it. And so I cannot say that any of those events shaped me in the way that they would have shaped me if I was five or 10 years older. I cannot say that any of those had a huge impression on me. The first discreet event of the (19)60s that I can remember making a huge impression on me other than the riots themselves, which had a huge impact on me because that was my community that was being torn apart. Other than that, the first event of the (19)60s was as you can say really, really shook me was Martin Luther King's assassination.

SM (00:20:47):
Yeah, that is on my-

EC (00:20:47):
- [inaudible] of (19)68.

SM (00:20:52):
And certainly MLK's assassination, certainly the over representation of African Americans who served in the Vietnam War was well documented at that time. And then Dr. King's Vietnam speech back in 1967, and then of course, the rise of the Black Panthers. Your thoughts on those?

EC (00:21:16):
Well, the Black Panthers I was aware of, and because they were in the west side of Chicago that was and my introduction to them was that all of a sudden these people appeared. And again, I do not remember exactly what level of how intimate my knowledge was, but I do remember being told, I think by friends of mine, that there was this conflict between the gangs on the south side and what I was coming, the big gang on the south side was something called August of the Black Peace Stone Nation, which is started off as, there is a Blackstone Rangers. And this may be apocryphal or may not be, but I do. But I do remember being told as a teenager that the Black Panthers were planning to set up shop on the South side, and that the Black Peace Stone Nation told them, no, that was their turf, that was their territory, and they were not going to make way for another gang. So I remember that dispute, at least as I understood it at the time, having taken place. And the rise of the Black Panthers happened to coincide with a time when I was starting college. And so I was very much aware of them by that time. And there were people I knew who had links to the Black Panthers, and so I was aware of them. I admired them in a certain way. I felt they certainly dressed again pretty cool, their leather jackets and whatnot. I liked their attitude in terms of their being a standup group who were going to not take much of anything from anybody. I remember when we're talking about early college years by this point, and at that point, I was very much aware of all these things that were going on. And I do remember of reading Eldridge Cleavers. Was it Soul on Ice?

SM (00:23:30):
Yep. Soul on Ice.

EC (00:23:32):
Somewhere back then. And being disappointed in Eldridge Cleaver, because I realized that not only was he a rapist, which I knew that he was a rapist, but I had assumed he had sufficient political consciousness that he had transcended that. And at some point, Soul on Ice becomes a defend of rape as a political act, which I thought was just absurd. So reading that affected the way that I felt about the Panthers, I had no respect for him after reading that and began to think maybe the Panthers were not this noble organization that I had assumed they were.

SM (00:24:23):
What is amazing about the Black Panthers, and when I have talked about and interviewed other people, they say, you are dealing with some major personalities here that are different. You have got Elders Cleaver, you have got Kathleen Cleaver, you have got Bobby Seal, you have got Huey Newton, you have got Stokely Carmichael, you have got H. Rep Brown. You have got, I got Elaine Brown.

EC (00:24:45):
Yeah, Elaine-

SM (00:24:46):
Dave Hilliard. And you see, you are dealing with a lot of different-

EC (00:24:49):
I am not sure Stokely Carmichael was, there were actually a number of the Panthers. Certainly it was not temporary.

SM (00:24:57):
Right. I think he did become a panther.

EC (00:24:58):
It is possible. You obviously studying this, I am not, but I do not remember him being very prominent with the Panthers because he became prominent as another kind of character. But yeah, and certainly Huey Newton was a totally different character than Eldridge Cleaver mean, then they ended up having a huge dispute at the end of the day. And by this time, we were getting into the years. So I was a journalist, and so I have never really covered the Panthers as a story, but I did know some of the characters. At one point, I interviewed Bobby Seal at another point, Kathleen Cleaver I interviewed. So I knew some of these people were at least in passing as a journalist and had impressions of them and was certainly around at the time when the big split occurred between the so-called East Coast and West Coast Panthers, and the Eldridge faction and the Huey Newton faction. And remember, they were saying very ugly things about one another. So that was also part of my reassessment of who and what the Panthers were. But I remember initially just being one, attracted to them and thinking that they were very interesting. Two, respecting the fact they were willing to stand up to police violence, things of that nature. Three, respecting the fact that they were not at this time a sort of black militancy. They were a group that was not racist in the sense that they were willing to embrace various races as long as you agree with their program. But three, think that there were some individuals who were truly screwed up, who were involved with them. And Eldridge Cleavers being first on that list of people who thought were totally screwed up clearly if the history of Houston Newton, there was a history of somebody who was not terribly well adjusted either, and who did all kinds of things. So at the end of the day, I had a mixed assessment of the Black Panthers, but I was certainly aware by that time being a 16, 17, 18, 19, when they were in their heyday, being very much aware of them, there was a sense among a lot of people, and it was, that included, I passaged, but a whole lot of folks who were activists at that time. There was a sense that we were in throes of revolution, that something huge was on the verge of happening in the United States, that we were about to overthrow one system and have it replaced by another. And I remember lots of people getting swept up in that sense. I was not one of them. I just never thought that [inaudible] analysis made a whole lot of sense. It was on target, but I certainly recall it.

SM (00:28:19):
Well, one of the things that also was taking place at this time was what was happening in the prisons. We all know what happened with Angela Davis and the murder, I guess at George Jackson in San Quentin. So that was a big issue. I know on college campuses, we were talking about that all the time. And because when I was in graduate school, I actually went to Mansfield Reformatory and was there for two semesters and could not believe how prisoners are being treated. It was a maximum-security facility in Ohio.

EC (00:28:51):
Well, there were a lot of issues. There were not simply the prisons, it was the politicization in a way, and then the incarceration of people. Or in effect political crime. And it was (19)69. I recall very clearly when you had the murders of Mark Clark, that Hampton in Chicago and was at that point, I was very active in those student politics and was one of the leaders of the protests that we had at the University of Illinois Chicago at the time, which stem from that shooting. Which seems to us then, and actually being now looking back, have been a political assassination. So there was a lot of, among folks I knew, including myself, a lot of anger and outrage and those kinds of things happening. And certainly as we look back, we did not know through the extent of the time how involved the FBI was in monitoring these groups and provocateur times in these groups and even...

EC (00:30:03):
... and been a provocateur at times in these groups. And even, obviously, been a provocateur in times of his relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. All of that was going on. So it was much broader than just prisons I think. It was the youth of the arms of the criminal justice system to attempt to repress this movement in many respects. And I remember being aware of that. I remember being angry about that. I think I was much less aware of what was going on in prisons in general.

SM (00:30:41):
I know that Attica was one of the biggest events. I think it was in (19)71. And of course, that was a tragedy from the get-go, and that was a follow-up to what was happening at San Quentin with Angela Davis and so forth with George Jackson. But I find it interesting that there is a book out now, and you have probably written about this many times, about the fact that the Jim Crow of 2010 is actually what is happening with the African-American male in our prisons.

EC (00:31:15):
Well, I do not accept the term because I think Jim Crow was very different than what is happening with prisons. But I do think that is a national tragedy. And I do think that, in many ways, our criminal justice system is racialized. Why do not I think it is Jim Crow? Because Jim Crow, you had everybody who was black in a community who was made to act in a certain way because of laws that mandated made certain behaviors. That is not what is happening with the prisons. But I think we do have a huge percentage issue now of African-American males, and also a very large percentage of Latino males for that matter, whose life options are totally destroyed having to do with their involvement in the criminal justice system. So I think it is criminal. But I think that one of the problems with just the way that people in general tend to look at things is that we tend to want to always compare one event to another event that we are familiar with as if they are the same thing. I think that the over incarceration of people of color and people in general in this country is a national tragedy. I do not think it is Jim Crow, and I do not think it particularly adds to the analysis to call it Jim Crow.

SM (00:32:41):
Right. You are aware of that book that is out now?

EC (00:32:47):

SM (00:32:47):
Yeah. It is...

EC (00:32:47):
[inaudible] it is fascinating, yeah.

SM (00:32:49):
Yeah. It is doing quite well.

EC (00:32:50):

SM (00:32:50):
You are a gifted writer, and you already mentioned the fact that [inaudible] you read when you were in college. What are the books and writers who influenced you as a young man? Not only as a journalist, but as a person who covered some of these issues in the United States? Did you read James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison?

EC (00:33:13):
Well, you named the two that had the most impact on me when I was coming up and discovering my voice as a writer. I was a big admirer of Baldwin in particular. I mean, he wrote clearly more than Ellison did, but I was a huge admirer of his and read everything of his I could find. And I remember it was probably The Fire Next Time, I think may be the first thing of his that I read, which explained what was going on in the streets. And in a way that, for the first time, made sense to me. Certainly, a Black Boy... Not a Black Boy, a Native Son rather. When I read that, I was just blown away by how beautiful of a writer Ralph Ellison was. By his ability to sort of capture that story, that voice, that time. So both of those were... I mean, I also in that era remember being very impressed by Hermann Hesse, who I just thought was a very interesting writer. But it was really Baldwin was number one. So much so that initially I remember thinking that maybe I did not need to go to college because Baldwin did not go to college. And he did very well as a writer, so why should I waste my time going to college. I remember thinking about that at the time.

SM (00:34:50):
Did you ever have a chance to read Harry Edwards' book, Black Students?

EC (00:34:55):
I do not think I have read that book, no.

SM (00:34:59):
Yeah, because that was very popular back in (19)71. Of course, Harry's the one that encouraged the students-

EC (00:35:08):
[inaudible] I know who he is. But I do not remember reading that book, so I do not think it was from the books that I read.

SM (00:35:09):
Yeah. The other ones were, well, I do not know if [inaudible] was Michael Harrington, The Other America.

EC (00:35:15):
Oh, yeah. No, I read that at some point, but I cannot say that it was a huge...

SM (00:35:22):
Of course.

EC (00:35:22):
... an influence on me in terms of journalism or any other way. I just thought that he was doing important work, and was one of those things that I read.

SM (00:35:32):
The other one that seemed to have an influence on some boomers is LeRoi Jones because he was a beat writer and...

EC (00:35:40):
I mean, I have read LeRoi Jones and I read some of his things-

SM (00:35:43):
Amiri Baraka.

EC (00:35:45):
I mean, for my taste, at the time at least, he was a bit more avant-garde than I was. And he just did not grab me in the same way. And then I remember also... Yeah, so I just did not have the same sense of Jones or Amiri Baraka as he later became. I mean, I was influenced by some of the Chicago set of writers. Don Lee, who later became Haki Madhubuti, I remember being impressed by. And some of the other writers who I got to know in Chicago as a young man. But as I said, I mean, for me by far in terms of convincing me that I could become a writer, I think it was Baldwin. I mean, and reading him that, okay, this guy is doing something I think I can do.

SM (00:36:42):
Do you like the term boomer?

EC (00:36:47):
I mean, it is obviously a term that is been coined and accepted widely for people in a certain demographic, so I do not have a particular problem with it, but yeah.

SM (00:37:01):
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear someone talk about the boomer generation?

EC (00:37:07):
I do not think that certain traits come to my mind. What comes to mind is the post-World War II generation and the 20 to 25 years beyond that. And just because of the fact that so many of these people peaked... Well, peaked is not the right word, but came of age in the (19)60s and in that era. It certainly evokes thoughts of the (19)60s and the cultural transformation in the country that occurred then.

SM (00:37:46):
The next few questions deal with the Moynihan Report from (19)65. And then recently, Rich Lowry from the...

EC (00:37:57):
The New York Times.

SM (00:38:00):
Yeah, the National Review commented on, actually, only three months ago on the Moynihan Report. But I want this in the record, so if you would bear with me, I just want to read this and get your comments on it. And that is that when the Moynihan Report came out, these are very important things it says here. "In the decade they began with school desegregations, decision of the Supreme Court, and ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of (19)64. The demand of Negro Americans for full recognition of their civil rights was finally met. In this new period, the expectations of Negro Americans will go beyond civil rights. Being Americans, they will now expect that in the near future equal opportunities for them as a group will produce roughly equal results as compared with other groups. This is not going to happen, nor will it happen for generations to come unless a new and special effort is made." And there were two reasons that Moynihan wrote for putting this report together. First, the racist virus in the American bloodstream still afflicts us in (19)65. And then second, three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment have taken their toll on the Negro people. Then that says here what is an interesting is the report that Lowry says that Moynihan was basically shut out. At some point, the report was being listened to, but then as the war in Vietnam was raging on and on and there were disagreements over policy and so forth, the Moynihan Report went to the back burner. And this is what I would like you to respond to from the original report, if that was written by Moynihan. "The gap between Negro and most other groups in American society is widening. Is that the Negro family and the urban ghettos is crumbling. A middle class group has managed to save itself, but for vast numbers of unskilled, poorly educated city working class, the fabric of conventional social relationships has all but disintegrated. So long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself." And then he ends in this section by saying, "A national effort is required that will give unity of purpose to the many activities of the federal government in this area directed to a new kind of national goal, the establishment of a stable negro family structure. This would be a new departure for federal policy. But almost certainly offers the only possibility of resolving in our time what is after all the nation's oldest, and most intransigent, and now its most dangerous social problem." And then he ends by saying, "What Gunnar Myrdal said in An American Dilemma remains true today. America's free to choose whether the Negro shall remain her liability or become her opportunity." And-

EC (00:41:12):
I mean, I think what is interesting about the Moynihan Report, there are two things. I mean, one is that it became this political hot potato in the sense that progressive social scientists, African-American activists, and other people attacked it because they thought it was blaming the victim. They thought it was an attack and some sort of... And he used the word mythology in it, though you did not read that part. They thought it was an attack on the black community just because of the language that he used because [inaudible] the things that he described. I mean, I think the other thing that is interesting is that the trends that he was worried about. Two things about those. I mean, one is his idea of the rate of children being born out of wedlock, et cetera. If you look at the numbers he was reporting at the time for African-Americans, they are pretty close to what the numbers are for white now. So what he was really giving voice too, even though he did not know it himself, was an emerging trend in society, not just in African-American communities. But what's also interesting about that report is that in some ways it was prescient. I mean, he did in fact put his finger on some real problems. And I think that because of the language that he used, because of the times that he wrote this report in. Having less to do actually with the Vietnam War, I suspect, than with domestic politics. The message was never really paid attention to. I am not sure if it had been paid attention to, that the tools were in place to do anything about it at any rate. But I think if you set aside just some of the rhetoric of the time, which is difficult to do, and just look at what he was trying to do, it was actually an impressive work of scholarship.

SM (00:43:11):
Yeah, he wrote that. It is interesting. I was reading background. He was sitting downstairs and he did it on a typewriter.

EC (00:43:21):
Well, everybody wrote on a typewriter back then.

SM (00:43:21):
Yeah. And only 100 of the reports actually were ever handed out. It was not widely distributed. This is how Lowry, Lowry wrote this three months ago, and this is his commentary on what he considers the failure of the African-American community. He said, "Moynihan had talked about and he believed that the richest inheritance any child can have is a stable, loving, disciplined family life. He wanted to create a sense of urgency about the fact that black children were disproportionately denied this inheritance." And then the black out of wedlock births had increased from 18 percent in 1950 to 22, 23.6 percent in (19)63. And he saw that as a weakness of the family structure. And he also linked it up as unemployment fell, out of wedlock births continued to rise, illegitimacy had developed a dynamic of its own. Then the Johnson administration-

EC (00:44:17):
Right, right. So what is Lowry's bottom line?

SM (00:44:20):
The bottom line is that he feels that the African-American family has... The illegitimacy rate is skyrocketing today in America. He says here, "The black out of wedlock birth rate is-"

EC (00:44:35):
I mean, it means two things. I mean, one, just as a matter of statistics, clearly, we have had a huge rise in the out of wedlock births. Particularly in the black community, but also in the white community. I mean, my problem with an analysis from someone like Lowry is [inaudible]. First of all, he is an ideologue. So I do not take anything [inaudible] someone like that says seriously because he is an ideologue trying to make an ideological point. So as a scholar, I just have no respect for that. But it is true that even ideologues make isolated facts that are true. And it is true that there has been a huge increase in out of wedlock births. That is occurred for a whole set of reasons. But the problem of the right-wing ideological analysis, the problem I have with that, aside from the fact that it is based in ideology, which means that it is not a thoughtful analysis. Is essentially that it comes from a place where people think there is a white community and a black community that are totally separate from one another, that have no impact on one another. And that there are these trends that spring up just out of the blue that take place in this so-called different black community. And that is just absurd. We have in America, we have trends that occur and they are certainly more prominent in poor communities and communities of color in some cases, in other communities in other cases. But something that begins with an idea that the black community did this, the black community did that, the black community ought to do this, is so racist and stupid that it is not worth responding to.

SM (00:46:28):
Yeah. It is interesting because of the right wing or the conservatives have also said that talking about the entire generation, all the boomer generation, the breakdown of the American society, most of our problems today center around the generation that came of age after World War II in the (19)60s and (19)70s. The drug-

EC (00:46:49):
Well, again, I mean, I am not terribly inclined to engage stupid analysis. Because at the end of the day, this is just stupid stuff. It comes out of ideologues who sort of have some idea that they could go back to some kind of society they imagined happened. Or what would have occurred if there had not been the so-called cultural revolution. That is just dumb.

SM (00:47:15):
Why do you feel that the right or conservatives continue today to always, what I call a... There is a backlash. The constant backlash against any progress that was seen to be made in the (19)60s and (19)70s. It is ever present. You hear it today on Fox constantly.

EC (00:47:38):
I think people are... And you have to ask these people too.

SM (00:47:43):
And I have.

EC (00:47:45):
And I doubt that they really know because I doubt they have that ability to reflect on their own psychology that clearly. But my suspicion is that you have a lot of people who were in effect very comfortable with the way that things used to be. And do not like the fact that they got shaken up. And in addition to that, you have a lot of people who have a point of ideology, do not like the fact that government got into the role of trying to help poor people. That government got into the business of trying to integrate society. That government got into the business of doing things that they would prefer the government have not done. And I think a lot of it stems from there. I mean, I think that Barack Obama is right when he makes the analysis that there are a lot of people still fighting the war, so the 1960s. But that sort of coincides with my point, which is that we are shaped by the era that in which we were raised. And I think that a lot of folks who came of age at a certain time, they have a certain analysis of that and they just did not like what was happening to their society. And I think you see echoes of that in a sense in the Tea Party movement now where their whole model is we are going to take back America. Well, take it back to what? Thing is there is never a clear answer about that.

SM (00:49:19):
Yes. In your opinion, when did the (19)60s begin and when did it end? And what was the watershed-

EC (00:49:25):

SM (00:49:25):
What was the watershed moment of that whole era?

EC (00:49:32):
I think there were lots of moments there. And again, and not to be difficult, but I am just not sure that I can frame it that way. I mean, there were fairly lots of things that happened. I mean, there was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The decision of Johnson to resign. The Black Sunday event in Selma, the passage of the Voting Rights, the Civil Rights Act. The so-called Summer of Love. I mean, there were all these huge events that took place in the (19)60s. And then there were the riots. There was the Watts riots in (19)65. There were the huge riots that broke out in the wake of the assassination of King. There was the [inaudible] commission and his report, which for the first time ever pointed at white racism as a cause of a problem of a serious nature in the black community. You have a government entity sort of making that analysis. I am not sure, and I know historians love to do this and journalists love to do this, love to pick one point and one thing and say it was this, this, this and that. There were lots of things. But I think they also built on things that happened in the (19)60s. I mean, you would not have had the segregation banish we had in the (19)60s had it not been for the decision in (19)54 with Brown v. Board. You would not have had that if you had not had the cases that were originally brought in... that were the predecessor cases they had brought in the (19)40s. So there is a lot of stuff sort of leading into the (19)60s. And there was a, in that sense, sort of continuum. I think they just sort of peaked in the (19)60s in some way. And you had what seemed to be just one huge change after another taking place, which hit people in a huge way. And dependent upon what your interests were at the time, I think the (19)60s event that shook you is different. I mean, for some people it is obviously a lot of the stuff around the Vietnam War. For other people, it is a lot of stuff around civil rights. For other people, it is a lot of stuff around the rise of the hippies and the Summer of Love and things that went on of that nature. I think it just depends. I do not think there is an answer for that that sort of applies to everything and everybody.

SM (00:52:22):
Do you feel the Beats had any role at all in the anti-authoritarian attitudes that many boomers had when they started going to high school and college in the (19)60s? Because the Beats were members of the Silent Generation. And their writings, even though they were not large in number, their books were well read and they were anti-authoritarian in just about every way.

EC (00:52:50):
Well, I mean, there were certainly the Beats, the hipsters. I mean, they were certainly a sort of precursor to the hippies. And did they create this set of movements in the (19)60s? No, I do not think so. I mean, I think the movements of the (19)60s were [inaudible]. I mean, I think they gave some kind of intellectual context for them. I mean, I do not think what happened was that you had a generation that all of a sudden became anti-establishment and then started acting out. I think you had huge events that had an impact on people. I mean, you did have these huge battles taking place over civil rights. You did have the Vietnam War, which was directly affecting lots of young men who were not all that crazy about going to fight in a war in a country that they had no problem with. You also had the introduction of birth control, at least a new kind of birth control. And therefore a sort of sense of sexual liberation that had not existed before. So all of these things sort of took place. And I think that at the end of the day had more impact than the published writings of a few writers.

SM (00:54:34):
I think you have already answered my next question too because it was really getting into some of the things that well-known people had said. Quotes that are linked to people. I will mention these. Malcolm X, "By any means necessary." John Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Robert Kennedy, "Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not." Then you have the, "We shall overcome," which was the civil rights feelings of the South. And you had the Timothy Leary, "Tune on, turn on, dropout," kind of attitude. And then you had what Muhammad Ali said, which I think was a very important influence on many, many boomers when he said, "I am not going to Vietnam to kill little yellow babies when we are not taking care of little black babies at home." And then Bobby Muller, when he came back from Vietnam saying, "I learned that America is not always the good guy." So would you say that all these kinds of quotes are really... Just to what you were saying, it is part of our very being. They influenced a lot of different people in different ways.

EC (00:55:49):
Well, I mean, I think the quotes came out of the times. I do not think the times came out of the quote is basically my point. I think the reason these quotes resonated with people were because you did have a huge war in Vietnam. I mean, obviously, if it had not been, Muhammad Ali would never have said what he said. The reason Malcolm X's quote resonated was because you had a huge battle going on over basic rights for African-Americans at the time. Otherwise, what he said would have made no sense. So I think that that... And the same thing with, "We shall overcome." I mean, I think that these sorts of things stem out of huge sort of social events that were occurring. So as I was saying in an answer to your previous question, I do not think that the words were the things that drove the event. I think the events drove the words.

SM (00:56:50):
Very good. I am going to change my tape here.

EC (00:56:58):
[inaudible] might be a little bit of snow, but I do not think it is going to affect anything serious.

SM (00:57:04):
Could you discuss, this is very important, when you look at college campuses in the 1960s, late (19)60s and certainly early (19)70s, the term Black Power was everywhere. And it was all over the country too. And we saw it. I remember seeing a clip recently, Kathleen Cleaver explaining why she had an afro on a college campus. And it is tremendous, it is only 15 seconds. But what was the purpose of Black Power? What were its goals and the ultimate impact that it had on people at that time? Because it was a little bit beyond what Dr. King and Bayard Rustin were thinking about when they were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. What was Black Power?

EC (00:57:51):
I think, well, Black Power meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But I mean, I think at its essence, it was an articulation of a desire of to take control of their own destiny. To not be reliant on either the goodwill or the bad intention of white Americans. And to strike out an individual... Not individual, but a collective political path that could lead to empowerment of black people. I mean, that in its essence was what the idea of Black Power was about. Now people have very, very different ideas of what that meant. You have the Nation of Islam, the black Muslims, who thought that it basically meant having an independent nation totally separate from White America. You had other folks, some who were involved in movement politics, who thought that what that meant was black people taking charge of all leadership roles and movement activities, and moving white people aside. You had the other folks who thought it meant something else. So I am not sure you can look beyond the general sort of ideas of it, say it meant one thing. But I think what it came out of was this sense of... I think it was very much a generational sense. It came out of this sense that white people basically could not be trusted. And that the destiny of African-America, of African-Americans needed to be an African-American path.

SM (00:59:43):
It's interesting because I was at Ohio State in (19)71 and that was very powerful on our campus. And in the Ohio Union, African-American students and white students were having separate dances, and they could not even go to the section of the union where the dances were. There were a lot of issues there at the time. And some of the students-

SM (01:00:02):
... issues there at the time, and some of the students went off to Linda McKinley High School to get guards for their dances without consulting the campus. What is interesting here is if you look at the study of Kent State University, you do not see any African American students protesting there. You read some of the books on Kent State, and there was a split happening between African American students and white students, particularly in the anti- war movement, that...

EC (01:00:30):
Well, there was not a split that happened.

SM (01:00:30):
Well, so...

EC (01:00:36):
I think that reflected a society that was intensely segregated, where African Americans... And we are still dealing with this. We are still dealing with this. It's not as if, prior to the eruption of the so-called Black Power Movement, you had an integrated society of Blacks and whites and they were doing lots of things together. That was never the case. So, it is hardly surprising that when you had a movement to bring up, they reflected the segregated nature of society. So, of course, we had white leaders; you had Black leaders, you had white activism and Black activism, and even around civil rights. Yes, they did come together and there was a huge effort to form some sort of multiracial coalition. But this, again, goes back to where we began this discussion, which is I think we are very much creatures of what shapes us. There were very few white Americans at that time, and also not that many Black Americans, who came up in anything remotely resembling an integrated setting or integrated society. There was this very strong sense that there were just two communities, and I think for many people, it was just impossible to bridge that gap, even among many people who considered themselves [inaudible].

SM (01:01:59):
I think you are right because when you talk about activism of the (19)60s, you are only talking 5 percent, possibly, of the entire generation of 74 million that were even activists.

EC (01:02:09):
Yeah. And even among the activists, I think they carried a lot of the racial baggage of their generation.

SM (01:02:19):
If you look at the studies, though, of the (19)60s, you see that when the African American students protested the lunch counters in the South, many white students all over the country empathized and protested in various cities that same situation. Then you had a Freedom Summer where quite a few white students went South and risked their lives, and you had the many of them coming back to Berkeley at the free speech movement. So, there was that linkage between...

EC (01:02:50):
No, I am not saying there was not a linkage. I think there had to be a linkage. I mean, my God, you have people fighting for civil rights. How could they not consciously try to make some linkage? But I am saying that despite that, what I would call a real sort of beyond race, post-racial set of conditions never existed even within the movement.

SM (01:03:16):
Good point. Could you describe Boomer Generation now, born between (19)46 and (19)64, the oldest is 64 this year, and the youngest is 49. Could you describe, in your own words, the America of the following periods that Boomers have been alive? Just general comments about the periods, for all Americans and then secondly, were African Americans might think of this period as well, the period 1946 to 1960.

EC (01:03:53):
I guess the question is just too broad for me to get my head around. It's just too broad. I mean, I am not sure what you are looking for.

SM (01:04:03):
Well, when you think of that period in America, (19)46 to (19)60, just a couple of words that to describe it.

EC (01:04:10):
Well, I do not think of that as one period because if you think of (19)46, you are thinking, at least what I am thinking of, is post-war: The nation is still sort of putting itself together after that. You are thinking civil rights is very few people's agenda at that time. You are thinking of an era where, by and large, segregation is accepted as the way of life. If you go and move up into the (19)50s, and then you are obviously talking about an awakening that occurred at some point, driven largely by the events in Montgomery and elsewhere in the South, where all of a sudden, the country begins to question collectively what in the hell they were doing and what should be the status quo? Again, driven by... And your cutoff date was the early (19)60s?

SM (01:05:27):
Yeah. I had the (19)61 to (19)70 period.

EC (01:05:31):
Yeah. I think it was a different period. I think that post-war, and I was not around then, but I have read about that period. I think we were adjusting to being in a post-war situation. There was a certain celebration of having made the world safe for democracy. I think there was a huge unawareness of what was going on in our own backyard. There was a backlash against many of the Black troops who came back and were expecting to be treated as equals or at least hoped they would be, and were relegated immediately to the back of the bus. There were, in some cases, violence against the Black soldiers who had the temerity to demand to be treated as equal human beings. You had just a sense of incomprehension among white Americans that Black folk would be interested or entitled to any treatment other than the sort of treatment that had been meted out for years and years. Then you had, as I said, the awakening of the beginning in the middle (19)50s when there were all these huge protests and the rise of the civil rights movement, when at least thinking Americans, and in this instance, I am thinking of white thinking Americans, had to say, "My, God. Something is wrong here. Let us take a look at this and see if we can do something about that." Then the (19)60s is very different. I mean, being in the (19)60s, you had a country that had been wrestling for some years with the demand for equality, but you also had an international community that was taking interest at that point. That was, in various sectors, condemning the United States for articulating a concept of equality, but yet not being able to live up to that itself.

SM (01:07:54):
Yeah. That period, (19)61 to (19)70 and then (19)71 to (19)80, I guess some people think there is a linkage between those two, that the early (19)70s was basically a continuation of the (19)60s.

EC (01:08:08):
Well, as you probably could surmise from what I have said all along, I think everything is a continuation of something else. My mind does not work that way that it was this discrete little period that was not connected to the period before that. I just do not think history works that way. I do not think people work that way. I think that we are always sort of building on what came before.

SM (01:08:33):
Would you say, though, that when you start getting into the 1980s and Ronald Reagan, that is the period of backlash?

EC (01:08:41):
Well, there were periods of backlash all along the way. I mean, when whites effectively marched out of the Democratic Party after the Johnson years, that was a backlash. That was a huge backlash, certainly against civil rights. I do not think you had any period of struggle where there was not backlash, but certainly I think that by the time Reagan got into office, you had, I guess, a national mandate for a certain bit of politics.

SM (01:09:29):
Yeah. Of course, we talk about the culture wars. We have seen them on university campuses, at least I have seen them my whole life, for over 30 years. That certainly is a quality that defines what America's all about in that period. As a journalist, you mentioned it early on, but have you seen a racism and prejudice during your years in the profession? You told me about the early years when very few African Americans, but now as... And I know Asso Moore real well. I have known Asso for 30 years, and he shared so many things about what happened with him when he came up. But once the African American journalists were a very important part of the scene, you still see the subtleness? Basically, what I am saying, as a journalist, have you seen racism or prejudice during your years in the profession? Just your thoughts on that.

EC (01:10:28):
Well, I think anybody who is honest would have to answer of course you have. But again, that goes back [inaudible] to my personal experience. But I think that Americans have this dopey idea that people are raised with a certain set of beliefs, and they come up holding to these things, and all of a sudden they get enlightenment and, boom, they go from being racist to not racist. That is not any equivalent human being that I know of. I think that if people are brought up and they always keep a lot of the beliefs that people are brought up with unless they are some extraordinary kind of person. So, it is impossible for me, just intellectually to conceive of a profession where Blacks were totally excluded; it was considered natural to do interviews about communities but not interview anybody Black; where the Black community was looked at as some foreign and hostile place; but then, boom, you get the civil rights and all these people suddenly start seeing things totally differently. No, of course not. Has racism become unacceptable in society? Yes, it has. Has it become a much more subtle... Of course it has. Personally, I think things have reached the point where there is really little to be gained by calling people racist because nobody in this country considers themselves racist anymore. Everybody considers themselves enlightened, even if they do not happen to have any Black friends, even if they do not happen to believe that Black people are capable of doing certain things. They still do not think they are racist. So, I think the whole idea of calling people racist does not make a whole lot of sense. But do you see things happen all the time in society that are rooted in people's racial preconceptions? Yes, of course you do, and of course I have.

SM (01:12:35):
It is interesting, Elvis, that the subtleness is the adjective that now describes racism or sexism or homo... There is a subtleness, supposedly, in our society. It is what really Dr. King, if you read his writings, that he feared the most. He feared the fence-sitter he did, where people, I do not know where you stand at an issue. He could deal with a bigot because he knew who they were. Obviously, his supporters. But the fence-sitter was the one that he was most afraid of. And that is always stuck with me. So, in my years in higher ed, when I see people that just say nothing, I think of Dr. King, and they're a bunch of fence-sitters. You got to say something.

EC (01:13:20):
Well, I am aware of that, and I think you're right in your interpretation of what King said, but I am making a different point, which is this: Even people who declare themselves not racist and who therefore would not consider themselves fence-sitters are not necessarily free of racial prejudice. I do not know how many social events I have gone to organized by white journalists, some of them terribly important, where it becomes very clear that they do not have any Black people in their lives. They just do not invite people. I remember years ago... What was it? Maybe 10, 15 years ago, when Paul Delaney left the New York Times. He was the senior-ranking Black journalist at the time. There was a party given for him by one of the top editors there. I remember being struck with the fact that the only Black people at that party were the three of us who Paul had invited. Now, from my way of thinking, it is not possible to operate in a world where you do not have any Black friends, do not see any Black people, do not think you have anything in common with Black people, and yet at the same time, to think that you are totally free of racial prejudice and preconceptions. I just do not think that is possible.

SM (01:14:54):
Remember when we invited you to West Chester, you had written your book Nation of Strangers, which, a great book.

EC (01:15:00):
Thank you.

SM (01:15:02):
I passed it on to my niece to read a couple years ago, and she read it. She liked it, too. I am just using this: Do you think we are still a nation of strangers, here in the year 2010, with the divisiveness between groups and so forth?

EC (01:15:22):
I think we are becoming less so generationally. I think that the analyses that I would have made, certainly when it comes to racism and ethnic groups and the estrangement that I would have made 20 years ago is not quite the one I would make today. I think that people, and particularly younger people, are becoming much more comfortable than folks in the Boomer Generation and certainly the folks in the Silent Generation with reaching across the so-called racial divide. So, I think we're evolving, and I think a lot of it has to do with the transformation in generations.

SM (01:16:12):
Do you feel the media has done a good job over the years covering the events that shaped the Boomers? I say this because there is a recent book out by Professor Young at Lehigh University, I am just starting to read it, which basically says that the media has portrayed the (19)60s and (19)70s in more of a sensationalistic way, concentrating oftentimes on the bad or the highly controversial over the serious and highly analytical substance types of approach. What are your thoughts on how it has been covered?

EC (01:16:47):
Well, I think the reality is that that is just a consequence of the media doing what it always does, which is to try to sum up things, which is to try to point to what it considers something that is most significant, which is the focus on something that is attention-grabbing, which is another word for sensational, and which is to try to find trends whether or not they're there. That is sort of the conventional approach to journalism in this country. So, of course, I think it is going to not be a balanced or fair view because that would be sort of saying that you expect to see a portrayal of an average, ordinary sort of society by reading the front page. Well, the front page is full of people who get shot, full of people who do awful things, is full of people who are engaged in great political battles. That is not what most people's normal life is like.

SM (01:18:01):
Yeah. One of the things of the (19)60s, and again, well, I want to make sure it crossed every ethnic group, and that was the generation gap. Did you have a generation gap in your family, between you and your parents on the issue of the war or on any of the social issues that you got involved in as a young person?

EC (01:18:21):
Well, I am not sure I would call it a generation gap, but yeah, my parents and I saw things quite differently. But I am not sure that... I think the events were more colorful back then, in some ways, than they are for some generations. But I am hard-pressed to think of a generation that does not see things differently than their parents in some way. I think my parents did not understand how I could admire at least some things about a group like the Black Panthers, who they thought were just sort of thugs. But I think the first time I brought a white friend home, actually, well, a white friend home who was female, at least, my mother just thought this was crazy because she was a product of the segregated South and did not understand how it was even conceivable to have a white friend who was female without being worried about terrible consequences. And so, her reality was a different reality. So, there is a generation gap, but certainly we looked at things different because of our generation.

SM (01:19:47):
Yeah. You remember that Life Magazine cover that had the young man with the long hair with his father pointing a finger at the sun?

EC (01:19:55):

SM (01:19:55):
They are talking about the generation gap. Then the book, The Wounded Generation, Jim Webb brings up in a conversation with James Fallows and Bobby Mueller and Phil Caputo, that the real gap, yeah, it was between parents and their kids, but the real gap was between those who went to war and served their country in Vietnam and those who did not, what he called the intragenerational gap. Do you agree with that?

EC (01:20:26):
You are going to get the same answer from me on a lot of these questions, which is those kinds of analyses is just way too pat.

SM (01:20:36):
That came right out of a transcript from a...

EC (01:20:37):
Right. Right. I mean, as I said, yeah, there were differences obviously. I know people who went to Vietnam; I know people who did not, and in some cases, there was not any sort of gap at all in any meaningful sense. But sure, the guys who went to Vietnam had a very different experience than the ones who did not. Part of the reason a lot of people did not go to Vietnam, it depends on what year you're talking about, the younger folks because they got better lottery numbers; the older folks, because they were better at playing the system. So, yeah, sure. There was a gap there, but it started off with a gap, particularly if you had people who were gaming the system to stay away from the war and people who decided to go. So, you had a gap before they even went.

SM (01:21:29):
Right. I know we are getting almost to the end of our time here. I got just two questions left. One of them is dealing with the women's movement. The women's movement evolved out of the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement, and there's been at least a lot written about the apparent sexism that took place in both the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, which pushed women into their own movement. Are you in agreement with that?

EC (01:21:58):
Well, yes and no. I think that more out of the civil rights movement than the anti-war movement, in a sense that A Feminine Mistake was written in (19)63, as I recall. That was before the anti-war movement had really picked up any steam. That is, for me, where I would sort of put as the marker for the beginning of the modern feminist movement. I think it is as good a place as any. But I think clearly, when you had all of this talk about equality and you had all this movement for social equality, you were going to have women who looked at that and said, "My, goodness. Some of this applies to us, too." So, I would say much more out of the civil rights movement, which was in full-force by the time the women's movement began to take off, than the anti-war movement, which came a little bit later.

SM (01:22:57):
As a take-off of this question, do any of these movements of the late (19)60s and early (19)70s, and I am talking about the environmental movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the Chicano, Native American, women's movement, do any of these mean something in 2011? Because others have commented, they are all kind of separate; they are all kind of into their own world now, and they seem like in the (19)60s and (19)70s they were together on many issues.

EC (01:23:30):
Well, I am not sure I would agree with that either. I mean, if you look at the very fact that the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund and the Puerto Rico Legal Defense Education Fund and American Legal Defense Fund, I mean they named themselves after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. I mean, that was a very conscious decision. They were, in effect, copying what the NAACP had done in a very conscious way. Well, all these groups still exist. Some of them are still very prominently fighting. And there is a... What is it? The Conference for Civil Rights out of DC, which still is an umbrella group which tries to hold them all together. I do not think they have gone their separate ways. I think they are probably as much together in a sense as they ever were. Now, I think the larger question is whether the groups rooted in that time, and those groups are all rooted in that time; they were sort of formed around the civil rights era or shortly after it, how relevant they are to today's time, I think is the larger question, not whether they are still in cooperation. I think they still are.

SM (01:24:52):
Actually, this is a two-part question, and this is it. One of the things I have heard and read about over the years, and you have seen it on the news, is critical of the African American leadership today in America. How can you try to compare it with the era of the (19)50s and the (19)60s and the (19)70s, when you had Dr. King and Bayard Rustin and James Farmer, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. I mean, John Lewis, even though he is still very important today as a congressman, but you have these very powerful, visible, respected, although some people did not like them that were racist, and trying to compare... There has been articles written that, "Where is the African American leadership today?" Have you thought about that or written about it?

EC (01:25:45):
Well, again, I think that is sort of a stupid place to begin in terms of the people who write that sort of stuff because, again, it has to do with my way of looking at the world. Martin Luther King did not just one fine day sort of spring out of nowhere and lead a movement. Martin Luther King was recruited for a movement that was already in process. The idea that a great man came along and totally changed everything that is happened before is so ahistorical, I do not know where to begin. The reason you had these larger-than-life figures is because there were larger-than-life issues that they were dealing with that were very clear, and they demanded the appearance of larger-than-life issues, so [inaudible] larger-than-life people who could embody them. You had certainly some very-very gifted people. I think the other thing you have to realize is that if you were an African American who was supremely talented and a great public speaker and had certain sort of skills in that era, you did not have a whole lot of options. So, you had a huge number of these people who were being, first of all, going into the church, and then you had the church funneling them into the movement. Not all of them. But a lot of these people sort of came that route. They did not have the option of becoming a lawyer on Wall Street. No big law firm was going to hire them. They did not have the option of working for some big corporation and becoming anything important. No corporation was going to have anything in a position. So, I think a few things you have to sort of just acknowledge: One is that if you were going to really shine, there were a limited number of areas wherein which you could shine. If you had talent, one of those areas was going to be the big movement of the day. I think the other thing though, as I was saying, is that times shape the people more than people shape the times as far as individuals go. Yes, all those people you name were supremely gifted individuals. And yes, they were courageous and they were insightful and they helped move us to a place where we needed to be moved. But the fact of the matter is if they had not, somebody else would have, because the times demanded that.

SM (01:28:27):
And in studying Bayard Rustin, we all know there would have been no Bayard Rustin without A. Philip Randolph.

EC (01:28:32):
Yeah. [inaudible]. Yeah. I would agree.

SM (01:28:34):
And what a great man he was. My last question is legacy. The best history books are often written 50 years after an era or an event. I know it is hard for you to probably to answer this, too, or to speculate, but what do you think historians and sociologists and writers will be saying about this generation, and I mean an all-inclusive generation, Black and white, male and female, gay and straight, every ethnic background you can imagine. What do you think they are going to say about the Boomer Generation once the last Boomer's passed?

EC (01:29:10):
Well, I think they will say that it was a generation that happened to be in America at a time when some huge events took place and, really, in terms of demographics, it was a huge generation, which is why one of the reasons it is called the Boomer Generation. In terms of events, it sort of bore witness to some of the defining events of that century. So, what would they say about it? I think they would say that a lot of big things happened during the era of the Boomers.

SM (01:29:48):
Okay. Is there any question that I did not ask that you thought I was going to ask?

EC (01:29:56):
I had no idea what you were going to ask, so...

SM (01:30:00):
One final thing, and thank you very much, Elvis, for...

SM (01:30:03):
One final thing, and thank you very much, Ellis, for... And I owe you lunch.

EC (01:30:06):
Oh, sure. Well, we can [inaudible]

SM (01:30:07):
I am going to do that because I come to New York. I have got about nine people. I got to take their pictures that I have interviewed on the phone, and I will be in communication with you. But do you think one of the qualities that probably is a good quality, but some people say is bad, is that this is a generation that really does not trust because they had so many leaders lie to them while they were growing up, whether it be Watergate or the lies about Vietnam, or even Eisenhower's U2 lie. They saw so many leaders lying to them that trust is, they're not a very trusting generation.

EC (01:30:46):
Well, that is a psychological question. I would not characterize the generation that way. I mean, there was certainly the phrase of the time, do not trust anyone over 30.

SM (01:30:58):
But Jerry Rubin changed that to 40 when he realized he was turning 30.

EC (01:31:06):
Oh hell, over 30 I mean, so of course. I do not think you can pick a psychological trait and use it to define an entire generation. I just do not. I think there are people with that generation who are... But to me that is much more, that is asking what analysis of personal psychology, which goes beyond, well beyond my expertise. But I just do not think those kinds of terms apply to an entire generation.

SM (01:31:37):
Very good. Well, thank you very...

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Stephen McKiernan


Ellis Cose

Biographical Text

Ellis Cose, a native of Chicago, is a columnist and editor for Newsweek. He is the author of a dozen books including the best-selling The Rage of a Privileged Class. He became a columnist at the age of 19 and he became a contributor for the Times Magazine. Cose appeared on several shows and he has been interviewed frequently around the world. Ellis earned his Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois and a Master’s degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy from George Washington University.





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Binghamton University Libraries

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Interview Format


Subject LCSH

African American editors; African American Authors; Cose, Ellis--Interviews

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Baby boom generation; Nineteen sixties; Nineteen seventies; divisions; Healing; Vietnam War; Generations; Segregation; Media; Racial conflict; Riot, Journalist; Inner-city school; African American; Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Black Panthers; Criminal justice system; Jim Crow.



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About this Collection

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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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“Interview with Ellis Cose,” Digital Collections, accessed June 17, 2024,