On March 22, 2014 6 pm to 10 pm, I’ll be giving a speech about one of my late mentors, African American activist Margaret Wright, at 1422 Engracia Ave Torrance. For details on the event and RSVP info, go to:
“Grandma Margaret” as she was affectionately called was founder of Women Against Racism (WAR) and the United Parents Council of Watts (Los Angeles). She was featured in The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Life_and_Times_of_Rosie_the_Riveter], a film I really relate to because my mother was at the same time a “Wanda the Welder” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in World War II [http://janbtucker.com/blog/2012/05/27/wanda-the-welder/]. She also served for years as the Black Panther Party Minister of Education. She was beaten by the LAPD for leading the picketing of 99% black Manual Arts High School to get rid of the Mormon principal (at a time when the Mormons preached that black people could not go to heaven…..). In 1969, she was the leader of the “Valley State 19,” at then San Fernando Valley State College (Now CSU Northridge, my alma mater) who were arrested for supposedly kidnapping Delmar Oviatt, racist college president, who refused to take action against a track coach who’d kicked a black athlete in the ass and called him a “dumb nigger.” The Valley State 19 was part of a larger case demanding the establishment of Pan African Studies and Chicano Studies at CSUN; as the Pan African Studies Department puts it on its website:
The Pan African Studies (PAS) Department was founded by the Black Student Union (BSU) due to racism and unequal educational opportunities at CSUN (formerly San Fernando Valley State College). Students fought, protested and demanded that the President establish the Department. On November 4, 1968, the BSU took over the Administration Building (currently Student Services Building) in the CSUN’s President’s office, in order to address these inequities and underrepresentation of Black students and faculty. On 1-8-69 and 1-9-69 the BSU, other CSUN student groups, and Black community members held massive demonstrations in the “free speech” area (formerly in front of the Matador Bookstore) demanding that the CSUN administration honor the November 4th agreement. The administration responded with a massive show of force by the Los Angeles Police Department, who were brought on campus to squelch and prevent these mass demonstrations. There were many occasions of excessive police violence and brutality, and 275 students were arrested. Several student activists were charged with felony crimes, and were tried, convicted, and served time in prison. This is the only university in the U.S. that charged Black student activists with felony crimes during the struggle to establish a Black Studies Department.
During her trial, 300 black children picketed the courthouse with “Free Grandma” buttons and picket signs.
In 1972, when I was not quite 17 years old, I was the youngest delegate to the People’s Party national convention (July 26-30 in St. Louis). I wrote the party’s platform plank–the first in history for any political party in the world–on “Ageism,” and wrote the official minority economics plank–an explicitly socialist proposal (which was endorsed by such party luminaries as Carl Braden [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Braden] of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) and Fred Stover of the U.S. Farmers Association [http://uipress.lib.uiowa.edu/bdi/DetailsPage.aspx?id=367]). Virtually the entire California delegation supported my plank–with the exception of some of those who would later form the so-called “Unity Caucus” in 1974 which opposed declaring PFP to be a “feminist socialist” organization.
Julius Hobson, leader of the District of Columbia Statehood Party and a member of the DC School Board was running for the Vice Presidential nomination (Dr. Benjamin Spock was nominated for President). Julius was a great guy, but was disabled from cancer (I met with him and his wife to discuss the possibility of laetrile treatment, a whole other story) and realistically would be unable to campaign. Hobson was well known due to his Hobson vs. Hansen U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down so-called “tracking system” educational programs as discriminatory against minority students [http://prezi.com/5clp1zz2lz7l/hobson-vs-hansen-1967/].
Concerned about the inability of Julius to make it out to the West Coast to campaign, Kay McGlachlin and Marge Buckley got the California delegation to fly Margaret Wright to fly to St. Louis and seek the Vice Presidential nomination. Sherman Gehrke (heir to the American Can Company fortune), who’d popped for the California delegation’s three room suite at the St. Louis Gateway hotel, bought Margaret’s airline ticket.
Margaret unfortunately lost this last-minute impromptu bid for the nomination, but she left an indelible impression on the People’s Party nationally. Margaret, Barbara Honig, Gary Silbiger, and I flew back from St. Louis so that we could give a report about the People’s Party convention, its platform, and the Spock-Hobson ticket on her KPFK-FM radio show–the first time I’d appeared on live radio but certainly as I would find, not the last.
In 1976, Margaret came back to win the People’s Party/Peace & Freedom Party nomination for President, again at a St. Louis convention, this time with Dr. Benjamin Spock as her Vice Presidential running mate. Upon accepting the California PFP nomination, with fist raised in a “Black Power” salute, Margaret said:
I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a woman, because I’m Black, because I’m poor, because I’m fat, because I’m left handed.
When Margaret raised her fist in a “power salute,” it was considered radical. When John Kerry did so during his 2004 Presidential campaign, such a statement had finally become more or less mainstream, underscoring Ambrose Bierce’s assertion in The Devil’s Dictionary that “Radicalism is the conservativism of tomorrow injected into the affairs of today.”