Projects

Project Editor:Jillian Gotfredson, History 470: Digital History, Spring 2008


QUESTION: How would you describe activism in Nebraska in the 1960s?

Refreshing. I found the students there to be generally open-minded, not cynical and often influenced by positive values of small-town church youth organizations. There was also a small subculture of hippie-beat wanna-be's Most hung out in the student union or a bar called "Casey's". I don't know if it's still there.

QUESTION: Were there a substantial amount of people in the Movement? Were they mostly white middle class students?

We had a core of 20 regulars in SDS, with up to 100 on the edges. At that time, the student body was almost entirely white, and more Sioux lived in Lincoln than Blacks. We had two Black members, and one Asian, that I recall, in the core group. For one of our anti-apartheid actions, we had a hundred marchers, including some of the Black players from the Cornhuskers than I had approached and gained their support. The comment in the quote above that SDS 'failed' is silly. Just the opposite, we were very successful in Bringing the climate and debates of the times to Lincoln and other places in the Great Plains.

We set up an 'SDS House' in 'T-Town' the small Black and Sioux neighborhood, at 22nd and T--three of us lived there, and we had meetings there, Including with our neighbors. It was from there that we organized our participation in the 1966 March Against Fear through Mississippi, where myself, Thane Croston, and several of our Black neighbors made the entire 250-mile march.

QUESTION: What groups were present and were the majority of their members students at UNL?

Everyone was a student, grad student or junior faculty. SDS was the only left political groups, but later on, in 1967, we formed the Campus Freedom Democratic Party, ran in the student elections, and won a number of positions, with Al Spangler as the main rep.

QUESTION: How did the University handle students new perspectives? Was there repression by the administration?

They didn't quite know what to make of us, and were worried. As I recall, the President of the University called back to the Present at Penn State, to get the scoop on myself and Spangler, but sivce we were very good instructors and grad students, with the support of our department, there wasn't much the could do.

QUESTION: What were the cops like?

I never really had any dealings with them, except warnings that they were interested in nabbing us for marijuana, but they were never successful.

QUESTION: Was there backlash from residents/fellow Nebraskans/other organizations (Young Republican group, etc.) students?

Not really. We organized a 'Hyde Park Forum' in the student union every Thursday afternoon with an open mike. Usually a hundred or so would show up, and we would encourage them to debate us. When they did, they usually didn't fare too well. One Air Force ROTC student, Doyle Neiman, I won over to oppose the war, and he went of to work for a number of left and progressive causes.

QUESTION: How did the conservative climate of Nebraska affect any organizing efforts?

Nebraska was somewhat culturally conservative, but politically, still had a streak of populism. Right after our first Vietnam Teach-In, we were approached by the US Farmers Association, now the North American Farmers Alliance. They shared renting buses with us to sent both farmers and students to march on DC against the war. In the long bus ride, we learned the entire history of prairie radicalism from them.

QUESTION: What was the common perspective among other people of your age?

Liberal and open. It was the birth of rock and roll, the Stone, Dylan and the Beatles.

QUESTION: Did you feel the presence of COINTELPRO or the FBI in Lincoln?

Yes, to a degree, we were aware that they were trying to get something incriminating of us, like drugs, so we took precautions. They were concerned at our meeting with Ernie Chambers, a rising Black nationalist in Omaha, later an elected official. Otherwise, we knew they were tracking us, but they were not disruptive as they were at other schools or years later.

QUESTION: Were you aware that the National Student Association had been subsidized by the Central Intelligence Agency? Thoughts on this?

Yes, we learned about it in 1966-67. We never liked NSA even without the CIA ties, because they were top-down liberals who wouldn't take a good stand on the war or the draft.

QUESTION: Were you aware of the compulsory ROTC training for freshmen and sophomores until 1964 (even though you were a graduate student)?

Yes, and I always talked with them when I could. I was the first conscientious objector to ROTC at Pen State, and won my case there.

QUESTION: Did the Black Panthers in Omaha correspond with any Lincoln groups?

The Panthers hadn't formed yet, but we met several times with Ernie Chambers.

QUESTION: In the Spring semester of 1964, the Daily Nebraskan ran articles on the status of black students at the university suggesting discrimination was in large part due to the conservatism of Lincoln instead of racial bias, what is your take on this? How did you see it?

We saw it as institutionalized racism, that had to be broken down with affirmative action programs, regardless of people's individual biases. I never ran up against too much really overt racism among people in Lincoln, perhaps because there were hardly any Blacks, which is indicative of racism of another sort.

QUESTION: I guess, in a nutshell, what I'm really trying to conjure up is a detailed image of what activism and subsequent repression looked like in Nebraska in the 1960s. How was your experience in Nebraska different from your time in other parts of the nation? (I know you left UNL to go to the Meredith Freedom March and traveled quite a bit after). I'd just like to get a feeling of what Lincoln was like for you in the turbulent time that is, The Sixties.

I never saw so many blond, blue-eyed people in my life. But they were refreshingly open, interested and tolerant, even if they didn't agree. We were an active, militant minority there, with more influence than we thought. There were some who openly opposed us, but very little of what you might call aggressive hostility. It was a good time, and a good place to organize. I have only fond memories of the people there and our activities.