Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INTERVIEW WITH JACKIE GOLDBERG
INT: Could you tell me a little bit about your background and what your expectations were about life in general and going to university.
JACKIE GOLDBERG: Well, my mother was the youngest of seven in her family and the first in her family to go to college, but it was assumed that my brother and I would go to the university. we never really made a decision to go to college, that was made probably before they had us. My father didn't complete high school so it meant, I think more to him than even to my mother. , my expectations basically of going to college was that I was going to be a teacher, I was going to probably major in history or social sciences and that was basically it. I didn't have a lot of expectations except that it was going to, you know, give me an opportunity to do something I wanted to do.
INT: The idea of the American dream, marriage, job, secure income, so on, was that present?
JACKIE: Well I think in our, in our family education was held in very high esteem. my mother was a teacher, even though she was a daughter of an immigrant, and it was important in its right, but it was also important because it was being a teacher of course would never make you rich but it would definitely g- give you something socially valuable to do which was important in our family, and also would be do, it would be something that would make you have an opportunity to contribute to society and as well as to your own well-being.
INT: How do you think the cold war had an impact on your life as you came into university?
JACKIE: Well, when I was in high school, the government of the United States was heavily involved in the McCarthy era. we all heard about a film that was called Operation Abolition, which was supposed to be about the house committee on un-American activities which those of us who oppose that kind of witch hunt called the house un-American activities committee. basically what we, what we saw was an attempt to strangle free-speech and debate and thought that anybody who had any ideas about being pro trade union, or about pro civil rights, was immediately brandished as someone who was a communist, or a communist sympathizer, or a communist dupe, when I went to high school they would not teach anything about socialism or communism in the classroom even to hate it, we weren't even taught to hate it. They thought no news was best. , we had the most sanitized history in a, in the world, it's still fairly sanitized but it's nothing like it was in the fifties, which was when I was in high school and that and that was to say that America has always been right, had never made any mistakes, had never done anything wrong, and anything that might even remotely look like we did something wrong was a misunderstanding of our real intentions. and that's how I grew up. , I didn't buy all of that because I knew, for example, that there wasn't equal opportunity for everybody in our society. I knew that African Americans were, didn't have the same opportunities, I knew that Latinos didn't have the same opportunities. For that matter I knew that living in Inglewood California and being Jewish was not such a good thing to be. , so I knew that that some of, some of the mythology that I had been fed was not true. I didn't know how much wasn't true, but I knew some of it wasn't true, and so I had hoped that going to the university would give me an opportunity to find out what was real and what wasn't real.
INT: Basically what we're talking out was a narrowing of the political and cultural spectrum in America through the 50's.
JACKIE: Yes, we were expected not to look left, not to look right, actually not to look back or forward either, but just what was right there in front of your face. Well one of the interesting mistakes that the culture made and why I think it lead to things like the free speech movement was the culture said to us you have a constitution that protects your right of freedom of speech, you have a right to question, you have a right to know, you have a right not to have things censored, and the problem is that we were all a very unsophisticated group of high school students in the fifties and early sixties and we believed all of that, you see, we figured that we had constitutional rights coming to us, that we didn't have to fight for them, that they were already won, and I think it was, it was partly that that lead to the free speech movement.
INT: So you went to Berkeley in '62 wasn't it?
INT: When you went there what did you meet, what was it like to be on that campus?
JACKIE: Oh it was a very interesting campus. But nothing like what people think it was when they know about the free speech movement because, you see, there were thirty thousand students and people know that probably at one time or another maybe ten or twenty thousand students participated in some aspect of the free speech movement. So you might believe that the school in 1962, three years before the free speech movement was seething with political activity. It was not. It was for the times seething with political activity, which meant there was probably a few thousand in the very low numbers of thousands, maybe one or two thousand students, in the whole political spectrum involved in the campus politics, out of thirty thousand students. A very tiny number and not all of them on the Liberal side, some were in the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans, some were in the Californians, California Republicans, the Young Republicans, the Goldwater For President Committee. I mean it was the whole spectrum had maybe a couple of thousand students, all told, involved in anything, so I think there's a mistake in notion that in 1962 there was this hot bed of rebellion, although I think things like the movie Operation Abolition helped because inadvertently, since a lot of it was about San Francisco and Berkeley students going to San Francisco for the hearings, students all over the country would see that and say, maybe I should go to Berkeley, to school. it was like, it's like an inadvertent recruiting film, for social activists to come to Berkeley. When they got there they were actually disappointed. They thought there was more going on than there was. , but it had that effect of giving people some sense that there was going to be something going on.
INT: What were the issue that you fought on? What radicalized you effectively?
JACKIE: I certainly wouldn't call myself a radical when I arrived at Berkeley. There's no, absolutely no doubt about that. , not only was I in a sorority, but you know, except for civil rights and peace, those were two issues I was interested in, I was not very inclined to be involved for example in Slate, which was a broad-based campus organization that dealt with all issues and had an ideology, a more liberal and left-wing ideology. I was involved in campus women for peace, which was dealing with issues like Strontium 90 in milk, as a future mother I thought I was worried about poisoning children I was involved in the, in the trying to debunk the notion that in a nuclear war the little fall out shelters in the basements of buildings were really going to save our lives and protect our way of life. , absurd really, a very absurd notion. and I was involved in civil rights and really I think it was, it was those things that for me, my first arrest was probably what radicalized me the most.
INT: Tell me about that.
JACKIE: I was in 1963 in spring semester of the sixty-two, sixty-three school year, I was in a sit-in in the San Francisco Sheraton Palace Hotel, with I guess there was a few hundred people sat-in. And we were trying to force the hotel industry in San Francisco to break the color barrier in hiring, they would only hire people of color for positions where the public would never see them, not nothing in management, nothing in desk clerks, no waiters, no bell boys, only people who were not seen could be people of color. And we were sitting in on behalf of a group that was then called the ad hoc committee to end discrimination and at some point or another the decision was made that after several weekends of picketing and protesting and so forth to have a sit-in in the hotel lobby and I was arrested. the, it was actually the trial, I had two trials, both of which ended in hung juries, but it was the trials and I had great faith in the American court system, I thought it really worked at least for white people, I didn't think it worked too well for African American people, but I knew it worked for white people and what I saw as a defendant in two cases was enough to curl my straight hair and to make me think that I had a very seriously incorrect notion of what the American judicial system was all about. I think that was probably the most radicalizing event of my life, was the arrest and the subsequent trials.
INT: You went down to the South to march at one point.
JACKIE: Well, yeah, but I got sent back. I went to the South but I got sent back because I was not twenty-one and at that time twenty-one was the age of majority and so if you were under twenty-one and you got arrested, which I was fully prepared to do if need be, I didn't enjoy it, but I was willing, you couldn't get bailed out, you were handled like a juvenile, your parents had to come and get you, and they Snic said no that if you're under twenty-on, thank you very much but go organize in the North. So that's really when I came back I got involved with the Snic the Student non-violent coordinating committee in Northern California which included the ad hoc committee and Sheraton Palace.
INT: Were white activists being well trained by Snic and the civil rights movement?
JACKIE: The civil rights movement was the bulk of the training, it was also in my view the bulk of the inspiration for student activism on campus. everybody who went to college in the sixties, grew up in the fifties and watched on television the battle over de-segregating the southern schools, watched a governor of a state stand in front of the school house with state soldiers, state troops, and need federal troops to let four or five young black children into the into the school. These were impressions. It did not matter where you were from. It did not matter what your family was like. These were impressions indelibly marking an entire generation of high school and junior high school students in the fifties and sixties in the United States. to this day in my age group you can talk to people and there are things like when President Kennedy was assassinated and so forth that they know where they were when these happened, they can tell you where they were living and who they were living with, when they watched on television these various things. So even if you weren't sure you understood what was going on, or you agreed or didn't agree it was powerful images, and those images in many ways informed student activism throughout the entire 1960's in this country.
INT: During your active involvement in Northern California what were you seeing, what were the living conditions, the working conditions and so on?
JACKIE: Well we, you know, students in Berkeley got a very good chance because, to see the disparity between white and black, because of the differences between North Oakland and South Berkeley, North Oakland is, was and is, I don't know if it is still, there's been some change, but was a very poor black ghetto and it was very clear to many of us who lived south of the campus which was the bulk of the students lived south of the campus that these were families that were having a very hard time getting jobs, getting opportunities for school, getting good schools, having safe neighborhoods. It was very clear that it was not an equal playing ground, for everyone in this country and not everybody bought into that or bothered to look, or bothered to get involved, but most people in my college generation knew that it was not a level playing field for everyone.
INT: Tell me happened in that Mississippi summer of '64, the students coming back and the Jack Weinberg protest for civil rights.
JACKIE: Well, when everyone returned to the 1964/65 school year we had a letter from Dean Catherine Toll, Dean of Students at Berkeley, saying that they had found out that there were little plaques in the what had been the space at Bancroft and Telegraph, and that's just two streets coming together where the south end of campus is has its entrance and that that little plaque said that that was university property whereas everybody had assumed that where the bricks ended and the asphalt began was where the campus began. You see all the campus groups had agreed to not have tables of literature and collect money and so, and promote their events on campus. We agreed that we would set up our card tables at Bancroft and Telegraph. Just off campus. Where students could generally walk by us and ignore us but we would hope would stop and talk with us and where we would be off campus. now partly because of the civil rights activity of the previous year and I think in good part because of the Goldwater for President Campaign and the fact that radicals from Berkeley and student activists from Berkeley had gone over and protested at, in San Francisco that summer about the nomination of Goldwater for President and a lot of powerful people in the state were supporting Goldwater and they were embarrassed that students from the University of California at Berkeley had upset the peace and quiet of the convention in 1964. Plus you had students returning from the Mississippi freedom summer in the south. A lot of things converged and the university was under pressure because we are state funded, from the state government, to get those kids in shape, you know, yes they are embarrassing us just knock it off. So I don't think I know for a fact that Catherine Toll did not want to do what she was told to do, but she was told to do it and she did it, which was to tell people that we could no longer have tables at Bancroft and Telegraph. my brother was very active, I think he was president of Slade at the time and I was co-chair of Campus Women for Peace and in a sorority so some of the right-wingers thought I couldn't be all bad and we divided up the organizations on campus and we invited everybody to a meeting to discuss what we were going to do. and that was really the beginning of what was first called the United Front and then later was called the Free Speech Movement. we began immediately to send delegations to Dean Toll and later to President Clark-Kerr who was President of the whole university system throughout the state, but whose office happened to be in Berkeley. and we began to discuss with them what we were going to do and they were really just stonewalling us, they said absolutely under no circumstances would any anything be changed, that that was the rule that was always intended to be off campus and we knew that, we'd agreed, we just didn't all know until then that off campus was a little further away than we thought and that was it, it, end of discussion. So at that point about two thirds of the organizations decided to move the tables into the campus in front of the main administration building and there's a courtyard between the main administration building called Sprall Hall and the student union building, built by student funds, and there's a fountain there and a courtyard and we decided that if it was illegal to be at Bancroft and Telegraph and it was illegal to be in front of the area where at noon time all the students converged to get, go to lunch, you had more visibility in the center of the courtyard than you did out at the street. and in some ways what they did was say it was just as bad as being one place or another so we picked the more visible place. And that's where we were. It turned out that the university believed that they had bad information, that they had believed that one of the people sitting at one of the tables, Jack Weinberg, representing the Core, Congress of Racial