I READ THE letter from Pam Chude Allen in ATC 134, mentioning that the previous issue’s editorial had referred to a male leader saying the position of women should be “prone.” She claimed that this was said informally and not in a meeting.
But actually there was a prominent male leader who was on stage at a demonstration in Oakland in the summer of ‘68, who was asked about the position of women in the movement, and yelled out that it should be — “prone!” It was Stokely Carmichael, a leader of SNCC, speaking at a Black Panther rally in the Bobby Hutton Memorial Park in West Oakland.
There was much cheering among some of the men present, and many women all over the rally were so offended, they got up and left, individually and in small groups. I too left, after I figured out how to close my mouth. I was so shocked!
I had just arrived in California from four years in Indiana, where I had seen extreme forms of racism, with the Klan in uniform marching through town, escorted by the police. A young white woman, I’d had jobs in a second-hand store and in the Poverty Program, both in a Black ghetto. I marched and prayed with the NAACP. In those experiences, I had been treated with respect by the Black men I worked with.
When I decided to move to California, I thought I was moving to a place with a larger and more sophisticated movement. The rally in Oakland was one of the first demonstrations I attended when I arrived, so I was duly shocked to hear those words spoken by a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. I realized that the intersection of geography, the antiwar, Black Power, women’s liberation, the “old left” (which was new to me), and the then breaking-up SDS, was extremely complex and uneven.
In examining the past, it’s important to acknowledge and analyze those experiences often taking us “two steps back,” and understand how we did manage those powerful and unifying experiences of “one step forward!”
I must also add that at one of my first Women’s Lib meetings in San Francisco, it was Pam Allen who was one of the most welcoming. That was certainly appreciated!
THANK YOU FOR sharing Barri Boone’s very good letter. I remember her well.
Barri’s memory underscores the point I made in my article that all of us are “unevenly developed.” I wrote Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and asked her if she was at this rally. She said no, but her answer as well as Barri’s letter are both models of how to approach sexist incidents from the late Sixties.
— In Sisterhood,
Pam Chude Allen
San Francisco, CA
The discussion is interesting. No, I wasn’t in the Bay Area by the summer of ‘68. I went off to Mexico for nearly two months, then to Boston. I had been living in the Bay Area from January to May and was nearly daily at Free Huey events, some of which featured Stokely — this was the period when SNCC merged with the Black Panther Party and Stokely was Minister of something or other.
I never heard him say women’s position was “prone,” and I’m sure I would have noticed, because I had become a raving feminist by then. But I don’t doubt Barri’s memory and think it’s likely true.
It may have been a matter of life imitating art, with Stokely coming to believe in his own joke and media persona. He really deteriorated as a leader, as many of us did during that time, a great loss for the movement.
The first time I met Stokely personally was in May 1980 when he came to speak to graduating Black students at the University of New Mexico. I was then Director of Native American Studies at UNM, and the director of Black Studies asked me to help him out with Stokely’s request to visit an Indian reservation. I spent a whole day driving Stokely to a number of Indian Pueblos (which blew his mind, because of the third world conditions).
We talked about the “end of the ‘60s” period. He said that’s why he went to Africa, to learn to be human again, and I said that was why I had gone to New Mexico to work with the Pueblos and Navajos. I was expecting a very macho guy but found him so humble, quiet spoken, and committed. He did some great organizing in the mid-to-late 1970s and seemed to me to be quite pro-feminist.
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Bay Area, CA
ATC 136, September-October 2008