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Report From Prague: Viewing a Disaster

What follows is a simple eye­witness account of two days in Prague under Soviet occupation. This is a report, not an analysis or a commentary. It is because I know that every “Cold War­rior” welcomes the events in Prague that I must note simply that bad as the invasion was it does not compare to the United States actions in Vietnam where a million or more have died. Prague and Saigon are linked, symbols of the contempt great powers have for the right of smaller nations to self-determination. Let all those who so easily demand immediate and complete Soviet withdrawal apply that same standard to the situation in Vietnam.

I had gone to Europe to attend two working conferences, one in Vienna (War Resisters International) and the other in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia (International Confederation for Disarmament and Peace). Between the conference was a space of four days and I chose to spend that time in Prague as vacation. I arrived there on Saturday evening, August 17. I was due to leave early Wednesday morning, August 21.

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Other American radicals in Prague spent their time to good advantage, seeing student leaders, liberal writers, political figures. I simply wandered aim­lessly, having fallen under the charm of the city, the most beau­tiful I’ve seen in Europe. I stood in church on Sunday morning listening to the chants and smelling the incense. I visited the old Jewish cemetery, the most tragic graveyard I’ve ever seen, filled with thousands of tombstones leaning on one another for comfort in their eternal sorrow. Graveyards are places where the living come, the sons and daughters and the grandchildren, to honor their ancestors. Graveyards fascinate me, for they are not a symbol of an end, but proof of beginnings — here we stand, observing the gravestones, and there lie the ancestors from which we have sprung. Between the living and the dead there is a silent communion. But in the Jewish cemetery, carefully enclosed by high old walls, there was the chilling knowledge that only death was there, for those who should have come to lay flowers had perished in the death camps. The ancestors lay there beneath the stone tablets and only tourists visited, stran­gers to the family. I wept twice in Prague and the first time was when I spent an hour wandering through this silent field of graves.

I roamed through the National Museum, drank beer in small cafes, and walked out on the Charles Bridge to take pictures of the chalk drawings done by the long-haired young rebels­ — slogans in English against the war in Vietnam and slogans in German against Ulbricht. I walk­ed down the broad main street, Vaclavske Namesti, watched stu­dents in Wenceslas Square, and stood listening to debates in the “Hyde Park” of Prague, a little square off Na Prikope.

And in this way I spent my time. I had some contacts through Allen Ginsberg but they were never home when I phoned. By Tuesday night, my last night in Prague, I felt sharp pangs of guilt that I had not been more “responsible” and ” political” in looking people up. I wandered Prague late Tuesday night, until it was a city asleep and moving toward dawn. (At 11 p.m. invasion forces crossed the frontier). I got to bed at 2:30 a.m. (At that hour Russian air­craft had landed at Prague air­port.) I slept fitfully, waking once at 5:30 a.m. to the roar of jets. I slept again until 6:30 a.m. when I had to get up to catch my early flight to Yugoslavia. I went down for coffee and sensed a crisis in the air — Rude Pravo, Communist Party daily, had appeared with large headlines and printed on only one side of the sheet. At one point the Czechs in the room stood by the window and I joined them to watch tanks roll by in the streets below. Still groggy with sleep I took it for granted they were Czech tanks (who else would have tanks in Prague?). I finish­ed my coffee, packed, and then, a thin edge of anxiety working through my mind, went down to the main lobby to make sure the airport was not affected by what­ever crisis had brought Czech tanks into Prague at 8 a.m. There at the front desk I found this note:

American Embassy advises (5:50 a.m.) American citizens to stay where they are. Listen to the Voice of America at 1200 KC (if you were foresighted enough to bring a radio). Stay off streets.”

It was now just after 8 a.m. Wednesday, August 21.

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I went out in front of our hotel, the Hotel Flora on Vino­hradska Street, about 12 blocks from the center of town. I watched tanks and troop carriers roll by. Czechs stood weeping openly on the streets, gathered in small quiet groups. And now, for the second time in Prague, I wept. I had profoundly identified with the Czech experiment in “Communist democracy.” The Russians had done more than in­vade Czechoslovakia — they had sent their damn tanks crashing into our skulls, they had invaded the hopes of socialists all over the world.

There was an unreal quality to the invasion. The troops were all in trucks or tanks, not on foot. The sidewalks belonged to us, where we stood silent and unmoving. The streets belonged to the tanks. Tanks are ugly things. They were filled with young Russians, men who had been told they were going on maneuvers and found out they were invaders of a socialist country. They were frightened. The troop carriers had machine guns mounted on the front and men with automatic rifles watching the windows and roofs of the buildings they pass­ed. In the distance one could hear the harmless toyish sound of automatic weapons being fired — a kind of “pop—pop—pop.” People moved along the streets, lining up at food stores — which were virtually the only stores open. The streetcars were not running and few cars were on the streets. I had shot my last frame of film Tuesday evening and had to hike for several blocks to find a drug store open where I could buy some film. I came back, then, having seen Russian troop carriers lining the road all the way toward town, as if they were in a traffic jam. I shot some tanks with a telephoto lens from my hotel window.

Perhaps it was because we were motionless on the sidewalks, while the Russians sped by in trucks and tanks, that the invasion was like a dream. The tanks were motorized images, with which the population was not interacting, only observing. It was not yet noon but the resist­ance was beginning, as a car moved down the street throwing out mimeographed copies of Rude Pravo. Then it was noon and the first organized resistance began. A young man pulled his bicycle into the street and block­ed traffic — which consisted, actu­ally, of a single Czech truck which pulled over to one side. Horns began to blare for a two­-minute general strike. At that moment, with the kid in the street and the horns blaring, a Soviet troop carrier came shoot­ing down the street. The kid held his ground, perhaps paralyzed with fear or courage, but it would have made no difference to the troop carrier which wasn’t even slowing down. At the final moment, as most of us nervous­ly pulled away from the corner, fearful of gunfire or seeing the boy run down, an older man moved out from the crowd, put his arm gently around the boy and the bike, and guided him to one side of the street. The troop carrier shot by without ever having paused.

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A student walked past our hotel, moving away from the center of town, holding a large Czech flag.

Radio Prague went off the air early, and Radio Pilsen began broadcasting. It used German, Russian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Polish as well as Czech — it was beaming its appeal to the invading Warsaw Pact troops, explaining there was no basis for the invasion, that socialism was safe, the invasion illegal. It was also urging the population not to provoke an incident but simply not to cooperate. Radio Pilsen went off the air while I slept in the afternoon out other stations then came on and the Russians, having forgotten to bring tracking equipment with them, could do nothing.

The dream quality came back at dinner, for the Flora is a first class hotel with an excellent restaurant presided over by an imperious head-waiter. We all went to our tables, ordered cocktails or wines and our dinner as if nothing had happened. People chatted in the muted luxury of the Flora, they ate and drank quietly. Outside, somewhere, Czechs were organizing. Some were dying. Some were already dead.

All night long there was the buzzing of motorbikes back and forth through the city. The students were organizing. The underground papers were now being printed, having found presses. About 9:30 p.m. I took another walk toward the center of town, and found out why the line of Russian troop carriers had been backed up earlier in the day.

The Czechs had built up a barricade about 10 blocks from the hotel and two blocks from the National Museum, trying to stop the tanks from getting to the radio station. When I got there I saw a fantastic tangle of burned out streetcars, buses, trucks, and debris — including at least one Soviet truck half blown up and hurled into a side street. This was where the firing had been coming from in the morning and some had been killed — no precise figures. (Note — in fair­ness to the Russians, they generally fired into the air and no estimate of the dead exceeded 30 for the first day, about par for an American riot.) Hundreds of people were milling around the barricade, while the Russians were staying discreetly in their trucks a block away. It is report­ed that at least one Russian tank was set on fire during the morn­ing at this barricade area.

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The milling of so many people made me nervous and I went back to the hotel and it was about 11 p.m. when, looking out my window, I saw fireworks coming from the area where I had just been. Beautiful orange rockets going up in the air. I didn’t understand why fireworks should be going off and went to the window for a closer look. Suddenly the crowd in the street below me broke and ran as if a heavy summer shower had hit them. I leaned farther out to see why they were running for shelter when I heard a “flick” against the building near my win­dow and realized the fireworks were tracer bullets and they were falling in our area.

Suddenly my window, large enough in any case, seemed to fill the whole wall, offering the entire room as a target. I scrambled for the side of my bed where I stayed for perhaps two minutes when I realized that even though the firing was getting closer (the gentle almost lazy “pop—pop—pop” had shifted to a a harsher “tat—tat—tat”), with tracer bullets you could see which way the fire was going. I edged back to the window and standing at one side watched the tracers climb into the sky. I had never realized before that bullets had a “finite speed,” that you could see the graceful blazes of orange climb slowly like Roman candles, and, like Roman candles, wink out.

So Wednesday came to an end. The Czech army had put up no resistance, on direct orders of the party. The only real fighting anywhere near us had occurred around the makeshift barricade 10 blocks away. But it was already clear that non-violent resistance was taking place. When I woke up Thursday it was clear at once that the Russians had made three mistakes. First, they had waited eight months too long. The Czechs, once the most docile of Communist populations, had enjoyed eight months of genuine press and radio freedom. Free­dom, like tyranny, can become a habit. Second, the Russians had assumed they would have some support from within the country and, as it turned out, they had no support at all. Third, they let the first 24 hours pass without any decisive action.

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The Russians may well have assumed, having seized the radio and tv, the airport and the train station, and having surrounded the National Assembly, arrested Dubcek, and sealed off every large area that might have been used for demonstrations, that they had “won.” Certainly their actions had been decisive, total, overwhelming. They had encoun­tered no effective or organized resistance. They had occupied the city. But it became obvious they didn’t know what to do with a population that “refused to re­cognize them.” They had failed to shoot the occasional flag­-carrying student on that first day. They had not counted on the underground radio and tv.

They had not, it seems, thought about the problems of suppress­ing illegal papers, and Thursday one could see that manifestos and leaflets and papers were every­where in evidence. Posters had gone up on all buildings. Trains had ”SVOBODA — DUBCEK” chalked on their sides. Trucks and cars had posters draped over their fronts. Signs in Russian were everywhere telling the troops to leave as well as signs in Czech urging no support for collaboration and no cooperation with the traitors Moscow was seeking to install as a provisional government. The national flag began to appear in apartment windows. Half the people on the streets were wearing bits of rib­bon showing the national colors. Police cars (Czech police) carried large Czech flags. A spe­cial appeal to the occupying ar­my had been printed up. The Czechs were also churning out short leaflets in French, English, and German to make sure the tourists understood the situation. Their radio was still on the air, and this gave the citizens hope. People grouped themselves around little portable radios. People appeared on the streets with petitions and other people stopped and signed the petitions.

An ambulance corps had been organized, and civilian cars flying red cross flags shot up and down the streets. The people were beginning to give a loud whistle when the tanks clanked past (this being something in the nature of a hiss). The Russians had taken Prague but they had not managed to capture its people.

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I went for a long walk Thurs­day afternoon, at one point walk­ing directly under the gun of a Soviet tank, to get down to the National Museum and see if — as rumored — it had been burned out. (It hadn’t been, although along with a number of apartment buildings that I saw, its facade had been heavily raked with machine gun fire, breaking most of the windows.) What I did see, and found incredible, was that every Russian tank and every Russian troop carrier was sur­rounded by groups of Czechs. Whatever spontaneous spitting or rock throwing may have occurred early Wednesday was gone — the crowds were arguing, pleading, explaining. I remember one tank on which a student was perched reading some manifesto to the two Russians sitting in the tank. If the image the West has of the Hungarian uprising in 1953 was a youth throwing stones at a tank, the image from Prague was one of dialogue and verbal confronta­tion.

(I learned that on Wednesday night all the bars had been closed to prevent anyone from getting drunk and charging at tanks. The radio broadcast steady appeals for calm, for no provocation and no cooperation.)

I walked into Wenceslas Square and found the main street leading into it filled with thousands upon thousands of persons. As I watch­ed, two truckloads of Czech stu­dents drove up waving flags and headed straight for a Soviet tank which, somewhat to my sur­prise, yielded the right of way.

My time in Prague was draw­ing to an end. I walked back to the hotel, realizing that I under­stood at last what a student had meant when I asked him, early in my stay, what would happen if the Russians invaded. He said, “For us they will not be here.” Shortly after 5 p.m. the Ameri­can Embassy notified us of a special train leaving for Vienna. We got taxis and boarded the train. ❖

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The Grand Central Riot: Yippies Meet the Man

Inside A Yip-In

All the brass was watching. Chief Inspector Sanford Garelik, shielded by a cluster of Tactical Patrol Force heavies, leaned against the wall in the 42nd Street entrance to Grand Central Station, intently watching the churning sea of demonstrators. Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, Lindsay’s roving sensory apparatus, roamed around the terminal for hours. And a dozen privileged persons of some sort lined the balcony above the escalators leading to the Pan Am Building, observing the melee below like Romans digging the arena. 

All the brass were watching, and the cops were having a ball. “It was the most extraordinary display of unprovoked police brutality I’ve seen outside of Mississippi,” Alan Levine, staff counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at a press conference on Saturday. “The police reacted enthusiastically to the prospect of being un­leashed.” Levine reported seeing several people forced to run a gauntlet of club-wielding cops while trying to flee from what has been characterized as a “police riot.” Spitting invective through clenched teeth, cops hit women and kicked demonstrators who had fallen while trying to escape the flailing nightsticks. It was like a fire in a theater. 

It was a Yip-In. “Its a spring mating service celebrating the equinox,” read a Yippie handbill, “a back-scratching party, a roller­-skating rink, a theater, with you, performer and audience.” The Yip-In was held for Yippies to get acquainted, and to promote the Yippies’ “Festival of Life,” which will coincide with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this summer. 

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The promotion was as heavy as the planning was weak. The Yip-In was announced at a press conference at the Americana Hotel, and several thousand handbills were distributed urging Yippies to come to Grand Central Station at midnight on Friday. Why Grand Central Station? “It’s central, man,” said one Yippie. How many Yippies would come? Well, it was a good way to test the pull of the media. 

The media pulls, and a lot of people came. Most came by subway, coming up out of the bowels of the 42nd Street station to fill the mammoth terminal like a diverted river might fill a dry lake. Soon it was a sea of heads, and it was hard to move. Balloons bounced above the crowd, as an estimated 6,000 people were jammed together under the vaulted ceiling.

The crowd stirred and the balloons bounced for almost an hour, while the terminal continued to fill. Occasionally clusters of people took up chants, ranging from “Yippie!” to “Long Hot Summer!” to “Burn, Baby, Burn!” Shortly before one, kids began to climb to the roof of the information booth in the center of the terminal, where they began to lead the chants, and one militant climbed to the pinnacle of the information booth, striking a “Workers, Arise!” pose, his fist raised in the air, and unfurled a banner which read, vertically, “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!” Two cherry bombs exploded, and the sound was greatly amplified in the huge room. Now the balconies were packed, and the cops were quivering in formation in the 42nd Street entrance. 

There are four clocks on top of the information booth, and as the roof became more crowded the temptation to rape time apparently became irresistible. First kids turned the hands around, and then the hands suddenly disappeared. 

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I was standing close to the cops when they started to clear the entrance, shoving people into the terminal or out in the street, where more cops were waiting in formation. I ran around the corner to the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance, and came to the balcony that overlooked the terminal in time to see a wedge of blue slice into the crowd, nightsticks swinging, until they came to the information booth, where they paused. The kids slid off the roof and the crowd recoiled. The police surrounded the information booth and, in seconds, now rein­forced, charged the crowd again, forcing the demonstrators back into the huge corridor which led to the subway. The crowd simply made a U-turn in a connecting corridor and flowed back into the terminal, and the cops went wild. 

Now another formation of cops charged toward the stairs where I was standing, and I made for the street again, rounded the corner, and returned to the 42nd Street entrance, which was now entirely filled with police. I pinned on my press credentials and began to move through the police line. My credentials were checked twice, and I was allowed to pass. At that point, I was stopped a third time by two uniformed cops. They looked at my credentials, cursed the Voice, grabbed my arms behind my back, and, joined by two others, rushed me back toward the street, deliberately ramming my head into the closed glass doors, which cracked with the impact. They dropped me in the street and disappeared. My face, and my press card, were covered with blood. I went to the hospital to get five stitches in my forehead. 

So I missed the climax of the Yip-In, but I can pass on various accounts of witnesses. The police, it seems, continued to charge the crowd at random, first charging, always swinging the nightsticks, then pulling back, then charging again. Sometimes several formations of police charged simultaneously in different directions. The exits were jammed and the crowd was in a panic, desperately trying to avoid the nightsticks. The police kept charging.

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During all this time, arrests were being made. Within two hours, 57 persons were arrested, on charges ranging from felonious assault and criminal mischief to resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. At least 20 persons were taken to hospitals for treatment. 

The arrest procedure followed a brutal pattern. Most of the people arrested were automatically beaten with nightsticks. (The cops didn’t seem to want anyone to walk out after having been arrested.) “If you protected yourself, you were resisting arrest,” a witness said. “If you didn’t, you were knocked out.” A youth was arrested near the escalator leading into the Pan Am Building, and was dragged across the terminal, screaming with pain, while police kicked him in the groin. He finally collapsed, and police grabbed him by the back of the belt, and carried him out to the waiting paddy wagons. 

At another point, Voice columnist Howard Smith relates, the police made a charge toward the west side of the terminal, and a soda bottle came flying out of the crowd, striking a cop. Five cops grabbed a kid — ­the wrong one, Smith said — and shoved him into the door of Track 32, where they began beating him with nightsticks. While the kid, later identified as Jon Moore, 17, screamed “I didn’t do it” and “It wasn’t me,” the crowd shouted “Sieg Heil!” Still the beating continued. Some other cops approached and tried to stop the beating, Smith said, and then a police captain approached and made the guise of breaking it up. Moore, who was now hunched over protecting his head and groin, looked up, and the captain grabbed his head and cracked it against the iron grating of the door, cursing “you son of a bitch.” The captain then turned away, brushing his hands, and Moore was taken out of the station. He was later charged with felonious assault. 

These incidents were not exceptional. Ronald Shea, 22, was shoved by police through a plate-glass door. He raised his hands to protect his face, and the broken glass severed every essential tendon and nerve in his left hand. In six months, doctors at Roosevelt Hospital say, he may regain partial use of his hand. Shea was not arrested. 

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Witnesses charged that several plainclothesmen, who had infiltrated the crowd before the police charged, were even more brutal than the uniformed cops when the swinging started. They add that the plainclothesmen, who wore no badges, refused to identify themselves when questioned by accredited newsmen. Several instances were reported when cops struck or intimidated people seen writing down badge numbers. Witnesses emphasize that no warning or order to disperse was given at any time before or after the police charged the demonstrators, although a public address system was presumably available in the station. Ed Sanders of the Fugs contends that the people would have responded to a warning. “People who come to Yippie demonstrations are very reasonable,” he said. “There was no reason to rush in and crunch.” 

After the police first charged, Abbie Hoffman, YIP leader, report­edly approached Barry Gottehrer, assistant to the mayor, and asked to use the terminal’s public address system. Gottehrer replied that he thought Hoffman was “an hour and a half late,” and refused. Hoffman then asked that the police be pulled out, and Gottehrer presumably refused again. 

After an hour and a half, the cops calmed down, and the remaining demonstrators were allowed to remain in the terminal. Others went to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, also staked out with police, where the organizers of the Yip-In had planned to meet to “yip up the sun.” By 4:15 A.M., Grand Central Station was empty. 

Saturday morning, the key leaders of the YIP, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner, and Bob Fass, left New York to fly to Chicago for a conference regarding the planning of activities during the Democratic National Convention. Later that morning, the 57 people arrested were arraigned in court. Most of the people were represented by Legal Aid. YIP had made no arrangements for lawyers or bail.

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There was a lot of garbage and buck-passing flying around during the following days. Gottehrer, at a YIP press conference Sunday night, placed considerable emphasis on the crowd on top of the information booth, the cherry bombs, and the damage to the clocks. He refused to concede any misconduct on the part of the police. YIP spokesmen complained about a breakdown of communications, insisting that they had never considered the possibility or violence. On Monday, the scuttlebutt at City Hall included rumors that some of the demonstrators were carrying dynamite Friday night, and privately city officials alleged that the police received two bomb threats at Grand Central Station. Now the rumors have gone even further, with representatives of both sides darkly referring to “provocateurs” who incited the police to riot. 

As I see it, the central issue — besides the astonishing brutality of the police — was a failure in planning on the part of both YIP and the city that borders on gross incompetence and irresponsibility. Although YIP had been in contact with the mayor’s office before the demonstra­tion, the city gave no indication as to what their response would be. The city urged YIP to consult with the New York Central Railroad, which owns Grand Central Station, which YIP did not do. The demonstration was allowed to form without interference or objection and, an hour later, without warning, the police viciously attacked the crowd. There was little direction or coordination evident in the cops’ attack; they seemed to be improvising. YIP did not even bring a megaphone so that they could address their own people; in the situation that developed, the leaders found themselves impotent. The cardinal insanity was the selection of Grand Central Station for an enormously publici­zed demonstration of totally indeterminate size. The Yip-In was the fourth and by far the largest demonstration to be held at the terminal. The first three all ran into cops. It was a pointless con­frontation in a box canyon, and somehow it seemed to be a pro­phecy of Chicago. ❖

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The Trial of the Chicago 7: Indictment and Protest

Spring’s Awakening 

It’s been a busy week. Thursday the Federal Grand Jury indicted eight “non-leaders” of the Chicago demonstration for conspiracy to break the law and incite a riot. Friday Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Dave Dellinger held a press conference at the Hotel Diplomat welcoming the indictment as “the academy award of protest” and asking others to “join the conspiracy.” Saturday there was a demonstration at Foley Square while the conspirators surrendered themselves to the authorities. Saturday evening another protest sponsored by Alternate U. and a group called the Crazies ran from the New York Times to Grand Central to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park and then back again. And then late Sunday night Abbie Hoffman’s office on East 5th Street was busted for narcotics and guns.

Spring had come. After months of being restricted to indoor sports everything seemed to burst out into the streets. There was a great deal of excitement and agitation leading nowhere in particular. The events seemed to follow each other in no particular sequence. One after another they would capture one’s attention and then disappear as rapidly as they had arisen, leaving the impression that they were somehow tenuously strung together and yet tracing no discernible pattern.

The indictment came as something of a surprise. After having anticipated it momentarily, waited for it patiently, feared it endlessly, and finally dismissed it entirely, Rubin claims that he was really shocked when it finally descended from the higher courts. “I was into something new and now they bring this whole thing back to us,” he complained. “Will Chicago never end?”

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The evening of their indictment, Rubin and Hoffman met uptown in the plush offices of their defense attorneys. Everyone hugged everyone else, talked about how this trial would go all the way, how they’d push it to the Supreme Court, how it might take six months of trial and years of appeals, but how this was what they’d been waiting for.

Most of the speculation centered around why Bobby Seale, (one of the last Black Panther leaders who isn’t in jail or in exile) had been included in the list of those indicted. One of the theories was that the New Left had friends in high places who wanted to see all its various factions unified. Others claimed that whoever had been the architect of the indictment was just plain stupid and clearly had no idea what the consequences of this cross-cultural, cross-racial, cross-political indictment would be.

The lawyers seemed more jubilant about the indictment than the indicted. Here was the test case every liberal constitutional lawyer in the country had been waiting for. The 1968 Civil Disorders Bill had been pushed through Congress by Southern reactionaries who were convinced that there was a combined black power-communist conspiracy to burn down the American cities. The bill was passed in order to stop H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael from running around the country preaching revolution. Now, for the first time, it had actually been applied, and would probably face the test of constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

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Later that evening, back at Hoffman’s apartment, the grim reality of it all began to come down hard. At first, when his mother-in-law called to ask about the indictment, Hoffman said lightly, “It’s all right, it’s just in the line of work I do.” Then, sitting in front of a color television set, listening to various garbled accounts of the indictment by pink-faced newscasters, Hoffman chewed reflectively on a lamb chop and mentioned for the first time the possibility of jail. Abbie the clown was instantly replaced by a real person. Under the law he is eligible for a grand total of five years and a $10,000 fine.

Saturday morning I arrived at Foley Square in front of the courthouse where Rubin, Hoffman, and Dellinger were to surrender themselves. An impressive contingent of some 20 elite Black Panther troops were on hand to give evidence that the Panthers are not going to be quiet about Seale’s indictment. Standing in formation in the cold morning sun, their uniforms and discipline gave them a presence which the twice as numerous white protestors lacked.

Once the three indicted men disappeared into the courthouse, the Panthers moved up and faced off with the police who were jealously guarding the steps leading up to the halls of justice. Kafka must have been somewhere in the crowd. Each Panther stepped up nose to nose with a policeman, raised his crossed arms in front of him, and started chanting: “No more brothers in jail. Off the pigs.” Then they filed out.

Inside, Hoffman lit up a cigarette in front of the judge and was told to put it out.

Outside, Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist, complained bitterly about not having been included in the indictment.

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***

The demonstration Saturday evening in front of the New York Times came as comic relief when compared with the seriousness of the indictments. The police, however, did not take it as a joke and deployed such an arsenal of force in front of the truck loading platforms on 43rd Street that only an idiot would have made a move. The Tactical Patrol Force lined the barricades, paddy wagons were invitingly open at each end of the street, patrol cars were illegally parked all over Times Square, and there were more plainclothesmen than people.

The United States is probably the only place in the world where demonstrations have turned into a spectator sport. Sailors, prostitutes, newsmen, printers in four-cornered newspaper hats, passing motorists, theatre-goers, local bartenders, and the whole gang took time off to come out and watch the Crazies do their bit.

“What are they bitching about now,” a cross looking little old lady with a Macy’s shopping bag asked a plainclothesman.

“Are you in this demonstration or reporting on it?” a detective from the Red Squad questioned me as he examined my press card.

“What’s in the bag, kid?” a detective asked a long haired boy who was carrying a sign which read “The Saturday Load and the Sunday Bullshit.” The boy handed the officer the bag. Opening it he found to his eternal disappointment and minimal embarrassment that it was not a concealed weapon of infernal destruction but only a bologna sandwich.

“Move along, miss,” a young cop suggested politely to a beautiful blond girl who was standing on his corner watching the picket line. “I can’t,” she said, batting her eyelashes at him shyly. “l’m with them,” she continued, gesturing toward the demonstrators.

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Suddenly there was the very strong smell of puke at the Broadway end of 43rd Street. Apparently one of the stink bombs which the demonstrators had brought with them went off by mistake within their own ranks. It was not the only weapon which ran afoul that evening. Several plastic bags of yellow paint, intended for the windows of the trucks which were taking away the Sunday issue of the Times, fell on the ground and splattered several hapless demonstrators who stepped on them.

A pregnant woman who had been holding a toilet-paper-roll version of the New York Times was snatched out of the picket line and hustled away by detectives for no apparent reason. Attorneys who tried to accompany her were turned back. For a moment it looked as if something might happen. The demonstrators surged forward and the police pushed back, banging their clubs on the barricades in a manner which invoked no less than utter terror.

“Scotty Reston is a You Know What,” one poster teased, “All the News That’s Shit to Print,” someone else claimed, “The New York Times Disguises Bald Racism with a Liberal Toupee,” another whined.

But no one could really get it up for the Times. Everyone had their own little bitch, everyone read it with their own kind of skepticism, but the point was that the picketers knew in the back of their minds that after the demonstration was over they were going to slink off to their local newsstand and buy a copy of none other than the Sunday edition of the Times — the very one they hadn’t been able to stop from coming out. They would buy it Sunday and buy it again on Monday to see if their little display of annoyance had hit the Big Times.

By 9:30 p.m. things were beginning to peter out. The picket line was getting shorter and shorter between the rows of policemen and everyone was just about shouted hoarse. The general movement seemed to be toward Grand Central. There another group of Crazies promised to lay a wreath of flowers at the information booth where last year’s bloody riot had begun when someone had climbed up on top of the clock and ripped the hands off.

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At a meeting at the Crazies’ storefront in the East Village several days before, Hoffman had told the others who were planning the demonstration that he didn’t think it was a good idea to go back to Grand Central: “I was knocked unconscious there last year and I don’t plan to do it again. Let’s at least make it a different place next time. Once you’re inside the station the cops can block off all the entrances and you have to run the gauntlet in order to get out.”

“All I hear is fear, fear, fear,” a boy by the name of Danny who was sitting on the floor complained. “People are supposed to be afraid of us. Remember?” he reminded the others.

In the end it was decided that they would go ahead with the Grand Central demonstration in spite of its risks. As one bearded member of the group explained, the strategy of the Crazies is “to walk that thin line between getting your head bashed in and just managing to get away with it — that’s what it is to be a Crazy.”

But by the time the Crazies got to Grand Central on Saturday it was already effectively blocked off by the police who had locked most of the doors and asked for tickets at the few entrances they left open.

“Where’s your ticket, kid,” a policeman asked a Crazy who had decided to make a test of his constitutional right of free movement.

“I don’t have one, but if you let me go in I’ll buy one,” he promised.

“Uh uh, you got to have it with you.”

“But how can I have it if you won’t let me in to buy it?” he argued logically.

“Look kid, we don’t want your demonstration here.”

“I’m not going to demonstrate, I just want to go out to Long Island to visit my grandmother,” he lied.

“Try Penn Station,” the cop countered.

“Here we are at the Prague border, everyone take out their ticket, you can’t travel here without a passport, remember, you’re in Amerika,” the boy shouted at the other freaks who had been listening intently to the dialogue.

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According to Howard Smith, who arrived at Grand Central slightly later, the police were not the only ones who were guarding Grand Central against an invasion of crazies. A number of men wearing buttons which read “PFB” (Peter Factor Brigade?) were patrolling the area, promising demonstrators that if they got inside they’d be “only too happy to kick the shit out of you.”

“What does PFB stand for?” they were asked. “You’ll know when the time comes.”

“What time will that be?”

“When Lee gets ready to tell you.”

“All right, now I guess we have to ask who Lee is,” Krassner said.

The question remained unanswered. Lee will remain a mystery … “until the time comes.”

Meanwhile, outside, most of the demonstrators had grown tired of standing around and headed off uptown, some 150 to 200 strong, toward the park where they were scheduled to meet at midnight. Marching together up Madison Avenue they began to feel their strength and [the] disruptive possibilities of such a large mobile force. “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh,” they chanted over and over, as if the second verse (“The NLF is gonna win”) had been forgotten over the winter or had simply disappeared out of pessimism. A few marchers strayed out in the street dodging in and out of traffic, trash barrels were overturned, and then the police arrived. They drove alongside the march for several blocks and people began to think they were just giving them an escort uptown. No such luck. At 50th Street a gray car drove up onto the sidewalk, splitting the marchers in half. All four doors opened simultaneously and plainclothesmen poured out, grabbing whoever was nearest. Half the group was forced back downtown and the other half continued east. A few blocks later it happened again, only this time it became clear that there were police spotters in the ranks who pointed out the demonstrators they thought were ring leaders. Each time it was the same. The police would run toward the center of a group arresting one or two and leaving the rest to wander around wondering where the hell everyone else had gone to. By the time I arrived at the park I was with four other people.

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“This is all bullshit,” a boy next to me mumbled as we walked through the park toward the Sheep Meadow. “This isn’t a revolution, it isn’t even a decent demonstration. It’s an outing,” he explained as if he finally divined the truth, “a walking tour of New York City.”

“Maybe the revolutionary logic behind it all is to keep the troops physically fit,” I suggested, “like Mao leading everyone down to the river for a swim.”

“Yeah,” the boy agreed, “it could be listed in ‘100 Ways to Lose Weight,’ or whatever that bestseller is called.”

Sheep Meadow was a bummer. The cavalry had the high rocky ground to the south, plainclothesmen blocked off the east, scooter cops could be seen to the north, and patrol cars covered the west. “We’re surrounded,” someone observed in the dark.

“Let’s go home, the cops have made their point, they can have this place if they need it so desperately. The Viet Cong never try to hold a hopeless position when they’re out-gunned,” a dark-haired politico with a pointy goatee announced. “Go home, no one’s having any fun here anyways. This sure doesn’t look like any festival of life to me.”

After a huddle it was decided to take the young man’s advice. On the way out of the park, the wreath (which was supposed to have been planted in Grand Central) was placed in the hands of a lovely nude statue which stands in the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel. Cheers went up and everybody got their thrill. Then we walked back down to Times Square again, where again the police insisted on intervening. A fairly large group then subwayed down to Sheridan Square and marched triumphantly over to St. Mark’s Place where they were greeted by those who had been too spaced out to make the trip. It had been a long walk and everyone was fagged out. No one except the most naive thought any of it had been worth it.

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***

The next night, Sunday night, Abbie Hoffman’s office on 5th Street — down the block from the police station — was raided and the police discovered a suitcase full of guns and blackjacks and a packet of heroin. It was all vaguely reminiscent of Rubin’s bust last year just before the Chicago convention when the police broke into his apartment, tore the posters off the walls, riffled his papers, and busted him for possession of pot.

While it’s still impossible to say whether the raid on Hoffman’s place was a frame-up or not (the young man who left the suitcase full of guns, for example, has mysteriously disappeared), we may never know for sure. However, Hoffman claims that “it is totally inconceivable that a person in my position would hide an arsenal of guns and dope a couple of houses away from a police station.”

To make matters even more mysterious, rumor has it that heroin was found planted in the Peace Eye Bookstore and at the Switchboard — both likely places for busts if there was to be a heavy crackdown on the Movement in the East Village. Nothing, however is revealed. ❖

Categories
Equality From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

From Liberty in Miss. To Justice in D.C.

The Gap Between

LIBERTY, MISSISSIPPI — In the mythology of the Movement, Amite County is synonymous with the Ninth Circle of Hell.

It was to this impoverished, re­mote area of southwest Missis­sippi, on the border of Louisiana, that Bob Parris (Bob Moses) came in August of 1961 to at­tempt SNCC’s first voter regis­tration campaign. Beaten twice and jailed three times, Parris left for Jackson four months later.

It was in Amite County that Herbert Lee, a 52-year-old father of nine, was shot to death on September 25, 1961, by a member of the Mississippi state legisla­ture, E. H. Hurst. Lee had been one of the few local Negroes to attend Farris’s voter-registration school.

It was in Amite County that Louis Allen, a witness to Lee’s slaying, was shotgunned to death in his home on January 31, 1964, after he had made contact with the Justice Department. Amite County Sheriff Daniel Jones, six-­foot-five, is the son of Brian Jones, who reportedly leads the Klan in the area.

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It was Amite County that, be­cause of its history of lawless­ness, saw not a single volunteer during the 1964 summer project. It was Amite County that, until six months ago, had only one registered Negro voter, despite the fact that Negroes make up a majority of the county’s population. It is Amite County that today remains totally segregated, and has never experienced a civil-­rights picket line or a direct-ac­tion demonstration.

Amite County is rural, red-­clay country outside the flow of history — but not just in terms of civil rights. It has missed the in­dustrial revolution as well. Amite is only 80 miles south of Miss­issippi’s capital, Jackson. Its county seat is called — for some reason buried in history — Liber­ty, population 650.

Great numbers of teen-aged Negroes escape to Baton Rouge and Chicago each year because of the unyielding poverty of the county. Experts estimate that the out-migration from Mississ­ippi, in general, has been four Negroes in ten.

Many Negroes in primitive Amite own their own farms, which makes them less vulnerable to economic reprisal by whites than their urban brothers.

This independence, however, probably accounts, at least in part, for the extraordinary record of physical violence in the county.

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Marginal Farms

Most of the Negro farms are marginal enterprises. Attendance at the all-Negro Central High School during November dropped to 50 per cent because so many children were needed to chop cane and pick cotton on the farms. There is only one brick Negro home in the whole county and that one was financed by an FHA loan. More than 90 per cent of the Negro homes have no in­door toilet. Fewer than one in five have telephones. Almost all depend on wells, dug by hand, for water. Food must be pur­chased in Liberty, where Negroes can still be beaten up at random in the street, sometimes by other Negroes paid to do the deed. No white man has ever gone on trial in Amite County for violence against a Negro.

A week in Amite is a bruising experience. Negroes lie to civil­-rights workers and invent ail­ments rather than face the reg­istrar in Liberty. A meeting in a wooden shack called a church approaches Gandhian “agape” with the singing of hymns and preachments of love thy enemy. A 60-year-old farmer tells how his cousin was castrated in 1962 and asks whether there is “any place on earth where colored folks are treated meaner than in Amite County.”

The Movement in Amite, aborted in 1961 by the killing of Lee and the repeated jailing of Parris, was resurrected 11 months ago. At that time, 22-year-old Marshall Gans, a rabbi’s son from California, came to live on the farm of E. W. Step­toe. At the point he began can­vassing the community there was only one registered Negro in the whole county. The man, notorious in the area for being an Uncle Tom, was actually escorted to the courthouse by E. H. Hurst, the man responsible for Lee’s death.

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On Staff

Steptoe, 56, with a face tramp­led by time, is a legendary fig­ure in the county. He first tried to register in 1953. In 1954 he founded a local chapter of NAACP, but saw its first meet­ing broken up by the Klan and the county sheriff with a gun. In 1964 Steptoe was the only Negro in the county willing to shelter white volunteers. Now he is on the SNCC staff.

There have been no flashy Freedom Days in Amite. No dra­matic marches on the  courthouse. No inspirational rallies with big names. Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins, and James Farmer have never set foot in this isolated community. There have just been long hot days dur­ing which a couple of  SNCC workers and a couple of local Negroes walked the gravel roads talking with terrified, barely literate Negroes.

In June of this year Carol Ro­goff of Brooklyn and Hazel Lee of Panola County, Mississippi, joined Gans and Steptoe in the tedious, repetitive drudgery of organizing. Finally, on June 14, 1965, 22 Negroes went to the courthouse and were registered.

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High Point

By November several hundred Negroes had their names put down on the registry books, but that was the high point. The rest are still frightened, and only fed­eral registrars can induce them to risk the fate of Herbert Lee.

Fear and Love. These are the polarities on which the embry­onic movement in Amite rests. In most other parts of Missis­sippi the civil-rights movement is in disarray. Activists who have been in the state for a year or more are burned out.

On the other hand, the govern­ment’s million-dollar Headstart program is siphoning off young militants who might otherwise have become the Movement’s second generation. The newly formed, integrated, and moderate Mississippi Democratic Council is challenging the radical prophets of the Mississippi Free­dom Democratic Party for the tiny Negro vote. Many of the best SNCC organizers have moved on to Alabama’s black-­belt counties.

Mississippi is no longer a bloody frontier. Bureaucracy is making the rigors of saintliness obsolete.

Amite County is even a generation behind cities like Jackson and Greenville. Eleven years af­ter the Supreme Court decision, not a single Negro in the county attends an integrated school. Seventeen months after the sign­ing of the 1964 civil rights act, not a single public accommoda­tion is desegregated. Three months after signing of the 1965 voting-rights bill, no federal regis­trar has yet appeared in Amite County (Goldwater took 93 per cent of the vote in 1964).

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Special Dignity

The Movement in Amite is in an earlier period than anywhere else in the country. It is pure and religious, uncontaminated by organizational in-fighting and hy­per-militancy. It is just two soli­tary organizers and a handful of local Negroes. The constituency is farmers, who have the special dignity of people who work a meager soil.

But there is also deeply rooted fear and submissiveness.

Five murders of Negroes, including Lee and Allen, since 1961 remain unsolved and unin­vestigated. A few months ago, for the first time in history, a local Negro dared to file a charge against a white who beat him up on the street in Liberty. The charge was thrown out of court.

“Negroes feel,” said Carol Rogoff, “that the courthouse in Liberty is owned by white folks. They remember how Lee was shot right next to the court­house.” She admits that many Negroes remain afraid to be seen with her in public. Even the most rebellious local Negroes think a demonstration in Liberty must wait for another age.

An incident that happened in Amite dramatized the total vulnerability of Negroes to random violence. Four of us — Miss Rogoff, Miss Lee, a local woman named Juanita Griffin, and myself — were putting up posters for the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service election. A man in a pick-up truck without a license saw us and began to chase us in his truck by driving up a narrow gravel road. The driver let out a woman, a child, and a Negro who were riding with him. He made three passes; the last time, driving at us head on, he forced us into a ditch. Cursing, he followed us until we reached the main road.

The following day we spoke to the FBI, who claimed “no Jurisdiction.” “File a complaint with Sheriff Jones,” the agent said. The Negro riding with the driver would not talk to us, and cer­tainly not with the FBI.

Yet, the fledgling movement here is characterized by a kind of love. Most Negroes in Amite are deeply religious. Meetings are usually held in churches. There is no tradition of freedom singing. Instead, meetings are begun with Baptist hymns like “Jesus, Hold My Hand While I Run This Race” and “Lord, Come By Here.” Nobody knows “We Shall Overcome.”

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Four Meetings

I attended four meetings dur­ing a week here. The first was held in the Mount Pilgrim Church on Steptoe’s land. It was here that Parris conducted his voter-registration classes in 1961. Herbert Lee is buried in the churchyard and his 15-year-old son was among the 75 people who filled the 10 wooden benches.

Reverend Curtis Dawson, who first tried to register in 1961, spoke to the meeting.

“We must love everyone,” he began, as amens welled up from the benches.

“White people from the North care more about us than we care about ourselves.”

“Yes, Lord, say it, brother.”

“They do everything for us. They go farther with us than we go with ourselves, but we have to redish (register) for ourselves. We can do that for them.”

“Right. Amen.”

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At another meeting the Rev­erend explained the right to vote in a Biblical analogy.

“God told Moses,” he began, “to pick up a stick. But Moses said it was a snake. But the Lord insisted he pick it up, and when Moses did, it turned out to be a sword. And that’s how go­ing to the courthouse in Liberty seems. Right now it looks like picking up a snake, but once you pick it up, it will becomes the sword of freedom.”

Unfortunately, most of the Negroes of Amite do not have the inner certainty of Moses. Until the federal government con­vinces them that going to regis­ter is not like picking up a snake, Amite Negroes will not register in numbers large enough to di­lute the terror, much less alter their condition.

“Lord, Come By Here. Federal Registrars, Come By Here.” ♦

Categories
Equality From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Marching to Montgomery: The Cradle Did Rock

It was the Ecumenical Council, a hootenanny, a happening, and a revolution all rolled into one. And it happened in Montgomery, “Cradle of the Confederacy.”

A broken-down hipster, the Realist sticking out of his dungarees, marched alongside an Episcopal bishop clutching the Holy Bible. There were the kamikazes of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — in their blue-denim overalls, mud-caked boots, and rash helmets, next to middle-class housewives who won’t ride the subways after dark. There were nuns in flowing black habits arm in arm with jowly labor leaders who discriminate in their unions.

There were rabbis, junkies, schoolboys, actors, sharecroppers, intellectuals, maids, novelists, folk-singers, and politicians — 40,000 motives and 40,0000 people marching to Montgomery behind James Forman who hates the oppressor and Martin Luther King who loves the oppressed.

March on Washington

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New Generation

There were hundreds of high school and college youngsters — that new breed of revolutionary that has somehow grown up inside the bowels of prosperous America. There were kids who rioted against HUAC, vigiled against the Bomb, invaded Mississippi last summer, and turned Berkeley upside down. They are a new generation of insurgents, nourished not by Marx or Trotsky, but by Camus, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, and SNCC. Their revolution is not against capitalism, but against what they deem to be the values of an enlightened America — Brotherhood Weeks, factories called colleges, desperation called success, and sex twice a week.

And there were thousands of clergymen symbolizing the revolution within a revolution — the nun with suntan cream on her face who marched all the way from Selma, priests, ministers, rabbis with yarmulkes. There was a huge sign: “Lutherans are Here Because Christ Cared.” Another read: “Kansas Mennonites Support Civil Rights.” And another: “SMU Marches for Freedom.”

On the streets of the Confederacy’s cradle that “coalition of conscience” Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington have tried to will into existence materialized spontaneously. A line of marchers, strung out as far as the eye could see, sang “America the Beautiful” and made it sound like a revolutionary anthem.

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Sleepy Beginning

The day that was to end in triumph and tragedy began in sleepy whimsy at 4 a.m. last Thursday for the 104 participants in the Village Independent Democrats’ “Fly-In” as they pulled out of the West Side Airlines Terminal singing ironic songs about their pilgrimage.

They sang in spirited atonality that quickly disintegrated into anarchy songs like “Stars Fell on Alabama” and “I’m Alabamy Bound” and “Swanee” and “Dixie.”

“Al-a-bam-a, here I come,” roared Bill Tatum, “VIDers, don’t be late, open up that capitol gate. Alabama, here I come, right back where I started from … “

The “Welcome to Montgomery” sign at Dannelly Airport reinforced the ironic mood of the pilgrims, especially for those who noticed that billboard just outside the airport that read: “Get the U. S. out of the U. N. or get the U. N. out of the U. S.”

Within 20 minutes the small airport lounge became congested as flights from Boston and St. Louis also landed, disgorging eager, smiling, scrubbed middle-class faces, some on top of clerical collars.

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Minister’s Greeting

A white minister from Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) greeted new arrivals, urged them to leave the city “as soon as the rally is over because it will be dangerous,” and directed them to shuttle buses to the City of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic complex where the marchers had camped the night before. On the SCLC minister’s lapel was a button that said “GROW.” He explained it stood for “Get Rid of Wallace.”

At St. Jude the predominant mood was gaiety, as thousands upon thousands of visitors swelled the great serpentine line of march that coiled around the vast, muddy athletic field.

Small clusters sang freedom songs during the two hours it took for the whole line to unwind onto the streets towards the capitol, four miles away. The visitors sang off-key versions of better-known freedom songs, while local Negroes, led by either SNCC or SCLC staff members, sang raucous, sassy, taunting songs that came out of the Movement in Alabama’s Black Belt. A group of about 500 from St. Louis stood in a large circle, one small, Negro woman calling out chorus after chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”

Other demonstrators milled around the staging area like conventioneers, wearing name tags and introducing themselves to strangers, pronouncing their home towns with accents of pride — Montreal, Berkeley, Boston, Detroit — and their association with equal pride — ADA, the United Auto Workers, NAACP, the University of Virginia, the American Legion (Gramercy Park chapter).

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To the Capitol

At noon, under one of the day’s brief showers, the procession began to move out, with the bloody-shoed 300 who had marched all the way in the vanguard. With them were barefoot Joan Baez; James Baldwin, nervously smiling, just back from Scandinavia; the angelic looking Montgomery seamstress Rosa Parks, who ignited the mythic bus boycott a decade ago; and SNCC’s John Lewis, who walked the whole way from Selma and who had suffered head injuries on “Bloody Sunday” at the Alabama River Bridge. And there was Martin Luther King, to whom Negroes of the Black Belt now sing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and then kiss his hand.

The streets in the Negro slums of Montgomery were of mud and clay. There were row upon row of run-down shacks, with the very old, the very young, the unemployed sitting on porches.

The First Time

At first the non-marchers were timid and shy. It was as if shame made them look down rather than at the masses that surged past them. But slowly, they looked up, to wave, and when the marchers began to shout, “Join us, come on,” many accepted the invitation and probably protested their plight for the first time in their lives. Marching through the slums was like taking LSD for the soul.

One bent old woman ran off her porch and kissed a white marcher. Children, dirty and scrawny, ran alongside, singing the songs and chanting the slogans of freedom. A very old man, his cane resting between his legs, sat on his porch steps and wept.

About a mile from the capitol we reached the downtown section of Montgomery, with its banks, hotels, movies, stores, office buildings and clean asphalt streets. The sidewalks were almost deserted except for a sprinkling of hecklers and the federal troops at each intersection, standing at attention, their rifles at their sides.

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Traditional Gesture

But against the windows of the office buildings were pressed the white faces of the South. Some shook their heads “no” or gave the thumbs-down sign when the marchers waved at them. A beautiful woman of about 25 stood on the balcony of the Jefferson Davis Hotel, and when the demonstrators waved at her, this flower of Southern womanhood made the traditional obscene gesture of one finger up.

On the lawn of an elegant home a hunched, elderly maid stood in the midst of her sullen employers. She was smiling and waving a white handkerchief at the procession. One wonders what was happening in the minds of her employers at that moment.

Remarked Edward Koch, the Village Democratic leader: “Walking through the Negro section made me feel like I was walking through Paris again with the liberation army. The white section was what it must have been like marching through Germany.”

From the window of the Alabama Bible Society Building hung a blow up of the picture Senator Eastland introduced into the Congressional Record prior to the March on Washington to prove Martin Luther King was “part of the Communist conspiracy.” The photograph shows King at a rally in 1957 at the now-defunct leftist Highlander Folk School, which was burned by segregationists several years ago.

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Turns the Corner

Dexter Avenue is the eight-lane street that leads into the white stone capitol building. As the procession turned the corner of that final leg of the journey the marchers suddenly broke into “America the Beautiful” and sang it with a passion normally associated in the Movement with “We Shall Overcome.”

“America, America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea,” they sang. Hundreds of school children waving little American flag. Ahead loomed the dome of the capitol with its Alabama and Confederate flags blowing in the breeze.”By 2 p.m. all 40,000 marchers, including about 10,000 whites, arrived at the foot of the capitol and stretched out several blocks down Dexter Avenue. The symbolism of the scene was inescapable. At the spot where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated, where George Wallace shouted in his inaugural in 1961, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” the largest civil-rights demonstration in the history of the South sang “We Shall Overcome” — black and white, together — “We are not afraid today.”

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Ten Years Later

In the shadow of the red-brick Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, from whose pulpit Martin Luther King led the bus boycott 10 years earlier, the huge rally was turning into a kind of coronation of the 37-year old minister as spiritual leader of the nation.

“Who is your leader?” the Reverend Ralph Abernathy asked the throng. The answer swelled up. “Martin Luther King!” The only exceptions were veterans of SNCC, who yelled, “De Lawd of Slick.”But even that invidious distortion of SCLC was probably shouted as much in respect as in cynicism.

(The bitterness lurking in the background was based on the fact that SNCC, which had been alone in Dallas County since late 1962, had great difficulty working in harness with King after SCLC took over the Selma campaign in January. There had been serious disputes over strategy and tactics, since King’s basic goal is integration and SNCC’s is a revolution.)

After two hours of speeches by every major leader of the civil-rights movement, King was finally introduced to the crowd. Like the multitude in Washington in 1963, they had become fatigued and restless; many had been awake as long as 20 hours. Overhead, a helicopter and a Piper Cub circled noisily. Behind the platform two dozen green-helmeted Alabama conservation police guarded the steps of the capitol building. Behind them stood a number of members of the Alabama legislature.

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Then King began, his resonant voice and preacher’s alliterative rhythm slowly rousing the audience from boredom. From behind him on the platform came counterpoints of “Amen” and “Tell it, Brother” from other ministers.

In Washington he invoked the phrase, “I have a dream,” the way a blues singer repeats a key phrase. In Montgomery, facing the capitol, it was, “We are on the move now,” that became the launching pad for a series of crescendo-like thrusts.

“We are on the move now,” he said. “The burning of our churches will not deter us. We are on the move now. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now.”

Now the throng responded with shouts of “Yes, Lord,” and “Amen.”

“The beating of our clergymen will not divert us. We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move now, and no wave of racism can stop us.”

King climaxed his speech by repeating four times with rising fervor, “Glory Glory Hallelujah.” And then the cooks, maids, and janitors were crying and cheering at the same time.

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Postlude

There were supposed to be 26 shuttle buses waiting after the rally to ferry demonstrators from the capitol to the airport five miles away. But 21 of the drivers called in sick, and for two hours thousands milled around in a muddy lot a block behind the capitol while fives buses tried to do all the work. There was pushing, shoving, and maneuvering each time a bus pulled in. Finally an SNCC worker with a walkie-talkie told the crowd, “Come on, you’re acting like kids. This ain’t the New York subway.”

By dusk, the troops had disappeared and the last handful, waiting unprotected in the lot, feeling fear for the first time during the day.

Chaos reigned at the airport. Hundreds sprawled on the lawn, picnicking, sleeping and singing. Huge lines pointed to the lavatories and phones; there were no snack counters. All outgoing flights were late.

After an hour’s delay on the VID flight was ready to be boarded, except that there was no ladder available. So for another hour, the 104 weary passengers stood in a cramped line, 20 yards away from the plane, while a ladder was searched – or, as some suspected, hidden.

Meanwhile, a few yards away, the dean of all civil rights leaders, 77-year old Asa Philip Randolph, had collapsed from exhaustion and Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington tended him while dispatching friends to find a doctor. The Montgomery police seemed uninterested.

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“It’s my fault,” Rustin mumbled. “I never should have gotten him up at 2 a.m. and he never should have walked those four miles.”

At 10:45 New York time, the VID flight left the cradle of the Confederacy amid complaints to the Civil Aeronautics Board about the delay and caustic reflections on “Southern hospitality.” There was no singing on the flight back. Most of the passengers slept. A few talked about the future of the civil rights movement, agreeing at the outset that Montgomery was just a skirmish in a long war whose end still lies beyond the rim of history.

Steve Berger, an aide to reform Congressman Jonathan Bingham, said the new voting rights bill was “pretty bad and very poorly drawn.” Others, activists of the movement, thought no legislation could possibly deal with the specter of firing, beating, and murder that faces any Negro who tries to register in the Black Belt. Other militants spoke eagerly of the next battle – the continuing attempt to unseat the five Congressmen from Mississippi by the Freedom Democratic Party.

Elizabeth Sutherland, who works for SNCC in New York, sat reading a private legal memorandum on the proposed voting bill, pointing out all its flaws and loopholes. “I just hope the registrars don’t get their hands on this memo,” she said.

And there was speculation about what would happen in the Black Belt now that the “civil rights tourists,” Dr. King, the federal troops, and the outside journalists were leaving and the Negroes were left alone to confront the Jim Clarks, the racist registrars, and those terrible faces that looked down from those windows.

When the plane landed at Kennedy Airport, its passengers were told it had already happened – murder. Nobody said anything memorable or poetic. They just cursed. ♦

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Huey Without Tears

Huey P. Newton, 1942-1989

WHEN I FIRST met Huey Newton that July of 1967 in San Francisco, I was as intensely in love as only very young women can be. I was captivated by the soft-spoken, enigmatic, bril­liant writer named Eldridge Cleaver I had met that spring. He had come to speak at the Black Student Conference the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had held on the Fisk campus, and as SNCC’s Campus Program secretary, I had spent many hours in his company. In tandem with our commitment to revolutionary change, my romance with Eldridge had blossomed, and following three months of talking on the telephone and exchanging letters, I went out to see him in California.

SNCC’s chairman Stokely Carmichael had inspired a black power movement that was breathing new life into the floundering civil rights struggle. Those of us in SNCC thought that of all the mili­taristic urban groups espousing black power, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense gave flesh and blood to our revo­lutionary ideas, which had outgrown the civil rights arena. Huey’s face-to-face confrontation with police, in which he had shouted, “Draw your gun, pig, and I’ll draw mine!” gave him heroic stature in those days when police were killing blacks with impunity.

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Eldridge had become the minister of information in the phalanx of black revo­lutionaries organized by Huey Newton into the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Huey had heard Eldridge speak on the radio about his program at the Black House — a cultural center he had started — and had promptly asked him to join the Panthers. But the Panthers were an armed organization, and paroled con­victs were prohibited from possessing weapons, so Eldridge’s affiliation was not publicized. He signed the articles he wrote in their newpaper anonymously as “Minister of Information.”

Eldridge’s prison involvement with the Black Muslims had made him the target of harassment, and when he was finally released on parole in December 1966 he became what prison authorities referred to euphemistically as a “special study” case. He was required to report weekly in person to his parole officer. But as a consequence of his having been arrested that May, along with the 21 armed and uniformed Panthers who had marched into the California state capitol in Sacra­mento protesting a new law to ban the carrying of weapons within city limits, Eldridge had been placed under extreme restrictions. When I arrived, he was not allowed to travel outside of San Francisco and was prohibited from making public statements of any kind.

The Panther’s headquarters were in Oakland, but Eldridge risked violating his parole if he were caught driving across the bridge to Oakland. So the Pan­thers regularly trooped over to his studio apartment on Castro Street.

I always knew when Huey was on his way to see us, because his footsteps on the stairs outside were always twice as fast as anyone else’s. He was invariably in a hurry, and rushed into the room full of excitement over the immediate crisis or project he wanted Eldridge’s help on. He usually spoke rapidly, his high-pitched voice rising and falling in a peculiar cadence.

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Huey was not a tall man, nor especially muscular. But his smooth, reddish-brown skin, his large, deep-set dark eyes, and that rakish devil-may-care expression made him extraordinarily appealing. He was handsome, energetic, charming, and fearless. He had a reputation among Oak­land’s toughest street fighters. In this elite company, he was considered the best. But his volatile aggressiveness was enveloped, at least in the company of women, by a gracious, cultivated exterior that concealed all but a glint of his under­lying ferocity.

Bobby Seale and Huey had met at Merritt College in Oakland in a black student organization, part of the bur­geoning “black consciousness” movement that was sweeping college campuses. But unlike many students, neither of them was content to pontificate in relative comfort about the urgent problems facing black communities, to be what Bobby contemptuously referred to as “armchair revolutionaries.” In October 1966, while Bobby and Huey were on the payroll of one of the poverty program projects in Oakland, they founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

They adopted the style and structure of foreign revolutionary organizations, with Huey taking the title of Minister of De­fense, as opposed to President, and Bob­by calling himself Chairman. Bobby Hut­ton, one of the street kids their program was supposed to serve, whom they called “Little Bobby” to distinguish him from Bobby Seale, became their first member and the organization’s treasurer. They modeled the 10-Point Platform and Pro­gram for the Black Panther Party for Self Defense on the Nation of Islam state­ment “What We Want, What We Believe,” that appeared on the back page of every issue of Mohammed Speaks.

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In the wake of the 1965 Watts riot, an organization called the Community Ac­tion Patrol had come into being. Its members, all dressed similarly, drove around the streets of Watts to protect black residents from the type of police abuse that was provoking riots across the country. The image of that group had stuck in Bobby’s and Huey’s minds. Both had been deeply affected by the assassi­nation of Malcolm X and wanted to cre­ate a genuine means for blacks to exercise the self-defense Malcolm had advocated, in particular against the violence perpet­uated by those Huey called “racist dogs”: the police. Oakland’s police, with whom Huey had had his share of run-ins, were renowned in the black neighborhoods for their brutality and arrogance.

The first action they planned was to send out patrols, armed with guns, tape recorders, and law books to follow the police in the streets of Oakland. They consciously sought to destroy the fear the police engendered, confronting them in broad daylight, while openly carrying guns — Huey with a riot shotgun and Bobby with a .45. At the time, California law permitted the open carrying of weap­ons within the city limits, as long as no live round of ammunition was held in the chamber. Huey’s aborted law school ca­reer was sufficient to unlock the secrets hidden within arcane law books.

Huey’s girlfriend at the time, LaVerne, who planned to have a classical music career, did not approve of Huey’s involvement with the Panthers. He was her ac­companist at rehearsals and concerts, and she believed her singing career would be jeopardized if Huey got more involved with the Black Panthers. Bobby Seale, David Hilliard, Bobby Hutton, and other close friends who followed Huey’s lead in forming the party were pulling him in the opposite direction. In those heady days when the Vietnam war was tearing the entire body politic into shreds, its blood­stained reality made social revolution seem like a valid alternative to integra­tion; for many blacks thought that we were trying to get inside a house already on fire.

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I returned to San Francisco again that November, and Eldridge and I got mar­ried. By then, Huey was in the Alameda County Jail, locked in a cell atop the courthouse that sat on the edge of Lake Merritt. In late October 1967, not too long after Che Guevara was killed in Bo­livia, Huey had been jailed for murdering Officer John Frey. Frey had stopped Huey late one evening for a traffic check; and in the ensuing gun battle, Huey’s passenger escaped, Officer Hilliard was wounded, Huey was shot in the stomach, and Frey was killed. Huey was indicted for murder and faced the gas chamber if convicted.

At the time of the shooting, most of the Panthers, including Bobby Seale, were doing time on charges stemming from their arrest in Sacramento. When I got to San Francisco, they no longer had an office; the newspaper had not been published in months; they had no money; and the passage of a law banning the open carrying of weapons had put an end to their patrols. But Huey was facing the gas chamber if nothing was done. So, Eldridge asked me to help him mobilize a defense for Huey. He knew that taking on such a visible role might jeopardize his parole, but, he told me, “Keeping Huey out of the gas chamber is more important than keeping myself out of San Quentin.” By the time of the trial, the support we gathered for Huey had ballooned into a full-fledged “Free Huey” movement.

This momentum led to the rebirth of the organization Huey had started, but now with the abbreviated name the Black Panther Party. No longer a squad of armed men, it became a multipurpose black liberation movement advocating “Power to the People” that took the Leave-It-to-Beaver mentality of white America by surprise, and projected a brand new black image as ferocious and fearless as Huey Newton. Even though he remained behind bars, Huey became a living symbol of the transformation of black America. He was more a legend than a leader. The tumultuous insistence that blacks’ rights be respected, Huey’s need to defend himself, and the Panthers’ political platform of self-defense all com­bined into a powerful message for change.

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Aside from a few brief visits in the county jail, I never saw Huey Newton again. In September 1968 he was convict­ed in a compromise verdict of voluntary manslaughter and sent off to San Luis Obispo to serve his sentence. By then Eldridge was fighting to stay out of pris­on on bail; he, along with five other Pan­thers, faced charges stemming from an­other shoot-out with the Oakland police, in which “Little Bobby” was killed, days after Martin Luther King’s assassination. He lost the court battle and left the coun­try a fugitive. We were reunited in Algeria the following year. In 1971 Huey expelled us from the Black Panther Party by transatlantic telephone call, setting in motion the “split” in the party, one of those violent internal struggles over the the direction of the organization provoked by the FBI’s counterintelligence program. There was no further communication un­til I got a call from him last year. He said he wanted to talk. We agreed to get to­gether. He seemed to have attempted a reconciliation of sorts with some of the people who had loved and fought for him but whom he had perplexed and infuriat­ed by the string of bizarre and brutal episodes that had become his life. But the attempt fizzled.

His murder, like Abbie Hoffman’s sui­cide, gave me a deep sadness. Their deaths, in a sense, serve as an epitaph to the ’60s. Their passion and flamboyance, brilliance and vision defined our era, en­hanced our lives, and changed history — ­but could never calm the insatiable de­mons within that took them away. ■

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1989 Village Voice obituary - remembrance of Huey Newton by Kathleen Cleaver

1989 Village Voice obituary - remembrance of Huey Newton by Kathleen Cleaver

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Education From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Insurrection at Columbia: The Groovy Revolution

FOLD

You could tell something more than springtime was brewing at Columbia by the crowds around the local Chock Full, jumping and gesturing with more than coffee in their veins. You could sense insurrection in the squads of police surrounding the campus like a Navy picket fence. You could see rebellion in the eyes peering from windows where they didn’t belong. And you knew it was revolution for sure, from the trash.

Don’t underestimate the relationship between litter and liberty at Columbia. Until last Thursday, April 23, the university was a clean dorm, where students paid rent, kept the house rules, and took exams. Then the rebels arrived, in an uneasy coalition of hip, black, and leftist militants. They wanted to make Columbia more like home. So they ransacked files, shoved furniture around, plastered walls with paint and placards. They scrawled on blackboards and doodled on desks. They raided the administration’s offices (the psychological equivalent of robbing your mother’s purse) and they claim to have found cigars, sherry, and a dirty book (the psychological equivalent of finding condoms in your father’s wallet).

Of course this is a simplification. There were issues involved in the insurrection which paralyzed Columbia this past week. Like the gymnasium in Morningside Park, or the university’s ties to the Institute for Defense Analysis. But beyond these specifics, the radicals were trying to capture the imagination of their campus by giving vent to some of its unique frustrations. In short, they had raised the crucial question of who was to control Columbia? Four buildings had been “liberated” and occupied by students. The traditional quietism that had been the pride of straight Columbia was giving way to a mood of cautious confrontation. The groovy revolution — one part dogma to four parts joy — had been declared.

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The rebels totaled upward of 900 during peak hours. They were ensconsed behind sofa-barricades. You entered Fayerweather Hall through a ground floor window. Inside, you saw blackboards filled with “strike bulletins,” a kitchen stocked with sandwiches and cauldrons of spaghetti, and a lounge filled with squatters. There was some pot and a little petting in the corridors. But on Friday, the rebellion had the air of a college bar at 2 a.m. In nearby Avery Hall, the top two floors were occupied by architecture students, unaffiliated with SDS, but sympathetic to their demands. They sat at their drawing boards, creating plans for a humanistic city and taping their finished designs across the windows. In Low Library, the strike steering committee and visiting radicals occupied the offices of President Grayson Kirk. On the other side of the campus, the mathematics building was seized late Friday afternoon. The rebels set about festooning walls and making sandwiches. Jimi Hendrix blared from a phonograph. Mao mixed with Montesquieu, “The Wretched of the Earth” mingled with “Valley of the Dolls.”

It was a most eclectic uprising, and a most forensic one as well. The debates on and around the campus were endless. Outside Ferris Booth Hall, two policemen in high boots took on a phalanx of SDS supporters. Near Low Library, a leftist in a lumberjack shirt met a rightist in a London Fog. “You’ve got to keep your people away from here. We don’t want any violence,” said the leftist. “We have been using the utmost restraint,” answered his adversary. “But,” insisted the lumberjack shirt, letting his round glasses slide down his nose, “this gentleman here says he was shoved.”

In its early stages, at least, it was a convivial affair, a spring carnival without a queen. One student, who manned a tree outside Hamilton Hall, had the right idea when he shouted for all to hear: “This is a liberated tree. And I won’t come down until my demands have been met.”

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SPINDLE

Ray Brown stood in the lobby of Hamilton Hall, reading a statement to the press. His followers stood around him, all black and angry. It was 7.30 p.m. Sunday, and the press had been escorted across a barricade of tabletops to stand in the lobby while Brown read his group’s demands. By now, there were dozens of committees and coalitions on the campus, and students could choose from five colors of armbands to express their sympathies (red indicated pro-strike militancy, green meant peace with amnesty, pale blue meant an end to demonstrations, white stood for faculty, and black indicated support for force.)

But no faction worried Columbia’s administrator’s more than the blacks. They had become a political entity at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning when 300 white radicals filed dutifully from Hamilton Hall at the request of the blacks. From that moment, the deserted building became Malcolm X University christened by a sign over the main door. In the lobby were two huge posters of Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. That was all whited were allowed to see of Hamilton Hall. The blacks insisted on holding out alone, but by joining the demands of the people in Harlem and the kids in Low, they added immeasurable power to the student coalition. This is easier explained by considering the University’s alternatives. To discharge the students from Hamilton meant risking charges of racism, and that meant turning Morningside Park into a rather vulnerable DMZ. To eject only the whites would leave the University with the blame for arbitrarily deciding who was to be clubbed and who spared.

In short, the blacks made the Administration think twice. And Ray Brown knew it. He read his statement to the press, and after it was over, looked down at those of us taking notes and muttered, “Clear the hall.” We left.

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There was a second factor in the stalemate and its protraction. The issue of university control raised by the radicals had stirred some of the more vocal faculty members into action. They arrived in force on Friday night, when it became known that police were preparing to move. When the administration issued a one hour ultimatum to the strikers early Saturday morning, concerned faculty members formed an ad hoc committee and placed themselves between the students and the police. This line was defied only once — at 3 a.m. Saturday by two dozen plainclothesmen. A young French instructor was led away with a bleeding head. The administration backed down, again licked its wounds, and waited. It played for time, and allowed the more militant faculty members to expend their energies on futile negotiations. All weekend, the campus radio station, WKCR, broadcast offers for settlement and their eventual rejection. While the Board of Trustees voted to suspend construction of the gymnasium pending further study, they made it clear that their decision was taken at the Mayor’s request, and that they were not acceding to any of the striker’s demands. Over the weekend, factions multiplied and confusion grew on campus. This too played into the administration’s hands. Vice-president David B. Truman blamed the violence, the inconvenience, and the intransigence on the demonstrators. When a line of conservative students formed around Low Library to prevent food from being brought to the protesters, the administration ordered food for the anti-picket line at the school’s expense.

Finally, it called the first formal faculty meeting in anyone’s memory for Sunday morning. But it made certain that only assistant, associate, and full professors were present. With this qualification, the administration assured itself a resolution that would seem to signify faculty support. Alone and unofficial, the ad hoc committee persisted in its demands, never quite grasping its impotence until late Monday night, when word began to reach the campus that the cops would move.

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MUTILATE

At 2.30 Tuesday morning 100 policemen poured on campus. The students were warned of the impending assault when the University cut off telephone lines in all occupied buildings. One by one, the liberated houses voted to respond non-violently.

While plainclothesmen were being transported up Amsterdam Avenue in city buses marked “special,” the uniformed force moved first on Hamilton Hall. The students there marched quietly from their sanctuary after police reached them via the school’s tunnels. There were no visible injuries as they boarded a bus to be led away, and this tranquil surrender spurred rumors that a mutual cooperation pact of sorts had been negotiated between police and black demonstrators.

Things were certainly different in the other buildings. Outside Low Memorial Library, police rushed a crowd of students, clubbing some with blackjacks and pulling others by the hair. “There’s gonna be a lot of bald heads tonight,” one student said.

Uniformed police were soon joined by plainclothesmen, identifiable only by the tiny orange buttons in their lapels. Many were dressed to resemble students. Some carried books, others wore Coptic crosses around their necks. You couldn’t tell, until they started to operate, that they were cops.

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At Mathematics Hall, police broke through the ground floor window and smashed the barricade at the front door. Students who agreed to surrender peacefully were allowed to do so with little interference. They walked between rows of police, through Low Plaza, and into vans that lined College Walk. In the glare of the floodlights which normally light that part of the campus at night, it looked like a bizarre pogrom. Platoons of prisoners appeared, waving their hands in victory signs and singing “We Shall Overcome.” A large crowd of sympathizers were separated from the prisoners by a line of police, but their shouts of “Kirk Must Go” rocked the campus. Police estimated that at least 628 students were jailed, 100 of them women. Officials at nearby Saint Luke’s Hospital reported that 74 students were admitted for treatment. This figure did not include those who were more seriously injured, since these were removed to Knickerbocker Hospital by ambulance. Three faculty members were reportedly hurt.

Many of the injuries occurred among those students who refused to leave the buildings. Police entered Fayerweather and Mathematics Halls and dragged limp students down the stairs. The sound of thumping bodies was plainly audible at times (demonstrators had waxed the floors to hamper police). Many emerged in masks of vaseline applied to ward off the effects of Mace. Police made no attempt to gas the demonstrators. But some of those who had barricaded themselves in classrooms reported that teams of police freely pummeled them. A line heard by more than one protester, as the police moved to dislodge groups linking arms, was “Up against the wall, motherfuckers.”

There was no example of incredible police brutality visible at Columbia on Tuesday morning. It was all credible brutality. Plainclothesmen occasionally kicked limp demonstrators, often with quick jabs in the stomach. I saw students pulled away by the hair, scraped against broken glass, and when they proved difficult to carry, beaten repeatedly. Outside Mathematics Hall, a male student in a leather jacket was thrown to the ground when he refused to walk and beaten by a half dozen officers while plainclothesmen kept reporters at a distance. When he was finally led away, his jacket and shirt had been ripped from his back.

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The lounge at Philosophy Hall, which had been used by the ad hoc faculty committee as an informal senate, became a field hospital. Badly injured students lay on beds and sofas while stunned faculty members passed coffee, took statements, and supplied bandages. The most violent incidents had occurred nearby, in Fayerweather Hall, where many students who refused to leave were dragged away bleeding from the face and scalp. Medical aides who had moved the injured to a nearby lawn trailed the police searching for bleeding heads. “Don’t take him, he’s bleeding,” you heard them shout. Or: “Pick her up, stop dragging her.”

The cries of the injured echoed off the surrounding buildings and the small quad looked like a battlefield. Those who were awaiting arrest formed an impromptu line. Facing the police, they sang a new verse to an old song:

“Harlem shall awake,
Harlem shall awake,
Harlem shall awake someday … ”

Though two of Mayor Lindsay’s top aides, Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, had been present throughout the night, neither was seen to make any restraining move toward the police. Commissioner Leary congratulated his men. And University President Grayson Kirk regretted that even such minimal violence was necessary.

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By dawn, the rebellion had ended. Police cleared the campus of remaining protesters by charging, nightsticks swinging, into a large crowd which had gathered around the sundial. Now, the cops stood in a vast line across Low Library Plaza. Their boots and helmets gleamed in the floodlights. Later in the morning, a reporter from WKCR would encounter some of these arresting officers at the Tombs, where the prisoners were being held. He would hear them singing “We Shall Overcome,” and shouting, “victory.”

At present, it is difficult to measure the immediate effects Tuesday’s police intervention will have on the university. Most students are too stunned to consider the future. On Tuesday morning they stood in small knots along Broadway, stepping around the horse manure and watching the remaining policemen leave. Their campus lay scarred and littered. Walks were inundated with newspapers, beer cans, broken glass, blankets, and even discarded shoes. Flower-beds had been trampled and hedges mowed down in some places. Windows were broken in at least three buildings and whole classrooms had been demolished.

It would take a while to make Columbia beautiful again. That, most students agreed. And some insisted that it would take much longer before the university would seem a plausible place to teach or study in again. The revolution had begun and ended in trash, and that litter would persist to haunt Columbia, and especially its president, Grayson Kirk.

1968 Village Voice article by Richard Goldstein about the student revolt at Columbia University

1968 Village Voice article by Richard Goldstein about the student revolt at Columbia University

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Equality From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

March on Washington: The View from the Front of the Bus

“There’s no place for Uncle Tom on this bus, man.” The voice of the Negro echoed down the neon bathed Harlem street as he mounted the steps of Bus 10 ready to start for Washington.

It was 2 a. m. on the morning of August 28. Anticipation hovered quietly over the 24 buses that lined both sides of 125th Street. Cars and cabs stopped more and more frequently to pour forth bundle-laden, sleepy Marchers. Black, white, old, young zigzagged back and forth across the street trying to find their assigned buses. Bus cap­tains marked by yellow ribbons and rumpled passenger lists stood guard at the bus doors. Small groups huddled around them.

Voices arose above the general din.

“You’ve got to switch me to Bus 10. It’s a swingin’ bus. There’s nothin’ but old ladies on this crate.”

“Hey, is this bus air-condi­tioned?”

“Where can I get seat reservations?”

“Hey, chick, are you on this bus?”

“Yeah.”

“Is your husband on this bus?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s all right. I’ll make love to both of you. I’m com­patible.”

“Who the hell is on this bus?” cried George Johnson, the exasperated 30-year-old Negro captain of Bus 10 and organizer of New York CORE’s 24-bus caravan. “People shouldn’t be swapping buses, especially CORE members. It only adds to the confusion. Now everybody get in a seat and stay there. You can’t save seats. This isn’t a cocktail party.”

The reaction to George’s gruffness was a tongue-in-cheek par­ody of the Mr. Charlie routine. “Yassir, anything you say, sir.”

“Don’t you fret now, Mr. George.” “Don’t you go upsetting yourself, boss.” “You knows I always listen to you captain sir.”

There was a general shuffling of bundles on the bus. Index cards with emergency Washington phone numbers were filled out and kept by everyone. “Sit-In Song Books” were passed back.

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Symptomatic Ode   

Outside the window of Bus 10 an old Negro was standing with outstretched arms reciting an impromptu ode to the Black Woman. “Black Woman, you are the queen of the universe. I would give my life for you.” This was less comic than symp­tomatic. It was just one of many signs of the racial pride which is now surging through the Ne­gro people.

A young Negro in the seat behind me, when asked why he was going on this March, re­plied, “Because it’s like your sweater. It’s Black. It’s for the cause. If my people are in it, I am going to be in it fighting, even if I get killed.”

Outside the window of Bus 10 was also a more extreme reminder of this racial pride. Young members of the Black Muslims, neatly dressed in suits and ties, were hawking copies of Muhammad Speaks. This paper is the official statement of the Black Muslim philosophy: Black is beautiful; Black is best; Black must be separate from white.

I swing off the bus to ask the young Muslim if he was going to Washington. With a faint trace of a smile on his lips, he an­swered, “No, ma’am. I have to sell papers. You people go to Washington.” The implication was clear: he was too busy working for his own cause — sep­aration — to be bothered working for integration.

An older man, converted to a Muslim later in life, was not so emotionally untouched by the March and what it stood for. When I asked him why the Muslims were not participating in the March, he gave all the prop­er answers. He said: “The Messenger has not spoke. If he says nothing, we sit still. If he says go, we go.” But then, asked if as an individual rather than a Muslim he would have gone, he replied: “I would have gone.”

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‘A Mockery’

Moving through the crowd, I encountered a Negro I knew to be a fence-sitter between the Muslim and integrationist philosophies. I asked him why he had decided to come on the March. He said, “It’s like St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish. I came out of respect for what my people are doing, not because I believe it will do any good. I thought it would do some good at the beginning, but when the March started to get all the of the official approval from Mastah Kennedy, Mastah Wagner, and Mastah Spellman, and they started setting limits on how we had to march peacefully, I knew that the March was going to be a mockery. That they were giving us something again. They were letting the niggers have their day to get all this nonsense out of their system, and then planning to go back to things usual. Well, if the white man continues to sleep, continues to ignore the intensity of the black man’s feelings and desires, all hell is going to break loose.”

Moving back toward the bus I almost crashed into George Johnson. With a certain Hollywood director flourish, he was telling the driver to rev up the engine. George was being interviewed for radio, and they wanted the sound of departure. Followed by interviewers trailing microphone wires, George shouted, “I feel good because the Negroes are on the march and nothing is going to stop us.” With that, he boarded the bus, signaled the driver, and we began to move. It was 3:40 a. m.

The 49 passengers on Bus 10 settled back. Among them were 10 CORE members, including Omar Ahmed and Wayne Kinsler, both typical of Harlem’s Angry Young Men. Present also were 10 unemployed workers sent to Washington on money raised by CORE to protest the lack of jobs. Also among the pas­sengers were Jim Peck, author of the book “The Freedom Riders,” who took a severe beat­ing on one of the first freedom rides into the Deep South; six members of the Peace Corps who were scheduled to leave for Nigeria; three interviewers from French television, with cameras and sound equipment; and a slightly jaded reporter and a cameraman from the Herald Tribune, both of whom had seen too many Clark Gable reporter movies.

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People began to talk and to question one another. Sue Brook­way, a white member of the Peace Corps, was standing in the aisle speaking to George Johnson. She said, “I think the biggest influence of the March will be to create a greater na­tional awareness of the issue and get more people to make a commitment to the cause. Although I agreed with CORE’s goals, it never occurred to me to become active before this. But now I would join if I weren’t going to Nigeria.”

Omar Ahmed, who had overheard the word Nigeria, turned around in his seat and said, “The Negro on this March has to be very glad of the existence of the Soviet Union. This govern­ment is so worried about wooing the African and Asian mind that it may even give the Negro what he wants.”

“I don’t think the Civil Rights Bill will get through,” commented George Johnson from his seat across the aisle. “I have no faith in the white man. Even Kennedy & Kennedy Inc. isn’t doing this for humanitarian reasons but for political ones.”

After a moment he continued: “CORE has been criticized for its new tactics of civil disobedience. Well, as far as I’m concerned, anything done to get our rights is O.K. It’s remark­able that the Negro has taken it this long.”

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‘A New Negro’

The whites in the group were startled at the vehemence in George’s statement. Omar, not­ing their expressions, attempted to explain. “The white power structure has bred a New Negro,” he said, “and he is angry and impatient. It’s not just the Black Muslims. It’s the man on the street. Come down to Har­lem some night and listen to what’s being said on the street corners. The cops go through and you can see fear on their faces. This isn’t Birmingham. If anyone starts anything, we won’t be passive.”

The kids in the four adjacent seats were twisted around in their chairs listening. Heads pressed together, they formed a roundtable, minus the table. Into this group came Wayne Kins­ler, a 19-year-old Negro. He perched on one of the seat arms. Some crumbled cookies and overripe fruit were passed around.

The discussion turned to the Peace Corps. Frank Harman was asked why, since he was white, he wanted to go to Nigeria. He replied, “I want to go to help these people because they are human beings.”

Suddenly Wayne shouted, “If this thing comes to violence, your’s will be the first throat we slit. We don’t need your kind. Get out of our organization.”

Completely baffled by the outburst, Frank kept repeating the questions, “What’s he talking about? What did I say?”

Wayne, straining forward tensely, screamed, “We don’t need any white liberals to patronize us!”

Other Negroes joined in. “We don’t trust you.” “We don’t believe you’re sincere.” “You’ll have to prove yourself.”

Frank shouted back, ”I don’t have to prove myself to anyone except myself.”

“We’ve been stabbed in the back too many times.”

“The reason white girls come down to civil rights meetings is because they’ve heard of the black man’s reputation of sex.”

“The reason white guys come down is because they want to rebel against their parents.”

“I’ll tell you this, proving that he is sincere when he is working in the civil rights groups is the last chance the white man has got to keep this thing from exploding.”

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Little Comprehension

The other passengers were urging us to stop the argument. Eventually we did. In the lull that followed, the reactions of the whites were mixed. The most widespread one was complete lack of understanding as to why this had all started. There was little comprehension of the effect words like “help you” or “work for you,” with all their connotations of the Great-White-Father attitude, could have on the bristling black pride. Another attitude was one of revul­sion at the ugliness which had been exhibited. Still others saw the argument as a sign that the walls between the races were beginning to come down, that people were really beginning to communicate instead of hiding behind masks of politeness. They felt that with a greater knowl­edge of one another’s sensitivities, lack of understanding, and desires, it would be easier for the white liberal and the black man to work together.

People began to relax and joke again. Gradually they drifted off into an exhausted sleep. Bus 10 rolled on in silence.

With the coming of dawn, the French TV men started blinding everyone with their lights and interviewing those people who could speak French. Being Gal­lic, they made sure to get shots of the romantic duos pillowed against one another. Not to be left out, the Herald Tribune‘s cameraman picked up his light meter and cord and started doing a mock interview of the interviewers.

Someone cheerfully yelled, “Everybody sing.”

He was quickly put down by a voice from the lower depths: “You’re nuts! At seven o’clock sane people don’t even talk.”

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On we went. Sleeping, talking, anticipating. We passed other buses full of heads covered with caps printed with their organizations’ names. On our right was a beat-up old cab with six peo­ple in it and March on Washing­ton posters plastered on all its doors.

At 10:30 — Washington. The city seemed strangely quiet and de­serted except for a few groups of Negro children on corners. They stared curiously at the unending caravan of buses. Police and MPs were everywhere. Traffic moved swiftly. We parked at 117th and Independ­ence, and the people of Bus 10 merged with the crowd moving up the street. The March was on.

The day was full of TV cam­eras, spontaneous singing, speeches, clapping, the green and white striped news tent, the P. A. system blasting “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the ominous Red Cross symbol on a medical tent, March marshals with bright yellow arm bands and little white Nehru hats, the Freedom Walkers in faded blue overalls, Catholic priests in solemn black, posters proclaiming Freedom Now, feet soaking in the reflecting pool, portable drinking fountains, varicolored pennants and hats, warm Pepsi-Cola, the blanket of humanity sprawled in undignified dignity, a Nigerian student with his head bent in prayer, and the echo of Martin Luther King’s phrase: “I have a dream … ”

It was over. The bus moved out slowly. This time there were Negroes on every doorstep. As we passed, they raised their fingers in the victory sign. They clasped their hands over their heads in the prizefighter’s traditional gesture. They clapped. They cheered. They smiled and the smile was reflected back from the buses. On bus 10 there was no one sitting at the back of the bus. All the seats were in the front.

“We’ll be back,” said George Johnson. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll bring 500,000. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll bring all 20 million.”

SEPT_05_1963_VILLAGE VOICE article about THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Marlene Nadle

SEPT_05_1963_VILLAGE VOICE article about THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Marlene Nadle

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Malcolm X Factor

Looking For Malcolm: The Man and the Meaning Behind the Icon
May, 29, 1990

Brothers and sisters, we have to talk.

There I was, hanging on the corner of 14th Street and Eighth Avenue, when a low-riding brother and his lady friend strode by, deep in discussion about some­thing very, very, very important. Words and emphasis were, of course, flying every­where, making it impossible to miss this: “That shit was Malcolm.” Meaning, I knew, hype, dope, nice, right, real, as in best. In the ever-evolving vernacular, Mal­colm X has come to mean the real (black) thing, the authentic (black) thing, as close to (black) integrity as close can be.

Just look at all the T-shirts, the buttons, the photographs, the records, the film and video appearances. Public Enemy’s sam­pling him, Spike Lee’s quoting him, Tracy Chapman’s showing him — the young and the black are loving him. Malcolm is to­day’s black hero, a black ideal for turbulent times: the steely mirror image we want our­selves to see. We think we want his words too: Pass the tables on the street and you can hear his words proving some sect’s point; listen to the radio, and Rev Sharpton or somebody else is invoking his name to prove somebody’s truth — our truth — in black soundbites, as black as kente cloth. We wear him this way to celebrate our­selves, because Malcolm was what we want to be — a Black person with integrity in a country that doesn’t value the quality very much, especially when its bearer is Black.

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But there are some hard-to-answer ques­tions floating amid the jubilation. Like: Do many of us know Malcolm story(s)? Like: What does “the real (black) thing” mean to us, anyway? Black Integrity has, after all, a very packed — and vague — significance in our collective consciousness, precisely be­cause we haven’t been able to, and maybe never will, figure out what we want Black to mean. What does Malcolm mean to us? And now we’ve gone and attached our strange notion of Black Integrity to Malcolm’s pho­tograph, and thereby constructed a compli­cated, and decidedly vaporous, memory: Malcolm the Essential Black Man, Malcolm the brown and determined and incorrupt­ible and empty face.

Take a step back and look and see: To­day, 25 years after Malcolm’s murder, home folk promote him as the truest black American that ever lived. So true, in fact, that his aspect has taken on an almost reli­gious significance. No joke: pause for a moment and compare the way many of us consider Malcolm to the way Byzantine churchgoers viewed their religious icons, images that flattened out and hid the per­sonalities of their original personages in order to better communicate an accepted religious message. Just as iconography in a Byzantine church reminds the viewer of a body of stories, rules, morals, et cetera s/he’s already supposed to know, Malcolm’s icon should front a traditional story agreed upon by the community. But the young leaders of our Black tribe have attempted to canonize Malcolm without theoretical, ideological, or religious grounding — with­out, in short, connection to, or reflection on, any community-made story(s) by which to define him.

Today Malcolm is, instead, a religious icon without a religion — a vague memory-­image invoked at gatherings and services and rallies as the epitome of the black fight­ing spirit, and by implication, of Blackness. Making little reference to his place in the flow of history, to the complexity of his ideas (which changed over the course of his life), or to his relationship to political pro­genitors, the community’s voices paint Malcolm X in (un)fairly simple, static terms: Malcolm was an African-style town crier who told the truth. Malcolm played the heavy to Martin Luther King’s softy. Malcolm was grass roots, while the other civil rights leaders were bourgie Uncles. Malcolm was “clear” when everyone else was cloudy. The descriptions tend to sug­gest a Black Integrity, an unexplained, and mostly romantic, concept.

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Any people that considers itself a people needs the kind of figure Malcolm cut in life, a figure whose first fidelity is to the tribe, and upon whose bones the tribe can always hang its clothes. Figures, for example, like the Byzantines’ St. George, who’s reappear­ing all over the Soviet Union’s Russian communities as a symbol of the life of the Russian tribe, showing that it still proudly exists. Use of symbols like Malcolm X and St. George allows members to proclaim themselves without explaining everything: Those who should know, know. You know? But fact is, Malcolm’s iconographic status among black people is, as of this writing, so unexamined by us, so unaccompanied by black story or exegesis, as to be nearly va­cant, and utterly manipulable.

And it’s being manipulated plenty. In these changing times, when my bourgie ho­mies from the Ivy League are in less contact with their poorest brethren than at any point in American history, when cleavages in “the black community” are as wide as they’ve ever been, Malcolm’s image pro­vides a stretched-out, nationalist umbrella for us all. This “unity” hides, rather than acknowledges, our own differences. Ah! but sneaking under that umbrella is oh so se­ductively easy — especially when taking out coverage from the hostile white world is as simple as buying a T-shirt. I own several, but I favor the one a friend gave me: on the front, Malcolm with an AK-47 and the words “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”; on the back, the pronouncement “IT’S A BLACK THING! YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND.” Never mind the fact that Malcolm purchased the gun to defend himself from black Muslim attack — just check out the message, people. The “you” on back is clearly whitefolk, who are being told that they are not part of the club because the club is black. So the shirt’s the badge. Of blackness. So there. Which makes it useful to a bad brown man leading a city just as badly as the bad pink man before him: Flash the Malcolm memo­ry and you’re as proudly black as the im­poverished and angry 20-year-old sister with a fifth-grade education and a baby with a hightop fade in her arms. Yes, yes, y’all, both the mayor and the sista (and her baby) are Black. But, so what?

If we are to treat Malcolm as a symbol of blackness — as, in fact, the Essential Black Man — we basically have to figure (I) what Black means to us, and (2) what Malcolm means to us and what he doesn’t mean. Do we focus on what we think is important about his life, without regard to how he changed over his lifetime? Should Malcolm the icon mean Malcolm’s life story or his politics? Or both? Wrestling with these questions might even help us figure out what we’re saying when we use the term Black. And maybe such discussion will move us away from the dubious religion of “essential Blackness,” and toward thinking that it’s all much harder than that — just as hard, in fact, as pinpointing a meaning to Malcolm X, or to the Black “we,” or to the Black “I.” These concerns are not as aca­demic as they sound.

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In a world where identity is so often a function of national/tribal allegiance, or of the denial of those things, the proclamation of “I am” without a nation, or an agree­ment not to have a nation, is bound to be so confused as to be, well, silly. We can’t know who “I am” is without knowing who we are. And, we can’t do shit without knowing who “I” is.

As it stands, the Malcolm icon assumes all kinds of undiscussed information, beg­ging the question. In these times, is black identity, as represented by Malcolm’s icon, an adequate instrument for negotiating self­-understanding, our survival?

Brothers and sisters, we need to talk.  

But how do we begin? First by checking out the the place where “Black” was con­structed: in white consciousness, in the white conflation of black resistance and black criminality. (The ancestors came here and then became Black.) Up jumped the Boogeyman: the evildoer from the dark side, the angry true-blood black alien who’s coming to get you (whitey), with cruel vengeance. Just look and you see him — and it’s invariably a him — stuck in all kinds of white conjuring, all over the white Ameri­can imagination. See: WhiteFilm’s King Kong and WhitePolitics’s Willie Horton and Whitefiction’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, published just two years after Malcolm X’s assassination. “As a child I had nightmares about Nat,” said author Wil­liam Styron, who was raised in Virginia, close to where the revolt took place. “I grew up with the tale.”

Whereas Malcolm X learned about Nat Turner in prison. In his autobiography, Malcolm talks about what Nat Turner made him feel:

I read about the slave preacher Nat Turner, who put the fear of God into the white slave­-master Nat Turner wasn’t going around preaching pie-in-the-sky and “non-violent” freedom for the black man … Somewhere I have read where Nat Turner’s example is said to have inspired John Brown to invade Virginia and attack Harper’s Ferry nearly thirty years later, with thirteen white men and five Negroes.

A few pages later, Malcolm notes, “It was right there in prison that I made up my mind to devote the rest of my life to telling the white man about himself — or die.” Imbedded in his telling of the Turner tale is a dramatic rejection of the white construc­tion of Blackness, as well as a number of other radical projects: to resist white supre­macism, to reclaim the right to resist, to put fear in the hearts of white people, and per­haps most surprisingly, to tell the white man about himself. The Boogeyman figure makes, of course, this last desire only so radical — whites, after all, have seemingly enjoyed being thrilled by black anger. Even so, Malcolm spent a good amount of his thought (and time) making whites listen, and they did with much fascination. They could not ignore the Boogeyman actually speaking his mind before them.

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White attention and discomfort are the keys to understanding Malcolm’s signifi­cance in black eyes. To put it simply, the principal reasons behind Malcolm X’s suc­cess as a Hector of black self-respect, and particularly, of black male self-respect, were his attempts before white audiences to turn the unwanted Boogeyman into the proud Essential Black Man. “Malcolm was our manhood, our living black manhood,” eu­logized Ossie Davis at Malcolm’s funeral. Later, Davis said, “[He] was refreshing ex­citement; he scared hell out of the rest of us, bred as we are to caution, to hypocrisy in the presence of whitefolks, to the smile that never fades.” Not only did Malcolm tell whites off, he heartily chastized black people for acceding to white ideas about African-Americans. In place of the white­-man’s Boogeyman, Malcolm put forward himself, and the Nation of Islam, as the real examples of the spirit of black resistance, the supposed “heart” of American black identity. In countless speeches, Malcolm announced “I’m a field Negro,” indicating to anyone with ears that he was proud of his resistant and basic blackness, his fightin’ Negro/Essential Black Man-ness.

It’s not surprising, then, that Malcolm’s icon finds its textual counterpart in Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A smoothly laid-out, quasi-mythological ac­count of Malcolm’s life, the book resembles the Biblical Saul-to-Paul story — Malcolm as a lost man who finds his way to truth through two revelations: first, the embrace of his black Muslim identity; second, the embrace of human commonality.

“If it were not for that book,” Alex Haley told me, “by now I suspect Malcolm’s life would be a pastiche of apocryphal stories. A jello of stories.” The stories in Haley’s book come from one source, Malcolm X. “One of the understandings that we had from the beginning, and it was followed to the letter, was — and this was his stipula­tion — that the book would not contain any­thing he didn’t want in it. And I respected that absolutely,” says Haley. What resulted is a true autobiography, a life story almost entirely manipulated by its bearer, Mal­colm X, in order “to help people to appre­ciate better how Mr. Muhammad salvages black people.” Malcolm’s project was to make his life, once written down, the prin­cipal testament to Muhammad’s Truth, a combination of holy text and ex-slave narrative.

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And thanks to this strategy, black folks who’re looking to put flesh to Malcolm’s icon (and many don’t even try) have a book that gives them — and particularly the black male — a model for being black. Inevitably the autobiography also suffers from the agenda; tailored to make points, the book ultimately fails as a comprehensive life-­and-times telling. Malcolm knew this, and offered, after his break with Muhammed, to remake the story along post-Nation, hu­manist lines. But Alex Haley vigorously dis­couraged his subject from making changes, suggesting instead that Malcolm tack on the story of his Mecca trip. That addition — a second strategy — confuses the first strategy by recasting Malcolm’s Black Muslim reve­lation in Black humanist light. What, we just have to ask is: what did Malcolm really stand for? Ultimately, the autobiography says too many different things to be politi­cally or religiously pedagogical, in a coher­ent way. And it ends up concealing Mal­colm X.

Read the autobiography alongside Mal­colm’s speeches, or against some of his var­ious proto-biographies, and its holes be­come plain. Just a few days before his death, Malcolm told a Harlem audience about the Nation’s — and his — involvement with the Ku Klux Klan:

I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m going to tell you the truth. I sat at the table myself with the heads of the Ku Klux Klan. I sat there myself, with the heads of the Ku Klux Klan, who at that time were trying to negotiate with Elijah Muhammad so that they could make available to him a large area of land in Georgia or I think it was South Carolina. They had some very responsible persons in the government who were involved in it and who were willing to go along with it. They wanted to make this land available to him so that his program of separation would sound more feasible to Negroes and there­fore lessen the pressure that the integration­ists were putting upon the white man. I sat there. I negotiated it. I listened to their offer. And I was the one who went back to Chicago and told Elijah Muhammad what they had offered. Now, this was in December of 1960 …

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What Malcolm relates in this passage is deep: In an effort to secure a separate black homeland, the Nation of Islam had taken part in secret negotiations with the Klan, when the group was killing black people. But this important event is absent in our collective (mis)understanding of the man, and in our projection of him. And though it doesn’t invalidate Malcolm’s spirit of resis­tance, it ought to force a rethinking of Mal­colm’s form of resistance: Is the kind of nationalism Malcolm espoused during most of his career naïve, and racist, by nature? Maybe. It’s plain, my people, that facts like these make any simple equations of Mal­colm and Black Integrity very foolish in­deed. And to figure things out, we need more than the iconographic flesh the offi­cial history — the autobiography — supplies.

Brothers and sisters, we have to talk.

What would help is some voices, voices that help us better see the actual man. Though Alex Haley’s epilogue gives an overview of Malcolm’s life and reveals the process of making the autobiography, Mal­colm’s book does not provide a second opinion of the man (how could we expect it to?). Thing is, the black intelligentsia has failed to fill the void, which has led to problems: On the one hand, Malcolm’s flaws — most notably his sexism — go unex­amined, and on the other hand, Malcolm’s legacy gets shaped by those who do choose to write about him. Inside the black com­munity there’s too little critiquing, and out­side of it, there’s more than we can handle.

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Malcolm’s attitudes toward women, for example, are perfect subject matter for a black feminist critique, but the critics are quiet, or being ignored. You only have to turn to Malcolm’s autobiography to eyeball Malcolm’s straight-up anti-woman senti­ments, but rarely are they acknowledged by the community. Listen to Malcolm, for in­stance, on why men visited the prostitutes he befriended as a young man:

Domineering, complaining, demanding wives who had just about psychologically castrated their husbands were responsible for the early rush. These wives were so disagree­able and had made their men so tense that they were robbed of the satisfaction of being men. More wives could keep their hus­bands if they realized their [husbands] greatest urge is to be men.

Men see prostitutes because their wives, with their hen-pecking ways and their disre­spect for mens’ manliness, drive them to it. To this Malcolm later adds, “All women, by their nature, are fragile and weak: They are attracted to the male in whom they see strength,” a thought echoed in one of his last speeches. “[The press does] know that if something were to happen and all these [NOI] brothers, their eyes were to come open, they would be right out here in every one of these civil rights organizations mak­ing these Uncle Tom Negro leaders stand up and fight like men instead of running around here nonviolently acting like wom­en.” Again, women are weak. While Mal­colm’s sexist stance was shared by many of his contemporaries, his equating of the in­tegrity of black manhood with the integrity of the race makes the sexism more trou­bling. Is this the kind of thinking we cele­brate when we celebrate Malcolm X? Yes, if we don’t critique the man, and interpret his self-made history. We simply need more critiques.

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And the critiques must come from us, because we already have several non-Black voices framing Malcolm’s textual legacy. Most prominent among them is the Social­ist Workers’ Party, a Trotskyite group that has long embraced African-American strug­gle as revolutionary. In July of 1939, the SWP — with the encouragement of Trinida­dian Marxist C. L. R. James and the blessings of Trotsky himself — had adopted a res­olution entitled “The SWP and Negro Work,” which began: “The American Ne­groes, for centuries the most oppressed sec­tion of American society and the most dis­criminated against, are potentially the most revolutionary element of the population. They are designated by their whole histori­cal past to be, under adequate leadership, the very vanguard of the proletarian revolu­tion.” The document goes on to argue that the SWP must help form this adequate leadership “through the work of the party among the Negroes and in wider fields in­fluencing the Negro masses to recognize in the SWP the only party that is genuinely working for their complete emancipation from the heavy burdens they have borne so long.” In one stroke, the SWP had begun, according to its own literature, “to present the only consistently revolutionary attitude to black nationalism when that tendency began to assume mass proportions in the 1960s.”

Through two decades the party diligently pursued its objectives, and when Malcolm appeared on the scene, they were ready. By covering Malcolm’s activities in their news­paper, The Militant, and, after his break with the NOI, by offering him places to speak, the SWP tried to help Malcolm throughout his career. The party even helped care for his family after the assassination. “Checks came in from all over the United States and [they] just said, ‘Buy milk for Malcolm’s babies,’ ” says Mal­colm’s widow, Betty Shabazz. “No strings attached.” Shabazz eventually signed an agreement permitting SWP’s Pathfinder Press to publish her husband’s speeches, many of which they have faithfully kept in circulation. They’re white, and they’re Marx­ists, and for 25 years they’ve been doing the most of anyone to foster Malcolm’s legacy.

Yo, we black folk should be ashamed. The SWP also does its critical work: in the form of introductions to the speeches Path­finder publishes, in the form of analyses of the man’s politics, in the form of discussion groups about the meaning of his life. They’re making a Malcolm all their own. It should come as no surprise, then, that their critical approach, while recognizing Mal­colm’s anti-white supremacy project, places emphasis on his last year, underlin­ing an increasing openness to the possibility of working with white revolutionaries, and of adopting ideas important to Trotskyites: anti-imperialism, internationalism, militant activism, and political organization. Ac­cordingly, Pathfinder’s flagship text, Mal­colm X Speaks, contains only one speech made prior to Malcolm’s break with the Nation, while their The Last Year of Mal­colm X provides an excellent explanation of the last year’s speeches from their own point of view. Can’t blame them too much; the’re just doing their jobs. And we aren’t.

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Brothers and sisters, we got to talk.

Surely, the words of a man held sacred by the African-American community should be considered by that community, and wrestled with by that community. Where are the Black Muslim speeches Malcolm made prior to his break with Muhammad? There are smatterings published in Path­finder’s books, or they’re out of print, or they (mostly) have never been published. And where are the black biographical maps that would interpret Malcolm’s words­ — and life — from “a black perspective?” Writing in the VLS (July, 1989), scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. observed:

Although over 300 collective black biogra­phies were published between the late 18th century and the middle of the 20th, and despite the fact that ours is one of the very few traditions in which writers can establish themselves as authors and spokespersons by publishing their autobiographies as first books (autobiography remains the dominant genre in the African-American tradition), only a handful of black writers have recreat­ed the lives and times of other blacks.

The dearth of frank, black discussions of Malcolm X, is, to put it plainly, scandalous. The crisis of quiet in our community extends far beyond any discussion of Mal­colm X. We simply don’t talk honestly enough to one another — the legacy, perhaps, of always whispering when Massa was around. We’re still afraid of who’s looking. “Edit the negative and hold the line!” cries much of the local, and certainly the nation­al, black press. “Edit the negative!” And as a result, ain’t any national places for black writer/thinkers to lay down thoughts for general consumption. Let’s move toward a black perestroika. It’s a wicked irony that Malcolm’s legacy should suffer from our tendency to keep quiet: He spent, afterall, his lifetime trying to raise his (Black) voice. Ours, too. And so we answer with silence, out of fear (of whitefolks, of blasphemy, of tribal traitorism, of losing the badge, of splitting up the community), and we treat Malcolm’s image as a kind of precious cur­rency, hiding his philosophies and leaving his thoughts largely un-critiqued and unengaged.

If we talk, maybe we can put a story to his face, and maybe we can come up with a coherent meaning — a meaning for today — ­of Blackness. Look around, my people, and deal with it: Black masks just ain’t working right. We got to look at each other, and we got to check out the mirror, and we got to see what we see. Malcolm’s face is a fine place to start: We only have Malcolm, and ourselves, to fear. ■

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Revolution in D Minor: How the Czech Philharmonic Toppled Communism

Revolution in D Minor: How the Czech Philharmonic Toppled Communism
June 19, 1990

On December 14, 1989, the leading sym­phony orchestra of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Philharmonic, gave a concert at Smetana Hall in Prague. It was probably the most famous concert in the history of that country. The orchestra played Beetho­ven’s Ninth Symphony. Václav Neumann, the Philharmonic’s principal conductor, was at the podium.

People in the hall were delirious with happiness. The overthrow of communism was halfway completed, already the communists were vacating seats in the govern­ment, and leaders of the prodemocracy Civic Forum were taking over one post after another.

Mr. Neumann wore a big Civic Forum pin in his lapel. The last notes of Beetho­ven’s final movement, the “Ode to Joy,” with its parts for chorus and solo singers, died away, and Václav Havel came on stage. Mr. Havel was not yet the president of his country; a communist still occupied that office. But everyone knew that Mr. Havel was the leader of the Civic Forum and ought to be president, and probably would be soon enough, once the last of the communists were finally pushed out.

Mr. Havel introduced the new Civic Fo­rum members of the government, who were sitting in the audience. He introduced the new foreign minister, Jirí Dienstbier, an old jail-mate of Mr. Havel’s and a famous dissi­dent. Mr. Dienstbier was sitting in the box of honor. And at the sight of the victorious dissidents sitting in the hall, the audience, the musicians, the chorus, the solo sing­ers — everyone, thrilled, applauded ecstatically.

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Three tiny paragraphs about this concert appeared in The New York Times the next day. Naturally the Times concentrated on the important political leaders like Mr. Ha­vel and Mr. Dienstbier. But in the last of the paragraphs the article turned to the orchestra.

In the reporter’s stony prose: “The members of the Czech Philharmonic are among the heroes of what Czechoslovaks have tak­en to refer to matter of factly as ‘our revolution.’ They were the first artistic en­semble to go on strike and have played several concerts as benefits for striking students.”

That was the orchestra’s entire mention. Then the Times went on to other things. The concert, the conductor’s Civic Forum pin, Mr. Havel’s introductions from the Smetana Hall stage, the “exuberant” ap­plause from a “jubilant house” — these de­tails sparkled for an instant and disap­peared into the waterfall of amazing information that has come pouring out of the countries of Eastern Europe.

Historical events as vast as the overthrow of world communism can be analyzed on a cosmic scale, the way astronomers study the universe by peering at whole galaxies. Or they can be analyzed in miniature, by focusing on a molecule.

Here is an analysis of the fall of commu­nism that examines one droplet of informa­tion: the exuberant applause at Smetana Hall on December 14, 1989, and why it was directed not only at the dissident leaders and the new democratic government, but also at the people seated in concentric rows to Vaclav Havel’s rear — those other “he­roes” of “our revolution,” the symphony musicians of Prague.

The Communist Cell

The Soviet Army, as is sometimes forgot­ten, cannot be blamed for every black shad­ow that has fallen across the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Communism was export­ed to Eastern Europe from across the Soviet border, but it was a local product, too. A bright inner core of the big-city intelligen­tsia, the writers and artists, the concert­goers, readers of literary and philosophical reviews, student intellectuals — these peo­ple, in the aftermath of the Nazi occupa­tion, showed no little enthusiasm for the communist idea.

Bolshevik habits like ferocity and disci­pline struck them as practical virtues, nice­ly adapted to an age of fascism. And they saw in communism what seems impossible to remember today — a cultural ideal, not just an economic program. For these people were the partisans of civilization against barbarism, they upheld the old notions of the enlightened European intelligentsia, they were the champions of ever-expanding liberations in every field of life — except that civilization and barbarism had ex­changed their customary geographies, and the Paris and Vienna of the golden future were going to be, in the postwar imagina­tion, Moscow and Leningrad.

These communist sympathizers, circa 1945, were not exactly well-informed about the Moscow and Leningrad that really existed. Or possibly they did have an idea of Soviet reality and were not especially dis­turbed. Their revolutionary project was al­ways faintly ambiguous. Were commu­nism’s sympathizers anti-obscurantists in the great liberal tradition? Or were they obscurantists like their leader, Stalin? Were they fascism’s bitter enemy, or its twin? Progressives or reactionaries?

It was impossible to say. The communist intelligentsia was a new twist in the history of ideas. Yet in the atmosphere of the 1940s, in the institutional rubble left be­hind by the defeated Nazis, these people­ — communism’s most important social base — found themselves with a good deal of power. And with a helpful shove from the Soviet army, one country after another followed them into the radiant future, and a whiff of uncertainty about communism’s meaning and intent always lingered behind, like exhaust fumes.

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The communist experience of the Czech Philharmonic began in something of that spirit. The young Václav Neumann, the same musician who later became world famous as the Philharmonic’s principal conductor, organized the orchestra’s original party cell in 1946 by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are forming the first communist organization in the Czech Philharmonic.” That was an odd way to usher in the new era, given that true Bolsheviks, enemies of the bourgeoisie, address one an­other as comrades, not as “ladies and gen­tlemen.”

Mr. Neumann was a true enough Bolshe­vik to put together a cell. But he managed not to be a comrade. The works he performed were those of the grand masters of the past, and he continued to wear the tails and starched shirts of ancient custom, and he would never abandon the Czech stuffi­ness that insists on “Mr., Mrs., Miss, ladies and gentlemen.” He was, everything con­sidered, bourgeois tradition’s stout defend­er — as well as Moscow’s. And in that same ambiguous way, the communist movement built popular cells all over post-Nazi Czechoslovakia.

A great bulk of the population leaned instinctively toward social democracy. And since the communists were not without a clever tactical sense, the party described itself as a sort of social-democracy-without­-bourgeois-illusions. The comrades spoke of a “Czechoslovak Road to Socialism,” something smoother and more civilized than the barbarous Bolshevism of the uncouth Soviet Union. By appearing to be democratic yet allied with Stalin, authenti­cally Czechoslovak yet pro-Soviet, refined yet tough, by cultivating the kind of ambi­guity that could prompt an earnest maestro into addressing his comrades as ladies and gentlemen, the communists managed to en­tice all but the shrewdest corners of the social democratic movement into a fateful­ly disastrous popular front. Large sectors of the working class joined with large sectors of the intelligentsia under communist aus­pices, and in a free election in 1946, the party managed to come away with no less than 38 per cent of the popular vote.

Had there been a second election a cou­ple of years later, communism would prob­ably have accumulated an absolute majority. Except that 38 per cent was quite sufficient, and soon enough the commu­nists did away with the bourgeois custom of free elections, and by 1948 the deed was done, not because of the Red Army. The Republic of Czechoslovakia metamorphosed into the Czechoslovak Socialist Re­public, member in good standing of the world communist movement.

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The meaning of communism’s rise to pow­er was not immediately obvious to most people (though there were a clear-eyed few who instantly fled into exile). The new gov­ernment expropriated the country homes of rich bourgeois and turned them into vaca­tion resorts for poor workers, which seemed, from a solidly progressive point of view, exactly what any decent person would have advocated. The communist notion of how to build an economy, the army-like system of administrative fiat, unwavering obedience, central planning, and mass ef­fort, worked well enough, so long as eco­nomic growth meant new steel plants and weapons factories. The economy under these principles expanded for a decade and a half even without the economists faking the figures.

Yet in the first years alone, the Czecho­slovak Road to Socialism — less smooth than anticipated — managed to execute 8000 people, according to literature put out by dissidents later on. The very first of the communist show-trials in Prague did away with the leaders of the duped and manipu­lated factions of democratic socialism. As many as 150,000 unfortunates ended up in prison, and the rest of the population found themselves dwelling among party cells and secret police informers and subject to less than civilized demands for conformity in every sphere of life and thought.

By the mid-1960s, the party’s own econo­mists began to notice that economic growth wasn’t what it seemed either (as one of those economists, the present ambassador to the U.S., Rita Klímová, has told me). The brute-force approach worked well enough at building steel plants, if you didn’t mind executing a lot of people, but was not so good at tuning the economy to any finer pitch.

The economy, having climbed upward for 15 years, began to climb back down. And when some of the top political leaders, not just the economists and technocrats, noticed the sorry effects of their own rule and tried to institute reforms — when Alexander Dubcek and his party comrades launched the “Prague Spring” of 1968 in order to liberalize their own system (though not so much as to permit opposition parties or normal democratic procedures) — in came the tanks and troops of “fraternal aid” from the Soviet Union and the War­saw Pact, and self-deception about commu­nism’s liberating potential became that much harder to maintain. The situation, as the Party leaders said, “normalized.” Nor­malization meant, after August 1968, that Czechoslovakia’s Road to Socialism was barely even Czechoslovak.

The Leonore Overture

The Czech Philharmonic, being a jewel of the national culture, not to mention a de­pendable source of six million crowns a year in hard currency, never had to endure the worst of these bleak developments. The party maintained its cell in the orchestra and ran the unions and controlled the con­cert halls, and by manipulating the differ­ent levers of power, had the musicians un­der firm control. Yet the Czech Philharmonic, like all the great orchestras in Europe, was by tradition a self-governing institution, and this tradition never entirely disappeared.

The communists asserted the right to veto any proposal made by the orchestra. But the orchestra retained a countervailing power of veto over the communists, which made for a bit of check and balance. Most of the elected positions in the orchestra fell into communist hands. But the musicians somehow kept the right to vote freely on one of the important jobs, the Representa­tive for Secondary Activities.

In most of the Czechoslovak orchestras, the secret police supervised the hiring of musicians in order to prevent anyone suspected of anticommunist sentiment from infiltrating, say, an important flute section. At the Czech Philharmonic, for instance, the police intervened to prevent the young winner of a cello competition in 1983 from taking a seat in the orchestra, due to the inconvenient fact that the cellist’s father had signed a notorious dissident manifesto, Charter 77, calling for human rights. Gen­erally, though, the Philharmonic retained the power to pick its own members, and the secret police didn’t interfere.

In that way, the Philharmonic never lost control over what was, after all, the main thing — its own musical quality. Yet it could hardly be said that members of the orches­tra were free citizens. Over the years, the party cell in the orchestra hovered between 10 and 20 people and was always active and strong, either because some musicians honestly upheld communist principles, or because the pressure to join the party was too great to resist. Mr. Václav Junek, the principal trumpeter (until he went on half­-time, due to age), was a communist of the first type, a man of stalwart Leninist principles who kept the cell in good repair as a matter of political commitment.

In recent times, the cell — or the “swine,” as I have heard them called (“There’s al­ways the chance of one of those swine recognizing your voice,” Julia tells Winston in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four) — consisted of one flutist, one double-bassist, three cel­lists, five first violinists, and one second violinist, plus Comrade Junek. Strictly un­der the discipline of their own higher-ups in the party ranks, these 12 musicians domi­nated the orchestra, mostly by keeping tabs on their fellow musicians.

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The orchestra might travel to faraway con­cert halls in Switzerland, or further still, to remote New York, but not even distance offered relief. The Czech violinists or clari­netists who could be seen hurrying along Seventh Avenue or 57th Street on their way from the Wellington Hotel or the Holiday Inn to Carnegie Hall, canvas-covered cases beneath their arms, looking for all the world like free musicians from a free repub­lic, were under precise instructions not to engage in random conversation with strangers.

The bitterest injunction of all was not to converse with their own most fervent fans, the Czechoslovak exiles who flocked to Carnegie Hall in the hope of bathing their ears in Dvorák or Smetana, and who after­ward might want to stop by the dressing room for a nostalgic chat about the old country. Or, if such forbidden conversa­tions did take place, the musicians’ obliga­tion was to report on them right away. Perhaps to Comrade Junek in the trumpet section or to someone else in authority. Apart from the well-known members of the party cell, there must have been, as every­one knew, members of the secret police in the orchestra’s entourage, though possibly not among the musicians themselves.

It was not that if a musician fell out of favor with the party or showed a lack of enthusiasm for party projects, anything drastic was likely to happen. Repression was mostly a system of threats and infer­ences, like a color filter that could gradually make life a little darker. One of the orches­tra’s two harpists, Renata Kodadová, was invited by party leaders to establish a chap­ter of the Union of Socialist Youth, a com­munist enterprise. But Mrs. Kodadová, who didn’t approve of communist enterprises, indignantly refused — and found that her career as soloist dribbled to a halt, without any word of a blacklist ever being uttered. Invitations to perform simply no longer arrived.

Ludvík Bortl, the bass trombonist (a bass trombone is a regular trombone with extra heft and an extra tube), had a different problem. Mr. Bortl’s error may have been his patent honesty, which made him less than shy at expressing his democratic convictions. One day an anonymous letter ar­rived accusing him of embezzling funds from a recording contract — and for two years afterward, the police kept hinting to the trombonist about advantages he could enjoy by making himself quietly useful to the authorities.

Even Maestro Neumann, though he was an old-time parlor communist, had his dif­ficulties, just to show that no one stood above the party. Mr. Neumann’s error was to rush home to Czechoslovakia from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in East Germany at the time of the ’68 invasion­ — without fulfilling, according to the authori­ties, his contract with the same East Ger­mans who, from another point of view, had just invaded his country. Afterward Mr. Neumann could no longer count on official sympathy. He was invited to conduct the Munich Philharmonic at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, but on the day before his planned departure, official per­mission evaporated and the famous con­ductor found himself stranded — “desper­ate,” he told me — in his own country.

In order to go on a foreign vacation, orchestra members had to avoid arousing the enmity of the 12 comrades of the party cell. There was the fear that someone who fell out of favor might not, in a medical emergency, receive the best health care. There were the worries that everyone in Czechoslovakia had to entertain about their children — whether they would be locked out of higher education, the way that Václav Havel was as a young man, because of the anticommunist politics of his parents.

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How could orchestra musicians withstand a lifetime of pressures like that? They did it slyly, as Mr. Neumann now acknowledges, in musical code. Mr. Neumann and the orchestra became ever fonder of perform­ing works by Beethoven, notably the Leon­ore overture No. 3, which Beethoven origi­nally intended as the overture to an opera about liberals versus tyrants.

Did the authorities understand that refer­ence? Perhaps not, or perhaps they didn’t mind. Musical codes are notoriously unreli­able. Beethoven, the champion of freedom, was a favorite of the Czechoslovak dissi­dents, just as he was of the Allies in the Second World War, but then again he was a favorite of the Nazis, too. The conductor Herbert von Karajan conducted a Beetho­ven symphony back in 1938 to celebrate the Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland re­gion of Czechoslovakia. Slippery Beethoven!

In any case, the Leonore overture kept turning up on the Czech Philharmonic’s program. Other resistance, if that word doesn’t overstate the reality, was merely social: when the orchestra traveled abroad, no one wanted to room with the 12 comrades. That was prudent, too, given that a fit of overly frank late-night soul-bearing might do your life no end of harm.

Overt political protests on the orchestra’s part were out of the question. But as disaf­fection with communism grew more acute in the Eastern bloc, some quiet or clandes­tine resistance was not altogether impossi­ble. Mr. Bortl, the bass trombonist, was the key figure, joined by younger musicians like Jacob Waldman, a baby-faced double bass­ist, and a few others. This inner nucleus of activists gathered a secret list of 20 or 25 orchestra members who could be counted on to contribute money for the samizdat, or underground, publications that dissident intellectuals were putting out. Fundraising was a daring thing to do and had to be gone about conspiratorially, with no one but the top organizers knowing which of the musi­cians figured among the contributors.

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A more public resistance, when it began, came strictly in the name of musical values, though the line between politics and music wasn’t always clear, given the communist predilection for politicizing the nonpoliti­cal. The party had its musical demands, its preferred or proscribed performers and composers, about which, normally speak­ing, the orchestra had very little to say. Mr. Neumann was eager to perform a sympho­ny by Miloslav Kabelác, but the censors pored over the score and discovered the irksome Babylonian inscription, “Mene, mene, tekel, ufarsin” — the Bible’s “writing on the wall” — and Kabelác’s symphony disappeared into the black hole of the unperformable.

Yet on other occasions the orchestra ex­ercised its ancient prerogatives and refused to be manipulated. In 1986, the orchestra and the government decided to commemo­rate the 90th anniversary of the Czech Phil­harmonic’s founding, a grand moment in the history of Czech music. The post office issued a stamp. The state television sched­uled a concert. But what was to be performed at the concert? Commemorative concerts, by tradition, are supposed to re­-perform whatever was played at the origi­nal event — in this case, Antonín Dvorák’s Biblical Songs, which the composer himself had led back in 1896.

Biblical Songs was not a happy title, though, in an age of official atheism. The communist authorities proposed some contemporary Czech and Soviet composers in­stead. Since the orchestra had a veto, it refused on grounds of strict tradition to perform anything but Dvorak’s songs and the rest of the 1896 program. This backed the government into a corner. But there was nothing to be done about it, and the cultural officials, furious, canceled the broadcast in spite of the postage stamp and the publicity.

The Bass Trombonist

It has to be asked why the difficulties between the Philharmonic and the commu­nists tended to revolve around television and radio broadcasts. The answer has to do with the one important post that remained fully under orchestral control, the Repre­sentative for Secondary Activities, whose business was nothing other than to grant permission for radio and television broad­casts, along with recordings. In its wisdom the orchestra managed to elect to this re­sponsible but not very fascinating job the capable bass trombonist, Mr. Ludvík Bortl, otherwise known for quietly tiptoeing among the musicians to collect secret funds for samizdat publications.

The bass trombonist saw to his duties as Representative for Secondary Activities with zeal. One day the Ministry of Culture, in its eagerness to impose politically reli­able conductors for broadcast concerts, in­vited the Philharmonic to perform under the baton of Milosz Konvalinka, the con­ductor of Prague’s National Theater orches­tra. Mr. Konvalinka was highly regarded by the cultural officials of the Communist Par­ty, but less highly by the musicians of the Czech Philharmonic. Mr. Bortl, on the or­chestra’s behalf, declined to permit the broadcast concert to go on with Mr. Konva­linka conducting.

The ministry was aghast. The orchestra declined? Mr. Bortl was called in for a dis­cussion with the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He and the orchestra manager received threatening phone calls. But there was no backing down: In the opinion of the musicians of the Czech Phil­harmonic, as expressed through their freely elected Representative for Secondary Ac­tivities, the government’s preferred conduc­tor was not up to standard, and the Philhar­monic would not perform, and investiga­tions by the police and threatening phone calls and requests to confer with the Cen­tral Committee simply had no influence on their decision.

In choosing the bass trombonist to be the Representative for Secondary Activities, the Philharmonic had selected the sort of man whom management never likes to see sitting across the negotiating table. Mr. Bortl’s big arms, when they weren’t holding his oversized American-made King trom­bone up to play, lay folded across a large chest in the gesture that communicates im­movability. He sat in the back row at con­certs and waited for the bass trombone part to turn up in the score, and from a place in the audience you could easily imagine, with a little knowledge of what he was like, that the Czech Philharmonic consisted of 95 or a hundred musicians made of flesh and blood — and one granite boulder.

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At negotiations, he had a zest for driving other people crazy by repeating himself with stubborn inflexibility. The most infamous example came in February 1987, when the orchestra went on one of its tours to the Soviet Union. The musicians were scheduled to perform a concert commemo­rating the seizure of power by Czechoslova­kia’s Communist Party in 1948, a festive holiday for all friends of the Czechoslovak Road to Socialism. The Soviet Union scheduled a television broadcast, and the musicians arrived in the hall and took out their instruments and the television crews completed their preparations, and the great revolutionary concert was set to beam onto the television screens of the Union of Sovi­et Socialist Republics.

Mr. Bortl, however, as the Representa­tive for Secondary Activities, wondered why the Czech Philharmonic, on its Soviet tours, was expected to perform without pay. Nonpayment for Soviet concerts seemed to him an offense to the orchestra’s pride. He explained to the Soviet officials that when the Czech Philharmonic tours the United States, it never plays for free. So why should the Soviet Union be any different?

After many decades of communist rule, this may have been a foolish question on Mr. Bortl’s part. It was gloriously naive of him to raise such an issue, or rather, disin­genuous, since every schoolchild in the Warsaw Pact knew perfectly well why the Czech Philharmonic was expected to play for free in the Soviet Union, namely be­cause Czechoslovakia no longer figured as a sovereign nation and the orchestra no long­er constituted an ensemble of free musicians.

Mr. Bortl nonetheless asked the question, and by doing so, posed a delicate problem. The true answer to his question could never quite be said aloud nor even whispered by a kindly Soviet concert impresario in a corri­dor conversation. Yet what was to be done? Mr. Bortl, declining to give final permis­sion for the orchestra to perform, kept ask­ing his disingenuous question. Some kind of response was required.

The Soviet authorities got angry. They threw up their hands: the concert was sup­posed to go on and there was no time for stupid bickering. But Mr. Bortl was immov­able. In the United States, the damnable man kept saying, the Czech Philharmonic never performs for free. So why should the Soviet Union … and so forth through his idiotic but unanswerable argument until, with chaos in the concert hall and five minutes left to go, a Soviet official came dashing into the theater, contract in hand specifying payment to that most irritating of orchestras, the Czech Philharmonic.

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In his own thinking, the struggles led by Mr. Bortl had a definite political dimen­sion, which he described, in the case of the Soviet television concert, as “our own, per­sonal, very little protest against totalitarian­ism.” But this, too, was never said out loud. His reasoning was always phrased either as a worker’s demand for pay, or as a musi­cian’s insistence on tradition. And if Mr. Bortl’s mosquito attacks on totalitarianism were never stated in political terms, nei­ther, on the other hand, did anything seem to be political in the difficulties that the orchestra began to encounter in its dealings with the Czechoslovak government.

To begin with, where was the orchestra going to perform? This question, which grew ever more pressing, seemed merely to reflect a government tendency toward bu­reaucratic inefficiency and poor planning, without political meaning. Bohemia (the Czech part of Czechoslovakia, where Prague is located) used to be called “the conservatorium of Europe,” as Mrs. Koda­dová, the harpist, has told me. But in this century, nobody has bothered to erect any new halls in Prague. Nor has anyone re­paired the old halls. The Czech Philhar­monic traditionally performed in the Ru­dolfinum, named after the Emperor Rudolf, but in recent years the Rudolfinum had become so decrepit that nothing was left to do but pack up and move until grand-scale renovations could eventually be made.

The authorities, though, contrived these renovations in such a way that, when the work would someday be completed, computers and climate-control mechanisms would occupy crucial space in the cramped hall, which the orchestra would still have to share with the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Musical Arts. The computer­ized, air-conditioned concert hall was going to be a cattle car. So there was, from the Philharmonic’s point of view, no concert space for the time being, and there was not going to be a suitable hall in the future, and there were no plans for anything better.

The orchestra meanwhile scheduled its performances for Smetana Hall, a big creamy cavern, gymnasium-shaped, with skylight panes stuck in the ceiling like a giant emerald. Smetana Hall wouldn’t have been a bad place, except that the Prague Symphony Orchestra and other groups per­formed there, too, which made for a lot of traffic and inconvenience. Sometimes the Philharmonic was shunted into still another hall, the Zofín, doubtless the world’s most romantic concert auditorium, grandly lo­cated on a tiny island in the Vltava River. Only the Zofín, too, was pretty much in disrepair. Broken glass gaped from win­dows, stucco dribbled onto the grounds, the heating could not be counted on.

The musicians lugged their instrument cases across the stone bridge to the island auditorium, and they wore sweaters and coats to rehearsal and had to clear out be­fore a dance class got underway. Besides, the Zofín was too small for symphonic con­certs. So the problem of a concert hall was severe, even a little ominous. And in case anyone still didn’t get the point, the orches­tra office staff discovered, as the 1980s wore on, that the office, too, was less than securely housed.

An emergency eviction notice ordered the staff out of their own premises. The orchestra manager fought the eviction off. A second notice went out. Again the man­ager fought it off. He felt like he was “box­ing” for the orchestra’s life.

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The Petition

The orchestra’s uneasiness was not, of course, confined merely to the practical dif­ficulties of locating a decent hall and reli­able office space. The musicians had a sus­picion that musical quality in Czechoslovakia was slipping. The cultural grandeur promised by communism, the brilliance that was supposed to radiate from Moscow and Leningrad, the bright beam of communist civilization — this somehow cast a light that seemed to grow ever dimmer in the run-down concert halls of Prague. The Czech Philharmonic used to attract the greatest musicians of the world to perform as soloists or guest conductors. Was the orchestra imagining things, or were great musicians increasingly reluctant to perform in Prague? And if that was true, what was the explanation?

Different theories made the rounds. Some of the most influential orchestra members pointed, in their conversations with me, to Czechoslovakia’s foreign policy problems with Israel. In 1967, as part of the communist bloc’s anti-Zionist turn, the Czechoslovak government abandoned its historic sympathy for Zionism and came out in favor of Israel’s enemies, not just the peaceful ones. (It was Czechoslovakia that sent Semtex plastic explosives to Muammar Qaddafi for distribution to terrorist groups such as the Palestinian faction that appar­ently blew up the Pan Am jet at Lockerbie, Scotland.) And since people in Czechoslo­vakia never much approved of this anti-­Zionist development, there was, at any rate among the musicians, a resentment of the consequences that filtered back to Prague.

Great musicians like Erich Leinsdorf and Gerd Albrecht still came to perform with the Philharmonic. But there were others who held Israeli passports and could no longer visit Czechoslovakia, and still others who chose, in that case, not to. And since some of the best musicians in the world figured among those who took Prague off their concert tours, the members of the Philharmonic regretted the loss keenly.

There were other explanations for the orchestra’s gloomy sense of its position in the world. Mr. Neumann told me (through the double medium of a telephone and an interpreter) that getting musicians to Prague was not, in his opinion, the prob­lem. His own feeling about Czechoslova­kia’s decline was vaguer, though more poi­gnant. He was haunted by the worry that the Czech Philharmonic, in its appearances abroad, might be greeted with hostility.

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He pictured an audience somewhere in the West welcoming the orchestra with whistles of disdain and contempt — not because of how it performed, but because of the coun­try it represented. The fear was unreason­able; never once was the Czech Philhar­monic greeted less than warmly. But the worry did express the feeling of isolation that overtook the Philharmonic, the sense that grand vistas of culture and quality lay elsewhere and that the conservatorium of Europe had become a pariah even in the world of music.

Then again, these plaintive feelings were merely the musicians’ version of what ev­eryone in the Eastern bloc began to feel. Czechoslovakia under communism had be­come a country whose best writers were either in and out of jail, like Mr. Havel, or in exile, like Milan Kundera and Joseph Skvorecky. A full 500 authors, according to Mr. Skvorecky, came under a ban. The country’s best filmmaker, Milos Forman, emigrated to the United States. Its industri­al economy, one of the strongest in the world, degenerated into the third or fourth rank.

Even life expectancy, due mostly to de­cades of cheap brown coal and dead rivers, shriveled to a level five years below that of Western Europe. The sense of musical me­diocrity and isolation, the effort to intimi­date the bass trombonist with secret police investigations, the blacklisting of the harp­ist from her solo career and of the cello­-competition winner from his rightful seat, the canceled commemorative concert, the inability of Mr. Neumann to conduct at the Olympic festival in Japan, the chipping plaster, broken windows, shrinking space, the eviction notices — all this was nothing but the national predicament.

The move toward open politics, the prog­ress that would make the Philharmonic the first important sector of Czech society to go into open opposition, came only last year, in fitful steps. In January 1989, Václav Ha­vel was arrested yet again and condemned to four and a half months in prison, this time for laying flowers on the grave of Jan Palach, the student who immolated himself to protest the 1968 Soviet invasion. And with Mr. Havel once again in jail, a petition began to circulate, addressed to the com­munist prime minister, requesting the play­wright’s release.

Naturally the bass trombonist, with his dissident connections, took his place in the ranks of secret petition-circulators. Togeth­er with Mrs. Kodadová and one of the bassoonists and certain of the others, he passed the document around to the more reliable musicians. But who would want to sign such a petition? A chair in the Czech Philharmonic was the best position any musician could dream of having. To play in a historic orchestra was an honor, not to mention a joy. Whereas to sign a petition, to court the wrath of the party and the government, to risk your hard-earned chair merely for a noble civic gesture — was that a sound idea?

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The petition clandestinely circulated, and each little group of musicians quietly went into existential crisis. Some musicians did sign, not just the young militants either. The silver-haired veteran cellist, Mr. Jan Stros, added his name, and there were, finally, 30 signatures on the petition. The organizers figured that if enough people got up their courage, the numbers would reach a critical mass, the orchestra would be un­assailable, and the petition could go public.

Mr. Bortl got along well with Maestro Neumann and hoped discreetly to ask him, too, for his signature, which would have heartened the timid. But Mr. Neumann who often toured abroad while guest conductors took over the orchestra, was in Vienna. Thirty turned out to be the upper limit. “Most of us,” as Mr. Stros recalled later on, “were afraid.”

Then the orchestra manager got wind of the document and brought it up at a general meeting. What was this idea of protesting, he wanted to know. Did the musicians un­derstand that the Czech Philharmonic was still trying to find a hall and the manager’s job was not made any easier by people going around signing petitions? Did the musicians understand that, if the petition went through their own wages might be in danger?

Mr. Waldman, the double-bassist, and some of the more militant and sophisticat­ed musicians regarded the manager as something of a bluffer. Wages were not, in spite of what he said, endangered; they came steadily from the state, no matter what. As for the hall, that particular sore point was not going to be resolved any time soon, no matter how cooperative the musi­cians became. The concert hall was a doomed issue, short of a Japanese investment.

But the manager’s statement had its ef­fect. Wages! The hall! A good half of the musicians who had signed the Havel peti­tion sneaked back to the organizers and asked to strike their names. Other signato­ries held firm, but the panic couldn’t be suppressed. The handful of remaining names was not enough to guarantee any­one’s safety, and the project of collectively signing the Havel petition in the name of the Philharmonic was shelved — a fiasco.

Mr. Bortl signed, in that case, on his own behalf, as a lone individual and not in any way as a representative of the orchestra. That was bad enough. From the City Com­mittee of the Communist Party came an invitation to come in for a discussion. His brother heard a rumor about the trombon­ist getting thrown out of work. Mr. Bortl was not, lucky for him, a soloist, and he had no trombone students on the side, which made him less vulnerable to official pressure. He did play sometimes in a quintet and had to wonder if it might somehow be made to suffer — though nothing like that came to pass. But already some of his colleagues in the Philharmonic recognized him as a marked man and stopped return­ing his hellos.

The failed petition nonetheless stirred up a feeling in the orchestra. For the first time since the stormy days of the Warsaw Pact invasion, the orchestra had tried to take an independent public position that had noth­ing to do with self-interest or money or musical values but was strictly political. And while the controversy over the failed effort was still vivid in everyone’s mind, a second more momentous development oc­curred. The revolutions in East Germany, Hungary, and even Poland were still in the future. But the Soviet Union, that glacier, was already beginning to show a few signs of change.

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Radicalism and Exhibitionism

In early 1989, as part of the Gorbachev reforms, the Soviets stopped jamming Ra­dio Free Europe. People in Prague had always listened to other, less important short­wave stations, like the Voice of America and the BBC. VOA was especially popular; people called it “Prague 3,” meaning the capital’s third station. But VOA devoted only so many hours to the Czech language, and its stories were too often about the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains and the exotic customs of the American Indi­ans, which was amusing and pleasant, but did nothing to inform the Czech people about their own circumstances.

Radio Free Europe, for all its origins in the CIA, was less of a propaganda station. Listeners could tune in a beloved Prague radio announcer who had fled Czechoslova­kia after the ’68 invasion and hear him read translated clippings from American jour­nals as far afield as The Village Voice and The Nation. RFE reported news of the dis­sident movement. People could learn what their own neighbors were doing, what argu­ments were being made, and whose famous or not-famous necks were being risked on the public behalf.

One day in June, Radio Free Europe’s Czech language broadcasts reported on a new dissident petition called “Several Sentences.” An announcer read the petition aloud —  and more important, read some of the signatories’ names, along with their pro­fessions. Listeners sat by their radios, trans­fixed. The announcer droned on, “So-and-­so, filmmaker; so-and-so, worker,” and as the names came sailing from the radio speaker, the listeners, each in the privacy of home, heard with astonishment the names of people they knew or respected, or at any rate the names of people from their own lines of work.

The kind of existential crisis that took place in the orchestra during the unsuccess­ful effort to gather names for the Havel petition now took place in society as a whole. Names floated from the radio, and individual souls sitting around living rooms wondered, “Should I, too, sign? Should my name, too, be broadcast over Radio Free Europe?”

No one doubted the risk in endorsing “Several Sentences.” In the performing arts, signatories of “Several Sentences” found themselves denounced over the offi­cial airwaves and blacklisted from Czecho­slovak radio and television. Everyone knew that the basements of Prague were full of coal stokers who used to be well-known intellectuals. Yet here came the RFE’s next broadcast, and the announcer turned again to the topic of “Several Sentences,” and still more names floated from the radio speaker.

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Among the listeners to Radio Free Europe were, of course, the members of the Czech Philharmonic. The musicians had gotten in the habit of tuning it in during their tours abroad, where they could receive the broad­casts without jamming, and they kept up the habit when Soviet interference miracu­lously disappeared. In October ’89, several months after “Several Sentences” ceased to be circulated, but while its signatories were still being singled out for punishment, the Philharmonic traveled to Neuchâtel, Switzerland, to perform under a guest conduc­tor. The musicians tuned in the news — and caught an amazing item. The name of their own principal conductor, Mr. Václav Neu­mann, came floating from the radio speaker.

Mr. Neumann was not himself a signato­ry. But like everyone else he followed the controversy over “Several Sentences” and he was infuriated at the official denuncia­tions of the very fine citizens whose signa­tures did go down on the civic manifesto. He was a little intimidated at the idea of making a protest of his own, since the retri­butions might endanger the orchestra and not just himself. Yet the itch was in him. He wanted to act; he only wondered how.

Czech television provided the answer. The television authorities invited him to give a telecast concert. Yet these were the very people, as he reflected, who kept broadcasting scurrilous slanders against the courageous signatories of “Several Sen­tences.” The television authorities had come to the wrong man at the wrong time. Mr. Neumann’s moment of moral courage had arrived. He informed the authorities­ — “with pleasure,” a delicious phrase — that he had no intention of accepting their invitation. Václav Neumann, principal conduc­tor of the Czech Philharmonic, a National Artist by decree of the government, a world figure, was not going to perform, thank you.

His refusal was in every respect a solitary act. Kurt Masur, the Gewanthaus conduc­tor from Leipzig, was not yet leading mass demonstrations in the East German streets. The violist who would soon enough become the secessionist president of democratic Lithuania, Vytautas Landsbergis, was still unknown to the world. The leading conduc­tors and musicians of the Eastern bloc were holding no secret conspiratorial discussions arriong themselves. Mr. Neumann had sim­ply, on his own, reached his personal limit. And by October, while the members of the Czech Philharmonic were resting in their rooms at the Neuchâtel hotel, the news of this personal stand was beaming across the waves of Radio Free Europe to everyone who tuned in to the Czech language broadcasts.

What! The members of the Philharmonic couldn’t believe their ears. Their own Mae­stro Neumann on a one-man boycott? Per­haps the report wasn’t true. The concert tour took the orchestra to Stuttgart, West Germany, and only there was someone able to reach the maestro by telephone and con­firm the astounding broadcast. And at the news of this confirmation, a “fever” — that was the word Mr. Stros later used — broke out among the different circles of Philhar­monic players.

It is customary before rehearsals, when the Philharmonic assembles onstage, for of­ficers of the orchestra to address the ensem­ble on matters of practical business. At the rehearsal in Stuttgart, the Representative for Secondary Activities got up to say a few words. Staring up at him were the faces of his own friends and the secret donors to samizdat funds and the decent but fright­ened people who had discreetly begged him to remove their names from the Havel peti­tion. But there were other faces, too: the dozen “swine,” the people who turned their glance to the wall when he waved hello, the people whose political attitudes and re­serves of personal courage were, after years in the orchestra, still a mystery, perhaps even to themselves.

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To get up and speak to an audience like that was not in every respect an easy thing. Mr. Bortl was alive to the unhappy fact that while Václav Neumann was a revered ce­lebrity in the world of music, a figure of social weight, a person that Czechoslovakia’s government would never wish to of­fend, he himself, Bortl the trombonist, was not a celebrity, had no social weight, and was, on the contrary, the object of police persecution.

No matter. Mr. Bortl opened his mouth and began to speak. His talk was unprece­dented. Mrs. Kodadová, the harpist, think­ing about that speech several months later, after the revolution, considered it to have been an act of authentic heroism. Mr. Bortl reported Mr. Neumann’s boycott of televi­sion, which by then was no secret to any­one. He proposed that the orchestra should, in an act of solidarity with its principal conductor, join the television boycott. Not as individuals but all together, as an ensem­ble. And more: the orchestra should go fur­ther than Mr. Neumann and boycott radio, too, until the blacklist against the signato­ries of “Several Sentences” was lifted. Mr. Bortl was proposing, in effect, a protest strike on grounds that were explicitly political.

Did such a strike have any likelihood of success? The Representative for Secondary Activities was in no position to offer guarantees. Milan Kundera once wrote, in a polemic against Václav Havel, a cynical essay called “Radicalism and Exhibitionism,” about people with a fondness for glamorous gestures and lost causes. A Phil­harmonic protest might well be radical. But then again it might merely be spectacular, like some desperate East Berliner hurling himself over the wall. If the musicians adopted Mr. Bortl’s proposal, they would not only be, as The New York Times would later report, the single artistic ensemble in Czechoslovakia out on strike, they would be the only ensemble of any kind — artistic, industrial, academic, ethnic, religious, or political.

No great dissident movement was wait­ing to rally around the protesting orchestra. No one in Czechoslovakia was marching in the streets (though three days later, in Prague, the dissidents did get some 10,000 people out for a march — a paltry number compared to street protests elsewhere in the bloc at the time). And in that unpromising atmosphere, the orchestra proceeded to vote.

A full 97 musicians sat on the Stuttgart rehearsal stage, not counting the guest con­ductor and a soloist. Comrade Junek of the trumpet section set himself, of course, against the resolution. But where were the other members of the cell that Comrade Junek had done so much to consolidate, the cell whose history went back to Mr. Neu­mann’s fateful invitation to the ladies and gentlemen of 1946? Somehow this cell, in the aftermath of Mr. Bortl’s courageous speech, buckled and collapsed. (Later, after the revolution, with the Communist Party in disgrace and even considering changing its name, Junek himself, feeling betrayed by the Communist leaders, regretted his own vote against the resolution.)

Three of the musicians abstained. But the rest of the orchestra, all 93 of them, heroes, cowards, unknowns, voted — unbelievably! — with Mr. Bortl. The decision was just short of unanimous. And with the momen­tous vote behind them, the orchestra turned back to its rehearsal. The Stuttgart concert was performed, and the orchestra went about its Western European tour quite as if the meeting on the Stuttgart stage was noth­ing more than a business discussion like any other.

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The Revolution

The musicians returned to Prague after three weeks in Western Europe and had reason to know that their boycott decision was not, in fact, a bit of ordinary business. The leaders of the Communist Party took the trouble to articulate the matter with exemplary clarity. The director of the state radio, an object of the strike, explained that missed performances by the Czech Philhar­monic were nothing to regret since the or­chestra was not very good anyway.

The Ideological Secretary of the Czecho­slovak Communist Party, Jan Fojtík, har­rumphed and noted that the same Czech Philharmonic that was engaged in a protest was asking for a concert hall — and was go­ing to get “shit.” That was a shocking thing to say. The word “shit” from a high official had an intimidating quality, like a cop giv­ing the finger to a protest march. It was alarming. It convinced people that Czecho­slovakia was, just as everyone feared, sink­ing into savagery under rulers who lacked culture and education and who could no longer even open their mouths without butchering the beautiful Czech language.

Comrade Fojtík’s vulgar comment ap­peared in Tvorba magazine. Meanwhile ru­mor reached the orchestra that Fojtík’s mentor, General Secretary Milos Jakes, the party’s highest official, had decided to dis­band the Czech Philharmonic altogether­ — which seemed conceivable. For the link be­tween communism and the intelligentsia, the promise of communism’s cultural great­ness, the coming brilliance of the proletar­ian order — these things were no longer even a ghost of a memory. The Ministry of Culture, in those last decadent days of com­munist rule, was planning to sell off some of Czechoslovakia’s greatest cultural assets for hard currency — the magnificent Prague Judaica collection, for example, even if the collection was a thousand years old. What was a world-renowned orchestra to people like that?

Maybe other musicians, or the same mu­sicians in a less exalted state of rage, would have beaten a convenient retreat, figuring they had bravely made their point and had nothing more to win, except a reputation for “exhibitionism.” But by then, in those first days of November, the Berlin Wall had come down and the news spread across the eastern countries via American and British shortwave broadcasts, and the political air was electric. Or perhaps the explanation was that, among the musicians, Mr. Bortl’s speech on the Stuttgart stage had estab­lished him as the undisputed political lead­er of the Czech Philharmonic, democracy’s trombone.

In any case, the orchestra did not retreat. Messages went out to other orchestras around the world, appealing for solidari­ty — and statements of support promptly ar­rived, beginning with congratulations from the Kraków Philharmonic of Poland. The orchestra telephoned the press in Czecho­slovakia to announce the boycott and ex­plain its logic. The Czechoslovak press had no intention of publicizing the antigovern­ment actions of dissident organizations. The musicians followed up with letters, just so the reporters, those professional liars, could not pretend ignorance. Still, no an­nouncement ran in the press.

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So the musicians took a further step and prepared to communicate directly with their own audience, no longer in the sly code of the Leonore overture, but directly, and on the taboo theme of politics. The orchestra printed a special leaflet announc­ing the Philharmonic boycott, and the leaf­let went straight into the concert program for the homecoming performance, Novem­ber 16, 1989, at Smetana Hall.

The secret police, already suspicious, were lurking around the hall. But their in­formation was perhaps a little vague and they made no effort to stop the crush of concertgoers from lining up on the marble stairway to buy, for one crown apiece, the evening’s program. Or possibly the rebel program wasn’t even needed. The Philhar­monic’s audience, in the privacy of their own homes, had already heard the news over shortwave broadcasts from the West.

The musicians came marching from the wings onto the stage to take their seats beneath the giant medallion of Smetana and the organ pipes. And from the sea of wooden chairs on the unraked auditorium floor a huge, spontaneous ovation arose. Dr. Desidr Galski, Prague’s Jewish leader, who happened to be among the audience, recalled to me later how people jumped to their feet, which is a rare gesture at a Prague concert, merely at the sight of the musicians in their full-length black tails and starched white shirts.

“Thank you!” voices cried out. “Bravo!”

The next day’s concert was the first since the announcement of the boycott that was supposed to be broadcast over the official radio.

The 17th was also a day for student pro­test in Prague. The occasion was an official commemoration of a student who was killed by the Nazis. At least one of the musicians, Mrs. Kodadová, managed to at­tend. The harpist’s daughter, age 14, want­ed to march with the students, and since Mrs. Kodadová was already up to her el­bows in the Philharmonic boycott, she rath­er liked the idea of her daughter participat­ing too, and gave permission.

But since 14 is a little young to be left to the mercy of events, the harpist chose to walk at her daughter’s side, and the two of them went together with the 25,000 young people on the fateful day when the students sang “We Shall Overcome” in Czech and even in English. The police shadowed the marchers like a black cloud. And when Mrs. Kodadová figured that her daughter’s taste of life and protest had lasted long enough, she plucked herself and daughter from the ranks and went to Smetana Hall to dress for the evening concert and tune her harp.

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Naturally the Representative for Second­ary Activities refused to permit the state radio to broadcast the concert. So the deed was done. Again there was tension and ap­plause in the hall. And only afterward, when Mrs. Kodadová changed back into ordinary clothes and went out into the streets and saw that policemen and vehicles were prowling the downtown boulevards and the air was soggy with violence — only then did she have any idea that the student demonstration did not come to an end at the instant that she wisely guided her daughter away.

No, the students marched onward to Narodní Avenue, catty-corner to the House of Cuban Culture. The black cloud of policemen descended on them, plucking peo­ple from the ranks to be clubbed and kicked, and though later it was not clear if the beatings turned into killings, at the time, on the streets, the conviction arose that Prague had just undergone a Tiananmen Square assault and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia had just commit­ted a massacre on Narodní Avenue.

Only this belief did not, in Prague, send the people into a terrified retreat, the way repression did in China. Hardly! The fear and timidity that had stung Czechoslovak eyes for 40 years, like coal smog or tear gas, were somehow wafting away. The students were calling for a strike. No one quite knew it, but the revolution had just broken out. The next evening Mrs. Kodadová had tick­ets to the Realistic Theater, but instead of seeing a performance, she sat in the audience while the actors endorsed the students, and even the theater director got up to say that, although he was himself a member of the Communist Party, having a dialogue with communists was impossible.

Mr. Bortl, jolted by news of the massacre, went about calling on his various political contacts. These turned out to be usefully widespread, not just among musicians. An actress telephoned to keep him up on the theater front. And since Mr. Bortl happened to know the family of a student who was thought to have been killed, his con­tacts extended into the student milieu too. The trombonist hurried over to a high school to pick up the new student literature.

In this way, conferring with the actress, rushing over to the students, Mr. Bortl put together documents from one and another of the mobilizing groups, and by Monday, when the Philharmonic assembled for a meeting and rehearsal, the trombonist was ready with strike literature and proposals. A full 267 people, musicians and staff, turned up at the meeting. The trombonist introduced some students to the orchestra. The students said a few words about their strike. And Mr. Bortl launched into another of his speeches.

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The Universe of Music

He read something that he called the “Dec­laration of the Czech Philharmonic,” which was the product of his weekend’s work. The declaration protested violence and lawless­ness on the part of the government. It put the orchestra on the side of the students and the theater people in their strike. It demanded that the authorities who partici­pated in violent repression step down from power. And it affiliated the orchestra with the committee that Václav Havel and the theater people and other dissidents had put together over the weekend, the new Civic Forum. The statement was not too radical, not too mild, and the whole of it was ap­proved.

Jan Buble, one of the reliables in the first violin section, took the declaration and went to the telephone. He called the Vienna offices of “Prague 3,” the Voice of Ameri­ca, to read the declaration over the phone lines, even if the secret police might have been listening in. And having done their civic duty, the musicians headed out to Wenceslas Square to join the first of that epic week’s mass demonstrations. They chanted at the Communist Party, “We nev­er wanted you” — an odd chant, perhaps not an entirely true one, given the long dialectic of Czechoslovak history, but sin­cerely felt. And as the musicians chanted, they glanced sideways at their own ranks, and they saw the orchestra’s communist collaborators, and the people, too, the de­feated swine, chanted along with everyone else and wore Czechoslovak flags pinned to their coats, quite as if the flag had always been their symbol of choice.

The Czech Philharmonic’s Civic Forum committee consisted of several of the old crew of dissidents, namely Mr. Bortl, Mrs. Kodadová, Mr. Buble, and Mr. Waldman, to whom were added Maestro Neumann and representatives from the office staff, the choir, and the regular soloists. This committee set about painting posters and placards, establishing contacts, gathering documents, and publishing statements of the orchestra.

There was the crucial business of spread­ing the news to the larger Czechoslovakia that lay beyond Prague’s Oldtown center. For how was the rest of the population going to receive reliable reports about the amazing events going on among the students and their supporters? Apart from for­eign bands on the shortwave dial, all media in Czechoslovakia were under Communist control, and if here and there a newspaper wrested a little independence (as the news­paper of the formerly puppet Socialist Par­ty began to do), no system was in place to distribute the uncensored press runs out­side of Prague. Information about the po­lice attack and the strike, if it was going to circulate at all, would have to spread per­son to person. So there was the additional task of loading the protest literature into cars and driving out of central Prague to any place where the strikers had contacts.

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Here again Mr. Bortl, by happy coinci­dence, managed to play a distinguished role. He had not always planned on becoming a professional musician. He played the trombone in dance bands when he was in school, but his studies focused on chemis­try, and afterward he went to work as a chemical analyst at the giant CDK works in the Prague suburbs. CDK is a complex of a dozen foundries and electrical plants with 25,000 employees who manufacture loco­motives, diesel engines, semiconductors and other industrial goods. The place is called “the workers’ heart of Prague.”

Naturally when the student strike began, the communists tried to prevent any sort of contact between the university rebels and CDK. The party brought out the People’s Militia to seal off the industrial center. But some of the workers were themselves active partisans of democracy, which meant that CDK was already, so to speak, infected. Besides, sealing off 25,000 people is not so easy. Workers, too, knew how to tune in a shortwave radio. They went home to fam­ilies that included students. And among the active ties between CDK and the student strikers was, as it happened, the energetic former chemical analyst, Mr. Bortl.

He picked up the student strike literature in central Prague and drove out to CDK to deliver it to faces familiar from the long­ago days, before his knack at the slide trom­bone brought him to the Philharmonic. Wednesday night he was out at the plant. And every afternoon, he and the other ac­tivists joined the students in Wenceslas Square and gazed up at the balcony of the Socialist Party newspaper and listened to the speeches that Mr. Havel and his little group of intellectuals and theater personal­ities delivered according to the staging in­structions of the country’s best theater di­rectors, through sound equipment that was set up by the cleverest of rock band technicians.

Those of us who observed the Czechoslo­vak Revolution on television thousands of miles away saw those rallies grow ever bigger — 200,000 people on Monday, more on Tuesday, 300,000 by Wednesday — and we watched that progress with a too-easy satis­faction. We believed, because it was thrill­ing to believe, that the demonstrators in the square stood in no particular danger and were, on the contrary, destined to win. We had watched the events in Poland, Hunga­ry, and East Germany, and we saw the crowds in Prague as part of a European panorama, and the grandeur and vastness of that panorama seemed to speak of his­torical certainty.

But that was not how things appeared to the hundreds of thousands who stared up at the Prague balcony. Those people had some inkling of events in other countries and they felt themselves to be part of an inter­national movement. Yet the panorama that seized their own attention was mostly one of repression and violence. What did we, who lived a continent away, know of the repressive mechanisms of Marxism-Lenin­ism in Czechoslovakia? The empire of the secret police was so extensive that in Prague alone, the Ministry of the Interior maintained no fewer than 272 safe houses.

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Friday’s police attack on the students promised to be, if events took a wrong turn, only a first step toward a larger “Chinese solution.” The people in the square shook their key chains in a tinkled mass exorcism of tyrants and demons, and they took en­couragement from their own growing num­bers, and their hearts pounded with indig­nation, patriotism, enlightenment, rebellion, rage — with revolution, in a word. But those people were also, most of them, in terror.

When they got home in the evening, the television preached to them not about in­ternational backing but about their own isolation. The country’s main institu­tions — the trade unions, political associa­tions, farm groups, ethnic and religious organizations, the clubs and professional societies, the bearers of national legitimacy, the establishment, the official culture — all stood in adamant opposition to the subver­sive goings-on in the square.

Still, not every important national insti­tution was the enemy of those daily demon­strations. The Czech Philharmonic, the movement’s friend, was as grand and na­tional and above-ground an institution as Czechoslovakia could claim. It was the establishment by definition. So the musi­cians, together with the striking actors, took up the job of infusing those thousands of demonstrators with a feeling not just of courage and stalwartness but with some­thing that could be called a sense of nation­al legitimacy. After voting the strike resolu­tion at the Monday rehearsal and adopting Mr. Bortl’s “Statement of the Czech Phil­harmonic,” the musicians put away their instruments in order to honor their own resolution. But on Wednesday morning the orchestra shifted course and the instrument cases opened again and the musicians tuned to the A above middle C and the orchestra prepared to play — not to under­mine the strike but to bolster it.

The guest conductor that week was scheduled to be one of Maestro Neumann’s protegés, the Czech conductor Libor Pes­cek. He and the Philharmonic’s artistic council looked through the repertory for appropriate works and settled on Má Vlast or My Country, the Czech classic by Be­drich Smetana. The orchestra performed four of the six sections of that work on Wednesday for a student audience at the chilly Zofín on the Vltava island. Then they set out to play it again Thursday morning at Smetana Hall, where the auditorium was heated and the musicians didn’t have to bundle up in sweaters and coats and there was plenty of room.

Tense and agitated students filed inside until the hall, as the official report of the orchestra later put it, was “completely packed.” The musicians laid the score across the music stands. Mr. Pescek raised his baton. And from the moment that he silently indicated the rhythm, in that sec­ond of stillness before the first note sound­ed, the world of politics into which the Philharmonic should never have had to en­ter, the world of declarations and strikes and committees — that world came, so to speak, to an end. The baton flashed, and the orchestra stepped as if through a door into that other, higher place, its home, the seat of its authority, the universe of music.

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God’s Warriors

Revolutions generate extreme and exalted emotions. But normally there is nothing in a revolution or in any other mass political event that can give voice to those emotions. If people march in the streets, they find that parades are inarticulate. They chant­ — and complicated ideas shrivel into jingles. Orators step to the mike — and grand phi­losophies turn into slogans. Something of the popular emotion may get expressed; not much. The whole experience is frustrating, like shouting through a muzzle.

Music, perfectly articulate, has none of those problems. Mr. Pescek’s baton came down, and the first notes of My Country leapt into life, and the dimunition or cheapening that happens to abstract ideas and principles at a scene of mass politics, the muzzling of emotion — none of that occurred.

Those first notes were a solo by Mrs. Kodadová and her fellow harpist, sitting in the last row to the left, behind the violins. Stately, luxurious harp arpeggios sprang heavenward, feathery and implacable, as if from sword-bearing angels. Nor was there any doubt about the specific significance of those opening declarations. Smetana, ever forethoughtful, dispelled all ambiguity by writing down a clear programmatic expla­nation, like a nail to keep the slippery meanings in place.

Did the student audience pay attention to that programmatic explanation? The mu­sicians had it uppermost in mind. Mr. Stros, the silver-haired cellist, in recon­structing that concert for me, spoke of it almost entirely in terms of the composer’s careful annotations. These were on a strict­ly national theme. Smetana was once, in his own student days, a revolutionary in the streets of Prague: he participated in the 1848 uprising against the Austro-Hungar­ian Empire. And though the 1848 revolt went down to defeat and Prague continued to languish under the rule of hated foreign­ers, the composer came away with his patri­otic feelings intact, along with the revolu­tionary notion that one day, wrongs would be set right.

The opening harp solo represented, ac­cording to his specifications, the harp of the mythological Czech prophet, Lumir. The musical phrase in that solo, the implacable and stately melody, evoked the castle of Prague, symbol and center of Czech sover­eignty. And those opening ideas — prophecy and sovereignty, gusts from the revolution of 1848 — blew like a wind through every­thing that followed.

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The orchestra had only to play the work exactly as on every occasion in the past. In the version of the concert that was told to me by Mr. Waldman, that is precisely what they did. The Czech Philharmonic is, after all, a professional orchestra at the highest level of artistic competence and can be counted on to adhere to the strictest tradi­tions and standards in even the most ex­traordinary of circumstances. The gorgeous melodies of My Country‘s early sections, “The High Castle” and “The Vltava” (bet­ter known by its German title “The Mol­dau”), the ecstatic surging scale that evokes Prague’s river, the Bohemian heartbreak­ — these were performed entirely as they have always been, with steadiness, nobility, and force.

Even so, the performance was not exactly ordinary, either. There was the question of where to put the intermission. In the count­less performances of Smetana’s classic over the decades, the procedure was generally to follow “The High Castle” and “The Vlta­va” with Part Three, “Sarka” — then break, with parts Four, Five, and Six to come after the intermission.

But was that procedure appropriate for Thursday’s concert? The morning hour, the audience of edgy students, the street clothes worn by the musicians, the improvised na­ture of the scene, the nervousness that ev­eryone felt, the attention to matters that had more to do with the crowd at Wences­las Square than with music — everything in­dicated a less than formal approach. Be­sides, a technical crew was accompanying the orchestra to record its performances, and the crew’s requirements, too, had to be taken into consideration. Given those fac­tors, the musicians expected to run through several excerpts, as at the previous morn­ing’s concert, and not bother doing a com­plete version.

The decision, once they were out on stage, was up to Mr. Pescek. But at the end of the second section and again at the third, the conductor’s black baton once more rose up, and the orchestra went on playing straight through to the moment at “Sarka” ‘s climax that usually marks the break for intermission. Again the baton waved. The orchestra plunged into the fourth sec­tion too. “From Bohemia’s Fields and Groves” — and only when that was completed did the musicians get a chance to catch their breath and wander into the wings for a few minute’s rest.

Yes, every note was exactly as Smetana indicated. But already the piece was com­ing out in a slightly unusual form. Then they were back on stage and Mr. Pescek’s baton waved again and the first tones of the fifth section. “Tábor,” sounded, and some­thing new cropped up in the performance, a sort of overtone never previously heard. In Mr. Stros’s estimation. Smetana’s program had everything to do with this. My Country, lush and mythological until that point, turns grim and militant with the opening notes of “Tábor.” There arc echoes from 500 years ago, from a medieval chorale sung by the 15th century followers of Prague’s most famous rebel, the religious reformer Jan Huss, who was burned as a heretic.

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The chorale was “Ye Who Are God”s War­riors.” It was not unlike Martin Luther’s terrifying hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” except older and bleaker. Huss’s most fanatical followers, the soldiers of Tábor, sang it when they marched into battle against anti-Czech and anti-Huss oppressors, and their message seems to have been, if you listen strictly to the melody: “Aban­don hope, anyone who opposes us.” The devil himself would quake at such a tune. Every note is a block of stone. No rippling ecstasies spring heavenward from the harps. There are boulders, one after anoth­er in rows and circles, like Stonehenge. “Stubborn inflexibility” was Smetana’s own phrasefor 1he messagein that Hussite hymn.

The initial tone in Smetana’s rendition was supposed to be a low, quiet, ominous D, played as if at a distance by the tympani, the bassoons, the cellos, and the double bass. Then the horns were supposed to sound a rhythm on a different note, the first stubborn rocks of  the Hussite melody, repeated softly on a never-varying discordant C, like this:

“Ye who who ARE … GOD’S …

“Ye who who ARE … GOD’S … ”

Except that when Mr. Pescek gave the signal and the first group of musicians bent over their instruments to produce the low, quiet, ominous D, the note did not come out as quiet as always, not, at least in the estimation of Mr. Stros. The musicians were ever so slightly too intense. The note was a tiny bit too strong, too heavy, too militant. It came out like a challenge. Per­haps the difference in sound would have been inaudible to most people even to mu­sicians. But Mr. Stros, who had performed those opening notes for decades, felt that ominous D like a jolt.

The low tone went on for two bars. Then the horns entered on the repeated discor­dant C of “Ye who ARE … GOD’S … ” But the horn players, too, were a little too intense.

Professionals, of course — some of the finest in the world. Yet those musicians were not, in fact, granite boulders, they were flesh and blood, and they were shak­en. In a matter of weeks, those musicians had, on the advice of a handful of orchestra politicos, taken their lives into their own hands; they had embarked on what would ordinarily have been a suicidal strike; they had seen their suicidal strike spread to hun­dreds of thousands of people; they had found themselves at the center of God alone knew what — a national uprising? A worldwide birth of freedom? An impending calamity on the scale of the Nazi takeover of 1938 or the Soviet invasion of 1968? And through all of those terrifying events, they had kept their fears to themselves and had gone about their protests and then their strike concerts with splendid discipline and control.

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To begin Part Five of My Country at that instant, to perform “Tábor” to an audience of the very students who had survived the police attack at Narodní Avenue and were now naïvely hurling themselves against the communist dictatorship, to perform the first ferocious notes of what was, after all their nation’s most historic and solemn call to arms — that was too much. In the experi­ence of those musicians, the political events had been, until that instant, half-articulate. But Smetana was perfectly expressive, and in bar three of Part Five, when the Hussite hymn began in a grim D-minor, he un­leashed the deepest feelings of those disci­plined symphony musicians.

So the horn players, too, pressing their mouthpieces to their lips, produced sounds that, at least in the veteran cellist’s estima­tion, were a little too determined, a little too much like a grim Hussite grunt. Those first musicians to begin “Tábor” had sud­denly, inadvertently, broken into a cry­ — though to be sure the cry was, in a technical sense, exactly what Bedrich Smetana had specified in his score.

Mr. Stros couldn’t believe his ears. And while still in shock over those strangely fervent first three bars, he heard a second sound, a rumble really, an indistinct loud­ness, huge and not at all musical. He tore his eyes from the conductor and the score and looked out into the audience. That single, piercing. anguished “Ye who ARE … GOD’S … ” from the orchestra passed through the hall like an electric boll. The noisy rumble was the audience’s response. The 1500 students, row after row, were shooting to their feet.

The students did, as it turned out, under­stand Smetana’s program notes. Nothing about that concert was a mystery to them. They shot to their feet to acknowledge the 500-year-old sacred battle song. And facing straight at the orchestra, row after row of solemn, frightened, determined students raised a hand above their heads and spread their fingers in the V-sign salute of the democratic revolution of 1989.

That single phrase from the agitated mu­sicians of their nation’s greatest orchestra made those students recognize that they themselves, in the circumstances of modem Prague, were God’s Warriors, and they stood at attention because they were ac­cepting their role, whatever the cost might be. For no one could imagine that a V-sign in November ’89 necessarily signaled vic­tory’s approach. The history of Czechoslo­vakia has not been such as to permit confi­dent eitpectations. The Táborite army of the 15th century went down to bitter de­feat, just as Smetana and the insurrection­ists of 1848 went down, and just as did every effort against the Nazis, too, then against the Communists — until that moment.

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Smetana’s program, faithful to his opening theme of prophecy and sovereignty, none­theless offered a prophecy that the defeated Hussites, having retreated for eternity to Blaník Mountain, would someday awaken and achieve the final redemption of their country. The last section of My Country evokes, as the composer explained, national resurgence: God’s warriors, singing the Hussite hymn, return at last for triumph and redemption. And with the students still on their feet, still saluting, the orchestra went from “Tábor” to begin My Country‘s sixth and final section, “Blaník.”

The same Hussite phrase, sounding this time almost like a march, introduced the section — loud at first, then tense and quiet, steadily advancing. Only to play those notes quietly, to control one’s instrument with unwavering precision — that was more than a human being could do in the face of an audience like those 1500 magnificent students. The violinists, when they went to bow a soft passage, found that their hands were shaking and the bows trembled on the strings. The windplayers put their instru­ments to their mouths, but their lip muscles were quivering.

The Czech Philharmonic was weeping. Yet it was playing. And at last the great symphonic poem that bad begun with implacable arpeggios from the courageous Mrs. Kodadová and her fellow harpist gave way, in the concluding passages, to Smetana’s final burst of national passion, and the rows of brass players raised their instru­ments to play, the trombonists lifted their golden horns, an oversized bell of a bass trombone pointed like a cannon out at the trembling, upright, saluting audience — and “Ye Who Are God’s Warriors” boomed with the spectacular solemnity of the Hus­site army rushing into battle. A million strands of tone and overtone, fireworks of sound, soared from the crowded weeping stage. “Glory Returns to Bohemia,” was the name that Smetana gave to these final explosive passages.

Mr. Stros, from the perspective of a cou­ple of months later, regarded that perfor­mance as the greatest experience of his life. “In such moments,” the cellist told me, “the nation realizes that it still exists.” Smetana himself had predicted exactly such a discovery, incredibly. “On the basis of this melody,” the composer wrote, referring to the motifs from “Ye Who Are God’s Warriors” in the sixth and final section, “will develop the resurrection and the future happiness and glory of the Czech nation!” How ridiculous those words must have seemed to anyone who bothered reading them during the century after Smetana set them down — how foolish of a composer to believe that melody could resurrect a nation.

Yet something like Smetana’s prediction did occur in the auditorium that bore his name. It was as if the great 19th century musician had written his masterpiece ex­pressly for the single concert that eventually took place on the morning of November 23, 1989. Or perhaps there was another way to interpret the morning’s events. Mr. Wald­man, when he spoke of that amazing morn­ing, recalled how, according to Hussite leg­end, merely the sound of that terrible hymn was enough to drive enemies from the field — a not unreasonable explanation for what turned out to have occurred. “We all understood the power of music,” Mr. Waldman told me.

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The CDK Workers

The stunned musicians and their audience, at the end of the performance, walked over to Wenceslas Square for another of the af­ternoon rallies that Mr. Havel and the dissident intellectuals were stubbornly running from their balcony at the Socialist Party newspaper. But the rally that afternoon proved to be a little different from the ones on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

During the morning, the atmosphere in Prague had somehow altered. The news spread that General Secretary Jakes, the Communist leader, that barbarian, the most hated man in Czechoslovakia, had resigned: the revolution’s first important victory. And the social composition of the revolutionary movement visibly changed. On previous days, the crowd at Wenceslas Square consisted mostly of Prague’s stu­dents, joined by actors and musicians and, generally, the intelligentsia.

But the agitation by some of the workers at the giant CDK works in the suburbs had continued; the leaflets smuggled in by Mr. Bortl and others had evidently begun to circulate, in spite of the People’s Militia; and on Thursday morning, while the con­cert went on at Smetana Hall, the political tensions at CDK finally overflowed. Lead­ers of the Communist Party went out to the plant, thinking to get up a progovernment demonstration.

Comrade Miroslav Stepan, the party boss of Prague, stood up to address the workers. It was an incredible moment in the annals of communism. Marxism-Leninism is, to make the most obvious judgment about it, a philosophy of oppression aimed against workers (though it didn’t begin that way)­ — but its special peculiarity is to blind its own proponents from ever quite recognizing that simple truth. “False consciousness” is Mr. Havel’s apt term.

Prague’s leading Communist visited the country’s largest factory complex believing that there, among the foundries and furnaces and the chemical tubing, were his stalwart supporters, his proletarian base, his legitimacy. Instead, one of the data pro­cessors and a couple of his friends went leaping through the corridors calling out to their fellows, and three or four hundred angry workers showed up at the Commu­nist meeting and broke it up with heckles and shouts.

The workers of CDK were not, as it turned out, the supporters of Comrade Ste­pan, an alarming fact, undetected by de­cades of Marxist-Leninist scientific analy­sis, as one of the Western reporters cheerfully noted. The three or four hundred hecklers swelled into two or three thousand, and the thousands headed out from the factory complex to the place where the na­tional fate was being decided, Wenceslas Square.

The distance was 10 kilometers, but in­stead of taking the subway, which would have been the normal way to go, they went on foot. Other people fell in with the line of march, which swelled the CDK delegation still more until, by the time the crowd reached Wenceslas Square, the outpouring onto the mall was immense. It was the Hussite army for real, as it seemed, not the student advance guard but the main corps, returning from Mount Blanik to redeem the nation. It was the working class of Prague.

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Until that afternoon, the balance of power in Czechoslovakia was far from clear, since no one knew what position the working class was going to take, whether the tradi­tional chasm between workers and the in­telligentsia could be bridged, whether the Communists perhaps did retain support in the industrial zones.

It was not as if anybody had ever taken a proper poll to find out what if anything in the Communist propaganda was true. Since 1946, not a single free election had been held. There was not a single free trade union, answerable to its members. The ac­tual opinions of Prague’s labor force were a mystery even to the workers themselves. Or perhaps the mystery can be stated a little more grandly. What exactly was the state of modem culture? The emancipatory impulse that ran like a current from Beethoven’s Leonore overture to the 1848 uprisings to My Country and beyond — did that impulse still exist? Is freedom merely a “Western” custom, unfit for the Slavic mentality or for people in other regions, something lacking in universality?

What evidence did anyone have that peo­ple in the eastern countries, Poland ex­cepted, despised their own totalitarian systems? Who can honestly claim to have seen the revolution coming? Any number of cat­aclysmic possibilities seemed far likelier than a democratic upsurge in Eastern Eu­rope. Nuclear war, if it had broken out, would have surprised no one. Doomsday books on that very theme have lined the bookstores for years. But where were the volumes that predicted the antitotalitarian revolution? Who can claim to have antici­pated a spontaneous march from the indus­trial suburbs into Wenceslas Square to sup­port a revolutionary movement led by a persecuted playwright?

The Praguers themselves, witnessing that huge congregation on the square, hardly knew what to make of it. Their own success seemed too incredible to believe. One tri­umph rose above of the last, like the climb­ing scale that Smetana used for his “Vl­tava” theme — the first demonstrations at the square, Thursday’s march of the CDK workers, the arrival Friday of the old re­form leader of 1968, Alexander Dubcek, the national two-hour general strike by la­bor on the following Monday. But afterward the scale began to climb back down, and the successes seemed to ripple away into the past — at least they seemed to in the eyes of the principal militants in the Phil­harmonic. And in that gloomy atmosphere, Mr. Bortl and a few others, sitting in one of the wine bars that are spread through cen­tral Prague, came up with the idea of ap­pealing once again to music by holding a further concert — the Philharmonic perfor­mance on December 14, the one that was finally reported in The New York Times — ­though not as a victory celebration. On the contrary, the idea was to fend off defeat by reviving some of the revolutionary spirit.

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The musicians put their idea to the main Civic Forum leaders, the leaders ap­proved — and only when the plans for the “Concert for the Civic Forum” were al­ready going into effect did the deeper reali­ty of what had already occurred in the week after the Massacre on Narodní Avenue be­come clear. The Communist Party, stalwart until that point, suddenly began to wobble, like a boxer who has been knocked out but stays on his feet for another few seconds. The Communists in the government one by one began to withdraw, the balance of seats passed to the Civic Forum, the talk of Mr. Havel becoming president got louder — and by then the concert, even before its first note was played, had changed meaning.

It was a victory concert. In token of that victory, the orchestra decided, through its Representative for Secondary Rights, to cancel the fateful boycott of state television and radio that had been approved on the long-ago Stuttgart stage. For what was the point in refusing to collaborate with a com­munist government when communism was already halfway gone? Why not invite the state television to come and record the im­pending triumphal concert? So the camera­men and the recording technicians took their place in the hall along with the faith­ful admiring audience.

The choice to perform Beethoven’s Ninth instead of Smetana again or Dvorak or some other Czech composer may seem a little odd, from a nationalist perspective. But nationalism, always significant, was never exactly dominant in the Czechoslovak revolution. My Country was a splendid and historic call to arms, the appropriate piece for a moment of crisis when everyone had to gird themselves against the possibili­ty of being swiftly massacred by the Peo­ple’s Militia. But exactly what did the musi­cians mean when they invoked Smetana’s call for “the resurrection and the future hap­piness and glory of the Czech nation?”

Everyone had a meaning of choice, and the meanings tended to stress themes and goals that went beyond mere nationalism. Mr. Stros, when he talked about politics, favored a Christian Democratic orientation and looked forward to the growth of a good solid Czechoslovak Christian Democratic party. Mr. Bortl, more in tune with the “antipolitical politics” of Václav Havel, felt himself to have gone beyond the conven­tional political ideologies — Christian dem­ocratic, social democratic, conservative, or liberal, not to mention communist. He was postideological. His historical heroes were “humanitarian personalities” like Dvorak and Smetana, or like Czechoslovakia’s pres­ident from earlier in the century, Tomas Masaryk. “Higher spiritual values” was the phrase that sprang from his lips.

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Maestro Neumann, the conductor of that triumphant performance, stressed values that were cultural above all — the ability to speak Czech properly, a knowledge of mu­sic, the sort of education and cultivation that communism had never been able to provide, despite the seductive promises of 40 years ago. And for people whose revolu­tionary thoughts wandered along paths like those, Beethoven — even granted the awk­ward slipperiness in matters of politics­ — was an obvious choice. Beethoven was above nationality or party. He was the com­poser of freedom, of pure idealism, of the transcendental sublime. Plus Beethoven was victory’s natural favorite, and never more than in the last choral movement of the Ninth Symphony, the “Ode to Joy.”

The applause that rose up in response to that performance, the ovation whose exu­berance was so great as to echo in the distant columns of the Times, the ebullient noise of the “jubilant house” — that ap­plause was nothing if not Prague’s shout of victory. It was an ovation for civilization and spiritual values, for freedom, for the notions that sound silly and abstract if someone extols them at a mass rally but are wonderfully lucid at a Beethoven concert.

Of course the ovation was also for the individuals who had managed to embody and express those philosophies and aspirations. It was for the celebrated conductor who had mounted a one-man boycott of state radio. Czechoslovakia’s leading play­wright came on stage. The ovation was for him, too, and for the years he had spent in prison, and for his ad hoc Civic Forum, whose nonideological doctrine of gentleness and tolerance had translated the spiritual impulse into practical action.

The playwright introduced the Civic Fo­rum’s new Foreign Minister, Mr. Dienst­bier, the veteran dissident, who sat in the box of honor. Vigorous applause greeted Mr. Dienstbier and honored him for his own time in jail, and for the new, non­-Soviet foreign policy he would conduct. Well-known émigrés, just back from exile, were introduced to the house. They, too, received a grand ovation.

The ovation was for the audience itself, the faithful music lovers, citizens of the conservatorium of Europe. It was for the chorus. And the ovation was, not least, for the people who sat in concentric rows to the rear of Maestro Neumann under the huge medallion of Hedrich Smetana — the anonymous members of Czechoslovakia’s leading symphony orchestra.

Nearly a hundred musicians gazed out­ward from the stage into the cream-colored cavern of Smetana Hall. Then the Czech Philharmonic, too, “heroes” of “our revo­lution,” the first ensemble in Czechoslova­kia to go on strike, the vanguard of the vanguard — they, too, an orchestra of free musicians, burst into applause. ■