Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rodolfo Acuna on the history of Chicano studies

The University of Denver has serious programs to recruit Chicanas and Chicanos but is less developed in Chicano studies (located in the Southwest, this could be a natural and important focus of the University). That creating such programs has always been a struggle was made clear recently in a talk about the early 1970s at Cal State Northridge by Rodolfo Acuna. Suppressed or forgotten histories, ones submerged in amnesias (about ethnic cleansing toward Native Americans or the central role of black Patriots in the Revolutionary War and afterwards) or seeking to be returned to "amnesia" as in the vicious attack on Chicano studies in high schools in Tucson, always have difficulty making themselves heard, as Rodolfo underlines.


Going to the Edge
Over the Cliff

Rodolfo F. Acuña

Prepared for April 14, 2014

I guess I am the ghost of Chicana/o studies past of this panel, so I will take the liberty of a a ghost and not recount forty-five years of war stories; instead I will concentrate on how and why Chicana/o Studies at CSUN [Cal State University Northridge] has survived. The answer revolves around students, who are the heart of the department. One must always remember that the academy rejects new innovations and races much the same as our bodies reject heart or other transplants. Without the students’ radical presence the transplant would have never survived.

Our story begins with first wave of students who deserve most of the credit, beginning with the takeover of the administration building by the Black Student Union [November 4, 1968] through the entrance of our first class of about 275 Latino students in the fall of 1969. Without them the transplant would have failed.

The late sixties were different times. Mexican Americans were a small regional minority who were not known by academicians who had a difficult time distinguishing between a taco and a burrito. Most colleges and universities were intent on building Harvards of the West – which meant avoiding intellectual incest and hiring faculty members from other regions -- preferably from Ivy League schools. The problem was that these professors although they knew about the African-American movement knew very little about Mexicans who many considered foreigners. In contrast to today, the Mexican American numbers were not visible. This lack of historical context was a barrier that we had to overcome because outside a handful of white faculty there was little internal support for lo mexicano.

The presence of a strong militant black population was invaluable to passing most of our curricular proposals, and pushing for the effective outreach of Mexican American students. I relied on this momentum to increase during the fall 69. However, the BSU had suffered as a result of November 4 [see here] - and most of its militant leadership was standing trial for kidnaping and related charges [the San Fernando Valley 19]. I learned from Bill Burwell that black students would not be taking part in campus politics, and unlike Archie Chapman and the more militant BSU sector, would deal independently with the administration. Although I did not agree with this decision, it was as don Corleone would say a smart move.

However, without student militancy Chicano Studies was dead in the water. The momentum was not there; in the fall of 1969 we numbered less than 275 students most of whom were first time college students. Fortunately some leadership entered from the community colleges. So I decided that we had to roll the dice and hope our numbers came up. In brief consultation with some faculty and students it was decided that MEChA would fill the void left by the BSU. We would act in concert with the SDS but promote our issues and make our decisions in the context of our priorities. We would not negotiate with the administration, and we would break impasses by packing their meetings. The department almost always had students and community leaders on negotiating teams. Often the irrational was our greatest ally.

That fall there were several conflicts with the student senate and the dean of students. It paid off because the administration feared another November 4. Each victory added to our presence. This and outside militancy further established our credentials among the left sector of the faculty. We also built alliances with the American Federation of Teachers who needed our votes in committees. The administration was put on notice that we would go to the edge of the cliff, and if need be go over the cliff. My own feeling was that we had nothing to lose – remaining insignificant and weak was no way to live. I was 35 and could always sell used cars.

In the meantime, I discouraged any type of relationship with administrators. You can’t eat with them and then shit on their plate. The one time this was breached was when I suddenly and unexpectedly left for Mexico for five months. The vice-president took advantage of the inexperience of the chair and had him sign away our rights to establish an education program. When I came back I found the department in disarray and in conjunction with Jorge Garcia and Gerald Reséndez, we put it back on track.

The students had acquired a militant reputation, and after the burning of the Chicana/o House were at the front of the protest line. They were united but many had become disheartened by our loss of momentum in the spring of 1971. There were also too many drugs, which was facilitated by the structure of the dorms. MEChA, however, soon regained its edge. Meanwhile, the leadership had noticeably shifted to the Chicanas. The retention was higher among women than for males, most coming better prepared for college. They were a stabilizing force; they began programs like the day care center that helped socialize incoming Chicanas.

There are so many events that merit telling but 30 minutes ain’t much time. Without a doubt, the project that institutionalized Chicana/o Studies was a Ford Foundation Grant of $347,000. Prior to this I had resisted taking grants; I was wary of them because of my experiences with the War on Poverty. In fact we had torpedoed efforts to bring in outside (soft) money by other departments. They were Trojan Horses that lessened our control, and the need for the institution to negotiate with us. Grants bring in soft money that only makes the university rich.

We, however, decided to break this boycott of outside funds. Ford asked us to come up with a program, we did not solicit it, so we dictated the terms. We could go to the edge and over the cliff. Our goal was to produce jobs for our graduates that would motivate them to take CHS classes and establish the viability of the area of study. Next we exploited the status of CSUN as a teacher training institution.

In order to maximize the impact of the grant, we designed it to benefit the student. It was based on student stipends not frills for the university. One hundred and fifty students would be granted stipends of $1000 a year for two years, divided into three overlapping cycles.[At that time, this covered most of tuition; the inflation of campus price, student debt-slavery, and attempt to destroy public universities has all occurred since]. This number would be supplemented by another 150 students receiving financial aid. They would be grouped in a special program and all would be Ford Fellows. CSUN got 10 percent in administrative costs (it usually gets 40 percent), which wa refunded to OCT (Operation Chicano Teacher). The instructors, classrooms, and supplies were paid by the university.

The program generated student enrollment, and CHS in turn got a larger budget and faculty positions paid out of hard money. There was no release time, and indeed some of us taught an extra class to get students under the wire before the Ryan Act kicked in. It forced other departments to deal with us in committees and at the bargaining table. We got one extension of $150,000, and in toto graduated over 250 Chicana/o teachers – impacting the diversity of the teaching pool in Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley.

Things were also changing university-wide. A sudden decline in white enrollment made our students more attractive to other departments who now tolerated our students because they needed them to survive. The narrative of white faulty changed, and they popularized a counter-narrative that said that they did not hire Latinos because of CHS.

Meanwhile, nothing is free. Before the last extension I was contacted by Ralph Bohrson, a representative of the Ford Foundation, who wanted me to go to New Mexico where Ford was in a fight with Reis López Tijerina. They wanted me to go on a speaking tour to counter Reis’ influence – I refused and I later learned through Abel Amaya [Abel was one of my first students at the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver] that this field agent and his allies led the opposition to a renewal of Operation Chicano Teacher because, according to Amaya, “it did not fall within its paradigm.” Other offers of funding also came from a representative of LEA:Local Enforcement Agency which after some debate we rejected.

In a nutshell, in order to plant a new area of study as foreign as Chicana/o Studies, you have to be prepared to go to the edge of the mountain and if need be over the cliff. You are playing for keeps.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hotel Bauen workers' cooperative under threat

Minsun Ji, a longstanding organizer of day laborers and my student, is writing on cooperatives as an alternative to current predation (that to be a sociopath is often to have the characteristics of a CEO is one of the worst things about a contemporary capitalism which is intolerant of a decent lifestyle for all, which needs not just to deny a safety net to workers but to impoverish the middle class as well). Minsun is currently in Argentina and ran across the case of Hotel Bauen workers, who have successfully operated the hotel for 11 years but are now faced with eviction. The capitalists who did not repay loans and shut the building down have no decent claim on it. An international campaign is being mounted on the cooperative's behalf. I hope you will join.


"Hi Alan

Hope you are well.

I am currently in Buenos Aires, to interview worker owned cooperatives, recuperated worker cooperatives, labor unions and community organizations to learn about their social movement.

Can you please help circulate this petition widely to your network? Hotel BAUEN workers are facing another eviction notice after operating the hotel for the past 11 years and they are launching an international campaign to get support. Thank you very much.



"In support of the self-managed workers of the Hotel BAUEN (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Tuesday, April 15 and Wednesday, April 16, 2014
International days of solidarity with Hotel BAUEN

We invite you to include your name in the worldwide petition being gathered on behalf of the self-managed workers of the Hotel BAUEN, located in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina. Click here to include your name in the petition: Collection of signatures in solidarity with the workers of the Hotel BAUEN Managed by Marcelo Vieta (University of Toronto) marcelo.vieta [at] Survey

The workers of the Hotel BAUEN, after 11 years of successfully self-managing the hotel as a worker-recuperated enterprise (empresa recuperada por sus trabajadores), face permanent eviction next week. Numerous workers’ organizations, social movements, and people in solidarity with the Hotel BAUEN workers from around the world are expressing their solidarity with the workers.

Hotel BAUEN is one of the most emblematic worker-recuperated businesses in Argentina. Closed by its owners as part of a fraudulent scheme that left its workers out on the street at the end of 2001, the 20-story building located in downtown Buenos Aires was asset stripped and abandoned by its owners for more than a year before a group of former workers occupied the space on March 21, 2003. Thus began a process of 11 years of self-management that has created 130 jobs and made major investments in repairing the hotel’s infrastructure problems, all with very little external financing.

Hotel BAUEN, which was once a symbol of the corruption of power in Argentina, has now become a meeting place for social movements, unions, and workers’ organizations. Over the past decade, the hotel has hosted hundreds of organizing conferences and debates, as well as academic and cultural events.

Hotel BAUEN is not just an emblem of self-management. It is also a symbol for the collective memory of the collusion and corruption between economic power and the genocidal dictatorship that ruled and bloodied Argentina between 1976 to 1983. Hotel BAUEN was constructed in preparation for the soccer World Cup in 1978 and financed with loans from the national bank (BANADE) that were never repaid. Because of this outstanding debt, the state of Argentina could choose to recover the property of the hotel on behalf of its workers. Instead, although the debt has – still, to date – never been repaid by former owners, the courts have ruled that the company Mercoteles (a continuation of the original owners) is the owner of the building, effectively ordering the eviction of the worker cooperative. The worker cooperative in Hotel BAUEN has since appealed the ruling, but their lawsuit was rejected at all levels of the Argentine justice system.

On March 21, 2014, while the self-managed workers of Hotel BAUEN celebrated 11 years since the recuperation of the hotel, the court renewed the eviction order against the cooperative. The workers, along with many social organizations, are committed to resisting the order in the hopes that they will find a definitive solution that recognizes their work, investments, and the social, economic and cultural role of a self-managed enterprise, instead of rewarding corrupt businesspeople complicit with the the military dictatorship.

The signatures in the petition represent those who stand in solidarity with the workers of Hotel BAUEN. They represent a call for a solution that will permit the workers of Hotel BAUEN to continue self-managing the hotel as an example to the world.

Click here to include your name in the petition:

To send an email of support to the Hotel BAUEN workers: or

On behalf of the Hotel BAUEN workers,

Andrés Ruggeri, Professor and Director of the Open Faculty Program, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires

Marcelo Vieta, Assistant Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto (effective July 1, 2014)"

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Phil Woods' poem about John and Condi Rice

The Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota is paying Condi Rice a large sum of money to speak Wednesday night (April 17). See here. Students for a Democratic Society and others asked for brief time to speak: to raise uncomfortable questions about aggression against and occupation of Iraq (lately, the Shiite government has legislation to force marriage on 9 year olds...) and particularly torture. One would think this would be easy for the Institute to grant as a matter of honor, free speech (as when Bush came to the University of Denver this summer) being an often invoked University ideal. But Universities raise money from the powerful and are reluctant to have the criminality of government speakers confronted by questions. Protestors (and audiences), they require, should be silent at glossy University events.

But SDS and other believers in law and democracy are protesting from below.

University administrations are, at least partially an important component of the war complex - what I have called the military-industrial-Congressional-think tank-intelligence-University administrations and favored scholars, satellite foreign militaries like Egypt's (it receives over a billion dollars a year to purchase US weaponry), major US foundations complex. The phrase is ungainly and my awareness of different aspects of it - and hence, the length of it - is growing. President Eisenhower gestured at it in his Farewell Address about the military-industrial complex (actually the military-industrial-congressional complex in his draft, but he thought that might be too frightening for his audience and so crossed the third branch of it out in the final speech).

But resistance to cries for war and attempts to paint torture (100 were murdered in American custody according to Pentagon statistics) as "not so bad" - the Bush administration attacked this centerpiece of international law and the Obama administration has done nothing to obey its treaty obligations under the Convention against Torture and even hold hearings (each power is supposed to bring its own torturers to justice first and quickly; the international community has been taking steps since 2008 which is why Condi can go to Minnesota and Rutgers, but not abroad. See here.


Here is Phil's poem on the complexities of dealing with the Klan for many black Southerners including ministers in Birmingham like John Rice and the curious denials of his daughter:


I met her father once.
He'd come up from Birmingham
after the church bombing
to be a Dean at DU.
He drove out to Commerce City--
the suburb next to the stinky
oil refineries
where half the fathers
were long haul truckers
& gone most of the time
to talk to my class
about the Civil Rights Movement.
His face was full of lines
aged in from a lifetime of wariness.
He slept with one eye open.
Growing up black in the Deep South
will do that.

He said something like:
“Yes, we loved Martin;
we followed him,
but most of us
kept shot guns
under our beds.
You don't let people
shoot up your house
without a fight.”

Non-violence, yes, but
practical too.

His daughter
told The New Yorker
she owed the Movement
All her success
was entirely
her own doing.
(I liked her father better.)

Now Condi
gets $150,000
to tell college students
what the Civil Rights
Movement was all about.

She doesn't get
put on trial
like Goring
before his suicide
& her pal,
the football fan,
he's exhibiting his paintings
instead of wearing
an orange jump suit
for unspeakable crimes.

Such is life
in the last days
of the Republic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Aurora pickets for immigrant rights: Rob Prince on Latinos and his grandmother

Being on a picket line is good for the soul, as my friend Rob Prince's powerful account of demonstrating at the "Aurora Processing Center" indicates (like the Bush "Clean Skies Program" or "Enhanced Interrogations" or the name of companies which engage in backing dictatorships and slaughtering innocents like Xe Corporation, formerly Blackwater, or Consolidated Systems Inc which manufactured every tear gas canister used by Mubarak undergirded by American "aid" against Arab Spring in Egypt). Not honesty and straightforwardness but bizarre euphemisms for criminality is characteristic of government under the latest, increasingly authoritarian and militarist with some parliamentary and rights-oriented remnants capitalism. In addition, America is an empire in decline...). Rob speaks of his family's immigration to the United States, his aunt and uncle being forced to return to Europe on "eugenic" grounds (even the FDR administration would turn away Jews from Europe, so that Hitler could say: "You see, America doesn't want them, either." (see Katherine Ann Porter, Ship of Fools).


My anarchist grandparents emigrated from Prylucki in the Ukraine (the ghetto), his fleeing prompted by organizing in the tsarist army in 1898, four years before the first Russian peasant revolt in the lead up to the 1905 Revolution, and being betrayed. Their names were often anglicized (as with indigenous people, the "superior" race had a hard time with names and often decreed them). But Sofie and JJ Cohen were not, as Rob's were, detained or sent back for an eye infection (the master race is often excessively concerned with "healthy bodies," displaying "Aryan" or "Nordic" children as supposed examples).


Today's wall against immigrants - except for indigenous Americans, this is a land of immigrants spouting false patriotism and nativism - is a silly creation of the Republicans, catered to by the Democrats, to shovel money to the .001%, harm most of us, and get people to blame immigrants (I first saw Obama debate Hillary, defending immigrants against the charge of stealing black teenage jobs - I thought he might get shot for saying such true things...- and Hillary reading from the script of the rich about meeting an unemployed black construction worker in Atlanta who said "that job was taken by a Mexican" and "that job..." (Obama has, except for the dreamers, thus far done a very bad job as President on this issue; people are today picketing outside the White House...).


In my book Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, I begin from a citation from Jefferson about the so-called Alien and Sedition Act (1798) which made it a capital crime to criticize the President (except for a shining moment of advocacy of the Declaration of Independence, the bizarrely reactionary John Adams): "Now that an Alien Act has targeted the immigrant, the citizen had better not be too confident, for already has a Sedition Act marked him for its prey." The Sedition Act sought to suppress a second party, the Democratic-Republicans of whom Jefferson and Madison were the leaders; Jefferson won the elation of 1800 and, thus, created a two party democracy as against single party rule. These were pretty high stakes.

The Alien Act target Scottish and Irish editors of pro-Jefferson newspapers. Oh, those immigrants...


In Los Angeles, I worked, as an SDS organizer, to organize or more aptly, accompany immigrant women in the garment industry and radical farmworkers in Delano (H/t Victor, Enrique and Epifanio, and Staughton Lynd). Today campus workers often speak Spanish and anyone who is not working to become bilingual is losing out. There were huge protests for human rights and decency on May 1, 2011 in Denver. But such divisions are, as Marx said of the English workers who looked down on the Irish (half the work force), "the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its high level of organization." (letter to Meyer and Vogt, 1870). And they are cultivated by the elite "through press, pulpit and comic paper." See Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 4.


My mother Emma was an admirer of Paul Robeson and an early IQ tester; with Rob, I have long fought the eugenics movement. The rationale for IQ testing - a great industry - is little more significant than calling the prison for immigrants a "processing center." "Intelligence" is defined circularly as "what IQ tests test." The result is a rationalization of class, status, gender hierarchies, most fiercely directed at immigrants, blacks and chicanos, and indigenous people. See my Democratic Individuality, ch. 10).


It was wonderful that Rob's grandmother met him on the picket line. This is true, in spirit, for all Jews who fight against oppression - and especially against an Israeli regime which treats the Palestinians, the indigenous people, as exiles and forbidden immigrants in their own land (the same has long been true for indigenous people in America). To oppose racism and fight for equality and decency is the true heritage of those who have gone before...

There are many significances, many stories to be learned, from standing up. Rob's essay (from his blog) is a particularly moving one.


"Bring Them Home – Immigration Rights Monthly Protest At the Aurora Processing Center
by Rob Prince

Such a strange title for what amounts to a high security prison for undocumented immigrants being "processed" kicked out of the country,"the Aurora Processing Center." It is a fortress with high walls, barbed wire, an enormous facility a medieval dungeon in the 21st Century. But I have passed it many times driving down Peoria Street in Aurora and not even noticed it as it sits a block off of a main thoroughfare. If you didn't know what was going on there, it would not be illogical to think it a meat processing center. After all what is a "processing center?"But this processing center processes people and kicks them out of the country. It breaks up families and crushes souls.Colorado "processing center" in Aurora has one of the oppressive records in the country and this country's president has expelled more immigrants from these United States than anyone in his position in the past. A sorry record indeed and one that continues full steam.

There were about fifty of us out there protesting the treatment of undocumented residents of the United States. One of my daughters, Molly, had asked if I would go with her to the monthly protest meeting - first Monday of each month - at the Aurora Processing Center. A Jewish social justice group (finally!) in Denver, Bend The Arc, is also involved. Many present themselves or family members had been arrested by immigration and are facing deportation. One who had spent eight months inside the Aurora Processing Center was a woman named Kelly. She had been stopped for driving without a license and, her papers not in order, sent to the processing center for deportation. That she was able to get out of the center and remain in the country she credits to the immigration rights movement in Denver that helped her. But it would not have happened unless, as Kelly put it, she "came out of the shadows and into the light, to leave behind the fear"...go public and fight openly for her rights.

Molly had gone to these demonstrations several times before and it was about time that I joined in too. Immigration is a personal issue for me several generations removed. It is both a part of both the heritage of this country and of my own family. Along with many of their relatives, all of my grandparents immigrated to this country from what is today Lithuania, Poland and Belarus in the early years of the 20th century. My maternal grandmother, Sarah Magaziner (name changed to Magazine in the 1930s) was denied entry on her first try as a result of a minor eye infection. For that, - a woman who spoke seven languages fluently (Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Yiddish, Swedish and Hebrew) - eight if English is thrown in - and who had the voice of an opera singer, the daughter of a long line of rabbis and fisherman on the Niemen River - was deemed "eugenically unfit" and sent back to Europe from Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

Sarah Wishejsky - in Bialystok, Poland, shortly before her marriage to Julius Magaziner. She was considered eugenically unfit at Ellis Island and sent back to Europe. He started a grand family pacifist tradition as he was a draft dodger from the Russian Army who escaped to the United States rather than spend twenty years in the army of a country which had organized pogroms (a nice word for massacres) of Russian and Ukrainian Jews.

She found refuge with a relative in Sweden. A few years later, she tried again, but this time her ship landed in Montreal from where she took a train down to New York City. While the Ellis Island entry to New York was as heavily guarded as the Mexican-U.S. border today (actually it is much worse today), there were no customs officers that greeted the trains from Canada to New York. So she slipped in, an illegal, undocumented woman from Bialystok, Poland with her two sons (one of whom died). One who survived, who made both journeys, was my Uncle Lou. Grandma Sarah would have fourteen pregnancies of which seven survived - my uncles Lou, Joe, Hymie, Ira, and Willie, my Aunt Mal (b. Molly changed her name to Malvina because it sounded more exotic as an adult) and the youngest and most pampered of the lot, my mother, Beatrice Magazine, called Beattie by her siblings and friends.

While anti-Semitism is still alive and well in some quarters here in the USA it is nowhere near as virulent today here as it was a century ago. Still it seems to have a life of its own just down the road from us in Colorado Springs both in its born-again mega-churches and as it has been revealed, there is no small dose of it at the U.S. Air Force Academy as well. There are several bigoted "Christian identity" churches in northern Colorado near the Wyoming state line.

For all that, there is very little blatant anti-Semitism in the state and the Jewish Community here - especially in Denver and Boulder has thrived and made its mark. Although there are always demons in the shadows, being a Jew in the United States today is not so hard as it was a century ago when the Prenskys, Magaziners, Wishejskys and Dubinskys - my relatives on both sides - landed in New York City.

Of course they came green off the boat a century ago...and culturally and religiously I suppose - it feels even longer than that. But it isn't - just two generations. Jews in the early 20th century were in the forefront of immigration rights, civil rights movements in part because it has always been an integral part of Jewish heritage - Israel aside - in part because of the very real discrimination my relatives, ancestors suffered, here in the USA and in Europe. But then as things happen and time goes by and prosperity set in, memories of past injustices seem to fade. We tend to forget the thorny path on which our ancestors walked.

But I can't seem to forget. I looked at these young Mexican mothers this evening fighting for their human rights to stay, live and participate in this country, fighting for their children, their husbands, brothers and sisters and I see my grandmother Sarah clinging to my Uncle Lou being forced back to Europe...from whence they made the journey "across the pond" a second and more successful time. I see this highly cultured and beautiful woman, daughter of a rabbi cursed as eugenically unfit, a subhuman by an Ellis Island immigration officer. Grandma Sarah, whose picture I carry in my wallet, speaks to me in her voice of broken English mixed with Yiddish saying..."Robinu, why did you wait so long to join them on this picket line..I've been waiting for you."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Poem: Carmelites

a noose of rain

Dachau is but a nest of stones and Carmelite

the barracks are no more

the town has festivals

the brookstills outside the wire

the bridge babbles the crematorium

the hangman says

the earth does not reek

the town is not


there is no

Fleisch in the smoke

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A conversation of Vincent Harding and Omid Safi Friday April 4th in Denver

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "Breaking the Silence," April 4th, 1967 (the first draft was written by King's friend and associate, Vincent Harding) and of King's assassination, a year to the day later, on April 4th, 1968 in Memphis, see here, here and here, Vincent Harding and Omid Safi will discuss Islam in America and King's legacy at the Iliff School of Theology at ten-thirty in the morning. This will be an unusual event and if you can come, very well worth being part of.


"April 4
Courageous Conversation: Vincent Harding & Omid Safi - “Islam in America & MLK’s Legacy”

Description: Iliff will host “Courageous Conversation: Islam in America & Dr. Martin Luther King’s Legacy,” with professors Vincent Harding and Omid Safi as a part of the Everding Lecture Series.

The conversation will be held on the 46th anniversary of the assassination of King at the Lorraine Hotel, Memphis, with a focus on King’s legacy and the role of Islam, as well as reflections from this history for us today.

Harding, professor emeritus of religion and social transformation, Iliff, and visiting distinguished professor in African American religion, Drew University, was a close colleague of King, an advisor to the Student Non-violent Coordination Committee, author of King’s famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech, first director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center, and director, Institute of the Black World. He is a well-known social activist and chronicler of the civil rights movement (participant, historian, and social observer). He and his late wife were senior consultants to the “Eyes on the Prize” documentary film project. The Hardings were also founders of the Veterans of Hope Project, an interdisciplinary initiative on spiritual, cultural, and participatory democracy at Iliff.

He is also the author of many books, including: Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero; There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America; A Certain Magnificence: Lyman Beecher and the Transformation of American Protestantism, 1775-1863; Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement. He also co-edited, The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle.

Safi is Iliff’s 2014 Everding Distinguished Lecturer and is professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam). An award-winning teacher and speaker, he was nominated six times at Colgate University for “Professor of the Year,” twice at Duke University for the Distinguished Lecturer award, and has received two “Professor of the Year” awards at U.N.C. He is the author of numerous books and research articles. His Memories of Muhammad deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. His other published books include Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, and The Cambridge Companion to American Islam.

Safi appears frequently in the New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, and international media. He blogs regularly at “What Would Muhammad Do?” for Religion News. He is also the chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization devoted to the academic study of religion.

Date: Friday, April 4, 10:30 a.m.
Location: Iliff School of Theology, Shattuck Hall, 2323 E. Iliff Ave., Denver, CO 80210
Info/Contact: Free and open to the public. The Office of the Dean of the Faculty, Leslie Inman, linman@iliff.eduor 303-765-3183."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Germany and scalps

Germany does not just have its own holocaust to try to heal from (I have been at Dachau, a kind of black hole that in a thousand years, with the prayers of Carmelite nuns and others, may become again a kind of ordinary ground - see the poem I wrote about this here), but has to have a share of body parts from the American holocaust against indigenous people. Two Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders contacted the Karl May museum (May was a popular German novelist imagining "indigenous" people) about returning the scalps. May was not into scalping people. Perhaps this is the May museum's ghoulish gesture at "authenticity."

In arrogance and perhaps shame for the hoarding of body parts, the person they spoke to hung up.


NAGPRA (1990) - the Native American Graves Repatriation and Protection Act - is a law in America requiring the repatriation and burial of the mutilated (in America as in Germany, lampshades made of human skin). The act oddly refers to human remains as "cultural property." The Smithsonian still has most of the 20,000 skulls stolen to do racist pseudoscience - craniometry, anthropometry - by Samuel Morton and the US army (last year, Otto Braided Hair and David Halaas recovered some skulls severed at Sand Creek). See here. The Iliff School of Theology is beginning to deal with their possession and display in front of the library of a text covered in human skin, returned for burial, after protest, in 1974. See here and here.


The people trying to recover the scalps began to put the pressure of on and letters have been sent to the May Museum by Karen Little Coyote, Dale Hamilton and the U.S. Embassy. But what does it say of both the German museum and the spirit of Karl May that its current managers cling so fiercely to such "artifacts"?


For a photograph of the May Museum, see here.
Courtesy Wikicommons

The upcoming Karl May Festival in Radebeul, Germany, from May 30 to June 1, will have plenty of controversy leading up to it.

Tribes Demand Return of Native Scalps From Karl May Museum in Germany
Indian Country Today
Red Haircrow

The Karl May Festival, an annual event in honor of the German novelist who spun imaginative tales about American Indians and the U.S Old West well over 100 years ago, will be held in Radebeul, Germany from May 30 to June 1. In addition to the many German Indian hobbyists and fans who come from around the world, it has grown to include delegations from North America tribes encouraging Native tourism and cultural understanding.

The Karl May Museum states it is “dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of Karl May, and serves the public by advancing knowledge through exhibitions, educational programs, publications, events and guided tours.” When Mark Worth, a former news reporter and activist for Transparency International, learned that Native scalps were on display there, he called the museum in 2010 and spoke with its public relations director, André Kohler. He was informed that the museum did, indeed, have Native American scalps on display and more in storage.

Worth says that after being given the same line used by French auction houses to “successfully argue for their sale of Hopi and Apache sacred items as that country has no laws to protect Indigenous Peoples, and the items were rightfully in private collectors’ hands,” he was told the museum was a private institution, and was hung up on. But that didn’t stop him.

He researched the history of the scalps, then contacted anyone he thought might help, including the Chippewa, Arapaho, Cheyenne and other tribes, administrators of the NAGPRA program (The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), the office of U.S. Senator Al Franken, who sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Smithsonian Institution's Native American repatriation office and the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.

In 2013, a representative of the U.S. Embassy replied that if a tribe wrote a letter seeking an inquiry into the situation, the embassy would try to intervene on their behalf. In the fall of 2013, Karen Little Coyote and Dale Hamilton of the Arapaho-Cheyenne Tribes in Oklahoma, who both work for their tribes’ Cultural Heritage Department, were contacted. Along with other staff members of various tribes, they sent a letter to the embassy asking for the scalps to be returned.

Despite promises by the museum to return them, Worth says the scalps were still on display December 2013.

In February 2014, the U.S. Embassy arranged for the head of the U.S. Consulate in Leipzig to visit the museum and talk about the situation with its new director, Claudia Kaulfuss, and new curator Hans Gruner. The cultural attache in Berlin wrote in an e-mail sent to Ms. Little Coyote, and cc’d to Worth, that the museum said, “Many Native Americans have visited over the years, and we haven’t received any complaints,” and stressed that “they strive to be sensitive and balanced.”

What will be the final outcome? Despite the fact UNESCO conventions are already in place, signed by Germany and other European countries to prevent and prohibit the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, and bans the illicit trade in cultural artifacts, the museum refuses to budge.

UNESCO has been contacted and given the details of this situation.

On March 10, 2014, Cecil Pavlat of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan wrote another letter, this time public and formal, to the museum calling for repatriation. He has also said that he plans to stage a protest at the upcoming Karl May Festival.