by Norah Dooley

Story Summary

A white high school student connects racial justice and the anti-war movement. After 4 white students are killed in OH, Norah joins a national strike. Days later, 2 black students are killed in MS. How would her largely white student body respond?

Discussion Questions

  1. Demands of the May 1970 national student strike varied from campus to campus but across the U.S. three main themes were: 1) Ending the war and withdrawing all U.S. armed forces from Southeast Asia 2) Ending repression at home, particularly of African American activists 3) Abolishing campus links with the Defense Department and the military-industrial complex. What demands would you have made?
  2. On April 4,1967, Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a crowd of 3,000 people at Riverside Church in New York City. His speech “Beyond Vietnam,” pointed out that the war effort was “…taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.” In April 1967, champion boxer, Muhammad Ali, declared himself a conscientious objector and refused induction into the U.S. Army, famously saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” Ali had his passport and ability to travel, to box and, to make a living taken from him. When Dr. King further denounced the War, he quoted Ali in support of his position: "As Muhammad Ali puts it, ""we are all — black and brown and poor — victims of the same system of oppression."" What connections were being made between the liberation of African-Americans in the U.S. and the war in Vietnam?
  3. The Vietnam War continued for several more years and officially ended on April 30, 1975. What do you think the Brookline High School students accomplished or learned from their participation in the student strike, their protest of the deaths of Black students in Mississippi and in the anti-war movement?

Resources

  • Student activism today: After Parkland, FL shooting in 2018 - https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/26/us/march-for-our-lives/index.html Sunrise Movement and Green New Deal, 2019 - https://www.sunrisemovement.org/gnd Climate Strike Sept 20, 2019 - https://globalclimatestrike.net/greta-thunbergs-invitation-stand-with-us-on-september-20-and-beyond/
  • Books on Kent State: This We Know: A Chronology of the Shootings at Kent State, May 1970 Seeman Barbato, Davis et als, Kent State University Press, 2013
  • Books on Jackson State, May 15, 1970: Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings of Jackson State College by Tim Spofford, Kent State U Press, 1988
  • Links to Articles Websites about the May 4th and May 15th killings: https://www.kent.edu/may4kentstate50 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_State_killings https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/jackson-state-killings/ http://www.jsums.edu/universitycommunications/gibbs-green-shooting-may-15-1970/ https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126426361 Kent State University https://www.kent.edu/may-4-1970 FBI https://vault.fbi.gov/ (search: kent state shootings) https://www.ohio.com/photogallery/OH/20190503/NEWS/503009994/PH/1 https://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/14/40_years_ago_police_kill_two
  • Black Panther Party links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten-Point_Program https://www.huffpost.com/entry/27-important-facts-everyone-should-know-about-the-black-panthers_n_56c4d853e4b08ffac1276462 Curriculum on May 4th 1970 Kent State https://www.kent.edu/may4kentstate50/education-resources
  • Articles on May 4,1970, Kent State https://depts.washington.edu/moves/antiwar_may1970.shtml https://www.nytimes.com/1970/05/05/archives/antiwax-strike-plans-in-the-colleges-pick-up-student-and-faculty.html
  • African American Liberation and Vietnam War: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/vietnam-war https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Power_Mixtape_1967%E2%80%

Themes

  • African American/Africans
  • European American/Whites
  • War

Full Transcript
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My name is Nora Dooley and this is the story of the flagpole.

In 1970, I was a junior in Brookline High School in Massachusetts. In 1970 in May, students were killed at Kent State while they were demonstrating against the Vietnam War. Four of them died. Many others were wounded and colleges and universities all across the country went on strike. Very few, I think high schools, but our high school was radicalized. We had this great history department. These history teachers really had empowered us to like understand what was going on around us and to react to it and organize ourselves. And so we demanded a meeting of the entire high school which was like 2,000 people! The entire high school to debate whether or not we should go on strike.

Now, we also had in our high school a Black Caucus. And this was a leader of, and this is a set of Black students who had taken a leadership role to help us understand what was going on in Black Liberation. And also, we had this strong desire to end the war.

These two things were brought together and, in this meeting, it was debated. We’re talking about a high school gym full of people yelling and shouting at each other. We were talking about Black Liberation and talking about Black Panthers and the Black Panther Party. And then we had people talking about how the Black Panther Party were full of racists and rapists and a vote for them would be a vote for that. And it was just a crazy scene. But… in the end a vote was taken and a vast majority of us, I mean a huge super majority, something like 1,600 of the 2,000, voted to go on strike. We would strike for a week and then come back.

We turned our gym into an anti-war center. We had people going out to all the elementary schools from there to do teach-ins. We did teach-ins at churches. We had drives to get people to sign petitions for things that were in Congress then about anti-war. We did everything.

And, then, that Friday we came back to say, “Are we going to go back to school? Or what are we going to do?” Because we were kind of disappointed that even though we had spent the whole week working on it, we hadn’t ended the Vietnam War.

And the night before we came back for that meeting, students were killed in Mississippi; Students were killed at the University of Mississippi. They were shot by National Guard soldiers who were… these students were just in their beds. I mean they were killed in their beds. Two of them and one who was just walking by, he was a high school student. He didn’t even go there.

So, when we came back for that meeting. The Black Caucus said to us, “Hey, you did everything when these white students were killed, but now Black students were killed last night so what are we going to do? What are you going to do? What are we when we are shot? Don’t we bleed when we die? Don’t you mourn for us?”

So we came up with a plan that we would demand that the flag in front of the school be flown at half-mast in honor of these students who had died. But the flagpole was locked. See, they had a lock on the pulley system. And, so, we made our demand to the administration for a key, which was denied.

So, we all went out there. There was about 600 of us at this meeting and we stood silently around the flagpole. We stood silently until it was like this little rustle of sound to my left. And I looked over and there was this really tall kid and kind of much shorter kid.

And the tall kid was a Black METCO student and the short kid was this really rich kid from South Brookline. They were friends from being on the basketball team together. And they walked over to the flagpole. The tall kid had bent down and gave the short kid “five” so he could get up high enough, because you know, the flagpole was up high, so no one could mess with the flag.

And the short kid took out, of all things, a switchblade. But you could hear because we were so silent. And he cut that flagpole and he cut that, you know, rope and pulled it down and tied it at half-mast. And then we could hear the sirens coming. There were police cars coming and they sent even fire engines. It was all surrounding us, but mission accomplished. We had done what we set out to do.

And we went back to that meeting and, in that meeting, we decided that it would be really important for us to have a Black Studies classes in our high school, that it should be an elective. And we demanded it, with the leadership of the Black Caucus, and we got it.

So, the next year, I took Black studies as my history class, as an elective. And in Black studies, we had to do a project that was in the community. The community of Roxbury is the nearest community of color in Boston. And, so, I chose to study the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast program.

We were invited to come to Bromley Heath which was a housing project and we went into the basement of Bromley-Heath into what they called the cave. And, in the cave, it was this dark and dirty place with asbestos covered pipes and wires running through it and a big long table. And there were these three young men, these three Black Panthers, and they were serving dinner. I mean, they’re serving breakfast to all these kids – about 20 kids sitting at this table. And we were interviewing them a little bit and taking notes and, all of a sudden, one of the kids says, “There’s a rat! There’s a rat! There’s a rat!”

And pandemonium breaks out. And I could see on the faces of these young brave men, these Black Panthers, that they were also afraid. But they pulled together their courage and they picked up their bats that they had at the ready, baseball bats and they got rid of those rats so that they could continue feeding their community.

Now, I thought I knew a lot about Black Panthers and Black Liberation, but it wasn’t really until I had that lived experience with them of going to that breakfast that I understood what that meant a little bit better.