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tv   James Gaines The Fifties  CSPAN  April 20, 2022 10:09pm-11:08pm EDT

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>> presidential recordings, find it on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. hello, everyone, and welcome to tonight's program. and thanks so much for being here. i'm marcia eli. i come to you from the center for bill clinton history -- for
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brooklyn history. i come to you from the center for brooklyn history of the brooklyn public library, and also bpl presents, which is the library's arts and culture arm. tonight i am thrilled to welcome author james gains whose latest book, which comes out on february 8th, is titled "the '50s, an underground history" i am going to tell you a little bit about what publishers weekly says. it says, this revisionist history is packed with insights. it goes on to say that gains delivers a compassionate and insightful group portrait of singular men and women who spoke out on lgbtq issues, women's
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rights, civil rights, and the environment in the 1950s. not the complacent era that we all maybe think it is. so tonight james's conference partner is writer daniel oak wrench. before i introduce the two of them i have a few quick notes for you. first, while the book is not released for a few more weeks, this is kind of a sneak peek. you can reorder it. we will put a link in the chat to the website of a local brooklyn bookstore, the community bookstore, so you can do that if you so desire, with just a couple of clicks. second, like all of our talks, you have the option tonight to use closed captioning. that feature is at the bottom of your screen, live transcript. and finally, i want to invite you all to share your questions tonight for james. type them throughout the program into the q and a box at the bottom of your screen, and dan will take as many of them as he has time for towards the end of the program. so now, let me say a word about each of our guests. and i will happily hand it off to them. james gains is the former managing editor of time, life, and people magazines, and the author of several books, including wits end, days and nights the algonquin round table, evening in the palace of reason, a study of johann
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sebastian bach and the enlightenment. and for liberty and glory. washington lafayette and the revolutions. and daniel's books -- last call, the rise and fall of prohibition, and the guarded gate, bigotry, eugenics and the law that kept two generations of jews, italians and other europeans out of america. he was also a first public editor of the "new york times." welcome to you both. thank you so much for being here. i am excited to hear your conversation. and take it away. >> thank you very much, marcia. i am very happy to be here. i want to thank the library and the bookstore for making this possible. and i want to say hello to my old friend, jim. hi, jim. >> hi, dan. >> jim and i met during the 1960s.
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we are very old, in ann arbor, michigan, at a moment when people of our generation thought that we were changing the world. we didn't change the world that much. but we did take a lot of self congratulatory moments to show how different we were. but what one learns from reading jim's book, from reading the '50s is that the '60s were the consequence of the '50s. as marcia said when she introduced us, the complacent '50s were not complacent for those people who were fighting enormous battles that had great consequences in the '60s. and many of them still have consequences in a very positive sense today. jim, why did you write this book? >> initially, it was because my kids came home from school one day and said, why is our time not exciting as the '60s? and i had to say, you know, well, i didn't say that it was
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actually fraught. it wasn't all fun games. they were talking about the music, i think, mostly. but then i started to think -- i was looking for a subject after i finished the washington lafayette book. and i started to think, how was it that the black and white decade led to this polychromatic riot of the '60s? history just doesn't work that way. it doesn't work by decades, as you well know. so i was trying to think why -- you know, how did the '60s emerge. and as i was reading, it came to me that it wasn't the decade i thought it was. not at -- i can't say it wasn't at all. but it was different and more complicated than i had known. >> that makes for a good book. >> yes, it does.
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>> could you maybe introduce where we are going by reading the last paragraph of the introduction, page x. >> yes. there is a theory that change happens not by winning hearts and minds, but by changing the law. after which, hearts and minds will follow. among isolated people of the '50s, however, there is evidence of an earlier stage in the process of change. the moment when a singular man or woman sets out to confront and then evade some intimately personal conflict which inspires them and others to change the hearts and minds of those who make the laws. though isolated by their personal histories, idiosyncrasies, laws, and gifts, they have in common, the courage, the vision and profoundly motivating need to fight for change their time and the future. and this book is about some of
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the best of them. >> that's what we are going to talk about tonight. many of the people that jim writes about in this book -- several of them are familiar names. we will talk about a few of them. but the great -- one of the huge contributions that the book makes, it introduces us to people who were enormously influential players in our nation's history and very few of us know who they were. and i thought we might start out -- jim, tell us about harry hay. who was he? >> harry hay started the first sustained organization for gay rights in the -- in american history. and he did so at the worst possible time. it was just after world war ii, a time when the united states, the soviet union, and nazi germany shared the view that
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homosexuals were criminals and potential security risks. and the church thought were wicked. and the medical profession called psychopaths. and it was at this moment that harry hay, who was then married with two daughters, decided -- and a member of the communist party, by the way, which we will come back to -- decided it was time to start a gay rights movement. and everybody told him he was crazy. and he did it anyway because, among other things, he was incredibly stubborn. and he did it. it was called the -- society. it was sort of like an alcoholics anonymous group where you came and you talked about that issue. but it took him three or four years to even get someone to join him in that effort. in that time, he lost his family -- >> what year -- what year are we in, jim? >> when he actually got to start
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the thing, it was 1951. when he thought about it, it was 1946, '47. in the time between, he lost his family, lost all of his friends except the gay men he knew and were his friends outside the home. he lost his relationship with his daughters, although he tried to keep it up by paying the child support he was supposed to through his job at a weapons factory. this was in los angeles. and they lived in a neighborhood that was called the swish alps because it was a gay scene. and it was a scene he had to keep himself away from. which was -- he had terrible dreams as he moved towards starting this association. falling down mountainsides pushing his children down sides,
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-- down mountainsides, hurting himself and his wife. i can't imagine a worse conflict. but he managed to do it. as soon as he did it, at their first convention, he was voted out of power because of his communist connections. and by then, it was 1953 and everybody was scared to death of mccarthy. and they had every right to be scared of mccarthy because, you know, the combination of communism and homosexuality was really not pretty at the time. everybody thought that they were -- that they were spies. they were being fired by the hundreds from the state department. >> a couple things jumped out at me reading about hay and the environment. one just a fact that i had no idea. when the american army liberated the concentration camps in eastern europe, we did not set free the men who had pink triangles on their shoulders. >> correct. >> they were just left there? >> they were returned to germany whose courts had sentenced them
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to long prison terms. and they got no credit for time served in the concentration camp. >> incredible. >> and we knew that when we handed them over. >> that's 1945? >> 1945, '46, yep. no, 1945. >> moving forward a few years, a phrase that comes up in the discussion of the metasheen society is self-respect as a radical demand. can you elaborate on that? >> i think that says it all. i mean, can you imagine a time when self-respect would be considered a radical demand? i mean, it's -- it's infuriating, honestly. but at the time that was the case. >> that's effectively what -- at that point, hay and his associates were not advocating change ises -- changes in laws or anything. they wanted self-respect.
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>> self respect but they wanted the gayola stuff to stop, where cops would demand payment from bars, gay bars. and also that they -- you know, that -- they were generally oppressed. everywhere they went, they were oppressed. they had to have sex in bathrooms. and so the police hung out in bathrooms. i mean it was -- it was a very sorry sight. >> so when harry hay is kicked out of the organization that he had labored and sweat for to found, that doesn't end things. tell us about frank kaminy. >> before i get to him i will tell you where it went. it went to a guy who -- in san francisco who turned the organization inside out. he made psychologists part of their routine meetings. psychologists who told them they were sick and needed help.
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he actually told the fbi that he would help them find gay people in san francisco. that didn't come out until a very recent book. but it was -- it was terrible. but then frank cammeny, in washington, who had never joined the metasheen society, was -- he had gotten his ph.d. in astronomy from harvard and was about to start teach at georgetown when he went to san francisco for an academic meeting, presented a paper there, but was caught in a bathroom having sex with someone sells, and was arrested. and then he was -- he was outed to the civil service, where he then had been -- had been hired. because he couldn't teach at
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georgetown anymore. but they didn't -- the civil service did not know this happened until sometime later when they called him in and said, what happened in san francisco? and he refused to answer, refused to answer. but then he just -- he just told them it was none of their business. and they fired him. and then he, on a diet of 20 cents a day, i mean an allowance of 20 cents a day, because he had no money -- he sold his car to get that -- he began papering washington with -- with this story. and complaining about legal and moral, i don't know, insult that this represented not only to him, but to other gay men who at the time were still being fired at a very fast rate because now
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mccarthy was really in his high moment. so he graduated then to being perhaps the most successful advocate for sexual -- the lack of -- or the absence of sexual discrimination. and including an appeal to the supreme court on behalf of a guy named bruce scott that was not successful. but, actually, the chief justice's clerk thought it would be, but they -- but he knew that the court would never take the case. and that's what happened. frank cammeny kept fighting and fighting and fighting for years until, finally, he was able to go to the obama white house. and the obama white house
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canceled, repealed clinton's don't ask, don't tell policy. i skipped over the fact that frank cammeny was a decorated soldier in world war ii. an .88 millimeter motor crewman. and was prouder of nothing than his infantry combat badge, which he wore on that occasion. >> that was -- in this case, that was after a century of his battling for his cause. >> yes. >> extraordinary. >> it was the obama administration. >> we have a lot of people to cover. before we leave this subject could i ask you to read the last paragraph on page 47? >> yeah.
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frank cammeny, harry hay, and their known and unknown cohorts left the country a priceless legacy. they lifted the burden of shame for millions of people whom the medical professionals called psychopaths, the church called wicked, and the state called felons and they replaced that burden with every citizen's birth right, self respect and the respect of others. nobody in the early homophile movement got more recognition in their lifetimes than harry and frank. what is celebrated as much as the compatriots they won is the model they left behind. famously wrote, to be nobody but yourself in the world which is doing its best day and night to make you anybody else is the hardest battle that any human being can fight. that is what they did. >> thanks, jim. the next section of the book is about the origins of, really, of
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american feminism in the 20th century. i guess american feminism post the voting amendment, the 19th amendment to the constitution. the key figure in this chapter -- there are many women this this chapter who are really kind of thrilling figures, but the one who struck me was pauli murray. tell us about her if you would. >> thanks to a new movie she is finally getting credit for all she did. but she began life -- she was the -- her mother died when she was 3. and she was sent to live with her grandparents. one of them was -- fought for the union in the civil war. and the other one was the child of a black slave and a white -- i mean, she was the child of a
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black slave, but she was also the mistress, as it were -- but i don't think she was -- she was the rape victim of her owner's son. so she grew up with people on both sides of the south. and she was, art of their skin color of what she called in-between race, which was especially a problem in school when she was young. she was made fun of for that reason. then when she became a teenager she thought she was misidentified as a girl. she was -- she felt she was a man. and she kept writing to doctors saying, please help me. i know there has been a mistake. so she was in between both racial and gender. so that was her -- that was
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her -- that was her struggle, and that was her weapon against the world as she found it later. >> and then she helps form it. to me, that part of the story really begins when she's in law school at howard university. >> right. >> tell us about that. >> yeah. she was well educated. her background was middle class. her family were nurses and professional people. and academics. and so she -- she -- she was going around the country trying the save a share cropper named adele waller from the noose, i mean a legal noose. he had been convicted of murder.
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wrongly. but, of course, convicted in minutes by a white jury. at one stop, she gave her spiel in front of thurgood marshall and leon ransom, who was then the dean of howard law school and was given, as a result, a full tuition scholarship to howard. she was the only girl -- only woman in her class of all black men. because howard is a black university. and she found herself laughed at behind her back. she was not called in class as much as the other guys, as the other people. and she was at the first -- the first instance aware of what she began to call jane crow. it was the combination of sexual discrimination, gender discrimination, and racial discrimination. it didn't -- it didn't -- her
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final law school paper was about how the equal protection argument of the constitution could prevail over plessy versus ferguson, the separate but equal decision of the 19th century. her classmates laughed at her. but she prevailed and wrote that thesis. her professor bet her $25 that -- no, $10 that plessy wouldn't be overturned for the next 25 years. in fact, it was overturned by thurgood marshall in the well-known brown decision, which he won in part by reading her thesis which robinson brought him because he realized he was really going for it. but she didn't address gender discrimination until years later, when she wrote a paper called jane crow.
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and that was the argument that beauty bader ginsburg used when she was still an attorney to argue -- to write the brief that won the supreme court's decision to declare sexual discrimination to be unconstitutional. that was a huge breakthrough. and it was because of pauli murray and ginsburg acknowledged that by putting her name on the brief. >> no, her role as a figure in american legal history is enormous. >> yes. >> we know ginsburg. and we know marshall. we don't know her. >> exactly. >> this -- we begin to see -- i begin to see reasons -- not reasons why, but i begin to see, you know, the nature of this discrimination very vividly around the time of the march on washington in 1962. by this point, she's a well-known figure
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certainly within the civil rights legal community. and the march on washington, which we all know about, is about to take place. and she's not very pleased with the way it's proceeding. she writes to a. philip randolph, who is one of the organizers -- a labor leader who was one of the organizers of the march. can you read what she said to him? page 74. >> 74. yes. and by the way, a. philip randolph and his, and his march on washington movement from the 1940s hired her. he was her first real employer. and this is what she said to him when rosa parks, daisy bates, clark, all the prominent women of the civil rights movement were given seconds on the podium at the march on washington. 74? i'm not there. sorry.
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the time has come to say to you quite candidly, mr. randolph, that tokenism is as offensive when applied to women as when applied to negros -- that's the word she always used -- and that i have not devoted the greater part of my adult life to the implementation of human rights to now condone any policy which is not inclusive. >> were there any consequences? >> no. in fact, the day before the march, he spoke at the national press club, which then consigned women to the balcony. i mean, really, it was -- it shows you just how complex and really diseased the relationship
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was between the black civil rights movement and the women's rights movement. >> but then three years after the march on washington she plays a key role, in a very important moment in american feminist history. >> she does. she introduced -- she was on the president's commission on civil rights, and specifically on the issue of feminism, and especially the equal rights amendment. and she was -- well, i forget exactly what happened, but betty friedan reached out to her. i know. it was piece in the "new york times" when she basically threatened action against -- on the behalf of feminism or women's rights and betty friedan reached out and talked to her. and pauli described to her what she thought of as an naacp for
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women. and betty picked up that mantle, went with it. pauli murray helped her, introduced her to her network at the president's commission. and the rest is history, except that a couple of years later, pauli murray quit nnano, the, national organization of women which she helped start because of the lack of diversity. she said it was not an organization she wished to help. she was looking beyond that to a movement of multiple discriminations, against indigenous people, against -- against people from other countries against, you know, a class, race, and gender. >> half a century -- >> she was not -- sorry? >> half a century ago. >> half a century ago. exactly. she was a pioneer of what's now been called intersexual feminism. >> next subject, third section of the book, about the civil
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rights movement. obviously, an enormous moment in american history. i wonder if you might begin with a little bit of back story on this, the history of black men and their military service in this country. >> yeah, this is a chapter somewhat different because it tries to rectify the imbalance between -- well, it tries to minimize the effect that men coming home from the war had on the civil rights movement and how important armed defense was to the non-violent movement. when medgar evers, for example -- we know a lot about him, but not everything. when he came home from service, from -- he served from d day to battle of the bulge. when he came home, he was on -- on his way home, on the back of a bus, in uniform, with his
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discharge papers and full of medals. and when the bus stopped for people to eat lunch, he was left on the bus. i can't even imagine. >> this is in the 1940s or early '50s. >> yes. this is 1940s. late '45, '46. it was '46. and that year was an election year, midterm election year. and medgar evers and his brother decided they were going to vote. which no one had offer done in their county. and they went -- their parents were told, don't let this happen because you are not going like what happens to them. the parents told them what this white visitor had said, but they -- but they did not tell them not to go to the polling place, and they did, where they were turned back by guns and, you know, the threat of
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violence. they turned back, and they got their own guns and walked back toward the polling place. they were met by more guns and decided, wait, we don't really want to get killed. so they walked home. they were not able to vote in 1946. and, i mean, it's striking to me that we are still talking about voting rights. there is going to be a debate in the senate tonight. maybe it's going on already, about voting rights. how could this be? it's disgusting. >> there is a historical precedent relating to this. about black soldiers returning from world war i. and there is a quote that i -- i could read the quote or do you want to read the quote? >> either way. >> let me read this. this is a 6-year-old girl remembering when the last black
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veterans of world war i came home to alabama. and she never forgot sitting up nights with her grandfather, who kept a shotgun on his lap waiting for the klan. she remembered him saying, i don't know how long i would last if they came breaking in here, but i am getting the first one who comes through the door. she stayed up with him, she remembered, because i wanted to see it. i wanted to see him shoot that gun. who was that 6-year-old? >> rosa parks. she already had the fire in the belly, as we say. i think that -- you know, frederick douglass encouraged black men to join the civil war on the union side because he was convinced that if they did, their standing in the country would be as regular citizens.
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and w.e.b.dubois said the same thing in world war i. and neither of them got any credit. in fact, what happened was when they came home in uniform, they were met by white terrorists who said, wear that uniform again, and you will die. and that happened to one of the people that i write about. >> do you want the talk about isaac woodard at this point? >> indeed. let's do. isaac woodard was a -- he went in as a private, came home as a tech sergeant. he was working with a -- an all-black unit in the -- on the pacific -- in the pacific theater. and when he came home, he was on a bus going home to winnsboro
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south carolina -- north carolina, where his wife was waiting for him. and he -- when they made a stop, he had to go to the bathroom. he told the driver, i need to go to the bathroom. and the driver said, no. and -- in fact he said, no, god damn it. and isaac woodard said, talk the me like i am a man, just like you. which i think before the war, he would have never said that. so the driver, without knowing -- without letting him know, went to a phone, called ahead to batesburg, and told the police there was somebody on his bus who was making trouble. got to batesburg, where he was met by the entire police force of batesburg, which was two guys, the chief of police and a deputy. the chief of police -- the driver told him to get out and talk to the chief of police. he did. and before he could get a word out, the chief of police beat him in the head with a special baton that was, you know, rigged
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for real impact, spring loaded. >> he's in uniform, right? >> he's in uniform. and he -- finally, he managed to get the baton away are the guy and started fighting. and the deputy came around and put his -- put his gun on woodard and told him he would shoot him if he didn't stop. so he didn't stop. and the chief of police kept beating him. at one point -- they could tell later that he had ground his baton into woodard's eyes, which indicates that woodard had made the mistake of looking directly at him. woodard was blind for the rest of his life. what can i say? and truman took his case up. he was talked to by the naacp.
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and you know truman was a real hero when it came to civil rights. he is rarely given credit for it. he was the first presidential candidate ever to campaign in harlem. truman said to his attorney general, you have got to look into this. and if necessary, and if right, bring charges against this chief of police. that was just unheard of in the south in 1946. >> was this around the same time that truman integrated the armed forces? >> oh, god, no. i mean, yes, it was the first time. that was about 1950. >> okay. >> but, he was the first to try. it didn't really happen then, but he was the first to make it a policy. anyway, woodard was blind for the rest of his life and never knew that truman had come in for him that, in fact, a trial took place, and the judge in the
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trial was absolutely on woodard's side and actually set a bunch of precedents for civil rights law. in the time going forward, was alienated from his town. and that woodard never knew about any of this. >> this judge, who was in charleston, had never particularly shown any interest in civil rights issues, defending the rights of black people. >> no. >> but he was so horrified by this -- needless to say, i guess, for the period, the jury acquitted the police chief, right? >> of course. in minutes. in fact, he took a walk around town so they couldn't acquit him too fast. his wife was this the courtroom and burst into tears. and woodard never forgot it. >> yeah. great. an incredible story. the last section of the book is about ecology. a word that probably didn't even exist back then. >> no, it did. it did, actually. >> my fault.
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we know a lot about rachel carsten, who is a key figure in this chapter, you know, the great writer and naturalist who moved from studying the sea shore to studying what was happening the our birds and wrote silent spring, which i think is probably maybe the one that comes closest to it is ralph nader's unsafe at any speed. the book that changes the world's view of something. in this case, ddt. but there is a second character you pair her with, even though they never met. and that's harold wiener. he was called in a magazine, the most remarkable newspaper boy in the world. i think that's page 149. >> yeah. >> yeah. you got it? >> yeah. shall i read some? >> i think read that, from the bottom of page 149. >> yeah. for bert wiener was 12
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years old when rachel carsten was born. he was unlike other 12-year-olds. while others his age were in fifth or sixth grade he was entering his freshman year at tufts university. in 1906, that was was the article in the world including him the most remarkable boy this the world. and it is hard to imagine anyone who better fit that title. he told the world reporter he had learned much more from reading earnest hinkles the riddle of the uniform in german than homer in greek since homer was just telling stories. yes, of course he said he liked to have fun. swimming is my forte, he said, but i like studying, too. when i have participated in the # boys games i turn to my huxley or my spencer. suggestions which led my mind to greater things. >> these greater things, wiener ends up at m.i.t., extremely
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eccentric character, widely acknowledged as a genius, peculiar life. i wish we had more time to read about norbert wiener's peculiarities because they are really something. he is talking as a 12-year-old about the greater things. what are the greater things? where did he go in his life with that brilliance? >> he got his doctorate and post doctorate work at various -- universities, post doctorate with -- and john brewery. he was just a genius at not just mathematics, but the logic of mathematics. it was at a time when computers were being developed. at a time when a computer was a person with a slide rule and a pencil. literally that's what they were called. he was put into the war effort in 1940, '41, in order to deal with a luftwaffe interested if
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-- with a lustwaffe which was reigning terror at the time. he was really interested in the fact -- and he came to this through his wartime work -- that you could put people and mechanical things including electromechanical things in a single task. so he conceived of anti-aircraft as the combination of people on the ground, the gunner, et cetera, and a circle of causality between the airplane in the sky, the speed of the airplane, the maneuvers of the airplane, the ability of the pilot to do evasive maneuvers. and a round circle of information, which was, you know, there was no enemy in this process.
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it was just a circle of information which helped the guy on the ground bring that guy down. >> he changes -- i am going to push you a little bit because i want to leave room for questions. >> okay. >> but his relationships to the military changes radically. and this begins to be the place where he and carsten, though they never met are kind of coming together. can you talk about that. >> yeah, the military was responsible for all kinds of horrible -- the military end and corporate america were responsible for some very serious impercations on they can -- on the environment. it was a time when science was accomplishing incredible things. but among those incredible things was the atomic bomb, napalm, zyklon b, which hitler used in the concentration camps, as well as -- as well as synthetic fertilizer, synthetic -- synthetics of all
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sorts, which poisoned the atmosphere, poisoned the grounds that farmers were to work on. it was a time when actually during the war, los angeles thought it had a chemical attack because the fumes from newly muscular cars were choking people. and after that, then the military actually started experimenting on the american public with -- by dropping radioactive materials to find a -- you know, what dose actually caused a problem. they were experimenting on all kinds of people. in hospitals, in -- you know, over schools, over domestic -- over suburbs. it was extremely irresponsible behavior. and we still don't know the extent of it although a lot of it has come out in the clinton administration, actually. >> where does wiener come in?
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>> wiener -- when the war was over and he saw some of the stuff happening in the environment, but also the militarization of american society, and american science, he refused to have anything else -- anything to do with military science. and at m.i.t., which was almost completely subsidized by military, that was an incredible position to take. and he was thought to be, you know, crazy for taking it. everybody thought he was just being norbert. in fact, he never worked for the military and military science again. he wrote a book after he wrote a book called cybernetics which was impossible to understand for most people. he wrote a book called the human use of human beings which was
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incredibly radical for its time. it talked about the necessity of treating labor fairly at a time when the great strike wave of 1946, 1947 had, you know, had made basically workers into communists. >> so wiener, by taking this very strong and public position against the military misbehavior in domestic life -- the parallel, if i may read something from your book, i think you eloquently state what's similar between what he's doing and what rachel carsten in her campaign against ddt and other poisons in the environment, what she is doing. you write, by confronting the effects of science practiced mainly in the pursuit of power and profit, and by calling for scientific innovations to be accessible and understood by politicians, policy makers, and the general public before they
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were deployed, carsten and wiener advanced a compelling argument, namely, that nature was neither a thing of park for human kind or any longer even wholly natural since its anointed masters were evermore assertively rearranging the earth. as evidence of the dangers inherent in that mastery, they shined a very bright light on the masters at work and changed our lives, i think, in many ways. >> i agree. >> we want to go to questions. if you have questions, please put them in the q and a. i think before we do that, what better way to end the discussion, the formal discussion of your book, jim, that than by your reading of the last paragraph of the epilogue on page 205. >> okay. i am going back to the way you started the conversation. my generation -- >> that's the idea.
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>> what? >> that's the idea. >> my generation had our victories, too, but looking back i can't help feeling that people like those in this book were the more authentic rebels in part because they didn't think of themselves that way. in a decade and a nation perhaps readier with with apropreyum than ever before they defied the most powerful force asks conventions of their time just to be the people they were in a country it always promised to be. thanks to that, they lit a path for the rest of us to a somewhat less imperfect union, which is about the best thing any citizen can do. >> a great way to end the book. and the formal part of the evening. now i would like to turn to questions from everybody who is listening. if you have something, as i said, please put it in the q and a. here's a question about pauli murray. did she ever resolve her gender confusion?
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>> i'm not sure. she had -- because of her feeling about who she was, the male part of herself, she was disappointed in love many times because she was only attracted to heterosexual women. but she did get over it to the extent she was a hero. i mean, how much more could you do with that conflict than what she did? and in fact at the end of her life she went to seminary because they had never had altar girls in the church. so she went to episcopal seminary and became a priest knowing she would have only three years before mandatory retirement when she was done. i mean, that speaks wonders. but she also had a companion at the end of her life whom she loved and who loved her. so to that extend, yes, she did
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overcome her conflict. >> thank you. here's a question all the way from providence, rhode island, from someone named allison pell. she asks, obviously, this is a different take on this time and individuals impact on change. what should we take away from the book? what does this teach us about the way history is written? >> i think more than anything it is about extraordinary people. whose stubbornness and conflict teaches them every day how to make change without, you know, without their taking any lessons from anyone. it's just because they wanted to be who they were and have the rights that they were due, including self-respect. i think it's about that simple. >> well, isn't that just a -- kind of a variation on what has historically been called the
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great man theory of history. individuals in that theory, obviously they are leaders of nations. >> right, exactly. >> you are kind of saying the same thing, that you don't have to be the leader of a nation to be able to make this change if you are the right person at the right moment, or at least to get the change happening. >> i would argue something else. i would argue that the president of the united states, or a senator, as joe manchin and sinema are now, is the one who conveys to the president of the united states or the senate the injustice of the position they have been given. and i think you know, they gather other people around them, and movements start from what they have done. but i think ultimately those people in power don't come up with these ideas themselves. >> here's a question from jane,
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with the dumbing down of sensible discussions with the advent of social media, what hope is there for genuine movements for meaningful social political change? >> just as it's difficult not to be disgusted by the lack of progress in civil rights, you can't ignore the progress we have made in gay rights, in feminism, and in, certainly, ecology. we haven't won all those battles, but we are further athey had than we were then. and progress is -- as martin luther king said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. it is very long sometimes. >> so these people are here, among us now. and they are in the process of doing the things that these unknown figures that -- mostly unknown figures from fairly recent american history -- they could move the world. >> yeah. yep. that's the case. >> that's a very positive look
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on it. can you -- here's an anonymous question says -- do you think there are people -- well, that's the question i just asked. let me try this one. well, i think we know the answer to this, but gregory asks, david halberstam did a comprehensive look at the '50s. why did you died to dig deeper into that fascinating decade? another way to ask that, in what key ways is your book different from david halberstam's book on the '50s? >> his book on the '50s was very good, for one thing. but also, it covered, in depth the figures we knew about the '50s in shallow. and it didn't deal, really, with the people -- well, it did deal, but fleetingly, over the social issues that this book addresses.
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>> i don't have any other questions there now. if you have got them, come with them. because i think it's always good in any discussion of serious issues to take a moment of some humor, with jim's permission i would like to read more about norbert wiener. may i jim? >> please. >> this is after he has been established as a well-known figure, as a genius at m.i.t. he was fluent in a dozen languages and socially inept in all of them. as a colleague put it, a foreigner wherever he was. he got lost frequently at the m.i.t. labs where he worked for 45 years. some labs posted lookouts to warn of his approach because he was known to cut into conversations abruptly or out of context. while reading a book or lost in thought, he would walk the hall with one finger tracing the wall. when he reached an open door he was known to follow into
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the classroom, around, and back out into the hall. when he stop to have a conversation he sometimes forgot which way he had been walking. once he asked had he was walking toward the lunch room or away from it so he would know whether he had lunch or not. >> my favorite was that he swam on his back so he could smoke a cigar at the same time. >> i didn't mention that because my father did the same thing. >> did he really? >> it was a cigarette. and he was doing the backstroke. we are move afar from the topic. we are out of time. thank you jim for your time. thank you to the library, and the bookstore, and thanks to all of you who dialed in tonight or who will be watching it shortly on recorded version, which will be posted tomorrow. with that i am going to say thanks, jim, and turn it back over to marcia. >> yes. and i am going to add my thanks
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to you, jim, and dan, to you for really orchestrating such a masterful conversation about the book, and all the readings that you wove in really helped a lot. you know, it's so important to tell the stories of individuals and elevate them and the power that they have to actually affect change. because that inspires us all. i mean, there were some pretty shocking and awful things that folks were battling against that you describe. so, anyway, i want to thank everybody who has come for being here and tell you that the program was recorded and will be on our youtube page tomorrow.
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and just tell you a little bit about what's coming down the pike lather on this monday and in early february. we will have another program about a book. it is called "the last slave ship" with beddan reigns who discovered the clotilda, which is the last known slave ship that brought enslaved people here from africa illegally. he discovered that ship in the bayou of alabama. he discovered that ship in the bayou of alabama. and he will be talking about not only his experience. he's a journalist. but what it means for all of us. and what happened to the people who were on that ship. and then later in february, early february, imany perry will be here to talk about "south to america" so all of which is to say i hope that -- i see that we have the upcoming programs link in the chat and i hope that everyone, you know, explores
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that and joins us for more programs laid they are month into february and down into the spring. we are so grateful to both of you for -- and jim, for this fantastic, fantastic book that, you know, doesn't get more pure than to talk about people and their lives and how it affects -- has affected and changed things. thank you all fr
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inviting me to talk about the fight the menace children's crusade against communism trading cards. these are some of my favorite teaching tools at any level and i really appreciate the support of the guilder. learnman institute of american history and all of you. so, thank you so much for having me. so i wanted to


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