Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Massachusetts: Protest Community

BOND: Even though there is agitation in Washington State, there's so much more agitation in Massachusetts. I mean it's so much more a hot bed than Pullman, Washington. So you find yourself in this more aroused community, racially, gender-wise and so on -- and that must have been very exciting.

COLE: It was, but I don't want to minimize what happened in Pullman, Washington.

BOND: No, I know.

COLE: There was an intensely active anti-Vietnam War movement of which I was strongly a part as well as my ex-husband. In fact, he was the advisor to SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]. There was a lot going on in the black student movement at Washington State. I mean it may seem a little strange for folk who were doing much more dramatic things, but there we were, off to jail as well, in Pullman, Washington. And so coming across country to the University of Massachusetts was, yes, to come to a more aroused place politically, but we really hadn't left a desert. And I had the feeling and I remember being very conscious of this, that it really all was a part of a pattern. One of the things that was really important in being isolated geographically was to keep in touch, to know what was happening, particularly in the Black Power movement -- in the anti-war movement across the country.

BOND: And in Pullman, how did you get information about what was happening other places? I've been to Pullman, I know it's not an isolated place. But it is isolated.

COLE: But it is. But it is.

BOND: It is isolated. It is remote. How did you keep in contact with the larger outside world?

COLE: Both through the kinds of organizations that I was a part of --


COLE: -- as well as just -- as I think, is more important in a geographically isolated place than others -- through networks. People who would travel, who would come back, telephone calls, letters -- this is before the e-mail era.

BOND: And before faxes --

COLE: And before faxes. But the progressive, that is, left-of-center faculty during the 1960s, really were very much in touch with each other.

BOND: And when you come to Massachusetts, I mean, that universe is just broadened and widened.

COLE: Exactly.

BOND: There are many, many more people, first right at the place, and many more people in and out and in and out, this kind of cross-fertilization. And that's got to be fairly exciting?

COLE: It was. It was an exciting period in Massachusetts. I'm still very, very much in contact with folk in that five-college area. And it's been interesting for me to be aware of the kind of concern being expressed in that community about the aftermath of September 11th, that I don't think I've sensed with the same intensity in a place like Emory, or in Atlanta, in general. Now part of this is that the five-college community of Massachusetts really is in a wee bit of a time warp. I mean, it's sometimes called the "Happy Valley." But it's a place of unusual activity. There is Northampton, with a very, very large and highly politically active lesbian community. There are the colleges, two of which are women's colleges. You've got both Mount Holyoke and Smith. So that, you know, that's not an ordinary piece of land there. And what has pleased me is to hear more questions being raised about the current state of the world and the role of the U.S. -- my country -- in that world, hearing more questions being raised from there, than I'm hearing from many other parts of the country.

BOND: Do you think that it is, in part, a geographical closeness as well to New York City, as opposed to Atlanta or even Charlottesville or -- ? I was in California and it just seemed to me that people there were less engaged in discussion about these events in any sort of way. In favor, against, opposed, supporting any way. That the geographical closeness created different reactions in them?

COLE: I think so. I was recently with someone from Texas who said "Oh, well, basically we're just living our lives the way that we used to." I mean, we're conscious of it. But, yes, I think it is that. I think it can also be -- I think the history of tradition and of challenge that exists even at a place like University of Massachusetts, but certainly in a town like Northampton. You don't get rid of that tradition when all of a sudden we're in a post-September 11th mode.

BOND: In its own way, that's the protest community.

COLE: Exactly.

BOND: That transmits from generation to generation --

COLE: Exactly. Exactly.

BOND: -- to generation that we were talking about earlier.