Author Jesse Washington Discusses the Life of Georgetown Hoyas Men’s Basketball Coach John Thompson

ohn Thompson was the head basketball coach at Georgetown University from 1972 to 1999, where he won the NCAA championship in 1984. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. He graduated from Providence College and held a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of the District of Columbia.

John Thompson was the head basketball coach at Georgetown University from 1972 to 1999, where he won the NCAA championship in 1984. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. He graduated from Providence College and held a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of the District of Columbia.

It’s day one of the annual Black Student-Athlete Summit hosted by UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement! Earlier today, Leonard Moore, the George Littlefield Professor of American History and former vice president of diversity and community engagement, chatted with two NCAA athletics experts to learn more about the life of Georgetown University’s legendary coach John Thompson.

Here, we bring you some highlights from Moore’s conversation with Jesse Washington, senior writer of ESPN’s The Undefeated and co-author of the newly published autobiography I Came As a Shadow; and Michael Jackson, former NBA player and point guard for Georgetown University’s men’s basketball team.

UT Black Student Athlete Summit speakers featured in Zoom frame

Leonard Moore, Jesse Washington and Michael Jackson speaking at a Black Student-Athlete session titled “Respect the Architect: The Life of John Thompson.”

Moore: How did you get the opportunity to work with Coach Thompson on this book?

Washington: John had some folks helping him put the project together. One thing coach always said, “It’s not who you know; it’s who you know who does know.” So coach found people around him with expertise. My name was put in the hat, I had an audition and I passed.

Moore: Would you say Coach Thompson was bridge between the Black Power era and Black Lives Matter, particularly when it comes to talking about athlete activism?

Jackson: I would argue yes, he was a bridge that connected the two generations, especially when you think of all the things that he did, what he stood for and how he challenged us as players. He always asked us to challenge the status quo, and I’ve taken that to heart in everything I do.

Moore: Jesse, did he challenge you when you first met him?

Washington: Absolutely, he asked some really tough questions. He looked me in my face—and he had a really penetrating glare—and he said, ‘You’ve never written a book like this before. What makes you think you can do this one?’ …Coach liked the underdog. He liked to find players in the nooks and crannies, and I think he felt that way about me.

Jackson: The job that Jesse did to win over coach’s confidence is short of amazing. I haven’t met someone who could do that in such a short period of time, and the job that he did with the book is phenomenal.

Moore: Michael, what was it like playing point guard for him, and what were practices like?

Jackson: We could spend half a day on this question, but I’ll try to keep it short. The best part of going to practices were the talks we would have. When we were going to practices, we were expected to know current events, what was going on in the world…He was always teaching and wanted us to understand that we needed to know more than just basketball, but we still had a job to do on the court.

Moore: In the book, you mentioned that Coach Thompson wanted his players to present themselves well. In the millennial generation, they call that the “politics of Black respectability.” What do you think John was trying to do?

Washington: You have to realize the era we were in. Coach Thompson didn’t want to send a message primarily to white people; Coach Thompson wanted to send the message to us… He was challenging assumptions about students on his team through psychological and subliminal methods.

Another one of his big sayings was, “You give your best interviews when you’re not being interviewed.”…It was about opportunity. It was about self-image and Black enrichment. It had nothing to do with appeasing white people because coach wasn’t about that. He was about sending messages to his people and Black America. That’s why he said his team always traveled in coats and ties…because it made a statement that Georgetown has a higher standard.

Jackson: We had a team rule any time we were traveling on a plane or to get to a game, we had to wear a coat and tie….If we were in a hotel lobby, we had to wear a collared shirt or a polo shirt—always. He also made sure we had a legitimate job every summer. I worked for my Congressmen, and a lot of players worked on the hill or for a law firm. You couldn’t just work at an ice cream shop, for example. You were still expected to work hard on different parts of the game that needed to be worked on during the summer, but you also had to work at a legitimate job so you could prepare for life when you graduate.

Moore: Let’s talk about Prop 42 for a minute.  Jesse, would you mind telling student athletes about Prop 42 and what that whole controversy is all about?

Washington: In the late 1980s, the NCAA passed a rule that said if you have below a 700 on your SAT, you can’t get any sort of scholarship. Before then, they could bring you to school and give you a scholarship. You would not be eligible to play during your freshman year; they would give you the remediation that was necessary and then you could continue your freshman year…It’s important to note that John Thompson—one of the brilliant intellects we’ve seen come across American life in the past century—probably did not get a 700 on his SATs. But he got a college scholarship and he did fine. He passed the same classes as everybody else…Coach Thompson recognized this ruling unfairly discriminated against primarily Black kids because they come from educational backgrounds that don’t have the resources that people with more money have. It’s not a question about intellect; it’s about opportunity, because when you look at the SAT, you see the biggest thing that predicts your score is your household income.

The NCAA went about passing this rule called Proposition 42 in a sneaky way. They did it in the dead of night. And when it passed, Coach Thompson said, “I have to do something about this. I’m going to boycott a game.” Very strategically he let the media know what he was doing and why.

Moore: There is a fine line between opportunity and exploitation. How did Coach Thompson model how not to exploit the athlete?

Jackson: All I’m going to say is 97.

Ninety-seven percent of athletes who attended Georgetown graduated. Those who didn’t have the academic wherewithal, the grades, the SAT scores, graduated…We had a structure in place and a coach who cared. During our freshman year, we had to talk to Mary Fenlon, our academic advisor, every single night. There were things in place so he could monitor whether we were doing well enough in school—not just to play but to graduate. That’s the only thing he promised me. He said, “If you stay here four years, you will graduate.”

Washington: Mary Fenlon was probably the first dedicated academic advisor for one team in NCAA history….The NCAA now has a much more robust support system for universities around the country. He made it known that you can’t exploit these kids. You have to educate them, and this is how you do it.


More about the Black Student-Athlete Summit

Every January, the DDCE’s Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males hosts the Black Student-Athlete Summit at the UT Austin campus. Attendees include professional athletes, athletic directors, coaches, professors and mental health professionals—all of whom play an integral role in the success of Black student-athletes. This year’s summit, themed  “Woke! Now What?” explores a range of issues that are uniquely faced by Black student-athletes during these challenging times.

 

Q&A: ‘The Sword and the Shield’ author shares how Malcolm X and MLK had more in common than is often believed

image of author and book coverThe metaphorical meaning behind the title of Peniel Joseph’s new book “The Sword and the Shield” (Basic Books, 2020) may seem obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of the civil rights movement: The shield represents Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent quest for radical citizenship, and the sword represents Malcolm X’s bold pursuit for Black dignity by any means necessary.

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This book has been selected for this fall’s UT Reads campaign! You can read more about it on the Human Resources website.

Yet a deeper look into the personal and political journeys of these civil rights icons shows us a different side of the story. We caught up with Joseph, the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, during his book tour to learn more about the contrasting and, at times, overlapping political ideologies of Malcolm X and King—and how they both brought the sword and the shield to the fight for Black freedom and equality.

Why is it so important to look back at this history to understand what we’re seeing out in the streets?
 
It’s vitally important because Malcolm X and Dr. King were active in America’s second reconstruction. Now I think we’re entering the third reconstruction, and we need to have an understanding of how we got to this point. The title of this book is a metaphor for Malcolm X being the political sword and Dr. King being the political shield. But really, they’re both; they want to defend lives, and they’re willing to courageously speak truth to power no matter the consequences. Looking back at this point in history helps us reimagine democracy today to push for racial justice.

Did you come across anything new or surprising in your research?

I didn’t know the extent of Malcolm X’s support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act until I further looked into his visit to the U.S. Senate, when he and Dr. King had their first and only meeting during a filibuster. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Penn Warren later interviewed Malcolm X for his book “Who Speaks for the Negro?” and asked him what he thought of Dr. King. Malcolm told him they shared the same goals; they had different methods, but they both wanted human dignity.

I also didn’t know, until doing this research, that Malcolm X actually sat in on a speech that Dr. King gave in Harlem on Dec. 17, 1964, and later praised that speech to his own group. A couple months later, he tried to visit Dr. King in jail during the voting rights protests in Selma. He wasn’t allowed to visit, but he did speak with Coretta Scott King after delivering a speech to let her know that he wanted to help the voting rights act succeed. So there really was much more convergence with them in terms of dignity and human rights.

How, in your opinion, can Black Lives Matter advocates see themselves in both Malcolm X and King?

Malcolm X and Dr. King both faced police brutality and wanted a transformation of the criminal justice system. Malcolm X was in talks with the New York Police Department to stop racially profiling and to stop the no-knock and stop-and-frisk policies. Dr. King fought for this, too, in Harlem and Los Angeles. They didn’t succeed, so you have this whole other generation over 50 years later saying they don’t want to live like this. They don’t want to have this kind of punishment and criminalization at the expense of tens of millions of people.

Dr. King said in his final speech, “The greatness of America is the right to protest for right.” That makes us the country that we are—freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the idea that when there’s a grand mistake, we can correct it collectively.

What would you like your readers to take away from this book?

I want people to better explain the movement and to help others realize we’ve been here before. We’ve had opportunities in the past and movements of real progress, but then we get fatigued. There have been movements of urban rebellions, civil disturbances and race riots, but instead of finding the root origins of these problems, we went in the other direction of mass incarceration and demonization. We chose law and order over the good of the beloved community.

That path that we took brought us here—52 years after Dr. King’s death—where we are racially segregated, impoverished and massively divided. I’d like for people to understand that we were here before, we’ve made the wrong choice, and we have the opportunity now to make the right choice. We have to transform policy, and we have to transform hearts and minds and understand that antiracism and racial justice is a constant lifetime of work.

Dr. King used to say that the civil rights movement was about redeeming the nation’s soul, and I think he was absolutely right. At the core, we are absolutely good, but if we aren’t vigilant, we can do terrible things to each other.

Watch him discuss his new book in this Q&A produced by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

 

‘The Defeat of Black Power,’ a Must-Read for the 2020 Election Season

As the 2020 election heats up, we are highlighting “The Defeat of Black Power,” authored by Leonard N. Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement and the George Littlefield Professor of American History.

There are lessons that can be learned from examining two critical points in American history: the National Black Political Convention of 1972 and the 2020 Presidential Election. The book illustrates how themes of equal rights, social activism and political polarization are as relevant today as they were many decades ago. Visit the LSU Press website to learn more.


For three days in 1972 in Gary, Indiana, eight thousand American civil rights activists and Black Power leaders gathered at the National Black Political Convention, hoping to end a years-long feud that divided black America into two distinct camps: integrationists and separatists. While some form of this rift existed within black politics long before the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his death—and the power vacuum it created—heightened tensions between the two groups, and convention leaders sought to merge these competing ideologies into a national, unified call to action. What followed, however, effectively crippled the Black Power movement and fundamentally altered the political strategy of civil rights proponents. An intense and revealing history, Leonard N. Moore’s The Defeat of Black Power: Civil Rights and the National Black Political Convention of 1972provides the first in-depth evaluation of this critical moment in American history.

During the brief but highly charged meeting in March 1972, attendees confronted central questions surrounding black people’s involvement in the established political system: reject or accept integration and assimilation; determine the importance or futility of working within the broader white system; and assess the perceived benefits of running for public office. These issues illuminated key differences between integrationists and separatists, yet both sides understood the need to mobilize under a unified platform of black self-determination. At the end of the convention, determined to reach a consensus, officials produced “The National Black Political Agenda,” which addressed the black constituency’s priorities. While attendees and delegates agreed with nearly every provision, integrationists maintained their rejection of certain planks, namely the call for a U.S. constitutional convention and separatists’ demands for reparations. As a result, black activists and legislators withdrew their support less than ten weeks after the convention, dashing the promise of the 1972 assembly and undermining the prerogatives of black nationalists.

In The Defeat of Black Power, Moore shows how the convention signaled a turning point for the Black Power movement, whose leaders did not hold elective office and were now effectively barred access to the levers of social and political power. Thereafter, their influence within black communities rapidly declined, leaving civil rights activists and elected officials holding the mantle of black political leadership in 1972 and beyond.

Celebrating Black History Month: Sneak Preview Into ‘As We Saw It’

Image of book cover In honor of Black History Month, we’re turning back the pages of time to the mid-1970s—an era when women’s sports programs were in the early stages of development on the Forty Acres. This pivotal point in UT Austin history is documented in the forthcoming book “As We Saw It” (UT Press). The collection of stories, co-edited by Division of Diversity and Community Engagement staff and faculty, gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the first Black undergraduate students to enroll at the university. Told against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South, this narrative is inextricably linked to current conversations about race, identity, access and equality in higher education.

Read this abridged chapter to learn more about the first Black female student athlete to receive an athletic scholarship at UT Austin. And be sure to pick up a copy when it hits bookshelves in Austin area bookstores on March 23!


Retha Swindell

The first athletic scholarship was not offered to a female athlete at UT until 1974, Women were thus faced with the complex task of navigating both the uncharted waters of racial integration and gender social politics. Sports as a pathway to educational opportunity and social mobility for women of color was less defined yet just as transformative. The experience of Retha Swindell, UT’s first Black female athlete, who played basketball for Texas from 1970 to 1974, provides a look into an under-explored experience.

The gender parity between female athletes and male athletes, regardless of race, was ever present during Retha’s ascension to college prestige.

“In high school we were always told we had to be better than our white counterparts,” she explained. “We were always taught you have to work, work, work. I remember Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson. I remember watching that group on TV. I remember liking Johnny Roberts from Nebraska; I definitely knew Jesse Owens, and there was definitely pride in seeing them compete. You always wanted to see someone Black on TV. Those male trailblazers represented progress and opportunity for all Black Americans. There was little visible precedent for women of color; our path was less defined and less lauded.”

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Swindell sits with teammates in her final season as a Longhorn.

That was the type of environment that female athletes faced. Black women were confronted with the challenge of advocating for more resources for female athletes while also pursuing more social opportunities and administrative support for all Black students. Before the introduction of Title IX, the UT women’s basketball team would hold bake sales and car washes to raise funds to travel to games and/or cut expenses by camping out in sleeping bags in the gym of the team they were playing.

The year Retha came to UT Austin, the women’s basketball team transitioned from an intramural sport to a varsity sport, thanks to Title IX, which was signed into law in 1972. Coach Rodney Page had been hired to teach physical education in 1972 by Dr. Betty Thompson, who oversaw recreational sports. In the fall of 1973, she asked him to coach the women’s basketball team.25 He was the first Black coach in an official capacity at UT. Page told Texas Athletics writer Natalie England, “I can’t say that there was much overt opposition, but at that time in the history of The University of Texas, there were no black head coaches and very few black faculty.”

For Retha, Coach Page’s position helped make possible her positive experience in a nominally integrated sports environment.

“Rodney drove the van to our out-of-town games, washed uniforms, and helped us mature as young women. He made sure we all knew each other. We learned to appreciate everybody’s differences. He would even pick whom we roomed with when we the women’s basketball program, seemed, at the very least insensitive to racial overtones. It was natural for her to want to put her own person in the job with so much at stake.”

Michaelson says, however, that Retha, who had been recruited by Page, decided to give Conradt “the benefit of the doubt.” In fact, Jody Conradt recalled in a 2007 Texas Month/,y interview that only two team members decided to stay on the team after Coach Page was fired-Retha and Cathy Self.

Retha would go on to become team captain her final year and would become her team’s first All-American. She also holds the Longhorn record for number of rebounds, 1,750.

“When journalists, historians, and students ask me about what the experience of being the first Black female basketball player at UT means, it’s always puzzling because although I was aware that was my story, my circumstances were just a part of the journey to get me to college and to get me a life beyond my childhood,” Retha reflected. “I did what I had to do, and I’m grateful if it has made a difference.”

GSC Education Coordinator Kristen Hogan Nominated for Lambda Literary Award

image of bookDr. Kristen Hogan, education coordinator at the Gender and Sexuality Center, has been nominated for a 2017 Lambda Literary Award, a prestigious honor that celebrates the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year.

Hogan’s book “The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability,” is one of eight publications nominated for the award under the LGBTQ nonfiction category. The nationally and internationally renowned award (known as the “Lammys”) brings together 600 attendees—including nominees, celebrities, sponsors and publishing executives—to celebrate excellence in LGBTQ publishing.

Winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on Monday, June 12  at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Visit this website for more details.

Check out her ShelfLIfe Q&A for more about the book.

Faculty Book Talk: ‘The Price for Their Pound of Flesh’

Image of book Tonight Daina Berry, professor of history and African and African Diaspora Studies, will discuss her book “The Price for Their Pound of Flesh” (Beacon Press, ’17) at 6 p.m. in the Gordon-White Building.

The book is the culmination of more than ten years of Berry’s research on enslaved values, drawing on data unearthed from sources such as slave-trading records, insurance policies, cemetery records and life insurance policies. Writing with sensitivity and depth, she resurrects the voices of the enslaved and provides a rare window into enslaved peoples’ experiences and thoughts, revealing how enslaved people recalled and responded to being appraised, bartered and sold throughout the course of their lives. Reaching out from these pages, they compel the reader to bear witness to their stories, to see them as human beings, not merely commodities.

The event is free and open to the public.

Words that Wake Us: A Guest Post by YA Author Ashley Hope Pérez

image of author Out of Darkness is set in Texas, and it takes the 1937 New London school explosion as the backdrop for a secret romance between an African American boy and a Mexican American girl. It’s a book about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

When I began Out of Darkness, my goal was to write a historical novel that would capture experiences largely excluded from the sanitized historical accounts in Texas history books. I wanted to approach the past in a way that would also prompt my readers to think more deeply about the present and the shape of the world around us.

Growing up in East Texas, I heard powerful stories of loss and of survival related to the natural gas explosion that killed nearly 300 students and teachers. But I was driven even more by the stories I didn’t find collected in the archival materials on the disaster. Because the New London school was intended to serve white children, historical accounts of the explosion focused on the tragedy as the white community experienced it; no one recorded how people of color in the area had responded or how they viewed the disaster.

image of book cover Gaps in the historical record catalyzed my imaginings of the two teenaged characters at the center of Out of Darkness: African American Washington Fuller and Mexican American Naomi Vargas. They meet in East Texas, where Wash is a long time native and the son of the New London Colored School’s superintendent. Naomi is a beautiful and painfully shy high school senior who has just moved to New London with her younger twin half-siblings, Beto and Cari (short for Roberto and Caridad). They’ve come to East Texas from San Antonio to live with the twins’ white stepfather so that the children can attend the New London School. The lighter-skinned twins quickly settle into their new life, but Naomi encounters hostility and racism. Wash helps her navigate the day-to-day demands of her new life, befriends the twins, and awakens Naomi to her own desire for love and freedom. Wash and Naomi’s love grows through secret meetings and stolen moments in the woods, but they know that they can’t hide forever. What they don’t know, though, is that the worst school disaster in U.S. history awaits, threatening to shatter the school, the community, and their hopes for a future where they can be together.

Because Out of Darkness is set in the South during the 1930s, color lines shape the story. In San Antonio, for example, Naomi and the twins are forced to attend “Mexican” schools with overcrowded classrooms and underqualified teachers. In East Texas, Wash attends a “colored” school with a shorter school day and year, and Naomi is sent to the back entrance of New London’s only grocery store. Although forced segregation of schools and communities may be a thing of the past, the effects—and reality—of segregation linger on. Wash experiences the heightened vulnerability that still characterizes the lives of many today, as evidenced in the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride, to cite just two examples. Racism and violence have deep roots in our history, and these roots are among the painful legacies that Out of Darkness examines.

James Baldwin once noted that, in the U.S., “words are mostly used to cover the sleeper, not wake him up.”

Reading fiction is no substitute for engagement with the world around us. I hope, nevertheless, that Out of Darkness confronts readers with words that that wake them to the human cost of racialized violence and wake them to the need for change in our communities.

About the author: In addition to Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of the YA novels The Knife and the Butterfly, and What Can’t Wait. She grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel. Read her Q&A here.

 

A Peek Inside ‘Circuit Riders for Mental Health’

book coverIn honor of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health’s 75th anniversary, we’re shining the spotlight on a forthcoming book by Texas A&M social and cultural historian William S. Bush. In Circuit Riders for Mental Health: The Hogg Foundation and the Transformation of Mental Health in Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2016), Bush tells the story of the Hogg Foundation’s central role in transforming the way we think, talk, and make policy about mental health in Texas and the nation. It also provides portrayals of the visionary men and women who pushed relentlessly to improve mental health for the people of Texas.

A community partner of the DDCE, the Hogg Foundation has been advancing recovery and wellness in Texas and across the nation since it was established in 1940 by “The First Lady of Texas” Ima Hogg. Read more about the foundation’s early beginnings in this excerpt from the book. Visit www.hogghistory.org to read more chapters.

On the evening of Wednesday, February 12, 1941, Homer Rainey, the president of The University of Texas, took the stage of the university’s Hogg Auditorium. He was there for the formal inauguration ceremony of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Hygiene.

In the audience were university faculty members, elected and appointed state officials, members of the news media, prominent Texas philanthropists, and nationally recognized experts in the emerging field of mental health.

As a privately endowed philanthropy housed within a public university, the Hogg Foundation was structurally unique. It also stood out as the only organization of its kind in the nation to be devoted solely to mental health.

Rainey told the audience that they were present for “some real history in the making” that night. The new foundation, he explained, “is going to play the most important role in the redirection of education for the next 20 years – mental health for the normal man.”

Rainey was hardly alone in holding this seemingly grandiose view. Public anticipation of the foundation’s inauguration had been building for nearly two years, ever since the announcement in July 1939 that the Hogg family had made a $2.5 million bequest to establish a “mental health program” at the state’s flagship university.

During the year prior to the inaugural ceremony, Rainey fielded a steady stream of inquiries from across Texas and other parts of the country. The writers were graduate students, university professors, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, community groups in Texas, researchers in Chicago, professionals in Los Angeles and Boston, and private citizens from across Texas.

Clearly, the coming of the Hogg Foundation had tapped into a wellspring of excitement, as expressed in one handwritten letter: “I almost can’t believe this wonderful news. I am only twenty-three years old, a recent college graduate – but I know the need and value of such a program. I just thrill to think that Texas will enjoy the privileges of this work. I want to have a part in it. I want to work – and I have long yearned, really, to be allowed to enter this type of work. I know that I haven’t the necessary specialized training and experience for the technical, scientific side of the work, but isn’t there something I could do?”

The ceremony thus held different meanings for its varied participants. For its hosts at The University of Texas, it announced a new financial endowment from a prominent Texas family. Other observers looked to the new foundation as a source of support for social reform, not only for its stated purpose to promote “mental hygiene for the people of Texas” but for its association with the Hogg family, which had built a reputation for deploying its wealth for the public good.

For Robert Lee Sutherland, the inaugural director of the Hogg Foundation, it was the beginning of what would prove his life’s great mission: to use the foundation as a vehicle for improving mental health not only for the people of Texas, but for the nation.

For Ima Hogg, it was a memorial for her beloved brother Will, who had died while on a trip with her to Europe, and whose estate provided the money for the foundation.

It was also, for “Miss Ima,” a statement of the kind of future she hoped the foundation would help bring into existence.

It was a future in which people with mental health challenges would be treated with respect and dignity, and mental health would be seen as indivisible from all other aspects of a flourishing and healthy life. Over the decades Texas has come some distance toward realizing that vision, in no small part thanks to the work the Hogg Foundation and its allies have done.

There remains a great deal to be done, however, and the foundation is as engaged in the hard work of realizing Miss Ima’s vision as it has ever been. Under the leadership of psychiatrist Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., the foundation’s fifth executive director, it is deeply involved in reforming and improving mental health practices and policies in Texas at every level of the system.

 

Q&A: Author Kristen Hogan Explores Nation-Wide Feminist Bookstore Movement

image of bookFrom the 1970s through the 1990s more than 100 feminist bookstores built a transnational network that helped shape some of feminism’s most complex conversations. Dr. Kristen Hogan, education coordinator at the DDCE’s Gender and Sexuality Center, traces the feminist bookstore movement’s rise and eventual fall in her new book The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability (Duke University Press, March 2016).

We caught up with Hogan to learn more about the role these bookstores play in shaping feminist thought, and how they have changed people’s lives and the world.

What did you enjoy most about working at two feminist bookstores? 

I’m grateful to Susan Post for hiring me at BookWoman in 1998 and introducing me to feminist bookstores as activist spaces. I worked there for two years before returning to graduate school. When I graduated, I accepted a 14-month position at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, where I was a part of a transformative team of ten staff members and a board building relationships and reading practices for queer antiracist trans-positive feminisms.

When I was interviewing feminist bookwomen for this project, I asked them how working at the bookstores changed them. I echo the answers many shared: lifelong relationships and learning feminist ethics. I call this process of transformation feminist love.

Through the feminist love of the bookstores, I made friends that make my life and this world better. I met my lover of 17 years, and I learned how to read, talk about, and try to live by lesbian antiracism and feminist accountability. I carry those lessons, that feminist love, with me into my everyday life.

What spurred your interest in writing this book?

I met my partner, Milly, at BookWoman while I was working there in 1999. That year, almost 40 feminist bookstores closed. I could tell something was coming to an end, but I didn’t know then about the movement work of feminist bookwomen.

During the early 2000’s, Milly and I bicycled around the hot city, talking about whether feminist bookstores were just women’s businesses or sites of community and activist histories. As I researched the feminist bookstore movement, I found more and more clues to piece together the complex and transnational relationships that feminist bookwomen built together and how they changed how we read women’s literature and each other. Working in and researching the bookstores changed my relationships and what feels possible in my life, so I kept researching and writing!

From a local perspective, what value do feminist bookstores bring to the Austin community?

In Austin, we have feminist bookstores in BookWoman, Resistencia, and Monkeywrench bookstores. Amid the shelves in these movement-based spaces, people have found lovers, friends, writing circles, validation in stories and in each other, and bookpeople who fuel our lives with books and radical framings for how to understand those books differently than we would if we found them on other shelves.

I have joined in raucous celebration of queer racial justice poetics at an open mic at Resistencia; I have squeezed into a circle of people on the floor of Monkeywrench to talk about the violence of gentrification in Austin; and recently at BookWoman I gathered with a sea of people all transformed by Abe Louise Young’s writing and writing workshops as we listened to her read from her new book of poetry.

With a collective breath, in these moments, we are making coalition with each other. We are learning to connect with each other in radical queer feminist love. Part of the lesbian antiracist feminist work of bookwomen has been to see the work of feminists within and across multiple social justice movements.

What role did feminist bookwomen play in shaping feminist thought?

Feminist bookwomen changed how we read feminist literature and each other; I created the term “the feminist shelf” to describe this work. In order to get and keep on the shelves books that mattered, feminist bookwomen supported new authors’ writings (and were authors themselves), advocated with publishers to get feminist writing in print, waged letter-writing campaigns to keep that writing in print, and distributed out-of-print work.

How bookwomen practiced this literary activism mattered deeply. Bookwomen in collective meetings, national and transnational conferences, and on the pages of the Feminist Bookstore News grappled with power sharing and antiracist feminism in their relationships. As they learned new vocabulary to talk ethically with each other, they shared this vocabulary with readers by creating new book sections, book lists and events, and by applying their activist tools in their communities.

In the 1970s the feminist bookstore in Portland, Oregon shut down for a week so that the bookwomen could teach other women about racism and hold the lesbian bar accountable for racist practices. In the 1990s, bookwomen collaborated with Indigenous feminist author Chrystos and Press Gang publishers to create a broadside of Chrystos’ poem Shame On about the violence of white women appropriating Indigenous voices. Bookwomen hung these in their bookstores to educate readers. From 1976-2000, bookwomen shared these and other strategies with each other through the Feminist Bookstore News. This work of the feminist shelf affected conversations in feminism about antiracism, representation and accountability.

Did you come across any surprising findings in your research?

I was surprised to find how many bookwomen were involved in trying to develop antiracist feminist activism and relationships. The bookstores were, in many cities, multiracial spaces and sites of conversation and strategy for lesbian antiracism. I describe lesbian antiracism as a practice of antiracism developed in multiracial conversations that draw on lesbians’ experiences of sexism and heterosexism as interconnected and rooted in racism. All three of these systems must be taken apart in order for any one of them to be dismantled.

When I started this project in the early 2000’s – as now – most feminist bookstores open in North America were run by white lesbians. I interviewed quite a few white women working in or who had worked in feminist bookstores in a few central U.S. cities. It took me longer, as a white researcher, to connect and build trust with women of color who had worked in and transformed the bookstores.

Once I started connecting with more and more feminist bookwomen of color, the stories they shared changed the way I understood the history I thought I knew. I began to see indications of the major work of women of color throughout the feminist bookstore movement.

At A Woman’s Place bookstore in Portland in the 1970s, women reflected on racism in their collective and prioritized supporting the leadership of women of color. Manager Niobe Erebor then pointed out the absence of images of women of color from most posters circulated through the bookstores and began working to create valuable images to share. At the Toronto Women’s Bookstore in the late 1980s. The volunteer collective also prioritized the leadership of women of color; their multiracial board hired activist Sharon Fernandez who published the extensive Women of Colour Bibliography in 1989 and transformed the shape and future of the bookstore.

This history of the bookstores as places where women tried out strategies for racial justice was a surprise hidden by the mid-1990s, when many white feminist bookwomen turned toward book industry activism and away from movement-based conversations. The vital history before that turn offers strategies I need for the relationships that matter to me every day.

How can people help support the few feminist bookstores that are left in this country?

I think that in order to really support feminist bookstores – and many feminist spaces in our cities – we need to know what important movement-based work bookwomen have done. Movement organizations don’t last forever. The success of feminist bookstores is not defined by how long they stay open, but, rather, by the significant legacy they leave us for our future movements. Feminist activists can continue the radical work of feminist bookwomen by learning about and practicing their commitment to lesbian antiracism and feminist accountability.

Hogg Foundation Staff Member to Read and Sign ‘Exit Right’ at BookPeople

Daniel Oppenheimer web squareDaniel Oppenheimer, director of strategic communications at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, will read and sign his new book Exit Right on Friday, Feb. 12, 7 p.m. at BookPeople.  A new voice in political history, Oppenheimer tells the stories of six major political figures whose journeys away from the left reshaped the contours of American politics in the 20th century.

“[Exit Right] is flawed in the particular way that only great books can be. It fails to fully answer the impossibly ambitious questions it lays out, but its insights are so absorbing that it doesn’t matter [and] the prose is so perfect. … This book proves so satisfying precisely because it leaves you wanting much more. … Oppenheimer began with a book about the origins of political beliefs and ended with one about the literary force of political misgivings. They’re both worth reading.”
—The Washington Post

“Call it natural evolution or ideological midlife crisis, but the figures profiled here … all turned away from the political left, either incrementally or in revelatory bursts. … Brilliant yet fallible, these apostates deserve our attention, Oppenheimer believes. Right or wrong, they ‘reckoned with themselves at the most terrifyingly fundamental level.’”
—The New York Times Book Review

“[A] confident debut. … [Oppenheimer] excels in portraying the personal torments and costs to his subjects in their transitional struggles…. The interplay between large historical movements and personal anguish is well-balanced and skillfully handled throughout. Whether his subjects are viewed as champions or apostates, Oppenheimer’s insightful narrative should inspire some soul-searching among political believers of every stripe.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

More about the Author: Daniel Oppenheimer is a writer and filmmaker whose articles and videos have been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Tablet Magazine and Salon.com. He has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University.