We shall be heard: Images of American activists

Bud and Ruth Schultz have spent 25 years interviewing and photographing Americans who have stood up to their government in the name of civil rights, from the First World War to the present day. Here are their stories

Saturday 07 June 2008 00:00 BST

Scott Nearing

In the patriotic fervour of the First World War, more than 2,000 people were prosecuted for disagreeing with the government's war policies

Every day, every day, the rah-rah boys – preachers, teachers, newspapermen – were saying, "Whatever you do, don't rock the boat". The boat was on the way to war. The war hysteria mounted. The right to conduct meetings was cancelled. When people tried to hold meetings against the war, we were called traitors. People who opposed the war were fired. They lost their jobs widely and freely. I wrote a simple little 32-page pamphlet called The Great Madness, which was published before the end of the war. I analysed the causes of the war – the political causes, the economic causes, and so on – showing that it was not a war of patriotism or a war for democracy, but a businessman's war. The Espionage Act, which was enacted ostensibly to cope with the German spy system, was used against people such as me who opposed the war. An indictment against me was handed down in New York after the end of the war, and I was charged with writing a pamphlet that would interfere with recruitment and enlistment in the armed forces of the United States. It carried up to a 20-year sentence. We felt the trial was our chance to publicise our views and we used the pamphlet in presenting our case. We spent eight days going through it, paragraph by paragraph, and I gave a detailed explanation each time. The newspapers and magazines were full of it. We said we didn't care if we were found guilty or not: we were interested in furthering the cause of peace and socialism. In the end, the jury acquitted me for writing the pamphlet and convicted the Rand School for publishing it.

Louise Thompson Patterson

In Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930s, demonstrations for relief from the Depression were attacked. Police beat up speakers and raided the homes of suspected leaders

I came to the International Workers Order (IWO) in New York as an office worker in 1933: a fraternal group for immigrant workers, it gave them a base in this country, and provided them with low-cost insurance. I expressed an interest in organising for them, so I went down to Alabama, Georgia and New Orleans, and got groups together through churches and local trade unions. This I did in 1933 and 1934. I was in Birmingham when the coal strike was on. I had gone to a meeting in a middle-class, white neighbourhood, but when I opened the door, the police were in the middle of a raid. I was so stunned. The woman who lived there tried to protect me, and said: "I have no sewing for you today." But this one cop said, "Oh, no. That won't go. I know you're one of them." They took me off to an ancient city jail. This one, like all the others in Alabama, was segregated. About 50 black women were there in a long room. At the end of the room was one filthy bathroom. The next morning, they told me they were going to take my picture and fingerprints. I met Bull Connor [who later became Birmingham's public safety commissioner] in the elevator. He said, "Whatcha got there?" They said, "We got one of them Yankee bitches. We ought to do like Mussolini does, put them up against the wall and shoot them." They transferred me to the county jail. As we went in, I noticed a saying over the door about "justice" – and here I was in prison for the crime of attending a meeting.

Minoru Yasui

In the Second World War, a notice was suddenly posted throughout Japanese neighbourhoods: "All persons of Japanese ancestry will be evacuated from the above designated area by 12 o'clock noon"

There was nothing in the evacuation order or in any public law that allowed the United States government to keep Americans within any restricted area. But the War Relocation Authority, by pure executive fiat, detained us under their jurisdiction and sent us to camps. The military, without imposing martial law, was ordering the civilian to do something. In my opinion, that's the way dictatorships are formed. And if I, as an American citizen, stood still for this, I would be derogating the rights of all citizens. I had to stand up and say, "That's wrong". I refused to report for evacuation. Sure enough, within the week, I got a telephone call saying, "We're coming to get you". I can still see them. The lieutenant was in a saloon car. A jeep followed with four military policemen. I was thrown into the North Portland Livestock Pavilion, where Japanese-Americans had been put. In stalls where horses and cows were kept, people now lived. It was sweltering, but we had no way to escape it. They wouldn't let us outside. In September, they started moving us into desert camps. You were surrounded with barbed-wire fences, armed guards, searchlights, and machine-gun nests. We wondered how long we were going to be interned. What was going to happen? By then, we had heard rumours of forced labour camps in Germany. Were they, as [the journalist] Westbrook Pegler and others were suggesting, going to castrate the men and ship them back to Japan? These things were in the papers constantly: make them suffer. Make them hurt. And I kept on thinking, "What did I do?"

Frances Chaney Lardner

In the McCarthy era, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) blacklisted actors, and those deemed "subversive" quickly found themselves unemployable

I was an actress and I had a decent career in New York. But after the HUAC hearings, I couldn't get any real work. From 1947 till 1963, I was able to play only one part on night-time television. An agency sent me for a big part on the Philco Playhouse, in a script written by Paddy Chayefsky. I thought, "See, by God, I've sneaked through." That spring, the same agency said they had a part for me in Marty. Chayefsky had written it with me in mind, and all they wanted was script approval. And then the process started: "Call us back in an hour." They finally said they were very sorry. Someone else had been cast in the part. Then they recast the first Chayefsky programme: I was out. The terrible thing about the whole business is what it did to people. It made the victims of the blacklist suspicious and fearful. For example, I remember well the time that I got my first important job in a Broadway play in 1962. There was a lovely woman who understudied me. We were in the dressing-room we shared, and I suddenly felt, "What if she's from the FBI?" I had nothing to conceal whatsoever, and yet I had this sense that she was put there. You found yourself worried because there were things that had to be protected: children had to be protected, your livelihood had to be protected. I went from being an open, free, healthy, outgoing person to suddenly having these walls around me.

Anne Braden

When Anne and Carl Braden bought a home in a white suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, for the Wades, an African-American family, the house was fire-bombed. Andrew and Charlotte Wade and their young child escaped injury, but the Bradens were charged with sedition

When the grand jury met I was the first one called. I'd only been there a few minutes when I realised it was not the bombing that was under investigation – it was me. They began by asking me what organisations I belonged to and what books I had in my house. I'd heard that questions like those were being asked by HUAC, but I didn't expect them from the grand jury. I told them, "It's none of your business. It doesn't have a thing to do with who blew up this house." The next day, the prosecutor made a statement that there were two theories about the bombing. One was that the neighbours blew it up to get the Wades out. The other was that it was a Communist plot to stir up trouble between the races and bring about the overthrow of the governments of Kentucky and the US. By the beginning of October, those of us who had been openly supportive of the Wades were charged with sedition. A combination of anti-black and anti-red mania gripped this community. If you haven't lived through such hysteria, it's hard to imagine. People were so scared, they were going through their libraries and getting rid of books. The hysteria had taken everybody's minds off the real issue: whether a black man has a right to live in his house. The Wades were never able to move back and the real dynamiter was never punished. We became part of a resistance movement, a small group of people who were scared but not intimidated, and were still fighting – they were the soul of America.

Pete Seeger

For more than half a century, Seeger's songs have provided the soundtrack to protest: at union halls, civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War protests. As a result, he has been investigated for sedition, harassed by the FBI, and called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities

I was hauled up before the HUAC along with about 30 other actors and musicians in New York. The committee claimed that it was investigating the Communist conspiracy in the entertainment business. Of course, they were just investigating their own definition of heresy. The committee asked me, "Did you ever sing a song called 'Wasn't That a Time'?" I still sing that song. It has a verse for Valley Forge, a verse for Gettysburg, a verse for the Second World War, and a verse for the McCarthy days. But it ended on an optimistic note: "Our faith cries out. Isn't this a time, a time to free the soul of man?" So I told the committee, "That's a good song, and I know it. I'll sing it for you." They replied: "No. We don't want to hear it. We want to know, did you sing it on such and such a place and date?" I said, "I would be glad to sing any song I ever sang. But as to where I've sung them, I think that's no business of this committee. I've got a right to sing them anywhere." A year later, I was cited for contempt of Congress because I had refused to answer the committee's questions. In 1961, I was tried, convicted and sentenced to a year in jail. My family and friends stood behind me. And all around the world, people sent dimes and dollars to help pay the legal expenses. A year later, the appeals court unanimously acquitted me. I'm only sorry I hadn't done what Paul Robeson did. He stood up and shouted, "This whole hearing is a disgrace. You are the Un-Americans!"

Ruby Sales

Those who defied segregation risked their lives, such as civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels, killed in broad daylight. Despite death threats, Ruby Sales testified at the trial – but the all-white jury found the killer, Tom Coleman, not guilty

I was a 16-year-old student at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After the terrible beating of the people in Selma on Bloody Sunday [in March 1965], we felt we wanted to make our own statement. About a thousand of us marched to Montgomery and had a sit-in. We were hemmed in for a day and a night, surrounded by dogs and by very menacing white vigilantes who called themselves policemen. For the first time, I saw people resisting police in a non-violent way. That was the turning point in my life: I became part of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC]. Young people from the town of Fort Deposit had begun to organise themselves around the exploitation of their parents as sharecroppers, and asked us to join their demonstration. When we got there, a mob of white men was waiting. Then the city came with a garbage truck. They put us in it along with the garbage and took us to prison. We were refused bail and kept in jail for seven days. Suddenly they ordered us to leave. We left with great trepidation and I walked to the corner grocery with Father Richard Morrisroe and Jonathan Daniels. A white man, Tom Coleman, was standing in the doorway with a shotgun. He hurled obscenities at us. He told me he would blow my brains out. Jonathan pulled me back in an attempt to protect me. In that instant, he got shot. Then there was another shot, and Father Morrisroe fell. They made him ride to the hospital in a hearse on top of Jonathan's dead body.

Stokely Carmichael

Kwame Ture – known until the late 1970s as Stokely Carmichael – was arrested while pressing for the right of African-Americans to vote in the South. Elected chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, the FBI sought to silence and discredit him

When I was an organiser in Greenwood, Mississippi, [SNCC organiser] Bob Moses informed me that I should report the beatings, the shootings, and the burnings to the FBI. But I didn't want to waste my time. They never did anything with the reports. And we saw the FBI exactly for what it was. We saw its racism. We saw its defence of segregated policies. At first, we would present the facts to the FBI. But we learnt that it would endanger the local person who saw it. Whatever we told the FBI, its agents told the local police. But nothing the FBI did stopped us from organising. Later, when I had disputes with SNCC, the FBI manipulated them to wreak havoc on us. I can remember when it spread three rumours about me at the same time: I bought a $70,000 house; I ran away to Africa ; I was a CIA agent. It had informers in every city and every organisation. All the FBI had to do was send out one memorandum, and overnight a rumour was dropped everywhere, and it appeared to be the truth: "It is also suggested that we inform a certain percentage of reliable criminal and racial informants that 'we heard from reliable sources that Carmichael is a CIA agent'. It is hoped that these informants would spread the rumour in various large Negro communities across the land." You really can't fight this. How can you go to every large city and say, "It's not true. The FBI said it." You can't. Some people in SNCC actually believed all that about me. We were unified against local southern sheriffs and the Ku Klux Klan. But the FBI was able to split us on every conceivable issue with their channels to the press and their informants inside our organisation.

Linda Hajek

When the FBI infiltrated the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), a group opposed to Ronald Reagan's policy in Central America, Linda Hajek, a Catholic sister, found herself under scrutiny

We started our community-based chapter of CISPES in Dallas about 1980. Up to then, there had been a small group of church people exchanging information on Central American events. We tried to speak to as many groups as we could about El Salvador. We did lobbying. Our first demonstration was during Central America Week in 1981. We suspected there might be some plants – we knew they had been placed in other organisations – but I have to say that every time I took it seriously, I felt I was being arrogant. We were a small group, and what we were doing didn't seem to merit that kind of attention. Then the story came out, a long front-page Sunday morning type of thing. And there was my name in the middle of it. It read like a soap opera, like Dallas: the story of this guy, this FBI informant Frank Varelli, who was going to get me in a motel room and seduce me and have the sex scene recorded on film. I mean, it was so ridiculous – at the time I was a Catholic sister. I thought, "Who would do this kind of thing in the name of national security?" Varelli also said they had a device that could record conversations. He said they used it mainly to keep track of the numbers we phoned. And Varelli said they tampered with our mail. They watched where we lived, the Bethany House of the Holy Cross Catholic Church. They sat out there in the parking lot and copied down the licence plates of all the people who came here. But in a sense, Frank Varelli was not the problem. The real problem was that the government believed it had the right to break into citizens' homes, put taps on their phones, and send people to meetings to spy on them if they dissented from the government's policy.

Maher Arar

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen whose name was on a "terrorist look-out list", was sent by the US government to Syria, where he was tortured. He was later exonerated in Canada

On 26 September 2002, on my way back to Canada after a vacation in Tunisia, my plane stopped at JFK airport, New York. At Immigration they pulled me aside, took my fingerprints and my picture. I saw a bunch of guys coming. They said: "There's just a couple of questions and we'll let you catch your plane." I answered all their questions, but they didn't let me catch the plane. I asked for a lawyer, but they just ignored me. Later, three FBI agents took me to a detention centre in Brooklyn. I was terrified. They kept me in solitary confinement for about 10 days, and on 2 October, they showed me a document that alleged I was a member of al-Qa'ida. Two guys from Immigration handed me a document that said the director had decided to deport me, and I had the right to designate the country. I wrote, "Canada". Then I was chained and a woman read that, based on information that they could not reveal, they were sending me to Syria. They drove me to an airport in New Jersey and put me on a private jet, chained and shackled. They flew to Amman, Jordan, where six or seven men were waiting for us. They put a blindfold on me, and put me in the back of a van, then sent me to Syria. The interrogation started the first day, then they took me to a cell the size of a grave. I spent 10 months in that place. Sometimes they put me in another room, where I could hear people being severely tortured. They wanted me to say that I'd been to Afghanistan. I am not a terrorist, or a member of al-Qa'ida. There's nothing on earth that justifies what they did.

Taken from 'We Will Be Heard' by Bud and Ruth Schultz, published by Merrell, £14.95. To buy a copy for a special price, including p&p, call 08700 798 897, or visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in