SF State alum looks back on Black Friday
May 13, 2010 5:28 PM
Fifty years ago at the foot of inside San Francisco City Hall's stairs, 64 students were arrested and hosed down by high-pressure fire hoses for protesting hearings held by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
At noon today, some of those original protesters, including SF State alumni Becky Jenkins, stood once again on that unforgettable platform not to protest but celebrate the 50th anniversary of these Anti-HUAC demonstrations, infamously known as Black Friday.
Irving Wesley Hall, an arrestee from the protest in 1960 and a contender of Congressmen William F. Buckley, faced the crowd below and admitted that he once thought that Black Friday was forgotten. But with some encouragement and Hall decided to officially put on the memorial.
"In many ways, we were accidental victims of history," he said.
Jenkins, the ceremony's first official speaker, delivered an emotional background as a Red Diaper baby and of her family's discrimination as being a part of the Communist Party. On the verge of tears, Jenkins spoke of her personal experience as an SF State student protester that memorable day and the long lasting impact it has had on her life.
"The demonstration of 1960 represented light after dark," Jenkins said to the crowd. "It represented the Sixties as opposed to the Fifties. I was surrounded by many who were not Red Diaper babies, but who were filled with righteous indignation without doubt that the righteousness and justice of their cause will be rewarded. Besides the 14 irreplaceable friendships, it changed my life and my view about what was possible."
Black Friday changed the fate of the HUAC. The committee never travelled out of Washington again to hold hearings and was eventually abolished in 1975. The event also marked what is arguably the first mass demonstration of the 1960's.
For many in attendance, the Black Friday demonstrations mirror current protests over the California budget crisis.
Fellow guest speaker Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, recently finished a 48-day march from Bakersfield to Sacramento to protest the crisis in California.
"We're still fighting," Hittelman reiterated to the crowd. "Our main objective is to fight for the California dream, but first, to bring back education to the high level it once was."
Many of those attending found the commemoration and speeches inspiring and far from reliving an old painful memory.
"I thought it was really nice to see progressive activists that were heavily involved and to see them do such meaningful things with their lives," audience member Vicky Degoff said.
Twice during the ceremony, singer songwriter Nancy Schimmel, daughter of Malvina Reynolds, led the audience with protest songs, "Billy Boy" and "We Shall Not Be Moved." Afterwards, Schimmel admitted that the current budget crisis will only ignite a similar movement.
"As usual, the police overreact and don't realize they're re-energizing a new generation of activists," Schimmel said. "They don't seem to learn. "
Although the current wave of SF State protests are following the footsteps of their brave predecessors and alumni, Jenkins advised activist students to continue voicing their dissent.
"The situation is desperate," Jenkins said, "and the objective is to be creative."
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