Thai Jones: Recalls when her parents were on the run 60's activists

Historians in the News

[Thai Jones is author of “A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family’s Century of Conscience.” He is pursuing a Ph.D. in U.S. History at Columbia.]

ON a bitter night in November, I watched two protests face off on Columbia University’s central quad. At the sundial, about 100 supporters of a five-student hunger strike, then in its ninth day, gathered close, screening their votives from the cold wind. They were demanding more money for ethnic studies, a more multicultural curriculum and a more neighborly plan for expanding north into Harlem from the Morningside Heights campus....

... 40 years ago, my mother was a student at Columbia. Her politics were radicalized by the campus uprising of 1968 and the police violence that ended it. My father, who had withdrawn from Antioch College to work full time for Students for a Democratic Society, was among a group of outsiders who took over a campus building, along with the four that were occupied by Columbia students. Later, he was a founder of the Weather Underground, an S.D.S. splinter group.

The historian in me sees the issues and the tactics of radical movements in an academic context. The teacher in me marvels at the acuity of my students, who seem to understand the protest movements of the past and the battles over racial divisions in this country. And my parents’ political journey, their evolution from leftist activists to fugitives to their current work as environmentalists, leaves me wondering about how my own students might evolve, and their very different awakening.

The parallels between 1968 and now are striking. Political leadership had led the nation into an unpopular, and seemingly unwinnable, war. Issues of diversity, multiculturalism and the university’s incursions on its neighbors were front-burner topics. But the stakes and the passions seemed so much greater then — the draft threatened every college-age man, and college administrators were far less accommodating of dissent....

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