UT Jews in the Civil Rights Era: Call Goes Out for Memories of Jewish Longhorns in the 1960s and 70s

UT Jews in the Civil Rights Era: Call Goes Out for Memories of Jewish Longhorns in the 1960s and 70s

By Robert Cullick

This year marks the 50th anniversary of a pivotal moment on college campuses and civil rights activism around the nation and across the globe. Now, a new course from the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at The University of Texas at Austin is asking what role Longhorn Jews played in the social changes of the 1960s and early 70s—both on campus and beyond.

Revolution was in the air on college campuses in the 1960s and early 70s – UT included.

Segregation protests, student sit-ins, free love, anti-war campaigns, feminism, flower power and counterculture were the (dis)order of the day.

Were UT Jews allies or activists? Greeks or geeks? Feminists or Princesses? Suzanne Seriff, a folklorist and member of the Schusterman faculty and lifelong Texan wants to tap your knowledge and experience of UT’s Jewish students in the Age of Aquarius.

Seriff is teaching a new course, “UT Jews in the Civil Rights Era,” in fall 2018 through the Schusterman Center. But it is not all book learning and library research. She will draw on her background as a museum curator and folklorist to train students to conduct original oral historical research, document original artifacts, and comb the archives to fill in the picture of Jewish life on campus during these pivotal decades.

“Jews have had an impact on Texas since its inception and now we have the opportunity to collect oral histories from people who changed Texas during this critical time,” Seriff said. “It’s a unique and timely opportunity.”

Students will use UT’s rich archival resources, such as the Texas Jewish Collection and the African American Collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center of American History. Each student will conduct an oral history with a former UT student, faculty or staff member, either in person or by Skype.

And at the end of the semester, they will work together to create a pop up exhibit featuring the results—and the public is invited!

But we need your help!

Were you a student or faculty member at UT during the 60s or early 70s? Did you belong to a Jewish sorority or fraternity?

Were there places on campus or in town that you felt you would not be welcome as a Jew? Do you remember when the restaurants and movie theatres and barber shops on the Drag were segregated? What about the student housing, Longhorn band, dining halls and athletics teams?

What about the newly opened “whites only” faculty club? Were Jews allowed?

Were you in the crowd when Martin Luther King came to speak on campus? What about the anti-war protests? Did you ever participate in a sit-in or strike or picket line?

Did you pick up a copy of the local underground newspaper known as The Rag? Or contribute an article? Did you ever take a class with radical economics professor, Harry Cleaver?

Do you know what SDS stands for? Were you a member? What was your stance on the Chuckwagon controversy—whether to admit non-UT patrons or not?

Even before the students start collecting in the fall, Seriff has gathered some great stories and memories of Texas Jews on campus whose names you may recognize during this era.

There was Richard “Kinky” Friedman who tried to integrate his fraternity on campus, and resigned in protest when they refused to even allow his black friend entrance into the frat house. His activist activities won him a coveted place, along with Jerry Jeff Walker and Janis Joplin, in the surveillance files of former UT police chief, Allen Hamilton.

There was Frieda Warden, the co-founder and producer (in 1986) of the radical weekly radio series, WINGS: Women’s International News Gathering Service, who remembers attending what she thinks was the first publically announced Women’s Liberation meeting in Austin in 1969.

There was constitutional law professor Fred Cohen — nicknamed “Fred the Red” — who defended many of the SDS students who were arrested or put on disciplinary action for anti-war protests on campus.

Houston native, Thornton Dreyer, was one of the founding editors of what became the most famous underground newspaper in the entire country, The Rag. ■

If you have stories to tell from your time at UT in the 1960s and early 70s—whether or not you considered yourself part of the counterculture or activist movements—contact Seriff at sseriff@austin.utexas.edu or 512 619-8837.

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