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A good fight? (UK, 1969-70)
Background: Fresno State College
Links on this page
1969 Fresno State reference on my teaching
My commentary on the letter and how it affected my teaching career
February, 2008

So far, I have found no documentary material about my year at Fresno State, so what I write here is from memory only.  (And I'm only writing enough background to help make sense of the Fresno connection to the Borehamwood saga.)

After my 1964 trip to Europe, I lazed around my parents' home in Highland Park, NJ, for several weeks.  During this time I received a phone call from the Fresno State College (now Fresno State University) English department offering me a full-time job teaching freshman and sophomore English.  In those days, there was actually a shortage of college teachers, and I suppose the department had a last-minute opening.  They consulted the placement office at Claremont Graduate School, looked at my file, and hired me.

Aside from teaching, I became involved in a Fresno Friends of SNCC chapter (I may well have helped create it) that was not all white but may well have been mostly white.  Aside from anything else we did, we became involved in attacking de facto segregation in the Fresno schools.  If I remember correctly, the bulk of black people lived literally on the other side of the tracks from the rest of town.  

We began drawing up position papers and attending meetings of the Board of Education.  Eventually we drew up our own proposal for busing students within the city.  I don't know if we decided this on our own or responded to a challenge from the Board; if the latter, it was probably assumed we would now go away.  News of our activity became well known around town, to the dismay of most white people, and perhaps with little support from the black community.  A couple of us appeared on local television.

I was the one to present our plan to the Board of Ed.  Normally, attendance would be small, perhaps as much as a couple of dozen for the right issue.  At this meeting the auditorium was full, 800 people as I recall, and I don't remember if any of them were not white.  They certainly didn't seem friendly.  We had made some maps to illustrate our plan, and at some point I gestured from one end of town to the other to illustrate one particular busing route.  I still remember the collective gasp of horror from the audience.

I'm sure we were thanked and sent on our way.  Before or after that we made controversial visits at least to the high school and maybe other teaching groups where we discussed what we were up to.  Even those meetings were highly controversial.

In tandem with this activity was my sponsorship of some student political group which one day held a rally in a campus free-speech area. (Remember that this was after the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, and authorities at campuses around the country had been trying to ward off any similar student uprising.)  I was one of those to speak, and I gave a talk on non-violent civil disobedience.  This got picked up--I think by the local newspaper, the Fresno Bee--that I had advised students to break laws.

Here is a quaint clipping (and the artful envelope that encosed it) I received in February, 1966, from one of Fresno's finer seniors who, having underlined key passages for later reference, shows his mastery of good reading habits.  He did, alas, fail to provide the full text that would have shown me exactly how I caused the death of a soldier, presumably in Vietnam.  (Rafferty has to be  Max Rafferty, head of the California state department of education who kept getting re-elected to office despite outrageous exteme right wing statements he was well known for.)


In March of '66 the Fresno City College paper (not Fresno State College) reported on the value and legitimacy of protest.  I remember Frank Verges well, another young faculty member in the philosophy department who I think also showed up in Berkeley went I went there after Fresno.  Frank was quieter, sexier and hipper than I.

In the spirit of no good deed goes unpunished (in this case my political activism in Fresno), three years after I left, while first teaching in London, a reference letter was solicited from Fresno and haunted me for well over a year.  I reproduce it here and follow it with a lengthy critique I composed 15 months after the letter arrived at Tulse Hill.  

So first, the "reference" letter (I assume "exorcised" in item 3 is a typo by the Fresno State Academic Vice President...):

Next, here is my 3-page commentary, presumably written in the summer of 1970, perhaps to a non-Fresno California ACLU chapter. (It is a curious irony  that the head of the Fresno Board of Education when Friends of SNCC was dealing with it was also head of the Fresno ACLU and a faculty member--sociology, I think--at Fresno State...)

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