Interview with Les Campbell
Interview with Les Campbell

Interviewer: NAME_OF_INTERVIEWER_X_process
Production Team: C

Interview Date: November 3, 1988

Camera Rolls: 3059-3062
Sound Rolls: 328-329

Interview gathered as part of Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985,
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Les Campbell, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 3, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.

INTERVIEW




QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

We're trying to establish that, that you're a long-time resident of Brooklyn. Was, was parent involvement in the schools something new in Brooklyn?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, as a long-time resident of Brooklyn, I had known my mother, Modesta, to be active in the parent association of our community during the time that myself and my brothers and sisters attended public school and to encourage other parents to be involved in the PTAs of the community. Many new parents who had recently moved from the South, ah, were concerned that their children received the best possible education and that their children be successful in the public education system. And my mother had explained to them that the only that their would be successful is that if they became active in the local parent association and helped to make the schools a better educational opportunity for their children and give their children the maximum opportunity for success educationally. So, I grew up around parent involvement and I understood and knew that parent involvement was very important to the success of the schools.

INTERVIEWER:

Stop camera for a second.


QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

Why, why did you feel it was necessary, you plural, why did you feel it was necessary to form an African-American Teachers Association? How did it come about?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, I was a young teacher in the 1960s, having entered the school system in 1962, and, ah, myself and people like Albert Vann and Dorothy Joseph and Marcia Goldman, Audrey Williams, we were all new teachers and we, ah, began to notice a lot of injustices in the school system, internally, from the point of view of teachers. We began to see behind the scenes what went on, and how the mised--miseducation of our children was not just a mistake but was calculated and, ah, perpetuated. And so we began to talk about the need for an organization of Black teachers to take some affirmative action on behalf of our children and to begin to do some things that would help to, ah, push the educational process of Black children along in the inner cities. And, ah, eventually this type of thinking led us to come together as a group which was the African-American Teachers Association.

QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

Why was it necessary to form something outside of the union?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, the teachers' union basically, at that time, the United Federation of Teachers, they were a young organization, and basically their major concern were issues involving teaching, ah, pay issues, payroll issues, issues involving benefits, vacations, pay, ah, you know, increments, medical benefits, et cetera. They were not concerned with the quality of education in the school system at that time. And so we wanted to deal with an organization that would deal with the quality of education. What was wrong with our young people? Why wasn't the school reaching our young people? And so we wanted to deal with an organization that would be more centered around the question of providing a better educational opportunity for Black youth, rather than issues around pay and benefits like that.

QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

OK, could you talk about your meeting in September of '67 with Rhody McCoy, when he was first appointed unit administrator at Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, ah, the African-American Teachers Association had a very significant convention in 1966 in which we can out in favor of the concept of community control. And, ah, when the three experimental districts were established by the Ford Foundation in 1967, we were very concerned that these districts, ah, move forward the concept of community control of schools by, ah, the communities and the parents and the activists that were in the communities. And so, in 1967, after the parents had, the, ah, governing board had been selected in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, and they had appointed Rhody McCoy as the unit administrator, myself and Albert Vann, we met with Mr. McCoy to try to offer our assistance as an organization. We wanted him to know, we wanted to go on record having said to him that African American teachers--

QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

Stop.


QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

OK, once again, could you describe, ah, your meeting, ah, the meeting with the African-American teachers with Rhody McCoy in '67?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, Rhody McCoy had been appointed the unit administrator of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville experimental school project in the summer of 1967, and myself and Albert Vann, representing the African-American Teachers Association, we wanted to extend to Mr. McCoy, ah, the fact that our organization was supportive of the efforts of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville project and that we were prepared to assist him in whatever way possible to make sure that that project was a success. And that was the essence of our meeting in 1967.

QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

Did you want to have more Black teachers coming into--?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, we were prepared to transfer large numbers of Black teachers from other districts throughout the city to Ocean Hill-Brownsville, that was one of the things that we offered to do. Ah, however, Mr. McCoy felt at that time that that would not be necessary.

QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

Ah, why not?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, his feeling was, in September of 1967, that he could work with the teachers basically who were union teachers and the he did not feel that he was ready to change the staff in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in September of 1967.

QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

OK, ho--how and when were you placed at IS-271?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, originally I had been a teacher at Junior High School 35 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. It was a 99 percent Black school and I was proud to be a teacher at that school and I tried to contribute much to the young people at that school. However, in February of 1968, I was suspended from that school for taking my class to a Malcolm X memorial program. The superintendent of schools at that time, Bernard Donovan, held a hearing on my teaching record, and we had, ah, literally hundreds of parents who showed at the Board of Education to support me.: The superintendent therefore felt under pressure not to fire me as a teacher. Also, at that time, Herman Ferguson, who was a consultant to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville project, had suggested to Mr. McCoy that I be brought in to the district since the district, into the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district since that district was in need of good teachers. And so Mr. McCoy called Bernard Donovan and suggested that, if, ah, he, uh wished, he could assign me to IS-271, Junior High School 271, which was the flagship school of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville project. On March the 13th, 1968, I was assigned to Junior High School 271 on a permanent basis.

QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

What did you find when you came into IS-271 that March?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, ah, we, Junior High School 35 was supposed to be a bad school. But when I came into Junior High School 271 in March, I found conditions that I couldn't, that were only, could be described as incredulous. Ah, there was no teaching going on. The teaching had just stopped. Teachers came in in the morning with radios, with coffee and cake and newspapers. Teachers left their classrooms to place their bets at the track. The, the, the teaching process within that school had been suspended. Youn--groups of children roamed the halls, children brought games to school, they brought comic books to school, there was no formal teaching program taking place in Junior High School 271 in the spring of 1968.

QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

Um, what, why do you think that was the case? Wh--why, why, why had the teaching fallen?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, it was my belief that there was a calculated effort on the part of the union teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, un--ah, teachers, members, supporters, to, ah, sabotage the experimental program. And that by creating conditions that suspended formal educational programs, they sought to show the city and the Board of Education that this group of parents running this experimental program didn't know what they were doing and that no education was going on and therefore the project was a failure. And then the, ah, school system, the experimental system would be turned back over to the city and that would be the end of the experiment.

QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

OK, what were you trying to do in your classroom? You might talk about consciousness, raising the bulletin board, and also you should say what, what courses you taught, or what class you taught.

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, I was a history teacher by profession in the public school system, so I saw, I saw--

LES CAMPBELL:

OK, you can pull that out.



QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

OK, once again, what were you trying to do in your classroom?

LES CAMPBELL:

I was a history teacher by profession and training within the Board of Education. And I saw my role as raising the consciousness of young African-American children to the circumstances surrounding their development and making them more motivated to try to achieve educationally within the school system. I used all types of literature, I used bulletin boards, I used audio-visual materials, I used trips, as well as materials that I concocted myself.

QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

Could you tell the story about the bulletin board?





QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

OK, briefly, could you tell the story about the bulletin board, about why you put it out there and then what happened?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, I had constructed in, when I arrived at Junior High School 271, I had very little means of communicating with the student body, with the teachers, and the adults in the school, and I decided that I would use the bulletin board as a means of communication. I constructed a bulletin board and put it in the rear hallway. And, ah, it was an immediate success. I had on there various pictures of Black heroes and heroines, I had, ah, various political slogans of the day, ah, pictures about Black history and so forth. And the kids took to it almost immediately and it became one of the most popular spots in the school. And, although other bulletin boards in the school had been torn down, this bulletin board was never touched. In fact, interestingly enough, it was touched the day after the assassination of Dr. King, it was ripped. And, ah, we didn't know who ripped it at the time, and we came to find out that it was ripped up by a White teacher. And the students became so incensed over the fact that this teacher would go to the bulletin board and destroy this bulletin board that it caused a very chaotic atmosphere in the school among the students.

QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

OK, once, you, you can be specific, what did you, what was up on the bulletin board, what were some of the, the, the posters and the slogans?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, we had he--we had pictures of people like Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown who were the heroes of the Black Power movement of that day. We had this large poster of Uncle Sam with the slogan, "Uncle Sam wants you, nigga!" which was a, ah, anti-militaristic poster of the day, talking about the fact that the United States government was recruiting young Black males to go and fight in Vietnam for freedom that they did not in fact have living in the United States. Ah, we had various political slogans and historical slogans that were very popular during that time, "Black Power", other slogans of that type.

QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

OK, and why did that teacher take the, ah, poster down?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, the teacher removed, or tore down the bulletin board because she felt that it was inflaming the students in an anti-White atmosphere. It was providing the students with anti-White ammunition or food for thought. And so, ah, she felt it was her duty to tear the bulletin board down, to destroy and deface the bulletin board, ah, in this way.

QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

Did any of the parents find you too radical?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, some of the parents did, in fact, find me too radical. I know one particular parent, Elaine Rooke, who was the PTA president at Junior High School 271, me and her had a number of confrontations as she found my style, ah, too Black, too political, ah, too militant for the tea--students. And I remember her son, Anthony, she used to tell him to stay away from Mr. Campbell because he'll get you in trouble. And so there were parents in the school who found me to be too radical and too militant as a teacher. Certainly.

QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

OK, after the 19 teachers are transferred and there's a strike, how did community organizations and what community organizations came to rally in support of Ocean Hill-Brownsville?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, all over the city, organizations came to the support of ohbv. We had organizations in the Black community like the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Africa--

INTERVIEWER:

Stop, cut it.



QUESTION 20
INTERVIEWER:

OK, that May of '68, what organizations, and how did organizations, rally, rally to the support of Ocean Hill-[ Brownville ]Brownsville?

LES CAMPBELL:

City-wide organizations came to the support of Ocean Hill-[ Brownville ]Brownsville after the UFT strea--teachers struck in 1968. Ah, in the Black community, organizations like the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Africa, CORE [Congress on Racial Equality], ah, the African-American Teachers Association, all came to the support of Ocean Hill, brought their followers into the schools, recruited teachers, retired teachers, teachers who were working part time, to teach classes, and generally kept the atmosphere of the schools in an orderly manner, in a pleasant manner, and, ah, did not allow any of the, ah, riotous behavior that was anticipated by the United Federation of Teachers to occur. So, then, o--on the Board level, you had Dr. Milton Galamison, the late Dr. Galamison, who had organized a city-wide school movement, um, he brought in activists from the Bronx, Evelina Antonetti brought in Hispanic parents, Annie Stein from the West Side of Manhattan brought in sympathetic parents of White extraction, ah, and all the parents, ah, ah, it was a Japanese woman who brought in some Asiatic parents. Other parents throughout the school system who had their kids in the school system and realized the importance of what was going on in Ocean Hill came to the support of the district.

QUESTION 21
INTERVIEWER:

OK, and who, who was in the schools, teaching during this time?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, we had a combination of those teachers who had refused to follow the lead of the union, they made up about thirty percent of our staff, we had college students who were either graduating or graduated, ah, we had retired teachers who were no longer working but who came out to support, ah, the Ocean Hill movement, and we had, ah, community supporters, people who were not necessarily teachers but who could do some of the things that teachers had done, like tutoring children in math, tutoring them in reading, et cetera.

QUESTION 22
INTERVIEWER:

OK, that summer, you knew there was going to be a strike in the following fall. What happened? What was the plan?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, the plan was to make sure that we had enough teachers in September--

QUESTION 23
INTERVIEWER:

That summer, you knew there was going to be a strike in the fall. What happened?

LES CAMPBELL:

The plan was to recruit enough teachers during the summer so that when September came, if none of the union teachers came back, we would have adequate teachers to cover every class in the district. Ah, we recruited from among Black teachers city-wide, we, ah, the African-American Teachers Association was instrumental in doing this. We requested that the transfer into the Ocean Hill-[ Brownville ]Brownsville district and become part of the staffs of those schools. Also, you had political movements. As you know, the SDS political movement had been split on this question of Ocean Hill-Brownsville and community control, but those members of SDS that had supported the Ocean Hill-Brownsville movement transferred large numbers of their members into the ohbv district. So, when September came, we had more than enough teachers in ohbv to replace the striking union teachers.

QUESTION 24
INTERVIEWER:

OK, we're, the fall of '68 there's a strike, ah, could you talk about the feeling of pride, because Ocean Hill-Brownsville, the experimental districts, including Ocean Hill-Brownsville, were the only schools that were open. Could you talk about how it felt to be able to--?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, it felt great! We had out-foxed Albert Shanker, we had outmaneuvered the United Federation of Teachers, ah, we had shown that this downtrodden community, faced with a crisis, using its own resources, could overcome. And, ah, there was a feeling of jubilation. And the parents and community were so much behind us, and so supportive of us, this made it feel that much more exhilarating to know that we had community support. I used to walk through the streets of Ocean Hill at that time, and it was so beautiful. Parents used to come up and tell me to come in their house and have some fish, or have some chicken, or have some coffee, or have a cold drink. These were parents who were pouring out their heart to people who they felt were doing something to educate their children.

QUESTION 25
INTERVIEWER:

OK, what did you feel you were a part of in Ocean Hill-Brownsville? I mean, more than just being a teacher, what did you think was going on?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well I felt I was part of the freedom struggle of Black people. I was part of the ongoing struggle of the Black community to establish itself, to obtain self-determination, to obtain dignity, and to obtain liberation.

QUESTION 26
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Now there were the police outside, you have the White teachers picketing, or the teachers picketing, um, who were the police protecting during this, this, this fall strike of '68?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, the police department played a funny game with us. We could always tell when they were going to, what, what, what, what moves they were going to make. If they had Black policemen on the line, they were going to be friendly. It was going to be an OK day. We didn't have to worry that day when the Black policemen were on the line. But when ever the moved in the White policemen, especially the tall guys with the helmets on and the sticks in their hand, we knew, immediately, that that meant that confrontation was coming. So, ah, we pretty much calculated, ah, what the scene looked like and we knew what action the police would take by how it looked.

QUESTION 27
INTERVIEWER:

Are there any particular incidents that you remember outside of IS-271?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, I remember several incidents. I remember very vividly the second strike, when the students marched out of the school and marched into the street, saying that they would refuse to, ah, stay in schools where these teachers who were fired were. And, ah, I remember the, um, exasperation on the faces of, ah, the representatives from the mayor's office and the Board of Education. They, all along, had felt that the students had no means of expressing their feelings. And so, when the students marched out, and there was a community-wide march through the streets of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, we showed another aspect of our power. We showed youth power. We showed that our young people, too, were able to think and act on their own.

QUESTION 28
INTERVIEWER:

OK, the teachers were reinstated, and, I know some of the teachers, you said, made, made their lives miserable. What specifically was done to these ten teachers, I think at this point, that were reinstated back into Ocean Hill-Brownsville?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, we felt that, our feeling was that these teachers were not wanted and that it was our responsibility to let them know at every juncture that this community no longer wanted their services and that they should--




QUESTION 29
INTERVIEWER:

OK, the ten teachers that were reinstated. You said some of the teachers made their lives miserable. Could you describe, what, what, what do you mean specifically? What happened?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, our feeling was that these teachers were not wanted by the community and that we should do everything to let them know that the community no longer wanted their services. And that, if that meant that when we were walking down the halls we had to let them know then that the were know longer wanted, we did that. Or when they came in the lunch room, ah, and were eating their lunch. If we had to let them know that they were no longer wanted then, we did that. Or when they were punching out at the time clocks, if we had to let them know then, we did that. So we just let them know at all opportunities that they were no longer wanted in this school by this community.

QUESTION 30
INTERVIEWER:

What, what sort of things were said to them?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, we said things like, "Why don't you go get another job somewhere else?" "Why don't you go miseducate children some place else?" "Why don't you take your racist outlooks to another community?" "You're no longer wanted here!" And that, "You're not going to stay here in peace. We're going to continue to hound you until you leave this school."

QUESTION 31
INTERVIEWER:

All right, now, I wanna, after the school began again, the, the school board, the school union said they wanted you out and, and, I think five ot--five oth--other teachers. What were you thinking then? I mean, did you think that if you went out that you could say things? What was going through your mind?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, I wasn't worried about the union wanting me out. I knew I had the support of the community, I knew I had the support of parents, I knew I had the support of activists all over the city, and I wasn't worried about the union and their concerns.

QUESTION 32
INTERVIEWER:

OK, could you talk about how the strike brought the Black community together all over New York? You said now, finally, Harlem, you know, Bed-Stuy, could you just talk about all those districts coming together and talk about national leaders that came in during this fall of '68 strike?

LES CAMPBELL:

Yes, well, the strike was a unifying factor in the Black community. Groups that had previously been at each others' throat found themselves together at rallies, at meetings surrounding Ocean Hill. It was an issue that, whether you were CORE, or the NAACP, or the Urban League, or the Black Panther Party, or the Republic of New Africa you could rally around this community issue. Everybody understood the importance of Black children receiving a quality education**. And all organizations were willing to rally in support of Ocean Hill-[ Brownville ]Brownsville. I don't think there's been an issue in New York City that has gotten the total support of all elements of the Black community as this educational issue. Whether it's been the appointment of Dr. Thomas Minter as chancellor of the public schools, or whether it's been a demand for Black educators, or more Black supervisors, or whether it's been the support for Ocean Hill. There hasn't been an issue in New York City that has united our community than the education issue.

QUESTION 33
INTERVIEWER:

And briefly, could you mention the regions, like how Harled, Bed-Stuy, you know, all these regions--

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, as you know, New York City has always been, had this kind of re--neigh--neighborhood, re--regionalism. This sort of competitiveness among neighborhoods. You know, the people feel that Harlem is the most relevant neighborhood. And others say, "No, it's Bedford-Stuyvesant." Or, "No, it's the South Bronx." Or, "No, it's South Jamaica." But I think that when we began to move on this education issue, people realized that it didn't matter whether you were living in Harlem or South Jamaica or Bed-Stuy or the South Bronx, that we were receiving the dirty deal around the question of education, so that when we began to move on this, began to confront the powers that be, around this question of education, all of the communities came together. Leaders from Harlem came to speak in Brooklyn. Leaders from Queens, I remember David Spencer from the IS-201 project, he came out to support us. I remember Dick Gregory, who, at that time was a national leader, came in here to support us. H. Rap Brown came in. The head of the Urban League, the late Whitney Young, he came in. Groups and, ah, leaders from all over the city and all over the nation came in to give support to the parents at Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

QUESTION 34
INTERVIEWER:

Could you describe the march across the Brooklyn Bridge? It bega--began in city hall, went to 110 Livingston Street. What was the reason and, and talk us through that.

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, certainly one of the proudest days of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggle was the march that took place in late October of 1968. This march showed that Ocean Hill-Brownsville was not just an instance of confrontation, that it was in fact a city-wide symbol. And, I think was approximately 30,000 people gathered at City Hall Park, and we marched arm-in-arm, locked, across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Board of Education. And it was a veritable sight to see so many people, a broad cross-section of people in the educational struggle, ah, Dr. Galamison, Rhody McCoy, Dick Gregory, Al Vann, Rap Brown, Sonny Carson, leaders from the Republic of New Africa, all locked arm-in-arm, and it showed a tremendous amount of unity. It showed that we were not going to be denied around this issue of changing the New York City public school system. And when we reached 110 Livingston Street there was a massive rally. And, I think that the message that was given that day was that the Black community's demand for change within the New York City school system was not going to be denied.

QUESTION 35
INTERVIEWER:

OK, what was happening with the students? You talked a little bit before about the student march into the streets. Could you talk about the formation of the African-American Students Association? What was happening with the students?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, in the, um, fall of '67, we, ah, teachers, began to hear the voices and demands of students for the need for change. And these students were brought together to form the African-American Students Association. And these were representatives of high schools all over New York City. I remember a young man from Harlem named Ron Dix[SIC] who represented the Harlem schools. And we had a young man from Queens, Arthur Tear[SIC], who was representing Andrew Jackson High School. And then we had people like Adeyemi Bandele here from Tilden High School. And, ah, we had students from schools all over New York City, the bright schools like Brooklyn Tech, Charles Angel[SIC], I remember he was a representative from Brooklyn Tech, as well as, ah, the vocational schools, even, we had a young woman by the name of Ellen Shephard[SIC] from Fashion High School. So, this, this student association was a cross-section of young people who understood the need for change in the public school system and who were ready to put their bodies on the line to bring about this change. And, ah, they had a lot of impact. First, they helped to impact by opening many of these schools during the strike. It was the students actually demanded that many of these high schools be open and in fact opened them up during the strike. Secondly, they held demonstrations themselves. They held demonstrations on the street, then, one demonstration culminated in a march of students throughout the city to Ocean Hill-Brownsville. That march was met with one of the bloodiest riots that happened during the Ocean Hill-Brownsville demonstration. Ah, you saw, ah, bus loads of police jumping out buses beating these students. And, ah, while we sympathized with what was happening, this became an understanding for these students that they were not going to win changes. They were not going to win, ah, movement, ah, changes easily. That they were going to run up against forces that were going to be willing to bloody them, to beat them, to put them in jail, if they wanted the change.

QUESTION 36
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Could you talk about anti-semitism? How much was anti-semitism, ah, anti-Jewish feeling, a part of what was happening in Ocean Hill-Brownsville?

LES CAMPBELL:

I don't believe that anti-Jewish feeling was any part of what was happening in ohbv. Many of the persons who supported ohbv were Jews. There were Jews within McCoy's administration. There were Jews working in the schools. There were Jews who, ah, were consultants to the district. In other words, there was no issue of Jewish, ah, anti-semitism or Jewish work in the district that came up. What anti-semitism was, it was a means for the teachers' union to, d--d--to, ah, deflect criticism of their role from them to the community by using this question of anti-semitism. In other words, at the end of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, the teachers' union looked bad. They looked like the aggressors. They looked like the United States Army looked in Vietnam, you see. So they needed to change their image, and one of the ways that they sought to change their image was to bring up this issue of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, of anti-semitism, and say that, "This was the reason why they were against the district, because, ah, the changes that we were demanding were anti-Semitic." You see, and so therefore, this was a means that they used to rally their people and to mo--not make themselves look bad in the eyes of a lot of people. But, as far as I'm concerned, this was not an issue.





QUESTION 37
INTERVIEWER:

OK, you read a poem written by Sia Berhan on WBAI, could you talk about that incident? And also, do you have any regrets for having done that?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, Julius Lester, who was the, ah, major factor at BAI during that time, he's now a professor at the University of Massachusetts, asked me to come on his show. He had came out, he had taped a class of mine on Black history, had played it on the air, he had gotten a very favorable response from his listeners, so he asked me to come on the show and talk about Ocean Hill. When I got to the studio I showed him some poems from some students, and I asked him did he think I should read these poems. I said, "These poems were raw responses of young Black students to what was going on in Ocean Hill-Brownsville." And I asked him if he thought I should read any of them. He selected this one, he said, "This one sounds really like dynamite." He said, "Why don't you read this one on the show?" I said, "Don't you, do you, do you feel that we'll get a reaction?" He said, "Well, hey, look, this is a controversial show, you know, we're going to read this poem." So we read the poem, we read, ah, her poem, which was called "Hey, Jew-Boy", and we read that on WBAI radio at the time. Um, we got some response from the BAI audience that night--

QUESTION 38
INTERVIEWER:

Could you start again, and make sure you say Sia's name and-- NEW CAMERA ROLL 3062]

QUESTION 39
INTERVIEWER:

OK, the poem by, by Sia, could you tell me how it came to be read on WBAI? And did you have any regrets for having read it?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, Julius Lester was a revolutionary Black media person of that day who had a program on WBAI radio. He had came out to the school, taped a class of mine, and played it on the radio and it had gotten a very good response. He invited me up to the studio, I think it was December the 27th, 1968, and, ah, we were doing an interview show. I showed him a poem by Sia Berhan that was a raw response of a 15 year old youth to what had happened in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. And, he asked me to read this poem on the air. And I read the poem. Ah, there were a few callers who called in, the poem was entitled, "Hey, Jew Boy", and there were a few callers who called in after the reading of the poem and expressing their feeling that the poem was kind of, ah, bitter and filled with hate, so forth, but nothing big came out of that radio broadcast until approximately three weeks later, on January 15th, when Albert Shanker revealed to the world that, ah, you know, this poem was a indication of the anti-Semitic response of Ocean Hill-Brownsville and that teachers like myself were teaching these youngsters anti-semitism within the school system, particularly within the experimental project at Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

QUESTION 40
INTERVIEWER:

Do you regret having read it?

LES CAMPBELL:

No, I don't. I think the response was raw, the child had very little knowledge of the whole, total picture of Jews and history of Jews. In fact, she had been taught most of her life by Jewish teachers who had taught her about the Holocaust, who had taught her about injustices to the Jewish people, and she was just finding it unusually strange that now some of these Jewish people were performing injustices to her people. And that was what she was saying in the poem.

QUESTION 41
INTERVIEWER:

OK, could you talk about the independent school movement, the Uhuru Sasa Shule, and how they had roots in what was going on in Ocean Hill-Brownsville?

LES CAMPBELL:

Well, in September of '68, a number of us at IS-271, Junior High School 271, decided to start an evening school to provide classes and instruction for the youth and adults of the community. Ah, this was just an idea that we had, and it became a tremendous success. Ah, we had dance classes where thirty and forty women would come in to participate. Ah, we had Black history classes where we had 25, thirty people taking Black history class. We had sewing classes and other classes that the community at that time identified that they would like to have. And this evening school became an instant success on very little money and very little advertising. So this told us that if we could do this, and it could be successful, that we could, in fact, develop our own types of schools! So, two years later, after Ocean Hill was over, this is exactly what we did. We went to develop the East, which was an educational and cultural center, we developed the Uhuru Sasa Shule, which means "freedom now school", and we developed other independent schools and independent educational programs throughout Brooklyn.

QUESTION 42
INTERVIEWER:

Cut. OK.


Wa--was parent involvement something new in Brooklyn?

LES CAMPBELL:

No, parent involvement was not new. I went to Brooklyn schools all my life. I grew up in Brooklyn in the '50s. My mother was the president of the PTA, of our local PTA. For over seven years she served as the president. She served as he--representative to the United Parents Association, which is a city-wide body. I would say that after World War 2, with the increasing numbers of Black parents that were moving to locations like Brooklyn from the South, they were concerned about the quality of education that their children were going to receive. And they only way that they could assure that their children would receive any kind of meaningful education in the public schools was by being involved. And so, you found larger and larger numbers of Black parents becoming involved through the PTAs, through the United Parents Association, and through other types of school and educational organizations.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. OK, I think