[News] Ericka Huggins and the Company We Keep
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 23 15:15:40 EDT 2013
*Ericka Huggins and the Company We Keep*
by Susie Day
Like most of the white liberal-to-left elite, I am mesmerized by radical
1960s and '70s activist groups such as SDS and the Weather Underground.
My auto-entrancement likely stems from a deep nostalgia for the glory
days when 100,000 protesters could march on the Pentagon
and nary a one could be linked to Al Qaeda.
For years, I, with my cohorts, have watched film dramas, documentaries,
plays; attended conferences, art installations; worn retro tie-dyes,
half-price items from the GAP's "1969" clothing; pored over novels,
history books, and /memoirs/, /memoirs/, /memoirs/ -- all in a vague
attempt to staunch some psychic wound possibly caused by the question of
Some of our '60s nostalgia may be a yearning for a time when we could
guilelessly discuss the use of "armed struggle" for social change; and
whether we should give up our little individual lives in order to play a
part for History's greater good. Today these questions are stifled, in
fiction and nonfiction, by template portrayals of '60s revolutionaries
as smug, angrily idealistic kids who "had everything but threw it away."
Few accounts stop to consider that these kids were able to throw
everything away because they were, in the first place, white.
The latest remembrance-of-us-past is /The Company You Keep
<http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1381404/>/, a film directed and starred in
by Robert Redford. For two hours, middle-aged yet mysteriously hip
white people, passing as well-adjusted conformists, delve into their
incendiary past, while fending off media and cops seeking justice for a
'60s rad-lib bank robbery (which never happened) that resulted in the
death of a security guard (who never existed). But, for all the film's
hackneyed suspense and narcissism disguised as concern with real moral
dilemmas, what Redford, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, and Julie Christie
manage to convey -- erroneously -- is that there was a large number of
celebrities in the Weather Underground who have emerged victorious from
/la lucha /with plastic surgery.
Missing egregiously from this film -- and from 97.9% of mainstream
films, books, and art about this era -- are Black people and other
people of color. What was the reality of the Black Panthers and the
Young Lords who, in fact, radicalized white organizations? What did
they want? Where did they go? Did they survive?
Recently, at Manhattan's Baruch College, there was yet another panel
on '60s radicalism. But this one was different: it focused on the
experience of /Black/ radicals. From the panelists, you got the idea
that, unlike SDS and Weather kids, most Black youth in the '60s didn't
wake up one day in a college dorm and realize their country was unjust:
they began internalizing that reality in the womb. The fact of the Jim
Crow South and the North's undeclared apartheid forced thousands of
young Black people to see themselves "in a war," which didn't allow many
options to discuss armed struggle versus nonviolence.
In this war, and now on this panel, was Ericka Huggins
Her life, once luridly trash-compacted into forgettable tabloid
headlines, is now largely ignored by popular history. In 1969, at 18,
Ericka became, with her husband John, a leader of the Los Angeles
chapter of the Black Panther Party. Three weeks after the birth of
their daughter, John was gunned down
on the UCLA campus by a member of the rival Black group, the US
Organization. Although a Senate investigation would later reveal this
murder to have been instigated by the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program
<http://www.pbs.org/hueypnewton/people/people_hoover.html>, the public
at the time easily dismissed it because, as Ericka noted, "Black men are
supposed to shoot Black men."
After bringing John's body to New Haven for burial, Ericka, with Bobby
Seale, was charged (I can't say "framed" here because I'm trying to be
objective) with the murder of another Panther member
Her daughter was taken from her and Ericka spent two years in prison,
often in solitary confinement, until a massive legal campaign forced
prosecutors to drop the charges.
Today, Ericka Huggins says, people ask her, "After all your suffering,
why, didn't you leave the Party, leave radicalism?"
Because, she answers, she couldn't give up this fight for the
fundamental humanity of people of color, for the vast -- and vastly
ignored -- reality that every child of any color is welcome and needed
on this planet.
Ericka was able to survive because in prison she taught herself to
meditate. "Now," she says, "if I don't meditate on any given day, it's
like I've left home without my clothes." After prison, Ericka became a
grade-school teacher; she taught yoga and mediation in prisons; she
developed a volunteer program for women and children with HIV in San
Francisco's Tenderloin district.
Now in her early sixties, she's a tall, silver-haired grandmother who
works in Restorative Justice, a practice in which the people who've hurt
others -- often criminally -- can sit down with those they've harmed and
try to find some mutual resolution. It was through Restorative Justice
that the man who killed John Huggins could, years later, ask Ericka for
forgiveness. And it was through some act of grace, which I have yet to
see in any pop version of the '60s, that Ericka Huggins was able to
Three other radical activists appeared on this panel: Dhoruba Bin Wahad,
Akinyele Umoja, and Dequi Kioni Sadiki. Each told a different life
tale, equally stunning. Stories like these -- unlike pre-cooked '60s
action thrillers -- will not be coming anytime soon to a theater near you.
Maybe that's OK. Unless Ericka Huggins has a yen to be played by Kerry
Washington, Robert Redford should probably not know about stories like
this. But we should.
Susie Day is a writer.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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