Native American Activist John Trudell

Native American Activist John Trudell

Remembering, recognizing, and appreciating

John Trudell

Native American Activist John Trudell

February 15, 1946 — December 8, 2015

I recently watched the documentary RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World. It is about the mostly unknown but impressive role of Native Americans in popular music history. (movie site).


While watching this worthwhile film, I kept thinking, well there’s another person I should include a piece about at my site.


And as a self-described music buff, I am embarrassed to say that several of the musicians featured I hardly knew. (Not to pop my bubble completely, though, I was happy that I did have records of a few.)


John Trudell was one of those featured whom I’d not known.


Native American Activist John Trudell

Early life


Trudell was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up on and around the nearby Santee Sioux reservation. His father was a Santee, his mother’s tribal roots were in Mexico.. She died when he was 6.


He left high school and, as Native Americans had done since the first European wars on Native American land, Trudell volunteered to join the US military. He served in the US Navy from 1963 to 1967.


While there ,  as Native Americans in the military had experienced since those colonial times, he saw the dominant white society’s bias against minorities like Blacks, women, and, of course, Native Americans.


Native American Activist John Trudell

Alcatraz Island

Native American Activist John Trudell
Hopi men from Oraibi, Arizona sent to Alcatraz, 1895. Photograph by Isaiah W. Taber. (Credit Mennonite Library and Archives Bethel College, North Newton, KS)

The island and its use as a prison was a symbol of the US government’s deliberate and ongoing exclusion of Native Americans from becoming self realized within the dominant white society.


As far back as  1895, the government had imprisoned Hopi leaders there for their refusal to send their children to white schools to become culturally white and have their Hopi culture eradicated.


On March 8, 1964 a group of Sioux demonstrators affiliated with a San Francisco organization known as Indians of All Tribes (IAT) occupied Alcatraz Island for four hours.


Native American Activist John Trudell

Out of the Navy


After the military, he became an activist and joined the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz Island (ACT).


September 29, 1969, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a plan to turn the Federal prison site of Alcatraz Island into a monument to the US space program. 


10 days later, on October 9,  the American Indian Center in San Francisco burned down. It had been a meeting place that served 30,000 Indian people with social programs. The loss of the center focuses Indian attention on taking over Alcatraz for use as a new facility. 


After an overnight takeover of Alcatraz on November 9 a permanent takeover occurred on November 20. Seventy-nine Native-Americans seized control. The Indians of All Tribes claimed that the island belonged to Native Americans under the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie, which provided for the return of all abandoned federal property to Native-Americans.


Native American Activist John Trudell

Radio Free Alcatraz


John Trudell ran a radio station called Radio Free Alcatraz from the occupation.



The occupation lasted until June 11, 1970. Although the occupation itself did not reach its goal of returning the island to the Native Americans, the successful occupation did help foster Native American activism which John Trudell would be a part of for the rest of his life.


Native American Activist John Trudell

A life of activism


As a part of the American Indian Movement (AIM) he joined the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties event when, the week before election day, caravans pulled into Washington, D.C., to present federal policymakers with solutions to the myriad problems in Native America. Within 24 hours, the group took over took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and held it for six days.


He was part of the 1973 Liberation/Occupation of Wounded Knee village by AIM as well as becoming the national spokesperson for AIM, a position that he held until 1979.


On February 12,  1979 a fire burned down his home on the Shoshone Palute reservation in Nevada. The fire killed his wife Tina, three children, and Tina’s mother.  The fire was ruled an accident.


Native American Activist John Trudell

Spoken wordNative American Activist John Trudell


In his grief, Trudell began writing and publishing poetry. It became his greatest strength and, to the US government, a threat.


The FBI investigated him.  From Newtopian magazine:  “there is a quote from an FBI memo that says as much about our dysfunctional government as it does about John Trudell: “He is extremely eloquent…therefore extremely dangerous.” John is a great poet, not just because of his eloquence, not only because of his personal history (much of the tragedy of which the FBI caused), but because of the depth of his philosophy and consciousness.”


Trailer to a the Trudell documentary:


Native American Activist John Trudell

Music

Native American Activist John Trudell


Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis  contacted Trudell and offered to put his poetry to music. They recorded three albums: AKA Graffiti Man was released in 1986,  followed by But This Isn’t El Salvador and Heart Jump Bouquet, both in 1987.


Bob Dylan said that “AKA GRAFITTI MAN [was] the best album of 1986. Only people like Lou Reed and John Doe can dream about doing work like this.”



He continued to release albums even after the untimely death of Davis in  1988 (AllMusic discography).


He continued to release poetry and as a spokesman of the American Indian.


Native American Activist John Trudell


In 2008,  Fulcrum Publishing released Lines from a Mined Mind: The Words of John Trudella collection of 25 years of poetry, lyrics and essays.


His site has a 12 minute video history about him. It’s a great summary.



Native American Activist John Trudell

Walked


The Indian Country media site reportedJohn Trudell, noted activist, poet and Native thinker, walked on December 8, 2015,  after a lengthy bout with cancer. His family included some of his last messages to Indian country in a press release. Among them: “I want people to remember me as they remember me.”


Native American Activist John Trudell

 

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August Music et al

August Music et al

Quarrymen

August Music et al


In August 1956: named after his school, John Lennon forms The Quarrymen, The band performed what was known in England as “skiffle” music which was originally an early 20th century American style music. (see July 6, 1957)


Ringo Rory Storm

August Music et al


In August 1959: Ringo Starr begins drumming for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. (Ringo would be Rory’s drummer until August 18, 1960). (see Aug 29)



Beat Brothers


In August 1961: Tony Sheridan and the Beatles or Beat Brothers released “My Bonnie/The Saints (Go Marching In) in Germany. (see Oct 28)


August Music et al

Sam Cooke


In August 1963,  Sam Cooke released Night Beat album.



Bob Dylan


In August, 1964: “I’m Going to Get My Baby Out of Jail” by Len Chandler & Bernice Johnson Reagon. Dylan “stole” the Len Chandler tune to accompany his “The Death of Emmett Till.” (see 1962-03-11) (see Aug 8)



August Music et al

John Sebastian


In August 1965: The Lovin’ Spoonful (John Sebastian age 19) released their first single, “Do You Believe in Magic” (see Aug 13)


August Music et al

James Brown


In August 1968, James Brown released “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (see Nov 9)



August Music et al

Santana

August Music et al


In August, 1969: Santana (Carlos Santana age 22) released its first album, Santana. In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, Langdon Winner panned Santana as “a masterpiece of hollow techniques” and “a speed freak’s delight – fast, pounding, frantic music with no real content”. He compared the music’s effect to methedrine, which “gives a high with no meaning”, finding Rollie and Santana’s playing repetitively unimaginative amidst a monotony of incompetent rhythms and inconsequential lyrics.


John & Yoko


In August 1971: John & Yoko rent a loft apartment at 105 Bank Street in Greenwich Village. (NYCGO article) (see Aug 1)


August Music et al

Eric Clapton #1


In August 1974: Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” reached #1 on US singles charts.



August Music et al
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Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard


 One million African-Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II.  Isaac Woodard was one of them.


Rest stop

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard


February 12, 1946: Isaac Woodard Jr. , 26, was on a Greyhound Lines bus traveling from Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. He had just been honorably discharged from the Army as  with the rank of Sergeant.


Still in uniform, Woodard was en route to Winnsboro, South Carolina to pick up his wife and then go to New York City with her to visit his parents.


A a stop in North Carolina he asked the bus driver if there was time to use the rest room. The driver cursed and said “No.” Woodard cursed back. The driver said to go and hurry.


Woodard did.


Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

Beating

The driver stopped the bus in Batesburg (now Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina), near Aiken. He contacted the police and told them that a passenger was drunk and causing a disturbance on the bus.


The police arrived and the driver told Woodard to leave the bus. He did. The driver told the police that Woodard was the one who’d been drunk and disorderly. Woodard  tried to explain that he was neither, but the police struck Woodard with a billy club.

A struggle ensued, but other police stepped in, threatened to shoot Woodard, and he gave up. 


The police took Woodard to the town jail, knocking him out on the way, and arrested him for disorderly conduct, accusing him of drinking beer in the back of the bus with other soldiers. The repeated beatings had blinded Woodard.


Jailed, guilty, fined, hospitalized


The following morning, the police sent Woodard before the local judge, who found him guilty and fined him fifty dollars. The soldier requested medical assistance, but it took two more days for a doctor to be sent to him. Not knowing where he was and suffering from amnesia, Woodard ended up in a hospital in Aiken, South Carolina, receiving substandard medical care.


Three weeks after he was reported missing by his relatives, Woodard was discovered in the hospital. He was immediately rushed to a US Army hospital in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Though his memory had begun to recover by that time, doctors found both eyes were damaged beyond repair.


Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

NAACP

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard
Woodard and his mother

July 25, 1946: the NY Times reported that after a July 24 meeting at the New York headquarters of the NAACP,  “Charles Bolte, national chairman of the American Veterans Committee, Charles Klair, director of the veterans’ bureau of the CIO, Aurhtur Pearl of the Duncan Parish Post, Marican Legion, Barnard Harker of the American Jewish Congress, and representatives of the United Negro and Allied Veterans and the Hawaiian Association for Civic Unity, members of several veterans’ organizations and civic groups voted yesterday to form a committee to seek compensation for Woodard.


Waler White, the NAACP executive secretary, urged support of petitions to President Truman and the Veterans Administration to have Woodard’s case adjudicated as having happened in the line of duty as Woodard had been discharged less than 24 hours when the blinding occurred.

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

Cause célèbre


Orson Wells, the well-known actor, director, and radio personality  took up Woodard’s story.


On July 28, 1946, on his popularABC radio show, Wells’s read of the deposition and followed with his own comments.   Well’s next four broadcasts continued to include comments regarding Woodard’s story.



The citizens of Aiken became incensed over Welles’s broadcasts and requested an apology.


In later broadcasts, Wells would refer to Aiken’s request, but issued no apology.


On August 6, 1946, the Aiken’s Lions Club issued a statement that read in part, “We as citizens and business men of Aiken have implicit confidence in these officials and, having been advised of the circumstances of this case, are convinced that this incident did not occur in Aiken, SC.”  (NYT abstract)

Blinded Veterans Association

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard
Joe Louis and Neil Scott help Isaac Woodard up a set a stairs soon after a beating left him blind. Ossie Leviness New York Daily News

August 8, 1946: more than 400 members of the Blinded Veterans Association welcomed Woodard as a member at the Association headquarters in NYC.  


A NYT article about the event reported that the NAACP had filed an application to American Red Cross on Woodard’s behalf for the injuries he received.

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

Aiken exonerated


August 13, 1946: media had reported that the Woodard beating and blinding had occurred in the town of Aiken, South Carolina, On this date,  Leo M Cadison, Deputy Director of the Division of Public Information in Washington, DC sent Aiken telegram that exonerated the city from blame.  (NYT abstract)


Benefit Concert

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard


August 18, 1946:  The Amsterdam News Welfare Fund and the Isaac Woodard Benefit Committee held a concert for Woodward in Lewisohn Stadium in New York City.  The benefit included such entertainers as Orson Welles, Woody Guthrie, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Milton Berle. 20,000 attended. 


NYC Mayor o”Dwyer spoke saying, “first and foremost there must be equal protection by those entrusted with law enforcement, and here there can be no equivocation and no discrimination in treatment. Commissioner Wallander of the Police Department has recently issued a statement of policy to the police fore, again emphasizing to them this well understood policy of my administration. That directive must be observed as long as I am Mayor of New York, not only in the police, but all other departments.” (NYT abstract)


Woody Guthrie later wrote the song “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”  “so’s you wouldn’t be forgetting what happened to this famous Negro soldier less than three hours after he got his Honorable Discharge down in Atlanta….”  (lyrics from the fortune city site)

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

President Truman intevenes

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard
Truman’s letter to AG Tom Clark

 


September 19, 1946, NAACP Executive Secretary Walter Francis White met with President Harry S. Truman in the Oval Office to discuss the Woodard case. Gardner later wrote that when Truman “heard this story in the context of the state authorities of South Carolina doing nothing for seven months, he exploded.”


September 20, 1946: Truman wrote a letter to Attorney General Tom C. Clark demanding that action be taken to address South Carolina’s reluctance to try the case. 


Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard
Clark announcement

September 26, 1946: the US Department of Justice filed a criminal information in the Federal Court in Columbia, South Carolina alleging that Lynwood Shull had beaten and tortured Woodard in violation of the civil rights statute.


September 28, 1946: Shull posted a $2,000 bond  for his appearance in the United States District Court on Nov. 4.


October 2, 1946: Chief of Police Linwood Shull and several of his officers were indicted in U.S. District Court in Columbia, South Carolina. It was within federal jurisdiction because the beating had occurred at a bus stop on federal property and at the time Woodard was in uniform of the armed services. The case was presided over by Judge Julius Waties Waring.


Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

Travesty of a Trial

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard
Judge Julius Waties Waring.

November 5, 1946: the trial ended. By all accounts, the trial was a travesty. The local U.S. Attorney charged with handling the case failed to interview anyone except the bus driver, a decision that Judge Waring, a civil rights proponent, believed was a gross dereliction of duty.


Waring later wrote of being disgusted at the way the case was handled at the local level, commenting, “I was shocked by the hypocrisy of my government…in submitting that disgraceful case….”


The defense did not perform better. When the defense attorney began to shout racial epithets at Woodard, Waring stopped him immediately. During the trial, the defense attorney stated to the all-white jury that “if you rule against Shull, then let this South Carolina secede again.” After Woodard gave his account of the events, Shull firmly denied it. He claimed that Woodard had threatened him with a gun, and that Shull had used his nightclub to defend himself. During this testimony, Shull admitted that he repeatedly struck Woodard in the eyes.


After thirty minutes of deliberation, the jury found Shull not guilty on all charges, despite his admission that he had blinded Woodard. The courtroom broke into applause upon hearing the verdict.


November 13, 1947:  Woodward had sued the Atlantic Greyhound Corporation for $50,000. On this date, a jury decided against Woodard. (NYT abstract)

Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard

Aftermath

Such miscarriages of justice by state governments influenced a move towards civil rights initiatives at the federal level. Truman subsequently established a national interracial commission, made a historic speech to the NAACP and the nation in June 1947 in which he described civil rights as a moral priority, submitted a civil rights bill to Congress in February 1948, and issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 on June 26, 1948, desegregating the armed forces and the federal government.


Isaac Woodard faded into obscurity while his story and the tragic stories of many other African-Americans continued be fuel for both those seeking equality and those seeking to continue the status quo.


Woodard lived in the New York City area for the rest of his life. He died at age 73 in the Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx on September 23, 1992.


He was buried with military honors at the Calverton National Cemetery (Section 15, Site 2180) in Calverton, New York.



Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard


Chief Linwood Shull blinds Isaac Woodard
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