Lisa Brock: Okay, my name is Lisa Brock and I am at the Arcus Center forSocial Justice Leadership here at Kalamazoo College and we are at 204 Monroe in Kalamazoo, Michigan 49006.
BS: Thank you. Okay, so could you talk to us a little bit about your earlymemories growing up and what really stands out about those experiences?
LB: I grew up [clears throat] I grew up in a small town in southern Ohio nearCincinnati, Oh- near Cincinnati, a town called Glendale which I think even now only has about 2400 people. When I grew up it was called the village of Glendale. And it's a small town and now, of course, it's considered one of many suburbs between in the Metropolitan area of Cincinnati. But we we're about 15 00:01:00miles from downtown Cincinnati. And my grandparents had grown up in the South. They all came from the South and they all came to the, to Glendale and they met there and married there. They were a part of the great southern migration. My mother and father actually spent most of their childhood next door to each other. They were childhood sweethearts and they grew up there, born in the area, grew up there. Well, my mother was born in the South, but my father was born there but -- And so, I grew up with a very strong black community, small, but very tight, because all of them had come from poor southern backgrounds and they took care of each other. We didn't have locks on our doors. And I grew up with both sets of grandparents in walking distance, so my grandparents lived down the street, and my parents bought a house up the street and--So I grew up with, I 00:02:00felt like a lot of love in a, in a, a community that really cared about itself and about the children that were being raised there. It was a segregated part of town. Black people could only live on a few blocks in the town on the outskirts of town, but we made that the best home, I think, that we, we could. And my grandparents worked -- they were both domestics -- and they worked in the rich white families homes there. Glendale is interesting. It is the home of Proctor, of Proctor and Gamble. And there were railroad magnates there too, so right in the center of town were all these huge mansions, you know, like 30-room mansions and my grandmothers worked in those homes. And my grandfather, one was a minister of a small church and the other was a factory worker. 00:03:00
BS: Would you mind speaking a little more about that tight-knit African Americancommunity? What were some of the important aspects of that community and growing up there?
LB: Well, as I said--I mean for us as children, we, we, [laughs] we always saidwe were like Our Gang. I mean we just moved around as kids. We would be six or seven kids of different ages from 5 up to 10 and we would play in the street and -- We knew that there were always some adults around and we just walked into each other's homes. Any of us could go into any of our, each other's home and be welcomed. And so it was really, really an interesting kind of upbringing. I realized how unique and special it was when I first went to college and I met 00:04:00people from other places and they have had very different experiences, much more difficult experiences with family life and struggles. We didn't any have money, but we definitely had an abundance of love and I learned a tremendous amount from my grandparents and felt like we were adored by them. And we could, you know, but we were also watched by them and the whole neighborhood, so when we became teenagers of course you were trying to sneak a cigarette behind the school or something and before you got home your mother would know about it 'cause somebody saw you and they would tell. But we also had some interesting experiences around race. I have an experience where my--There was a local hamburger place that was kind of across one these invisible racial lines that as kids didn't make sense to us and so we would cross this field and go over to Mug 'n' Muffin. And our parents would give us each a dollar to buy these little sort 00:05:00of slider hamburgers and they were like 10 or 15 cents and you would buy a coke and a hamburger. And then, when we'd come back they'd ask for the change and we'd say, "They didn't give us any change." And our parents realized that we were being cheated. And so my mother and Mrs. Mary and Mrs. Bracy, the three mothers right there on our corner, threw us all in the back seat of my mother's pink Pontiac with fins on the back and drove us up there. And they went up there to confront them, "These are our kids and we send them up here and they're coming back with no change." And they, this couple that ran this little shop, basically called my mother and the others niggers and said, "We don't want nigger kids up here anyway, and if you send your nigger kids up here then we gonna do what we will with them." And I remember my mother saying, "My child 00:06:00will never, never come up here again." And as we left, they were--my, parents, the mothers were still talking and I just remember one of them putting their hands kind of trying to push my mother out the door and that stuck with me. I didn't like that person putting their hands on my momma, and so it stuck with me. Another experience I have my mother was a very sweet person. You know you have different types of people. Mrs. Mary was kind of tough. She didn't want you climbing up her apple tree and getting her apples or she didn't like our cat using her garden as her litter box. She used to come and talk to my mother, "That cat was over there." But my mother was just a really open and sweet person. And another experience, I remember there was a lady in our neighborhood named Mrs. Sis who was my grandparents' generation. And she was semi crippled, I 00:07:00mean she kind of walked with a cane. Something had happened to her in her life where she had a bad leg. And she was kind of a wino, but everybody knew her 'cause she had grown up there, she had been there for so long so no one was going to ostracize her completely. But she drank a little bit, she walked with a cane and she, because she was a wino, she didn't bathe very much. So as kids we use to say, "Oh god, here comes Mrs. Sis!" You know, we would *touches nose* we would do that. But my mother actually on two or three occasions invited Mrs., she would always -- Mrs. Sis would knock on the back door and say, "Jean, you got some money for bread?"
And my father was like "You know she doesn't need money for bread, she's gettingmoney for wine."
And my mother would say, "Well, I don't care. If she needs money, I'm gonna giveher some money." But a few times she invited Mrs. Sis in and she gave Mrs. Sis a 00:08:00bath. She did that on three occasions and I helped her. She would have me help her and we washed her clothes. We'd wash her clothes, dry her clothes, give her a bath and then send her back out on the way. So I have experiences like that. I have another experience when my one grandmother was -- I was in high school and I was driving and my grandmother worked for, my one grandmother worked for two or three different rich families so she would do ironing one day with one family. She'd go to another family's house and do ironing that day. She did different things, so she had a week's worth of work with different families. And one day she called me and asked me if I could pick her up from her job. So I go to pick her up from the job and I'm in the front in my mother's car honking, 'I'm here ya know, sunny day, I'm honking.' And the other black maid came out 00:09:00and in the front and she says, "What do you want?"
And I say, "I'm here to pick up my grandmother, Blosse."
She says, "You got to come around the back."
It was 1972 or '73. I was like "I'm not coming around the back and I don't wantmy grandmother coming out the back door either." So she looked at me like [makes face], you know, like what, what, what? So then I refused to pull around 'cause this this was a huge mansion. They had a back, you know? The driveway kind of went all around and I refused to go around the back. "So I said tell my grandma to come out the front door." So he shut the door and went in. My grandmother came out the back door and so she got in the car.
So she started laughing, she said, "Lisa, you're going to get me fired."
And I said, "Well, you don't need to be working here anyway if they're gonnatreat you like that."
And she said, "Well, you got to work and that's what they want," andbut shedidn't chastise me. She laughed with me. She was proud of me for, for taking stands like that. And, I mean, I have a lot of other kinds of racial experiences 00:10:00like that growing up in the area as well as the love experiences. For instance, there's a woman, she's the oldest woman in our neighborhood now who grew up with my parents, she's 95, and all the way up until--She was--some of my parents' best friends, they were all, that generation, they all grew up together, and they stayed, even if they went away to the Service they came back to the neighborhood and then raised their kids there. So we always called them by their first names. So it was Ms. Mary, Ms. Betty, Mr. Toby, you know, Mr. Brian--because our parents called them by their first names, so we just put the Mr. or Ms. on front of it, rarely did we use last names. And Ms. Betty, literally until last year, sent me a birthday card every year of my life, and I'm 58 years old. So she just couldn't do it last year. She had her daughter 00:11:00call me, but -- so that's the kind of neighborhood I grew up in.
BS: Could you talk a little bit about your experience with education as a childand adolescent?
LB: I went to Glendale Elementary School. I was in the first kindergarten of acompletely integrated public system in the area. My parents had gone to segregated elementary school and then to an integrated high school because they didn't have a high school for black kids when they were coming up and they were such a minority in the town. My older brother and sister went to segregated elementary schools and then when they were going to middle school when I was coming into kindergarten and then they filtered into the newly integrated 00:12:00program at that time. So that was interesting because you had some white flight. You also had some white kids who came from families who didn't like us coming. So we were called names, sometimes we were spit on, things of that nature. But we're talking about the early Sixties, and we as black children didn't take that lightly. So if some kid wants to spit on you, we would fight on the playground, you know [laughs]. And it's so funny because some of those kids we fought with on the playground we ended up being friends with sometime later because they're repeating stuff they hear at home. So, but anyway I had a great elementary education. I had some great teachers. I think one of the things most people who end up going on to get PhDs or staying in education, I bet you if you ask most of them, they had great early teachers that made school fun, made you like 00:13:00school. And so I had some great teachers, black and white. I had a second grade teacher who was the first one to say to me, "Lisa, you're really smart. You really can write. You write really well for a second grader!" And you remember those kinds of things, and, so I -- We had a really good school. I think it was a very good school and I got a good early education and it, it was laced with racial experiences. But we went on--when I was in middle school--we're talking about '68, '69, a whole group of us girls decided that we didn't like to wear skirts. We didn't like being restricted to that, and so we just started wearing pants. And my poor mother, my mother worked nine to five and she had four kids. And even though she had a lot of support with the grandparents, her position is: You're going to school. And, she didn't always know what I was wearing or doing, 00:14:00so 'till she got a call from the school to say, "Lisa's gonna be expelled because she's wearing pants."
And my mother would come up there and say, "I pay taxes and I work, mydaughter's not gonna be home by herself" and so she just refused to let them expel me [laughs]. She just refused. And, so we actually changed that. In a couple years, girls could wear pants. We, we changed that. We just started noncompliance. And what are they gonna do? They gonna kick all the girls out? And so we changed that. And then when I got to high school, we didn't have any black history, black studies, or any of those things. So I was a part of that bigger movement in the country to get black studies and black history everywhere. And so in high school, we actually had sit-ins. So we're talking about '70, '71. It was pretty rough. We had a lot of sit-ins. The teachers and principals didn't like it. But we also had some black teachers and principals who were caught in the middle. And they ended up, I think, having some serious 00:15:00debates and discussions. I actually heard a vice principal, a black vice principal, get into it with the head principal about what the black kids--and we had white allies even at that time, we had white kids who said, "You know, this is something we need and we should do." So we're talking about between '68 and '75 when I graduated from high school. We got our black studies class, too. I was class president in my sophomore year. I was the homecoming queen my senior year, believe it or not. I was known as a radical, and the students actually elected a radical to be their homecoming queen. I was counterculture. I wore African dresses, and flat huarache sandals and cornrows and Afros. I was not yourSo I was a kind of counterculture but popular kid, and people liked me, 00:16:00and, and so it was a really--I liked high school, and I also had great teachers. I ended up graduating early 'cause I was a kind of a smart ass. I realized, I started counting my credits and I realized I had enough credits to graduate. So I actually only went one quarter of my senior year and then just hung out. I would go up to the school and hang out.
And then, do you want just a brief overview of the rest of my education or?
BS: I know that you attended Howard University. If you wouldn't mind speaking alittle bit about what motivated you to attend Howard?
LB: Yeah, I first went to Oberlin College for two years. And, I think a lot ofwhat I experienced at Oberlin was similar to what some students here [at Kalamazoo College] experience now. I mean it's a very similar place and the micro aggressions and the class differences. 'Cause I grew up, as I said, I mean 00:17:00racism was not new to me. But you kind of knew who your white friends were and who they weren't. At least, that was my sense at the time, is that someone called you a nigger they didn't want to be around you, their parents called you names, or you had white friends [laughs] you know, who you hung out with and they didn't do that. And so I didn't quite, when I went to college, I often felt that we had a lot of wealthy kids who would say things that felt like put-downs, but they would be smiling, and it felt--I didn't quite know how to handle that. And so actually I had no black, there were two black male teachers, and no black female teachers, no women of color teachers. And, it was just really ostracizing both class and race-wise for me. So even though I made friends there, some of those friends we're still friends, and they went on to graduate and do great things, that, you know. But for me, it just--I had been a minority kind of all 00:18:00my life in my education, and I felt like I wanted a black space and so I picked Howard. I mean I literally looked for a predominantly black city, and a HBCU [historically black college or university]. I wanted that experience. And so I applied to Howard. I got in, so I went there my junior year, and it was, it rocked for me. I just, it was the best thing for me. And of course my parents were worried, you know when you transfer schools, and I remember my mother saying to me "Well, Lisa, do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond like going to D.C.?"
I said "I wanna be a big fish in a big pond. I mean, c'mon!" I'm not afraid atall to jump ou there. And I think that's the confidence of the small town, I just didn't, I've always been relatively confident in my own abilities. If sometimes I got proven that I wasn't quite ready, but, I was definitely gonna 00:19:00try. So I went to Howard. I was a history major. I, I had mentors in that department. I was one of the top students in the department. They, they really thought I was bright and made me feel that way. I had a couple of teachers who were great mentors. One was from Africa, Aziz Patron. And at the time, it's so funny, I thought he was really old, 'cause I'm like 20, and I thought he was really old, but he was like 28, I realized [laughs]. He had just gotten out of University of London, and, he and another professor, Dr. Carol Page, they took my under their wing. I remember writing a paper on Liberia called "The Rise of an Oligarchy in Liberia." It was about the Americo-Liberians who had settled in Liberia and treated Africans very much like white settlers had treated Africans. And she said, "This is a great paper. I think we should submit it for"--It was an essay contest, and you'd get five hundred dollars. This was like 1977, and so 00:20:00she worked with me on that paper. She and I just worked and we polished it up, and I got that scholarship.
Also because of being in that department, I had greata job, part-time jobs. Iworked at the National Archive for over a year. That was my evening job as a historian, I mean, c'mon. And then one summer I actually worked at the Manassas National Battlefield Park as a historical interpreter. And I got those jobs because I was there in that department and I went to graduate school because I was there at Howard. So I had great experiences at Howard, but also I loved being in D.C. Within a very few weeks of being in D.C., I was active in the city in movements. And, I've often said that when I found this organization in the city called the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression -- and 00:21:00they were working on a variety of cases of people who had been setup by the police or the FBI because they were activists like Angela Davis -- I remember feeling like 'Okay, this is my tribe. This is, these are my people.' And they weren't just black; they were multi, a multi-racial organization. I met really strong white anti-racists and it just really, it really kind of emboldened my sense that there is a kind of humanity that we can all fight for here. So those years in D. C. really helped shape me, I think in a way that nothing else -- Well, everything shapes you but I just remember having some of the best days my life and some of the, made some of my best friends who were also activists during that time.
BS: So it sounds like you've been activist since your childhood, is there any00:22:00particular activist or scholar that was influential on your path to activism or?
LB: Well, it's interesting. Angela Davis, which of course she's come here twiceand so she's still a friend of mine. And she met me--People often ask, "Well, how did you get Angela to come to Kalamazoo twice? How did you get her to be on your global board?" I was like I met when I was 19 and she saw me. She saw me. She wasShe's like 10 years older than me, 10 or 11 years. So she was a young professor at the time and she was very accessible to a lot of us young activists. So she was someone I had read about when I was in high school, I had heard about, and then here I am sitting having lunch with her while I'm in D.C. And she takes time, she took time to listen and talk to you and so she 00:23:00definitely had an influence. But I also think my parents and my, I think my upbringing. I, I never believed that racism was okay. In fact, my mother says that some of the first words, she claims that -- She claimed. She's passed away -- the first sentence I said was: "That's not fair." So I've always kind of had and I didn't like brutality. I don't like people committing violence against other people. It bringsAs a kid, I saw some boys torturing an animal. You know how boys would, they would throw rocks at a dog who was already hurt. And I'll never forget, I was like 7, and I was so angry. And I got on my bike and I rode my bike to the police station, the local police station, and said, "There's some boys hurting a dog." And the police went over there. The boys ran. 00:24:00I just, I think my activism actually comes out of my unwillingness to accommodate injustice. I think most people who know me and saw me growing up would say that it was something that probably came about naturally for me. Don't know why, 'cause my brothers and sisters are not necessarily like me. My parents, my father, my mother always are slightly embarrassed by me because I would say things. Even in junior high school or high school too if I thought teacher was being racist, I would say, "I think you're being racist." [laughs] My parents would be like, "Oh, no, she didn't say that, did she?" So, I think that's a bit of indignity. But also I'm a child of the Civil Rights Movement. I mean I saw Martin Luther King when I was 12 years old. I didn't know everything, 00:25:00but I knew he was important. It was in a church basement in Cincinnati. It was like a spaghetti dinner to raise money for the movement and my parents went. So I also saw my parents get involved and they're, they were not raving activists on their own. I'm not a child of activists like my son can say he is a child of activists, but I was not. They were not really activists, but they had a lot of dignity. And when the movement started, they knew it was good and they knew it was something if they could contribute in their own ways, they would. And so I remember my father was a big part of desegregating public spaces in sports in Cincinnati. As a kid, I saw it going on, but I didn't quite know it all, but it sinks in, I think. My father is actually in the Ohio and Kentucky Hall of Fames 00:26:00for sports because of all the work he did. He brought Arthur Ashe, a very early black tennis player to Cincinnati. So I think I got it that way, but by high school I was, I was soaking up the movement. I was reading literature. Like you were saying, you were reading James Baldwin in high school, I was reading Angela's. I was reading George Jackson who was a prisoner who had been killed. I was reading Roots. I was reading Malcolm X. We were, I was reading those things in high school. And in fact, we did Amen Corner, one of James Baldwin novels as a play that we pushed. We said, "We want some black plays," and that was a play that they selected.
BS: So growing up in the Cincinnati area and you mentioned when Dr. King came,did you have, do you have any memories surrounding the 1967 riots after he 00:27:00visited or memories of what the community did in response to his assassination a year later?
LB: It's interesting, I was actually--my mother was visiting her sister, my auntin Washington D.C. right in that April. I don't know if we were on spring break, but I remember being in Washington D.C. in southeast Washington D.C., when the riots broke out. I was thinking about that last night, looking at Baltimore and the National Guard because I remember the National Guard on the streets. And I remember the streets flooding because people were opening up -- the people who were rising, the, were opening up the fire hydrants. So I have two memories and that is of the guards being at the edge of our street because we were trying to go [laughs] as kids, we're trying to go to the little candy store. And there's 00:28:00these guys on the street telling us, in uniform, telling us we can't go. And there was water running down the street, so those are my kind of memory--But again, I'm young so I don't quite, I'm not able to analyze it. But I remember, so I have a kind of visceral memory of that. And southeast D.C. is a largely black area and they were on the street there, the National Guard, and we couldn't leave our block. I remember as kids we were complaining, "We want to get to the candy store. We can't get to the store." So that's all I remember at that moment, at that age. I was 12 in 1968
BS: Do you have any specific memories about later events in the Civil RightsMovement like the rise of Black nationalism or the Black Power movement?
LB: I remember in high school when I made a decision to do my Afro, so that's00:29:001972. And I remember everyone--Well, no actually younger. I have a really interesting story. So yeah, it was around 19when I got my first Afro it was around 1970, '71 and my sister was in college. She was at Ohio University. And at Ohio University they had been protesting about the Vietnam War and literally the National Guard was on their campus and there was tear gas. And I remember my mother being on the phone with other parents trying to figure out how to get their kids home. And so my sister came home and you can look up when that was. It was a particular moment at OU when the National Guard was brought in, tear gas was shot, the university was shut down, I think. And I remember my sister came home and I had just gotten my hair pressed. You know, black kidsAnd you 00:30:00had to be to be like 12 or 13 or 14 to actually get your hair pressed. Because most black kids, when I was growing up, the girls would haveYou'd have these--They'd pull your hair in these rubber bands and then they'd make these braids, these plaits. They looked like horns. They were horrible. So as a kid you looked, your hair was one way and black parents didn't want you to get your hair pressed -- the hot comb -- because it looked look too womanly. You looked too grown up and also, it wasn't good for your hair. So they wanted the hair to grow its own natural way while you were young and then when you get older and vain, you can do what you want. So I remember my mother, I had been on my mother to get my hair pressed, because every young black girl wanted straight hair. This is the impact of white supremacy. We all wanted straight hair at the time. This is before the Black Power movement. I remember I had just gotten it down. My mother had just said yes. I'm like 13 or 14, she had just said yes. 00:31:00
And, my sister comes home from college, and she says, "Girl, what you done toyour hair?"
And I said, "I got my hair nice and pressed."
And she said, "We're not doing that anymore."
I said, "What?" [laughs]
She says, "No, no, no we're not doing that anymore, you're going to wash thatout." She says, "I'm going to give you the latest style." So, and you know, those days before chemicals with the hot comb, a hot comb just goes through your hair and it's straight until the rain comes, 'cause once the rain comes it goes right back. So she went and washed it out, and, cut it, gave me a nice fro, right, and she introduced me to a song that James Brown had produced called "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." And, and then there was a poster she gave me of a little, black child that said that: Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud. And I loved my older sister. I put it up in my, in my room and I figured she 00:32:00knew what was happening, and I never really looked back. I mean there were moments in high school where I did press my hair, but for the most part, I was on a trajectory of kind of being proud of my black hair and everything. And, and then I became conscious really, a few years later and then I consciously wore a fro. And I remember people saying what are you doing and whatever, because it was new. And I was like "I'm black and I'm proud." So, so the seepage of the Black Power movement was happening in our culture and there were some of us who were getting it and others of us who weren't. But I remember, like I say, we all read Malcolm X, and people were debating whether Malcolm X was better than King, and all of that kind of stuff when we were younger. I mean 'cause I'm in high school at the time and most of the [air quotes] "respectable blacks" liked King and Malcolm was seen as too radical, but there were some adults in our lives 00:33:00that believed in, in Malcolm. I was going to say one other thing when I changed my, when I changed hair and I was walking down my main street where I grew up and the beautician lived right on the street that did everybody's hair. She did it in her kitchen. She just had it, you know, she put the hot comb on her stove [laughs] and straightened your hair. And when I was walking down the street, she said to me, she said, "Lisa, what have you done with your hair?"
And I said, "Well, I have an Afro."
And she says, "Well, you look like an African Boogaloo," and that was negative.
And I didn't know how to read that, so I just said, "I want to be an AfricanBoogaloo." [laughs] Like [stubborn smirk], you know don't talk about like whatever that is. But, so, you know you also got a sense growing up, I got a sense--So the Black Power movement was really important, because a lot of black people had internalized white supremacy. We didn't like our color. We didn't like our hair and we just had lived under that shadow. So even if we might have 00:34:00a sense that racism is wrong, we also had very often internalized that. Beauty standards, I mean when I was coming up most, most black kids wanted to be white, 'cause all the TV shows were white. All the beautiful people were white. You know that doll test that was done in the Brown v. Board of Education that's still been done today and there's still--A young girl did it in New York and had similar, very similar conclusions. So, the Black Power movement was a movement to say, "That ain't right. We have a glorious history. We have. People just don't know it." And so that was also the fight for black history is like "We don't believe we don't have a history. We don't believe it." Then I got into African history. I majored in African History in college, because I wanted to know African history. I wanted to know where black people come from and what 00:35:00that history is before slavery. And I learned a tremendous amount of the kingdoms and the great inventions and--We have a student here, Simon from Ethiopia, and he came to my-a talk I gave the other day to the international students, and we were talking about micro-aggressions. I said, "Simon, I bet most people here don't know some of the earliest Jews and Christians were in ancient Ethiopia. Or that Ethiopia became Christian in 300 A.D. as a state religion before Western Europe. Or that you've got castles or that you were a bread basket to the ancient world." I said, "So all of that history was there and had been denied." And it still for many of us is denied and it helps to foster white supremacy, because portrayal of Africa has been one that rationalizes what has happened to Africa in terms of colonialism and slavery. 00:36:00Not one that celebrates it. And so people think that Africans are poor just because they can't get it together. Not because of what's happened to them in history. I've studied 19th century Southern Africa. There's no famines. Ndebele had 286,000 head of cattle when they were conquered by the British. So anyway, all that to say that the Black Power movement opened all of that up for me, and I think really, really helped a lot of us to feel good about what we could do, and to not take it anymore.
BS: So you've spoken some about your interest in African History, and I knowthat a lot of your work is on the African diaspora. Can you speak a little bit about what kindled your interest in that and your scholarship in that? 00:37:00
LB: Well, one of the things is I had always been interested in the diaspora. Andit was so interesting because, when I went to graduate school, like many African Americans who go to graduate school, we're often interested in the diaspora. But when we got to graduate school in 1980, it was either Africa or the U.S. Believe it or not, the study of the African diaspora had kind of been squashed. So I, I began to study, the study of the African diaspora to get to the bottom of it. That's the thing, I'm, I'm intellectually driven by things I want to find out, right? So come to find out that W.E.B Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Dubois - all of them were Pan-Africanists. You know, Garvey from Jamaica, but he becomes a hero in New Yrk. There were tons of Caribbean scholars who became famous in New York. The Haitian Revolution had inspired people, black people, all over the 00:38:00world. You had Africans in Europe writing in the Thirties and Forties about the condition of the colonial world. The ANC people from South Africa had gone to historically black colleges. Kwame Nkrumah, the very first president of Ghana, went to Lincoln University in the United States. So there had been this connection in the diaspora. But literally the Cold War when the, when African countries start becoming independent and the U.S. and Europe decide 'Okay, oh God, we better have some African studies programs now. We can't just take missionary and colonel views; we actually have to know things that are really happening, not kind of racialized interpretations.' And so they set up programs of African studies around the country and in Europe, and one of the things they did, they just decided it was pretty dangerous in the Cold War to connect the black people around the world. It was pretty dangerous. And so they literally structured programs in a way that were geographically and regionally based. So 00:39:00when I went to school in 1980, I couldn't study the African diaspora. So I studied Africa, but I always had this interest. After I finished my dissertation which was on Mozambique, I went to Cuba and I decided, oh, boy this is interesting. And so I just began writing and studying the diaspora in Cuba. And retooling and studying African American history and writing about the primary areas in the diaspora that I think I have some expertise on. You can't, I mean it's hard, to have expertise on everything, but there are strands, there are theories, there are ideas that connect the entire diaspora. But, so Southern Africa, Cuba, and United States are my three areas in which I can say I have some deep expertise in terms of the diaspora. But I got interested because I was 00:40:00interested, mainly, because black people around the world have always been interested in each other because we've all been oppressed. So it's just like women or gender, I mean any group of people who have been oppressed, they're interested in studying other people because they want to know what their condition has been like. How have they approached the struggle? What have been their successes? What are the differences? Can we learn from each other? If you can win something in another place, can you learn from that win and begin to structure a win in a, in a certain place. So I think for black people especially because of slavery and the diaspora, we have always been transnational, and it's, we're probably -- So yes, we've always been transnational, but with the rise of kinda like the U.S., right? During the Civil Rights movement, black people were basically told: Either you're gonna be transnational, or you're 00:41:00gonna gain rights here. There's a lot, quite a few books on decisions that were placed before the NAACP and Paul Robeson and Du Bois who were talking all over the world. You gonna argue for human rights and sort of out the U.S. for its racism? If you do that, or are you gonna be good citizens within the United States? So we've always kinda had that tension between being of a particular nation state and being of a people that have been exploited and oppressed all over the world. So, I think once I began to, I always had an interest, but once I got my, I made a decision that once I get my PhD, I'm gonna, I'm gonna do what I want, and I did and have. [laughs]
BS: So you've spoken about you're interest in Cuba, and I was wondering, your00:42:00book Beyond [Between] Race and Empire focuses on pre-revolutionary Cuba in particular. Is there any reason why you picked that period?
LB: Mm-hmm. Well, history is safe. [laughs] I didn't want to get into a lot ofarguments and debates. I'm being a little facetious here, but, but history is manageable. I often find if you make an analysis today -- I'm not a political scientist, or an international relations person -- so if you make some predictions or analysis today, next year they may be proven wrong. [laughs] And I think with history, it was a, well that book, actually rose--came out of a project that my husband and I did. We read a book called Castro: The Blacks in Africa was written in 88' and we were not pleased with the book. And we felt that it was a book aimed at undermining any interest that Africans might have, African Americans might have in Africa. It pushed all our buttons. It was 00:43:00written about Cuba which has its own particular history, but it analyzed it through an African American kind of anecdotal lens. It was poorly researched. It was horrible, but we felt like it had such resonance because it--not many things were being written about race in Cuba, and that was partly the Cuban Revolutions fault, because they thought they didn't need to talk about race because they had had a revolution that benefited everybody, right? And so that book basically argued that there were no contacts between African Americans and Cubans, that the Cuban Revolution and Socialism has nothing to offer African Americans. There's not history there. Nothing to learn there now. So we decided, we wrote a major review essay that got published in the major Cuban studies journal, Cuban Studies, and it was so interesting because I had studied African History, but once we, I got that essay published, people thought I was a Cuban Historian 00:44:00[laughs]. But we worked a lot on it, and we found so many connections in history between African Americans and Cubans. And so that's what led to the book. I'm interested in the revolution, and it's one of the reasons I continue to go, because I'm always interested in social justice and liberation. And so I wanted to know if black people and people in general were doing better there. So here's a whole other model. What can we learn from that model? And so that's kinda what got me, got me interested also in Cuba. So I am interested in what's happening right now in Cuba and in the revolution and have gone many, many times since then, and made many, many good friends over the years. We've debated. We've argued, we've, it's been a great laboratory for sort of transnational solidarity for me, and so. 00:45:00
BS: A lot of your work and activism has also been regarding the South AfricanApartheid movement. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about your experience there.
LB: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, as you can see I'm an activist. Imean what can I say? And it doesn't take much to get me riled up and unhappy by injustice. If it was ten of me I'd be in ten movements and have a job and different things. So I got in involved, so before Cuba, I got involved in the Anti-Apartheid movement primarily when I started graduate school in 1980. I, I knew something about it, but what was interesting is again trying to merge my activism with my academic work. I cho-, when I did African History at Northwestern, I chose to do southern Africa so that I could become knowledgeable 00:46:00of the contemporary issue in South Africa. I mean that's kind of the way I've often, like I say, I'm intellectually driven to inform myself aboutWell, I see history as a way to be informed about the current. I'm not really interested in history for history's sake. Although I enjoy that too, but I'm interested in what it can tell us about what's happening now; what's under what's happening now. So I actually did southern Africa because I wanted to know more about the movement, and then the movement had just exploded in '80 and here I am in graduate school. And so, I got involved locally ata South African exile in Chicago, Dennis Brutis, a poet, was teaching. Somehow, they had finagled him a position and this is the way it--There were a lot of allies in the South African struggle. I mean a lot of colleges and universities, there'd be South African students on campus. You don't quite know how they got there, who was paying for 00:47:00it, but, lot of -- this is something that needs to be written -- but a lot of universities and, and organizations paid for South Africans o get out of the country and to get educated. And, people who were in exile, who had been imprisoned in South Africa could find jobs somewhere. So anyway I met Dennis at Northwestern and he took me to a meeting, downtown Chicago. Sort of like [laughs], I go to D.C. and within three weeks I'm downtown in an organization and the same thing happened to me in Chicago. Big ol' meeting because the South African rugby team was coming to Chicago. And, I ended up leaving that meeting as one of the co-chairs. Don-, don-, do- do- don't ask me how, I, I don't know how, but I did. And it was on. We were, we were busy that summer, and it got me very rooted in Chicago Anti-Apartheid movement. And then I went to Mozambique to do my dissertation research. I didn't do South Africa. I wanted to do South 00:48:00African, but I didn't do South Africa because the African National Congress, the organization of Mandela, had a boycott against South Africa. And I supported their desire to not, because that idea of that boycott was to make the South African feel the heat and isolation. And so I did Mozambique instead, and I went to Maputo which is 25 miles from the South African border. The other thing about South Africa at the time, believe it or not, Buffy, if I had went- gone, I couldn't figure out where, how I would do that, because there were no black people in the universities for the most part. There was one. University of Witwatersrand that Mandela had been the first black in the law school there. I mean there were, there were a few places, but-- And, to actually live in the city, you'd have to be an honorary white. And you would have to have papers that 00:49:00said you were honorary white, and it was just bizarre. I couldn't figure out how anybody of color could actually do it anyway. So I, so I went to Mozambique and while in Mozambique I met tons of South Africans exiles who were there in the movement. They were, they were literally a government in exile. So I met Joe Slovo, and who ended up becoming a major, major hero. Chris Hani, who was slated to be the second president after Mandela, but he was killed by an assassin. After things changed, I mean, the thing is when Mandela and them got out in 90', those 90- 90' to 94' were as they're trying to make that transition were bloody and violent. The whole thing had been bloody and violent but, they're negotiating, but there's still all of this stuff going on. And so I met Chris Hani. I met a lot of people there. Albie Sachs, who ended up becoming major 00:50:00Superior Court Justice and helped write the constitution. He used to give me rides to the university. So it was a moment. It was a scary movement, because Joe Slovo wife, Ruth First, white, first white woman to actually be killed by the South African government. I was supposed to work with her and she had been killed with a letter bomb. The South African government was sending letter -- That, that's when people discovered what they were up to. They were placing bombs in different people's houses and cars. And the ANC rep in Paris, she was killed; a bomb set off in the ANC office in London in the Eighties. It was, it was tough going. I managed to do some research in Mozambique, but it was tough, but I came back. I was a Fulbright. That was the other thing. Here I'm a Fulbright scholar and everybody is looking at me like "You're what?" The U.S. didn't even have good relations with Mozambique. I think about this now. The 00:51:00idea that I said I'm rarely afraid to jump out there. I should have been afraid when I went to Mozambique by myself. [laughs] And then also the South Africans, not only are they waging war against the ANC people in Mozambique, they have actually, they are funding and stoking a cultural war against the Mozambiquen government to undermine the Mozambiquen government to undermine the government. One of their strategies in the region, the Apartheid regime was to undermine. They felt like they were the only white colonial kind of power left and they were under siege. So they were trying to destabilize all of the neighboring countries, so they couldn't help the black majority in South Africa and the movement. So they had all kinds of stuff going on. So there was a war. People were being killed. It was--I should have been afraid, but I probably I wouldn't have done it. But it was scary. It was tough. Some of the people I knew got 00:52:00killed, got hurt. Some of the people, Albie Sachs, after I left there -- I don't know if you've read his book. It's called Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. The car that I used to ride in. They put a bomb in his car and blew off his arm and took out his eye. But he went on. He lived. He went on to be the major jurist to set up the new constitution of South Africa and wrote the legislation for the best gay rights' constitutional guarantees of any country in the world. So that's Albie and he's still alive, so he's a friend. He'll come anytime I want him to so
BS: It seems like we only have time for another couple quick things.
LB: I'll try to be more succinct. [laughs]
BS: [laughs] So your experience kind of in the Apartheid movement, how did you00:53:00connect that with what was happening in the U.S. at the time and that kind of violence? Because in Chicago at that time, Fred Davis had recently --
LB: Fred Hampton.
BS: Fred Hampton. I am
LB: That's okay. It's okay. Yeah, itAs I say, one of the reasons theApartheid movement, the Anti-Apartheid, caught on in his country so well is because it mimicked our history. We come from a apartheid history here. People don't like to use that terminology. But up until the Civil Rights movement and up until the Sixties, we were Apartheid country, all our laws. I think it resonated with black people especially, but even white people who wanted to be in struggle to fight racism. They wanted to fight racism and the Anti-Apartheid movement gave them an avenue to do that. So yes, there's a lot of connections. 00:54:00There's a lot of actual specific historical connections. When the South Africans set up their Bantu stands and their reserve system in 1912, 1913, they studied our Indian reservation system. That's in the, in the documents. And our government was one of the best friends of the Apartheid regime and we knew that too. So if we're gonna put some pressure on South Africa, put some pressure here.
BS: And I think one last thing, maybe? Is there like a specific event withinyour work that has affected you the most or really greatly that stands out as one of your best activist moments?
LB: Well, there are quite a few and I, but I can summarize them in terms the00:55:00kind and the type. One of the things that's always been the best and most moving for me is when you have worked for justice and the people you worked with or worked for say, "Thank you. We appreciate what you did." That's happened multiple times. I've been involved in various campaigns around various things and that's happened, so that always makes me feel good. But I think probably the single most important event for me was when I went to South Africa. I had been involved from 1980 all the way to the end, so we're talking 1994, 1995. And for many of us, it defined us. It's who we were. Everybody in Chicago, across the country, we knew each other. This is what we did, this was--So for those fifteen years, so before that I was doing more anti-racist, black studies, but during those fifteen years my major political work was Anti-Apartheid work. Speaking, 00:56:00I'd go to union halls to try to--People would invite me and because I was in graduate school, I had deeper knowledge. So I would get invited to be a speaker on television and a lot of different places to try to get people to support legislation or get people to pass resolutions like we got the UAW and AFSCME. The UAW said they weren't going to make cars that were going to South Africa. We got AFSCME to divest their pension funds. We got the city of Chicago--we had the State of Illinois to divest their pension funds from companies that did business in South Africa. So we were busy, we were definitely busy and so it defined e. My biggest event was when I went to South Africa first in 1998 and went to Robin Island. I think the thing that felt the best is there were people there that I had met in Mozambique. They were home. There were people who I met in London 00:57:00because I got involve- when I was a Fulbright I was in London, Lisbon and Mozambique. One of the best things of the Anti-Apartheid movement was it was so international, when I got to London, within a few days I had found the ANC office. I said, "I'm here. I'm a Fulbright student. I'm studying at the public records office, but I've got my evenings free and you can use me." Same thing is Lisbon. I found those offices and they became family. So I think that the, the thing that's the most moving was that movement. And then when I went to South Africa in '98 and saw people--Because we hosted people too. We brought people over. We hosted them. We had events with them. They lived in our homes. In fact, the very first time I went--No, no this was different. In London in the 2000s. I went to London. I'm in for business. I'm in Trafalgar Square and here's the 00:58:00South African High Commission like the embassy here. Right? They call them high commissions. So I see the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square and so someone told me that Lindiwe was the ambassador. I knew, I know all these people that became kind of key people. So I go into Trafa-, to the High Commission. I say let me go see if Lindiwe is the ambassador. So I go in there and there's a receptionist, all this protocol, and I say, "My name is Lisa Brock and I'm from Chicago." I said, "LindiweMabuza the High Commissioner like the ambassador?"
She said, "Oh yes, she is."
And I say, "Well, tell her Lisa from Chicago is here and she slept on my couchmany times."
And so they all come out and they look. They're laughing. These people that workthere. Then, here comes Lindiwe. She said, "Well, you could have let me know you were coming."
So those moments of having been involved in something that actually succeededwhere the people who fought and suffered, you know. The ANC people who lived 00:59:00here, they didn't have anything. They were just working for the future. All these people in exile. Some of them--Parents didn't even know where they were, because the kids had to leave in the middle of the night. They couldn't call. So anyway, I think going back to South Africa, going back to Robin Island. Meeting all the comrades who I had known over the years. Seeing them in key positions, but still funny and having the humility. I think that was probably my most important--and going to Robin Island, having the key to Mandela's cell, and being welcomed. So the idea that you were part of the movement and that you are welcome here. I think that was probably my most moving moment. 01:00:00