Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stealth Protest - GIs Oppose the Vietnam War

GIs against the Vietnam War? For sure. Many actively opposed the war, although for a long time their protest was eclipsed by the vast literature on the civilian antiwar movement. That changed in 2005 with the film Sir! No Sir!, the first definitive documentary on the GI antiwar movement. Widely screened here and abroad – appearing twice on the Sundance Channel – the film garnered many awards and changed the conversation. Awareness of extensive GI protest against the war moved front and center.

Back in the late ‘60s Jeff Sharlet, ex-Vietnam GI, played no small part in giving voice to the numerous GIs disaffected with the US mission in Southeast Asia, many of whom engaged in active protest – at some risk to themselves. Unlike the vast, highly visible, and at least loosely coordinated civilian movement, GI activism – usually below the radar – was an inchoate phenomenon occurring in relative isolation in a frontline unit here or a stateside base camp there. Either way, a military activist had to keep an eye peeled for the military cops – ‘justice’ in the military could be swift and draconic with only a nod to due process enjoyed by civilians. 

Elsewhere we’ve written about GI activism in Vietnam,† so the focus here is on GI protest stateside based on selections from Jeff’s paper, Vietnam GI (VGI). Jeff launched the paper in January ’68, and by spring it was being widely read by troops in-country as well as those being readied for deployment at stateside bases. Letters were pouring in to the editorial office in Chicago from GIs, Marines, sailors, and airmen – all sharing their feelings on the war.

Masthead, Vietnam GI, Inaugural issue

In an editorial in a spring issue of VGI, under the heading ‘FTA’, Jeff took note of the rising tide stateside to what the military regarded as good order and discipline. (FTA, an official Army acronym meaning ‘Fun, Travel and Adventure’, was co-opted by antiwar GIs as ‘F__k the Army’.) Jeff wrote:

                    In the past two months, there has been an
                    increasing amount of antiwar activity at
                    several stateside bases. We who have been
                    to the Nam already have a lot of respect for
                    GIs with the guts to rap and organize against
                    the war….
                    Just to stay with the program is tough enough
                    in the service, but to try to organize against the
                   War from the inside is hard as hell.… For the
                   guys in Nam, it’s another matter.… The Nam
                   isn’t the place to do anything but survive, be
                   cool, and think about how short you are.
                   One of the main purposes of Vietnam GI is to
                   give a guy publicity when he wants it. Sometimes,
                   but not always, it helps make the military a little
                   less eager to screw over a GI.
Martin Luther King had just been assassinated in Memphis TN, and riots had broken out in most big city ghettos. VGI reported the fury of Black Fort Campbell KY troops required to undergo riot control training for possible deployment against their own people. Under the heading Riot at Fort Campbell, VGI wrote “Black frustration exploded with violence right here in one of the nation’s riot control centers."

Headline, Nashville Tennessean, June 7, 1968

Two months later in June ’68, Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California. At Fort Meade MD the 6th Cav went on alert for riot control duty in the capital and nearby Baltimore. A GI there wrote VGI that white troopers, especially southerners, were eager to deploy against rioters, but it was a very different story among Black GIs on post, one of whom said, “Fuck this noise. It’s one thing going to Nam for Whitey. But when it comes to drawin’ a bead on some brothers who’re making the only kind of protest that works – well, I just ain’t gonna do it.”           

I see the bad moon rising
I see trouble on the way.††
Meanwhile, a Pfc at Fort Gordon GA wrote to VGI:
                   Dear Jeff:
                  Thanks for the letter and especially the copies
                  of Vietnam GI.…We’ve been attempting to
                  organize against the war (Get Out Now – There's
                  There’s Nothing to Negotiate), and consequently
                  more and more GIs have to come to this
                  conclusion also.
                  Newspapers like Vietnam GI are very helpful in
                  making guys feel they are not alone….

Military Formation, Fort Gordon GA
As tens of thousands of GIs completed their Vietnam tours, returning to stateside camps to finish out their enlistments, many of them – with the added authority of having been in combat – added their voices to emerging GI antiwar protest.  A returning GI interviewed by Jeff for VGI had been a ‘tunnel rat’ in Nam – a soldier usually small in stature, but agile and wiry who had the dangerous job of exploring Viet Cong underground tunnels armed with just a pistol and flashlight.
At the end, Jeff asked him what he thought of the civilian antiwar movement in the States, to which the GI replied:
                   It used to put me uptight to hear about guys
                   running around pulling peace marches, because
                   I was caught up in it, and kind of fell prey to this
                   killing thing.…
                   Back in the States I realized that I don’t really
                   disagree with all the peaceniks. As a matter of fact,
                   I’m kind of hoping that there’ll be more of it so we
                   can stop having all those good men killed over there.
Another combat vet interviewed in the same issue of VGI, echoed the  sentiment. Asked where he saw the war heading, he said, “It’s not moving our way, that’s for sure. We’re just going to end up getting a lot more guys killed.”
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.††
Later in summer ’68, Jeff and fellow editors began hearing from stateside GIs inspired by VGI’s example who were launching underground GI antiwar papers on their bases, although not without harassment from the brass. A typical report arrived from Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne in North Carolina:
                    Beginning in June, myself and a few other
                    guys began printing a small paper called
                    StrikeBack which put a lot of the local lifers*
                    uptight around here. They started their anti-
                    StrikeBack campaign by increasing inspections,
                    holding longer formations, making everyone
                    shave off their moustaches, and generally
                    increasing the harassment.
Insignia of 82nd Airborne
based at Fort Bragg NC 
The writer continued that the FBI was called in and, along with Bragg military intel people, began interrogating troopers to find out who was behind the ‘subversive’ paper. The editor was found out and warned he would face serious charges should StrikeBack appear again on the grounds of the fort. Undeterred, the editor went on to explain to VGI readers how a GI underground paper can successfully circumvent the authorities and get the word out to local GIs. He signed his letter, “Yours in opposition.”
By fall of ’68 in another editorial entitled ‘Where it’s at!’, Jeff took stock of bourgeoning GI dissent against the war, “Every month the Brass see more and more GIs fighting for their rights and thinking for themselves.” He continued, “GIs aren’t going to end the war themselves, but what they do is especially important. We’ve got to force the Government to end the war….”
Jeff concluded:
                   On almost every major base in this country
                   there are unnamed groups of GIs quietly doing
                   a damn gutsy job. They’re organizing servicemen
                   to fight the military. This activity takes many
                   forms – everything from passing around Vietnam
                   GI and rapping on the war to refusing to take
                   riot duty.  

Subsequently, the Vietnam GI antiwar movement grew in such scope and intensity that decades later even erstwhile leaders of the civilian movement conceded that military opposition to the Vietnam War had perhaps made the most significant contribution in bringing America’s doomed mission to an end.
*A ‘lifer’ in military argot was a career non-commissioned officer who invariably would have been intolerant of protest in the ranks against the mission.
†Links to previous posts about GI dissent in Vietnam:
††Links to music videos:









Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Peace Corpsmen and War Hawks

Though thousands of miles apart in spring ‘64, my kid brother Jeff Sharlet and I were both wrapping up our time abroad – I following a research year in Moscow, Jeff finishing a military tour in Vietnam. He was heading back to finish college, and I – well, I wasn’t quite sure until one surprising day when out of the blue an international cable arrived offering me an academic position teaching students at a salary of $8,000. That sounds like poverty scale now, but nearly half a century ago it seemed munificent. Accustomed to $3,000 graduate fellowships, I swiftly cabled my acceptance.

Jeff and I finished up at about the same time in May ’64. He hopped a flight back to Saigon, his orders permitting a week’s leave in the South Vietnamese capital where he rendezvoused with buddies from the Army Language School in California. All of them Vietnamese linguists, they helped Jeff say a long goodbye to the Paris of the Orient and its night spots.

Saigon ladies in ao dai and French-built Saigon City Hall 1963
Mine was a quieter departure. My Soviet colleagues came to the Belorussky Station bearing flowers and candy to see me off. We said our goodbyes, and I went aboard the overnight train to Poland. Compared to austere Moscow, Warsaw with its blonde barmaids and cold beer felt like the ‘West’ – though I was still in the Soviet empire.
From Saigon, Jeff flew to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, home station of his unit, the 9th ASA, an Army Security Agency battalion. After a few days of exit processing, he boarded a military transport for the long haul across the Pacific with stops in Guam and Hawaii, finally landing at Travis Air Base north of San Francisco. My trip back was more circuitous. I made my way from Warsaw to Prague, then south to Yugoslavia. From Belgrade, I caught a transcontinental sleeper to Paris, a remnant of the famed Orient Express, and flew to New York.
Travis Air Base, northern California
Jeff and I soon returned to our respective academic haunts – he at Indiana University (IU), I at my new post at the University of Missouri (Mizzou). We were both in Political Science, Jeff a student, I a professor. By Spring term ’65, he was flourishing in his courses while I continued learning my craft.
By then the low intensity war Jeff left behind was heating up, and he grew concerned he might be recalled. As the first specialist on the USSR at Mizzou, I was preoccupied with teaching my course on Soviet politics & law. When President Johnson (LBJ) escalated the conflict with combat troops and bombing runs against the North a few months later, Jeff and I were on divergent paths. Each of us had our wars; for me it was the global Cold War, for him opposition to the Vietnam War, a very personal fight.
Jeff gravitated toward IU’s small band of New Left activists protesting LBJ’s new war policy; I signed on with the Administration to prepare for arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. I had taken to heart President Kennedy’s (JFK) inaugural challenge: to “….ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Our respective commitments dictated our summer plans. Jeff would hang out in Bloomington as the activist group laid the foundations for a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at IU; I took off for the University of Wisconsin in Madison to work on the arms control project. By the time I returned to Mizzou in September ’65, Jeff and fellow activists had SDS up and running at IU. Soon after they were part of a protest demo when Nixon spoke on campus in support of Vietnam policy.
Meanwhile the United States Peace Corps Agency (PCA) was training a flood of volunteers for work in underdeveloped countries collectively known as the ‘Third World’. The idea was to assist development in backward nations at the grass roots level, making the foreign aid blandishments of Soviet agents less appealing.
Mizzou was the site of the program for Thailand, a Southeast Asian country hosting American bases for the air war against North Vietnam, hence of strategic importance to the US. The volunteers were being trained in ‘Community Development’ or, in the glossary of Washington acronyms, CD. Thai language instruction was part of the curriculum. A young professor of Agriculture, a specialist in bovine diseases, was in charge.
Learning how to foster CD would mean placement in small villages in rural Thailand where Peace Corps volunteers would first assess local socio-economic resources, then strive to mobilize villagers to carry out manageable quality of life projects like bridging a small waterway to facilitate movement of crops from farm to market or water purification projects to ward off disease. However, PCA’s real purpose was neither bridges nor wells, but helping instill in locals, long under the spell of fatalism, a sense of community efficacy as a way of taking greater charge of their lives.
The Mizzou Peace Corps office invited me to lecture to the trainees. They would need to know the competition they’d be up against in the Thai countryside, and I was the one with a background in Marxism. I agreed and delivered several lectures on Communist political revolution and the Soviet strategy for rapid modernization. Apparently feedback was good because toward the end of ‘65 a PCA official flew in from Washington to talk with me.
The Agency was launching a major two-summer experimental program and had selected Mizzou to pioneer it. Previously trained only stateside, volunteers would also receive training in-country to facilitate language instruction and physical and psychological conditioning. I was offered the position of project director and $10,000 above my academic salary. Intrigued by the challenge and drawn by the extra money, I readily said yes.
The program involved a great deal of advance planning which took all my spare time outside of teaching. I had an office at the Mizzou PCA headquarters, an administrative assistant, a letterhead, and a hot line direct to Washington. First tasks were to create a curriculum for the new program, then recruit people to teach it, ideally academics with field experience as well as expertise on Southeast Asia, traditional societies, community development, and Thai language instruction.
To look after the volunteers’ physical and mental well-being, I also needed a staff physician, preferably one with some knowledge of tropical maladies, along with a psychiatrist and a phys ed instructor. I recruited mostly Mizzou faculty, but when necessary telephoned around the country until I found the right person.
While I was busy preparing to help ‘save’ Thailand for the West, up at Indiana Jeff and the SDS-ers were planning protests against the war in Vietnam. In late February ’66, General Maxwell Taylor, the WWII hero, arrived at IU – as the historian of the university put it – as an “apologist”* for Washington on the war. No surprise there, the general was invited by the IU president, Elvis Stahr, JFK’s former Secretary of the Army.† Taylor had served both JFK and LBJ on the ‘Vietnam front’, first as presidential military adviser, then as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, and finally as US Ambassador to South Vietnam.
Anxious that there might be a militant confrontation against his ‘friend’ the general, President Stahr took no chances in his introduction, devoting most of it to defending free speech for visiting dignitaries with minimal reference to the distant conflict driving the demonstrators to protest Taylor’s presence. Although the general was deeply implicated in the war policy, the occasion of his speech was a Midwestern Model UN General Assembly, so SDS decided to give their demo a positive spin. One of the Indiana senators, Vance Hartke, had criticized the war; hence Jeff and the activists marched in support of Senator Hartke, war critic.
General Maxwell Taylor at IU, February ‘66
Meanwhile back at Mizzou I was preoccupied filling out myriad forms and questionnaires required by Washington for my trip to Thailand. Especially time-consuming was the special form for Americans traveling abroad on government business. Questions included family demographics, military service, all the addresses I’d ever lived at, and previous employment. Then there were the daily immunizations against many exotic diseases, including cholera and yellow fever, both painful shots with lingering side effects.
By early spring the project was shaping up – curriculum approved and staff recruited, I was set to visit ‘the field’ as soon as classes ended for the midterm break. It was to be a brief visit to the training site in Thailand. Working in my Peace Corps office one afternoon, I received an unusual call from Washington, from an official with whom I’d had no previous contact.
The caller identified himself as the Agency’s Deputy General Counsel, and explained that he was calling about the travel clearance form I had submitted. I laughed and said that must have been an easy approval since I had held Top Secret and Cryptographic security clearances while serving with ASA-Europe during the ‘50s. On the contrary, he politely responded, that’s the problem.
                     You wrote you were in an Army intelligence
                     organization and Peace Corps has a firm rule.
                     No one with an intelligence background can
                     work for us abroad.

Puzzled and with yellow fever vaccine still raging through my system, I replied, “For chrissake! That was nearly a decade ago in the old brown-shoe army. I’m discharged, not even in the Reserves.” He reiterated that it was a firm rule and invoked the Cold War, which of course framed American involvement in Southeast Asia. “Look,” he calmly reasoned, “what would happen if they found out about your Army experience, and broadcast into the field that we’re sending secret agents out there. It’d be all over.”

Suddenly my deep background in Soviet Studies kicked in, and I thought to myself, of course he’s right. It’s a question of perceptions, appearances; the truth has nothing to do with it. We were locked in a struggle with the Soviets for hearts and minds in the Third World. Peace Corps was one of our instruments in the contest. Likewise, the USSR sent thousands of advisers into most of the same countries – agronomists, doctors, teachers as agents of social change promoting their development strategy.

Intellectual ruminations aside, I quickly and angrily got back to reality. I told the messenger that Peace Corps had been aware of my background as far back as the fall when I submitted paperwork to Washington to serve as one of their lecturers. I had even appended my professional resume that included my military service and the Certificate of Merit awarded attesting to my ability in Czech when I left the Army Security Agency.

“You’ve known all this for half a year – why the hell didn’t the man you sent out to recruit me for Thailand inform you of the ‘problem’ at the outset?” The lawyer at the other end smoothly replied, “Sorry about that, he’s a new man. Afraid he didn’t know the rule. I’m really sorry, but got to go.” Click.

As my plans for Thailand went into retreat, Jeff and SDS were mobilizing to confront yet another Vietnam war hawk headed for Indiana. Stahr had invited General Lewis Hershey to speak. A native Hoosier who had attended IU in 1915, Hershey had visited campus a number of times over the years. The general was well-known as the long-time director of the Selective Service System, known to every young male coming of age as ‘the draft'.

Dear Uncle Sam
I just got your telegram
And I can't believe that this is me
Shaking like I am
For it said, "I'm sorry to inform you”††
By ’66, the Vietnam conflict had become a major war with US troop totals surging toward 200,000. This meant soaring draft calls for young men across the country.  While college students had been deferred, General Hershey had recently issued a policy change subjecting poorly performing students to the draft. In his plain-spoken, folksy manner, Hershey’s topic was the necessity of the draft.

Kiss me goodbye and write me while I’m gone
Goodbye my sweetheart, Hello Vietnam†††
Heartened by the success of its foray against General Taylor, SDS planned a large demonstration for Hershey’s appearance, complete with speakers including Jeff, the only Vietnam veteran in the chapter. Other IU students organized a counter-demo in support of the war. On the day of Hershey’s speech, about 2,000 students, pro and con Vietnam, turned out at Showalter Fountain in front of the auditorium. 
General Lewis Hershey
Vastly outnumbered, the 300 antiwar marchers remained calm in the face of catcalling, heckling, and even egg-throwing. A historian wrote that in spite of the provocations, the protestors paraded in orderly fashion “thus making their point even more strongly.”** IU SDS had succeeded in elevating the Vietnam War to a campus-wide issue.

While Jeff and fellow activists enjoyed successes against the war hawks at Indiana, my relations with Peace Corps had deteriorated. Washington’s belated invocation of its ‘firm rule’ to abort my mission to Thailand had thrown my professional schedule and personal finances into disarray. I was not pleased.

Long story short: I owed Wisconsin a second summer on the arms control project, but managed to get my obligation deferred until fall ‘66. This in turn necessitated an unpaid leave of absence from Mizzou. I had expected to recover the lost income from Peace Corps, but I now found myself behind the financial 8-ball; the only thing to show for my effort was surefire protection against yellow fever for the next ten years.

Holding Washington responsible for my dilemma, I insisted on partial compensation for the time put in. No way, responded the General Counsel’s office, my contract with the agency didn’t formally begin until June, and federal law did not permit payment until services were rendered. I turned to the university to take up my case. Somehow when I had been appointed project director, the Ag prof who preceded me had morphed into a special assistant to the chancellor for Peace Corps liaison.
He was of no help, Mizzou’s hands were tied, they were under contract to PCA and subject to federal law. I pressed my claim with Washington to the point where they warned the university that my pursuit of the matter could endanger pending negotiations on contract renewal. Apparently an additional program was in the offing – Bolivia. Aha, I thought, now I’m getting somewhere – leverage.
When I was summoned to the chancellor’s office, I figured I’d finally get some satisfaction. Wrong. When I entered, an unusual scene greeted me. Five chairs were lined up in front of a desk resembling the prow of a ship, four of them occupied by the hierarchy of administrators – in descending order – who stood between me and the CEO sitting in silence behind the desk. He motioned me to the empty seat at the end.
I waited to hear what the chancellor had to say, but he never addressed me. Instead he spoke rhetorically to the executive vice president asking him, “Does Professor Sharlet understand the importance of the Peace Corps contract to the university.” Having never met me, the VP couldn’t be sure, turned to the Dean of Faculty and on down the line to the junior Ag prof at my left, now a flack for the front office. He nodded affirmatively.
And so the mime conversation went on, with the man in the big chair posing a series of self-evident if-then questions about the adverse effect on Mizzou’s well-being because of my insistence on compensation. That is, until I interrupted and cogently informed the chancellor of the adverse consequences for me of Peace Corps’ bureaucratic blundering. I closed, advising him I intended to continue to pursue the issue until my concerns were met, and left without further ado.
Furious now with Mizzou as well as Peace Corps and having exhausted normal remedies for relief, I fired off a special delivery letter to Washington putting them on notice that my next communication would be to a senior US senator and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, a friend of the family.
That did it; I had pushed the right button. Within 24 hours the university informed me a check was being cut per my request.
Thailand, the ancient Kingdom of Siam, managed to remain apart from the violence and turmoil in Southeast Asia as the ferocity of the war in Vietnam grew exponentially. Though I was no longer available to do battle with Soviet agents of change in the Third World, Jeff would later go on to make a significant contribution to bringing an end to America’s long, divisive war in Vietnam – but that’s another story.
Links to music videos

†††Hello Vietnam:

*Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, Vol 3 (1977), 592.

**Ibid, 593.



Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Right-On Music & Left Politics – Minstrels of the Midwest

[This is the 5th post on the music of the ‘60s by Karen Grote Ferb, my collaborator on this blog. Karen was a student at Indiana University during the period described. We welcome memories of the time from readers who were there and, as always, any necessary corrections.] 
The early folk scene at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington began in the late ‘50s.  It included the Phase Three and Quiet Answer coffee houses, radio shows, and hootenannies.  The campus Folk Club (IUFC) was founded in 1962, the year I entered IU as a freshman; I also remember folk sings at Hillel House on 3rd Street; one song I particularly remember is the hauntingly beautiful but sad Dona Dona, which singer/songwriter and activist Joan Baez, a major contributor to the folk music revival, had made popular on her debut album in 1960.

Calves are easily bound and slaughtered
Never knowing the reason why
But whoever treasures freedom
Like the swallow has learned to fly
Professor Neil Rosenberg, then a graduate student in Folklore and a long-time performer of folk and bluegrass, tells us the  IUFC sponsored folk sings, lectures, symposia, films, concerts, and instructional workshops. IUFC also sponsored well-known performers such as the New Lost City Ramblers, Doc Watson and Dave Van Ronk.  A documentary film, Always Been a Rambler, chronicles the contributions of some of the performers. 
As the legendary Bob Dylan put it, “One of the things that the New Lost City Ramblers did was uncover great old songs that you could only find in those days in piles of 78s in somebody’s barn. They breathed new life into those songs, and their records stand the test of time, just like the originals.”
IUFC tried to book Joan Baez, but, due to university restrictions, could not bring her to campus even though she had agreed.  Later the university tried to book her, but she refused to come. In the early ‘60s Rosenberg was one of the ‘Pigeon Hill Ramblers’* along with Ann Rosenberg, Dan Scullin, and Jeff Sharlet’s very good friends and fellow activists Bernella and David Satterfield. The Satterfields had been involved with the burgeoning folk music scene in Greenwich Village along with the likes of Dylan, Baez, Paxton, Ochs, Van Ronk, the Weavers, and the New Lost City Ramblers.**   
Along with traditional folk music, the ‘Pigeon Hill Ramblers’ performed music of social protest, such as card-carrying Wobbly Utah Phillips’ song No More Reds In the Union at the ‘Owl’ – a New Left/hippie hangout –  and at demonstrations as well as in the Satterfields’ living room at 102 North Dunn Street, the center of  meetings of the IU chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the scene of lively political discourse.

Each year we have a swell affair, there's no more reds in the union.
The bosses and their friends are there, there's no more reds in the union.
They give us food, they give us beer,
But one thing seems so very queer:
We eat that good but once a year, there's no more reds in the union!
Since the postwar revival of folk music had been nurtured by the left (Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, and others), it was no surprise that participants in the IUFC were likely to have a leftist point of view; some went so far as to say that folk singing in itself was an activist undertaking. 
This association eventually led to the decline of the club as political energy was drawn into the growing Vietnam antiwar movement.  Peter Aceves (he later changed his surname to Narváez) was one of those musician/activists drawn into SDS; he ran instructional workshops in jazz and folk under the group’s auspices.
Folklore grad student Aceves, a fine guitarist and songwriter, assembled a group to perform his compositions.  Members of the group included Neil Rosenberg, David Satterfield, Richard Blaustein, John Hyslop, Dave Brock, and Jim Barden.  They eventually released a now hard-to-find album, Homegas, in 1970. 

The Homegas musicians

The highly regarded album track Bulldozer Blues, written and sung by David Satterfield with Aceves on guitar, is about the house at 102 N. Dunn, which was bulldozed, 'tractored down' in the words of the song. An adjacent building on the corner of E. Kirkwood and N. Dunn had earlier housed a Black-owned business called the Black Market, which was razed soon after being firebombed the day after Christmas, '68, by Indiana Ku Klux Klansmen (KKK). The land the two buildings stood on eventually became known as People's Park and, true to its radical past, became the site of Bloomington's Occupy movement in 2011.

♫ …Well, I could hear that motor running
My mind was in a chill.
I went on down to my home place, Babe,
Down to the place I used to play.
But the house was tractored down,
Landlord said it would not pay…†††
In ‘65 a young singer/songwriter, Roger Salloom,* arrived in Bloomington and found his way into the musician-activist crowd.  He remembers Jeff Sharlet as vivacious, charismatic, and very politicized about the Vietnam War.  He said that when Jeff spoke, people listened because he spoke with the authority of a GI who’d been there and seen it all.  But Jeff was in the political world, while Roger was in the musical world. 
Roger would record with David Satterfield and front a band called ‘Salloom, Sinclair, and Mother Bear’. ‘Mother Bear’ was a group of working-class Indiana guys.Sinclair was Robin Sinclair; she came from an operatic background and had a powerful voice that was capable of “keeningly high notes” according to one listener.
 Roger Salloom
           Salloom, Sinclair, and Mother Bear
Around this time locals involved in the folk revival discovered the music festivals held in the town of Bean Blossom in Brown County, about an hour’s drive from Bloomington.  Since 1941 it had been a local center for traditional culture, folklore, music, and arts and crafts. The legendary Bill Monroe, oft dubbed the father of bluegrass, bought property there in 1951 and called it his home away from home for over 40 years. He brought the first bluegrass festival to Bean Blossom in 1967, two years after the first ever in Roanoke VA.  The Bean Blossom festival is the oldest continuously running bluegrass festival in the country.  As the pre-eminent authority on folk and world music Alan Lomax put it, bluegrass was “folk music with overdrive,” and many IU performers wholeheartedly embraced it.
The IU musician-activists began to reach out to other performance venues, even ranging far afield to the likes of the ‘Saturday’s Child’ coffee house in the town of Porter up in the northwest corner of the state. But the’ Owl’ coffee house, located in the dimly candlelit basement of the old Wesley Foundation building at 4th and Lincoln in Bloomington, continued to be a popular venue. Several of the musician activists broadcast their music and more on a small local radio station.

David Satterfield broadcasting

Tables were in a semi-circle around a raised performance platform.  The tablecloths resembled Paul Klee's later art--simple line, form, and color. To get a waitress, you held up the candle in a straw-covered Chianti bottle.  It was crammed to the rafters with students wanting to listen to the music, so much so that some resorted to sneaking in through a cellar window.
A focal point for music in the mid-‘60s, the 'Owl' was open Friday evenings. It was organized by students led by David Hunter, who’d been chairman of the Progressive Reform Party, IU's Student Power party. The 'Owl' at first leaned heavily toward folk music, later toward rock and roll. It served as a staging ground for aspiring local performers with occasional out-of-town acts.
Some of the local performers at the 'Owl'  the Satterfields, Aceves/Narváez, and Salloom were stars on campus and in the community.  The hip hippie crowd gathered there, folksong being the music of choice among the left-leaning activists who occasionally went to the mike in the front of the room to make political statements.
An SDS law student, Steve Schlosser, persuaded a bunch of SDSers and folkies to organize a political singing group called the ‘Subversion Singers’. Their material was mainly self-written, frequently satirical. Guy Loftman, an SDS leader and one-time president of the student body, parodied a pop song aimed at Robert Shaffer, Dean of Students, called Big Boy Bob, the Dean, after a particularly controversial campus banning of a student group and the arrest of two of its members.

Folks was standin’ in the Union
Up in the Activities Fair
When all of a sudden up pulled a Batmobile
And out stepped a Dean with grey hair,
Kiwanis rings on every finger
And a 1939 suit
He had a bottle of aspirin and a cigarette
And some tranquilizer pills to boot***

They performed a number of songs taken from the Fugs, Kill for Peace and Slum Goddess from the Lower East Side, on which Robin Hunter (no relation to David), another leading activist and go-to guru for budding leftists, sang lead and played tambourine.  The ‘Owl’ eventually put out a vinyl LP of its performances with many Roger Salloom songs.

What became of the Bloomington minstrels?

David Satterfield died more than a decade ago and Peter Narvaez more recently.
Neil Rosenberg is Professor Emeritus, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland.  See his profile at
Bernella Satterfield, now known as Nell Levin, still fiddling and singing, is an accomplished Grammy-nominated musician, journalist, and political activist working on progressive causes in Tennessee. Her band is the award-winning  Shelby Bottom String Band:
Roger Salloom, “America’s best unknown songwriter,” won 6 awards, was on the 2006 Grammy ballot, and received rave reviews across the US. A documentary film, “So Glad I Made It,” has been made about his life and career.  See

***M A Wynkoop, Dissent in the Heartland (2002), 32ff
††There’s no More Reds in the Union:
†††Bulldozer Blues:
Links to music of Salloom, Sinclair, and Mother Bear:
Links to music of Aceves/Narvaez and Homegas: