[Interview with Studs at the Chicago Historical Society]

This is an interview done for an exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society. Studs Terkel is interviewed before a live audience talking about Chicago neighborhoods and his opinion on social issues like gentrification, employment, and urban migration.

00:00Copy video clip URL Tape begins immediately with interviewer Angel Fabbian Herrera explaining why he wanted to interview Studs for the exhibit.

00:40Copy video clip URL Studs compliments the two videomakers, Angel Fabbian Herrera and James Duke. He congratulates “the new chieftain” [President] of the Chicago Historical Society, Professor Bunch. “The challenge of Chicago got him.” Studs suggests that Herrera is nervous about the interview. “I’ve seen the work that I know is the first work of two really serious filmmakers.”

02:15Copy video clip URL Studs talks about the audience being “part of the neighborhood of the city.” He says that the Loop is not the heart of Chicago, although he is proud of it; the heart of Chicago is its neighborhoods. Herrera asks Studs how he defines “neighborhood.” Studs says Chicago is the archetypal American city. He describes immigrants from Europe and the “internal migration” from the deep south.

04:36Copy video clip URL “Chicago is a city called Heaven by the African-American sharecroppers.” Studs describes the steel mills and the stockyards in Chicago. He talks about modern immigrants from Mexico coming to Chicago for work: “We, America, have benefited from these people. They comprise these neighborhoods.” Studs says skyscrapers were not built by only architects, but also by steel workers, etc.

06:27Copy video clip URL Herrera asks Studs why it’s important for people to care about what happens in Chicago neighborhoods. Studs talks about how “role models” have disappeared from the black community–not the doctors and lawyers, but steel workers and union leaders. He speaks about diversity and says that “human beings are struggling to make a decent life for themselves. ‘Community’ is another word for ‘neighborhood’ and that’s what we have to keep.”

08:10Copy video clip URL Herrera asks Studs what the best thing about living in Chicago is. Studs talks about coming to Chicago as a young boy from New York who had asthma. He says the wind from the stockyards cleared his asthma on his very first day here. “There would have been no skyscrapers without Chicago. It was once the city of a thousand railroad trains. Chicago to me is terribly exciting.”

09:51Copy video clip URL Herrera asks how we can control gentrification. Studs says, “Oh, boy!” He says there’s nothing wrong with young people moving into an inexpensive neighborhood. Studs recalls when Lincoln Park was becoming gentrified and tells the story of one family who was forced to move every year. Stud says he asked a developer what happens to the people who used to live in a place that is being developed. The developer says “they go out there” and he pointed west. “There’s nothing wrong with urban renewal — or urban removal — as it was called way back, but something needs to be done to keep those neighborhoods.” Studs describes how during the New Deal, the housing projects were a nice place. “‘Remove’ is the word, rather than ‘stay and make it better.'”

14:25Copy video clip URL Herrera asks whether Studs thinks expressways replacing Urban Renewal was generally a good thing for Chicago. Studs talks about a woman named Florence Scala living in the Hull House area. “It was the most exciting area in Chicago at the time” because of all these different ethnic groups surrounding the area. He talks about University of Illinois-Chicago being built right where the Hull House was, when there were so many other areas available. Studs talks about a friend visiting from England who said the UIC building itself reminded her of a medieval fortress.

16:51Copy video clip URL Studs recalls being at the Salem Baptist Church with Mahalia Jackson, but the church is not there anymore. Now there is an expressway. He talks about how a community is demolished for an expressway for cars to go faster, “as if we need cars to go faster.” He tells a story about a community where the neighborhood people were mourning whose block would be knocked down first. But one woman from the neighborhood, Mary Lou Wolf, refused to let the expressway take over her community. Studs says these kinds of stories inspire him and give him hope.

18:40Copy video clip URL Herrera asks Studs what kind of work he did before the radio show. Studs says he went to University of Chicago Law school, “but I was not cut out to be a lawyer.” He talks about working as a “dumb Chicago gangster” on a TV soap operas. “But you always get killed. Your tenure is very short. So you not only get killed but you lose your job!” Then he became a disc jockey at WFMT and had a TV/Radio show called “Studs’ Place” back in 1950 when TV was very new.

22:10Copy video clip URL Studs talks about signing anti-Jim Crow and Poll Tax petitions, and how he was “canned” for “being a Communist” and having a “big mouth.” “Suppose Communists come out against cancer, do we have to come out FOR cancer?” He goes on talking about hearing Woodie Guthrie records on WFMT as well as classical. Studs says he worked for WFMT for 45 years.

23:48Copy video clip URL Herrera asks how the job market has changed. He says that outsourcing jobs and mechanizing many tasks has changed everything about the working world. Studs says he sounds like a “dinosaur” when he talks about the evils of the internet, but insists that we’re losing ourselves. Studs tells a story about a man from Youngstown, Ohio who was featured in his book Working whose job was taken over by robot. “But now we’re in the world where the man is imitating the robot.”

26:40Copy video clip URL Studs talks about being in the Atlanta airport, and there being a mechanical voice on the trains. A couple rushes into the train doors and the mechanical voice says “because of late arrival we will be delayed 30 seconds” without missing a beat. Studs, feeling isolated and adrift in such a mechanized landscape, leans over to a baby and asked, “Sir or Madam, what is your opinion of the human species?” and the baby started giggling. “And I say, ‘Thank God! A human voice!'”

29:30Copy video clip URL Herrera ask Studs to tell of his most interesting interview. Studs says he’s “gotta end with this story.” C.P. Ellis of Durham, North Carolina was “the most hopeful interview I ever had.” Ellis, former grand cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, now travels, fighting for union rights. Ellis was taught that black were to blame for the troubles in his life. “They put that hood on me, and me poor white trash, I felt like I was somebody.” The community was integrated but the schools were still segregated. Studs says Ellis hated a woman in his town, Anne Atwater, who was leading protests. After a long period of clashing, Ellis and Atwater finally had it out at a community meeting. Somebody nominates Atwater as chairman and a black man nominates Ellis as co-chair “because he’s an honest man.” Atwater comes in one day crying because her daughter is being picked on for “going around with a Klansman” and Ellis talks about his son experiencing the same discrimination. They realize they’re the same. Ellis talks about one of his former friends refusing to be seen with him, walking on the other side of the street. Ellis is later hired as a custodian at Duke University, and works with mainly black women. Ellis says he is going to run for full-time as the head of the union; he was elected despite his own doubts. “Me and those women, we’ve got a 5th grade education, but every time the university sends lawyers down from Harvard, we hold our own with them. Now I feel like I’m somebody.”

36:40Copy video clip URL Studs finishes his story and the audience applauds for quite a bit of time. Moderator says there is time for two questions. First question is a man asking for advice. “What can be done to restore/maintain the sense of community, are there good examples?” Studs says there are many examples, he talks about a woman fighting gentrification. Another woman, a high school history teacher, asks if Studs has insight about teaching history to kids to give them more enthusiasm about their community. “I like bottom up history, in which the heroines are the non-celebrated people.”

41:53Copy video clip URL Studs says Tim Black is “one of the most remarkable teachers in Chicago.” Black asks Studs what advice he would give to this audience of how to unify people, whatever their differences. Studs encourages young people to ask their grandparents and parents about their lives, and that moves on to neighborhoods. “We’re suffering from a national Alzheimer’s disease.”

44:14Copy video clip URL End of tape.

 

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