The Speaker’s Millennium Lecture with Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel is the guest at the Speaker's Millennium Lecture 2001, held at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives House Chamber in Harrisburg, PA. Terkel gives a lecture on the importance of remembering history and answers questions from the audience about a variety of subjects.

00:03Copy video clip URL Tape begins with an intro segment featuring shots from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

01:02Copy video clip URL Cut to an overhead shot of the front of the hall. The Cumberland Valley High School Jazz Band is playing music for the audience as they await a lecture to be given by Studs Terkel later that evening. While the band plays, audience members slowly file in.

19:37Copy video clip URL Speaker Matthew J. Ryan takes the podium and introduces the various members of the House in attendance. Speaker Ryan acknowledges the fact that the lecture taking place tonight marks only the second time in nearly two hundred years that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has been open to the public for the viewing of a lecture.

24:38Copy video clip URL Speaker Ryan gives Terkel an eloquent introduction. He also asks Terkel if he can explain how he ended up with the name “Studs.” A wide-eyed Terkel then takes the podium and says, “Oh, Mr. Speaker. First of all I’d like to thank the Speaker and all of you here for the honor of appearing in this magisterial hall that has seen so much history made. As to the question he asked, how I got the name of Studs–oh how I wish it were what you think it was but it wasn’t!” Terkel then tells an amusing story about a time in which his name got him in a little trouble. He also tells a story about his friend, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who told Terkel he should be a preacher because of his big mouth.

28:40Copy video clip URL Terkel begins to talk a little about himself, specifically when he was born, what his morning routine is nowadays, and his opinion that the younger generation has no sense of history. “I think we’re suffering from what I call a ‘national Alzheimer’s disease.’ That is, there is no memory of yesterday.” Terkel gives a few examples that reflect his point. He then recalls a story in which he had a conversation with a couple while waiting for the bus. The couple was not receptive to any attempts Terkel tried to make with them, which irked him quite a bit. The audience seems to enjoy the story.

36:08Copy video clip URL Terkel states that the theme of his lecture is his feeling that the U.S. is suffering from a “national Alzheimer’s disease.” He goes on to talk about the Depression, The New Deal, and World War II. He also talks about the technological age and its negative effect on society. He recalls his troubles using recording equipment and how those troubles benefited him in his interview process. The fact that Terkel was technologically inept gave the interviewee a better sense of trust in Terkel and in turn, gave him more revealing interviews.

43:08Copy video clip URL He then talks about the technological age and how it has affected culture and language. Terkel states, “Our language, itself, is becoming mechanical and robotized.” He tells a hilarious story about an experience on the Atlanta airport monorail with a young couple who entered the rail car late, which in turn made the entire monorail train go behind schedule. He then goes on to make his main point about the effects of technology on society.

45:46Copy video clip URL Terkel expresses his hope and faith in the American people. He states that he believes that the American people are very intelligent and emphasizes the need for historical knowledge among Americans. He then ends his speech by reciting a quote from William Sloan Coffman Jr., a chaplain at Williams College and opponent of the Vietnam War.

48:25Copy video clip URL Terkel begins to take a couple of questions from the audience. The first question he answers is having to do with the actual definition of liberal. Terkel goes into detail about how he calls himself a “radical conservative.”

51:26Copy video clip URL A woman asks Terkel about his interviews with Dorothy Day, a journalist/activist; his relationship with Paul Robeson, an American actor, athlete, writer, and activist; and whether or not he has any plans to write a play about them. Terkel responds by talking about Robeson and the age gap in this country.

53:29Copy video clip URL A man from the audience asks Terkel to talk about some of his work on race relations in this country. Terkel talks about his book “Race” in great detail and some of the people he talked to and included in the book.

57:19Copy video clip URL A man from the audience asks Terkel about the historical nature of the last century, specifically the music and stories of the thirties and the forties. Terkel responds to the question by talking about the role of the Cold War in the second half of the century. Terkel states that the thirties and forties were a little bit more carefree in a sense when it came to music and stories.

01:00:31Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel whether or not America would have been denied the oral histories that Terkel is responsible for if Terkel had never been born. Terkel responds to the question by panting excitedly and saying, “You flatter me!” He explains that oral history will always be a part of society no matter what.

01:02Copy video clip URL:26 An audience member asks Terkel about his thoughts on President Eisenhower’s concept of the Military Industrial Complex and how important it is to be wary of it in this day and age. Terkel places great importance upon the concept and commends Eisenhower for it.

01:03:31Copy video clip URL A man from the audience asks Terkel how he thinks history should be presented differently in order to avoid the onset of “national Alzheimer’s disease” among the nation’s youth. Terkel responds by talking about the fact that history needs to be about the anonymous, more lesser known individuals involved with the larger events of the past because they were just as much a part of that history as well.

01:06:02Copy video clip URL A young man from the high school jazz band asks Terkel about the difference between Harry Truman’s attempts at social programs in comparison to Franklin Roosevelt’s attempts at the same. Terkel responds by talking about the Cold War’s effect on Truman’s presidency.

01:06:45Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel what activists of today can learn from the activists of the past. Terkel emphasizes grass roots campaigns and how they are the best way to make changes, especially at the local level.

01:07:46Copy video clip URL A woman asks Terkel what he thinks are the positive changes that came from women entering into politics. Terkel believes that it is a tremendous advancement in American politics and that the role of women in politics is an extremely hopeful sign.

01:09:15Copy video clip URL A man from the audience asks Terkel to talk about three of his past interviewees that he would love to spend a day with. Terkel talks fondly of George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Terkel then leads into a story about a memorable interview with C.P Ellis, former grand cyclopse of the Ku Klux Klan in Durham, NC. Terkel recalls his story with much ardor and passion. The story itself has a great lesson and is very hopeful. Terkel receives a standing ovation from the crowd. After Terkel finishes his speech, Speaker Ryan takes the podium and thanks Terkel for his being there. Shortly after that, Dr. James Douthat, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, steps up to the podium and expresses his gratitude to both Terkel and Ryan.

01:21:54Copy video clip URL Tape ends.

 

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