Will The Circle Be Unbroken?

The Glenview Community Church Adult Education Board presents Studs Terkel speaking about his new book Will the Circle Be Unbroken? featuring "reflections on death, rebirth, and hunger for faith." Terkel speaks to a packed church in Glenview, IL.

00:00Copy video clip URL Tape begins with black screen.

00:15Copy video clip URL Title screen.

00:45Copy video clip URL Fade in to an overhead shot of the church congregation. The pews are  packed to the rim and overflowing, with some of the attendees even sitting on the floor near the altar. The host of the event introduces Larry Carlson, Glenview Village President, who says a few words about Terkel. Carlson lists many of the awards Terkel has won over the years and his innumerable activities. He also declares the day, “Studs Terkel Day,” in Glenview. On a very personal note, Carlson also commends Terkel for his literary work, specifically the book Hard Times.

03:40Copy video clip URL Minister Howard Roberts takes the microphone and introduces Terkel. “He’s a wide open thinker, who has a grand world view that encompasses the least, the lost, and the left behind. … We invited Studs here to share with us about this book [Will the Circle Be Unbroken?], but more importantly, to share with us, out of his wealth of living ninety years, how he deals with his own mortality. My observation about him through his writing and his recent interview on Phil Donahue on MSNBC is that heaven may be his home but he’s not homesick. As he would say, he’s had a great run, and if he kicks off in our presence tonight, he’s enjoyed it all and lived life to the fullest. He said he wants his epitaph to read, ‘Curiosity did not kill this cat.'”

05:12Copy video clip URL Terkel takes the podium and begins his speech. He jokes with the crowd about the fact that he “feels a sermon coming on.” He tells a brief story about his big mouth and how a friend of his–Mahalia Jackson–suggested that he should have become a preacher. He gets a few laughs throughout his introduction.

06:34Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about the main point of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? “The sermon I suppose is a simple one: death shall have no dominion.” Terkel then talks a little bit about some of the books he has written in the past, including Working and Hard Times. Terkel also discusses his motivation for writing a book on death. “What’s the one experience none of us have had, but all of us will have? Well obviously it’s death, so how could I resist that challenge at the age of eighty-eight?” Terkel then describes a couple of characters from the book: Bob Gates, a former Brooklyn policeman; and Tommy Gates, a former Brooklyn fireman, who were previously included in the closing chapter of Working. Terkel recounts an interesting story about Bob Gates in which he stopped a suicidal person from jumping off of the World Trade Center building. Terkel also shares a story about Tommy Gates and his father’s impending death.

11:52Copy video clip URL Terkel humorously points out that he is an agnostic. “Oh by the way I should point out in a church, I’m an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is: a cowardly atheist.” He then talks about his envy for those who are very devout, his belief in living life to the fullest, and how the book is actually more about life than death. “We know since it’s finite, life is precious.” He then moves on and begins to speak about one of the characters in his book, Matta Kelley. He recounts the story of her rise from being a drug addict and prostitute to becoming a case manager for drug abusers in the Chicago area. He presents the story with a great sense of care and compassion, as if he cherishes each word that had been given to him by Kelley. Each passing utterance blankets the congregation with a warm and calming atmosphere, enthralling every audience member into a collective quiescence. This is truly Terkel at his best.

17:50Copy video clip URL Terkel tells a story about Mamie Mobley, an African-American school teacher and mother to Emmett Till, a young African-American boy who in 1955 was brutally murdered for addressing a white woman in public. Terkel begins by talking about the Emmett Till case and how his death had affected Mobley. The story is quite moving. Terkel chronicles the situation as if it were his own, injecting Mobley’s true feelings on the matter into his account. He describes the circumstances that led to the brutal killing of the boy, which left his body unrecognizable. “Mamie Mobley wants to know about her boy. She wants to see her boy. And so reluctantly, the state of Mississippi sends up Emmett’s body, whatever there is of it, in three coffins. An old friend of mine, Sammy Rainer, now dead, was an alderman too, a black undertaker. Sammy Rainer says to her, ‘Mrs. Mobley, you don’t want to see your son, do you?’ meaning he’s not there. She says, ‘Yes I do. Maybe they got rocks in there, I want to see it.’ So they open it up and she looks at her son; eye here, leg there, and it’s a sort of pieta in words. Then she says, “Nobody was ever scarred as much as he except for one person–Jesus Christ. And if Jesus died for our sins, what did Emmett die for?” Terkel admits to not being able to finish the book with that story and proceeds to tell the audience about the last chapter and epilogue in the book. He recounts the stories of Dr. Marvin Jackson, a doctor, and Kathy Fagin and Linda Gagnon, two lesbian mothers. Terkel gracefully takes the congregation through both stories and ends his speech by stating that “family values” are all about one thing: love.

24:55Copy video clip URL Terkel then begins a question and answer session, allowing the audience to ask questions about the book and anything else they would like to know. Terkel is asked what he liked most about the civil rights movement. He responds in a very thoughtful manner. “I think without the civil rights movement there wouldn’t have been any feminist movement. There wouldn’t have been any talk about ageism. And so out of that sprang all the other movements and in a sense helped liberate, to some extent, the great many of us.” Terkel goes on to state, “But basically I think it’s the idea that one sort of liberation liberates the rest of us as well.”

26:50Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel about his thoughts on how the U.S. can stay out of a nuclear war. Terkel responds with a zealous, “Oh boy. I knew that one was coming.” With his hands in his pockets, he comfortably begins to explain his thoughts on democracy and the right and duty to say no to the voice of authority. He makes a joke about John Ashcroft being three hundred years old, and compares him to a character from The Crucible. Terkel then refers to George W. Bush as a “wanton boy.” “This sounds like a horrible thing to say, but it’s a free democracy, and it’s not only my right, but my duty to say how I feel.” Terkel then brings up W.C. Fields and compares his style of comedy to the President’s actions. He then quickly moves on to talking about Albert Einstein and the dangers of nuclear weaponry. Terkel emphasizes the need for society to “learn to be sane.”

32:14Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel if the issue of euthanasia ever came up while he was doing his interviewing for Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Terkel begins by saying that euthanasia is a very personal question. He explains that he believes that the person who has the most right to decide is the patient himself. “If a person has the capacity, that person who is about to die must make the decision, more than a doctor, more than husband or anybody.” Terkel then talks about the fact that he needs help with his tape recorder when conducting interviews, and that he gets the help he needs from the interviewees themselves. This in turn, gives those being interviewed a stronger sense of significance during the interview. Terkel refers to himself as mechanically inept, which gets a few laughs from the audience.

35:40Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel about the lessons that he has learned from speaking with Holocaust survivors. Terkel explains that the most important lesson he learned from those experiences is the imperative to live life with dignity, and in a Holocaust survivor’s case, to survive with as much dignity as possible.

36:54Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel which one of his books he would like to be most remembered for. Terkel responds in a somewhat perplexed manner and seems to honestly not have an answer. He then talks a little bit about his book, “The Good War.”

37:51Copy video clip URL Someone asks Terkel whether he thinks culture today is less civil than it was in the past. Terkel responds by saying that is a hard question to answer. He talks about the technological age and how it has affected culture. 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 paradigm of civil society.

42:22Copy video clip URL Someone from the audience asks Terkel who was the most surprising interviewee he has ever gotten to interview. Terkel says that it was a man by the name of C.P. Ellis, former Grand Cylcops of the Ku Klux Klan in Durham, SC. He tells Ellis’ story with much compassion and vividness. The audience is overtaken with a sense of calm through the story.

50:47Copy video clip URL Minister Howard Roberts expresses his appreciation to Terkel for speaking at the church and tells him that “all agnostics are welcome to the congregation.”  Terkel is then escorted to the lobby area to sign copies of his new book.

51:56Copy video clip URL End credits begin. Footage of Terkel signing book is in the background.

52:23Copy video clip URL Tape ends.



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