ORGANIZER 16: STEREOTYPES & SURPRISES
MORMONS, REDS, AND THE PLURALISTIC UNIVERSE [HUNTER GRAY JUNE 14, 2002]
Always a product of the Rocky Mountains and
their Southwestern cousins, I do know a good deal on a life-long basis about the LDS church and its faith
and its people. I don't see it as fascist in the remotest sense. It's
actually extremely pro-Indian in its theology and its practices. And its old
and traditional communal dimensions [it developed less than 200 years ago in
the era of American utopianism] are still much around in their own way.
Big Bill Haywood [born an Episcopalian] in his excellent and timeless
autobiography, Bill Haywood's Book: The Autobiography of William D. Haywood [New York: International Publishers, 1929 and many subsequent editions] starts out with his birth and childhood at Salt Lake City in the chapter, "Boyhood Among the Mormons" -- and he has very good words for them, especially the kindly old Mormon gunman, Porter Rockwell. [Always remember, too, that the great late-19th century outlaw, Butch Cassidy, was, along with most of his Hole-In-The-Wall gang, a Mormon boy.] I also suggest, while I'm suggesting, the excellent American writer, Wallace Stegner's splendid Mormon Country [many editions of this full and fascinating work since the early 1940s, and very easy to find -- my principal copy is from Bonanza Books at New York.]
But this is a socialist list -- so let's bring in a relatively contemporary
socialist with a good word for the Saints [as Mormons are sometimes called.] No lawyer was more committed to militant labor and civil liberties and radical socialism than the late Nathan [Nat] Witt of New York City. All of those dimensions came together in his extremely effective work, over many and many and many turbulent years, as chief counsel for the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers which was, of course, forced out of CIO in 1950. He was in battle after battle -- the mining bosses and the Federal witch-hunters and much more -- all through those very bitter Ishmaelite years until Mine-Mill and Steel merged in 1967.
Nat Witt's work for the Union carried him into all sorts of fascinating
places and situations. Much of this was in the rural Mountain West [and
immediate environs] where the real base of Mine-Mill had always been since its founding as the Western Federation of Miners in 1893. He was in Utah a good bit. There, at Salt Lake in October, 1952, Nat Witt very ably
represented many of the key Mine-Mill leaders against the witch-hunting
hearing/attacks conducted by the US Senate Internal Security Subcommittee [whose two primary spark-plugs were Franco-loving Nevada Senator Pat McCarran and the arch-racist from the Magnolia jungle, Jim Eastland.]
Mine-Mill, extremely multi-ethnic and very pluralistic culturally, had among others, many members indeed who were Catholic and many who were Mormon. With few exceptions, all of these and the entire core Mine-Mill membership always supported the Union. All the way through.
In that SISS Red-baiting hearings situation -- as in other Utah struggles
[e.g., Kennecott Copper] -- Nat Witt wound up being graciously invited by
Mine-Mill Mormon members to their extended family picnics. He got along well with all sorts of people and, although he knew nothing about Mormons in that sense, he was glad to come. And he became fascinated with their family closeness and their sense of ancestral lines and place. He sensed the strongly communalistic dimensions and appreciated those. For their part, not at all worried about incessant Red-baiting, they became fascinated with this New Yorker of Jewish background who also had a strong sense of family -- extended family -- and of many places over many epochs. In short, Nat Witt, Red lawyer for a Red union, got along famously with the Mormons of Deseret's Copper Country and they with him. And there were a number of picnics.
An Army buddy of mine from the early '50s was a Mormon kid from Utah -- a staff sergeant a little older than I -- who came from a very old and
well-placed LDS family. However, there was a significant ripple in all of
this. His still-sort-of-Mormon father, a fascinating ex-Wobbly copper miner turned CP, was head of the Utah Communist Party. When I visited my old Army buddy, his chain-smoking Dad played Joe Hill records for me [e.g., Tom Glazer's Folkways record.] Great family. The father had the complete leather-bound works of Lenin and it was at that point I decided I must, too -- and so I did and do. Fine, all-around Western American family.
And when I gave a major presentation on the Southern Movement at University of Utah in December,1964 -- the Birchers stirring up everything they could -- it was extremely well attended. Heavily so -- Mormons and Gentiles [non-Mormons] and copper miners and Reds and all sorts of other folks. We were on the inside where it was packed and warm -- and the Birchers were outside in the cold. I was interviewed extensively and sympathetically on the LDS radio station and by the Church paper, Deseret News.
And, as I say, right here in Eastern Idaho, where a lot of forces haven't
liked us one bit since we came [I have two loaded rifles always at hand],
some of our most loyal neighbors are Mormon: Indians, Anglos, Chicanos.
They help us and we help them.
It's a Big Cosmos -- and, as William James put it so well, a Pluralistic
Hunter Gray [ Hunterbear ]
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ADDED NOTE ON MORMONS AND REDS [HUNTER GRAY JUNE 14, 2002]
Over a year ago, I posted material vis-a-vis the PBS film dealing with
Jewish refugee academics finding a congenial base and productive refuge in Southern Black colleges [almost always private colleges.] I also added
material relating to American academic refugees from the Red Scare who
likewise found a base in the private Black colleges of the South -- and then I mentioned my very Marxist friend and veteran radical Phil Reno who taught for many years at Navajo Community College -- primarily at our Shiprock branch campus. Phil died in May, 1981. In my post, I spoke of the very moving memorial service at Shiprock which was led by Phil's very dear friend and colleague, Dr Bahe Billy, Dean of the Shiprock branch, and a traditional Navajo -- who was also a Mormon Bishop. And I noted approvingly that the service brought together a very large number of Indian people and old-time Western Reds!
Dr Borinski at Tougaloo [From Swastika to Jim Crow] and Phil Reno at Navajo Community College [Hunter Gray]
And there are other interesting and positive tales in this vein: the first
of the Native-controlled tribal colleges in the United States was Navajo Community College [now Dine' College], founded and led -- until his tragic death in '72 -- by a very close friend of our family, Ned A. Hatathli [or Hatathali.] Ned was quick indeed -- and very fortunate -- to hire Philip Reno, a Marxist economist and very well known radical as faculty member and as a general consultant: Phil, a New Deal figure, had been viciously attacked by Whittaker Chambers, had played a major role in the Henry Wallace/Progressive Party campaign in Colorado and New Mexico, served as a key economist for the left Cheddi Jagan administration in Guyana, worked for Mine-Mill, and much much more.
I was very privileged to teach with Phil when I, too,
at NCC -- in the 1978-81 period. [ I became chair of Social Sciences, based
at the main Tsaile campus and Phil was on the Shiprock campus -- but we were always, of course, very closely linked in a variety of endeavours.] Like Dr. Borinski, Phil Reno was a sharp and genuinely practicing multi-cultural entity and a very effective teacher/activist/radical in every fine sense. And like Dr. Borinski at Tougaloo, Phil Reno was very deeply admired and respected in the NCC community. Just before his death [May 1981], Phil presented me with an inscribed copy of his just out work: Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Economic Development: Navajo Resources and Their Use (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981). [I'm happy to say that this fine classic has since been reissued by UNM Press.] The outdoor memorial service for Phil Reno was held at Shiprock (N.M.). The invocation was given in Navajo and English by Dr Bahe Billy, a close friend of Phil's, Dean of the Shiprock Campus, a traditional Navajo who was also a Mormon. A large number of Native people -- mostly Navajo but from other tribes as well, were present along with academics -- and the most absolutely fascinating collection of old-time Western Reds ever gathered in such a setting. What a reunion! What a time! And the hot wind blew very hot sand thirty to forty miles an hour.
And that's about all I have to say on this at this point.
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [ Hunterbear ]
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