What a tiny world! So Allen Zak knows both Jeff Blankfort and myself from before
we knew each other. If his memory of the year of my Ohio State adventure is
slightly off, the story itself is fun enough to be worth retelling. And since this
is a restful Friday evening at home after a long hike in the Oakland hills, I'll
simply copy it from Saying No To Power:
"From the English Department of Ohio State University I received [in 1961,
Allen] an invitation to speak at a showing of the film [Operation Abolition, about
the 1960 HUAC hearing in San Francisco, presenting HUAC's point of view: the
demonstrating students 'were toying with treason'] and comment on it. It was
signed with a most marvelous name, Henry Orion St. Onge. From its style I picture
a white-haired Yankee who looked like Emerson. When I arrived I learned that the
reason he had invited me was because of my use of the English language in my
testimony. The tape was, in fact, used in numerous English, Speech, and Rhetoric
classes across the country for years. St. Onge turned out to be a brand-new Ph.D.
in his mid-30s, but I was right about where he came from: New England but of
French-Canadian workingclass origins.
"Opposition by the John Birch Society, the most influential nationwide
far-Right organization of that period, caused the university president to withdraw
permission for my appearance. There was much faculty support for St. Onge. When
the Birchers tried to put the governor of Ohio on the spot over this in a press
conference, he responded in a way that hadn't been heard in 15 years. He said he
thought the students were mature enough to make their own judgment on what the
speaker would say.
"As it turned out, I spoke in St. Onge's back yard, from his kitchen steps, to
an audience in which plainclothes types equalled students in numbers. He had
posted a sign above his steps: 'The Thomas Tusser Society Presents William
Mandel.' Afteward I asked him who Thomas Tusser was. A 16th-century English
pastoral poet. And what was the Thomas Tusser Society? Well, in the cafeteria one
day he had rejoiced at discovering one other grad student in English who had heard
the name, so their coffee klatches thereafter had been dubbed the T.T.Society.
Since I had been denied any kind of official sponsorship by the university, and
was, he said, 'in the classical English tradition of verbal utterance' (I made a
note of that!), I deserved to be presented by the T.T.S. And besides, finding out
who T.T. was would give the Birchers and the FBI something to do. Subsequently he
had someone who could do fine calligraphy make me a 'certificate of honor' from
"That evening I had an indoor lecture at the Columbus Unitarian Church, so
packed by students, eight hundred or so, that they were quite literally hanging
into the windows. The ruckus over my appearance went on daily in the student
newspaper for a month thereafter. The faculty senate was still dealing with its
aftermath a year later. In retrospect it occurs to me that the ongoing debate
among Ohio State students can only be explained by the times. Educated youth felt
it had to face its conscience and convictions. Up to then, anti-communism as
presented by the House Un-American Activities Committee and the FBI had been the
holy writ upon which their schooling in civics and government had stood. And now
they were grappling with the possibility that the king was naked.
"My Ohio State contretemps became an early part of the history of student
activism in the '60s. It was described in an article in Atlantic Monthly, later in
an Atlantic book, also in a paperback on the John Birch Society. St. Onge was
fired from a teaching job at a Nebraska university for which he had received a
contract just before the incident. The matter went to the American Association of
University Professors, which published a long report in its journal three years
after the event, censuring Nebraska's Wayne State and compelling it to reinstate
the cotnract or reimburse him. Meanwhile, St. Onge, out of work, took his family
to New Zealand to be out of the way of the H-bomb war he and a very large
perecentage of Americans expected. I did not. His wife, a folk singer, wrote me
from there that the Kiwis were as dull as the sheep that covered the hills. Not
the New Zealanders I knew a generation later. The Ohio State incicent was also
treated in the 1970 book, Foster and Long's Protest! Student Activism in America.
Fourteen years later, I woman living a block from us [in Berkeley] brought over a
visiting high school teacher from Seattle who had attended Ohio State in 1961. Our
neighbor had told him beforehand that I lived nearby and he had carried down
photographs of me speaking from St. Onge's back porch, and said I had affected his
life ever since. I said nothing new on that occasion, so this must have been the
first time he encountered the ideas I was expressing, or at least in a fashion
that got through to him.
"St. Onge was not the only academic to lose his job for sponsoring
> Well, okay, then, here's one for you.
> In the late 50s when I was a student at Ohio State University, William Marx
> Mandel, according to the Columbus Citizen Journal, which never published the
> name without featuring Marx, was invited to speak at OSU by a student
> organization. Altho not involved in political activity at that time (I was
> a fraternity guy then), I was interested in hearing the views of a real live
> Marxist and so planned to attend.
> Then the University canceled the event on grounds that any invitation to
> had to originate with faculty advisers. So faculty adviser Henry St. Onge
> issued an invite. No good, replied the University, the invitation obviously
> did not originate with St. Onge since Mandel had already been booked. So
> much for free enquiry.
> But Mandel did come to Columbus and spoke off campus, first in St. Onge's
> back yard and then at the First Unitarian Church. It was quite an earful for
> me, and in the week surrounding these activities I learned more about
> politics, democracy, press-titution and academic hypocrisy than in all my
> previous education.
> The CJ ran a photograph of one of the appearances, referring to the audience
> as "starry-eyed" students, which I suppose included me. While I can't say
> the experience turned me to a lifetime of activism, it was certainly another
> step in that direction.
> Allen Zak, starry eyes and all
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