Highlander's Center's Sustainable Society
In the Highlander Research and Education Center, this humble correspondent(THC) comes perilously close to finding a perfect manifestation of the human potential for social progress. The Highlander Center(HREC) started as the Highlander Folk School seventy eight years ago this Fall.
Over the decades, the Appalachians and outlanders there grew multiple expressions of popular power. Among them were stands for community that would thrill Wendell Berry himself; a recognition of the role of the South, and of Appalachia, that matches THC's proclivities; an affirmation of the need for grassroots education in line with the highest international standards; a dogged determination to create a social democracy as strong as, and in many ways leading, the efforts of the most potent advocates of 'strong democracy;' and a complete commitment to a popular understanding of history and society in order to achieve community-based and community-led sociopolitical power.
The interlocutors in New Market, Tennessee have repeatedly expressed this continuing vision. "The founding principle and guiding philosophy of Highlander is that the answers to the problems facing society lie in the experiences of ordinary people. Those experiences, so often belittled and denigrated in our society, are the keys to grassroots power."
Various of THC's arguments--concerning TVA, resources and class conflict, the role of cultural output, among a couple of dozen others--directly reflect a path that Myles Horton, Jim Dombrowski, Don West, and hundreds of other intrepid HREC activists have potentiated in communities around the planet. A paradox, of course, stares out from that statement.
Why is the USA still so hidebound in its ignoble commitment to superiority, supremacy, and exceptionalism? Why do the dialogs of politics still bounce back and forth from reactionary lunacy to barely acceptable progress? Why does this country, given such Highlander magnificence as readers will soon experience, remain stuck in such unsustainable and backward practices and paradigms?
While no simple response to such queries, which demand deep delving and complex conceptualization and honest reflection, will ever satisfy any investigator worthy of the name, THC calls the twin difficulties of White supremacist thinking and a demonization of social democracy and Marx primary components of America's apparent devolution. To undertake such analysis is, to say the least, problematic.
Thus, the fact that community organizing has practically zero political backing from powerful media, as contrasted with Europe also plays a role in capital's often untrammeled dominance of discussion here. Moreover, people themselves, inasmuch as they complain without grappling with such matters as THC's articles have presented, are also responsible. 'Twittering' and 'sound-biting' and voting, unless one is witness to a world that THC does not see, has a chance to inaugurate transformation that ranges from slim to none.
A recent correspondent, arranging an interview for a future article, pointed this out in a plausibly interesting way. Building a movement might daunt true wizards, let alone the likes of THC, when all proponents of progress, and especially those who insist that any hope of moving forward necessitates a thorough engagement of depth textuality, are "facing the same problem, which seems endemic for everyone attempting to get a word in edgewise from the systems perspective into the piecemeal parceling out of everything these days into little feudal ideological territories."
Certainly, THC fits into no 'little feudal ideological landscape,' although my avowal of social democracy is clear and direct. Human survival depends on our learning to develop and accept the leadership of the masses as they insist that profit and property cannot take precedence over people and community. In other words, folks are going to have to find ways of sharing that they can stomach, sharing not just, or even primarily, resources, but parceling out power and influence to all and sundry as well.
Those who say, "I want sustainable business," or, "I know that renewable energy is the best bet," have yet to overcome this disconnect. To start with the premise that capital must rule, and that expertise must govern, may well guarantee that 'business better' is impossible.
To proffer a little lesson in how a model of 'business better' blossomed in East Tennessee, extending roots around North America and the world, THC returns to a necessary foundation for comprehension and consciousness. He returns to the annals of the past and begs enough attention to follow the thread of the tale.
To an extent, in both the essay about King Coal and the first article about TVA, readers have had ample opportunity to consider the history of the South. Readers have seen that the roots of both the advance of a White supremacist ideology and the ownership of Southern business by Yankee capital' were the same, the defeat of the slaveocracy.
Out of both of these crucial socioeconomic trends has grown--from the heart of the most backward region in the U.S.--a military-industrial-energy-government complexthat provides much of the political economic muscle for U.S. domination of the world. Empire, as Smedley Butler reiterated vociferously, consists of a gang of clever thieves backed up by the muscle of 'disposable troops', and always threatening, if citizens are so asleep as to allow such a coup, to spoil any hope of democracy.
Moreover, THC has developed at some length--many of my readers may say, "at insufferable length"--several central points about the way that 'democracy' of a sort does work in America today. Whether by long standing design or opportunistic selection, the only chance for majorities to speak--and this voting is their one avenue to rule--is on some particular Tuesday. Of course, one of these choice-filled Tuesdays approaches.
Unfortunately, part of the American imperial-power 'design' is a 'Two Party System' in which the socioeconomic origins of the two contenders' members differ slightly, but the political economic agendas of both parties are practically equivalent: empire, finance, and capital intensive, top down policy and technology rule the roost. This means that we have a Demopublicratican/Republodemicratican Party that has two different wings. But it's the same politics.
And so in Georgia, the candidates overwhelmingly promise even more corporate-pay-offs, ever more draconian attacks on workers from other lands, and harsher social policies that must inevitably lead to even more imprisonment than currently prevails, at the highest rate on earth, inside of the nation with the second highest such rates. And of course, outside of the categories of soldier and guard, not many jobs are available to the great mass of struggling folk, so a mean and angry tone to discourse is almost appealing to many people.
Occasionally, of course, a kind tone and wise words come from within the Democratic Party wing of the Republodemicraticans/Demopublicraticans. Cynthia McKinney was a Democrat until the party turned on her. John Lewis is as thoroughly progressive as a Congressman can be in 2010. Many local Georgia politicians have a long history in support of community struggles, social justice, living wages, renewable energy, and a deconstruction of what Hermann Scheer labeled 'Gunboat Diplomacy.'
But the 'power' that results from voting for a party that is imperial, anti-participatory, anti-sustainability, economically enslaved by financiers, and all-too-frequently out-and-out corrupt, is so paltry that the best possible face on the current electoral farce is that it serves a similar function as the 'bread and circuses' that Rome's elites provided to the 'lower orders' after the Republic failed there, lo these two thousand years ago. And the tiny segment of the party that is anything akin to community-based and progressive, let alone social democratic, remains a miniscule minority.
'Don't rock the boat,' 'Don't help our twins on the Red-Republican side of the party,' 'we all know that no other possibility exists.' And boy oh boy, that's where THC has been trying to get the point across that beau coup additional political organizations and methods are not only plausible, but also <a href="demonstrably effective around the world. So, really, the only question is, "when are Americans going to learn?"
And learning is what Myles Horton believed most important when he conceived a school that received its first substantial operating funds as a result of a fund-raising letter that Reinhold Niebuhr wrote on behalf of the vision of Horton, joined by other such stalwarts of the human prospect as Dombrowski and West.
For those who don't recall, Niebuhr was the Christian Socialist who ended up a fierce Cold-war critic of the Soviet Union and a vocal truth-teller about his own country's failings as well. His anti-radical notions predated this McCarthy-era stance, however; he rejected the Marxist tinged optimism of the 'social gospel' as impossibly utopian, even though he liked Myles' concept of a mountain school.
How this preacher of a vaguely socially democratic Christ, and popular teacher at Union Theological Seminary, ended up seeding such radical outbursts in Tennessee is one of those 'we ought to make a million movies' yarns. Though I would dearly love to reveal vast troves about the lives and times that gave birth to HFS, perhaps a brief soujourn into the journeys of Myles and Jim and Don will suffice.
Least heralded of the trio was Don West, whose North Georgia boyhood included lessons in Radical Republican anti-bigotry at the knee of his grandfather. He attended Berry College in Rome, the story of which is another 'million movie' saga involving Ford family money and all manner of radical Red and bizarre liaison.
When he fulminated a mass rally against the screening of "Birth of a Nation," which included false and bigoted depiction of African American rapine as justification for the KKK, Berry expelled him. He went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he led a protest "against campus paternalism," which also culminated in his expulsion, thought his fellow students succeeded in gaining his reinstatement. Upon his graduation, he enrolled at Vanderbilt's Divinity School in 1929.
James J. Lorence writes about this period of matriculation. "As a student West visited the Danish folk schools inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig, who advocated a curriculum based on folk tradition and cultural heritage." Because this visionary Dane "believed in the wisdom of the ordinary people above the educated and elite, and thought that it was the ordinary people who were capable of enlightenment," the schools that he facilitated might play a key part in positive social transformation, in the direction of justice, equity, inclusion, and democracy.
That, in any event, was the passionate conclusion of West when he encountered this North European model, in the process of which he also solidified his intentions to work with Myles Horton. James Dombrowski, whom West met through Myles, was the only one of the three collaborators who came from a family of means. His biographer even speculates that his parents ventured from New Jersey to Central Gulf-Coast Florida on the basis of such solicitations as this. This was a beautiful land, "marked by an absence of fevers, mosquitos, and negroes."
This child of relative privilege, coming of age in the worst phases of bigotry and chauvinism in that part of the world, soon developed a sensibility which rejected such ideation out of hand. He felt called to witness the insanity of color prejudice, the delusion of White supremacy. He graduated from the leafy quadrangles of Emory University as the 1920's dawned, restive for more experience of life and a sense of how a human being could contribute to human advancement.
His life and work gravitated toward organizing and otherwise providing assistance for wage-earners. By the end of the decade, he was studying at Union Theological Seminary(UTS), where he met Myles and found enough sympatico in his company that the two continued to correspond, even when Horton left to pursue studies in sociology in Chicago.
He spent more time in Atlanta, while finishing the UTS program magna cum laude, where he assisted both financially and energetically in the work of another radical Methodist in setting up a progressive press on the fringes of the Emory campus. He also ventured South for the organizing campaigns for mill workers in North Carolina, where, according to his annalist, he faced arrest on the suspicious that that he had conspired to murder the Sheriff of Gastonia County.
Despite his academic bona fides, the promise of a safe sinecure in Atlanta which his loving sweetheart approved, and a background of modest means, Dombrowski remained unsettled in his mind. "(T)he experience...of Gastonia had honed (his) conscience too sharply," perhaps, for him to consider anything except a life of service to working people.
Thus, when Myles Horton wrote about the potential for Dombrowski's joining him and Don West at the new 'folk school' that they were establishing, he became obsessed with becoming a part of that process. Despite the misgivings of his wealthy fiance, who foresaw dangers of many sorts in a Southland communitarian experiment, he successfully raised his ante to this game by appealing to Norman Thomas for introductions to such well-heeled 'angels' of 'liberal causes' as Ethel Clyde, the widow of the scion of the Clyde Steamship Lines, upon whose generosity he relied in financing his first year in Tennessee.
There, of course, he joined West and Myles Horton, who had befriended Don West on the basis of their mutual interest in folk schools that served community empowerment and overall enlightenment. Even more so than West, Horton's early life was one of limited economic prospects.
Myles' parents, both school teachers and reverent Christians, did however believe in the uplifting potential of education, definitely a shaping influence on one of the world's premier community educators. A United Auto Workers eulogy to Horton stated the matter in these words.
" Myles Horton was raised in a home that knew the struggles of poor working people. The grandson of an illiterate mountain man, his parents were both schoolteachers and devoted to God and community. His Mother’s motto of 'God is love and therefore you love your neighbors' was deeply instilled in young Myles."
Another chronicler discerned further early evidence of humanizing, and therefore radicalizing, influences. "Myles Horton, a leader in the youth group of his Cumberland Presbyterian Church, also saw the seamier sides of life working as a store clerk after high school hours. He observed leading citizens who cheated on their bills and some who quietly paid bills for African American children suspected of being their offsprings."
This observer continues that "Horton found his life work when, in Ozone, TN, he learned that adults, once they shared their problems, knew what must be done to resolve them, but needed advice on the best way to achieve the resolution." This last experience, teaching at a Summer Bible Camp, occurred as he finished up his undergraduate degree at Cumberland University, just prior to his application to and acceptance at Union Theological Seminary.
There just as the economy collapsed, exposed to the benefits of a more unionized environment, and ever more aware of the contradictions of capitalism, he continued his studies of Danish folk schools, eventually visiting Scandinavia in 1931, returning convinced about the importance of this model. However, he did not complete his divinity degree, instead turning toward the radical sociologist Robert E. Park, of Chicago.
Another delving of Horton's life summed up how his Yankee learning activated the young man. "He returned home believing that he must embrace the everyday notions of the poor and educate them to act and speak for themselves, and gain influence over public decisions impacting their lives. These ideas would be central to the educational philosophy and operation of the folk school he was contemplating.
One of Myles' cohorts, Reihhold Niebuhr's daughter, the publisher Elizabeth Sifton, quoted from Horton's memoirs in her monograph, The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War, and confirmed the still youthful Appalachian's commitment to practical education, instruction that served his community base. "He was in his own words a mountain man from Tennessee. 'I went to Union because I had problems reconciling my religious background with the economic conditions I saw in society...I wanted to see if I could get help on my ethical ideas...I went to learn things that would be useful when I returned to the mountains'.
Myles and Jim and Don were all embroiled in these conversations about ethics and economic justice, about education and political power. Sifton continues, "By the Spring of 1932, he had worked out plans for an interracial school that would serve the impoverished people of Appalachia."
Thomas Heaney quotes a pithy statement from Horton's autobiography, The Long Haul, which speaks as well for THC. Without purpose, life flashes by as a pointless exercise. The greater one's education and capacity to think about the world, the more this is true. Thus, according to Horton, "Intellectuals need movements to make their efforts count."
In his monumental, and still powerfully valid, Black Reconstruction in America, W.E.B. Du Bois writes about the distortion and intellectual dishonesty-- Black ignorance, Black corruption, Black sloth--that in the 1930's characterized history teaching about the period of the Civil War and its aftermath. In harmony with what Horton sought in New York, ideas that he could take back to the mountains for purposes of creating transformative education, Du Bois recognized that learning about the past was fraught with falsehood.
This led him to make a pertinent statement for today's JustMeans readers. "(P)ropaganda like this...has led men in the past to insist that history is 'lies agree upon'; and to point out the danger in such misinformation." In keeping with a resistance--by both Horton and his friends, and the masterful Du Bois-- to this misshapen presentation of the past, THC asks in this article, 'What do Americans today learn about the Civil Rights Movement?' The following is a simplistic but accurate summary of what a popular textbook might convey to a reader, in terms of a summation.
'White people like Gunnar Myrdal noticed Jim Crow discrimination. The Federal government and courts started to stick up for Blacks. MLK and other spiritual leaders played primary parts in instigating or guiding protests. Congress passed laws because enough legislators outside the South realized that freedom was good. Now, America has equality under law even if a few little problems persist.'
While these misleading and woefully incomplete characterizations do not evince the vicious bigotry of earlier texts, they are useless for an insightful understanding of what did happen. What did happen involved, among other important factors, communities seeking change, radical organizers of all stripes, and a 'trickle-up' movement that washed away one face of oppression in the USA. Those who listen will surely learn.
ANOTHER TVA-ERA TENNESSEE UPSURGE OF REFORM
This first installment about HREC examines the period leading up to WWII, for similar reasons as the initial examination of TVA used a similar periodization. The harsh social demands and devastating economic outgrowths of the Depression helped to induce all manner of innovation that sought to address the horrific underlying conditions of the 1930's version of socioeconomic meltdown. Moreover, the coming of war finally elicited an apparently ongoing uptick in demand, and hence in production, and hence in wages, and hence in a social comfort all of which may have appeared paradoxical in the context of the period of mass murder transpiring across the globe.
In 1932, the South both seethed and went hungry, it both threatened to explode in revolutionary rebellion and showed signs of reactionary rebellion, it both contained coherent communities based in mutual assistance and undermined any cross-cultural deepening of such coherence. In 1932, the South was a place that Myles and Jim and Don intended to engage at the community level so as to bring people opportunities to learn about both the sources of their woes and possible solutions to those problems.
In a letter from Horton to Dombrowski, Myles had written to describe the school that he sought help in establishing. One might note that, at that juncture, a 'great evasion' of Marxist thinking was not at issue. The elevation of the working class was the only way to save humanity's collective skin bag.
"Our task is to make class-conscious workers who envision their roles in society, and to furnish as well, technicians for the achievement of this goal. In other words, we must try to give the students an understanding of the world in which we live (a class divided society) and an idea of the kind of world that we would like to have. We have found that a very effective way to help the students understand the present social order is to throw them into conflict situations where the real nature of our society is projected in all its ugliness."
The operative result of this engagement was the Highlander Folk School. As we shall see--and to some extent, already have seen, this early iteration of HREC proved an effective midwife to movement in different social sectors, beginning with the right of working people to express some collective strength in their workplaces. Myles Horton, definitely a communist sympathizer; Jim Dombrowski, an avowed radical with social democratic leanings; and Don West, a communist organizer and long standing critic of capital's cupidity and vicious disregard for anything that stood in the way of profit; and thousands of others associated with HFS, such as, a bit later, the young Martin Luther King, Jr., were clear "which side (they) were on."
A violent, murderous, conspiracy of capital immediately preceded the foundation of HFS. The Wilder Coal strike was one of many incursions by daring Mineworkers organizers into the daunting coal fields of Appalachia.
Myles Horton and Don West were there in every capacity: as cooks, as runners, as logistical advisers, as political conversationalists, as strategists, and more. Both men went to jail. Myles received a murderous beating that testifies to his physical prowess, a lean mountain fellow who knew how to roll with the punches.
He uncovered a plot to murder Barney Graham, the UMWA leader of the strike, about which the local constabulary did exactly nothing. When "Graham was shot to death April 30, 1933, (t)heir leader dead, the strikers returned to work without a contract and under near starvation conditions. Said Horton, 'If I hadn't already been a radical, would have made me a radical right then.'"
On one occasion, Myles "was arrested, jailed, and charged--as he later humorously recalled--with 'coming here and getting information and going back and teaching it.' He was released the following day. To Horton the strike was a conflict situation from which he, Highlander students, and the miners could learn. He and Highlander students helped solicit and distribute emergency food and clothing. Some strikers thought him a "Red." Others appreciated his and Highlander's help and good intentions. Violence continued."
Myles Horton and the HFS coterie practiced what they preached, laying bodies and even lives on the line to bring about social and economic justice. One commentator provides a quote which graphically illustrates the HFS process of engagement, development, and action. "There's much to learn from how things get started. You can't cut off the top of a tree and stick it in the ground somewhere and make it grow--you have to know about the roots."
Frank Durham writes of how HFS learned and taught. "Early on, Highlander's formal relationship with the Congress of Industrial Organizations showed great promise for supporting the school's worker-centered leadership of the labor movement. Beginning in 1937, (HFS) was contracted as an official labor school for the CIO and engaged to help in the organization's 'Dixie Drive.'" This comprehension of the role of the South and the acceptance of grassroots leadership was transformational.
But as this author points out, and as we will see in greater detail later, the resurgence of both anti-communism and White supremacy as WWII came to a fiery, bloody close, and the Cold War launched its insidious stranglehold on the American way of life, doomed this synergy that had worked so well. And the rate of union membership has plummeted from 40% or more to 10% or less of the labor force.
At the same time, that Highlander work focused on workers--so much so that the official HREC timeline calls these "the labor years," HFS also sought to advance the actual equivalency of all cousins, regardless of their coloration or nationality. Form its inception, the school operated as an interracial live-in community,where people of color and Anglo Americans and the not infrequent foreign interloper could dialog, commune, connect, and consider the nature of the human condition together.
That this was unheard of in all but a few hidden places in 'Dixie' is nearly impossible for young people to follow now. On the other hand, the statement is undeniably and demonstrably true, that 'race-mixing' might easily result in summary execution of Blacks who 'cross the line' and savage beatings of Whites who permit such social sacrilege.
So many historians have delved this territory that one may call the conclusion indubitable that Highlander was the midwife to the birth of a modern civil rights movement, along with the Communist Party of the United States and attendant radicals. The birth mother to the movement, of course, were the brave people from the communities of the South that insisted that, as humanity was their due, they would collect what was coming to them.
Moreover, those who came into contact with Myles and Jim and Don generally left the encounter singing, or at least humming a tune. From the outset HFS sang and otherwise practiced political art as part of the art of politics. When a young woman whose father was a virulently anti-union mine owner came to visit, she was most enthralled by the sessions away from class, when music rose in waves that echoed from the ridges. She was also enthralled enough with Myles Horton that she soon married him.
His wife first saw her future husband singing. As one historian of women Highlanders has written about 'Zilphie,' "In 1935, Zilphia Johnson came to Highlander to attend a six-week labor workshop. She had just completed a degree in music and drama at College of the Ozarks. According to Charis Horton, her daughter, Zilphia was a classically trained musician."
Already, song was at the center of so much that happened at Monteagle, whatever the weather or the particular political prognosis. The annalist of womens' contributions to HFS continues. "In The Long Haul, Myles Horton (1990) discusses the importance of music and culture in the methodology for his new mountain school. However, he also attests to the fact that neither he nor his friends who had come from Union Theological Seminary, knew any other kind of education other than a classical education. In those first years, sometimes they gave lectures on Socrates to farmers. Because Zilphia Johnson Horton was a trained musician, she was able to incorporate music and drama into the educational methodology. She worked with labor leaders and union organizers to rewrite songs to teach about their situation."
Finally, THC notes that the chronicle of HFS's early environmental education, its commitment to sustainable agriculture, its powerful voicing of the rights of women and children, each aspect of which is equally worthy as what appears above, make no appearance here. However, one may rest assured that they will show up, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, in the next installment of a Highlander history. They are certainly not less important, even if they did not command the forefront of the HFS stage as the Depression wore on and on toward war's unavoidable bloody lance.
Toward the end of his autobiography, Myles Horton spoke about the precise nature of the 'long haul' that his title imagined. He probably wrote these words with the wry grin that peeks out from many of the photos of him from the period. THC's source for this quotation is an obituary that the UAW, a union that to this day offers 'worker schools' that do seed some semblance of social transformation, proffered in appreciation for Horton's great life of service.
"To get something like this going in the first place you have to have a goal. That goal shouldn't be one that inhibits the people you're working with, but it should be beyond the goal you expect them to strive for. If your goal isn't way out there somewhere and isn't challenging and daring enough, then it is going to get in your way and it will also stand in the way of other people. Since my goal happened to be a goal of having a revolutionary change in this country and all over the world, its unlikely to get in the way in the near future."
That such a standard operating procedure also involved internal conflicts and fissures should certainly come as no surprise. The next installment of this ongoing saga will also deal with some of these splits and offshoots of working for justice.
This inevitably too brief and simultaneously far too lengthy depiction of our now deceased cousins in HFS left out vast quantities of beautiful struggle and mundane marvel. However, more reporting about this miracle in the mountains of Tennessee is upcoming. What JustMeans readers do with the knowledge is an open question, though THC would hope for some sort of nexus of reflection and action. Myles and Jim and Don would appreciate it.
The HREC suggests why a substantial payoff might accompany such a focus.
"Highlander’s work is grounded in the simple but radical premise that those most directly affected by social and economic problems should take the lead in solving these problems. Since its founding in 1932, Highlander has played a vital role in many of the most important social justice movements in the South and nationally, including the labor movement, the Civil Rights movement, the environmental justice movement, and the global justice movement."
The relationship of HREC to the coal miners is only one indication of the profound impact of capacitated communities on energy questions. A modern member of the radical grassroots intelligentsia whom readers will ultimately meet in these pages, Jeff Biggers, speaks again and again to this point.
In The United States of Appalachia, for instance, one reviewer contends, in regard to Biggers' work that "(f)ew regions in the United States confound and fascinate Americans like Appalachia, and yet no other region has been so misrepresented by the mass media. With humor, intelligence, and clarity, Jeff Biggers's groundbreaking work shows how a remarkable procession of innovators from the hills of Appalachia have defined and shaped the great American experience, from the American Revolution, to the abolitionist, labor, civil rights, and environmental movements, to the highest endeavors in literature, journalism, music and the arts."
As a native West Virginian, THC cannot help but feel a slight swelling of pride at this synopsis, so much friendlier than "The Beverly Hillbillies." At the same time, given the awesome passion and incisive validity of what HFS taught to people, demonstrating repeatedly the route to successful negotiation of social justice and democratic empowerment, THC and any ponderer about the conundrums of the past and present would have to wonder, both why so few average folks have heard of HFS and why more communities have not modeled their efforts on the teachings of Horton and his cavalcade of cohorts.
Professor Thomas Heaney, of National Louis University, having clearly analyzed this troubling query at length, offers guidance to those willing to follow. He entitles his disquisition, "When Adult Education Stood for Democracy" and gives both rationale for and implications of answers that make sense.
*About the 'prophet's' troubles in its own home area: "This is not to suggest that Highlander was (or is) without friends in the South, but rather to suggest that if there needs to be a war, most people would rather see it fought elsewhere;" and further, "Highlander, as prophet and critic, is more easily honored from an academic distance than emulated in practice."
* About the general cultural impediments to revolutionary development: " Education cannot change this situation alone, except in the context of a social movement (that must inherently challenge)our individualist and narcissistic tendencies to look only to our own interests."
*About institutional and systemic blockage: "The process obviously yields programs which derive their shape and content from the social context out of which they emerge, but at the same time, frequently provide an unwelcomed unveiling of embedded contradictions to powerful social and political institutions."
*About the educational resistance to HFS paradigms, despite their demonstrable success--a point to which Horton's daughter spoke in her Ph.d. dissertation at the University of Chicago: "This activist stance has been more frequently admired than imitated--(a)s Aimee Horton points out, these ideas were not unique, but Highlander's uniqueness was in the 'living out' of these ideas, actually putting them into practice; (m)ost educators, even those concerned about the social relevance of their work, would prefer that the action follow at another time and another place--far from the sanctuary of privilege which now enshrines most adult education practice;"
*About what his all means for such human audiences as the readers at JustMeans, who say they want sustainability, 'business better,' and renewable energy, among many other indisputably progressive changes: "(S)upport, especially in times of crisis, came from outside the South," and HFS survival--the Southern leadership of transformation that has emerged from the likes of HFS, depended on such external backing.
A direct lineal offshoot of HFS is The Daily Yonder, a grassroots media and organizational tool for Appalachian communities. Editor Chuck Shuford entitles his encomium to the life of Myles Horton and the magnificence of HFS and HREC, "What Happens When You Don't Own the Land." He inaugurates his extensive essay, from which follow extensive and 'lively' comments, with quotations that serve admirably as fundamental tenets of what the experience of HFS teaches to pupils paying appropriate attention.
He prefaces these quotations. "There have been plenty of theories about the causes of poverty in Appalachia. But too little time has been spent discussing the region's wealth and who owns it." Louis Brandeis, who grew up in Louisville, speaks first. "We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
Nina McCoy, a high school teacher in Martin County, Kentucky then adds, "The democracy thing? It isn’t working. Here, our democracy is being held hostage by our capitalism." The 'hostage' can only hold out so long without some mutual consciousness on the part of far flung communities of cousins that we must rise to the occasion as we've never done before.
One recent chronicler about Highlander looks askance at the pink tinge apparent in the organization's background. In an article subtitled "Socialism's Success," she argues "Why the MLK holiday should be repealed." Basically, the rationale is that, even if all the folks at HFS were not commies, they tolerated communism and radical thinking.
While folks now might shake their heads and say, 'well, that was then,' one need only point out the vast nausea flooding the airwaves on any given day--about the ridiculous notion that Barack the Magnificent is 'socialist,' not to mention the assumption that such an eventuality would be bad; that radical revolutionaries' plotting the overthrow of capital necessitates Tea Party threats against the lives and well-being of anyone who calls for change; and a further ten thousand examples from the 'wing-nut' center of American media over the past year--to suggest that the pattern continues.
So long as this "Great Evasion" persists, 'sustainable business' is a fantasy.
Reinhold Niebuhr published "The Serenity Prayer" toward the end of the period under consideration in the heart of this article. Its resonant veracity has comforted many psyches facing extreme discomfiture. In more ways than are just this second expressible, its poignancy is apt in relation to thinking about HFS.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
For purposes of this essay, in which America's generally vast, and some would say willful and therefore intractable, cluelessness about the past is a necessary concomitant, we might deconstruct and apply Professor Niebuhr's words in the following manner. The first step is to accede that the past is ineluctable, whatever regrets and resentment might linger therefrom.
The second step consists of a related recognition, that we can never fully comprehend the past, anymore than we can fully articulate our own existence or a grain of sand. Because of its complex many-sidedness, the past is impossible to perfect.
The third step is to recognize that, the past is the only conduit to understanding the present, a discomfiting fact in light of steps one and two, but 'there you have it,' as the saying goes. The fourth step, a statement of paradoxical pragmatism in relation to step two, is that we must struggle to make sense of the past, even though anything akin to exact conceptualization will remain elusive.
The fifth step is to use the consciousness that results to improve our own lives and the lives of those cousins who cohabit the earth along with us. The 'serene grace' is to nod wryly at inescapable ignorance, step two. The 'courage to change' emanates from willfully abandoning a willful attitude of the 'know-nothing' set, and to engage learning what is possible, capacitating self and community with as deep and rich a knowledge of history as is plausible. Such an action, such a 'distinguishing,' such a commitment, would truly represent 'wisdom.''
"Would you like to swing on a star, and be better off than you are," crooned the songsters of the period under review; "or would you rather be a pig." The Highlander model is not enough to achieve social transformation toward 'business better, sustainable prosperity, renewable energy, social justice', and so on. Various assessments, not the least those that originate from the Center itself, attest to the absolute necessity of empowered communities, a systems-approach to thinking about the issues that concern us, and more.
On the other hand, something like HFS must comprise a core component of human survival in the trials ahead. That assertion resonates with the ring of fundamental truth. MLK agreed, Paolo Freire agreed, and plenty of folks wiser and more potent that THC agree as well. At the least, readers ought to consider what they're missing if they do not immerse themselves in this sort of enterprise, not matter the length and rambling meandering which that entails.
Myles Horton justified the title of his life story by saying, "When it comes to a commitment to social justice, 'I'm in it for the long haul.'" Bill Moyers wrote the preface for the autobiography, the most highly touted book among readers that I have ever encountered on the book site GoodReads.com. A Tennessee historian quotes the veteran journalist in a way that gives a fitting close for folks to consider at this juncture.
"(F)ew people have seen as much change in the American South or helped to bring it about as much as has Myles Horton. 'He was beaten up, locked up, put upon and railed against by racists, toughs, demagogues and governors. But for more than fifty years, Horton went on with his special kind of teaching--helping people to discover within themselves the courage and ability to confront reality and change it.'"
That this thinking fits, in an 'if and only if' fashion, with renewable energy and sustainability, I rediscovered in the banner of the Tennessee History website hosted by James P. Jones, who wrote the Myles Horton eulogy that contained the Bill Moyer quotation. In bold 18 point type, the headline, the only text in this prime space, italicized a simple sensible mandate that flows unstoppably, both from THC's imprecations, and from Highlander's message and method: "Post Nuke: Make It Your Choice."