Left Justified: Communists and Redskins

Left Justified: Communists and Redskins

By Stanley Campbell

Ever notice how “reds” are the perceived enemies of the United States? We slaughtered millions to acquire Native American Indian lands. And the “red” flag of socialism caused a red scare in the 1920s and ’30s, and even into the ’50s and ‘60s. One of the victims of that red-baiting time will be coming to Rockford Saturday, March 22, to share her story. Musician, artist and political activist Ronnie Gilbert will speak about her life, sing a few songs and read from her one-woman musical, Mother Jones. In the ’50s, her joyous contralto and vibrant personality enriched the celebrated singing group, The Weavers. The group sold records in the millions, bringing folk singing into the musical mainstream for the first time. Their hits included “Good Night, Irene”, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and “Wimoweh.” Those were communist songs?

During the McCarthy era, The Weavers were branded “subversives.” Blacklisted from radio and TV, the quartet’s meteoric rise was halted. The story of The Weavers is told in the documentary, Wasn’t That a Time which is available at the Rockford Public Library.

In 1963, Ronnie, while raising her daughter Lisa, began to build a solo singing career, which flourished with national concert tours and joint performances with folksingers Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger (Pete was one of the original Weavers and is still performing). She visited Rockford twice in the ’80s, and I helped bring Ronnie Gilbert to town on April 15, 1985. I should remember because I had to skip the program to be interviewed for my present job as director of Rockford Urban Ministries.

This program is sponsored by Rockford Urban Ministries and Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts, and is co-sponsored by Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee, the Rockford Public Library, Social Responsibilities Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, Rock River Friends of Folk Music, and WOMANSPACE. We also got generous support from Bob’s Hardware. It seems they have their hand in a lot of good things.

An Evening with Ronnie Gilbert, Saturday, March 22, in the main sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner, Rockford. Program begins at 8 o’clock. $15/$18 day of show, call 815-964-2238. Purchasing your tickets in advance would be helpful.


The board of trustees of the University of Illinois are in hiding. Well, not really hiding, but every time they meet at their Champaign-Urbana campus, they are accosted by anti-Indian mascot protesters.

Let me get this straight: there are people opposed to the U of I’s Chief Illiniwek symbol. Apparently, every major Native American group that’s taken a stance has come out against retaining the student performers who dress up like an Indian and dance to the U of I band during the sporting events. Various Big Ten schools including the universities of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, have condemned the “Chief.” The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the NCAA Minority Opportunities Committee, and even the University of Illinois’ own Chancellors Committee on Diversity have suggested retiring Chief Illiniwek. So the board of trustees, which is elected by the citizens of Illinois, haven’t met on their main campus in almost two years. They came to Rockford instead.

Here are my comments before the Trustees of the University of Illinois, Thursday, March 12, 10 a.m.:

“Welcome to Rockford. This is the land of Black Hawk. He was not a chief, but he was a real person. He was a warrior. He fought for his people’s land after the United States government stole it. There are lots of things named after him: gas stations, schools, sports teams. I don’t think he’d appreciate the way we remember him. I am the executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries. Twenty-five churches pay me to raise social justice issues in the area. That’s why I’m here today.

“I am very concerned how minority populations are treated by our major institutions, especially Native Americans.

“There’s no more Native American tribes in Illinois. They lost their land through war, seizure and subterfuge. We’ve stolen so much from them; I hate to see us steal their dignity. I have heard that Native American groups have asked the University to retire their Chief Illiniwek. I concur. It is so unseemly for a large institution of learning, a university, the major university in the greatest state in the Union, should have a mascot for its sports department that demeans Native Americans.

“Maybe it was OK in the 1920s, back when lynching was considered a good way to keep races quiet, but please, not in the 21st century. Please, as a resident of Illinois, as a tax-payer, as the director of a church social justice organization, I plead with you to retire the Chief.

The University of Illinois board was so impressed that they immediately voted to rescind the Chief as a mascot. And pigs may fly out of my butt.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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