Why the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., James Earl Ray returned to Toronto

The Star 

 

After killing Martin Luther King Jr., the veteran thief planned to use the Big Smoke as his path to freedom, author explains

June 06, 2010, Geoff Pevere  

James Earl Ray was a veteran thief and accomplished jailboard who had previously obtained a false identity in Toronto. Now he was back in town.

It was early in the evening of April 6, 1968, that there was a knock on the door of 102 Ossington Ave. It was answered by Feliksa Szpakowski, who had a room on the second floor for $8 a week. 

According to author Hampton Sides, the man on the other side of the screen probably struck the middle-aged Polish woman like this: “He’s hard to read. He mumbles. He’s kind of hard to understand. He averts his gaze, but he looks fairly innocuous. He dresses well and he is usually wearing a suit. I think he was wearing a suit that day. Kind of average height, average weight, very difficult face to remember. He didn’t look like an assassin.” 

But he was. Two days earlier, in Memphis, Tenn., the man on Szapkowski’s doorstep — who was calling himself Paul Bridgman and claimed he worked in real estate — had fired a fatal bullet through the face and neck of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Although Szapkowski thought it odd that a real estate agent would be seeking a cheap room in one of Toronto’s more rundown ethnic neighbourhoods — 102 Ossington was just north of the Queen St. mental hospital and across from the gym where Cassius Clay, now know as Muhammad Ali, had trained for his bout against George Chuvalo — she took the money and left her new tenant be. 

James Earl Ray was back in Toronto. 

As Sides, Memphis-born author of Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King and the International Hunt for His Assassin, explains over the phone from his home in Santa Fe, N.M., Toronto was a city the killer knew. It was in Toronto that he’d acquired his false identity as Eric Galt, and it was largely for that purpose that he returned. 

A couple weeks shy of a year before, the man who would soon be calling himself Paul Bridgman — also known as Eric Galt, but born James Earl Ray Jr. — had escaped from the Jefferson City Penitentiary in Missouri. A veteran thief and experienced jailbird, he’d hidden himself in a large metal box beneath dozens of loaves of bread. He’d been on the run ever since, scheming how he might make his mark. He’d considered a career as a pornography director, had taken a course in bartending, and thought he might join a mercenary army in Rhodesia. At some point, he also decided he’d rid the world of the civil rights leader named Martin Luther King Jr. 

Only one of these plans worked out. 

It led him back to Toronto. 

Sides explains. “It was a city he knew. He had gotten his earlier identification from Toronto. Eric Galt was actually someone who lived in Toronto. So I think he had gone there expressly to get identification in a city that he knew. He probably had some criminal contacts there, and he was trying to get to London and ultimately to Rhodesia. I guess he figured with good reason that there’d be lots of flights and being part of the Commonwealth, it would be a fairly direct way to get there.” 

 

Ray was no stranger to cheap rooming houses. Indeed it was from the shared bathroom of one of them, which backed onto the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, that he fired the shot that killed King. After fleeing that building and that city in his white Mustang, he’d driven to Atlanta — King’s home — and hopped a Greyhound bound for Detroit. Mexico was an option, but he settled on Canada as an easier escape route to Rhodesia, where he anticipated both haven and a hero’s welcome for what he’d done. 

Says Sides: “He had taken a bus all the way up there from Atlanta and was desperately trying to find some new ID for himself, because he knew it was only a matter of time before they would figure out, they were looking for this guy Eric Galt. I don’t think he thought they would figure out they were looking for James Earl Ray for a while, but the name Eric Galt was bound to turn up pretty soon. So he had to scramble and get some more ID. Which he did pretty quickly.” 

And dedicatedly. Szapkowski barely saw her new tenant, who left the television on all the time and only seemed to emerge to buy cheap food supplies and newspapers. Dozens of newspapers. Once, she came upon him with a bundle of them under his arm. As she later told police investigators, “I noticed how worried he looked. I thought maybe he was worried about his family. I really thought he might be from the mental hospital down the street.” 

One of his local destinations was the office of The Telegram. From the newspaper’s microfilm archive, he acquired names of people born roughly when he was — the early 1930s. Following a procedure he’d once read was practised by Soviet spies in Canada, he wrote down about 10 names — one of which was Ramon George Sneyd — and headed back to Ossington Ave. If the names corresponded with a number in the Toronto telephone book, he’d write down the address and then surreptitiously hang around the person’s home until he was satisfied they looked enough like him to qualify as an alias. In Scarborough, he scoped out two candidates — Bridgman and Sneyd — then went back downtown and, brazenly, called them up. 

Posing as “a registrar with the Passport Office in Canada,” he’d ask if they’d recently filed for a passport. If they hadn’t, or if their old one had expired, James Earl Ray would attempt to seek one out in their names. It was easy and it worked. He eventually acquired one in the name of Ramon George Sneyd — in real life, of all things, a cop — and in the process bore out what was once the unofficial motto of the Canadian customs and immigration office, and the title of one of Sides’ chapters: “Canada Believes You.” 

Worrying, however, that his landlady or the police might not, Ray as Bridgman left the newpaper-strewn room at 102 Ossington and moved around the corner to 962 Dundas St. W. There he rented a room under the name Ramon Sneyd and awaited the processing of the new passport. It took longer than he liked. By now the world was focused on the manhunt for Martin Luther King’s killer, and it would only be a matter of time before the trail to Toronto was tracked. Although Ray didn’t know it at the time, apprehending King’s killer had been made a No. 1 priority by the FBI, in no small part because J. Edgar Hoover was worried his own agency, which had long stalked and harassed King as a potential enemy of the state, might be tagged with the murder. 

One day, a distracted Ray walked out into a busy Toronto street. A cop spotted him jaywalking and asked the man if he knew he’d broken the law. A ticket was in order, and the cop asked Ray for his name and address. 

From his past he pulled both: another phony name and the address of a brothel he’d once patronized at 6 Condor Ave. 

Ray took the ticket, paid the $3 fine, and headed back to 962 Dundas Ave. His time in Toronto was clearly coming to and end. 

By the time James Earl Ray boarded a plane bound for London, a month to the day after his arrival, Toronto had lost its dull sheen as a good place to hide. This newspaper had plastered his photograph on the front page (under the headline: “FBI SAYS THERE WAS CONSPIRACY — MYSTERIOUS SEAMAN SOUGHT IN KING DEATH”) and his ex-landlady attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince her husband that the man in the picture was her former tenant Paul Bridgman. “You’re crazy in the head,” Szpakowski’s husband apparently replied. 

After Ray was caught trying to board yet another plane in London, authorities would retrace his steps back to 102 Ossington, and they’d come knocking at the same door. Suddenly, Szpakowski didn’t seem so crazy. 

When, 40 years later, Hampton Sides came to Toronto to research Ray’s month here, he was astounded by the discrepancy between the Dundas-Ossington neighbourhood he’d read about in his research and the shiny, bustling, cafe-strewn strip he encountered. 

 

“It didn’t seem down at the heels at all,” he told me. 

And so it isn’t. Forty-two years after Martin Luther King’s assassin quietly stalked these streets in search of newspapers and new identities, they have been transformed into a model of upscale urban renewal, sprinkled with shops, boutiques and restaurants largely patronized by people not even born when the killer came to town. Even the old “mental hospital” has experienced a multimillion-dollar facelift. 

The effect was jarring, but it amused Hampton Sides. After all, the same thing had happened to two other “down at the heels” neighbourhoods where Ray had hid out: the once-grotty Memphis neighbourhood that housed the Lorraine Motel, and the part of London “Ramon Sneyd” had tucked himself into after fleeing Toronto. Both are hipster havens. 

“It makes you wonder,” Sides speculates, “if he had some kind of strange radar for urban renewal. Maybe he really should have been a real estate agent.”

Toronto house that hid James Earl Ray up for sale

April 08, 2010,  Rob Roberts

 

By Steve Darley, National Post

For sale: Two-bedroom detached home in Riverdale, with upstairs office, parking, and a notorious history.

The house, a former brothel at 6 Condor Ave. near Pape and Danforth, briefly housed a fugitive James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King. The American civil rights leader was gunned down on April 4, 1968.

According to a CBC report, Ray used the house for at least one night shortly after he arrived in Toronto, on either April 6 or April 8, 1968, and gave it as his address after Toronto police stopped him for jaywalking.

The house goes on the market today at $550,000. The listing agent, Gary Sylvester, didn’t appear yesterday to see the house’s history as a selling point.

“My understanding is there is nothing factual to prove those allegations at this address,” Mr. Sylvester said.

“I would say that properties at different times have different stigmas associated with them, for different reasons, where something factually has transpired in the property, maybe someone was murdered. Things like that are going to affect the value of the property. There is nothing on this property that we feel is a stigma, per se.”

According to the CBC, Ray stayed in a number of rooming houses around the city until May 6, when he flew to London, England.

The report said Ray travelled under a number of aliases as he tried to evade a worldwide manhunt. Toronto police stopped Ray for jaywalking on Monday, April 8; he told them his name was Eric S. Galt and his address was 6 Condor St. There is no Condor Street in Toronto, only a Condor Avenue.

The CBC said the Condor Avenue address was known to police at the time as a brothel, owned by George Kapakos and Jeannine Roberts, who was also the madam. During testimony in 1977, Ray said he got the address from a Lonely Hearts Club advertisement in an adult magazine. According to the CBC report, neighbours said Mr. Kapakos was always armed and that the “place got shot up one night,” which led to undercover police surveillance becoming a regular occurrence.

Police also found a Toronto map, belonging to Ray with 6 Condor Ave. circled, along with two other rooming houses. Ray was finally arrested on June 8, 1968, at Heathrow Airport in London. In March, 1969, he pleaded guilty to murdering Mr. King.

Kim Denyer, a daughter-in-law of the current owners, said they had been there for more than 20 years and were unaware of the property’s colourful history when they bought the house.

The Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician

 

The New York Times      


May 3, 2010
By ZEV CHAFETS

In early December, Julián Castro, the newly elected mayor of San Antonio, visited the White House to attend President Obama’s national jobs-and-economic-growth forum. Castro was one of only five mayors in attendance and, at 35, the youngest. When his turn came to speak — the subject was the creation of green jobs — the president looked at him, midway down the long conference table, and said: “I thought he was on our staff. I thought he was an intern. This guy’s a mayor?” The other participants — world-famous economists, environmentalists and politicians — burst into laughter. 

“Of San Antonio, Tex.,” Castro said evenly. 

Obama grinned. “I’m messing with you,” he said. “I know who you are.” 

Castro was neither flustered nor flattered by the president’s bantering familiarity. Of course Obama knew who he was — gate-crashers might make it into White House social events, but they don’t get to the table of high-level West Wing policy meetings led by the president himself. Castro smiled politely at Obama’s jest and then proceeded to the business at hand, delivering prepared remarks about employment and the energy market in San Antonio. He is cerebral, serious, self-contained and highly efficient. If he were an energy source, he’d be zero-emission. A video of the event shows the president listening intently to Castro’s presentation and nodding occasionally, Harvard Law ’91 silently encouraging Harvard Law ’00. 

A few days before the meeting, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited San Antonio and told the mayor that he was “on the radar in Washington.” The morning of the meeting, Castro was included in a small working breakfast hosted by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; Valerie Jarrett, one of the president’s closest advisers, was there, too. Castro was being noticed and auditioned. It had been about a dozen years since another brilliant young man from San Antonio, Henry Cisneros, regarded by many as the emerging national leader of the Hispanic wing of the Democratic Party, lost his political future in a sex-and-money scandal. Cisneros’s implosion left an opening. For a while, Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, and Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, were Great Hispanic Hopes, but scandals eventually knocked them out of contention too. 

A lot of very smart people, not all of them in Texas, see Julián Castro as the favorite to fill the leadership void. “Julián really stands out,” says Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, an associate professor of Chicano and global studies at U.C.L.A. “There are other talented young Hispanic politicians around, but few have his stature or national potential. He’s from San Antonio, but he’s very much admired in California. He’s like Obama — one of us, but someone who also comes out of a broader American experience.” 

Castro “has all the assets to become the next favorite son,” is how John A. Garcia, a political-science professor at the University of Arizona, puts it. “He has an elite education, which has given him a national network, and a quiet, serious public persona that appeals to a lot of younger Hispanic voters,” Garcia says. “People look at him and say, ‘Finally, we have somebody who won’t screw up.’ Of course, he’s still young, and he might be too good to be true, but if I were betting on the next national Hispanic political leader, I’d bet on Julián.” 

In 1984, Mexican-American political activists were thrilled when Walter Mondale publicly considered Cisneros for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. But second place no longer seems such a great prize. “In 1984, there were 20 million Hispanics in America,” according to the political activist Antonio Gonzalez, who heads the William C. Velasquez Institute. “Today, we are 50 million, and more and more people are registering to vote.” Who they will vote for and what issues will cement their party loyalty is one of the great questions of American politics. This year Democrats hope to exploit the ire among Hispanics over the new G.O.P.-inspired law in Arizona that empowers local police forces to crack down on illegal immigrants. 

Mark McKinnon is prepared to be more explicit about the long-term stakes. An early member of George W. Bush’s inner circle in Austin, he knows Texas political talent when he sees it. “Julián Castro has a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States,” he says flatly. 

Julián Castro is the son of Rosie Castro, a well-known ’70s firebrand who was among the leaders of La Raza Unida, the radical movement in Texas that was dedicated to defending the civil rights of Mexican-Americans and promoting a strong “Chicano” identity. One of Castro’s first acts as mayor was to hang a 1971 La Raza Unida City Council campaign poster, featuring his mother, in his private office. But this was a gesture of filial loyalty, not of ideological solidarity. A Democrat, Castro is a pragmatist, sometimes unpredictably so. He supports free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, advocates an energy policy that includes fossil fuels, believes in balanced budgets and refers to David Souter as his ideal Supreme Court justice. Like a large plurality of his fellow San Antonians, Castro is a Roman Catholic, but he was the first San Antonio mayor to be grand marshal when he marched in the annual gay rights parade, and he is pro-choice. “We disagree on this, the pope and I,” he says with a smile. 

Nothing seems to ruffle him. Recently, after Arizona passed its tough immigration law, most Hispanic politicians reacted with fury. Some even compared the decision to apartheid. Castro, through a spokesman, phrased his own opposition to the decision in characteristically understated and inclusive language, saying, in part: “Texas has long been an example of how two neighboring countries can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way for the American economy. A law like Arizona’s would fly in the face of that history.” 

Julián Castro seems entirely comfortable expressing views on national and international matters normally outside the purview of first-term mayors. He and his identical twin, Joaquín, are scions of the west-side barrio political machine their mother helped build, and they were raised with the expectation that they would be leaders, young men of personal excellence and public spirit. They were the undisputed stars of Jefferson High School, where they played on the tennis team, earned top grades and skipped 10th grade. In their spare time they accompanied their mother to political events and strategy sessions, where they were exposed to her fiery style of radicalism (which, in any case, was softening over time); met the key figures in the Chicano political world; became practiced community organizers on political campaigns; and learned to make the system work for them. 

“Joaquín and I got into Stanford because of affirmative action,” Julián says. “I scored 1,210 on my SATs, which was lower than the median matriculating student. But I did fine in college and in law school. So did Joaquín. I’m a strong supporter of affirmative action because I’ve seen it work in my own life.” 

In college, Julián majored in communications and political science and tied his brother for most votes in the student senate election their junior year. During the summer of 1994, he was a White House intern. (“You think I look young now, you should have seen me then,” he says.) When Joaquín did not get into Yale Law School, the brothers settled for Harvard. Julián joined Alianza, an Hispanic organization at the school, and served on the Law School Council, but his thoughts were on San Antonio politics. In his last year at Harvard, he decided to run after graduation for the City Council seat that had eluded his mother, and he was so eager to get going that he held his first fund-raiser among his fellow students in Cambridge. He won that race and took a seat on the council in 2001. The following year, Joaquín was elected to the Texas State House of Representatives from a district that includes San Antonio. The Castro boys were back in town. 

“Julián and Joaquín were young but not new,” Jim Dublin, a veteran San Antonio political consultant, says. “We’ve been reading about their exploits in the paper since they were at Jefferson High.” 

A place on the San Antonio City Council doesn’t come with a salary, and the Texas State House of Representatives, which meets only 140 days every two years, pays what averages out to be about $16,000 annually. The Castro brothers already had day jobs at the local branch of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a major law firm with offices around the world. Later they started their own practice. A celebrated personal-injury case, in which they represented victims of a fatal drunken-driving accident, earned them enough to comfortably continue their political careers. 

In 2005, Julián ran for mayor. His opponent was the retired judge Phil Hardberger, a Democrat who was a decade older than the combined ages of Julián and Joaquín. Rosie Castro cast a shadow; Julián found it hard to raise money in the Anglo business community, and he worked hard to reassure voters that he was not just a barrio candidate. “When I represent, I represent everyone,” he said. He won a plurality in the first round of balloting but narrowly lost the runoff to Hardberger. It wasn’t just the Rosie factor that hurt. Hardberger’s predecessor, Ed Garza, was widely regarded as lackluster, and voters weren’t in the mood for another boy wonder from Jefferson High, as Garza had been. Four years later, Hardberger retired from office, and Castro captured City Hall in the first round of balloting. At 34, he was the mayor of the seventh-largest city in the United States. 

SAN ANTONIO is located in south central Texas, about 150 miles from the Mexican border. Like Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City, San Antonio swallows its suburbs and expands as it goes. You can fit Chicago, Boston and Miami into the city limits and still have room for Manhattan. At the center of this sprawl is the old town of San Antonio, built by the Spanish in the early 18th century. And at the heart of the old town is the Alamo. When I visited in September, the small mission and the plaza surrounding it were full of tourists of all ages. “This place means so much to so many people,” says Bruce Winders, the curator and historian of the Alamo, who, with spontaneous Texas hospitality, had volunteered to serve as my guide. “Folks come here as pilgrims. They want to see the cradle of Texas independence. To those from around the country, it reinforces their identity as Americans. To Texans, it says, ‘You are part of this story.’ The Alamo is a place that helps parents pass their history along to their children.” 

The Alamo, where a small band of volunteers held off the Mexican Army for 13 days, inspiring the ultimately successful fight for Texas independence, is run by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. For a decade, according to Winders, the Daughters have been trying, in vain, to get permission from City Hall to put up some explanatory signs on municipal property bordering the plaza. He attributed this failure to “ideological hostility” in a city where some people take a dimmer view of the Alamo. People like Rosie Castro. 

I met the mayor’s mother in her office at Palo Alto College, where she runs a student-services center. She was born in San Antonio in 1947 to an immigrant mother who didn’t get past fourth grade; she didn’t meet her father till she was 34. To Rosie, the Alamo is a symbol of bad times. “They used to take us there when we were schoolchildren,” she told me. “They told us how glorious that battle was. When I grew up I learned that the ‘heroes’ of the Alamo were a bunch of drunks and crooks and slaveholding imperialists who conquered land that didn’t belong to them. But as a little girl I got the message — we were losers. I can truly say that I hate that place and everything it stands for.” 

That evening I dined with the mayor and his wife, Erica, at Rosario’s, a large, upscale cantina favored by young businesspeople and political types. Erica is a consultant to math teachers, four years Julián’s junior, who grew up on the south side hearing tales of the amazing Castro brothers. Julián and Erica met one summer when he was home from Harvard, and then dated, mostly long distance, for eight years. 

The mayor asked about my session with his mother. “She hates the Alamo,” I said. 

“Yes, I know,” he said with what might have been a slight smile. 

“What about you? How do you feel about it?” 

“The Alamo?” he said. “It’s the largest tourist attraction in Texas. And tourism is one of San Antonio’s major economic engines.” 

I mentioned that the Alamo’s curator complained that the city wouldn’t give permission to put up signs on municipal property. 

“I’ve never heard that before,” Castro said. “I’ll look into it.” 

“The curator called it a shrine.” 

Castro considered that briefly, then nodded. “There are people for whom the Alamo is a sacred place,” he said without any discernible emotion. 

ROSIE CASTRO proudly calls herself a “Chicana,” a term that connotes political activism and ethnic pride, but she says her son is different. “I don’t think Julián would call himself a Chicano,” she told me. “A Latino maybe.” When I relayed this to the mayor, he didn’t disagree. “I consider myself Mexican-American, both parts of that phrase,” he said. “I don’t want to turn my back on my mother’s generation. But we are less burdened.” 

Historically, Mexican-Americans have generally been considered “white” in Texas; they served in white units of the segregated military, including the National Guard, and were allowed, during the Jim Crow years, to marry white (but not black) partners. In the early ’40s, the Texas Legislature even passed a “Caucasian Race Resolution,” which affirmed their status as white. Today the U.S. Census treats “Hispanic,” “Latino” and “Spanish origin” — terms that apply to anyone of Spanish-speaking background — as an ethnic category. Race is a separate category, with various options, including a nonspecific “some other race.” In 2000, about half of all Hispanics checked “white” for race. Castro told me that he was planning to check “some other race” in 2010. He is uncomfortable referring to himself as “brown,” and he doesn’t use the term “people of color” when he discusses Mexican-Americans. 

Whatever their racial and geographic differences, Americans from Spanish-speaking cultures in different parts of the country increasingly see one another as sharing a common identity and interests. Partly this is a result of astute marketing by Spanish-language mass media. But politics plays a major role. “The pan-Latino proc­ess in the U.S. encompasses everyone, though the Cubans lag behind,” says Antonio Gonzalez of the William C. Velasquez Institute. “And the biggest single unifier among subgroups across the Latino community is compatibility on issues.” Roughly 60 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as Democrats. And because Mexican-Americans dominate the national pan-Latino community through sheer numbers — they make up about 60 percent of the total Hispanic population — and they are concentrated in key electoral states like Texas and California, simple arithmetic and political logic make it very likely that one of the next national political leaders of Hispanic America will be a Mexican-American Democrat. 

In 2000, while Castro was still in Cambridge, the political theorist Samuel P. Huntington argued that mass immigration from Mexico poses an existential threat to the United States. “Mexican immigration,” he wrote, “is a unique, disturbing and looming challenge to our cultural integrity, our national identity and potentially to our future as a country.” At the heart of Huntington’s critique, which many Americans share, is the sense that Mexican-Americans will form a permanent, unassimilated superbarrio across the Southwest and elsewhere. Julián Castro’s San Antonio is one place that counters that concern. 

“San Antonio is the city of the future, the avatar,” says Karl Eschbach, until recently the official demographer of the state of Texas. “The Mexican-American population is about 60 percent of the city, but it is now several generations old. There is comparatively little immigration these days. Mexican-Americans in San Antonio experience a continual drift” into a blending with non-Hispanic whites and others. 

Arturo Madrid, a professor of humanities at Trinity University in San Antonio, agrees with Eschbach’s assessment. “The power of America is undeniable,” he says. Like Rosie Castro, Madrid is a proud product of the Chicano movement, but he has no illusions about the shape of the future. “People may check ‘Hispanic’ on the census, but in San Antonio they are Tejanos, Texans of Mexican ancestry,” he told me. “This is the model of what America will look like in other cities. English will be the dominant language. Young Mexican-Americans may display minor symbols of their ethnicity — ‘I eat spaghetti, therefore I’m Italian,’ that sort of thing — but their kids will consider themselves American. We are already your neighbors and fellow workers, and are or soon will be your in-laws.” 

Madrid considers it only natural that the young mayor of San Antonio is seen as the new man in Hispanic politics. “We were the first big city with Hispanic political leadership,” he says. 

Paradoxically, Julián Castro’s appeal to fellow Hispanic voters may be limited by his own assimilation. Although he pronounces his name “HOO-lee-un,” he doesn’t really speak Spanish — a fact he isn’t eager to advertise. La Raza put a high premium on the mother tongue, but Rosie Castro spoke English to her sons, and Julián studied Latin and Japanese in school, while Joaquín studied Latin and German. A lack of Spanish fluency isn’t unusual in San Antonio, especially among Castro’s generation, but in the immigrant barrios of Houston and the colonias south of Interstate 10 down to the border, Spanish is the first and often only language. A Mexican-American with statewide political aspirations needs to be able to do more than pronounce his name correctly. Early in his administration, Castro assigned his chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum — a Jewish lawyer from the border town of Laredo whose own Spanish is impeccable — to discreetly find him a tutor. Rosie Castro’s son is now being taught Spanish by a woman named Marta Bronstein. Greenblum met her in shul. 

IT’S NOT CLEAR what Castro can accomplish as mayor. His executive clout is limited. The daily business of San Antonio is conducted by a professional city manager. The mayor’s power derives from being the senior elected official in the city and his role as chairman of the City Council, the body that wields ultimately authority over municipal affairs. He gets an office, a car and driver, a secretary, police protection and the same per-meeting stipend paid to other members of the council. Some of his predecessors have treated the mayoralty as a part-time job, but Castro is at his desk every day. He has also surrounded himself with a high-powered staff that includes Greenblum, who was a prominent local attorney before signing on with the mayor; the spokesman Jaime Castillo, a former political columnist for The San Antonio Express-News; and Manoj Mate, a friend from Harvard Law and a Ph.D. candidate in political science who serves as senior policy adviser. This is not the sort of team you put together if you are planning to settle in for a nice long career as a politician in San Antonio. 

Castro knows that his future is a matter of constant speculation; given his age and his meteoric career path, it could hardly be otherwise. But talking about it is dangerous. “There’s a push-and-pull here,” he told me. “I’ve read about Bill Clinton, how he rose. Even Arkansas people who didn’t like him took pride in his success.” But in San Antonio, he added, “nobody likes people with big heads.” 

Still, in his quiet way, Julián Castro is fiercely competitive, and he keeps score. In our first conversation he rattled off the names of his Harvard Law contemporaries who have already been elected to public office around the country. Most, like Joaquín, are still in state legislatures. And being in the House of Representatives “means being one of 435 Representatives,” he told me. “You can’t really get that much done on your own. I prefer executive positions.” (Joaquín is considering a Congressional run in 2012 if there is an open seat. He is a minute younger than Julián and, for now, defers to his elder twin.) Julián conceded that the Senate might be a slightly more interesting job, but there remained the problem of being one in a crowd. 

“Would you accept a cabinet position?” I asked. That was the route taken by Cisneros. 

“Not likely, no,” Castro said in a way that suggested he had been considering it. 

I asked what that left: “President?” 

“It is way too early to be thinking about that,” Castro said. 

“TO BE HONEST, I can see a path to Washington for Julián,” Joaquín Castro says. “That path leads through the governor’s mansion in Austin. A Democrat who can win the governorship of Texas would automatically be under consideration for a spot on the national ticket.” 

For the moment it seems a distant goal. Texas is Republican territory — Republicans hold every statewide elected office — and polls show Gov. Rick Perry running ahead of his Democratic opponent, the former Houston mayor Bill White. But if White loses in November, it will present Castro with an opportunity. Mexican-Americans already make up a third of the state’s population, and they are registering to vote in increasing numbers. 

The majority of the Mexican-American vote in Texas (and beyond) went to Obama in 2008, and it is widely assumed by Democratic strategists that their party will continue to benefit from Latino voters. This, however, is not settled political science. “The Democrats are way ahead of the Republicans,” John Garcia says, “but there isn’t a complete buy-in. The attitude is, They are better than the Republicans, but not great.” 

This year, Marco Rubio is making a strong run for the open U.S. Senate seat in Florida. Rubio, the favorite son of the Cuban community, is an attractive young Republican, but his appeal doesn’t extend to the broader Hispanic community. Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based political consultant, predicts that Rubio would lose the non-Cuban Hispanic vote to Kendrick Meeks, the African-American Democratic candidate. 

Rubio’s problem is not simply ethnic; it is not very likely that any Republican will make strong inroads with Mexican-American voters as long as the G.O.P. remains hawkish on border control, supports Arizona-style policing of illegal residents and calls for fewer government entitlements. If Republicans hope to compete nationally, they will need more flexible policies and candidates as appealing as Julián Castro. The name that most often arises is George P. Bush, son of Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and nephew of President George W. Bush. As governor of Texas, W. was popular with Mexican-Americans, and in the 2004 election he won more than 40 percent of the national Hispanic vote. His nephew George P. (whom George H. W. Bush famously described as “one of the little brown ones”) is now all grown up and living in Texas. He is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the University of Texas law school and recently helped found a political-action committee in Austin to recruit Hispanic Republicans. He has all the tools — good looks, fluent Spanish, ethnic bona fides on his Mexican-American mother’s side, instant name recognition and access to a network of political and financial connections on his father’s — that could make him a formidable vote-getter. Mark McKinnon, who helped put Bush 43 in the White House, half-jokingly refers to George P. as “47.” 

Julián Castro and George P. Bush have been aware of each other for some time. “We have mutual friends,” Castro told me. “They introduced us in Austin, three or four years ago. George worked for Akin Gump after law school, just like Joaquín and I did. He’s a reserve officer in the Navy. There’s a lot to admire about him. And of course, he has a lot going for him.” 

Still, the Castros are not intimidated by the Bush pedigree or by other contemporaries in the Anglo establishment. “Julián and I are just two guys from the bad side of San Antonio,” Joaquín told me. “When we went away to school, we didn’t know what to expect. At Stanford and Harvard, we were among all these people from the leadership class, people with fancy educations and pedigrees, and very often we were the only Hispanics in the classroom. But we listened to the people at Harvard, and I have to say, we were never overwhelmed.” 

ON SEPT. 16, the Castro brothers celebrated their 35th birthday as they always do, together. This time, though, they were joined by a thousand or so of their best friends and voters at a gala held in Sunset Station, an old railroad depot near the Alamo that has been remade into an ornate party space. A long line of people waited for the chance to have their pictures taken standing between Julián and Joaquín, who were dressed in nearly identical suits and ties. In the 2005 mayoral race, the brothers caused a minor scandal when it was discovered that Joaquín substituted for Julián at a campaign event. Some voters were amused by this, others infuriated, claiming it raised questions about the mayor’s maturity. 

Perhaps the greatest difference between Julián and his younger brother is that Joaquín is still single and known to enjoy his status as San Antonio’s most eligible bachelor. During the course of the evening, a number of very attractive young women posed between the brothers. Erica, who can tell them apart, kept a watchful eye, although probably unnecessarily. From an early age Julián and his brother have been taught by their mother that bad company — especially bad female company — is Kryptonite to young politicians. 

The party was loud and eclectic, a mélange of Mariachi, cool jazz, R&B and country music performed by locals. A parade of men in black shirts, playing drums, whistles and maracas, and women decked out in gold lamé snaked through the party. The boys took the stage and thanked everyone for coming. Julián announced that the Senate had just confirmed Sonia Sotomayór for a seat on the Supreme Court, which elicited a loud cheer. 

Rosie Castro was working the room that night, and I was on her to-do list. She introduced me to old comrades from the movement, made sure I got a piece of cake and reminded me that, while I may have come to San Antonio to write about Julián, Joaquín was just as talented. “There is a potential for them both to go much further,” she said. It was hard to disagree. When Barack Obama was their age, he was still only on the cusp of entering the Illinois State Senate. 

About two months later I got a call at home from Julián. He was in Boston attending a conference, but there was something on his mind. “I looked into the problem you asked about,” he said. “The signs for the Alamo? I think there might have been some misunderstanding about that in the past.” City officials could find no record of a request for signage. “But of course we’ll allow them to put up their signs on city property. I’ll see to it personally.” 

I can’t say I was surprised. You don’t get where Julián Castro is — or where he intends to go — by forgetting the Alamo. 

Zev Chafets is a frequent contributor to the magazine. He writes often about politics and religion. His new book is “Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One.” 

Dorothy Height, Largely Unsung Giant of the Civil Rights Era, Dies at 98

 

The New York Times 

 


April 20, 2010

Dorothy Height in 2003
By MARGALIT FOX

Dorothy Height, a leader of the African-American and women’s rights movements who was considered both the grande dame of the civil rights era and its unsung heroine, died on Tuesday in Washington. She was 98.

The death, at Howard University Hospital, was announced jointly by the hospital and the National Council of Negro Women, which Ms. Height had led for four decades. A longtime Washington resident, Ms. Height was the council’s president emerita at her death.

One of the last living links to the social activism of the New Deal era, Ms. Height had a career in civil rights that spanned nearly 80 years, from anti-lynching protests in the early 1930s to the inauguration of President Obama in 2009. That the American social landscape looks as it does today owes in no small part to her work.

Originally trained as a social worker, Ms. Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997, overseeing a range of programs on issues like voting rights, poverty and in later years AIDS. A longtime executive of the Y.W.C.A., she presided over the integration of its facilities nationwide in the 1940s.

With Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan and others, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Over the decades, she advised a string of American presidents on civil rights.

If Ms. Height was less well known than her contemporaries in either the civil rights or women’s movement, it was perhaps because she was doubly marginalized, pushed offstage by women’s groups because of her race and by black groups because of her sex. Throughout her career, she responded quietly but firmly, working with a characteristic mix of limitless energy and steely gentility to ally the two movements in the fight for social justice.

As a result, Ms. Height is widely credited as the first person in the modern civil rights era to treat the problems of equality for women and equality for African-Americans as a seamless whole, merging concerns that had been largely historically separate.

The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other prestigious awards, Ms. Height was accorded a place of honor on the dais on Jan. 20, 2009, when Mr. Obama took the oath of office as the nation’s 44th president. In a statement on Tuesday, he called Ms. Height “the godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to so many Americans.”

Over the years, historians have made much of the so-called “Big Six” who led the civil rights movement: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney M. Young Jr. Ms. Height, the only woman to work regularly alongside them on projects of national significance, was very much the unheralded seventh, the leader who was cropped out, figuratively and often literally, of images of the era.

Associated Press
Ms. Height stood near the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 in Washington.

In 1963, for instance, Ms. Height sat on the platform an arm’s length from Dr. King as he delivered his epochal “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. She was one of the march’s chief organizers and a prize-winning orator herself. Yet she was not asked to speak, although many other black leaders — all men — addressed the crowd that day.

Ms. Height recounted the incident in her memoir, “Open Wide the Freedom Gates” (PublicAffairs, 2003; with a foreword by Maya Angelou). Reviewing the memoir, The New York Times Book Review called it “a poignant short course in a century of African-American history.”

Dorothy Irene Height was born on March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Va. Her father, James, was a building contractor; her mother, the former Fannie Burroughs, was a nurse. A severe asthmatic as a child, Dorothy was not expected to live, she later wrote, past the age of 16.

When Dorothy was small, the family moved north to Rankin, Pa., near Pittsburgh, where she attended integrated public schools. She began her civil rights work as a teenager, volunteering on voting rights and anti-lynching campaigns.

In high school, Ms. Height entered an oratory contest, sponsored by the Elks, on the subject of the United States Constitution. An eloquent speaker even in her youth, she soon advanced to the national finals, where she was the only black contestant. She delivered a talk on the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments — the Reconstruction Amendments —intended to extend constitutional protections to former slaves and their descendants. The jury, all white, awarded her first prize: a four-year college scholarship.

As Ms. Height told The Detroit Free Press in 2008, “I’m still working today to make the promise of the 14th Amendment of equal justice under law a reality.”

A star student, the young Ms. Height applied to Barnard College and was accepted. Then, in the summer of 1929, shortly before classes began, she was summoned to New York by a Barnard dean.

There was a problem, the dean said. That Ms. Height had been admitted to Barnard was certain. But she could not enroll — not then, anyway. Barnard had already met its quota for Negro students that year.

Too distraught to call home, as she later wrote, Ms. Height did the only thing possible. Clutching her Barnard acceptance letter, she took the subway downtown to New York University. She was admitted at once, earning a bachelor’s degree in education there in 1933 and a master’s in psychology two years later.

Ms. Height was a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department before becoming the assistant executive director of the Harlem Y.W.C.A. in the late 1930s. One of her first public acts at the Y was to call attention to the exploitation of black women working as domestic day laborers. The women, who congregated on street corners in Brooklyn and the Bronx known locally as “slave markets,” were picked up and hired, for about 15 cents an hour, by white suburban housewives who cruised the corners in their cars.

Ms. Height’s testimony before the New York City Council about the “slave markets” attracted the attention of the national and international news media. For a time, the publicity was enough to drive the markets underground, though they later re-emerged.

In 1946, as a member of the Y’s national leadership, Ms. Height oversaw the desegregation of its facilities nationwide. In 1965, she founded the Y’s Center for Racial Justice, which she led until 1977.

While working for the Y in the late ’30s, Ms. Height was chosen to escort the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, to a meeting of the National Council of Negro Women. There, Ms. Height caught the eye of Mary McLeod Bethune, the council’s founder, who became her mentor.

As the council’s president during the most urgent years of the civil rights movement, Ms. Height instituted a variety of social programs in the Deep South, including the pig bank, in which poor black families were given a pig, a prize commodity. In the mid-’60s, she helped institute “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” a program that flew interracial teams of Northern women to the state to meet with black and white women there.

Ms. Height, who long maintained that strong communities were at the heart of social welfare, inaugurated a series of “Black Family Reunions” in the mid-1980s. Sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women and held in cities across the United States, the reunions were large, celebratory gatherings devoted to the history, culture and traditions of African-Americans. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the first one, in Washington in 1986.

From 1947 to 1956, Ms. Height was also the president of Delta Sigma Theta, an international sorority of black women.

Besides the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Ms. Height’s many honors include the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded by President George W. Bush in 2004. The two medals are the country’s highest civilian awards.

Ms. Height, who never married, is survived by a sister, Anthanette Aldridge, of New York City.

If despite her laurels Ms. Height remained in the shadow of her male contemporaries, she rarely objected. After all, as she often said in interviews, the task at hand was far less about personal limelight than it was about collective struggle.

“I was there, and I felt at home in the group,” she told The Sacramento Bee in 2003 “But I didn’t feel I should elbow myself to the front when the press focused on the male leaders.”

Ms. Height received three dozen honorary doctorates, from institutions including Tuskegee, Harvard and Princeton Universities. But there was one academic honor — the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree — that resonated more strongly than all the rest: In 2004, 75 years after turning her away, Barnard College designated Ms. Height an honorary graduate.

 Ms. Height presented the Mary McLeod Bethune Human Rights Award to Eleanor Roosevelt in New York in 1960.

‘Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology. Film studies isn’t what it used to be, one father discovers.’

 


Written By David Weddle, Special to The Los Angeles Times

July 13, 2003

“How did you do on your final exam?” I asked my daughter.

Her shoulders slumped. “I got a C.”

Alexis was a film studies major completing her last undergraduate year at UC Santa Barbara. I had paid more than $73,000 for her college education, and the most she could muster on her film theory class final was a C?

“It’s not my fault,” she protested. “You should have seen the questions. I couldn’t understand them, and nobody else in the class could either. All of the kids around me got Cs and Ds.”

She insisted that she had studied hard, then offered: “Here, read the test  yourself and tell me if it makes any sense.”

I took it from her, confidently. After all, I had graduated 25 years ago from USC with a bachelor’s degree in cinema. I’d written a biography of movie director Sam Peckinpah, articles for Variety, Film Comment, Sight & Sound, and written and produced episodic television.

On the exam, I found the following, from an essay by film theorist Kristin Thompson:

“Neoformalism posits that viewers are active that they perform operations.  Contrary to psychoanalytic criticism, I assume that film viewing is composed mostly of nonconscious, preconscious, and conscious activities. Indeed, we may define the viewer as a hypothetical entity who responds actively to cues within the film on the basis of automatic perceptual processes and on the basis of experience. Since historical contexts make the protocols of these responses inter-subjective, we may analyze films without resorting to subjectivity . . . According to Bordwell, ‘The organism constructs a perceptual judgment on the basis of nonconscious inferences.’ “

Then came the question itself:

“What kind of pressure would Metz’s description of ‘the imaginary signifier’  or Baudry’s account of the subject in the apparatus put on the ontology and epistemology of film implicit in the above two statements?”

I looked up at my daughter. She smiled triumphantly. “Welcome to film theory,” she chirped.

Alexis then plopped down two thick study guides. One was for the theory  class, the other for her course in advanced film analysis. “Tell me where I  went wrong,” she said.

The prose was denser than a Kevlar flak jacket, full of such words as  “diegetic,” “heterogeneity,” “narratology,” “narrativity,” “symptomology,”  “scopophilia,” “signifier,” “syntagmatic,” “synecdoche,” “temporality.” I picked out two of them “fabula” and “syuzhet” and asked Alexis if she knew what they meant. “They’re the Russian Formalist terms for ‘story’ and  ‘plot,’ ” she replied.

“Well then, why don’t they use ‘story’ and ‘plot?’ “

“We’re not allowed to. If we do, they take points off our paper. We have to  use ‘fabula’ and ‘syuzhet.’ “

Forget for a moment that if Alexis were to use these terms on a Hollywood  set, she’d be laughed off the lot. Alexis wants a career in film. She chose UC Santa Barbara because we couldn’t afford USC and her grades weren’t  lustrous enough for UCLA. Film programs at those schools have hard-core  theoreticians on their faculty, as do many other universities. Yet no other  undergraduate film program in the country emphasizes film theory as much as UCSB, and the influence of those theoreticians is growing. We knew that much before Alexis enrolled. In hindsight, we had no idea what that truly meant for students.

I flipped through more pages and landed on this paragraph by Edward  Branigan, the premier film theorist at UCSB: “Film theory deals with basic  principles of film, not specific films. Thus it has a somewhat ‘abstract,’  intangible quality to it. It is like looking at a chair in a classroom and  thinking about chairs in general: undoubtedly, there are many types and

shapes of ‘chairs’ made out of many kinds and colors of materials resulting  in different sizes of chairs. What must a ‘chair’ be in order to be a ‘chair’? (Can it be anything? a pencil? a car? a sandwich? a nostalgic feeling? a ledge of a building that someone sits on? the ground one sits on and also walks on? Can a ‘chair’ be whatever you want, whatever you say it is?) Here’s another question: what must a chair be in order to be ‘comfortable’ (i.e., what is the ‘aesthetics’ of chairs?)?”

My daughter was required to take 14 units of film analysis and theory before she could graduate with her bachelor’s degree in film studies. That’s the equivalent of going to school full time for one quarter, which made it  relatively easy to crunch the numbers. Including tuition, books, school  supplies, food and rent, it cost about $6,100 for Alexis to learn how to distinguish between a chair and a nostalgic feeling. I don’t like to complain, but that just didn’t seem like a fair return on my investment.

Is there a hidden method to these film theorists’ apparent madness? Or is  film theory, as movie critic Roger Ebert said as I interviewed him weeks  later, “a cruel hoax for students, essentially the academic equivalent of a  New Age cult, in which a new language has been invented that only the adept can communicate in”?

At USC cinema school a quarter-century ago, one of the most popular teachers was Drew Casper, a young, untenured professor with an unbridled love for movies. Casper didn’t lecture, he performed: jumping on a chair to sing a song from the musical he was teaching, covering his blackboard with frenetic scrawls as he unleashed a torrent of background material on the filmmaker’s life, the studio that produced the movie, and the social forces that influenced it.

Casper, and most other film studies professors at USC, approached film from a humanist perspective. He taught students to focus on the characters in the movies, the people who made the films, and the stories the movies told and what they revealed about the human condition, our society and the moment in history they dramatized.

Yes, students read theoretical essays and books. But they were about the nuts and bolts of moviemaking. Aristotle’s “Poetics” laid out the basic  principles of dramatic writing. Sergei Eisenstein explained the intricate mechanics of montage editing, which used quick cutting to provoke visceral emotions from audiences. And André Bazin described how directors Orson Welles and William Wyler used a “long-take” method of filming scenes that was the opposite of montage, the camera and actors moving poetically around one another in intricately choreographed shots.

Students also studied the first French cinematic doctrine to reach American shores, the auteur theory. It held that directors were the primary creators of films and that they, like novelists, created bodies of work with recurrent themes and consistent world views. At the time, the auteur theory  seemed revolutionary, and in Hollywood‹particularly among members of the Writers Guild it remains controversial because many argue that movies are created not by a single auteur but by a complex collaboration of hundreds of craftspeople, beginning with the screenwriter.

Whatever its merits, the auteur theory remained solidly within the humanist  tradition Casper once taught. Perhaps he knows what happened to film theory in recent decades.

He does. “Unfortunately, film studies has moved away from humanist  concerns,” says Casper, who now holds the prestigious Hitchcock Chair at  USC’s School of Cinema-Television.   The change began in France in the late 1960s, he says, offering explanations echoed by other film and English professors interviewed for this article. French theorists of the New Left pushed their own liberal social agendas. They discredited the auteur theory as sentimental bourgeois claptrap. Auteurists, they believed, had constructed a pantheon of great directors, almost all them white males, whom they worshiped as demigods. Moviegoers passively allowed the genius to spoon-feed them his interpretation of their socio/political system, and they never dared question the validity of those perceptions.

New Left theorists decided film viewers should liberate themselves, bringing their own thoughts, interpretations and responses into the process. Moviegoers should look at films not as the product of a unique creative spirit, but as cultural “artifacts.” Films could be analyzed as a series of  Rorschach inkblots, providing insights about the collective unconscious of  the society that produced them. Thus it was no longer the artists’ views of  the world that counted. They were merely channeling the zeitgeist. Theorists became the new high priests of culture, and they followed their own  concrete, left-wing social agenda.

By the ’70s, film theory was spreading to the United States, and moving beyond simple politics. A kind of metaphysical inquiry into the nature of  cinema was underway. Discussions about movie characters, plots and the human beings who created them were on the way to being replaced by theories such as semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, Marxism, psychoanalytics  and neoformalism.

Film metaphysics, to use an Edward Branigan-style analogy, is like looking at a statue of a man and instead of asking what it expresses about the human psyche, wondering what it reveals about the nature of marble. Or studying a painting to find what it says about the meaning of the color red.

Hershel Parker, respected author of a two-volume biography of writer Herman Melville, says the transformation of film studies mirrored that in many  college English departments. “There’s no room for anyone in English departments who wants to talk about author intention,” says Parker, who goes into Old Testament rage at the mention of the subject. When the New Left  theories invaded American English departments, Parker believes it all but  wiped out serious scholarship. “I was a freak for wanting to go into the library manuscript collections.”

Since authors no longer matter, Parker says, many researchers believe they  no longer need to go back and read the author’s correspondence and working  manuscripts, or study the events that shaped his or her sensibility. “It’s  naïve New Criticism, where all you do is submit yourself to the text,” says  Parker. “These people have no clue about going to do research. They don’t  know you can find out about a person’s life or work. They have not, and  their teachers have not done real research.”

Annette Insdorf, director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia  University, recruits film theorists for her faculty because she believes her  students should be exposed to a discipline that has had a major impact on cinema scholarship. But she remains ambivalent.

Film theory caught on in the 1970s and 1980s, she points out, a time when many cinema professors were struggling to win the respect of their  colleagues. “Don’t forget that film studies always labored under the  handicap of being perceived as too easy and fun within many universities,”  Insdorf says. “I sometimes suspected that professors were trying to ensure  their own job security by utilizing an increasingly obfuscating language.  The less understandable film theory became to faculty from other  departments, the more respectable it seemed.”

As curriculum shifted, students moved further from the practical  considerations that have always driven filmmaking‹and continue to drive  Hollywood today. “You get people who are graduating with master’s degrees  who know nothing about the history of movies,” Casper says. “They have never  even heard of Ernst Lubitsch, have never even seen Hitchcock movies. They  know the different film theories, they know their    Marx, their Freud, their  Althusser, Derrida.”

Constance Penley is a thin, plainly dressed woman in her late 50s, her short  white hair combed forward in the manner of Gertrude Stein. She speaks in a soft Southern accent, her slender ivory hands shaking ever so slightly as they gesture to illustrate a point.

Penley is director of the UCSB Center for Film, Television and New Media.  She also is one of the founders of Camera Obscura, a highly influential   feminist film journal, and is one of the primary architects of film theory  in the United States. As author or editor of nine books on film and media  theory, she is constantly on the move, whisking off to speak in Rome,  London, Warsaw, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and at UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Princeton and Harvard.

Like many theorists, she exudes an almost religious fervor for film theory  and its power to transform. Penley vividly remembers the moment of her  conversion. She arrived at the University of Florida in 1966 with the  intention of becoming a high school or community college teacher. But the  campus’ burgeoning counterculture quickly radicalized her. She marched in peace demonstrations, got tear-gassed, worked on the underground newspaper,  attended feminist consciousness-raising groups and came to realize that  becoming a mere teacher would be to surrender to the pressures of a  patriarchal power structure.

One night she went to a screening of “Pierrot le Fou,” a labyrinthine,  perplexing, yet mesmerizing film by the premier French New Wave director,  Jean-Luc Godard. The plot was impossible to follow, but the spontaneity of  the acting, the unconventional staging and elliptical editing seemed to  Penley to burst beyond the screen. “I walked out into the steamy Florida  night and I was baffled. I set out to try and figure out: ‘How is this a film?’ “

She went to see more European movies, hallucinatory concoctions by Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini that catapulted beyond all traditional notions of genre or narrative. Her excitement and questions multiplied, even if she still didn’t know how to define what she was seeing.

Then she took a film class from W. R. Robinson, who had edited a book titled “Man and the Movies.” “He was one of these crazy English professors who loved movies and wanted to legitimize them so he could show them in class,”  Penley says.

At the time, only a handful of universities had film programs, most  prominently USC, UCLA and New York University. At most colleges, the notion  of seriously studying cinema was mocked or ignored. But gradually,  instructors on some campuses persuaded the English, philosophy, or even the  rhetoric departments to allow them to teach a film class or two.

At the University of Florida, Robinson taught a number of courses, including “Narrative Analysis.” One of the textbooks was “Structuralism,” by Jacques Ehrman. “It was one of the very, very first things on structuralism translated in this country,” Penley says. Derived from the work of the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, structuralism is an investigation of the “deep structures” found in a society’s myths, artwork, literature and films‹structures through which the society defines itself.

In it, at last, Penley had a tool for picking apart works of literature and these new foreign films, a tool for bringing order to the chaos,  understanding to her confusion.

After earning a master’s in English education in 1971, Penley wanted to go  to the “the most radical place, the farthest away I could get” from Florida.  “That was Berkeley.” There she found a fantastic Day-Glo wonderland, a  frothing kettle of New Left politics. She joined a Marxist study group,  attended classes at the East Bay Socialist School, screenings at the Pacific  Film Archive and film theory classes and seminars taught by professors in Berkeley’s French and rhetoric departments.

She abandoned the idea of getting a PhD in English. “I thought: If I go into  English, I’ll have to be like everybody else. I’ll have to find one Shakespeare sonnet that hasn’t been done to death and spend the rest of my  life doing it to death. Film seemed so wide open.”   She decided to get a doctorate in rhetoric and write her dissertation on  film theory.

Then the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself. Bertrand Augst, a French professor who taught courses in semiotics and structuralism at  Berkeley, started the Paris Film Program. American college students could  study in France with the great film theorists, including Christian  Metz whose name I encountered on Alexis’ final exam.

Metz founded the theory of cinema semiotics. He presided over a think tank in Paris where scholars did not make movies or interview filmmakers or do archival research. Instead, they pondered the metaphysics of film, the manifold neoplastic mysteries that semiotics revealed.

Semiotics is the study of the myriad “signs,” verbal and nonverbal, that  human beings use to communicate: body language, images, icons, social  rituals, and, of course, written language and movies. A semiotician sees an  ordinary advertising billboard as a complex “hierarchy” of signs: the  slogan, the image of the product, the people consuming the product, the  clothes they are wearing, the colors used in the graphics and so on. By  closely analyzing each sign, or visual element, and their relationships to each other, the semiotician can glean a treasure trove of insights about the social system that both created and now consumes this pattern of images.

First developed at the end of the 19th century by American philosopher  Charles Sanders Peirce, semiotics was later picked up by French theorists  such as Lévi-Strauss, who applied it to anthropology; Jacques Lacan, who  applied it to Freudian analysis; and Metz, who turned its prism upon the  cinema. “In his books ‘Film Language,’ and ‘ Language and Cinema,’ Metz was  trying to look at the way film is structured like a language and if we could  study its elements with the same precision with which structural linguists were studying language,” Penley says.

She spent two years in Paris with about 40 other scholars. “Metz was a  beautiful, beautiful, gentle man in his 50s, trained in linguistics,” Penley  says, with the I-can-hardly-believe-I-actually-got-to-hang-with-him glow of  a teenager who’s met a rock ‘n’ roll idol. She also attended seminars and  lectures by some of the great French researchers in the pantheon of semiotics: Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, Raymond Bellour.

Penley returned from Paris after two years with the academic cachet to  establish herself as one of the leading film theorists in North America. She  earned her PhD at Berkeley and, in 1991, was hired at UCSB, where the film program was being methodically constructed by professor Charles Wolfe, who holds a doctorate in film studies from Columbia University.

“I wanted to build a strong core curriculum stressing film history, theory  and analysis‹the way I was trained,” Wolfe says. The practical side of  filmmaking‹how to write dramatically sound screenplays, elicit performances from actors, light a set, place a camera and edit film became secondary.   “Students who had strong interests in production could take classes” in  addition to core curriculum.

Penley joined Branigan, who had been on the faculty since 1984 after earning a doctorate from a leading film theory school, the University of Wisconsin,  Madison. Wolfe now had two major film theorists and the momentum to turn the film program into a full-fledged department in 1996.

Any way you slice it, UCSB’s small band of radical theorists has pulled off  a remarkable feat. They now hobnob with the Hollywood elite and are building a complex that will put their film studies department on par with UCLA, USC and NYU. They have overthrown the old school humanists and broken free of  the fascist thought control designs of the artistic genius auteurs.

How did they do it? “We were right, that’s how!” department chair Janet  Walker says with a triumphant laugh.

The department has 11 full-time and three tenured part-time faculty members and 456 undergraduates, twice that of a decade ago. Wolfe has in many ways  created a strong department. It offers courses in screenwriting, 16mm film production and animation, and a number of Hollywood professionals have come  to teach classes, including director John Carpenter, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and the late Paul Lazarus, a production executive who worked at  Columbia, Universal and Warner Brothers. Guest lecturers have included  Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jeff Bridges, Michael Douglas, Jodie Foster and screenwriter John Lee Hancock.

The cinema history classes are demanding. Students cannot get away with  regurgitating passages from encyclopedias; they are required to pull  original production files on movies from such archives as the Motion Picture  Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. But film theory remains at the core.  Students are required to take 14 units of film theory and analysis, and just  one four-unit production course that deals with the actual writing, shooting  and editing of a film or video project.

Wolfe argues that the rigorous intellectual regimen produces better  filmmakers, noting that for three consecutive years (1999-2001), UCSB  alumnae were nominated for Academy Awards. The most prominent is Scott  Frank, nominated for his screenplay for the thriller “Out of Sight” in 1999.  Frank has since written the script for “The Minority Report.”

It’s worth noting that Frank graduated in 1982, before Branigan and Penley  and the greater emphasis on theory. He credits Lazarus with helping him to hone his craft and says he learned a great deal from Wolfe’s film history classes.

Frank co-chairs the advisory board for UCSB’s Center for Film, Television  and New Media. The board is peppered with other Hollywood heavyweights,  including Danny DeVito, Michael Douglas, “Ghostbusters” director Ivan  Reitman, TV producer Dick Wolf and Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman.  The center is scheduled to break ground in 2005 and will include an editing  room, production space and a theater.

When I show Frank examples of the film theory that mystified my daughter, he is bewildered. “This is the first I’ve ever heard of these terms.  ‘Narratology?’ ‘Symptomatic interpretation?’ ‘Syuzhet, fabula, analepses,  prolepses’, my goodness! I’m really shocked that they even teach anything like this.”

Other Hollywood professionals and film experts offered harsher reactions.  Some criticized the curriculum or the political agendas at work. Some simply  couldn’t get beyond the turgid academic language.

I read from my daughter’s study guide to Gary A. Randall, who has served as  president of Orion Television, Spelling Television, and as the executive  producer of the TV series “Any Day Now.” “That’s what your daughter’s being  taught?” he says. “That’s just elitist psychobabble. It sounds like it was written by a professor of malapropism. That has absolutely no bearing on the  real world. It sounds like an awfully myopic perspective of what film is  really supposed to be about: touching hearts and minds and providing  provocative thoughts.”

From movie critic Ebert: “Film theory has nothing to do with film. Students  presumably hope to find out something about film, and all they will find out  is an occult and arcane language designed only for the purpose of excluding  those who have not mastered it and giving academic rewards to those who  have. No one with any literacy, taste or intelligence would want to teach  these courses, so the bona fide definition of people teaching them are  people who are incapable of teaching anything else.”

From Kevin Brownlow, the world’s leading silent movie historian, author of  “The Parade’s Gone By . . .,” and co-producer, with David Gill, of acclaimed documentaries: “You would think, from this closed-circuit attitude to teaching, that such academics would be politically right wing. For it is a  kind of fascism to force people practicing one discipline to learn the  language of another, simply for the convenience of an intellectual elite.  It’s like expecting Slavs to learn German in order to comprehend their own  inferiority. But they are not right wing. They are, regrettably, usually left wing, quite aggressively Marxist, which makes the whole situation even  more alarming.”

UCSB’s film studies faculty is upfront about its political agenda. The  professors are, as in most other film programs, almost uniformly on the left  end of the political spectrum. Penley’s generation forged their political  beliefs in the 1960s counterculture, and they show a strong preference for  hiring younger professors who share their liberal beliefs.

Lisa Parks, 35, joined the faculty in 1998 as a specialist in global media  and broadcast history. While an undergraduate at the University of Montana  in 1991, Parks and other students lay down on the basketball court at the start of a nationally televised game to protest the Gulf War. She  passionately opposed the war in Iraq, and believes that film and media theory can win the hearts and minds of her students back from the mass media  conglomerates that Parks says are controlled largely by conservatives.

“Many of our faculty are really concerned about the relationship between  media images and social power outside of the screen,” Parks says. “Even  though in our classes we’re often watching stuff and trying to segment,  analyze and discuss it, we hope that by the time our students graduate, if  they do go into the industry, it affects the way that they actually produce.”

In some respects, it’s not fair to single out UC Santa Barbara’s film theory  and analysis curriculum simply because my daughter went there. On the other  hand, UCSB does consider its film theory program to be its signature.

Faculty members are aware that many students are reluctant if not outright  hostile to being force-fed so much theory, but they maintain that the  curriculum is valuable even for production-oriented students. “We want them  to be able to understand other ways of thinking and looking at these works  of art that perhaps exceed their own reactions,” Wolfe says. “That may be  people from different time periods, cultures, genders or social orientations.”

When I share the criticisms of film theory with UCSB staff, they look truly wounded, then quickly mount a vigorous defense.

“Film theory is philosophy, and people have made the same criticisms of  philosophy for years,” Branigan says. “They say, ‘What relevance does  philosophy have to the real world? It’s merely idle thought, personal  feeling, pointless speculation.’ If we listened to them, we would do away  with teaching and studying the works of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant,  Wittgenstein and Sartre. Do we really want to do that? I think not.”

Anna Everett, an associate professor who specializes in new media, says,  “It’s galling for me to hear those kinds of charges when we expect our  students to be able to grapple with complex ideas in math and science and a lot of them won’t go on to use them. Math and science are part of our  everyday lives. So why is it then illegitimate for us to ask students to be  just as rigorous with something that has a much greater impact on an  everyday basis?

“Art, film and video games really do help to shape their ideas and  experiences and their relationships. I think the critics are unfair. It’s a  way of thinking that doesn’t really take into account what the university is  about. We’re not a trade school. We’re trying to develop minds, to create a better world.”

Is it working? The voices of two students:

“I love film theory,” says Chris Scotten. “When I graduate, I want to write, direct and produce. I’m shooting for the moon. The great thing about UCSB  is, I could have gone to USC and sat around holding a microphone boom pole, but then I wouldn’t understand the theory behind filmmaking, to understand  how film exists in relation to our lives. We learn how film psychologically  manipulates us, and the power inherent in the language of cinema. It can be  two things, a useful propaganda tool in a communist revolution, or part of  the capitalist superstructure, a way of lulling the working class into a  haze to subdue them and give them an escape from the pressures of reality.  The old communists writing about film theory in Russia and Germany really  had something to say, and it’s still relevant today. You’ve got about six companies that own the biggest, most awesome propaganda machine in the  history of the whole wretched world. What are the consequences of that?”

Yoshi Enoki Jr., who graduated in 1995, believes he has succeeded despite the film theory classes, not because of them. He has built a thriving career  as a location scout and manager for such films as “American Beauty,”  “Terminator 3” and the Coen brothers’ forthcoming remake of “The  Ladykillers.”

Some of his fellow students were not so lucky, Enoki says. They took to  heart the portrayals of Hollywood as the embodiment of corporate evil that  inevitably corrupts authentic artists and crushes their spirit. “That world

view has given them a rationalization for failure,” he says. “So they don’t  even try to break into the industry. These kids, I call them kids because they behave that way, have developed this cynicism, so much so that it eats them alive. Everything becomes negative. They don’t want to connect with people. One of my best friends said to me, ‘When I’m in Hollywood, I can’t  be myself.’ But they don’t even know what Hollywood’s all about because  they’ve never really been a part of it.”

During my interview with Janet Walker, she glances at the clock and gets a  sudden inspiration. Branigan, the  department’s premier cognitive film  theorist, is teaching a class this very moment. “You’ve got to see Edward lecture,” she says, leading me to a lecture hall. “It’s a theatrical experience.”

Walker ushers me into a 147-seat theater that is about three-quarters full.  Branigan stands before a blackboard covered with rectangles and hexagons  heavily notated with abbreviations. They appear to be the complex equations  of an astrophysicist, but are in fact illustrations of semiotic theories of  “narratology.” Branigan has tangled brown-gray hair, a shaggy beard, large  glasses coated with flecks of dandruff and fingerprints, and wears an  oversized gray sweater and corduroy pants. As he speaks, his hands grasp at  the air, shaping it as he shapes his thoughts. He punches certain words out  with an odd, inflectionless emphasis. “The nature of the photography:  Benjamin says the camera strips people who are in front of the camera lens‹like actors and alienaaaates them from their labor! Alienaaaation!  False coooonsciousness!”

Branigan’s oratory mesmerizes many of the students. They lean back, deep into the seats’ red upholstery, eyes staring blankly into space. Some give up and close them altogether. A brunet with a Huck Finn cap pulled over the  bridge of her nose shifts about for a more comfortable position and drifts   off again. A fellow traces the stubble on his cheek and squints, trying to  follow as he takes notes. A tall young man in a backward baseball cap  doodles a series of spirals, and at the back of the hall another reads a paper. Two girls in the back whisper to each other.

Branigan takes no notice. He leaves them far behind as he ascends faster and  faster along a spiral of rhetoric into the pure white ether of theory.  “Benjamin says the camera does not show the equipment that’s used to make  the film. It obscures or hides or masks THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION! Now in  Marxism if you hide the process of production, you are obscuring and further  alienating the labor that goes into that, the BOOODILY labor that yoooou are  contributing to that manufacture. OK? Which is a bad, bad fact. . . .”

David Weddle last wrote for the magazine about comedy.

In the late Middle Ages the problem of financing the royal exchequer and setting up capitalist institutions in the face of the Christian ban on usury was resolved by allowing Jews to act as bankers.

guardian.co.uk logo

ETHICAL CONUNDRUMS

When and why did the Christian Church stop viewing usury as a sin?

NO DENOMINATION of the Christian Church has ever condoned usury, which we might define as an extortionate charge for the use of money or fungible goods, but the charging of interest is no longer regarded as usurious in all circumstances. In fact there is no direct condemnation of interest-taking in the New Testament; it is even tolerated in the Parable of the Talents. The Old Testament authority – Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35, and Deuteronomy 20:19 – does not constitute a blanket ban on interest-taking, but condemns taking interest from the poor, and within the Jewish community. The taking of interest was forbidden to clerics from AD 314. It was strictly forbidden for laymen in 1179. The beginning of the end as far as the total ban on interest was concerned came in the sixteenth century. Although Luther and Zwingli still condemned it utterly, Calvin and some progressive Catholic thinkers such as Collet and Antoine argued that interest-taking did not constitute usury, as long as it represented the real difference between the value of present and future sums of money, and was not mere extortion. The Catholic Church still forbids usury, meaning extortionate charges, providing penalties in c2354 of the Code of Canon Law, but this does not mean that all interest-taking is sinful. The Vatican itself invests in interest-bearing schemes, and requires Church administrators to do likewise. That all interest was not in itself sinful was finally decided in a series of decisions in the institutions of the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century.

Gwen Seabourne, London

 

 

I DON’T think Gwen Seabourne should be allowed to get away with her anodyne answer. That the Christian Church banned usury for many centuries is not invalidated by reference to the Bible (family planning is not disallowed in the Bible). Nor can usury be defined as the extortionate charging of interest: usury is the charging of any interest. The Vatican ties itself up in complex circumlocutions to divert attention from the fact that it runs capitalist institutions based on the most blatant condoning of usury. The verbal acrobatics testify to the contradictory situation it finds itsef in. Usury – all usury – is banned by Christian doctrine, as it is by Muslim doctrine. In the late Middle Ages the problem of financing the royal exchequer and setting up capitalist institutions in the face of the Christian ban on usury was resolved by allowing Jews to act as bankers. They therefore came to be viewed as pariahs, just as cow hide tanners are pariahs in Hindu society. It was in this way that the Jewish community was able to accrue vast wealth and thereby to bring down on its head the loathing of the Christians. Hence Shylock. This enmity is still the underlying basis of modern anti-Semitism. The fact that (mainly) Jewish bankers did very well out of the collapse of free-market economics in Weimar Germany was the determining reality in the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement. Gwen Seabourne states that the Catholic Church still forbids usury. That’s good enough for me.

Jonathan Morton, London  

[AUDIO] Geert Mak Interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel — CBC Writers & Company — The Dutch Debate: New Realities of the Netherlands

________________________________________________________________________

PODCAST:

http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/writersandcostream_20100314_28893.mp3

[mp3 file: runs 53:10]

________________________________________________________________________

“The Dutch Debate: New Realities of the Netherlands”, focusing on the first country in 21st century Europe whose history of tolerance came to clash with its growing Muslim population. Eleanor Wachtel talks to journalist Geert Mak.

Geert Mak (born 4 December 1946 in Vlaardingen, Zuid-Holland) is a Dutch journalist and a non-fiction writer in the field of history. His ten books about Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Europe have earned him great popularity. His best-known work, In Europe, a combination of a travelogue through the continent of Europe and a history of the 20th century, has appeared in over a dozen languages. Geert Mak participates actively in Dutch public debate, as a staunch defender of the values of an open and tolerant society.

Life

Geert Mak studied constitutional law and the sociology of law at the Free University (Vrije Universiteit) and the University of Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam). While still a student he acted as an assistant to the parliamentary party of the Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP). From 1975 to 1985 he worked as an editor of the left-wing weekly De Groene Amsterdammer, after which he spent some years as foreign correspondent for the progressive public broadcasting company VPRO and as a city editor for the celebrated national daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad. In 1999 the NRC Handelsblad commissioned him to spend a year travelling through Europe, reporting on his travels in a daily column for the newspaper that later served as the basis for In Europe. From 2000 to 2003 he worked as professor of metropolitan problems, a chair endowed by the city of Amsterdam. His lack of academic training as a professional historian has provoked criticism from some quarters within that discipline. On the other hand, the Open University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2004 ‘for his important and original contribution to historiography’. Two of his books have been acclaimed ‘Book of the year’ by the Dutch public. In 2008 he received the Leipziger Buchpreis zum Europaïsche Verständigung for In Europe, and the French government has appointed him a member of the Légion d’ Honneur.

Books

Geert Mak first became known to the general public with his book Jorwerd: the Death of the Village in the Late 20th Century (1996; orig. title Hoe God verdween uit Jorwerd) on the changing culture of a farming community in the 20th century, based on an account of a village in Friesland and the people who lived there. In Amsterdam: A brief life of a city(1995), he gave a lively account of the people of Amsterdam and their city down the centuries. De eeuw van mijn vader (My father’s century: 1999), a history of the Netherlands in the 20th century, based on letters and memories from Mak’s own family, became immensely popular, selling over half a million copies. Among the books he has published since then are In Europe. Travels through the twentieth century (In Europa; 2004, Pantheon; 2007) and The Bridge. A Journey Between Orient and Occident (De brug; 2007, “Boekenweekgeschenk”, Harvill Secker; 2008), an account of life on and around the Galata bridge in Istanbul, ‘a travelogue covering 490 metres’, in the author’s own words.

In 2005 he wrote a controversial pamphlet in response to the assassination of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, Gedoemd tot kwetsbaarheid (Doomed to vulnerability) and the culture of fear that he believed had taken root in the Netherlands. The essay caused considerable consternation, partly because Mak compared the propaganda technique of the film Submission – linking the excesses committed by a few to the religion of an entire minority – to the imagery of Der Ewige Jude by Joseph Goebbels.

Reception In Europe

In Europe was the best-selling book by a Dutch author in the Netherlands in 2004, selling over 400,000 copies. The British reviews were generally enthusiastic, although for the professional historian or political scientist the book has little to offer: “In Europe hardly breaks new ground historically” writes Martin Woollacott in an otherwise positive review in The Guardian (14 July 2007). On the other hand, the Sunday Times wrote that In Europe was ‘undoubtedly a spectacular and beautifully crafted piece of writing’, and the Financial Times praised Mak’s instinct for human stories: ‘Mak is the history teacher everyone should have had’. John Lukacs saw in him ‘Europe’s portrait-painter, its impressionist, its poet-musician, the reader of its peoples’ minds.’ The work should be taken for what it is: something between journalism and travel literature. Publisher’s Weekly asks: “is it a history book, a travelogue, a memoir?”

Mak himself sees his work as journalism. In an interview with a Dutch journalism trade-journal he says: “my approach is journalistic. My books are filled with newspaper tricks”. Historians are generally cautious when it comes to judging Mak’s work. Hermann von der Dunk, emeritus professor of history at Utrecht University says about Mak: “it is well written, and historically correct, but it is not what I would call academic history. There is no analysis of historical development” (Academische Boekengids, March 2005).

A 35-part VPRO television series based on In Europe prompted some historians to point to errors and to comment that the makers were ill-informed about current debates in the field of history (Historisch Nieuwsblad, December 2007), criticism that was in turn rebutted by Mak and other historians. Nonetheless, this same Historisch Nieuwsblad twice acclaimed him ‘historian of the year’.

“KILL THE WHITE PEOPLE”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

South Africa’s ANC defends singing of apartheid-era ‘Kill the Boer’ song

Peroshni Govender,  Reuters

http://a123.g.akamai.net/f/123/12465/1d/www.nationalpost.com/0330-malema.jpg Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s ruling party on Tuesday defended the singing of an apartheid-era song with the words “Kill the Boer” in a row that has raised fears of increasing racial polarization.

The African National Congress dismissed a ruling by a regional high court last week that uttering or publishing the words would amount to hate speech and violate the constitution put in place after the end of white minority rule.

“These songs cannot be regarded as hate speech or unconstitutional,” ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told a news conference. “Any judgment that describes them as such is impractical and unimplementable.”

The recent singing of the song by firebrand ANC youth wing leader Julius Malema, who argues that black South Africans have not benefited enough from 16 years of democracy, drew anger from whites and other minority groups.

The lyrics of the song, sung in Zulu, translate as “kill the farmer, kill the Boer”, referring to the former ruling white minority.

“Most people realise that this is a struggle song but many whites cannot help but feel that they are being targeted,” said Marius Roodt a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations.

“The ANC needs to be sympathetic to the feelings of minorities especially if there is a perception created that they endorse inflammatory statements.

President Jacob Zuma has repeatedly stressed the importance of reconciliation in what became known as the “Rainbow Nation” after the relatively peaceful transition from apartheid.

But the controversy over the lyrics puts the ANC in a difficult position both because of the historic importance of the struggle for South Africa’s majority and Mr. Malema’s popularity.

Mr. Mantashe said the song was only a means of ensuring South African history was remembered and not meant as an incitement to violence against whites – who make up about a tenth of South Africa’s 50 million population.

The fact that most whites are still far more prosperous than most blacks angers many black South Africans, who feel they have not enjoyed the benefits they expected from ANC rule since 1994.

But Mr. Zuma, visiting a shanty town for poor whites outside Pretoria on Tuesday, stressed the importance of South Africans living together.

“We are a government that is committed to all South Africans, regardless of colour, race or creed,” Mr. Zuma told the group, part of an estimated 450,000 white South Africans who are estimated to be living in poverty.

© Thomson Reuters 2010