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From the Archives—Spring 2015
From the Archives: Sylvia McLaughlin and the Fight to Save San Francisco Bay

Photo of Sylvia McLaughlin
Sylvia McLaughlin, founder of Save the Bay

This year marks half a century since the establishment of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). This regional commission was created in 1965 by the state legislature with the mission to slow the filling of the San Francisco Bay, which was becoming rampant -- including one plan to double the size of Berkeley through bay fill. The legislation also mandated improved public access to the shoreline

The BCDC came to be established in large part thanks to the efforts of Sylvia McLaughlin and a group of local activists that formed the group Save the Bay.

Also this year, we are conducting lengthy interviews with two former directors of the BCDC, Joe Bodovitz and Will Travis. Check back here in the coming months for the release of those transcripts. 

Continue to Coming Up!






From the Archives—Winter 2014
Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club from 1992 to 2010

Photo of Carl Pope
Carl Pope, circa 2000
Photo courtesy of The Sierra Club

The oral history with Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club from 1992 to 2010 is the newest addition to our longstanding Sierra Club Oral History Series. In documenting his forty-year career with the club, his interviews illuminate the range of issues tackled, as well as the deftness and strategic thinking involved in leading what is one of the nation’s oldest, most complex, and most influential environmental organizations.

One of the themes running through the five interview sessions is Pope’s early understanding of the potential power of the environmental movement to bring about progressive political change. The Sierra Club, as a democratic organization with a committed band of volunteers at the national level and in chapters and groups across the country, seemed to him particularly well positioned to bring about a “powerful political movement.”  Pope reflects:

Environmentalism in the 1970s . . . was a progressive issue which resonated across a very broad spectrum of the American public; you could really imagine building an environmental majority in this country. So environmentalism looked to me like a very powerful lens through which to try to make the United States, broadly speaking, a more decent place. . . . Therefore, I was always pushing the political side of what you could do with environmentalism. . . . My strong suit always was, okay, here’s what you tell me the biologists say we need to do; now how do we put together the votes to get it done? So that really was my knitting.  . . . My knitting was how to take the science-based policy goals of the environmental movement and turn them into politically viable strategies. And the club was an extraordinarily good place to do that, because it had a vast diversity of tools. We had publishing programs; we had outdoor activities; we had people in cities; we had people in rural areas; we had grassroots structures; eventually, we had a political program, we had the media. . . . the litigation.  So we had the full tool kit, and so you could try different theories about what was needed to get Congress to act, to get the president to act, to get a state legislature to act.

In 1984, Pope was instrumental in the club’s decision to engage in electoral politics, and he managed that effort as its full-time political director. Two decades later as executive director, he oversaw an ambitious effort to increase the club’s political effectiveness on the local level, resulting in a grassroots organizing model which influenced the 2008 Obama for America campaign. He pushed the club to respond to an unsympathetic landscape in Washington DC by refocusing resources on a variety of local and state grassroots campaigns to combat global warming. And realizing that the likelihood of congressional action to protect public lands was slim, he redirected efforts towards the executive branch, an initiative that resulted in President Clinton’s 2001 directive protecting 65 million acres of public forests.

With the addition of the oral history of Carl Pope, the Sierra Club Oral History Series at the Bancroft Library now includes in-depth accounts from 112 volunteer leaders and staff members active in the club for more than a century.  The series began in 1970 when the club established its national History Committee and enlisted the director of the Regional Oral History Office, Willa Baum, to train club volunteer interviewers and to assign ROHO’s professional interviewers to conduct the major oral histories. The first interview was with Francis Farquhar, a former club president, historian of the Sierra Nevada, and legendary editor of the Sierra Club Bulletin (and a member of the Council of the Friends of the Bancroft Library). Other early interviews captured the memories of Sierra High Trips with John Muir and other club elders, dating back to 1904. 

Soon, funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, ROHO interviewers undertook oral histories with major club leaders, including David Brower, Ansel Adams, Edgar Wayburn, Richard Leonard, and others, documenting the story of the club’s early conservation efforts through the 1950s, its explosive growth and increasing national influence, and the expanding scope of its concerns during the 1960s and 1970s. With funding from the club and the Sierra Club Foundation, all four of Carl Pope’s predecessors as executive directors have been interviewed, from Brower to J. Michael McCloskey, Douglas Wheeler, and Michael Fisher. A majority of club volunteer presidents through the 1990s have recorded oral histories, as well as a generous sampling of local activists, discussing the gamut of issues from the intricacies of toxic waste management in New Jersey, to efforts to protect the Chattooga River and the Congaree Swamp in the Carolinas, to the breathtakingly complex campaign for Alaskan wilderness.

While launching and overseeing the oral history program, the Sierra Club History Committee also arranged the designation of the Bancroft Library as the official repository of Sierra Club national records, while encouraging chapters and groups outside of California to arrange regional repositories for their records. The committee also contacted and encouraged club members to place their historical papers and photographs in the Bancroft Library or other repositories.  The resulting archive of oral, visual, paper, and now electronic records is impressively and perhaps uniquely rich among institutional records in its scope, depth, and frequency of use by researchers.

The full-text transcripts and video excerpts from the Carl Pope oral history and others in the Oral History Center’s collection of Sierra Club interviews can be found online.  Finding aids to the various Sierra Club collections in Bancroft are available in the Online Archive of California.

From the Archives—Fall 2014
Professor Charles Muscatine on the Free Speech Movement

Photo of Charles Musctaine
Professor Charles Muscatine

In October of 1999, a University of California symposium (“The University Loyalty Oath: A 50th Anniversary Retrospective”) explored the loyalty oath fifty years after its imposition on university employees. Historians, university administrators, non-signers, bystanders all gathered in Berkeley for two days of reflective discussion on the meaning and consequences of this event in California. One of the symposium participants was Professor Emeritus Charles Muscatine. In 1949, he was a young assistant professor in the English department; he joined the stalwart Group for Academic Freedom, all of whom refused to sign the oath, and lost their faculty positions. “It was a violation of academic freedom as well as the Constitution. Besides, I had an obligation to my students. How could I tell them to tell it as it is if I had signed something that went so much against my conscience?” The oath was declared unconstitutional in 1951 (Tolman v. Underhill).

Charles Muscatine returned to Berkeley in 1953, where he taught until his retirement in 1991. The Regional Oral History Office of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, undertook a series of interviews with six individuals who participated in this controversy. What began as one interview about Charles Muscatine’s loyalty oath activities led into a discussion of his involvement with the Free Speech movement, English literature, and innovations in higher education. In the brief passage that follows, Muscatine describes how the Free Speech Movement proved to be a moment of awakening not only for Berkeley’s students, but for tenured professors like himself too. Professor Muscatine died in 2010 at the age of 89. Read the complete interview transcript of the interview conducted by ROHO historian Germaine LaBerge in 2000.

Germaine LaBerge:
What's your first remembrance of the protests?

Charles Muscatine:
Well, I saw Jack Weinberg in the police car.

Had you known him before?

No, no. One of the curious things about my whole relationship to this movement is that I never, never had a conversation with any of the real principals of the Free Speech Movement. In the faculty there were persons, people who did talk to those students and knew them probably because they had them in class, but I, oddly enough, never had any—none of the ones that you've heard about—Bettina [Aptheker] and Mario [Savio]. I was strictly on the outside of that. Nor was I sufficiently into the administration to have any contact with them that way.

So you saw Jack Weinberg in the police car.

Oh, yes.

And do you want to just describe what was happening—what was going through your mind?

Well, I thought Jack Weinberg was terribly pleased—very surprisingly pleased [laughs] with the situation.  And I was still in that stage—I've talked about it elsewhere—I'll repeat it for this record, but I was still sort of shocked. I mean, I really had a kind of ivory tower mentality. I thought of the students in terms of their right to organize and so on on campus, but I didn't regard them as citizens of the campus. [It seemed to me] they're only here four years and not full years anyhow, you know. We're [the faculty] the ones who are here all the time. It's our place. I thought: why don't they be active in Hayward or Sacramento or wherever the hell they come from? And it took me a little while, gradually during the Free Speech Movement, to accept the fact that this was their place, and I'd forgotten that when I was an undergraduate, I regarded it as my place. [laughs] And even up to the momentous meeting when Mario Savio was dragged off by the cops when he tried to intervene in Clark Kerr's speech—

At the Greek Theater.

Greek Theater [December 7, 2000]. Even at that point, although I was, generally speaking, in favor of the Free Speech Movement, at that time I still remember myself being horrified that Mario would try to interrupt these civilized proceedings by walking onto the stage. So I was very slow, I think, as a participant, although my political sympathies were with them right from the start. I still remember a kind of outrage I felt, that order was dissolving. Of course after I got tear-gassed once or twice and my little daughter got tear-gassed on the way to junior high school, I felt more militant. [laughs]

And was this during this period, or later?

No, no, this was later. This was later.

Well, it was different from the loyalty oath protest [1949-1952], which was orderly.

Yes, yes, definitely very different.

And yet, did you see the issues as being somewhat the same when you could step back and look at it?

Oh, yes, I appreciated the issues. I don't think that I was—as I say, I was in sort of a scholarly cocoon in those years, and I didn't think I was as fully and as sensitively aware of what was going on in the country—what was going on in the South. Of course I was outraged by some of the things that happened, but I was really, you know, in the ivory tower a good deal of that time.

From the Archives—Summer 2014

David Blackwell, Likely the First African-American to Earn Tenure at Berkeley

Photo of David Blackwell

David Blackwell was born in 1919 in Centralia, Illinois. He went on to become a great mathematical thinker and made fundamental contributions to the areas of probability theory, mathematical statistics, set theory and logic, and of course, game theory, to name a few. When Professor Blackwell came to UC Berkeley in 1954 after a decade at Howard University in Washington D.C., he became, we think, the first African American ladder rank faculty person system-wide.

There is so much important history throughout this series, but I am drawn to this early passage featuring Blackwell’s commentary on childhood when he was growing up as compared to more recent generations.

Wilmot: How would you describe yourself as a child?

Blackwell: I liked to play games. Checkers, chess, marbles, and more active games like baseball or softball. Track and field—we used to organized track meets. I think I may have mentioned this before, but the children organized things that the adults had nothing to do with. We had a Southtown baseball team that played the Northtown baseball team. And adults had nothing to do with that at all. We organized it ourselves and played ourselves. Organized track meets ourselves. When I look at how much parental supervision there is nowadays, I feel sorry for the poor kids. They don’t know what independence is like. I didn’t want to grow up. I really enjoyed being a child.

Provoked by a simple but terrific question from interviewer and project manager Nadine Wilmot, I find in Blackwell's response a profound perspective lamenting the loss of children organizing their own neighborhood games and events. How do children of today develop the crucial skills of leadership, cooperation, and self-organization if their entire existences are scheduled and monitored?

This is much more richness in Professor Blackwell's extraordinary life journey. You can read the full transcript of ROHO’s interview with David Blackwell here.

--David Dunham (

From the Archives—Spring 2014

“Mormons, Missions, and Sleeve Knives: David Pierpont Gardner and Preparation for a Career in the University of California System”

Photo of David Pierpont Gardner

Oral histories have a way of justifying themselves. They reveal the variety, contingency, and texture of human experience as much as they show patterns and path dependence. This is true even of histories of university presidents. Although it is a foregone conclusion that the material discussed in these histories will touch on the world-changing events that happen in and around universities, what university administrators do in their “other lives” outside of the academy is often equally fascinating and of interest to historians and the public.

Prior to his career in academia, UC President Emeritus David Pierpont Gardner had an early exposure to nerve-wracking challenges and international intrigue at the height of the Cold War. As a young Mormon graduate of Brigham Young University, Gardner felt it was his duty to go on a mission overseas for his church. Unfortunately, such service was potentially in conflict with his duties as US citizen who might be drafted at any moment to serve in the US military.

In order to avoid the possible interruption of future plans, Gardner decided to enlist.  When he met with the enlistment officer, he was surprised to learn that Mormons were in particularly high demand for certain kinds of work. Gardner had expressed an interest in counterintelligence – which is the prevention of foreign intelligence-gathering on American activities – but was told their quota for this specialization was full. As Gardner was leaving the office, the recruitment officer asked where he had gone to college.

He said, "Are you a Mormon?"
I said, "Yes."
He said, "You're in."
I said, "Well, you just told me a minute ago that it was filled."
He said, "Well, it's not filled for you."
I said, "Are you a Mormon?"
He said, "No, no. But we've found Mormons to be less subject to blackmail. They don't drink, they don't
womanize, and they're a very good security risk, and we would like to have you in." So I got in. [36]

Once he finished his basic training, Gardner was shipped to Japan, where he was told he would no longer be trained in counterintelligence. Instead, he would be trained in the “positive intelligence unit,” which entailed gathering information on foreign entities on foreign soil. He was going to become a spy, in the hostile environment of South Korea, in 1955. Gardner said that he matured quickly from his two years running agents into enemy territory, and was undertaking what he felt was necessary service to his country.

Gardner: I was less frightened out in the field than when I was rendezvousing with agents in Inch’on at two in the morning. Inch 'on, on the Korean west coast, was the smuggling center of the Yellow Sea, had been for years. We would rendezvous with our contacts and agents in safe houses in Inch 'on. These were always in miserable sections of the city and always in the dark of night. I would go up to meet with them, and there were no street lights. I remember the cut glass that people had over their shops and homes there. They would blow and make noise because of the wind off the Yellow Sea, and rats scurrying around. I was scared to death.

Ann Lage, Interviewer: And there's nowhere to hide yourself.
Gardner: Oh, no.
Lage: You must have stood out terrifically.
Gardner: Oh, sure but not so much at 2:00 am. That's why it was at night. We were well armed. I had a .45 on my hip and a .38 under my arm, a sleeve knife on my right arm and a black-jack in my coat
pocket. And I knew how to use them.
Lage: Did this prepare you for the regents' meetings?
Gardner: [laughs] Yes, well, the student protests seemed rather tame in comparison.

Gardner’s career in intelligence would last until he unexpectedly had to return to the US in 1957.

Gardner: One of our agents, my agent, in this instance was either a double agent or sold out or was captured in North Korea, I don't know which.
Lage: A person that you worked with.
Gardner: Yes. My cover name was broadcast over Radio P'yongyang and Radio Peking. When that happened, my commanding officer came and he said, "You've got two hours. Pack up your stuff. As far as we're concerned, you don't exist. So you pack up your stuff and you're out of here in two hours." They flew me to Tokyo, I got on a plane in Tokyo, and I flew to the Bay Area, and the next day
I was out of the army.
Lage: Quickly!
Gardner: Just in time to enroll in summer session at Berkeley. And this was 1957.

Gardner and Lage jokingly intimated that this experience permitted him to weather both bureaucratic meetings and student protestors at UC Santa Barbara during the 1960s with a certain equanimity. But this brief excerpt also illustrates the role of chance in life: the casual question about where one attended college, the daily intensity of a dangerous environment that spared Gardner but not many of his friends, and a moment of betrayal that propelled him to a new life with a new purpose. Interviewer Ann Lage was careful to show interest in the story without putting the narrator’s guard up, as Gardner was concerned about revealing information that might still be classified. But she deftly posed questions to allow him to tell his story on his own time, and in a way that illustrates something valuable about his character and experiences that shaped his career as an administrator and a leader.

You can read the full transcript of ROHO’s interview with David Pierpont Gardner here.

--Paul Burnett (

From the Archives—Winter 2013

The Interview That Started It All: Alice B. Toklas in 1952

Photo of Alice B. Toklas, left, with her companion Gertrude Stein and their dog Basket II, near Belley, France, ca. 1941. Photo courtesy of The Bancroft Library.
Alice B. Toklas, left, with her companion Gertrude Stein and their dog Basket II, near Belley, France, ca. 1941. Photo courtesy of The Bancroft Library.

Two years before the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) was established, James D. Hart, then director of The Bancroft Library, commissioned an interview with Alice B. Toklas. Ms. Toklas, already in her mid-70s, was still residing in an apartment she once shared with Gertrude Stein in Paris. The interview, which took place at the end of
Autumn 1952, was relatively long—more than six hours—and covered a wide variety of topics, including Toklas's and Stein's childhoods in California, the Paris arts scene, and the difficulties of living under Nazi rule in wartime France. The most compelling element of this interview, though, is Toklas herself, who emerges from Stein's long shadow and proves herself to be a remarkably thoughtful, intelligent, opinionated, and feisty woman in her own right. Some attribute this interview as establishing a "proof of concept" which soon led to the founding of ROHO. Although available to researchers in the Bancroft archives for decades, this interview transcript was made available broadly to the public only this year in junction with The Bancroft Library Gallery exhibit, “A Place at the Table: A Gathering of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Text, Image & Voice.”

Listen to a clip from the interview or read the entire transcript.

From the Archives—Fall 2013

Leaking National Secrets Then and Now:
Ben Bagdikian on the Pentagon Papers

Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden, who recently leaked millions of bits of data exposing cover ups by the military and the wholesale gathering of personal information of US citizens, have touched off a fierce debate on the public's right to know and the state’s right to secrecy on issues of national security.

A similar debate dominated American discourse more than 40 years ago, in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked 7,400 pages of government documents revealing a secret history of US involvement in Vietnam. In a pre-digital age, these were documents he had laboriously and surreptitiously xeroxed while he worked as an analyst for the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg had sent the papers to the New York Times, but a federal court enjoined the newspaper not to print them.

Ellsberg then turned to Ben Bagdikian, national editor of the Washington Post with whom he had worked at Rand in the late sixties. In Bagdikians’s 2010 interview for ROHO, he recounts a cloak and dagger tale of Ellsberg getting a copy of the papers to Bagdikian, who then spent the next forty eight hours in the home of Post publisher Katherine Graham preparing the documents for publication. The interview provides an eye-witness account of Graham’s and managing editor Ben Bradlee’s discussions with legal council and board members about the political and moral implications of publishing the Pentagon Papers, and then narrates the subsequent legal consequences. The interview situates the story in the context of the polarized political climate over the War in Vietnam and the Nixon administration’s attack on the press. See, especially, interview 5 on the Pentagon Papers.

Bagdikian is a former dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, with an extensive background as an investigative reporter who wrote about the civil rights movement, exposed horrendous conditions in prisons and became a leading critic of how media became controlled by monopolies.

Ben H. Bagdikian, “Journalist, Media Critic, Professor and Dean Emeritus, UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.” Conducted by Lisa Rubens in 2010. Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, 2011.

From the Archives—Summer 2013

Health and Disease in Saudi Arabia:
The Aramco experience, 1940s-1990s

In June 1947 American medical entomologist Richard Daggy stepped off a plane in Dhahran onto a tarmac strip melting in the over-100-degree heat. The airport was a quonset hut separated from the runway by a sand dune. It had taken him several days of air travel to get there and he knew almost nothing of the famously private desert kingdom. He was sent there to help eradicate malaria, but there was only sand as far as he could see. “I was puzzled as to why a good, self-respecting malaria mosquito could make it in Saudi Arabia,” he recalled.

He joined a small group of doctors who were building a western-style health care system from scratch. Aramco’s original medical mandate had been to provide health care for their foreign workers, but it quickly grew to include local hires and their families, then everyone in the area. Basic health care for young, healthy adult workers quickly morphed into large-scale health initiatives to benefit the entire region and population. Diseases nearly eradicated in the US were still common in rural eastern Saudi Arabia. Infant mortality, malnutrition, malaria, tetanus, small pox, and trachoma took terrible tolls on the population.

Soon Daggy would be joined by his equally adventurous family and several other Aramco nurses, doctors, researchers, and epidemiologists who would become his colleagues. ROHO’s Carole Hicke interviewed more than a dozen Aramco medical professionals in 1996. Their experience spanned decades, from the early years after World War II when most of the local population were either nomadic bedu or oasis villagers, to the early 1980s when oil wealth had created modern cities, highways, and universities. Their stories capture unique perspectives of an isolated, old culture in transition and the doctors who moved half-way around the world equipped with little more than a sense of adventure to treat them.

This collection of interviews can be read online.

Our office conducted an earlier set of oral histories, “American Perspectives of Aramco, the Saudi-Arabian Oil-Producing Company, 1930s to 1980s” which can also be read online.

-- Julie Allen






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