“Oral History and California State Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk”
Little did I realize it at the time, but I conducted my first oral histories when I sat down with a tape-recorder and interviewed my paternal grandparents, Louis and Lillian. They told me sometimes hilarious and sometimes sorrowful stories about their life and families in New York, how they met, and married, during the post-WWI years. Their stories filled me with images that dramatically paralleled those inspired by readings assigned during my early college years.
While working on my Ph.D. dissertation, a biography of California’s leading Progressive Era stateswoman, Katherine Philips Edson, UCLA’s Oral History Program funded and then published my interviews with Edson’s surviving children. Subsequently, with the support of Willa Baum, ROHO funded and archived my taped interview with path-breaking attorney and Democratic activist, Ruth Church Gupta. Somewhere along the line, I became acquainted with ROHO’s Malca Chall, and we have stayed in touch ever since. By the time I finished graduate school and the subsequent research for Justice Stanley Mosk: Life at the Center of California Politics and Justice(McFarland Pub. 2012) I could say with confidence that I conducted fifty to sixty oral histories/interviews, creating my own little archive of California movers and shakers.
Of course, my efforts pale in comparison to the exhaustive undertakings of ROHO’s exceptionally qualified interviewers, the breadth of their subjects and the contribution to California, and United States history. The works of Chall, Amelia Fry, Gabrielle Morris, and Germaine LaBerge broadened my knowledge base and enabled me to expand the scope of my research, providing much of the fundamental underpinnings of my published scholarship and my works-in-progress about California political figures. In particular, Florence (Susie) Clifton was a powerhouse campaign organizer who met Stanley Mosk early in his partisan career. I had interviewed Clifton years ago for my work on Elizabeth Snyder and Democratic politics in the Golden State. But, years later, her more broadly conceived oral history, and that of her husband’s Judge Robert Clifton, offered a unique window into how, although Mosk for the most part was riding a smooth path of a rising star, he did have a few bumps in the road along the way.
In fact, many of the oral histories in the “Women Political Leaders” series and the “Goodwin Knight - Edmund G. Brown, Sr., Gubernatorial Eras, 1953-1966” project were vital to the Mosk book and my previous research. One of the great advantages of interviewing subjects whose careers overlapped is to see their differing views on past events or their recollections about people with whom they served, and sometimes it’s intriguing to compare what is not said by some interviewees as well. Perhaps most important when writing a biography, and vividly so in the case of Stanley Mosk, is how the oral history is a tool to understand how the subject consciously or otherwise presents themselves to the interviewer, or to posterity. With Mosk, as I explored further, I found an unfolding story that strayed far beyond his own retelling of his long and illustrious life. The portrait became a more complex and multi-dimensional as Morey Stanley Mosk, for example, clearly simplified the facts of his educational background for more than expediency. I’m not suggesting that oral histories are not trustworthy, to be sure. The richness of the personal perspectives that document historic epochs is a unique and invaluable resource in countless ways. Certainly, paired with the archival papers housed at the Bancroft Library, for instance, the investigative journey can breed exhilaration as you piece tidbits from here and there together, revealing contradictions or consensus in your own evolving story you are constructing as you go.
As I review the scores of materials amassed by ROHO, I am overwhelmed by how much I did not get to, or should have looked at now that I know how important that person really was, or, “Gee, why didn’t I think their point of view might have been pertinent to this biography?” Perhaps I can get to it, along with all of those other sources I have to look at for my current endeavor. Or maybe, I can write an article about what wasn’t in the book; or…well, I can leave that to other scholars who peruse ROHO’s catalog, and who just maybe were inspired by not what we missed or edited out for whatever reason, but are enticed by the integration of these individual memoirs into the larger whole that made up the extraordinary life of Justice Stanley Mosk.
Jacqueline R. Braitman
Narsai David with Frog Hollow Farms pumpkins
Photo by Vic Geraci, 2012
Narsai David: Food Impresario
One of the final interviews ROHO’s former associate director Vic Geraci conducted before his retirement last year was with Bay Area food and wine impresario Narsai David. This rollicking, wide-ranging interview will have your stomach growling and your palate craving a fine wine in no time. In this preview—amuse-bouche, if you will—David relates how family food and traditions provided a touchstone for his own contributions. The brief exchange presented here is followed by David’s recipe for his “Rack of Lamb, Assyrian.”
Geraci: I think what’s interesting, in talking about your favorite type of food is that we
go back to your mom and your culture.
David: Yeah. Childhood memories, comfort food.
Geraci: I think we don’t really realize that, until we start to get older and we’ve experienced more different food ways, how we always go back to comfort food.
David: In fact, it’s funny. Last night we had my mother’s Assyrian lamb stew. Or a
variant of it. I asked Veni the night before, if she had any thought of what she’d like to eat. She said, “Geez, we haven’t had lamb for a while. Is there any lamb?” In the freezer, I found the neck of the lamb that we barbecued—a whole lamb on a spit for Easter. So I hacked it up into some chunks and slowly braised it with these wonderful tomatoes!
You will want 1-1/2 lamb racks, each with 8 or 9 ribs. Ask the butcher to remove the flap of meat and to French cut the rib bones.
Put into a blender and puree:
1 large onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. basil leaves
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup red wine
½ cup pomegranate juice
Rub this marinade well into the rack and put the remaining marinade over the racks in a shallow glass or enameled pan. Set to marinate in refrigerator overnight, or at a cool room temperature for 6 to 8 hours. Wipe off excess marinade and roast in 450 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes for medium rare lamb, longer if you like the lamb done to a greater degree. Accompany with Cooper-Garrod Cabernet Franc.
Politics Behind the Scenes: Future Topics in Oral History
In ROHO’s previous newsletter, Neil Henry wrote about Gabriel Morris’s 1972 interview with Leone Baxter who, in partnership with Clem Whitaker in 1933, created one of the first and most influential political advertising and consultancy firms in the United States. Over the next forty years consultants became an integral part of politics.
During that period, ROHO created a rich and diverse collection of interviews with political leaders in the state of California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Those focused on the city of San Francisco document the shift in the power structure of the city: from one based on conservative Republican Party politics and based on a balance of white ethnic groups, to one rooted in liberal Democratic Party politics, orchestrated by Phil Burton and responsive to the assertions of a wide range of interest groups –including representatives of diverse racial and ethnic groups. What has not been documented is the role of political consultants in running electoral campaigns and the question of if—and to what extent—these consultants may have actually shaped their candidates’ politics. In the future we plan to ask our narrators about these issues and to explore these questions in a proposed new project on political consultants.
In the following two clips, you will find two different reflections on the role of political consultants that have been pulled from soon-to-be released ROHO interviews.
In the first clip, journalist Warren Hinckle discusses the financial underpinning of one powerful consultant. In the second, businessman and philanthropist Warren Hellman discusses whether political consultants are trustworthy.