Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Remembering Julian Bond and the 1960s

I don’t often write about my experiences in the South as a Civil Rights worker. It was kind of a scary time and most often I’m glad I did it and even more glad that I got through it with some kind of success and came home to San Diego. However, I read in the news the other day that one of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee organizers Julian Bond had passed.

I met Julian in the summer of 1964 at a SNCC recruitment camp on a farm in Indiana (I forget exactly where) where he took a group of us through an orientation explaining what we would be doing (teaching folks to read enough English so they could pass a literacy test and vote) in the Mississippi Freedom Schools. At the end of the week Julian was in charge of getting us down to McComb, Mississippi and housed with local families and getting the schools organized. I had quite a few opportunities to talk with him, mostly about politics but once I mentioned to him that Bo Diddley came from McComb and that led into a long talk about the blues, from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to Robert Johnson and even Blind Willie McTell (he was from Georgia). I didn’t see Julian much after that. Once he came back through McComb with a traveling music show featuring Bernice Reagon & the Freedom Singers, Bob Dylan, and Guy Carawan. They set up across the street from the SNCC office in a field and put on a show and moved on. I saw him a year or so later at the Quebec, Washington Guantanamo Peace Walk (I walked from Washington to Atlanta). He remembered I was the guy who liked the blues. I saw him again at the March on Washington. Julian went on to have a career in politics and the more respectable side of the Civil Rights movement (he was president of the NAACP for 10 years). He won’t be forgotten.

Most of my time in the 1960s was taken up with school, a bit of radical politics, and in the summers quite a bit of travel. In 1967 I started Folk Festivals of my own here in San Diego, but also in Newport, Rhode Island; Mountain View, Arkansas; Ann Arbor (Blues) Festival; University of Chicago; UCLA; UC Berkeley, New Orleans and Fiddle Contests at Galax; Weiser, Idaho; and Union Grove. I got around, met lots of folks, collected lots of records, and acquired quite a bit of knowledge (lots of it but not the kind I learned at college but knowledge just the same). The ’60s was a time to be anti-war, pro-labor (especially farm workers), and pro-Civil Rights (actually most all times are) but especially in the 1960s where the movements for these causes were musical movements, and singing on the picket lines was a regular thing. Some of the causes we thought we had won those past years are creeping back on us these days. And we don’t have as many song leaders like Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan, and others to lead the way. I guess we should just get out the song books and sing those songs ourselves.

If we could consider each other a neighbor, a friend, or a brother
It could be a wonderful, wonderful world. It could be a wonderful world.
If each little kid could have fresh milk each day, if each working man had enough time to play
If each homeless soul had a good place to stay,
It could be a wonderful world

Recordially,
Lou Curtiss

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