Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Cronkite Moment

Today is Thursday, 23 July 2009.

The funeral of Walter Cronkite was conducted today in New York City.

At the time the “Iranian Hostage Crisis” began, on 4 November 1979, I worked in the Special Collections, Maps, and University Archives Department of Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University.

At that time, OSU had a close relationship with its counterpart in Iran. Many Iranian students attended the College of Engineering, particularly in petroleum engineering. Many American students at OSU were bigoted and reactionary; verbal abuse and physical attacks immediately commenced against those perceived as of Iranian origin. Many victims were, of course, of Middle Eastern (Arab) origin, not Iranian (Persian/Aryan) origin, but the bigots were not educated enough to know the difference.

Two American students picked an Iranian name and address out of the phone book (actually a Saudi name) and tossed a fire bomb through the front window of the house. They were too liquored up to notice it was actually the house next door to their target. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

I arrived at work one morning shortly after 7am, to find a banner stretched over the Library main entrance, “Sand Niggers Go Home”, which I promptly tore down.

A few weeks after the incident began, a campus reactionary group, Young Americans for Freedom, held a “support” rally for the American hostages in front of the Library. Posters were waved of John Wayne, recently deceased. One sign, believed by some to be witty, read: “Will Rogers Never Met an Iranian”. Most signs rang changes on the “Sand Nigger” theme.

I took position on the parapet separating the plaza area from the Library Lawn, a couple of dozen feet from the speakers, and proceeded to provide, gratis, in my far-carrying, classically-trained stage voice, an under-appreciated running commentary and critique of the overtly racist speeches. A common thread of the rants was condemnation of the Iranians for burning American flags.

The surprise climax to the rally came when the leader produced an Iranian flag (“My mother sewed it”), which he announced would be burned. The hypocrisy of this intention burned me. I leapt down, strode up to him, and, just as the flag began to burn, tore it from his hands and snapped it, extinguishing the flames. The flag was snatched back from me and disappeared. Several ruffians attempted to attack me, but were restrained: “Not in front of the cameras!” Microphones and cameras were quickly thrust into my face, and I made an extemporaneous statement.

“If they don’t like their flag being burned, they shouldn’t burn the flags of others. The racism of this rally is no different from that of the Klan against Blacks or the Nazis against Jews”.

As I prepared dinner that evening, my phone began ringing off the hook. Friends were calling to tell me that my action had just been on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I didn’t own a television set at the time, so I’ve never seen it.

Such was my Cronkite moment.

Thanks, Walter, for everything.


Anonymous Hari said...

I wish I had been watching.

5:45 AM  
Blogger HH said...

Wish I'd been watching myself.

After all, just because one was there, how can one be sure without validation by the unblinking eye?

"Who're ya gonna believe: me or yer lyin' eyes?"

8:50 AM  

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