My experience at and of Loyola was a rich one, although not in the most conventional ways. Some outstanding learning experiences took place in the classroom, but many occurred in the context of campus based anti-war activism. In the period 1967 thru 1972, many on campus and in the City found themselves surprised by the strength and duration of protest events engendered on Loyola’s relatively small campus. Toward the end of this period there was a transitional counter-culture initiative known as the Free University which became primarily administered by Loyola students, graduates, and at least one faculty member (Tom Blouin) who was dismissed subsequent to his removal from the Danna Center by police called by the administration during its peaceful occupation by protesting students and faculty.
So here is my Memoir of those events, which, though it stands on its own, is offered to this Centennial site since it deals with such outstanding, memorable and unique events which were not seen before on Loyola’s campus, and have not been seen since:
INSIDE THE LEADING AND BUILDING OF ANTI-WAR PROTEST AT LOYOLA OF THE SOUTH AND THE COUNTERCULTURE INITIATIVE SPRINGING FROM IT—A Memoir of the period 1967-73, with a ‘past is present’ encounter in 2010
By Doug Roome, LCSW, B.A. Loyola of the South ’72, MSW Tulane ’76
*Jim Robninette’s Anti-ROTC Invasion: His unprecedented on the Loyola campus, elegantly engineered protest ‘wave’ [described in the full text below] sets an immensely valuable precedent for anyone who might be harboring a desire to foster subsequent mass protest events. On a non-violent student based level, it provides the same impetus for subsequent actions that a successful guerilla incursion provides within the context of a rebellion.
*The Moratorium To End The War Speakers: English Professor Herman Levy, who had read my paper on Madame Bovary at an MLA convention, becomes ‘faculty advisor’ to dissident students and counsels activism. I am among those inspired by Robinette’s organizing success as I turn to fashion the Speaker’s Program which forms the center of the Moratorium Rally. Keeping his success in mind helps me recruit faculty and even an administrator for this program. More than one of these speakers expresses an awareness of the precedent ROTC protest and a desire to take part in some similar “engaging” statement against the War. That little encouragement/admonition stays with me as recruitment of the speakers is finalized and I arrange them in an order which hopefully will leverage the narrative effect of the program. I seek and get a mix of academic disciplines, and place administrator Frank Wagar at the top of the lineup. The Zeitgeist drowns out catcalls from Marquette Hall, then enlists a Maroon reporter in reversing polarities. The whole program turns out better than my wildest wet behind the ears dreams and earns a citation from English instructor Tom Blouin, then on his way to becoming a Loyola campus legend and martyr of the era—although the opposite of the sectarian type.
*To Duncan Plaza: The positive energy of the Speaker’s Program helps bolster participation from the Loyola campus in the march to Duncan Plaza in front of City Hall. Along the way we become mindful that we are growing into an embodiment of The Times They Are A Changing. This lends a certain energy when one steps up to the microphone on the City Hall porch, perhaps the moreso if one has forebears in mind.
*The (Chartered Greyhound) Bus To Washington: As with many travel destinations, half the fun is getting there. Getting the bus to Washington becomes quite an experience, as detailed below. Spirits in the packed bus are lifted by enlisting a high school student folksinger to tackle little ticky-tacky houses with an assist from union labor. Thomas Jefferson sheds a tear for the farm as it was before Maggie. Collins Valee has a chance to forget his almost too visible arguments with the Chief of Tulane Security. Veteran protesters Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers seem to enjoy the trip.
*The Most Committed And Tenacious Occupiers Of The Danna Center: Before a large crowd assembles in the Danna Center, it has to be seized for them by a radical phalanx of students in a face-off with a certain Rev. H., S.J. and his ROTC type guard. This is a time to let the newest and most ardent radical recruits show their mettle. And so they do, not least of all on the distaff side. Fr. H’s previous posting has been at Jesuit High School and he soon learns the difference between making young boys from New Orleans Catholic families into Jr. Marines vs. curbing radicalized college youth of both sexes within the environs of 60’s liberal education. Liberating a cafeteria coffee pot becomes a symbol of the occupation the first night. The more the merrier on the second day, but beware of the well-dressed who ultimately sell-out the occupation even after more than 200 vote to continue and burn in effigy those who will not speak against bloody carnage. Since the right wing among the Jesuits and their Board are a fairly quick study (as IF they wouldn’t be), the radical corps has to show the way to commitment again and are applauded by a hastily gathered chorus as they leave the stage. Standing with the students are several English Dept. faculty including outright firebrand Herman Levy, smoldering firebrand John Joerg, Tom Blouin and Tom Grange. Palmer Ave. becomes memory lane for a yat radical. At Central Lockup, chickenhawks sent in to ‘botha da Hippies’ are thrown for a loss by
gesticulating older French Commies. Arrested undergraduates continuing at Loyola into the next semester, comprising core radical leadership, are stoic facing attempts to expel them which carry well into the fall semester. The trial site brings recollections of grapefruit and “Father, forgive us our trespasses” even as consciousness of vulnerability in Thomas Hall is revealed. While handling intimidation, the remaining radicals on campus make plans to export Tom Blouin, unintentionally burnished into a legend and martyr by hamfisted administrative exorcism, out into the community.
*The True Rainbow Bridge: Tom Blouin in exile teaches to a wider community in the Free University. But first, a recall of the daemonic gall of Dr. John William Corrington and his merry men. God works in mysterious ways--how the nefarious acts of a certain Rev. J. and Company gave birth to good works. Lots of hard work makes real a non sectarian countercultural initiative with essential elements forged by the fire on the Loyola Campus. Michel Thomas Blouin teaches Bob Dylan on Bourbon St. The niece of a major Jesuit goes off the reservation. A Dominican joins in. There are no dead in the attic as the future father of The Torturer’s Apprentice and his beloved enroll to partake of the jewels and binoculars. Wonderful lemonade is being made everywhere. Gibson Hall witnesses a transcendental experience. Physics and philosophy mix in Robinette’s hands. Donations of cover art and printing assist production of Free U. ‘catalogs’ hand placed at Loyola, Tulane and LSUNO. This can’t last forever, but it cross fertilizes even established academic institutions in the community which draw inspiration from the Free U. and imitate it, first Tulane then Delgado. Last to do so is Loyola. Is the FBI and the Brother an admission of a less learning rich environment sans Tom Blouin?
*Addendum: The past is present at Loyola in 2010 as an assassin returning to the scene of his crime attempts right wing revolutionary counsel but is disrupted by an unexpected enquirer.
I. Jim Robinette’s Anti-ROTC Invasion
When I started at Loyola in the fall of1966, an ROTC style course was mandatory. At first, it never occurred to me or my classmates that there would be an ‘opt out’, especially since the Vietnam War was cranking up. Jim Robinette, a Loyola physics major, changed that mindset dramatically with a well staged protest that was, ironically, an admirable piece of military field strategy. He set out to generate a ‘wave’, which he set in motion with a core group of protesters at the St. Charles Ave. end of the campus. It then grew and swelled until it crashed over the stairways of the Danna Center 2 ½ blocks away and flooded it’s inside hallways. I think most of those who joined in were indeed anti-ROTC to some degree, but his wave’s increasingly impressive growth and momentum as it rolled across campus also drew upon the mere emotive physics of the thing. Who when they’re young can resist a parade, especially one with yelling, chanting, laughing marchers. It took the campus by surprise, including the then typically meek campus security force. There was no stopping it and its momentum carried past the parade itself. The administration was evidently as impressed as my freshman self. There were no more mandatory ROTC courses the next year. I was merely a spectator to this phenomenon but it stayed in my mind as proof that physical protest could be mustered, and in a way that produced results. I had not been an eyewitness to such a thing before, but I never forgot it as I proceeded later with my own organizing.
II. The Moratorium To End The War Speakers:
The protest mood in the country gradually grew and became a Zeitgeist, including at Tulane, and much to everyone’s surprise, Loyola. One of the more notably choreographed protests in the nation occurred at Tulane when members of its Drama Dept. led actions disruptive of Tulane Navy ROTC drills by way of costuming as ‘skeletons’ moving through the drill formations. This set a certain kind of artful standard as it were, which later influenced me. The most activist member of the faculty to emerge at Loyola was English Dept. Professor Herman Levy. Professor Levy had read my paper on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary at the Modern Language Association convention. Not long thereafter he became something of a ‘faculty advisor’ to a student protest group which I recall as ‘Students for Peace’. Soon the National Moratorium came along and it seemed that if we wished to have any self respect as a functional anti-war organization, we needed to be sure that the Loyola campus had something to offer. It fell to me to organize the Speaker’s Program. I remembered being fairly terrified as I had never embarked on anything of the kind. Also I had been a shy only child, not without talents, but at school I could be counted as one of the less demonstrative of any given bunch. I decided to proceed in the only way I could imagine, which was to seek out faculty of whom I had the best impressions.
What this meant for me was being impressed with the individual’s good will or at least evenhandedness, their ability to communicate on their subject, and having what I thought of as a ‘lively mind’. The slate of speakers wound up being fashioned by me and I sequenced them in a way which I conceived would provide maximum leverage of their hoped for contribution. My personal favorites among my recruits was History Professor Peter Cangelosi (I had enjoyed his ‘Age Of Jackson’ course in American History, my minor field) followed by Herman Levy. I do believe that Professor Bourgeois of the Philosophy Dept. (who had taught a course in Phenomenology which I considered topnotch) acquitted himself well. Herman’s best friend on the English Dept.faculty, Tom Blouin, was on our radar, but was not nearly as outspoken per political protest. I had not the highest expectations for Dean of Students Frank Wagar, but he made a considerably better than expected contribution. I had placed him at the front of the pack, partly because I wanted some sort of lead-off, if not endorsement from the Administration. He turned out to be not only evenhanded but supportive, speaking effectively and with some feeling. His presentation was the highwater mark of support from the Loyola Administration. Never did any Jesuit administrator clearly second his layperson statements, at any point. English major Ralph Adamo was among the presenters on the platform, which was actually the steps of the (old) Loyola Library. Ralph provided some nice poetry. I do believe he who had become the informally anointed ‘Dean’ of protest, Jim Robinette, was also on stage. All in the organizing group were suitably outfitted in jeans, with most of our jackets adorned with what became the ubiquitous protest (or ‘Strike’) fist. The thing wound up attracting a crowd of students which filled much of the large quadrangle between Marquette and Bobet Halls, A protest event turnout unequalled at Loyola except during the height of the Danna Center occupation.
My more close engagement with legendary English instructor Tom Blouin dates from just after the program, when situated back in his ‘coffee shop salon’, he wondered out loud as to who put together the sequencing of the speakers which turned out so well. Before my then still shy self could get up my hand, one of my cohorts credited me with, ‘Oh, that part was all Doug’. Thus began an association with Tom Blouin which was to be most productive in the future in terms of the ‘Free University’—an evolution which spurred first Tulane, then others like Delgado Community College to follow suit—after Tom Blouin left the rosters of Loyola faculty.
The Zeitgeist indeed smiled upon the Mortatorium Program. Even opposing reactions to it became positives. During the program, some of us had hardly noticed that some Dental students were ‘blessing’ the event with catcalls from their windows in Marquette Hall, headquarters of their program, which formed one side of the quadrangle perimeter. One of those whose attention they did get was Mike Presti, an English major with a Theology minor who was covering the Moratorium Program for the Maroon, the campus newspaper. The Maroon printed Mike’s nicely penned review of the program together with his negative take of those among the Dental students who had devolved into crude attempts at disrupting the event. Evidently the dentals felt that Mike, in calling them to account for their crude approach, had root-canaled them without anesthesia, and they found a way to howl their pain in public. They fashioned crudely worded banners which they did not seem to realize reinforced Presti’s points. These included: ‘Mike Presti Is A Dead Man’ as well as the slightly more creative, ‘Have You Had Your Teeth Cleaned Lately, Mike Presti?. These were flown from the 2nd and 3rd floors of the same bastion from which they had issued their taunts in unsuccessfully attempting to disrupt faculty and students presenting at the Moratorium Program. The Administration was not known to have issued any form of admonition to the Dental students involved in making written threats of physical violence using University property, but as the protest leadership became aware of what the offended dentals had wrought, and the stir it created on campus, they found themselves becoming delighted. As those incensed among the dentals unfurled their banners on a bright sunlit morning, they had provided us with priceless outdoor advertising, at a ‘premium’ location. It called to attention for all to see (more assuredly than merely a letter to the editor) the energies generated by our efforts with the Moratorium Program. And with the crude slogans they made us, and Mike Presti, eversomuch more the goodguys. At its peak, the Zeitgeist took care of it’s own wonderfully well.
III. To Duncan Plaza:
Armed with the success of the Moratorium Speakers event, I was able to beat back my shyness to the extent of getting on the speaker’s platform at the citywide event unfolding at Duncan Plaza. Facing an even larger crowd than the assembly in the Loyola Quadrangle, I remember thinking: The worst you can do is make an ass of yourself for a good cause. But I was on a roll. Maybe it was the influence preceding me in those environs, of my Deputy Commissioner of Public Works maternal grandfather, or my multi-term Orleans DA uncle (although the latter would have likely disowned my anti-establishment activities as flirting with the excesses of Huey Long, because of whom he felt called upon to carry a pistol on his person). I suddenly summoned a cadence and delivery that I liked. The crowd agreed, giving me two of the biggest ovations of the evening. If that wasn’t enough, a nice looking Loyola co-ed told me later (I think at Tom Blouin’s house in the French Quarter to which my group adjourned) “you were the best”, explaining that I had conveyed a fresh energy lacking from even the loquacious leftist veterans. That was good icing, almost the moreso because we were not romantically involved. I figured that lent to her credibility. She had her eyes set on another of my classmates who indeed panned out as what could be called ‘a better choice’, John Biguenet. He’s now become a major regional presence as a writer and is the only one of our gang of students to become seated, with prestige, on the Loyola faculty. He also plotted, even at that point, a consciously more conservative course than any of the rest of us. The then admiring Doug co-ed went on to greater glory, within the recent past as a chief administrator of a top tier private school in the area.
But half the fun of the Plaza trip was getting there. One unforgettable moment of the march was when another comely lass in our midst, upon passing the Federal Building, waved at the upper floors and half sarcastically, but half not, yelled “hey Daddy, hey daddy”. Her father was a senior FBI official and I believe her name was Shiela Sylvester. More than a few of us realized we were living that line in Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A Changing’: “Your sons and your daughters are yond your command…”. And they didn’t even know about my uncle. That’s when an Establishment begins to really become uncomfortable.
IV. The [Chartered Greyhound] Bus To Washington:
Just doing this as a virtually solo effort, I got enough interest for a bus and a half. But you can’t charter half a long distance bus, so when the big Greyhound pulled up in front of the Loyola Field House on Freret St., it had been first come first served for the Loyola & Tulane students who filled it. Among the latter was Collins Valee, who took time out from his almost too noticeable arguments on campus with Col. Scruton, Chief of the Greenie Cops (Tulane campus police), to grace us with his presence. He is now a high class local attorney and appeared briefly in Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’. Also boarding was a veteran protester couple, Mr. & Mrs. Rodgers. They were always available for a friendly chat as long as it was political. One could readily see them as young activists in the 30’s. They DID keep their faith.
The most fascinating part of all this was once again the getting there, including the getting of the bus. The Greyhound station and offices had recently moved into the Union Passenger Terminal, occupying space originally reserved for long distance trains, which incidentally I considered something of a sacrilege. Rail passenger service was at the lowest ebb of its storied history, Nixon having removed most of the U.S. Mail from even the fast trains and put it on trucks cruising the new U.S. version of the Autobahns that were beginning to erode the fabric of even the great cities. The legendary Railway Post Office cars and their crews had traveled their last mile. I had known the UPT in its heyday having been taken there even before its completion by my uncle (the ex-DA &Attny Gen. had access privileges) who walked me thru the just poured foundation, showing me where they were going to place a snackbar that sold ice cream. That had made an impression on my 5 year old self, as had an event a couple years later when my father, not to be outdone—or was he instigated by my uncle (?)--took me nearly kicking and screaming up into the cab of one of the ‘NOUPT’ switch engines, where I sat for a few minutes and a short ride, elbow to elbow with union labor. During the bus ride I was to gain an even better impression of union labor. When I entered the Greyhound offices there were a couple of audible comments from the office staff, one about the “long haired college hippie punk”, and another wondering “when did he wash those jeans”. But America is America, and I had cash on the barrelhead, so after only a few days worth of checking with the head office as to whether they could carry the likes of us, the bus showed up right on time for its non-stop except for meals trek to D.C. The drivers came on in shifts, and about half of them (insta-pol of that union labor here) made friendly comments. In the early morning, I approached Cindy Williams, the daughter of poet and then Loyola English professor Miller Williams. She was really just a high school kid, but she had brought her guitar, and was developing a lovely voice for her folk singing, so I asked her for a little wake up tune appropriate to the setting. As dawn broke, we had passed through some rolling Virginia countryside with timeless farmhouses tucked here and there in the mist but as the sun began to burn through we were now beholding row after row of cookie cutter suburbs marching toward D.C. Soon Cindy was strumming and singing that certain elegaic ballad about losing America amidst “all the little ticky-tacky houses”. The driver called me over and I thought here we go with a complaint about the singing. So I was kind of surprised as he told me that he had grown up on the farm and still missed it. Tom Jefferson shed a tear. I realized that if something akin to that happened at some point or other along the routes of the hundreds of buses converging on the nation’s capital, then we were all contributing to something beyond our campi and even the massive protest about to unfold. Maybe the message would eventually be delivered to the politicians (even Nixon), maybe we would be able to end the absurd viciousness of Vietnam, maybe the unarmed dead would not be so in vain.
V. The Most Committed And Tenacious Occupiers Of The Danna Center:
When The Buzz started on the Loyola campus about occupying the university center (Danna Center) building in sympathy with and joined to the revulsion on campi nationwide in reaction to the murders at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard, the Loyola Administration dispatched to the environs of the ‘free speech mike’ at the Center one Rev. H. to try to hold the fort along with some hastily recruited ROTC types. I knew Fr. H. and had seen him, earnest and intense as he appeared to be, of no help in what could be called preliminary situations. He had occupied a counseling position when I attended Jesuit High School where he had demonstrated little to no success in ameliorating the effects of a regimen for high schoolers that the Jesuits in charge considered rigorous and the more creative minded considered stupidly rigid. So what we had in the Danna Center at that point was an administrative import from Jesuit High of New Orleans facing off with a group of students at the core of which was a Jesuit High product (or more appropriately, escapee) unintended as that product (myself) might have been.
Here, a side trip to review some of the less advertised aspects of a Jesuit HIGH SCHOOL education is rather essential: At Jesuit High, if the daily routine of battling Brasso fumes over your military style belt buckle and the furious shoe shining wasn’t stifling enough, some Jesuits had their idea of sex education waiting for the adolescent boys whose families had been blind enough to send them onto the ‘Jr. Marines’ campus. I had experienced The Treatment with my friend Ken Ritter (in fact it might have been the experience that made us friends). We had been called into a tight little office with a big desk behind which sat a pepper haired priest with whom we were not familiar. He must have been a Specialist called in to perform the dirty deed. And perform it he did, after summoning Ken and I from the folding chairs where we had waited outside the little office. He finished up the cigarette he evidently had after each session, glared at us, and called out “tenn-hut”. Ken and I, a bit startled, glanced at each other as the priest barked the order more forcefully. We complied and he began to inject his as sterilized as possible explanation of the birds and the bees. Afterwards, his effort concluded, the Specialist reached for another cigarette as he dismissed us. Safe to say his rendition of copulatory realities was not in the style of Lenny Bruce’s warm explications on the virtues of what boys and girls do together. Ritter and I were about halfway down the hall before we looked at each other again and burst out laughing.
The event stands as an over-the-top contribution to the healthy disrespect engendered in myself and some others for Jesuit secondary education. Fr. H. was a cog in all of this in terms of being in an ongoing counseling position at the High School but doing nothing to throw any bit of cold water on the many archaic and curious exercises there. I therefore pled guilty to a certain bemused relish upon witnessing the Reverend’s flailing in vain against the cadre of radicalized students who would certainly overcome him despite the ROTC types attempting to guard his flank. The radicalized group that Fr. H. had no success in calming needed no leader at this point. They were riding a massive though ethereal version of Robinette’s wave. It was perhaps fitting that a diminutive girl of Irish extraction amongst them would later become enamored of him, but at that point neither she nor her phalanx were in need of him or any leader. The Zeitgeist of the historical moment propelled them and it was a not to be denied energy forged and empowered in defense against violent events. It would stop only when it had expended itself. No apologist for the myopic and perverse was going to stand against it. The medieval elements of a Jesuit education could be gotten away with in the close confines of a private high school but not within the environs of liberal education to which a 1960’s college campus had to subscribe, no matter who ran it. Fr. H. had exhausted himself and become deflated. All that was needed was a punctuation mark. I stepped forward and said: “We’re doing this”.
Looking from today’s perspectives, the small but intense ‘leaderless’ group of radical students that seized and established the occupation of the Danna Center was the ultimate back-to-the-future fantasy of today’s ‘Occupy’ movement. I liberated from the snack bar a large restaurant style coffee maker and was on my way back to my cohorts (numbering not more than a couple dozen originally) at the center of newly ‘occupied territory’ when I nearly crashed into Tom Blouin walking the other way, by himself. By that time, Michel T.Blouin, an extraordinary classroom teacher of English literature and Loyola’s first extraordinary teacher of modern film, had been targeted for termination by the administration ostensibly because he lacked a Ph.D, but actually for other reasons. However, since he had remarkably demonstrative support among students and quite a few faculty, there was some reason to believe that through formal and informal appeal channels he might yet secure at least a conditional re-instatement--as long as he did nothing more to rock the boat. Perhaps these considerations caused him to seem pensive, almost anxious when I bumped into him. I asked what was he up to, and he replied that he was tired and was going to catch the Freret bus back toward his apartment. “Are you coming back?”, I enquired. I knew he probably shouldn’t, but like many of the little legion that was establishing the occupation, I hoped he would be with us. He replied “I probably will, but I’ve got to think about it”. He did come back, and he and a handful of other faculty (including the blazing firebrand Herman Levy and the smoldering firebrand John Joerg) got arrested days later with the committed and tenacious group of students who had done the original seizure. It had boiled back down to them after swelling to several hundred, perhaps a thousand, coming and going across the intervening days. Looking back, it probably would have been better for Tom Blouin had he not made his fateful decision to return. Obviously it was a commitment that he felt needed to be made.
The radical corps having demonstrated that the Loyola campus could continue (as in the case of the Moratorium Program) to be joined to the vigorous national Zeitgeist, the more established elements of student government decided to be opportunistic, jump in the boat, and swamp a good thing. Besides, it looked like we were having a certain kind of fun, and it was nearing the end of the semester anyway. At first, we didn’t especially mind them taking over that which they had not the fortitude to initiate any more than Eugene McCarthy had minded much more established politicians taking over his crusade against LBJ and the Vietnam adventure once McCarthy demonstrated in New Hampshire that the ruling clique was vulnerable. Besides, there were a couple of rather earnest people among them, such as Ralph Adamo. Although he was a Jesuit High graduate, I had seen Ralph make a good contribution when I had fashioned the very successful Moratorium Speakers Program. And they added even more to the substantial number of students who had joined us upon seeing we weren’t immediately expelled or jailed.
These people were no Robert Kennedys however and they did not in the end commit themselves to the slightest risk, much less pay the ultimate price that JFK’s younger brother had just recently paid. [Any review of anti-war/counter culture protest ’68 to’70 & beyond is incomplete without referencing these tragic backdrops loaded on top of a country and its youth already traumatized by the war itself and then Kent State] What the ‘student officials’ did provide was meandering leadership. These guys at one point dressed up in suits and ties to present to a packed Danna Center crowd before going over to negotiate with the Administration. Evidently the students were more impressed than the Jesuits, and they came back with not much. Some ‘terrible cynics’ opined that this bunch was actually signaling to the Administration that they could succeed in crowd controlling their peers and keep them from the clutches of a radical agenda. At any rate it became clear that although everyone was enjoying a bit of a time out, the impeccably attired official cabal was not going to get a statement putting the University officially on record as being at odds with the War or even against the murders at Kent State. This set the stage for the radical corps to do what they always had figured on doing—put the Administration in the headlines as they chose to arrest their own most committed students rather than make the anti-atrocities statement.
I was between fares driving my Yellow Cab just before dusk when I got word that the police were going to move in on the group of students and (mostly English Dept.) faculty at the Danna Center. I was able to make it there before the NOPD arrived. An older Loyola campus policeman who recognized me from previous events admonished me at the front doors to not go in because they were “probably all going to get arrested”. As I opened a door for myself, I told him that was why I was going in. I had gotten past a line of campus police just in front of him by virtue of my Yellow Cab hat, waving off a couple of them with “somebody called a cab”. They doubtless thought it so much the better for NOPD to have one or two less to deal with. A little stage prop never hurts, no matter what you’re doing. That hat occupied the Danna Center after we had been removed, but I never saw it again.
Clarence Giarusso was the NOPD brass in charge of the eviction force. I recall some sort of nice enough speech by Clarence, and the provision of a suitable opportunity which no one utilized for departure before his boys moved in on us. Years later, as I appeared rather often before then Juvenile Judge Giarusso in pursuit of my duties as a member of the intensive casework unit of the State child protection/foster care office then functioning with a mandate to reunify children with their parents, he never let this encounter visibly affect our relations in court. By the time the cops got us to the door, a sizeable group of students, who had not been there before I entered, had materialized. This was in the days before cell phones & twitter ya’ll, so the presence of a couple hundred students on a small campus who, on short notice, got in place yelling their support for us and displeasure with what amounted to a police ‘raid’ was a good thing. An invigorated Professor Herman Levy gave the appropriate ‘V’ sign in all directions.
I was in good company amongst my fellow young arrestees. There was Fritz Reuter, I do believe a son of the iconic Reuter Seed Co. of New Orleans (more influence from the spiritual descendants of farmer Thomas Jefferson?) always low key but always committed. He was possessed of a quiet resolve that translated into his being there when needed. Another stalwart presence was John Brazier. A cherubic altar boy gone radical, he was the angry young man of the Loyola Drama Dept., a pint sized Ricard Burton. His Elizabeth Taylor was a young lady named Diane, of pensively attractive looks. To some of us, she possessed that Tayloresque, almost foreign air of sophistication, and I recall her able to poise a cigarette nearly as well as Tom Blouin. As I think on it though, they may have broken up before the time of the Danna Center events. Well, that’s Burton & Taylor for you.
Then there was my roommate and roadtrips buddy, Keith Holtsclaw. Keith had grown up in Auburndale, Florida where his family had an interest in orange groves. Evidently, Keith’s favorite part of the house was the darkroom. By the time he reached Loyola he had developed the photographer’s “eye” to an extent that doubtless would have made some of the world renowned in that field quite envious. Furthur encouraged by the Antonioni film Blowup but actualizing his own considerable talent, he would go hunting with his camera and capture outstanding candid shots which in more than one instance stood as extraordinary portraits. I was privileged to be one of those subjects. At one point the Holtsclaw (he physically resembled his name, so it was always a wonder how he was able to sneak up on people with that camera) snapped me unaware, deep in conversation at a table in the Tulane snack bar, to which the radical set at Loyola had gotten in the habit of adjourning later in the game. As I realize that setting was the closest one could come in the vicinity of Freret St. to a Parisian ‘left bank’ café, it’s wonderfully ironic that what came out of his darkroom was Doug Roome looking like Jean-Paul Belmondo, someone I’ve seldom been caught resembling before or since. Maybe Keith did have an intransigent Catholic side, because he later considered it a barely pardonable sacrilege that I turned this indeed priceless gem over to an underground newspaper when they interviewed me. Their printer didn’t honor my request to return the photo. Somebody said the printer probably turned it over to the police, so somewhere in some old activist monitoring file there may be a print of the best photo of me ever. At any rate, when the big daily ‘States-Item’ subsequently interviewed me, I was sans photo to give to their reporter Danny Greene—Keith refused to provide another.
Among the ladies joining us for the paddy-bus ride to Central Lockup were two who though petite in stature were intense in their resolution. Joann was a little firebrand who made a point of doing what she wanted when she wanted, which had made her such an admirable speartip in overcoming the Rev. H& Co. during the initial takeover. Debbie Burke was just as intense, but quietly so. A brunette with a fair complexion and finely wrought features, she would probably have been a demand subject for Edward Burne-Jones or another of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I never felt her to have been properly valued.
As the paddy-bus proceeded down my boyhood street, Palmer Ave., I found myself recalling my near death by Volkswagen some years before. I had been playing a vigorously contested game of touch football with my neighborhood buddies (most of whom had never set foot in Catholic school) and was pursuing a long pass when I sailed past the limits of our dead-end turned playing field. I landed on the ground just as I heard screeching brakes behind my head, then screaming. As I got up to behold the quite upset young woman driver all I could feel was satisfaction that I had caught the pass. But if that girl had not stood on the brakes of her Beetle the paddy-bus would likely have been light at least one passenger, and several things would have been different during Loyola’s anti-war protests and with the subsequent counter cultural initiatives of the Free University. Though much more intentional, the decision to get arrested had a bit of the Volkswagen encounter in it, in that when you’re involved in a passionate contest, sometimes you ignore potential perils in order to see the thing through. I am sure I had perceived that going up to catch the long pass beyond the corner could put me at some risk. Of course, when you’re an undergraduate the system will make some effort to not smash you. But when you’re 40 or so, they’ll intentionally drive right into you. That adds up to something of an homage to the faculty who stood with us without wearing much protective gear.
At Central Lock-up, Herman Levy had more fun, teaming up with Tom Blouin to speak French in front of some pet chicken-hawks that the police authorities thought it would be fun to release on the University protest bunch, especially the students. The Levy & Blouin routine succeeded admirably in throwing the chicken-hawks for a loss. The chicken-hawks were ready to try to intimidate young hippie commie punks, but once gesticulating older French commies became part of the mix, they found themselves disoriented. In those days, English Professor John Joerg was known to be a somewhat reticent shadow of the flaming radical into which he later evolved, but even the then reserved Professor may have joined this frolic.
The Zeitgeist in which we were centered was such that being jailed in its cause was the opposite of dishonor. Though children of the notoriously law abiding middle class, that experience of arrest and brief incarceration was worn as a badge of honor. I don’t believe that even a longer incarceration would have degraded that. It probably would have burnished it. Blind as some of our middle-class forebears might have been to the virtues of our cause, we were aware of a harkening back to those roots. The Draft was serving up as cannon fodder the sons of the middle class right alongside those of the working class in the bloody Vietnam Circus Maximus which the George W. Bushes of society were largely avoiding one way or another. We were quite aware of being in service to an effort to kick down the walls of the cattle pens from within, of saying “Hell no we won’t go (quietly)”. Students at Loyola were de facto rejecting the Jesuits’ not so secret love and aspiration, the military academy. Do not from within your black robes spin for us fairytales about ‘duty, honor, country’ when the circus is at hand. [Or in Bob Dylanese: ‘There must be some way out of here, said the joker to the thief’] The whole experience built up an espirit de corps among us, a special camaraderie which manifested itself even as some of us left for other places upon completion of undergraduate degrees or transferred to perhaps less parochial campi. On one journey to the airport to see off one of the ‘Musketeers’, I lapsed into one of the most middle-to-working class of all New Orleans jargons—Yatese. Soon the whole packed carful of us was speaking Yat, Dat ,Whereya-at, even those who hailed from out of town, and including a couple of faculty present. At the time I wondered how this idiomatic lapse seemed so contagious and appropriate. It was our middle and working class roots coming out, airing themselves and celebrating. We didn’t need no academic or idiology-speak, dahlin’! It was good.
Although the Loyola administration dropped criminal charges against the students they had arrested at the Danna Center, they proceeded for a considerable period to attempt further intimidation of those most committed to peaceful protest of the Vietnam carnage and the Kent State murders by holding to attempts to expel them. We were defended in a campus court by Brod Bagert, who later became a New Orleans city official. The expulsion attempt was eventually dropped, but I recall it proceeding into the subsequent semester. I seem to recall the campus court being held in Thomas Hall (the Jesuit residence) of all places. Perhaps it was their revenge for an incident which had previously taken place in the same hall. On that occasion, a group of students, some of whose leaders were targets of the later expulsion proceedings, had gone into Thomas Hall seeking a discussion, directly with the Jesuits, of the moral implications of NOT doing anything to resist the Vietnam mayhem. Although in charge of an institution of higher learning, the Jesuits were reluctant to come downstairs to attempt any dialogue with their own students (and faculty) before they called the police, and the few who did so had to be provoked into an interaction. One instrument of such provocation turned out to be a laid back young psychology instructor named Louis Sutker, who had recently proclaimed in the midst of a discussion at Tom Blouin’s coffeshop salon tables that his present mission in life was to see how close he could imitate being a self satisfied member of the establishment without actually becoming one. Louis’ friends deemed him quiet. Some others called him sneaky.
On the occasion of the protestors coming uninvited into the Jesuit residence hall that fateful morning, the Zeitgeist evidently prevailed upon Sutker to use his talents to good effect, although he would be throwing caution to the winds. The Thomas Hall kitchen staff had been in process of laying out breakfast and had gotten as far as distributing grapefruits, in nicely cut halves with a cherry on top, on each of more than a dozen tables. Morning sunlight arching in through chapel style windows emphasized the unsullied whiteness of the tablecloths, which attracted the attention of Tom Mautino, who’d been a stage organizer for the Moratorium Program. Tom couldn’t resist sitting down to try a grapefruit and after he proclaimed, “sweet, for a grapefruit”, several other students followed suit. Needless to say, this produced whispered exclamations among the kitchen staff who scurried out of the area, doubtless intent upon giving notice of this transgression to those in charge. With no one watching the hallway onto the Jesuits’ bulletin board area, the Zeigeist needed merely nudge Sutker into proceeding to take a look at the postings. Upon reaching the board, the young psychology professor gained one of the most revealing intelligences of the era regarding the state of the academic milieu as it then existed at Loyola. What he became riveted on was a memo stating that Loyola’s Jesuits must mount an effort to engage with the students and to act as though they cared about the students’ issues, especially so in the coffeeshop, where they needed to counteract ‘other influences’. As he beheld this, then started reading the text aloud, Fr. H, the former counselor from Jesuit High raced up and ripped the page from the board. He probably thought he had saved the day and redeemed himself for his failure to nip the Occupation in the bud that night in the Danna Center. Alas, Sutker, a quick study and a fast reader, had already absorbed the entire content of the advisory. What it stated would be broadcast through word of mouth and to the considerable embarrassment of the administration throughout much of the campus community. And it further burnished Tom Blouin’s reputation. The background was this: The Jesuits recently had been forced to entertain a parent concerned about the radicalization of her son, a Loyola undergraduate. Though not college educated, the parent had verbally and conceptually made the point that the Jesuits, then still claiming to be able to act under the auspices of in loco parentis, were giving over promising students to a radical agenda by default, in that they were providing no competition whatsoever to the extended presence in the campus coffeeshop of Tom Blouin, already a living legend in the classroom, who was thereby leveraging his influence by being consistently available for all manner of cultural discourse even when out of class. He was attracting a number of the most intelligent students who hadn’t initially signed onto his classes. The way the parent had put the case to the Jesuits with whom she met doubtless also made an impression with the statement: “My God there are enough of you, why don’t you get your asses over there!” The memo that Fr. H. had tried to shield from Louis Sutker’s gaze had more demurely made this point into an administrative advisory. Possessed of this psychological prize, Sutker now sought to withdraw, but not before being told by one of the Jesuits who had arrived on the scene that he was trespassing. To which the now truly inspired Sutker replied: “Father, forgive us our trespasses”. Forgiveness, however, was not to be the order of the moment for such a violation. English Professor John Joerge, who had joined in the “trespass” by more than 50 students, was told by one of the priests to leave. This invitation was soon backed by sirens wailing on St. Charles Avenue. Ironically, Dr. Joerge had been with NOPD at one point. In one of the more verbally tasteless displays exhibited by the residents of Thomas Hall during the incident, an older priest confronted one of the protesting students, a then well mannered young woman named Adrienne Petrosini, who was a graduate of a Catholic high school in Miami. He admonished her that “females were not allowed” in the hall. A message which certainly did the opposite of bolstering her faith.
Among radical leadership spearheading the incident was John ‘little Richard Burton’ Brazier who, though enacting that moniker off–stage also, was complemented for the occasion by that certain ‘Elizabeth Taylor’, Diane Kozak. Overall, it was a light, lively and revealing precedent to the later arrests at the Danna Center. It also produced the considerable bonus of the bulletin board intelligence illustrating how much ground the Jesuit Administration finally realized it was losing to some of its most gifted faculty who were rendering considerably more guidance to the students at a time of a national crisis of conscience which had produced on campus the most extraordinary shockwaves of the 20th century. Too late, the Jesuits realized they had not been there for any of their students in that regard. The most pathetic aspect of their dilemma was that they remained clueless about how to establish real dialogue. The students got some grapefruit, and the Jesuit leadership had blown it once again.
VI. The True Rainbow Bridge--Tom Blouin In Exile Teaches To A Wider Community In The Free University:
A huge statement was obviously made by the students who participated in the nationwide campus shutdowns in the spring of 1970. That statement had destabilized the footing for both the Vietnam War and the Draft. Both of those charnel edifices which were literally chewing up the lives of so many unwilling early baby boomer males were visibly teetering, and clearly going to fall at some point in the not very distant future. However, to bring them down immediately would call for an immediate violent revolution, the success of which was highly dubious. And if it did succeed, the baby might be thrown out with the bath water in terms of compromising or destroying any number of viable and desirable American institutions. These were legitimately daunting propositions, involving choices which most American students—who by and large went to college with the not unworthy goal of taking their places within the healthy elements of American institutions--did not on the whole wish to make. A few already had, as in the case of those Columbia University students who had formed the first ranks of “The Weathermen”, but it was probably fortunate that few if any Loyola or Tulane students were going the follow that path. On the other hand, attempting to endlessly just “Occupy” University campi which represented neither the real fangs nor belly of the beast could wind up looking stupid.
What was not stupid was what happened. Nationwide AND in New Orleans the question ‘what can we realistically but creatively do now’ was answered by forming counter-cultural initiatives. Loyola’s Jesuit Administration, in overreacting to the protests on campus, unwittingly helped set the stage for Tom Blouin’s induction into the New Orleans manifestation of these initiatives. It was not completely surprising that Loyola failed, under new ‘executives’ such as one Fr. J., (in special sensitivity to the LOYNO Centennial, he’ll just be reffered to generically) to renew the contracts of the likes of Tom Blouin and the couple of other faculty who were sans tenure at the point of their arrest at the Danna Center. Rumor had it that the Jesuits even called in an ancient gnarled priest as an ‘exorcist’ to ensure the riddance of such unsavory influences. Some people maintained that they beheld the wizened cleric going about sprinkling holy water in locations oft frequented by certain English Dept. faculty. The exorcist evidently didn’t work on John William Corrington , Chairman of the English Dept., who declared that he would not fire Blouin under the pretext of his having only a Masters degree. Besides, he added, who would serve as a proper doctoral advisor or panel in dealing with Tom Blouin “because he knows more than any Ph.D. I’ve ever met—including myself”. (Corrington had one from Oxford, a fact he advertised by usually wearing jackets on which an Oxford emblem was prominent). With the exorcist evidently being overwhelmed by the extent of Dr. Corrington’s demonic (I would say daemonic) gall, and Corrington being backed by the then extant English Dept. faculty (which included future arrestees such as Herman Levy and John Joerg), not to mention the English major representatives such as myself and John Biguenet, the Rev. J. had to resort to overt dictatorial mechanisms. He pushed (many members of the Faculty Senate said exceeded) his powers to the point of a takeover of the English Dept.
Here a brief trip to the future is apropos, though it blows a bit of a chill breeze through present day Loyola: Decades later the ‘Rev. Executioner’ as we came to call him, would return to the scene of the crime in almost exactly the same clothing. This comes under ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’ as applied to religion and politics as recently mixed on the Loyola campus. In March 2010 Fr. J. was featured at a Loyola Alumni event in Bobet Hall, which became amazing not for its grace but for right wing pitch complete with a pamphlet bearing an outline of the ancient one’s little homily to certain alumni. In this recent “advocacy” incarnation the mischievous reverend proceeded to outdo himself in terms of pushing the same tactics as in the ‘coup’ against the English Dept. forty years earlier. Only his list of specific targets had changed. He was now upping the ante a considerable extent, quoting Jeb Bush as saying the nation has lost its soul; stating that revolutions have been “fought over less good issues than abortion”; offering opinions worthy of a Constitutional scholar (who knew?); weighing-in to the effect that public funds ought to be able to go to church schools as long as various denominations get a share. I kept waiting for a careful disavowal of violence in his revolutionary exhortation, which was given with a University official present. But alas, he would be stymied in this latter day effort by an unexpected enquirer. ~SEE ADDENDUM~
Back in 1970, after the brave new Fr. J. led administration got what it wanted, the opportunity to export Tom Blouin’s talents to a broader community while keeping him available to Loyola students was too good to pass up. Unwittingly, Fr, J. and the more right wing elements of administration at Loyola had leveraged Tom Blouin’s reputation in the eyes of students who already knew him to be unparalleled at communicating and flavoring his subject in the classroom. After conclusively terminating him in close enough proximity to his conscientious stand with those students most dedicated to their convictions at the Danna Center, they had burnished his martyrdom. He had opened for his students new worlds of understanding and exploration of creative work, and his legend was growing. The Jesuits also gave him the aura of a latter day Galileo by giving all the appearance of stifling him not only for his candor and conscience but also for his unbridled intellect.
Ben Weathersby and some Tulane graduate students had initiated the New Orleans Free University. I met with them and offered my services in giving greater exposure to the Free U. on the Loyola campus and through some contacts in the ‘underground press’. They readily accepted my suggestion that they augment their offerings with the inclusion of courses by Tom Blouin, Jim Robinette, (by then a graduate student) and a few others. I believe Fr. Counahan, a Dominican priest who became friends with Blouin and left the order for a period of time taught a course. He was said to have been an expert carpenter before he had taken his vows. The Free University was a textbook case of mind over matter. The important thing was the teaching, which was accomplished in locations as diverse as a packed room in Blouin’s Bourbon St. apartment to classroom space of elegant and historic dimensions in Tulane’s Gibson Hall (I sometimes got the impression that Tulane was trying to make up for its inaccessibility to much of the middle class). At any rate the Free U. thrived even after the departure of Weathersby and his cohort, enduring for as long as its unremunerated ‘administration’ which it devolved upon myself to lead, could make ends meet via such things as donated artwork and printing for ‘catalogs’. Tom Blouin’s ‘classes’ became intellectually convivial gatherings for dozens at a time. He acquired both new and returning students, including Elizabeth Benedetto who as I recall was a niece of one of the local Jesuits, John Biguenet and his wife to be, and even the more intellectually free spirited young administrator, agency and executive types. Student ages ranged into the young adult and middle aged for various courses including Jim Robinette’s adventures into Physics and Philosophy, and what became one of my favorites, Hatha Yoga. At first I attended the offering presented by a not unattractive young woman with a forehead as large as Tom Blouin’s as something of a lark. But one evening, much to my astonishment I ‘reached Nirvana’ or close enough, right there in Gibson Hall. Emulating her postural and auditory leadership, with the classroom lights doused in favor of those let in from the hall, a group of not less than 30 people came to find their surroundings exquisitely friendly and close. There was an intimate relaxed beauty to everything.
Wonderful lemonade was being made everywhere with the lemons that the Loyola administration had served us, which is of the essence in counter establishment actions. Creative synergies and cross-fertilization occurred here and there. Blouin had concocted a course delving into the lyrics of Bob Dylan, which came to stand as one of his more remarkable Free University efforts. He had a decidedly different take on the subject compared to that by which John Biguenet had made his mark in one of his first published essays as a student. Biguenet attributed much in the lyrics to streetdrug lingo. Blouin found whole other levels of commentary on the world and creativity in the same lines. Just after the start of one class someone not of the local universities arrived with an incredible cut of a bootleg album containing ‘Visions Of Johanna’ which Blouin had just presented as being about ‘The Muse’. This Dylan rendering was done on acoustic guitar with absolutely no electronic back up, was extremely nuanced and meticulously recorded. It was like the performer was there in the softly lit book lined room. It’s a powerful but quiet song, and you could nearly hear him breathing. Affirmation flowed into the Blouin-offered interpretation: “jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the MUSE...and it’s visions of Johanna (another incarnation of the muse) that keep me up past the dawn”. It was an incredible interlude which echoed in the quiet after the song was done. After a little bit, someone brought us back to ‘reality’ by saying “well how do you like THAT, Pete Seeger”? (Pete Seeger had accused Bob Dylan of betraying his own roots by going to electronic format). This intoxicating stuff had come directly out of the protests at both Loyola and Tulane once requisite initiative and creativity had been applied, and was emblematic of the type of cross-fertilization from outside and energy occurring AFTER 1970, which was a direct outgrowth of what happened before, at Loyola. It was campus protest taken to the next level, which is cultural alternative actually brought forth into the community. [It had VERY little to do with sectarian religion]. It saw advertising via volunteers by way of postings and course brochures disseminated at Tulane, Loyola, Xavier and LSUNO. Although the ‘Free U.’ happened on a small scale, it became so noteworthy that it was imitated by the most established academic institutions: First Tulane, then Delgado Community College, finally by Loyola itself. Infusion of an educational counter culture born of protest had seen full circle completion.*
*In a tacit confession (to those who knew) the Loyola Administration in effect acknowledged the campus to be a less learning-rich place sans Tom when they recruited Brother Alexis Gonzalez to help fill the void by offering to students a course in Modern Film and to the wider community the ‘Film Buffs Institute’. Tom Blouin had been their first and best teacher of appreciating Modern Film.
Addendum: The Past Is Present At Loyola Of The South?
I couldn’t help thinking of Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’ when I sent this (slightly modified) email in September of 2010 to a veteran of the events described above:
I was about to toss a notice of a Loyola Alumni function with an inconvenient date, when I noticed that the presenter was a certain Fr. J. Was this a distorted waking dream brought on by memories stirred by an off-kilter history of Loyola in the 60’s that had come my way? I pinched myself and it was still there. A Jungian synchronicity at least. What an opportunity to observe someone returning to the scene of the crime.
So there I was with my wife Marcia on the ground floor of Bobet Hall watching an old priest that I would never have recognized offering some pleasantries and harmless enough historical observations. He must not even be the same guy mentally. I could see no immediate resemblance to the ruthless hatchet man of decades past. Then just as I was about to motion Marcia ‘let’s go’, he dropped an observation to the effect that we’ve had at least ONE revolution in the history of this country fought and won for reasons not as serious as the matter of abortion. Wait a minute. I WAS beginning to recognize this guy. He continued to not disappoint with further conceptual gems such as that what we needed to do in this country was can public education in favor of distributing those monies to the various major religious sects who could then carry on educationally as they each saw fit. Surely, if everybody’s church got some public money, this could not raise serious Constitutional concerns. Besides, the Constitution has been misconstrued. [Back to the future: here we are 2 years later and the Governor Of Louisiana is proposing basically what could conceivably be called the ‘Fr. J. Plan’ as State education policy. Strange days.] Where this became a Bunuel film more outdone than Exterminating Angel or Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie was that these surreal items were sandwiched between various psalms hymns and songs. I think there was even ‘Michael Rows The Boat Ashore’.
We were getting vintage Fr. J.—aged but still excruciating. So grotesque, but so oblivious. As was the audience, until I raised my hand. He was about to shuffle off into the evening, like a much less natural version of old Joe the gator at Wakulla Springs. Then, like Joe, he was poached. A priest who seemed to be officiating at the event suggested that he acquiesce to my entreaty not to leave without taking a couple of questions.
What I hit him with--and he seemed to visibly stagger when he understood it—was to thank him for the history tour, but to please also share with us his perspectives when he was on the campus forty years ago, and saw fit to assume control of the English Dept. to assure the ouster of certain faculty who were, among other things, protesters of conscience against both the Vietnam War and the shootings of students at Kent State in Ohio. There’s a song we didn’t sing about that one. Any second thoughts over the years? Any regrets? Are such things just taken for granted in stifling even peaceful ‘revolution’? After the shudder, and a pause, the ancient one reddened, then began a short little tale that soon moved to the magnificent statement: “And I even offered them contracts, and they refused!”
At any rate, after he descended from the podium Fr. J. made a bee line for me, through the commotion that had erupted, just as I was being pounced upon by a rotund older lady and her beefy spouse who had been glaring at me ever since I had finished my question. Fr. J. momentarily shushed the dowager, and still perturbed but gushing concern, wanted to know was I faculty back then? Upon being told that I was a student, he offered, “It was as I said, it was as I said”. As the dowager had resumed spitting “that was ghastly, that was ghastly” at me I took the opportunity to reply, “Yes ma’am, that back there in 1970, it certainly was”.