Debunking fake history and fighting oppression like the Civil War soldier he’s descended from (Chuck Hunt — Part 2)

Chuck:  So anyway civil rights, women, anti-war. Developed into an understanding of gay liberation. And then, of course, being in Canada, where you had National Health Insurance, I began to understand issues of health care distribution and health and illness. Canada in the seventies was rapidly overtaking and passing the United States in life expectancy, and infant mortality was declining fast. Both of those surpassed the United States very quickly while I was up there. So, those issues became imperative. Then I moved down to graduate school at the University of Oregon —and the Central American movement and their refugee movement was going.

I traveled to El Salvador. That was another one of those cases. We arrived by airplane. And all gathered in a room and the government didn’t wanna let us in. And I had this great big thing hangin’ around my neck with the badge of the United States Senate on it from Hatfield.

And I always kept it right over my heart so they’d have to shoot through it if they were gonna kill me. Well, it was kind of interesting. Because here we all were. We got off this airplane. They herded us into this room, and my camera disappeared. And it never appeared until I left. You know, all kinds of stuff. But then, these guys started coming in the room with fully automatic military arms. (I know what guns are. I hunted since I was a kid.) And they started coming into the corners of the room.

And we all decided to sit down and this minister next to me, I was a president of the Graduate Teaching Fellows at that time. He leaned over to me and he said, “You know, I don’t think a sit-down strike in El Salvador is gonna end in the same way that it would if we were in the United States.” And I have to admit, I was a little tense at the time. I looked at him and I had a few words for him. I said, “If you didn’t know that when you were coming down here, you’re a very stupid person.” And fortunately we were released. This was not long after they killed the four nuns. And they realized that if they started opening up on us that they’d lose U.S. aid.

Sylvia:  How big of a group were you?

Oh. Probably 55. You couldn’t kill all of those people. You couldn’t even shoot at ‘em, or you’d be in serious trouble. 

So who was it exactly that was doing this? This was government troops?

O yeah. This was government Salvadoran troops, yeah. And they had green uniforms. [nervous laugh] And Uzi’s. And M16’s. And it was a very tense time. They let us go. I was horrified by what I saw. But, anyway.

There is an expanding understanding of labor, which came out of a lot of reading as a consequence of the anti-war movement. Then I ended up president of the Graduate Teaching Fellows here. There are not hundreds of things I’ve accomplished in my life, but the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, and the graduate teaching fellows at this university have health care coverage. And we fought for that when I was president. And we got an addendum to the contract. They didn’t want to put it in the contract cause they were afraid it would stay. Well, it did stay. Even though they didn’t attach it. We had a pitiful little health care concession from them. But, we got it started and now they have good health care. So, it was labor, golly, I don’t know….

Well, you’ve covered quite a bit already.

It’s hard for me to live without ending up with these issues, I mean, you know, you’re there. 

[laughs] Right. Right. You want to talk about what you’re doing, what you’ve done in the last 5 or 10 years?

OK. So, the last 5 or 10 years. So, I’m teaching at the University of Oregon and one of the primary things that I’m interested in doing is opening students’ eyes. And so one of the wonderful things I used to do is teach an American Society class. I used Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Which is a wonderful book. In fact Carnegie Mellon requires everyone who sets foot on campus and works for the University to read the book, including the entire janitorial staff. Everyone. It’s a wonderful book. James Loewen’s spoken here a number of times.

He’s written a number of very fine books. But that was kind of my approach, let’s see what we can do to give an alternative view. I remember students being totally shocked that Helen Keller was an anarchist and a socialist militant. That she, in fact, was a little irritated that nobody remembered her for that but always for her blindness and lack of hearing. I remember students just stunned. Why nobody ever told me this, you know.

And then of course, you heard the Columbus lecture.

Sure did. It was stunning. That year you had to hold it outdoors on campus and there was quite a crowd! You told about him bringing disaster to the indigenous people.

Those were the kinds of things that gave students a different point of view. And that was important to me.

So you used to do that every Columbus Day.

Right. Actually, I did it every quarter I taught the Intro class. Even if it didn’t fall on Columbus Day. It was an interesting lecture. And just the other day I ran into one of my former students. I run into him all the time. He’s a teacher down in Roseburg, and he uses for his high school classes, Lies My Teacher Told Me. He said, “I can’t thank you enough. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing for those students down there.”

Lies My Teacher Told Me has a series of eight chapters, maybe ten chapters. I’m not sure just how many. Each chapter takes a kind of  mythology. One of them is Columbus. Another deals with how Native Americans were really treated.

Another is a wonderful chapter on Race, which I just love, cause I’m named after Charles Frank Hamilton. Charles Frank Hamilton was with the 42nd Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War. He was severely, terribly wounded on November 30th, 1864. And died from the wound four years later. It took him four years to die. And Loewen talks about how those soldiers really understood. And I have a letter from my great great grand uncle. They began to see African-American troops. They fought side by side with them against the South. And you can see it in the letter, a realization of what racism means.

And I guess the actual worth of the people.

Right, right. Yeah. And in 1864, if you look carefully at the election returns it’s the U.S. troops who give Lincoln his victory. And that’s including my uncle. So, that’s why, by the way, the Hamilton side, Charles Frank Hamilton, my grandfather, Claude Hamilton, are Lincoln Republicans. They’re Illinois Lincoln Republicans. So, I mean, it all goes back in history.

This is an aside, I usually don’t permit myself very many, but one of my very favorite movies is Glory. Which is about these black troops.

Oh yeah.it’s fantastic! Yeah! Which is true! I mean, one of those guys, the guy who carries the flag back out is the first African-American to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor. He’ll receive it 25 years later? Takes ‘em 25 years to finally give him a Congressional Medal of Honor! They fought their way in, could not get backup.

Where was it they were fighting?

Oh, Fort Wagner, South Carolina. And that’s an incredible story. My grand uncle, great great grand uncle, whichever it is, saw those troops and it changed those Illinois Volunteers. Sadly enough, he died in 1868 at the age of 28, from this grievous wound. It says on his gravestone, “He carried the ball until death.”  I guess they couldn’t take the lead ball out of him. And it killed him eventually. [pause] But, anyway, where are we?

Well, the last 5 or 10 years.

Yeah, so I’m teaching. But trying to be active around a number of issues, certainly international issues. Been very concerned about the Middle East. About U.S. attacks on Iraq. I was teaching, actually, the morning of the 2001, September 11th attack. And had a number of students, some had relatives in New York. Some in the Pentagon. Everyone survived but it was a tense moment.  I remember coming up into the Sociology Department and saying, “Well? We’ve seen what they’re gonna do. Now, what I’m really worried about is what we’re gonna do.” And, horrified by the Bush Administration, I began to teach about torture. It was very upsetting to myself and students, but I thought we had to teach about it.

The only regret I have in 2008, when Obama was elected, was that my parents weren’t still alive. They would’ve been just thrilled. Yeah. Yeah. Somewhat frustrated by Obama. He was way too conservative. He’s also a corporate Democrat. So, I mean, we demonstrated and petitioned and did all those things around a number of issues over the last, oh, 8 or 10 years. What has happened though is I saw my teaching as really one of the most important things I had to do. And that’s kind of disappeared three years ago [when I retired.] And so it’s been hard to decide where I wanted to focus. Demonstrations are fine. But you want to do something more than that. And gee, my country elected, put a crown on a clown. And tried to pretend that made a president.

It’s sort of abolished my confusion about what I needed to do. So, lately what we’ve been trying to do, as you know, is go to congressmen, go to senators, write letters, phone calls,

..write letters to legislators and also to the Register Guard [our local newspaper] of course.

The other thing that I’ve found quite wonderful is I have relatives in Massachusetts. So, we get on the phone together. And I try to get them to do things which I think they do. My sister-in-law in Massachusetts, I don’t think she can say Donald Trump’s name. She’s amazing. She’s a very mild-mannered lady but my brother says she’s just outraged. I have relatives in Virginia, my nephew in Virginia, we communicate with them. I have a son in Colorado which is particularly fun because they have a Democratic and a Republican senator and the Republican senator now knows my son cause he harasses him at least every week. And my oldest son is a doctor in Colorado and he spent six hours testifying at the Colorado State Legislature about the ACA, Obamacare.

So what’s happened is kind of amazing. The whole family. Yeah. My brother, my sister, my nephews, my sons.  My wife’s been very active and we’re always worried about that because she’s not a U.S. citizen.

Right, she’s a Canadian.

And we actually put off a trip to Canada here this month because she’s a green card holder. And we’re a little nervous about what that meant even though she’s married to me. She’s not got citizenship here. So if she was from one of the seven countries [whose citizens have been blocked from entering the U.S.] if she went out of the country, that would be it. Couldn’t come back in. She always tells me under the Patriot Act she can disappear at any moment. And they don’t have to tell me where she is. Apparently, under the Patriot Act, if you’re a green card holder, if they decide you’re dangerous, they just grab ya.

She doesn’t look very dangerous to me.

Well, you know, she’s very active. Much more active on a daily basis than I am. And we’re always kind of concerned about her. Because, and I had to laugh about a month ago, she looked at me and she said, “I think I’m gonna get my U.S. citizenship.” And it totally shocked me cause of course she’s an outspoken Canadian. I mean, she’s very proud of it.

Well, she could have dual citizenship.

Exactly. And I said, “Kathy, it will mean that if you get jailed you won’t be in the danger that you are now.” She said, “No, no. I’m not afraid. I wanna vote against him. I want to be able to vote against this guy.” So I think she’s gonna get her citizenship which is kind of stunning. Now, I have to tell you, she has always kept the Canadian citizenship. Both my sons have Canadian citizenship. I have permanent resident status.

In Canada, you mean?

Yes. And frankly, we’ve always maintained that because I do not trust this country. So, we’ll see. I don’t wanna leave. It’s my country. Kathy’s settled here. My sons are working here. We’re all settled. But, we want to be able to go if we have to. Cause I don’t trust ‘em. And I’ve been expecting this country to take this turn for a long time. So, we want to be able to leave if we have to. We’ve maintained that right and ability to go to Canada if we have to.

About Sylvia

Sylvia Hart Wright, the interviewer and blogger, has combined efforts to help achieve a more peaceful world and social and economic justice, with a career as a librarian, author, and longtime college professor. For more about her, please visit her website at sylviahartwright.com There you can also find the first chapter of her memoir-in-progress, ACTIVIST: Adventures at the Cutting Edge of Social Change.
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