Leaving Dixie

When I arrived by train in Oakland with my new husband, September, 1962, I was actually aiming at San Francisco. I had applied to San Francisco State University and fully expected that I would be accepted for the Spring semester, that we would live in San Francisco and that I would pursue as much of a career in anthropology as a woman with no money could expect to pursue in those days. There were two important things I did not know that led to my ending up a student at Berkeley instead.

One was that the train does not go to San Francisco. It only goes to Oakland. There, you have to get off the train and get on a bus that takes you to San Francisco. I have no idea if that is still the case, but that was the situation then. As we detrained, we were met, much to my bewilderment, by my husband’s uncle and his family, who lived in Pinole, an East Bay suburb. Someone, maybe my husband, maybe his family back East, had tipped off this uncle about our arrival and he had headed us off in Oakland to take us to Pinole. I never got to San Francisco. My in-laws prevailed on my husband to get us an apartment in Oakland instead, citing high rent in San Francisco and, more to the point, the fact that his cousin could find us a cheap apartment near his own so that we would be readily available to the family in Pinole. My protestations carried no weight whatsoever.

The other thing I did not know was that San Francisco State University had never received the transcripts I had requested to be sent to them from Florida State University and Norman College, Norman Park, GA, the two colleges from which I had been expelled. I first went through several hells with the Admissions Office to merely locate my application, which they finally did, “under a blotter” they told me. Then, I had to go through several more hells trying to get the two colleges to send the transcripts. I had been “reinstated” at both colleges, both of which had informed me that I would now have no trouble transferring to other colleges, but at both colleges it had been either the Dean or the President who had reinstated me. Neither had informed the Admissions Offices of my reinstatement. Both Admissions Offices alleged that they did not send transcripts for students who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons. I had to prove to the FSU Admissions Office that I had been reinstated by the FSU Dean of Women and then persuade the President of Norman College to write SFSU a special letter.

By the time I got past all of that, I had applied to Berkeley and been told that, in spite of the fact that my high grades were only high grades from a piss-poor junior college in where-the-hell-is-it Georgia (they allowed me to keep my credits when they expelled me) and in spite of the F and the incompletes to be seen on my transcript from FSU, I would be accepted at Berkeley if I could complete my sophomore year at Oakland City College with a 3.4 GPA or above. My anthro colleagues at Berkeley later joked that being expelled from two southern colleges at that time probably was regarded as a point in my favor at Berkeley. Activist students at Oakland City College, including some who had spent months in a Mississippi jail after the Freedom Rides, urged me to forget SF State and head to Berkeley, which they felt would be much more to my liking. Excellent choice.

I loathed Oakland, all three apartments we lived in. I implored my husband, after our brief stay in Pinole, that we should look for an apartment in Berkeley, where at least we would be in a university community. He was, however, adamant that he was sick of student apartments and wanted to live in a nicer one near his cousin. He was a student at Penn when I met him in Atlantic City during the summer after my expulsion from Norman College. We parted “pinned”, he was in a fraternity. I did not yet know just exactly how uncool it was to be pinned. He came to visit me during Christmas vacation in Tally and when I was expelled a few days after school restarted but before he had left, he bought us tickets and I took my first plane ride to go live with him in Philadelphia. Live in sin. That’s what it was in 1961. This is not the airplane we flew to Philly in. This one is one rented by the cousin, newly licensed, to take us for a ride. Regardless of how cheerful I look in this snapshot, I was soon terrified and airsick and have never again flown with an amateur pilot.

We got married in December, 1962, after a year of rocky emotional maneuverings that have their own special historical overtones. We decided that, he having been raised an Orthodox Jew in Pennsylvania and me being not only a shiksa but a southern shiksa, my grand plan to hie to San Francisco was a good one. Both families would have to dump on us from 3,000 miles away and I could go look for the beatniks, which was a main feature of my plan. I had developed that part of my plan as a result of my hanging around with students in Tallahassee whom other students called beatniks, when they were not calling them much worse.

I connected with that group because of a pen pal relationship I had developed in high school with a student at a different high school. This person was a year ahead of me, so that while I was a student 60 miles away in Georgia, he was already a student at FSU and engaging in integrationist activism including getting busted in a lunch counter sit-in. During that year, I broke dorm rules several weekends to go and visit him and what turned out to be his cadre of bohemian leftist integrationist friends. Unhappily, I was spotted by one of my Norman colleagues in Tally when I was signed out to Lakeland, which gave Norman College the excuse it had been looking for to expel me. After this, my first expulsion, my pen pal, Roy, begged me to come to FSU, where, he said, I already knew there were “people like you” (me). Since I had no idea what to do next, I took him up on it, worked as a waitress in Atlantic City to earn my tuition and dorm fee, found a half-time job in Tally and spent a semester there.

It was only four months, but it was the most important four months of my life in terms of explaining what happened to me in Berkeley. I made love to classical music, was told about the history of the Free Cuba Committee, came to know and appreciate homosexuals of both sexes, learned way more about the House UnAmerican Activities Committee than I knew before, heard the word “anthropology” for the first time, had my first orgasm and, for the very first time in my life, experienced what it was like to be truly popular. I was popular because freethinking, intelligent, non-virgin women, in relation to males with those virtues, were in short supply, certainly in that time and place, maybe elsewhere as well, I don’t know. Every single heterosexual bohemian male in Tally wanted to meet me–I hardly knew how to react to that. I was in so many ways a naif, and more sophisticated people were eager to educate me.

As all of this was happening to me, political turmoil around civil rights was not the only kind that was happening in the area. There was a big push to rid FSU of homosexuals, by a state senator running for re-election named “Uncle Charlie” Johns. Ridding FSU of “queers” was one of his central campaign promises. That there were more homosexual men (nobody cared about homosexual women) at FSU than there were at U of Florida, Gaineseville, or any other college in Florida, was assumed. There was even a chant to go with it. It went “FSU, FSU, where the girls are girls and the men are, too.”

There was thus an awful lot of conversation around me on that subject. I had to believe it when one of my gay men friends got very serious on me one day and said, “You must leave the south. If you do not leave the south, you will end up either committing suicide, being involuntarily committed to the loony bin (they could do that, then, and did it all the time to mouthy women), going to jail or becoming an alcoholic. There is no hope here for women like you.” I believed him and I still believe him and I am deeply grateful to him for saying that to me. I asked him, “Where shall I go?” and he said, “San Francisco, that’s the only place in the world for you.”

Because of that timely intervention, my deal with my husband was, “Ok, I’ll marry you, but only if we are agreed that we are going directly to San Francisco after you graduate from Penn and we work in Wildwood, New Jersey, for a summer to get the money.” Neither Pinole nor Oakland fit my purposes, but Berkeley was close enough. I soon learned that there were no beatniks left in North Beach, San Francisco, but a “baby beatnik” like me fit right into Berkeley. Once I moved, on my own, to Berkeley, there was no other place on the earth for me.

This picture was not taken in Berkeley, but at a Christmas family reunion in North Carolina, where my sister lived. I’m wearing my favorite Berkeley outfit, complete with a Dr. Zhivago fur hat, which I wore with no pangs of conscience because animal rights had not really gotten started yet. After North Carolina, I caught my chartered flight to Berkeley in New York. Walking through the crowded terminal, passing line after long line of passengers waiting to board their flights and wearing my handmade coat of many colors seen elsewhere on this blog, I spotted in the distance a moving, colorful line of younger people. When I reached earshot distance, they all began yelling at me, “Hey, baby, yeah, this is the plane to San Francisco!!” and I teared up immediately. My people, I’m going home.


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