Dr Borinski at Tougaloo [From Swastika to Jim Crow] and Phil Reno at Navajo Community College

Hunter Gray HUNTERBEAR at SPAMprodigy.net
Tue Jan 30 04:20:46 MST 2001

It's genuinely gratifying that writers and film people are providing solid
works concerning the significantly positive roles played by refugee Jewish
academics in Southern Black colleges [these almost always being those
schools under private auspices, rather than those under Southern state --
segregationist -- control. ] Just married, my wife, Eldri, and I arrived --
I to teach and she to work in the business office -- at Tougaloo Southern
Christian College [now simply Tougaloo College],   a few miles north of
Jackson, in the ominous summer of '61 and were immediately taken in tow by a
number of  very friendly Tougalooans -- and very much indeed by my
divisional chair, the cordial Dr Ernst Borinski.  [He was always "Dr
Borinski" to me.]  When I first saw him, short and stocky with a face that
was an almost consistently cordial smile, he wore a white -- very slightly
soup-stained -- shirt and a tie.  He never  seemed to  Eldri or to me or to
most others  to  ever age or change [ very rarely he wore a rumpled black
suit coat as a token concession to whatever formal occasion ] -- over the
almost quarter of a century, until his death, in which we remained good
friends.  His Social Science Lab at Tougaloo, and his  extraordinarily
stimulating Social Science Forums -- I remember, for example, the still not
that widely known Martin King as one Forum figure and also the quite left Dr
Otto Nathan  from New York as another; and Pete Seeger came  [and many other
fine activist and academic movers and shakers. ] And the Forums occasionally
drew a few Mississippi white students and a Mississippi white professor or
two as visitors -- this enraging the virulently racist Hederman press
[Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News] whose tirades had absolutely no
inhibiting effect  whatsoever on Dr Borinski or anyone else at Tougaloo.
[In an interesting commentary on human complexity and evolution of some
sort,  the  somewhat changing South  eventually saw the younger Hedermans
turn the utterly racist Jackson newspapers into at least fairly reasonable
things.  But they  then sold out to Gannett and moved to New York and bought
and still have the New York Review of Books.]  Dr Borinski, though never
referring to himself as an activist, was always very much indeed a teacher
activist. While he never seemed to consider himself a radical -- he
certainly always called me one, and always cordially so!  -- he was very
much indeed a radical in the best "to the roots"  socio-economic sense. As
we much younger folk moved in 1962 and 1963 to build the massive,
non-violent direct-actionist and  ultimately blood-dimmed Jackson Movement,
Dr Borinski was a very strong and consistently dependable back-up
supporter -- as he was of all human rights endeavours, whether in the Closed
Society of the Jim Crow South or anywhere else on the planet.  Dr Borinski
was also an excellent cook, whose luncheons at the Social Science Lab  were
and are certainly very well remembered by the countless fortunate -- and he
channeled all sorts of excellent European food concepts and tangibles
directly into Mississippi culture.  To the end of his life, he kept up
deeply and well with people.  He always gave excellent books to  many young
people; and my son, John, still has all of those he received [the last being
just before Dr Borinski's death], now all read by John's own children.

Another story to be told is the role of certain of the more courageous
private Black colleges in the South -- two examples of several were Tougaloo
and Alabama's Talladega College -- both under Northern church auspices and
affiliated with the United Negro College Fund -- in providing a
teaching/activist base for  very explicitly  radical professors.  And there
are other interesting and positive tales in this vein:  the first of the
Native-controlled tribal colleges in the United States was Navajo Community
College [now Dine' College], founded and led -- until his tragic death in
'72 -- by a very close friend of our family, Ned A. Hatathli [or Hatathali.]
Ned was quick indeed -- and very fortunate -- to hire Philip Reno, a Marxist
economist and very well known radical as faculty  member and as a general
consultant: Phil, a New Deal figure, had been viciously attacked by
Whittaker Chambers, had played a major role in the Henry Wallace/Progressive
Party campaign in Colorado and New Mexico, served as a key economist for the
left Cheddi Jagan administration in Guyana, worked for Mine-Mill, and much
much more.  I was very privileged to teach with Phil when I, too, wound up
at NCC -- in the 1978-81 period. [ I became chair of Social Sciences, based
at the main Tsaile campus and Phil was on the Shiprock campus -- but we were
always, of course, very closely linked in a variety of endeavours.] Like Dr.
Borinski, Phil Reno was a sharp and genuinely practicing  multi-cultural
entity and a very effective teacher/activist/radical in every fine sense.
And like Dr. Borinski at Tougaloo,  Phil Reno was  very deeply admired and
respected in the NCC community. Just before his death [May 1981], Phil
presented me with an inscribed copy of his just out work:  Mother Earth,
Father Sky, and Economic Development:  Navajo Resources and Their Use
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981).  [I'm happy to say that
this fine classic  has since been reissued by UNM Press.]  The outdoor
memorial service for Phil Reno was held at Shiprock (N.M.).  The invocation
was given  in Navajo and English by Dr Bahe Billy, a close friend of Phil's,
Dean of the Shiprock Campus, a traditional Navajo who was also a Mormon.  A
large number of Native people -- mostly Navajo but from other tribes as
well, were present along with academics  -- and the most  absolutely
fascinating  collection of old-time Western Reds ever gathered in such a
setting.  What a reunion!  What a time!  And the hot wind blew  very hot
sand thirty  to forty miles an hour.

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Hunter Gray

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