Academic journal article Social Justice

Two Interviews with Ericka Huggins

Academic journal article Social Justice

Two Interviews with Ericka Huggins

Article excerpt

The first part of the interview was conducted by Tony Platt on the UC Berkeley campus on November 19, 2013, in the context of the seminar featured in this issue. The second part is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Cecilia O'Leary in Oakland on June 3, 2013, on behalf of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African History and Culture.

Tony Platt (TP): Ericka, we are very glad to have you here. We have people here from the Berkeley Law School, who are doing a master's in law, people from several countries--China, Thailand, Taiwan, England, and Italy--and we have students from the Master's Program in Justice Studies at San Jose State University. This is the first time that Jonathan Simon and I have taught this class together, and that students from the California state system and the UC system are in the same room together having a conversation. Activists--people doing political and community work--are also in the room.

As you know, our topic flows from a discussion Jonathan and I started a year ago about 1970s criminology and the debates of the time about police, crime, and prisons. We are revisiting much of the literature from that period to see what we think about it now, how it speaks to our current crisis. It has been very much a dialogue and a conversation.

Ericka Huggins (EH): And have you been talking about the FBI's criminal activities at that time?

TP: We have indeed! We talked quite a bit about the police and everyone has been reading The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove, a book published in the 1970s that deals extensively with political policing and the role of the FBI. May I begin by asking you some questions and then open up a conversation?

EH: Sure, if I can ask you questions.

TP: Whenever you want. Would you like to begin with those questions?

EH: Where are you from?

TP: I grew up in England. I did graduate work in England, but then moved to the US and came to Berkeley in 1963.

EH: Why did you come to the US?

TP: I wanted to get as far away from my patriarchal father as possible. I wanted to travel and was attracted to the beat movement and the cultural movements on the West Coast.

EH: Did you do drugs?

TP: Of course I did drugs! But I didn't inhale [laughter],

EH: Do you go back to England?

TP: I do, quite frequently. It's the place that I wanted to leave forever, but I find myself going back and revisiting like one does with a homeland. Do you go back to Washington, DC, and New Haven, where you spent a lot of time?

EH: Yes. When I left Washington, DC, I did not ever want to go back, because it so reminded me of a plantation. You know, White House-big house, with all the little people enslaved to government jobs. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I have returned many times to work, because leaving a place that needs help is not helpful. I go back to try to be of service. My mother lived there for a long time, until 2006, when I moved her out here. So I go there less frequently than I used to. I was just invited to work with a group of young judges and lawyers in DC that is working on the cradle-to-prison pipeline. That's exciting. I don't go to New Haven as much because the family of my husband, John Huggins, the elders of the family, are all gone now, and the younger part of the family has moved to Manhattan and other places on the East Coast. I did go to Southern Connecticut State University for a graduate feminist conference. One of those wild storms occurred suddenly and the only way out of New Haven, to catch my plane to New York, was to stop near the Yale campus where people used to chant "Free Ericka, Free Bobby!" It was on the New Haven Green at Yale, and ... Oh, look at that! [Tony shows her a "Free Ericka" sticker.]

TP: This was on my desk when I taught at Berkeley in the 1970s.

EH: Wow, we are connected!

TP: You came to my class with Elaine Brown in 1973. …

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