Mother of the Revolution Mary Morello - Mother of Tom, Guitarist for Rage against the Machine - Has Raised the Political Consciousness of Millions of Young People

By Reese, Joel | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 14, 1999 | Go to article overview

Mother of the Revolution Mary Morello - Mother of Tom, Guitarist for Rage against the Machine - Has Raised the Political Consciousness of Millions of Young People


Reese, Joel, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Joel Reese Daily Herald Staff Writer

At first blush, Mary Morello seems like any other older lady in Libertyville.

With her white hair and kindly green eyes, the retired school teacher looks like a woman who makes tuna salad for lunch, goes out occasionally with her "lady friends," and ends many sentences with "dear." Which she does.

"I live a very normal life," she insists.

But recently she stepped out onto the stage at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, raised her fist in the air and yelled to the 18,000 exuberant fans: "Please welcome the best f------ band in the universe, from Los Angeles, Calif., Rage Against the Machine!"

Don't let Morello's grandmotherly demeanor fool you. Behind those kindly eyes and that sweet smile lurks a political activist who has campaigned for civil rights and against the censorship of rock music. She was even married to an African revolutionary.

Morello, who taught social studies at Libertyville High School for more than 20 years - infused her son Tom with her beliefs. He is the innovative guitarist and resident polemicist for Rage Against the Machine, an aggressively political rock group that topped the charts recently with "The Battle of Los Angeles," an album that went double platinum in less than three weeks.

Rage recently reached the pinnacle of rock fame: the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Rage's success is especially surprising given the current state of popular music, where inoffensive singers like Britney Spears and blatant rip-off artists like Puff Daddy have somehow attracted millions of fans.

In contrast to this bland fare, Rage is explicitly anti-establishment. On "Voice of the Voiceless," for example, singer Zack De la Rocha raps about imprisoned Philadelphia Black Panther activist Mumia Abu-Jamal: "At fifteen (he) exposed Philly's finest killing machine...Smell tha smoke and tha breeze/My panther my brother/We are at war until you're free."

Morello has more than a little to do with the band's political slant, having fostered the healthy cynicism and strong opinions of her son - and thus, his listeners.

"She was a tremendous inspiration," Tom says. "She always encouraged me to read, encouraged me to question and not take anything, whether it was racism or anything like that, to not stand for it. It can't be underestimated how supportive she's always been of my music. She's an amazing woman."

So while Morello might be best known in Libertyville as a teacher, her ideas are reaching millions of young people through her son's band, which might just make her one of the most influential political figures in the United States right now.

The world traveler

After graduating from high school, Morello escaped her tiny downstate hometown of Marseilles (pop. 4,811) by enrolling in the University of Illinois in Urbana, where she received a degree in education. Instead of looking for a teaching job, however, she traveled, living in Japan, Germany, France, England, Spain and East Africa before finally settling in Kenya.

"I just wanted to see the world," she says with a shrug.

In Kenya, Morello met and married Ngethe Njoroge, a former leader of the Mau Mau guerrilla movement, which fought for Kenyan independence from Great Britain. He later served as Kenya's first representative to the United Nations.

The couple moved to Harlem, where Mary gave birth to Tom. When the marriage ended, Njoroge moved back to Africa, leaving his former wife to raise a biracial son alone.

So with Tom in tow, she left Harlem in the mid-'60s and headed back to the place she thought she'd left behind for good: Marseilles.

"I thought, well, I'll live in Ottawa and clerk and live at home. What a life, huh?" she says with a laugh.

Instead, Morello found out about a job teaching social studies in Libertyville, so she packed up and moved, and has stayed for more than 30 years. …

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