Zev Aelony


I was born in Palo Alto, CA in 1938. My parents, Janet and David Aelony
were there because my Dad, an immigrant with the aid of the ´affirmative action´
of those days, was earning his PhD in organic Chemistry at Stanford University.
As a Jew growing up in the era of Fascist hatred and the holocaust.

I became aware of racism as a child. Shortly after coming to Minneapolis
near the end of the war, I met refugees from Europe and, to my amazement and horror,
Japanese Americans coming to settle here after getting out
of the American Concentration Camps in the Southwest.
I also met a very sad boy whose German American fatherhad been
electrocuted as a spy and in high school, a very nice Spanish girl
(Spain was still under the rule of the Fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco
and the Falange party) who still bore bitter hatred of
Spanish Republicans whom, she said had murdered her father.
In talking to her I learned that her father, an aristocrat,
had died in battle as an officer in Franco's army.

At first I thought the discrepancy between´murdered´
and ´soldier dying in battle´ made me think she was a liar;
gradually I came to realize that all that mattered to her was
that her father was killed when she was an infant. I began to realize
that people who do the most horrid things are still people --
and eventually that we all do good and evil.

Having friends who lived in poorly kept rental apartments because
of discrimination in housing and jobs in Minneapolis,
I joined in with some in a grass roots campaign--I recall
it was sponsored by the NAACP--to get civil rights legislation
and enforcement of rights. It was under the title
of "Completely Free by '63" and as a high school student at U High,
it seemed to me impossible to imagine that it could take another ten years;
it was, after all, already 90 years since the Emancipation Proclamation
at that time. After returning from living in a Kibbutz (Commune)
in Israel, in 1959, I spent the summer at a Christian commune
called Koinonia in Georgia, which had been founded as a non-segregated
community in(if memory is correct) 1942.

I was not naive in going there, but the level of terrorism needed
to enforce that unnatural wall between people called
segregation or just ´our Southern way of life´ was a shock.
Koinonia had been shot up and bombed, even neighbors who were
friendly were terrorized. At the end of the summer I attended a training session
offered by CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, then a loose connection
of committees in various states engaging in dedicatedly non-violent
direct action to break down segregation. It had also begun in the early 40´s,
in Chicago where it had gradually succeeded in ending strict segregation
in downtown businesses and other public accommodation.

One of the earliest members of this movement, by the way,
was one of the few West Coast Japanese Americans to avoid being sent
to the Concentration Camps in 1942 (her family, however, were).
I carried my training back to the University of Minnesota
and helped found the Students for Integration, dedicated to opening
housing opportunities of students of color, and later looking to open jobs.

Soon after that, the student movement swept the South
and we added support for that movement to our efforts, recognizing that
racism spread and the problems we faced here had at least a major part
of their source in the rigid oppression of the Deep South.
Recognizing that killing people and invading their homelands and bombing
their homes had never in all history produced a net advance in civilization,
in freedom, in human rights, I registered as a conscientious objector.

My draft board had difficulty understanding that one didn´t have
to be a Quaker or Anabaptist to refuse to participate in military crimes;
that indeed any Jew who examines his history must recognize that it is
the most heinous of crimes to participate in an armed gang, whether official
or otherwise, just as must any Christian or Buddhist who studies the fundaments
of his movement and the history of violence.

When I was classified 4F (unacceptable) I set out to perform the service
that I had planned to my country in place of the smear on its honor
they demanded of me; I became one of the founding members
of CORE´s Soul Force,and a full time volunteer freedom worker.

In jail in Mississippi, we were given books that were official school
texts in Louisiana and some other places, called 'Race and Reason'.
The books played on the ignorance of people raised in schools
where texts were deliberately distorted to exclude most of the history
of Africa and Africans.

It asked; can you name a Negro artist of the caliber of ________,
and inventor of the caliber of ______,
a scientist of the caliber, etc.. Since such persons were not allowed
to appear in any of their texts, of course the students would conclude
that there were none. Unfortunately, our texts, while somewhat better,
still distort our histories to the extent that it endangers
our young people´s abilities to live successfully in our world.

Two of our sons, taken on school trips to Fort Snelling were told that
it was built to protect the Indians, ignoring the death camp
that once existed there, where Dakota people were starved to death
so that settlers could take land guaranteed them by solemn treaty.
There was, of course, some truth to the original statement, but using a grain of salt
to flavor a lie, is still a lie. Our students still receive a curriculum
that is so unbalanced in its treatment of the history of peoples,
including our own, that they are mystified by reactions of others to us.

I returned to Minnesota in 1965 and was fortunate to meet Karen Olson,
the a fellow student and for 38 years my wife and love.
While I have tried to continue to work for a free and humane,
equal society, my focus changed with the challenge of raising a family.

My wife and I are small business people, representing manufacturers of electronic
security equipment; on principal we sell nothing intended to injure.
I go into jails and prisons and see some fine people both on staff
and incarcerated and see that something is terribly wrong.
While there are times when people may need to be
restrained from immediately doing violence to themselves or others;
as a corrections officer recently told me, we need to be thinking of what we want
these people to be when they are again our neighbors.
Working together works; retribution boomerangs.

The movement that sought to make up for the ending
of legal slavery here and in Europe, now rises to power
in our country. I am very proud of our four sons and two daughters-in-law
and I fear for them as I see our country distorted. Those of us in
the movement of the late 50´s and the 60´s made a greater change
in our national culture with the loss of probably fewer than 1000 lives than
the Civil War which cost probably a million lives in a much smaller country,
and a century and a half of bitterness. Non-violent direct action,
dedicated, massive, and well planned works.
I hope that my children will carry on the work.

Zev Aelony
Interview
Click Here to Close Window