Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 24: The Explosion At West 11th Street, 1970

Chapter 24: The Explosion At West 11th Street, 1970

Less than two weeks after I had moved into the E.6th St. apartment, I was staffing the Newsreel office on a weekday in early March 1970. Around 10:30 in the morning, I glanced at the New York Times front page and noticed an article about some kind of fire in the Village which had produced fatalities. As I read through the first few paragraphs, it began to sink in emotionally that Ted was now dead. [According to the book Family Circle by Susan Braudy:

“…In front of the burning house, an FBI agent who had been part of the surveillance team keeping watch on the young radicals quickly snapped pictures of the house’s crumpling brick Greek-revival fa├žade. Since the buildings on the block were of significant design interest, he had been posing as an architectural historian…”

A footnote in Braudy’s Family Circle book also noted that “another FBI agent, Larry Granthwol, would attempt to take credit for the explosion, claiming he had tampered with the bomb’s mechanisms.”]

I put the newspaper down on the Newsreel office desk, told another Newsreel activist that somebody I knew had died in this Village explosion and said I was going outside for a few minutes to get something to eat. On the street, I walked around the block in a daze, began to contemplate what the loss to the U.S. Movement of Ted meant, and cursed the imperialist and totalitarian U.S. society that had forced its most humanistic white youth to become urban guerrillas.

Over the next few days, Diana was identified as another dead victim of what was being defined by the media as a “townhouse bomb-making factory.” Cathy and Kathy were identified as two women who had fled nude from the post-explosion fire; and a third body was not identified. There was some newspaper speculation over the next few weeks that the third casualty was Mark. But it was eventually determined that Terry was the third casualty.

I had not met Diana personally before her death, but her life pattern had resembled the pattern of other Movement white women I had met: 1. born of great wealth; 2. unselfish missionary-type Peace Corps work in a Third World country; 3. identification with, and non-violent participation in, Civil Rights and Anti-War movement activity; 4. radicalization as a result of the Movement’s failure to end the Viet Nam War or prevent government repression of the Black Liberation Movement; 5. increased consciousness of the depth of female oppression in the U.S.; and 6. commitment to Weatherman-led armed struggle in the U.S. in order to materially aid the Vietnamese and stop the repression of the Black Panther Party by “bringing the war home.”

I had met Terry once at Mark’s W.110th St. apartment during the 1968-69 school year and I hadn’t been that impressed with him. He was an SDS regional organizer in Ohio, who had evidently done great political work, under adverse conditions, at Kent State University in the late 1960s. But he seemed more elitist, less warm and less interested in learning about the work other New Left activists were engaged in than most other Movement people I had met. Within the Weatherman organization, however, Terry had evidently blossomed into one of its most courageous, audacious activists and his militant fighting spirit and selfless commitment to making Revolution apparently had matched Ted and Diana’s commitments in intensity.

Life suddenly seemed more meaningless and empty, now that Ted was dead. At Columbia, neither Ted nor I had assumed that either of us would die at so early an age. At worst, we expected to be jailed, exiled, or just temporarily caught in life-threatening situations at an early age, as a result of either draft resistance activism or revolutionary political activism.

There was no funeral for Ted, Terry or Diana. Most non-Weather Movement people were afraid to put together any kind of funeral because it was felt that the event would be crawling with FBI agents; and because other Movement people were fearful of possibly being associated with support for Weather bomb-making plans if they were seen at such a funeral. After the Townhouse explosion at 18 West 11th Street, Weather activists in New York City appeared to totally vanish, so they couldn’t put together any Weatherman funeral for Ted, Terry and Diana. And Ted’s grief-stricken parents were too deeply shocked and embittered at the Movement to set up any public funeral for Ted. It was not publicly revealed whether Ted was cremated or buried.

In the evening of the day I read of Ted’s death, I telephoned my mother to assure her that I wasn’t involved in what Ted had been up to. But I told her that Ted had “lived the way he wanted to live” and “his life had been rich in deep experiences,” despite the tragedy of his early death. For the next few weeks, I would usually dream of Ted. It was hard to accept the reality that Ted was gone and would not see the Revolution that he had worked so hard for in the 1960s and that Movement people expected to be just around the corner.

Ten days after Ted’s death, SNCC activists Ralph Featherstone and “Che” Payne were killed in Maryland when a bomb exploded in their car, near where the trial of SNCC leader H.Rap Brown (n/k/a Jamil Al-Amin and currently imprisoned in a Southern jail) was taking place. There was uncertainty about whether the deaths of Ralph Featherstone and “Che” Payne resulted from an FBI-engineered assassination or were accidental. Later in March 1970, also, some corporate offices in New York City skyscrapers were bombed by some anti-war activists. The 1970s seemed like it might be a “heavy” decade, in terms of the level of popular struggle against the U.S. corporate establishment.