I SEE U

I SEE U, Episode 29: Civil Whites Movement

Civil Rights activist Joan Mulholland speaks unguarded about being held on death row in a notorious Mississippi penitentiary

Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Mississippi Department of Archives and History

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During the Civil Rights Movement, not only did African-Americans fight for equal protection under the law, but White Americans were also risking their lives in the name of social justice. Some were even murdered for participating in marches and protests aimed at ending segregation and racial discrimination. But in today's political climate and divisiveness, how come more White Americans prefer to remain silent on measures that support systemic change to end racism? Host Eddie Robinson returns from paternity leave and chats candidly with Joan Mulholland, the first White member of the historically Black organization, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Her son, Loki Mulholland, who's an acclaimed film director and human rights activist, Mac Hulslander—the father of I SEE U's Technical Director, Todd Hulslander—offer up their own perspectives in this very provocative episode.

Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Eddie Robinson: Hi, I’m Eddie Robinson, and in this episode, white Americans fighting for racial equality. During the Civil Rights Movement, not only were Blacks working for equal protection under the law, but also white Americans were risking their lives in the name of social justice. Some were even killed and murdered for participating in marches and protests aimed at ending segregation and racial discrimination.

[00:00:27] Joan Mulholland: We knew somebody was gonna die and it was just the luck of the draw, but for those of us who lived, we gotta do a little bit more.

[00:00:34] Eddie Robinson: Join us for a special edition ofI SEE U as we speak candidly with the first white member of the historically Black Delta Sigma Theta sorority incorporated, Joan Mulholland. Her son, who’s an acclaimed film director, Loki Mulholland.

[00:00:47] Eddie Robinson: And the father of I SEE U’s Technical Director, Human Rights Activist, Mac Hulslander. Oh yeah, I feel you, we hear you, I SEE U.

[00:00:58] Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U, I’m Eddie Robinson. She would participate in nearly three dozen sit ins, was disowned by her segregationist family, and hunted by the Ku Klux Klan for her work in the civil rights movement in the South. Born in 1941 and raised in Arlington, Virginia, she later became one of the Freedom Riders.

[00:01:57] Eddie Robinson: Had been arrested a few times while working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, as they used to call it. And she even served time on death row at Parchment Prison, the most violent correctional facility of the Mississippi State Penitentiary. She also became the first white student to integrate Tougaloo College, a Historically Black College in Jackson, Mississippi.

[00:02:20] Eddie Robinson: She’s also been featured in several documentaries, including An Ordinary Hero and The Uncomfortable Truth, documentaries directed by her own son. And she joins us virtually from her home in Virginia. And we’re so thrilled to have with us civil rights legend, Joan Mulholland.

[00:02:39] Joan Mulholland: Hey, main man.

[00:02:40] Eddie Robinson: It is an honor to speak with you and thanks so much for being a guest on I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. Thank you.

[00:02:46] Joan Mulholland: You make me sound pretty good.

[00:02:49] Eddie Robinson: Awesome. Good stuff. I’m sure many have asked you this question, but what on earth would motivate a white woman to put herself in harm’s way and dedicate her life? To desegregating the South. Why? I mean, why would you do such a thing?

[00:03:11] Joan Mulholland: Well, for one thing, I’m a Southerner and no apologies. Robert E. Lee is my homeboy and there’s more to him than being a general for the Confederacy. And I went to Sunday school regularly and we had to memorize Bible verses like do unto others as you would have them do unto you and love thy neighbor as thyself and. And as much as you’ve done it unto one of the least of these, my brother, and you’ve done it unto me, and I took it seriously.

[00:03:45] Joan Mulholland: And, um, I think when I was about ten, visiting grandma down in the old company logging town, not the fancy resort of Oconee, but the logging town, same play made every summer, we sort of dared each other to go walk through the Colored section, that’s not quite what we called it, where we were forbidden to go, of course, but we snuck off and Folks were out sweeping their yards and you know things like that. Hanging up to wash and when they saw these two little white girls coming they just made themselves invisible put down that room or clothespins and disappeared. Now that was creepy, but then we got to the Colored school, which was a one room shack never had any paint on it The door was ajar.

[00:04:34] Joan Mulholland: You could see the pot bellied stove for heat, burned coal. No glass or screens in the windows, just wooden shutters. No, I don’t think there was any electricity. There was no running water. There was um, a pump outside with a bucket for the water and there was one outhouse. But I knew out the other end of town was the fanciest building for miles and miles around.

[00:05:00] Joan Mulholland: A brand new post World War II brick school for the white kids. Oh, it was, it’s still the fanciest building. And I knew, this was before Brown vs. Board and everything, I knew this was not what we learned in Sunday school. This was not fair. And I sort of resolved, couldn’t have put it in words, but I knew that when I had the chance to do something, to make the south the best it could be.

[00:05:28] Joan Mulholland: Cause you know, we Southerners, we gotta stick together. Didn’t care about the Yankees. But to make the South the best it could be for everybody. Then I would seize the moment and that came when I was in college and the sit ins started.

[00:05:43] Eddie Robinson: And you know, you, you participated in, you know, three dozen sit ins there, you know, those had to have been shocking for you. You were a freedom rider.

[00:05:53] Joan Mulholland: I never went on any demonstrations or things that I was not invited to go on, asked to go on. I wasn’t coming down from outside the culture and trying to tell folks what to do. I took my direction. If I had an idea, I talked it over with folks. So I did what I was welcomed at, the way they wanted it done.

[00:06:19] Joan Mulholland: I dropped out of Duke and ended up back in the D. C. area, and the North Carolina College students who had invited the Duke students to join them in the demonstrations.

[00:06:31] Eddie Robinson: Got it.

[00:06:31] Joan Mulholland: They said, we haven’t heard anything from Howard since SNCC was formed on spring break. Get back, go find out what’s, what they’re doing and if they’re not doing anything, get them going.

[00:06:43] Joan Mulholland: Well, I found my way to Howard and asked around and there was a meeting taking place, I think that evening, of students who were planning to have sit ins the next day or two days down the road. And since I had been arrested in sit ins twice, And I was from Arlington, where they were going to be sitting in. They asked me to join them, so I did.

[00:07:09] Eddie Robinson: But I tell you what, you were definitely part of that infamous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit in.

[00:07:15] Joan Mulholland: Oh yeah.

[00:07:15] Eddie Robinson: That was, that happened in downtown Jackson. You know, where you were doused over the head with food, mustard, ketchup, sugar.

[00:07:24] Joan Mulholland: That guy wasted all that sugar on me like I wasn’t sweet enough already.

[00:07:29] Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson talking with civil rights icon Joan Mulholland. Where, where did you muster the courage? You know, where, where did this boldness, this bravery come from? You know, because if your mother, your grandparents, members of your family, probably all thought that you were crazy.

[00:07:48] Joan Mulholland: Oh sinful, but you are safer staying at that lunch counter. If things get rough, well, you got your buddies on either side of you. And the press, usually behind the counter, taking pictures and all. And the mob behind you, you’re safer to stay at that counter than to have to go through that mob to get out of there. Beyond that, it was like an out of body experience after a while.

[00:08:19] Joan Mulholland: That the real you, the essence, the important part had left the body and it was just this stuff sitting at the lunch counter. You’re gonna die for something, sometime. And it can be for something you believe in. For a cause, or it can be trying to cross the street of rush hour.

[00:08:38] Eddie Robinson: Wow. And you were willing to die. I mean, that’s,

[00:08:41] Joan Mulholland: Somebody was gonna die itself. I knew people that died.

[00:08:44] Eddie Robinson: Well, you know, take us back to an incident, ma’am, where you honestly felt that your life was really in danger, that you knew for a fact that you would be killed. Perhaps it was, you know, one of the sit-ins. Perhaps it was a moment where you and four other activists were stopped by the Klan.

[00:09:02] Joan Mulholland: Yeah. When we got stopped, we knew we were going to get killed and we knew we were going to die out in that no man’s land between the old road and the interstate. And we were all calm. We all talked about it later. We had made our peace. We knew we were going to die and that was it. And the only thing that got us out of there was the leader of the opposition party in the Indian parliament had been arrested that week and jailed.

[00:09:39] Joan Mulholland: For going to a restaurant dressed in traditional clothing. In solidarity with the Blacks in Mississippi, and the Indian embassy in Washington, D. C. just sort of, they went off and contacted the State Department that passed the word down to the powers that be in Mississippi that you leave the Indians alone.

[00:10:05] Joan Mulholland: So even though Hamid was actually from Pakistan, we started saying, don’t hit him, he’s an Indian, he’s an Indian. Hamid wasn’t too happy to be called an Indian, but somebody in the crowd picked up on it and got the others to stop.

[00:10:26] Eddie Robinson: And when you mention, when you say the crowd, these are like Klansmen, right? The Klansmen surrounded the vehicle that you all were in.

[00:10:33] Joan Mulholland: Well, they weren’t in hoods, but I would assume they were Klansmen. They might’ve been police officers in the crowd too, but you know, undercover.

[00:10:41] Eddie Robinson: Okay. Okay.

[00:10:42] Joan Mulholland: Um, that’s the closest I think I ever came to dying.

[00:10:46] Eddie Robinson: And it’s interesting because, you know, even that moment that you all escaped Canton, Mississippi, from what I read, there was an informant within the clan that later confirmed that you all were supposed to have been killed, but you guys escaped and they didn’t kill anyone, but because they weren’t successful. Klansmen later killed three other civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman.

[00:11:16] Joan Mulholland: And Chaney and Schwerner knew all of us who were in the car. I’m the person who gave Schwerner and his wife… the orientation when they first got to Mississippi on Tougaloo about what you know, as a white person working in civil rights, you got to know this, this, and this.

[00:11:35] Eddie Robinson: Wow.

[00:11:36] Joan Mulholland: So people have asked me, do you feel guilty that they died and you didn’t? And no, we knew somebody was going to die. And it was just the luck of the draw. But for those of us who live. We gotta do a little bit more. So I’m talking to you. And, um, when I had been arrested and went to step out of the paddy wagon, and this would not have happened if I were Black, but the white police officer reached out to take my arm and help me down.

[00:12:09] Joan Mulholland: And said, we don’t want a thing to happen to you chillin And, well, I could, number one, I could understand him. And that right there gave me faith, confidence, I knew that in the end things were going to work out.

[00:12:28] Eddie Robinson: You would think that with this strong sense of Christianity and religious foundation, more whites, you know, would see how wrong this treatment of Blacks really was, right? I mean, what was it that you believe was different within you that whites, you know, even today don’t or won’t act upon an effort to speak up or do something about social injustice. I mean, it almost seems like there’s their, their silence emboldens politicians, white politicians to continue their quest in, in doing whatever’s necessary to limit opportunities for Black people, whether if it’s voting rights, real estate deals, economic prosperity, you know, those in power will surely see to it that Blacks come out at the bottom, but the people, those who attend church regularly, some even serve and volunteer through church functions, remain silent. Why won’t many of these people stand up and speak up or at least do or say something about any of this?

[00:13:38] Joan Mulholland: Well, I think they are concerned about. You know, upsetting their neighbors, or being excluded from things, or hurting their job possibilities, and, uh, you know, the effect it will have on them, negative effect later on them personally, and also they were brought up that way.

[00:13:57] Joan Mulholland: They’re just a product of their environment, their society. It’s been that way, and most of us will just accept society as we find it. We don’t, mostly we don’t question it. And then I think sometimes the things that we have now are not as straightforward in some ways. It doesn’t say things will be segregated.

[00:14:24] Joan Mulholland: The blacks and whites cannot do these things together. It’s more subtle, it’s snuck in there. Oh, you eliminated a bunch of, um, places to register to vote. You cut the hours back. You can’t vote absentee, da dee da dee da. It’s not racist on the face of it, but the effect of it is racist. And I don’t think people look at it hard enough, or they say, Oh, well, they didn’t really mean it that way.

[00:14:54] Eddie Robinson: Uh, and then many times there’s this element of, you know what? Let’s move on. You know, it happened in the past. Let’s bury it, you know, let’s let’s just move forward there also exist in anger right a notion drawn to this taking back America. What do you think that means when you hear those remarks and comments? What goes through your mind?

[00:15:15] Joan Mulholland: What goes through my mind is turn off the television, but take it back to where? Are we going to pull all these Europeans out and give it back to the Indians? How far back are we going to take it? You know, and African people of African ancestry too. They’re not the original folks here.

[00:15:35] Joan Mulholland: So you go back to Africa and I’ll go back to Europe and take back America. Just the way of saying, Hey. I’m not getting my fair share.

[00:15:50] Eddie Robinson: Coming up more civil rights legend, Joan Mulholland, and we’ll speak with her 49 year old son, Loki Mulholland, who’s an acclaimed Emmy award winning film director and openly admits he never would have done what his mother did back in the 60s and get involved with the Civil Rights Movement and unguarded conversation.

[00:16:11] Eddie Robinson: You do not want to miss. I’m Eddie Robinson, and I SEE U returns in just a moment.

[00:16:32] Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re speaking with 80 year old Joan Mulholland, a civil rights activist who became the first white student to integrate Tougaloo College. And it was there where she’d meet legends like Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and author Ann Moody. After her retirement as a school teacher, she established the Joan Trumpower Mulholland Foundation where she dedicates her life educating youth about the civil rights movement.

[00:17:20] Eddie Robinson: You were the first white member of Delta Sigma Theta.

[00:17:23] Joan Mulholland: So I’ve heard.

[00:17:24] Eddie Robinson: Talk to us about your experiences, you know, while joining, you know, this predominantly Black sorority, was it a welcoming space? I mean, why did you feel it necessary to be an active member of this organization?

[00:17:35] Joan Mulholland: Well, on campus. And it was a small school. Uh, your social life was pretty well based on what sorority or fraternity you belonged to. And it was sort of the same folks I hung out with anyway, and I got invited to join. Um, they cut me a little slack, I think, in the hazing, from what I understand. Ha ha! But, the folks who went to the Delta meetings were pretty much the same folks that came to the Civil Rights meetings.

[00:18:07] Joan Mulholland: And there wasn’t, you know, sometimes the discussions were very similar. You know, topics of concern and all, and… And those Omega guys were good looking, I don’t know what you’re…

[00:18:19] Eddie Robinson: Alpha Phi Alpha! That’s what it’s all about.

[00:18:23] Joan Mulholland: Well… You are a gentleman.

[00:18:24] Eddie Robinson: Yes. Thank you very much. What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind as we look towards the future of 2022 and beyond? And what’s, what’s happening with our world in a post January 6th Insurrection moment, a post George Floyd moment? What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?

[00:18:56] Joan Mulholland: That I saw something was wrong and I did something about it. And I was just an everyday person who saw the need to step up and do something where I could and bloom where you’re planted.

[00:19:11] Eddie Robinson: You’ve heard of that term, critical race theory, right? Have you? Yeah. I want to get your thoughts on that. Yeah. Because, you know, having such an integral role.

[00:19:20] Joan Mulholland: Critical race theory is U. S. history.

[00:19:22] Eddie Robinson: Okay. Okay.

[00:19:23] Joan Mulholland: I think it’s just. People wanting to deny the reality of history. That’s not the way they learned it in school. So obviously it’s gotta be wrong because it wasn’t in their textbook.

[00:19:35] Eddie Robinson: And you know, you had such an integral role in the Civil Rights Movement and it must have helped you relate to diverse students. You know, when you found yourself in the classroom teaching, will there be a point where this attitude of supremacy will indeed prevail? In that it must come to white superiority, not a question of if or even when, but it must prevail, especially, you know, in the state of Texas, because in my mind, I believe CRT could threaten that I ideology.

[00:20:05] Joan Mulholland: In the end. I don’t think it’s going to win because the United States were not that far down the road from it being a no majority country. I think in the end, We’ll all find a way to manage. I know it can start someplace and mushroom. All of my sons in school, they liked who they liked. One of my number two son, Django, he was maybe first or second grade.

[00:20:38] Joan Mulholland: And the teacher told me, oh, she was concerned that he didn’t seem to have many white friends. Now he went to a no majority school, elementary school. I said, Oh, I hadn’t noticed when I got home, I made a list of everybody. His friends who came over to my house to play, everybody whose house he went to to play, and everybody else he talked about as a good buddy at school.

[00:21:04] Joan Mulholland: And he was within one percentage point of the school population. So I went back to the teacher and showed this to her and said, now my question is, why isn’t this true of all the students? And she had been oblivious. She said, no, I hadn’t noticed, you know. And three of my sons married interracially, Asian and Ethiopian.

[00:21:28] Joan Mulholland: So I think they just sort of, you know, they liked you, they liked you, and if they didn’t like you, get lost, you know.

[00:21:36] Eddie Robinson: There you go. There you go. This was remarkable. This was such a pleasure. Civil rights legend, Joan Trumpower Mulholland. Thank you enormously for your commitment. your contribution, the work you’ve done to make human relations better for our community, better for our families, better for our future. You know, we are so grateful to you for your courage and for your bravery. Thank you.

[00:22:06] Joan Mulholland: And thank you. And. Now it’s up for the younger generations to carry it forward.

[00:22:13] Eddie Robinson: Absolutely. Thank you.

[00:22:15] Joan Mulholland: Thank you.

[00:22:17] Eddie Robinson: You’re listening toI SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. He’s an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, author, activist, and the son of civil rights legend, Joan Mulholland.

[00:22:29] Eddie Robinson: His documentary, The Uncomfortable Truth, was released back in 2017. But still resonates today. It’s a very insightful look at the origins and history of racism in America, as told through the filmmakers, very personal and honest narrative. Please welcome to I SEE U, Loki Mulholland. Loki, thank you so much for being a part of the show.

[00:22:51] Loki Mulholland: Oh, thank you for having me.

[00:22:52] Eddie Robinson: You know, at the beginning of the Uncomfortable Truth, you say that you’re not sure that you do what your mother had done. You wouldn’t have joined the Freedom Rides sitting at lunch counters, but you’re thankful that she did. And that’s a very honest remark to make. Expand after seeing what your mother did, why you felt that way, that you would not have participated in any of these activities and protests, putting yourself in harm’s way as your mother did.

[00:23:24] Loki Mulholland: So, there was this article that was written years ago about my mom’s mugshot in The Atlantic, uh, magazine, I think it’s called, uh, the Ta-Nehisi Coates. And in The Atlantic, he did a post about my mom’s mugshot. This is very early on, years ago. And someone had made some comment, or he was writing this article about this.

[00:23:42] Loki Mulholland: And the net effect was, is people are like, well, I would have done that. I would have sat right there. And he’s like, you know, sit your butt down. There’s no way you would have done it. You like to say you would, right? And it made me really think about myself. Would I have done that? Now, I would like to think that I would have.

[00:23:59] Loki Mulholland: I think we all would. And there’s plenty of people I get all the time. It’s like, yeah, I would have been right there with her. It’s like, hmm, what are you doing today? But I came to learn. Actually, a couple years back, my mother was receiving an award at the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina.

[00:24:18] Loki Mulholland: And one of the sons of the Greensboro Four came up to me, and we started talking a little bit. And he said, you know, people ask me all the time, would you have sat at the lunch counter? And I said, oh my gosh, you get that too? He goes, yeah. He says, what do you tell them? And I said, well, my default answer is I don’t have to because my mother already did.

[00:24:40] Loki Mulholland: He’s like, Oh, I’m going to use that. I said, but let me qualify this for a moment. It’s something that my mom said is that I can’t do everything, but I can do something because doing nothing’s not an option. And so I have to do that something now. I don’t beat myself up for not being in the streets, if you will, sitting at the lunch counters, whatever else, you know, equivalent today, I I’m taking the gifts that I’ve been given to do what I can do to help move that message forward.

[00:25:07] Loki Mulholland: And that’s with the films, that’s with my foundation, that’s with speaking and diversity and inclusion training and so forth. So, we all have our way of doing something. But, that was a special kind of crazy. I mean, these were revolutionaries. You know, I mean, my hat’s off to Hank Thomas and John Lewis and my mom and Joanne Bland and the like.

[00:25:26] Loki Mulholland: I mean, how do you go through something like that, knowing what the end result could be, and keep going back? How, how strong is the courage of your convictions, to use Luvaughn Brown’s words?

[00:25:40] Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

[00:25:41] Loki Mulholland: How strong are they? Do you truly believe in what you believe? Are you willing to do that? And my mom had said in An Ordinary Hero, Well, what could I turn back to?

[00:25:48] Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

[00:25:49] Loki Mulholland: Once you had crossed that Rubicon, there’s nothing you could turn back to. So you could only move forward. And that forward and that journey was to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 65 Voting Rights Act. But the work’s not done.

[00:26:01] Loki Mulholland: I was at a conference and this lady came up to me and thanked me for, you know, thank me for my mom.

[00:26:06] Loki Mulholland: Right. I’m like, well, she gave birth to me, you know, that’s what goes, goes through my mind, but I know what she’s getting at. So I’m like, Oh, well, thank you so much. And then she started to tell me a story and she’s my age. And she says, you know, when I was growing up, I was the only Black kid in my class.

[00:26:20] Loki Mulholland: And when we talked about slavery, everyone looked at me. And that’s all I saw myself as. And my people as slaves. And I’m going in my mind going, well, surely she went home and her parents talked to her and they sat around the table and had conversations about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and the like.

[00:26:40] Loki Mulholland: Cause, uh, you know, in my white mind, that’s what Black people do. Right. Which is absurd because white people don’t sit around the table talking about our great Irish ancestors. We just don’t do that. So why would Black people do that? That’s just not, you know, it’s just naive, but also at the same time, this is her parents.

[00:26:57] Loki Mulholland: Why would she listen to her parents? And even if she wanted to listen to them and believe that the influence of this is a textbook. This is my teacher. These are voices of authority. And as a young impressionable kid are definitely going to override anything your parents have to say. And so for her, it took a long time to deprogram herself.

[00:27:17] Loki Mulholland: And as I’m thinking about this, listening to her, I’m going, Oh my gosh, if that’s how she saw herself, imagine how her white peers saw her.

[00:27:30] Eddie Robinson: In the film, The Uncomfortable Truth, I want you to also listen to this clip from the film, Loki. It’s, it’s you talking to a diverse group of individuals. In my mind, I think what you say here… really sums up the entire documentary and its message in 40 seconds.

[00:27:48] Loki Mulholland: This is not about whites being smarter or blacks being lazier or whatever sort of, you know, off base racial assumption one wants to make. It’s about a foundation of racism to maintain the status quo. It’s about a starting line set so far back by the policies of white supremacy that you can’t even see it. Even if the economic discrimination faced by African Americans ended today, if they ended right now, It would still take several hundred years for Blacks to catch up to whites.

[00:28:15] Loki Mulholland: Now, when I first heard that, I was like, that doesn’t make sense. But, but just think about it. Look at the GI Bill. It’s one policy and look at its impact after 70 years. Now multiply that by hundreds of policies over hundreds of years. It starts to add up.

[00:28:31] Eddie Robinson: So when you say it would take Blacks several hundred years to catch up, this is an insurmountable task, right? An impossible problem at stake here. Can Blacks ever catch up?

[00:28:46] Loki Mulholland: Well, I mean, short answer would be yes, because progress is progress. Does that mean we could do it under the existing system that we have? That’s maybe the real question. You know, Dr. King, when he was killed, was pushing the poor people’s campaign, and that’s bringing poor whites and poor Blacks together.

[00:29:06] Loki Mulholland: When, when everyone sees that they have a common cause, that’s when things can truly change.

[00:29:12] Eddie Robinson: That’s right.

[00:29:12] Loki Mulholland: And so yeah, I do believe that we can make up that difference, but it’s not going to happen overnight. If, if all we settled for was Brown versus Board in 54, we would never have the Civil Rights Act.

[00:29:28] Loki Mulholland: And that was ten years later that you get that. Are you willing to put in that fight, you know, to, to put that work in and, and going back to my mom. ’cause doing nothing is not an option. We have to be willing to do something and collectively, all of us. And so, yeah, I, I, I, I do, I I, I have a lot of faith in, in the ideals of what we preach and the system that we have that I do feel it’s resilient enough to allow us to do these things.

[00:29:55] Loki Mulholland: ‘Cause we’ve seen that happen. We’ve seen the progress from. From African Americans making no money for their work to making money. So yeah, and the laws that are there to create a greater equality. At the same time, but there’s still work to be done.

[00:30:14] Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. And we’re speaking with Emmy award winning filmmaker, author, activist, Loki Mulholland.

[00:30:21] Eddie Robinson: His mother is civil rights legend, Joan. His documentary, The Uncomfortable Truth is available to watch at this time on Prime Video. It was released almost five years ago, but it still resonates today. And I was curious, Loki, tell us about any recent feedback or fresh reaction from this film.

[00:30:41] Loki Mulholland: All in all, what’s, what’s really fascinating to me and the continued response that we get, and I do get messages probably easily once a week from somebody somewhere who’s seen the film, who was brave enough to reach out and felt so compelled to reach out.

[00:30:56] Loki Mulholland: They say, you know, uh, the majority is. They had no idea about this history and they felt lied to. Like, why, why were we not told this? And what surprises a lot of people as well is, you know, I’ll say, I was like, look, a lot of Black people don’t know this history either. You know, because we all live in America.

[00:31:16] Loki Mulholland: We’re all fed the same diet, but it’s this narrative. That they don’t realize was rewritten by the Daughters of the Confederacy at the same time, pretty much the same, almost the same year that Mississippi is rewriting its constitution to usher in Jim Crow. This whole narrative is switching and they go along with it.

[00:31:35] Loki Mulholland: And teachers, particularly in the formative years of elementary school, and I’m not faulting teachers, elementary school teachers are trained to teach, not what to teach. So they pull out the standards, they get their textbooks. And there they go, and then they base everything on what they’ve already learned.

[00:31:52] Loki Mulholland: And it’s far and few of the teachers that have that opportunity to really go beyond that because of everything else they have to work with. And that’s where it’s so critical now when we talk about what’s in the textbooks. Who’s writing the textbooks? And getting these additional narratives. And you know something’s going on, that there’s an impact being made because now you get this nonsense about anti CRT, and it’s like, look, it’s not being taught for goodness sakes.

[00:32:18] Loki Mulholland: There’s no CRT being taught in elementary school. This is, this would be the equivalent of us teaching the first grader, instead of teaching them about, you know, that’s the sun and that’s the moon, you know, you’re teaching them about quantum physics and, you know, the speed of light, you know, it’s like, it’s, it’s nonsense.

[00:32:32] Loki Mulholland: You would never do that, but it’s, it’s an overwhelming response, a humbling response. Uh, to have people really open up and talk about the impact the film has had. You, you hope you make an impact.

[00:32:47] Eddie Robinson: You know, Loki, you mentioned CRT critical race theory with CRT. I mean, in my mind, it’s the theory that’s not calling America racist, but it’s merely saying those racist tropes, those racist themes, supremacist patterns, ideologies were embedded or baked into the laws and policies of our nation and that linkage to understanding all of that wasn’t taught in school. I want to play a clip from a CNN interview with comedian Bill Maher and his interpretation of what critical race theory is and why there’s such a blowback with this term, this curriculum.

[00:33:26] Eddie Robinson: I mean, he argues that no one really knows what it is, you know, right, to begin with, right? You know, but he points out that if it has anything to do with teaching an honest history of racism, then he’s all for it. But… If there’s another agenda to it, and how CRT is being taught in American schools, then he does have a concern about it. Here’s what he said in that CNN interview.

[00:33:53] Bill Maher Clip: We learned about the Civil War. I mean, they mentioned racism. We understood slavery and Lincoln and blah, blah, blah. Um, but they didn’t really go into it any more than Gone With the Wind goes into it. It was there, viscerally. Now we’re doing that, and I think that’s a good thing.

[00:34:11] Bill Maher Clip: People should understand that. That’s different than teaching that racism is the essence of America. That’s what people get upset about. Or involving children who are probably not old enough or sophisticated enough to understand this very complicated issue with a very complicated history.

[00:34:29] Loki Mulholland: My Gosh.

[00:34:29] Eddie Robinson: So you see Loki, I’m a fan of, look, I’m a fan of Bill Maher. Look, he’s awesome. But that’s where I’d have to disagree with him because in your film, The Uncomfortable Truth, you show vintage pictures of white school children who were dismissed from school lunches to come and witness lynchings of Black people. And he’s concerned about involving children who are not old enough or sophisticated enough to understand a complicated issue. Is he referring to white children? I mean, because, you know, what’s going on here?

[00:35:01] Loki Mulholland: I mean, I was shaking my head the whole time I was listening to this. It was just, I mean, it’s… I’m sitting here going, look, Black children learn about racism all the time just by existing.

[00:35:10] Eddie Robinson: Yeah. Right.

[00:35:12] Loki Mulholland: White children don’t have to learn about that. So, I mean, the whole idea that’s like, well, America, you know, is a racist place. So, I mean, I have problems with that. Well, wait a second. I mean, America was founded by white people for white people. Now, when I speak with people, I’m like, look, none of that’s your fault. White people, you didn’t do this yourself personally.

[00:35:36] Loki Mulholland: We’re not saying that you had slaves or that you were part of Jim Crow That’s not what we’re saying. Just fundamentally you have to understand now if the Constitution which is the the foundation of our country’s principles, right? I mean, that’s our governing laws had slavery and slavery is racist Then guess what the foundation of our country was based on racism.

[00:35:57] Loki Mulholland: I recently had someone was like, well, yeah But you know look that was just the way things were People were fine with slavery. And I’m like, really? What do you, how do you think the, the slaves felt? They’re like, what? They, they never think of the other side. Mm-Hmm. . And so on top of that, then Bill Maher, I mean, he says, you know, if there’s an agenda, well defined agenda.

[00:36:16] Eddie Robinson: Mm-Hmm.

[00:36:17] Loki Mulholland: , right?

[00:36:17] Eddie Robinson: Mm-Hmm .

[00:36:17] Loki Mulholland: And is it an, is it an agenda? And I put that in quotes that’s, that doesn’t, you know, sync up with the way you feel the world should look. It’s, uh, I mean, yeah, we should talk about this. We are a nation founded on some pretty good ideals. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And we are progressing towards a more perfect union.

[00:36:39] Loki Mulholland: We are trying to make those ideals a reality for everyone. And that’s what the Civil Rights Movement was about. The Civil Rights Movement was the first true American revolution for all Americans. The first American revolution was very specific for a very specific group of people. And it didn’t include women, by the way.

[00:36:57] Loki Mulholland: Right. So we should talk about this because it shows how we have gotten better as a nation. We’re not the only country in the world that’s ever gone through these sort of issues in regards of hating other people and and I mean the power struggles and everything else I don’t think any nation gets off clean.

[00:37:16] Loki Mulholland: I mean, give me a break we want to make America the best that it can be and there’s always stuff that needs to be worked on and Luvaughn Brown says this in The Uncomfortable Truth. Hey, look, you know I’m not I’m not one of those people who says nothing’s gotten better, right? And my mom says it too, we don’t have slavery anymore.

[00:37:35] Loki Mulholland: We don’t have Jim Crow. Yeah, it’s gotten better. But that, this means that there’s, we can continue to dial it in.

[00:37:42] Eddie Robinson: There you go. Loki Mulholland, Emmy Award winning filmmaker, author, and activist. Thank you so much for being a part.

[00:37:51] Loki Mulholland: Thank you. God bless.

[00:37:57] Eddie Robinson: Coming up, a candid conversation with a family member of one of I SEE U’s staff members, Todd Hulslander, who’s our technical director, shared with us a surprising detail about his father. Stay tuned as we learn more about the life of human rights activist, Mac Hulslander. Don’t miss the conclusion to this provocative episode of I SEE U.

[00:38:20] Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. We’ll be right back.

[00:38:54] Eddie Robinson: Welcome back to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. He’s been instrumental as a human rights activist throughout his life, developing an interest in Black history, the civil rights movement, and race relations for decades. His son, Todd Hulslander. Who’s white, works as our technical director of I SEE U and upon working on this show months before our show launch, uh, Todd mentioned to me that his father is also white, attended the Historically Black College, Howard University.

[00:39:30] Eddie Robinson: While at Howard University, He was most likely shoulder to shoulder with our first guest, Joan Mulholland, as he, too, was a civil rights activist who participated in demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement. He also worked as a teacher of former plantation workers in Freedom City, Mississippi, and worked for racial justice for the Raleigh Community Relations Commission and the city’s area urban ministry program in North Carolina.

[00:39:57] Eddie Robinson: Immediately, I said, Todd, ask your dad to be a guest on our show. And so here we are, I SEE U welcomes Mac Hulslander to the show. Sir, thank you enormously for being a guest on I SEE U with Eddie Robinson.

[00:40:13] Mac Huslander: My pleasure.

[00:40:14] Eddie Robinson: And first things first. Why Howard University? I mean, what led you to this decision of attending an Historically Black College back in the early sixties, especially, especially while the civil rights oven was just about to erupt like a charged volcano back in those days?

[00:40:36] Mac Huslander: Well, I really attribute a lot of this to my sociology professor who, uh, after a class one day took me aside and he said, Um, Mac, I’m, I’m working on setting up an exchange program with Howard University and Drew, and I think you might be, uh, interested in going to Howard on this program. And before I knew it, I was headed to Howard with three other classmates.

[00:41:02] Eddie Robinson: Drew University is where, where’s that located?

[00:41:05] Mac Huslander: That’s in Madison, New Jersey. About 24 miles out of New York.

[00:41:09] Eddie Robinson: That’s awesome. And then you attended Howard. What year would you remember?

[00:41:14] Mac Huslander: Um, I was there the spring semester of 1960. What was always so amazing to me was that I was so readily accepted at Howard.

[00:41:27] Mac Huslander: And I think part of that acceptance had to do with the fact that I was kind of a novelty on campus, maybe? I mean, there were just so many experiences, uh, during that time at Howard that, uh, opened my eyes to a lot and really catapulted me into a whole career. Uh, related to working in the area of racism and race relations.

[00:41:49] Eddie Robinson: Could you remember or share with us some of those moments that sort of astounded you or at least maybe like shocked or surprised your system to say, you know what? Something really needs to take place. This is not right.

[00:42:02] Mac Huslander: Well, the guy next door to me was from Monrovia, Liberia. And at that time, the local movie theater was segregated. His name was Jim Cox. Jim had no trouble going to the theater, and I said, Why is that? Well, he was African, and that was a big difference. The theater would, would allow him as a, a very Black African to, to enter the theater. But if you were a local resident, you couldn’t. I mean, you could be in a segregated section.

[00:42:44] Mac Huslander: And that was a real new learning experience for me too, to realize Black Africans were seen quite differently than Black Americans and Black citizens. So that was one of those early learnings.

[00:43:02] Mac Huslander: And one of the few experiences I’ve had in my life of kind of losing track of my racial identity, so to say.

[00:43:11] Mac Huslander: Was, I was dating a Trinidadian woman that, I don’t know how I ever got the nerve to ask her, but I saw her singing in the Howard Choir and I told my buddy, I’m gonna date this woman. Uh oh. And that’s not like me. But I, I caught her going out after rehearsal, I think it was. And we started dating. And one time I was going to the women’s dorm to pick her up, and when I entered the dorm, the whole lobby was just crammed full of guys there picking up their dates.

[00:43:51] Mac Huslander: And I thought, oh my gosh, Margaret’s never going to see me in this crowd. So there was like a landing going up to the next floor. And I went up the steps and stood on the landing. And of course, no sooner had I done that, when I realized how stupid that was, she could have picked me out in that crowd so easily.

[00:44:13] Mac Huslander: But I, it was, for me, that was just a great experience because it was so refreshing to finally kind of lose that sense of otherness. And be part of the student body, I guess you could say.

[00:44:29] Eddie Robinson: Sounds like it. That’s a huge transformation. I mean, I’m wondering about, even now, fast forward to what’s going on with this critical race theory component.

[00:44:41] Eddie Robinson: I mean, here in Texas, lawmakers have already decided. to not teach this academic concept of critical race theory in classrooms. There’s even confusion as to what it really means, or is there confusion? Really? Perhaps that in and of itself is working as a smokescreen to further cast doubt and uncertainty as to what CRT consists of, but as a result of you being a teacher and doing what you were doing out in Freedom City.

[00:45:10] Eddie Robinson: And from what I gather, I think that area near Greenville is not too far from where Emmett Till was murdered back in the mid 50s.

[00:45:18] Mac Huslander: That’s exactly right.

[00:45:19] Eddie Robinson: But um, what have you come to know in and of itself of what critical race theory is and if it’s being avoided, is that something that should be of a concern?

[00:45:29] Mac Huslander: I think very much so, and you probably are familiar with the debacle we’ve had here at the University of North Carolina, like in Texas, I guess North Carolina is also passing laws so that some of this history cannot be taught because it might make some white folks feel bad or feel guilty. And my, my hope is that it’s by tackling the history and understanding it and understanding why it happened the way it did.

[00:46:03] Mac Huslander: That’s my hope that we’re going to come out of this at some point, better understanding the social dynamics without blaming anybody. What happened historically that wasn’t part of that, but still in some ways profiting from it. But Until we understand why things are so different for Black and particularly Latino people in this country.

[00:46:33] Eddie Robinson: Yes.

[00:46:35] Mac Huslander: Until we understand and own that, I think we’re still a long way off from getting to an equal and just relationship.

[00:46:45] Eddie Robinson: Absolutely.

[00:46:45] Mac Huslander: And there was a period back in the, in the 70s where, I don’t know if you ever heard of it, but it was called New White Consciousness. And basically, it was how to be an anti racist racist.

[00:47:01] Mac Huslander: Because growing up in this country, it’s very hard to avoid being caught up. In racism, but there were ways to combat that and a guy named Bob Terry wrote a book for whites only expounding on this idea of New White Consciousness as a kind of a way to get beyond that.

[00:47:25] Eddie Robinson: Wow.

[00:47:26] Mac Huslander: And it was like critical race theory, but it was called new white consciousness at that time.

[00:47:35] Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson with human rights activist, Mac Hulslander.

[00:47:41] Eddie Robinson: I’m grateful, you know, that we have a platform here that allows not only Black voices to be recognized, but white voices as well. And especially, and I really would like to get your thoughts as we wrap up, Mr. Hulslander, your thoughts on our future and what is happening with our country. You know, you look at January 6th. And the insurrection that happened there, you look at post George Floyd and what happened there, you know, all of these incidents, the verdict coming from the Ahmaud Arbery case out in Brunswick, Georgia, all of these moments, these incidents had to have resonated with you, Mac, on some level.

[00:48:27] Eddie Robinson: Tell us, where do we go from here?

[00:48:30] Mac Huslander: Eddie, I think one of the, the major dilemmas, and in a way it goes back to critical race theory, but it’s, it’s the whole thing with fake news and misinformation. And when we as Americans cannot look at the same body of facts and accept them as fact, we’re in real trouble.

[00:49:00] Mac Huslander: And I think there is a reservoir of goodwill in this country, and that the words justice and reconciliation are not empty concepts. And, and like King, I do think that the long… arc of history leads towards justice, but we know from that history that it’s a long struggle and a continuous struggle. So it’s not like you ever get beyond it.

[00:49:40] Mac Huslander: At the James Meredith March in Mississippi in about 64, I guess, when Stokely Carmichael raised his fist and talked about Black power. At first there was a lot of white resistance to that because there had been a number of whites involved in the Civil Rights Movement and they felt shunted aside. But the lesson that I get from Stokely is that historically there’s been so much conversation about that. The negro problem, the Black problem, and so on.

[00:50:20] Mac Huslander: And to realize that it’s not that, it’s a white problem. You know, until we understand the genesis of the discrimination of the injustices and so on and accept that and commit ourselves to do something about it. I think there was a way that it was an awakening, a consciousness raising thing to realize that we as whites need to address our community and its past and its values and understandings of so much in relationship to what’s happened with race in this country. And if we can do that, and if we can understand and accept our role in that, and take responsibility where it’s appropriate. That also would be a hopeful sign for me.

[00:51:23] Eddie Robinson: Human rights activists, Mac Hulslander, thank you so much for your contribution, sir, your commitment to race relations in our country, the work you’ve done for us all.

[00:51:35] Eddie Robinson: Thank you so much.

[00:51:36] Mac Huslander: Thank you for the opportunity.

[00:51:41] Eddie Robinson: You’ve been listening toI SEE U. Our team includes technical director, Todd Hulslander, producer Laura Burks, editors Mark Di Claudio, and Matt Buehrer and sound designer. Dave McDermott. I SEE U is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and for more updates and episodes, visit our website, I-S-E-E-U show.org.

[00:52:06] Eddie Robinson: I’m your host and executive producer Eddie Robinson. So grateful for our interim host, Melanye Price who provided some outstanding episodes for us while I was on parental leave. And yeah, I’m a new dad with a handsome, healthy baby boy named Zavier with a Z. Thanks so much for listening. And remember, I feel you, we hear you. I SEE U.

 

This article is part of the podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson

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