John Douglas

Oral history interview

 

Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 1 Client: Vermont Historical Society/Vermont 70s Project Interviewer: Jackie Calder & Amanda Gustin Interviewee: John Douglas Location: Burlington Vemont Date: May 13, 2016 Length: 01:40:56 Recording Format: Digital Accession: Audio File 1970s-60 Collection: Vermont 1970s Counterculture Project Indexer: Tucker Foltz Time Content Keyword 1 

 

START – 00:04:30 Can you give us your birthday, where you were born, something about your family and maybe early education? Born 1938, July 13 in Alice Home Hospital in Lake Forest, Illinois. Tells the story of how both sides of his family settled in Lake Forest, IL. Father's father was one of the founders of Quaker Oats; mother's grandfather was a US senator. Father was a lawyer, mother died of cancer when he was a child, three brothers. One brother is the longtime captain of the Shenandoah topsail schooner out of Martha's Vineyard. Lake Forest, IL Family history Father Mother Grandparents Captain Douglas (brother) Martha’s Vineyard Black Dog Crew 00:04:30 – 00:10:40 10 students in his private school eighth grade class, attended Andover for high school, graduated 1957. Played varsity sports, football, and by his senior year he was doing art. Discusses reluctantly attended Harvard, "they didn't have artists at Harvard." Discusses friends from Harvard, "one got me down to Mississippi after I got out of the Army." By his sophomore year there was designing pavilions for the USIA at the graduate school. Took a class with Henry Kissinger, "I didn't know who it was at the time" and was friendly with the Dean of Students, McGeorge Bundy. "These were people I didn't relate to well," left Harvard after about 1.5 years. Spent a year painted/sculpting, worked in machine shop on Martha's Vineyard, full time High School Andover Harvard Henry Kissinger McGeorge Bundy Martha’s Vineyard Boston University (SFAA) Drafted into Army France Hospitalized Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 2 Time Content Keyword 1 art student at BU and part-time at museum school before getting drafted, "because I was not completing my education, I was continuing it." two years in the military, 1961-1963. Drove supply tractor-trailers in France. In hospital for almost 6 months. Finished army time as craft shop instructor in Boston. Pottery Painting 00:10:40 – 00:16:20 Moved to Martha's Vineyard where his brother was building Shenandoah. Hung out with the Kushi's, "made pots and ate rice." Bought 150 acres in Putney Vermont, largest standing barn in the town, five outbuildings and a house for $18,000. Got money from deceased grandmother. Went to Vermont with friend, Michael McKenzie, his roommate from Harvard. Describes farm; it was empty, doesn't know for how long, the back of one of the buildings had been used as a print shop. Two friends from Harvard came up Bob Fulton and Griffin. Got a job filming (16mm) skyhook operations with SEAL teams in Coronado through Fulton's father. Martha's Vineyard Macrobiotics Kushi's Vermont Putney, VT Coronado, California Skyhook CIA filmmaking 00:16:20 – 00:20:00 Friend Tom Griffin had been in Mississippi for Freedom Summer. Griffin had background in theater, originally had not planned on filmmaking. Together they bought a Bolex camera and Uher tape recorder. Lived in tent while making Strike City. Process of making film without any experience. Douglas had worked with abstract projections. Met filmmaker Norm Fruchter at Bennington. Met Robert Kramer, core of Newsreel. Summer of 1968 made People’s War in Vietnam, edited in Vermont. Robert proposed commune. Mississippi Freedom Summer Filmmaking Film equiptment Amateur filmmaking Strike City Abstract projections Bennington College Norm Fruchter Robert Kramer Newsreel People’s War 00:20:00 – 00:20:00 – 00:24:44 Could you explain what Newsreel was? Meeting Marvin Fishman who was part of film group Third World. Describes a sonic screen he built in Vermont for abstract art audio/visual shows. Discusses his meeting with other filmmakers, New York-Vermont connections and Blue Van Films. They had a Marvin Fishman Newsreel Third World Newsreel Bennington College Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 3 Time Content Keyword 1 film meeting out of which came Newsreel and later Third World Newsreel. Discusses working back and forth between Vermont and New York City. Blue Van Films Norm Fruchter Robert Kramer Christine Choy 00:24:44 – 00:30:45 So you said you went to Hanoi and did that movie, how did you get into Vietnam because it wouldn’t have been easy? Discusses how they got into Vietnam, Newsreel was suggested to Dave Dellinger, they went as part of a delegation to bring back three pilots in exchange for an interview with Ho Chi Minh that would be brought back to the states. Ho Chi Minh was sick but they were still permitted to film in the country. Shot for two weeks and Vietnamese released them without processing the film. US Government seized their film upon reentry. Army held a showing of the processed film. Discusses what the Vietnamese would not allow them to show. Got material back from government and edited film in Vermont. Discusses techniques of editing. After that, a core of people came to live together. “the first thing we got together around was the Newspaper, Free Vermont.” So you’re up here, it’s Newsreel, is it also called Red Clover? “It wasn’t called Red Clover quite yet.” Discusses the various names of the farm. Newsreel People’s War Ho Chi Minh Dave Dellinger Grace Paley Vietnam War Filmmaking Free Vermont Red Clover 00:30:45 – 00:36:00 Tells the story of how he scared off local hunters who would use their land by placing homemade “Radiation Hazard” signs on the property. Discusses town opposition to their presence, particularly with the Free Farm, which happened after the invasion of Cambodia. Can You Explain what Free Vermont was? Discusses the newspaper whose mission was to organize the state around revolution: Civil Rights and anti-war movements. Briefly discusses the organization of the Free Garage. Discusses in more detail the Common Ground Restaurant which was a multi-commune organization and which he had some involvement. Couldn’t remember if money was used at the restaurant but believes that it was. Land use dispute Native Vermonters Town opposition Free Farm Film Free Vermont Free Garage Common Ground Restaurant 00:36:00 – Discusses specific people who were living at Red Clover and the living Red Clover Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 4 Time Content Keyword 1 00:43:18 conditions, “mattresses all over the floor.” Discusses their work organizing for action. Discussed the making of a film for the promotion of May Day demonstrations in 1971 at request of Rennie Davis. Briefly discusses another story: the “shoot out” with town people upset with Free Farm. Worked on the May Day film with Ellen Ray and others, it was edited in New York. Tells a story of needing to rush to Putney from New York because “my sweetie is having a baby” and the birth of his son, Leaf. May Day film was shown around the country. Discusses being in Washington organizing the demonstration with other fathers of newborn children. Discusses how this circle of activists are still in contact. Rennie Davis Ellen Ray Peter Biskind Vermont New York Washington DC May Day demonstration 1971 fatherhood 00:43:18 – 00:51:48 So at some point after that demonstration, by the end of that summer and into the fall things kind of fell apart? “Well it was ’71.” Discusses the apocalyptic feeling in the air at that time. Tells stories of the FBI raiding the commune looking for Kathy Boudin and the FBI picking him up at the bus station in Vermont. Discusses the killing of Black Panther members that he had known. Tells the story of unwanted guests at the commune; a bus of women that came up from a conference to camp and shoot guns who placed accusatory chauvinistic messages around, and friends from Europe on a “revolution tour”, this led him to leave the commune on a trip out west despite still owning the property. Discusses Red Paint, the children’s collective school. “Folks from New York would leave their kid for a month or two or whatever, and it was extraordinary, it really was.” Discusses an extensive backpacking trip he took in the Yukon with Lou and Robert and his enhanced dreams in the wilderness. The three split up, and Douglas went to Aspen to live with an old friend. Discusses how the FBI had contacted the friends he stayed with and how he has looked through his FOIA and CIA files and everything has been blacked out. FBI Bernadine Dohrn Kathy Boudin Weather Underground Black Panthers Zayd Malik Shakur Assata Shakur Red Clover Red Paint Children Backpacking FIOA papers 00:51:48– 00:56:00 Talks about coming back to Vermont to live with some women, their kids and his son in a house in Westford, “it was difficult.” Also lived in Chinatown, New York at times, spending “chunks of time” with son. Westford, VT 1972 New York Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 5 Time Content Keyword 1 Discusses the work he was doing at that time (’72) making silk screen Free Vermont posters, bringing people from the States to meet with Vietnamese in Montreal, doing presentations on the war in New York. Talks about organizing and shooting and editing the film Milestones with Robert in 1973 and working between New York and the west coast. Finished film in April, 1975 “when the Vietnam War came to an end.” Chinatown, NYC Free Vermont Vietnamese Montreal 1973 Milestones Filmmaking Vietnam War 00:56:00– 00:59:00 So all this time you’re going back and forth to Montreal, could they let you go across the border, what kind of harassment was it? Talks about police harassment, a story of a mistaken cigarette. “They knew we were going back and forth.” Talks about being tracked by the government, “It’s unbelievable how much of that went on.” Talks about their connections with Weather Underground. Was the FBI interested in you because of your Free Vermont work, because of your anti-war demonstrations or your films? “I think all of that yeah.” Talks about what he believes the FBI knew and didn’t know at the time, Newsreel members, Free Vermont etc. Montreal US/Canada Border crossing Police Vietnam War FOIA papers Weather Underground FBI Free Vermont Newsreel 00:59:00– 01:04:05 Talks about driving around Vermont with members of Free Vermont looking for communes “with a stack of newspapers and a couple films.” Talks about a disturbing experience at Quarry Hill. Talks about Rock Bottom Farm as being feudal-like. Talks about the poor living conditions at Johnsons Pasture before it burned down. Talks about other farms like Tree Frog Farm as not being political but simply people living together and growing food “those nice people but they weren’t revolutionaries.” Free Vermont Vermont communes Quarry Hill Rock Bottom Farm Woody Random Whole Earth Catalog Johnsons Pasture Tree Frog Farm Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 6 Time Content Keyword 1 01:04:05 – 01:09:00 Talks about Free Farm, what would happen there, how it was founded, who would come, the incident with the state police, the college, and tensions with townspeople. The Gathering of the Tribes, were you there could you tell us about that? “Acid, a lot of acid, and that would be quite extraordinary when fifty people had dropped you know?” Talks about the Gathering of the Tribes in Putney and Franklin. Talks about how the people in Franklin would actually harvest crops. Talks about the types of people who were at Gathering of the Tribes in Franklin, including bikers who had dynamite and hand grenades. Free Vermont Free Farm Free Garage Windham College Police Gathering of the Tribes Franklin, VT Putney, VT LSD 01:09:00– 01:14:43 Now did you ever do anything with Earth People’s Park? Talks about his impression of Earth People’s Park at that time, “Nobody was there, there was no big community of anybody.” Talks about their involvement with Goddard College. “We spent quite a bit of time as a group meeting with other groups.” Talks about of the self-work Free Vermont did as group and the criticism they heard from the outside community. Discusses his views on modern politics and political parties. Tells a story of meeting Bernie Sanders at a party and his impression of him. Sanders was working on history film strips. Mentions knowing Jane Sanders because of his teaching on and off at Burlington College. Briefly mentions having contact with Mount Philo, and Susan and Stewart Meachum. Free Vermont Earth People’s Park Goddard College Bernie Sanders Jane Sanders Burlington College Mount Philo Susan & Stewart Meachum 01:14:43 – 01:19:40 Do you think Free Vermont ended because the whole political thing fell apart and Nixon got elected etc.? Do you think it ended? “Well that level ended… “There was not the same level of organizing with the newspapers and demonstrations and things like that.” Talks about the legacies of Free Vermont: free clinic, the co-op. Have you/are you been involved with the local community or do you continue to travel internationally? Talks about not feeling connected with the community. Feeling more connected to New York because of time spent there than Burlington. Talks about doing work with early computer graphics and animation. Talks about respect for the Free clinic Co-op Community work Burlington, VT Charlotte, VT New York Computer graphics Computer animation Dan Higgins Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 7 Time Content Keyword 1 work of Dan Higgins and his involvement with the community. Talks about his impressions of the Burlington community from that time, “it was like Buddhists and artists, it was like common, cause I was like a filmmaker, I wasn’t an artist.” Talks about finding connection with the artist community through his work as an animator. UVM 01:19:40 – 01:26:55 Talks about a “Core” of women which were living together in Putney. Discusses the film Cecil; making of film, editing process, soundtrack and the later release of it and talks about Cecil the native Vermonter from the film. Had a request from Cubans to get Spanish subtitles for Strike City and Cecil. “Really, piece of history. Mississippi and Vermont and old black and white movies of life.” Talks about poverty in Vermont in the 1970s and the isolation of communes from the rest of Vermont. “Even driving around looking for communes and things I realized how little of the state I had been to or seen and realized how isolated everybody was in a sense.” Talks about some relationships he had with locals while living there. Putney, VT Female Commune Cecil Town Dump Filmmaking Strike City Cubans Native Vermonters Poverty in Vermont Before I-89,I-91 01:26:55 – 01:36:00 Discusses teaching at Windham College in the Art Department. Discusses the conservative faculty. “They were very much against our efforts at that point of organizing stuff at the college.” David Rohn, “did this little anti-war comic book all though he was not involved with us because we were like radicals.” Talks about his indirect involvement with The Putney School, how Putney School kids would sneak out at night and hang out with them. Talks about a few people he knew from The Putney School including painter Fernando Gerassi. Were you at Windham went Kent State happened? “Yeah” Can you tell us about what happened in your experience after Kent State? Talks about his views on the incident, it wasn’t a standalone event but part of a larger trend which involved increased protest as well as army intelligence and government infiltration at Red Clover, at demonstrations Windham College David Rohn The Putney School Fernando Gerassi Kent State shooting Weather Underground Government set ups Red Clover Cambodia Vermont Historical Society Audio Log - John Douglas Vermont 1970s Project Interview 8 Time Content Keyword 1 and with the Weather Underground. 01:36:00 – END Can you talk about the impact of the counter culture in Vermont as you’ve seen it whether it’s had an impact or not? Talks about Bernie Sanders. Talks about the legacy of the hippies the work of co-ops and medical clinics in Vermont. Presence of hippie communities still in Brattleboro and Montpelier. Discusses socialist politics in Vermont, discusses modern decrease of young people in the state and his decreased involvement with community activism. Bernie Sanders Co-ops Medical clinics Brattleboro, VT Montpelier, VT Socialism

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