Dr. David Goldberg continues his story in this third interview. He discusses his time as part of collectives that produced Midnight Special and the New York City Star newspapers in the early 1970s. Midnight Special was a newspaper committed to covering prison life throughout the United States. Content was written by inmates and published by the collective. The New York City Star was a left-oriented newspaper for New York City. He discusses the nature of his work at and his eventual leaving of both publications in 1974. Dr. Goldberg also describes his trip to Cuba in 1974 as part of the Venceremos Brigade. The Venceremos Brigade organized illegal trips to Cuba in a show of solidarity with the Cuban government. He also discusses his time teaching at Franconia College and the impact that the Attica prison rebellion and the Chile coup d’etat had on him in the 1970s.
Goldberg, David (interviewee)
Randt, Naomi A. (interviewer)
"David Goldberg interview, 13 July 2016" (2016). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 750004.
Naomi A. Randt [00:00:03] I'm [Naomi A. Randt], it's the 13th of July 2016. It's Dr. Goldberg, again, in Rhodes Tower. Last time we had sort of stopped with what you were doing after prison, with all your travel. Getting to your work with Midnight Special.
David Goldberg [00:00:22] Well, maybe I should give some background to that, because I came back to New York City. It was the fall of 71 in part without absolutely any idea of what I was gonna do at that point. And I thought as context, early 70s is an interesting time, because by the early 70s, SDS totally had fallen apart and there was no overall organized left organization, you could say. And there was a kind of splintering of activists in your early 70s, which I think was one of most interesting periods of what you might call the 60s. So there's been the emergence of the women's movement, the gay movement, the environmental movement. There are all these debates about what was the top priority. People generally by that time were becoming involved in kind of the issue that most concerned them. What's known today as identity politics, rather than some overall left organization. The anti-war movement, after the event I describe Mayday, the mass arrests in Washington on May 1st, 1971, was facing a bit of a dilemma because of the withdraw of the U.S. troops, even though the war continued. The withdrawal of U.S. troops made it less likely you could get people involved, even though the bombing continued and very much intensified. So there was a kind of splintering of what you might call the left in the early 70s. And I'd come back to New York City without really being sure what I was gonna do, except that I knew I didn't want to write a dissertation, but I did get some money from Columbia one way or another that helped and I got a lot of other odd jobs. But when I came back to New York City, I met some people who had gotten involved in beginning a publication aimed at people in prison. Now, the overall context for this is an event that often gets ignored in some ways, when you look at the history of the 60s and the history of 60s stretches through 1973, and that is the Attica rebellion of September 1971. I won't go into all the details about it. Prisons in Attica had taken hostages of entry. The Prison have been retaken. Governor Rockefeller had lied about how eventually 40 people had died. Many were killed by the National Guard that had retaken the prison. Attica was huge news nationally, but especially in New York City. Most of the prisoners in Attica came from New York City. It's upstate. So Attica especially brought a lot of attention to the situation of prisoners. But this had been growing in the late 60s, early 70s, when there was a prison movement that emerged very much influenced by the black power movement and it affected some of the prisons in California, some other places. Now, this is at a time when I was very interested in prison issues and what goes on in prisons. And I mentioned I gone down to D.C., contacted some people in Congress and contacted some lawyers interested in aiding prisoners without a great deal of success. So it's kind of a combination of circumstances that I met these people who has decided to begin a publication called the Midnight Special. They just started around the time of the Attica rebellion and I kind of joined with them. This became what you would call a collective. There were about eight of us. We got office space with the National Lawyers Guild. That was the basement of their office. They gave us the space, which was really great. We also then could send them Midnight Special into prisons. Yeah, using envelopes, which also was an aid. We started out as a very small publication. Publishing everything in a Midnight Special name came from a Ledbelly song. It was written by people in prison. It started out mainly for prisoners in New York State, but we grew and became national, so we were getting letters, people submitting pieces that they wanted to see published from, I remember [inaudible] Florida, Angola, Louisiana, Folsom in California, both state and federal prisons. So it grew. We ran it as a collective, so there were about eight of us with different opinions. Two of the people in the Special – actually, maybe about three of them – had been involved in The Weathermen, which was a group that I didn't like at all. But this was 71. So this was after that. What I did like about it, it was operated as a collective, so we would decide on the copy for the Midnight Special as a group. I had a lot of debates, discussions. It was a lot of work because we began to get more and more correspondence. You had to respond to the correspondence, you had to do all the work of printing out a newspaper. So we would often have meetings till 2:00, 3:00 a.m., what have you. Again, operating that way.
Naomi A. Randt [00:05:58] Was it filled only with the correspondence with prisoners or did you do the collective writing [inaudible]?
David Goldberg [00:06:04] No, we had decided that we wanted to be a publication of people inside prison and that we weren't going to do any of the writing. The only exception to that is we added to the collective someone who was actually a law student at that time at Colombia, who would, I think, if I remember correctly, would have some pieces that she would write concerning legal advice. But other than that, the entire contents were written by people in prison. Now, people in prison obviously have a lot of time to write. They have time in their hands. And I we also had a section called Writing on the Walls, just kind of thoughts of people. We would have some poetry and we would get material from one woman's prisons. Some of it, to me, if I looked at it today, was too much left wing rhetoric, just rhetoric. Other parts of it were more substantial. This was a time of New York state had adopted what are known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which are relatively very draconian drug laws. So remember that getting a lot of attention. There was a lot of attention being paid at this time to techniques of behavior modification that was being used in the New York state prison, [inaudible]. Techniques used elsewhere. Some of the people who wrote us were political prisoners. I remember I corresponded with these Puerto Rican nationalists who would actually attacked Congress in 1950. And I establish a kind of correspondence with them. So it was a kind of mix of both personal and political that would be included, but all written by people in prison. But we would be the ones who decided what we were going to publish.
Naomi A. Randt [00:07:52] What was the aim?
David Goldberg [00:07:56] I'm not sure we ever thought particularly of what the aim of the publication is. That's a good question. I think it was a way of letting people know, if I thought about it, that the situation they face was similar to that of others. I assume that people in prisons got something out of reading what other people who were incarcerated were writing. I don't think there was a great deal of self reflection in terms of people thinking about what their lives are gonna be after they got out. So I think if I thought about the aim would be to give voice to those who were incarcerated. One of my great regrets, I guess, especially because of the historical background, is we didn't keep the correspondence, of which was pretty voluminous. So we actually had a record about people's experiences, I would bet in maybe about fifty or seventy five different prisons in the United States in the early 70s. I think all of that was lost. I should blame myself for that. Right.
Naomi A. Randt [00:09:00] Can you ballpark how many letters you would recieve weekly or monthly?
David Goldberg [00:09:05] How many letters we would receive weekly or monthly? All I know is a good... It was a good number. I got somewhat beyond what we could handle. We were all doing as unpaid as a collective. And I stress the collective part because that was a nice part of it is, you know, making decisions as a group that way. Sometimes people would... We answer their mail, they would then continue to write us. It would become too much. So you had a kind of reach a balance. We also began to have some people getting out of prisons in New York state, coming by our office and working with us. We would get invitations to speak to groups. And actually I got a couple of invitations to speak inside prisons. Because Attica was a huge issue in New York at the time, both because of the kind of circumstances, conditions that led to the rebellion and also was the the lies of the Rockefeller administration that it really became the focal point of a great deal. But the New York state prisons in the wake of Attica actually began to loosen up in some ways. And I actually got some invitations to speak actually inside a couple of the state prisons, which I don't think would have been normal, it wouldn't have been allowed.
Naomi A. Randt [00:10:23] Did you actually go and speak in the prisons?
David Goldberg [00:10:29] Yeah, the one... I remember one experience where I went into Comstock, which is one of the upstate prisons. You know, I was amazed that first of all, they had some I think was... It might have been organized by the Puerto Rican prisoners and they had some kind of special day and they let them do this. And this is, again, because the New York Bureau of Corrections was under a lot of heat after Attica, and that's why they loosened up. I gave this kind of radical sounding talk right in the yard and I just did it. I don't think you ever done that under normal circumstances. Probably just a lot of rhetoric. I don't have a recording of it, but I went into a few other prisons and spoke to inmate groups that were organized inside the prison that they now allowed.
Naomi A. Randt [00:11:06] What did you speak about?
David Goldberg [00:11:09] Well, sort of what our publication was, what we were trying to do and what kind of assistance they might be able to get when they get out because just about everyone gets out and that's a problem for a lot of people in prison. What are you going to do? What kind of resources are available to you?
Naomi A. Randt [00:11:23] Was there any kind of movement beyond the paper to try and make sure these prisoners were taken care of after they got out?
David Goldberg [00:11:32] Well, there were different organizations that even existed at an early time. For example, the Fortune Society that's involved in aiding prisoners. But as the Special, we were just eight people doing a collective and doing other things, by the way, at the same time. So we didn't do much other than put out the newspaper. That was it. I mean, in fact, we realized we would be taking on too much if we tried to get involved in other kinds of activities. We were not an organization that could aid people when they were getting out. Though some people would come out and kind of attend our meetings, discussions, that kind of thing.
Naomi A. Randt [00:12:09] Did it ever grow beyond eight people?
David Goldberg [00:12:13] No, actually, I think the core group we kept, it changed a little, was a kind of basic eight that we had, and I'm estimating, maybe seven or eight. I don't think we wanted to see the collective get bigger than that because actually that one might have made it more difficult to put out the publication. But there was a lot of what we just call shit work involved in it. I mean, you had a do the plates for the new addresses, you know, for every person who came in. A lot of things about the mailing and things like that. So it was quite a bit of work for us.
Naomi A. Randt [00:12:43] The National Lawyers Guild, were they involved in any way beyond giving you office space?
David Goldberg [00:12:52] The National Lawyers Guild wasn't. They were quite good because they give us the office space. Other than that, we had nothing to do with them other than I saw all these left lawyers coming in and out upstairs. They were upstairs. We were downstairs. Though, we didn't really have contact with them. And there were just a lot of left of left lawyers in York City at that time. So you'd see. And they were a lot involved the Attica defense. But we didn't have any connection with them.
David Goldberg [00:13:11] Was there any distribution of the newsletter outside of prisons?
David Goldberg [00:13:22] Yeah, I can remember I worked a lot on that because I liked going around York City. This was the era of New York City deteriorating a great deal, but we'll talk more about that maybe you want to talk about another publication I worked on. But I always have loved New York and getting in and around. So I actually took on more responsibility, I think, than anyone else in the collective in going around to different places where we wanted to distribute The Special, basically free. One place I remember particular known as Liberation Bookstore up on Lennox and 135th. This is right in the center of Harlem. And I had never really gone up to Harlem before and they really had – you know, this is in the era of Black Power and various groups – and so they had a pretty nice bookstore there. So I remember going up there every month. Bundles of papers you would take on the subways. Going through a few others, like there was a great bookstore in the Village, E Street Book. So we would take it to a few bookstores like that, I think, and do some distribution at events. And actually that would be a way of raising some money also.
Naomi A. Randt [00:14:40] What was that experience like, going into Harlem for the first time?
David Goldberg [00:14:40] Well, it wasn't any big deal other than I just remember: a lot of whites today, Harlem's becoming gentrified, so it's normal, but you wouldn't see whites in Harlem. I remember being struck by that, just how segregated this city is. But other than that I didn't have any difficulty going up there or anything like that. You know, again, it's something that really sticks in your mind, just literally how segregated the city is. You can go 20 blocks, maybe, from where you live, and again, the difference.
Naomi A. Randt [00:15:07] What was the reaction to the paper, from the people you were handing them to?
David Goldberg [00:15:12] Well, we didn't hand them out. We would go to bookstores and leave them for people who wanted to see them. So the reaction we got to the paper was from people inside prisons who often said how much they like getting it, but not so much, I don't think, from people outside.
Naomi A. Randt [00:15:28] Was there any pushback from the prisons themselves to this publication?
David Goldberg [00:15:34] I was surprised that the number of places we were able to get it in. And again, I think it's because we used... we would fold it up – it's a lot of work involved in just the distribution – and we had letterhead envelopes from the National Lawyers Guild, and that's what allowed us to get it in. There was some places where we had trouble, but I think in large majority cases where people said, I want to subscribe to the Midnight Special and they would get a free, they were able to receive it.
Naomi A. Randt [00:16:03] And the money you recieved was used for postage and that kind of thing?
David Goldberg [00:16:09] Yeah. All the money was from... In fact, I wish... I can't recall how we managed to get enough money to continue to put it out, but we did. And we'd have some fundraisers and ask people for contributions, that sort of thing.
Naomi A. Randt [00:16:21] How long did the publication run for?
David Goldberg [00:16:24] Well, publication ran up until 1974 and 1975. So for four years. But this would bring us into other things. And I can talk about why I actually left before the publication stopped publishing. And I'm not... I wasn't involved when it stopped publishing. But I do remember. I'll say this before I get into some of the other stuff. There were some people in the publication who were much more let's say quote unquote left than I were. And there was a bizarre group called the Symbionese Liberation Front. They're the group that kidnaped Patty Hearst and they ran an article on that. I just thought that was absurd. What do we want to have anything about the SLA as they were known in the Midnight Special? So I began thinking, well, you know, my thinking is a lot different than some of the other people in the group. But in the meantime, another really critical event. Well, I should if you want to, just some chronology that along with The Special I became involved in another newspaper called The New York City Star.
Naomi A. Randt [00:17:36] What was the nature of that publication?
David Goldberg [00:17:39] Well, that was an interesting publication that ended up being a bit disappointing. Because there had been a left wing newspaper called The Guardian. Actually, The Guardian had been formed to support Henry Wallace when he ran as a third party candidate in 1948. That's its history. But The Guardian had come out as a left wing weekly. It published in New York but nationally ever since 1948. And there were kind of one of these Marxist type newspapers and kind of very Marxist oriented and everything that involves. They didn't have much cultural stuff or whatever. They represented the old left, really. And their staff – but a lot of people read it because they had a lot of articles on China and Cuba and things like that – their staff actually engaged in a rebellion in 71. And because they finally got tired of this old kind of left wing Marxist style rhetoric and also the way the publication was run because it was pretty much top down. So for a while, they put out a publication called the Liberated Guardian that came out of there. Right. They actually occupied their building, and the group that formed the Liberated Guardian. They got the idea, well, let's start more of a left oriented New York City paper. And it was known as the New York City Star. And I was really enthusiastic about that because I really love New York. And I said, well, this is going to be a golden opportunity just to go around New York, you know, covering wherever you want to cover. And this, again, was going to be operated as a collective. We had a loft – 149 Hester Street, this is right on the Bowery – we got a huge loft for like two hundred dollars. This is when, again, there was total deterioration in parts of New York. So you could really get great spots for very little money. We operated as a collective, so there was a period of time, probably 72-73, I was part of the Midnight Special collective and New York City Stock collective. But I really got enthusiastic about that City Star. It had a lot of potential. We had distribution on newsstands in New York City, which is critical. It really had a lot of possibilities. There really was no what you might call left New York City publication like it. But what happened to the New York City Star – and I mentioned this in the context of The Special – is a lot of the people to me, we're just too attached to some kind of what I would view as a romantic left wing view rather than wanting to cover what I thought was gonna be, gut-level New York City stories, which is really what I thought the publication was going to be. So I kind of got disappointed in the New York City Star. Put a huge amount of energy into it in the first year, but then kind of left. And that was also what I was seeing on the Midnight Special because a lot of the people on The Special on the City Star were interconnected. We all were part of a community living either in Washington Heights and Manhattan or out in Park Slope, now gentrified, where apartments were dirt cheap in the early 70s. So all of us just about lived either in Park Slope or Washington Heights. And it was a lot of interconnections between the two. But I was kind of seeing both groups as maybe having too much of a romantic, you might say, revolutionary view. But that affected me more with the City Star. So I left that after a year.
Naomi A. Randt [00:21:02] Can you describe this romanic revolutionary...?
David Goldberg [00:21:08] Well, it sort of came out of, you know, what you might call the romanticization of third world revolutions and things like that – especially, I think, Cuba and China – that existed in a part of the left in the early 70s. But it would be manifested in other issues. But again, I think the dividing point is I just wanted to cover much more, make it more of a New York City kind of a publication than what people wanted.
Naomi A. Randt [00:21:35] What was your job?
David Goldberg [00:21:41] Well, it wasn't a job, it was a collective and would operate the same way as The Special did. And we would have benefits to raise money and try to really have to scramble. We even got some foundation money, I think, at a certain point.
Naomi A. Randt [00:21:55] Did you write for the City Star?
David Goldberg [00:21:58] Yeah, I wrote a couple of articles. That was fun to do. In fact, of course, I did some articles on prison stuff, but I did some articles even, I remember, doing an article on scalping at Knicks games and things like that. I liked doing that kind of stuff. But they, I think, again they weren't turned out, they weren't at all that interested in some of that.
Naomi A. Randt [00:22:15] How many people were involved?
David Goldberg [00:22:22] Well, then collective and the City Star was somewhat like The Special. We had about eight people would get together and go over copy, what articles we wanted to have. It was a huge amount of work to put it out. We'd have to do our own typesetting and we had a place to do that as well as the distribution. Although we did have someone that did the distribution to newsstands, so we didn't have to do that on our own.
Naomi A. Randt [00:22:42] What did you do after you left the City Star?
David Goldberg [00:22:47] Well, the time when I was both on The Special and the City Star and also doing some part time jobs. I would say another critical event at that time was the coup in Chile when Allende who had been elected was overthrown. A member the Socialist Party overthrown by the Chillean military. An event very similar almost to what occurred in Spain in 1936, except there wasn't a civil war. And thousands forced into exile or killed. This was a time when the Nixon administration had backed governments involved and repressive activity in almost all the countries like Indonesia, Iran, Brazil, whatever you want to mention. And I remember Chile having an impact on me. Sort of like – or I somewhat like – Attica. And it's kind of one of the central events of the early 70s along with the Vietnam War. So I remember being affected by that. In fact, we organized a protest at the General Assembly when a representative of the Cillean government came. We stood up and disrupted the speech and got removed. What have you. Just about the last protester who was being involved in. But as a result of my interest in Chile, what had happened in Chile. And other factors I found out about, was an organization known as Venceremos Brigade, and they organized trips to Cuba. And I was kind of obviously interested in what was happening in Cuba at the time. You had to apply. So I think maybe because I was interested in Cuba, what they were doing in Cuba, and also probably under the impact of this effort to form a democratic left wing government in Chile that had been overthrown. I decided to apply for the Venceremos Brigade. That would be... I think you applied sort of around January 1974.
Naomi A. Randt [00:24:39] What was the mission of the Venceremos Brigade?
David Goldberg [00:24:51] Venceremos Brigade had started in the late 60s when some people, mostly young left wing activists in the U.S., had gone down to Cuba. My understanding of the first couple brigades is they were really chaotic, very poorly organized. People got on a freighter. It was illegal to travel to Cuba and they'd done it. So after the first two years, basically the Communist Party in the US working with the communists in Cuba took over the Venceremos Brigade. I don't think I was aware that the Communist Party basically controlled the Venceremos Brigade in the US, but it was something I was kind of new. But there were other people involved in it and that actually did cause some conflict eventually when we were in Cuba. But a reason why the Cubans had decided to work with the US Communist Party is they wanted something that was more structured. The goal of it would be that people would go to Cuba and work. We would work for six weeks, travel the island for two weeks in defiance of U.S. government, which had a travel ban on Cuba as a way both of expressing solidarity with Cuba and also when you would come back educate people about Cuba. So I think it had a twofold goal that way.
Naomi A. Randt [00:26:10] What kind of work did you do when you were there?
David Goldberg [00:26:14] Well, when we went to Cuba, actually, there was quite a bit of preparation you had to go through. They went through a pretty careful selection process before you would go. So when we went down there – and there were about 10 different brigades from different parts of the country – we were involved in helping to construct new housing. It was about 20 miles outside of Havana. Called Los Naranjos – oranges. But our task would vary. I mean, we did landscaping. Some of us would do some kinda more heavy duty construction. So they would vary it. You would kind of rotate every two weeks in terms of what you would be doing.
Naomi A. Randt [00:26:58] Can you describe the selection process?
David Goldberg [00:27:03] Well, the selection process wasn't too complicated other than you had to go through this application. And they actually had something they called deselection, where they thought some people might not be ready yet or too young. But they required you to attend a lot of meetings before you went, a kind of orientation. And they also, I remember, we gave reports in different countries in the world. I remember doing something on Zimbabwe. So it's pretty structured with a lot of meetings before you actually went down. Kind of, again, aimed at orientation. There's a lot of you know, this is a time of, I think, a lot of hope in what was called third world revolutions, much more than there would be today. So I think that was part of it also.
Naomi A. Randt [00:27:45] Was there any involvement from the U.S. Government to try and stop what the Venceremos Brigade was doing?
David Goldberg [00:27:53] No, the U.S. government. I actually think there might have been an FBI agent who was present, either on the committee that ran the Venceremos Brigade. But there was no active effort to stop us. There was this secretive element, which I think is part of the history of the Communist Party, because of their own history. So I remember, we even when we were going go fly down to Cuba. We're going to have to go through Mexico City and then you would have to get a flight from Mexico City to Cuba and they wouldn't be able to tell us when we were going to leave. So we had to be alert one week before we would go. Then we actually met on street corners and they would pick us up. So there was always this kind of secretive element, which I think was partway to the history of the Communist Party, what have you, but some paranoia about the federal government. And the only thing also I remember is when we got back to Kennedy Airport, they confiscated our passports. So I have a headline for a Puerto Rican newspaper that was their headline in the newspaper that "Passports Confiscated," though we eventually got them back.
David Goldberg [00:28:54] Was there anything else that happened to you when you came back?
David Goldberg [00:29:02] No. No. Nothing else happened.
Naomi A. Randt [00:29:04] What was your time in Cuba like?
David Goldberg [00:29:07] Well, Cuba was great. I mean, kind of maybe an element of naivete, a couple things about that. I do... I would... Because I've studied history, I knew all these people went to the Soviet Union, you know, in the thirties, when there's huge amount of repression or whatever, and they're creating the Stalinist state. And they would go and take them to these model villages, whatever, and they would come back with these rave notices. So I was kind of aware of that in the back of my mind. On the other hand, being familiar with the history of Central America and the U.S. role in Central America and the idea the Cuban revolution was different. I was kind of optimistic that, you know, this would be different maybe than other revolutions. But I did go with that kind of knowledge in my own mind. But we did have a very positive experience. The work was, you know, you like that physical kind of work. So that part of it was good, except we had to operate a jackhammer. Every time I see a guy on the street doing a jackhammer, I say, man, I'm glad I don't have to do that for a living. So that was my plan, with which I really struggle. But other than that, the work was good. We lived in dorms. We had a great time. We went in every Sunday. They took us to a beach. And one day we went to Havana just on our own, traveled all over Havana. And the beach was fabulous. I'll tell you that. And then at the end, we got a complete two week tour of Cuba. Every part of the island. Like six buses going and stopping and gathering and having, you know, different events at night. But also, there was a serious element to it. We would give presentations while we were in Cuba about different activities we were involved in in the United States. So I was involved, obviously gave a presentation on prisoner rights. Those would be gatherings in the evening. I do remember– and this was interesting – there were about the 10 different brigades, but there was a great group of people, Chicanos from New Mexico. And a number of us – and I can't remember the issue – really got disturbed by over control of the Communist Party in and in the middle of it we had a meeting where the Cubans dressed us down and said, you got to listen to your leadership. Just remember that. I don't remember why. They even threaten you like you're going to be sent back home if you don't follow the Communist Party leadership. The other thing I remember is the Cubans who were assigned to our brigades – because we would work with some Cubans – they were almost like, I would say victims of mind control. You could see that. I mean, everything they said was just total support of the revolution, where there were older Cubans who we worked with in the camps and they were totally different. So you could see that element. On the other hand, it seemed to me that there was very considerable progress being made in the areas where communist countries always make progress. That's in health and education. I think those. And of course, this is an era when they were getting very considerable Soviet subsidies, to the Cuban economy.
Naomi A. Randt [00:32:15] Who led these tours that you whould go on?
David Goldberg [00:32:19] We would go on these tours and begin in Pinar del Rio, which is the more remote western end and ended up in Santiago, I think it was just people assigned by the Cuban government who would lead the tours and
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