Bob Edwards Weekend (April 4-5, 2015)


47 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis, Tennessee helping to bring national attention to the struggles of a group of sanitation workers on strike for better wages and working conditions. He led marches and gave speeches – and was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. To mark the anniversary, Bob talks with three people who worked with King in Memphis.  Maxine Smith led the city’s chapter of the NAACP from 1962 until 1996. Frank McRae was a local white minister who supported the sanitation workers marching for their rights and dignity. Benjamin Hooks was a friend of King’s and went on to serve as executive director of the NAACP. 



We’ll get an update on the academic scandal at the University of North Carolina from history professor Jay Smith and whistleblower Mary Willingham.  She is the former learning specialist who worked in the athletic department with “student-athletes” who were not equipped to complete college courses.  Their new book is titled Cheated.

On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King was killed, a teacher in Riceville, Iowa stepped into her classroom to teach her students a lesson of a lifetime.  Jane Elliott conducted a bold experiment on her students, making them understand what discrimination feels like first hand. Some called her technique “evil” and “Orwellian” — said it abused the children’s’ trust. Others championed her as a brilliant educator on par with Plato and Aristotle.  Almost all of the students involved in the experiment said it strengthened their character.  Bob talks to Elliott about why, decades later, her exercise still matters.

One Reply to “Bob Edwards Weekend (April 4-5, 2015)”

  1. This is in response to April 4 interview with Jane Elliot. I still remember well the disastrous outcome of Jane Elliot's session with us at the Bell Telephone Laboratories many years ago. Our group was left in such a turmoil with hard feelings within a formerly cohesive team that work suffered for over a week. Management finally realized something had to be done to restore friendliness and productivity within the group. We had professional counselors conduct sessions to restore the good working relations we had before Jane Elliot destroyed them. We were a group of educated, self motivated, intelligent people who were accustomed to being treated with respect. We could not understand why management allowed her to be so belligerent. She sent uncooperative people out of the room (and the first person she sent out was not really that uncooperative) with no explanation of what they were to do. Would they be called back in soon? The dismissed people wanted to go back to work but did not feel free of the exercise. We were told to play the blue eye/brown eye game. We expected our brown eyed coworkers to rebel against discrimination as we felt they would in real life, but they did not. Since we were told to play the game, we oppressed blue eyed people finally rebelled as a group. We felt that is what the group should do in playing the game. Jane Elliot was obviously unprepared for such an action. There was no final adequate debriefing. Everyone left angry; and angry with fellow coworkers. Intellectually we understood it was just an exercise that went bad, but emotionally we could not forgive the brown eyes for their lack of support and the company for aggravating us so. The general opinion was that Jane Elliot was incompetent. So her statement in the radio interview that all adult groups responded favorably to her exercise is false. At least one group did not. Obviously it made a lasting impression on me, but not one of racial discrimination, but rather of her incompetence and arrogance that she had done nothing wrong and never apologized to us.

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