FREEDOM RIDER

I sat in the church pew while others discussed the dead man.
It was Saturday and cool, the noon air so crisp in the desert that it didn't seem possible a fresh grave had been dug.

At the news of Ted Mote's passing, friends and relatives were so overcome with grief that many broke down and wrote bad poetry that they now read.

I thought of Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground rocker.
Days earlier I'd seen Reed on a stage quietly reciting his lyrics without music, like the poet he is.

Ted Mote was already a middle-aged man in Phoenix when Lou Reed erupted on the scene in New York City in the '60s.

It was a time when some teenagers actually shared the hallucination that rock 'n' roll would change the world.

Not that Lou Reed ever succumbed to pretentions quite so melodramatic, preferring instead to eulogize cross-dressers and anthemize heroin.

It was an unsettling time. The young and rebellious focused on the war in Vietnam and Americans took sides.

Ted Mote stood with those kids who did not conform.
In October 1990, Vaclav Havel, the president of Czechoslovakia, met in Prague with Lou Reed. Havel had previously broken bread with Frank Zappa, musical madman and founder of the Mothers of Invention.

"The whole antiestablishment movement of the '60s had marked significantly my generation and also the generations after that," Havel told Reed. "In 1968 I was in New York for six weeks. I took part in demonstrations and rallies and student protests [at Columbia University]."

At the request of Havel, Lou Reed played that evening in a Czech nightclub with Eastern European musicians, who performed, note for note, Reed's earliest work. It was a moment that suggested that the Velvet Underground had somehow scored the Czech revolution. In fact, the musician's work was regarded reverentially behind the Iron Curtain.

After the set, Havel approached the astonished Reed.
"I must go," said President Havel. "I have to meet some foreign minister or some such thing. Oh, you must have this. These are your lyrics hand-printed and translated in Czechoslovakian [in a small, black book about the size of a diary]. There were only 200 of them. They were very dangerous to have. People went to jail, and now you have one. Keep your fingers crossed for us."

I like to think that Ted Mote would have relished the thought of Lou Reed jawing with Vaclav Havel. But Ted was too modest a man to admit that he was a part of the same story.

In the '60s, when Lou Reed wrote the music that inspired Havel and others of his generation, Mote was a teacher at Camelback High School. By 1963, Ted Mote had turned 40.

As young people looked around and stretched their dewy wings, they vowed, somewhat defensively, that no one over the age of 30 was to be trusted. Yet there was Ted, a decade past the point of credibility, a high school teacher who believed teenagers were bright enough to listen to both sides of a debate and make up their own minds.

Not everyone agreed.
One of his students, a teenager who shall temporarily remain nameless, was an avid John Bircher. Because of the boy's political inclinations, he was approached by the principal at Camelback High and asked to spy upon the classroom pronouncements of Ted Mote.

The adolescent knew full well from other archconservatives in Phoenix that some of the faculty at Camelback High was dangerous.

"I had been warned about Ted Mote and Bruce Clayton before coming to campus," said the student who willingly agreed to keep tabs and report back to the principal.

"Ted was perceived to be a liberal because he included the views of labor in his discussions of current issues," said Clayton, who in the early '60s was a colleague of Mote's at the east-side high school. "Ted brought outside speakers into the classroom and some of them were advocates of civil rights."

Those were revolutionary ideas in Arizona during the '60s.
Back then, Ted Mote was part of the four-man Arizona delegation that drove 48 hours, nonstop, to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 make his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.

Today, 30 years later, Arizona is the only state in the union to vote down a paid holiday honoring Dr. King.

Back then, Mote and his fellow travelers barely managed to fill a cheap sedan on their cross-country journey for justice.

On this day, a church overflowed with supporters who sang "We Shall Overcome" at the conclusion of Ted Mote's funeral service.

Back then, any white man who would drive across the breadth of this union to listen to a Negro speak, well . . . such a man needed looking into.

John Fielden, then a teacher at Camelback, recalled an early '60s appearance of noted Valley educator Weldon P. Shofstall before the school's Dads' Club.

Shofstall wanted to see an anticommunism club launched at Camelback (this sort of pioneering approach to the problems of education would propel Shofstall to election in 1969 as the state superintendent of public instruction).

1
 
2
 
3
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...