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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).

According to Fielden, Shofstall promised the fathers that an anticommunism club would succeed "so long as Ted Mote did not run it."

Although Mote was the head of the social studies department at Camelback, it was not long before he was stripped of authority and transferred to Carl Hayden High School.

Because he'd helped organize the Arizona branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he was aware of a job opening in the national office. One year after his academic demotion, Mote resigned as a teacher, moved to New York and became a paid staffer on the ACLU's membership committee.

In 1966, Mote returned to Phoenix to accept the post of executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union.

Ted Mote put his passion and his agency's resources behind young people.
In 1970 Ted Mote said this in the Union's annual report: "[It] is apparent that the high schools and universities continue as prime sources for civil liberties violations. School administrators have violated student rights to distribute leaflets, purchase underground newpapers, join organizations of their choice, hear speeches of their choice, select their own hair styles, and they have also expelled and suspended students without regard to due process."

Ted Mote was ahead of his time. He believed that kids had a right to their own opinions, their own style, their own newspapers and their own music. You couldn't deprive teenagers of a traditional education because you disliked their culture.

Vaclav Havel would have recognized the drill.
Kids were kicked out of school for having long hair. One girl was prevented from participating in graduation when her mother sent her to school in a homemade print dress after the administrators had decreed only white dresses for the ceremony. Repeatedly high schoolers were shown the door if they were caught with copies of New Times. The University of Arizona also attempted to clamp down on the weekly newspaper's distribution. Ted Mote and the ACLU fought and won all of these cases.

Mote's efforts were not limited to the campus. The ACLU, under Ted's guidance, secured police walking beats for an inner-city housing project; won expanded voting rights; got dress codes at the Salt River Project utility abolished; and protected the right of mothers to participate in the National Guard.

In 1970, while still the executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, Ted Mote entered law school. Perhaps no other career choice inspires as much cynical amusement. Like most humor, however, jokes about attorneys are rooted in reality.

And sometimes the reality is of long standing. Take, for example, the release in 1843 by John Lloyd Stephens of his wildly successful tale of adventure, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. With the publication of this text, Stephens was credited with rediscovering the Mayan ruins that had been lost for 400 years. Consequently, he also became known as the father of American archaeology. While researching this book, Stephens unearthed a Spanish land grant given by the crown in 1526 to Don Francisco de Montejo.

As Stephens discovered, the document that set forth the terms governing the rule of Central America contained a worthy historical perspective on the problem with lawyers. Indeed, the document provided that "no lawyers or attorneys should go into those lands from the kingdom of Spain, nor from any other part, on account of the litigation and controversies that would follow them."

Even the Spaniards, who tolerated all manner of enslavement and who slipped into popular culture as the bumbling begetters of Zorro, were leery of lawyers.

Ted Mote, however, came out of law school and turned his back on the sort of opportunities that would have placed him in the fraternal order of jurisprudence.

Mote specialized in the defense of schoolteachers, and even custodians, against school boards.

"He was naive and altruistic," said fellow attorney Herb Ely. "There was nothing cunning or sharp about him. He lacked the aggressive aspects that mark a successful businessman. He was a crucible for idealism and he inspired me."

In Mote's law office, there was a picture of a child in football pads charging through the line of uniformed players. The photograph is of Ted's daughter, who broke down the gender lines of Pop Warner football.  

Mote's partner, Gerry Pollock, does not think he will see the likes of Ted Mote again anytime soon.

"We practiced together for five years," observed Pollock, "and I never saw him unpleasant with anybody. I don't know what makes someone that secure."

Mote's friends will tell you that he was run out of the classroom because of his political beliefs. Maybe so. But you could not stop the man from teaching. He raised ten children and five grandchildren and each of them spoke movingly at the service of how much this man had meant in their lives.

Toward the end of the memorial, Ted's wife, Nancy Jo, introduced the couple's youngest son.

She explained that Jamie, who has Down's syndrome, was a little confused. He'd come to this place of worship hoping to find Ted.

So had we all.
The teenager who'd been asked by the school principal to spy upon Ted Mote back in the '60s was also at the funeral.

I wasn't surprised. He's fully grown, and just before the memorial service I'd read his name in the morning newspaper.

The former John Bircher, Louis Rhodes, is now the eloquent executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, having been converted as a teenager by the words of Ted Mote.

On Saturday, the Arizona Republic noted Rhodes' call for a Department of Justice investigation into the Buddhist Temple slayings.

Following the August 10 slaughter of nine Buddhists on the west side, four young Tucson men were arrested. All four eventually confessed.

Almost immediately, questions regarding the confessions surfaced.
All of the Tucson suspects recanted and later told horror stories of how their confessions were extracted. Just as troubling, there was no physical evidence linking the Tucson residents to the crime. It did not help matters that the original tip to the police came from inside a mental institution where the caller had just checked in.

One of the Tucson youths initially fingered by the informant in the mental institution was videotaped at his place of employment during the hours the homicide took place.

It made you wonder about the confessions of the other four.
Then the police picked up a second batch of teenagers with guns. This group lived in Phoenix. A ballistics check tied these weapons to the shooting. These individuals also confessed.

Louis Rhodes demanded to know, on behalf of the ACLU, how in the hell you could extract confessions from two groups of suspects, one of whom was evidently innocent, without violating someone's civil rights.

Whether you are in Prague or in Phoenix, it is the sort of question that grabs a government by the lapels of its cheap suit.

Ted Mote's gravestone is chiseled with a snatch of poesy from Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

But I think Louis Rhodes' most recent question is as fine a legacy as any teacher has ever left behind.

Ted Mote would have relished the thought of Lou Reed jawing with Vaclav Havel.

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

You couldn't deprive teenagers of a traditional education because you disliked their culture.

Jamie had come to this place of worship hoping to find Ted. So had we all.


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