Storyteller Studs Terkel regales delegates to APA convention

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
September 1, 2002



Ashcroft born 200 years late, would have made great prosecutor for Salem Witch Trials

Chicago–The spring in Studs Terkel’s 90-year-old legs nearly matched the twinkle in his eyes as he regaled delegates to the American Psychological Association’s 110th annual convention here.

Speaking at the opening session and later at a question and answer session, the legendary Chicago story-teller covered the waterfront in remarks that drew both laughter and applause.

Commenting on his latest book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, Terkel said that writing about death gave him a new appreciation for life.

A self-described agnostic (which he defined as “a cowardly atheist”), Terkel said that he had gained new respect for those who relied on religion and prayer to cope with life’s many challenges and hurdles.

Terkle, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, covered such topics as the lynching of Emmett Till to the financial shenanigans of Enron.

He bemoaned that most of the people he was talking to didn’t know who Emmett Till was and that there appears to be no sense of moral outrage against the increasing tide of corporate misconduct.

“We have historical amnesia in the country, which keeps us from understanding what’s happening to us much of time,” he said.

Comparing what’s happening to civil liberties in recent months, Terkel said Attorney General John Ashcroft was born 200 years too late and would have been a great prosecutor in the Salem Witch Trials.

Terkle, who was hounded by the government in the 1940s and 1950s for his leftist views and activities, said he has no answers to the current emphasis of security over personal liberties, but urged his audience to “put on your thinking caps. There’s never been a better time to speak out, even if it means your views might be thought to be disloyal.”

He also said that he doesn’t blame the rank and file fundamentalists for so much of the shift to censorship, but does hold Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, men who get rich off their right-wing ideology, responsible.

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