Fannie Lou Hamer Interview
With me is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer a member of the Executive Committee of the Freedom Democratic Party and a candidate of that party for the United States Congress. Mrs. Hamer, tell us a little about yourself. What part of the South you come from and how you got involved in Freedom Democratic Party politics. Thank you very much, uh, my home is in Ruleville, Mississippi. It's located in the Black Belt of Mississippi known as the Delta area. And actually the way I got involved in the Freedom Democrat Party is we tried to get in the regular Democrat Party, we tried from the precinct level, up to the county and from the county to the state. I remember when we tried to attend the precinct meeting at the little polling place in Ruleville, it was 8 of us, 8 Negroes, went up to visit the precinct meeting and the door was locked and we couldn't get in.
And we stood on the outside and held our own meeting. We elected our chairman and our secretary, our delegates and our alternates. And we passed a law to resolution and we moved from the precinct level on through the county and up to the state. The 24th of April in 1964. We organized at the Masonic Temple in Jackson, Mississippi, the Mississippi Freedom Democrat Party. And then, the 24th of August in 1964 we went to the national convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey to challenge the seating of the regular delegation from Mississippi. Mmhmm in which you were unsuccessful? That's right. We was offered two votes at large as a compromise. In the convention? In the convention. But, after 100 years we wouldn't accept a compromise because it didn't mean anything to 63,000 people at that time
was registered with the Freedom Democrat Party, so we didn't compromise. So again in January, began on the fourth of January, the three candidates from the Freedom Democrat party, Mrs. Gray, Mrs. Devine and I went before the door of the House of Representatives to contest the seating of the 5 representatives from Mississippi. And we was turned away and we weren't allowed to even go in, to have a, you know, to contest their seating. We didn't go there to be seated because we knew from the beginning that we wouldn't be seated but we wanted to explain our side whereas, in a state that 42 percent of the people can't register, they wasn't representing us. And I think somebody, it's time now for somebody to be in Congress that's gonna represent the people of Mississippi. And we wasn't allowed to go inside but that didn't stop the challenge. We did have, that day, 149 Congressmens that stood up
against these people being seated. So we're still working with this challenge and we hope by the last of this month, which is August, that we will have a chance to unseat these Congressmens because, actually, this voting bill that the president passed last week it doesn't mean anything, and I'm not looking for a voting bill in 1965, when they are not enforcing the voting bill and our voting rights with the 15th Amendment which guaranteed us the same rights to vote from the 15th Amendment in 1870 and at that time, 1870, Mississippi was readmitted back to the Union because they promised at that time that they wouldn't do anything to disenfranchise Negroes to keep them from registering to vote. So now it's a matter of a violation of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
And what I'm curious to see: do the Constitution of the United States mean anything? So far hadn't worked. And I'm sick of seeing this kind of stuff on paper. We want them to do something about it because we are a part of America because we didn't come here on our own, our parents and our descendants was from Africa and we didn't come on our own. But we do want to be treated as human beings. And I'm fighting for human rights, not for equal rights. I'm well interested in one thing here: uh, before you set up your own Democratic Party. You, uh, tried to enter the local Democratic Party and I wondered why you did that. Because my instinct, if I had been in your situation, would be not to join that club, that Democratic club or Democratic organization but to form another one with all the liberal [phone rings] people in the community, uh, to contest, uh, the elections as
the Democratic Party. The reason we tried, if we hadn't tried to go in it, and then just set this one up they would have said from the beginning, if we had tried we could have got in their's. But you see, we've done the only fair thing to do. We wouldn't accept it. So we've set up a Freedom Democrat Party in Mississippi and I think it's one of the most effective weapons in this whole United States. I'm still a little puzzled, uh, maybe it's because I'm a foreigner. I- I would never join the Democratic Party in this country if I were an American citizen, uh, because part of the party is, is, uh, racialist. I'd say they'd have to throw them out before I joined it. And, uh, perhaps Europeans think more ideologically about their parties, uh.. Well, I don't, I don't think you're thinkin' is ideological about it. But we got quite an education in seeing what the whole Democrat Party of this country was like. What was your impression of... ? You know, in fact I cried, I don't know whether I'd
really been involved in politics now if I had known it was like it is. But, one day I think working with this Mississippi Freedom Democrat Party, and so many great people that I find in this country, and especially these young people of this country, we will have a great democracy, and only through that, that can bring a change because I'm really fed up with coverin' up stuff, you know, this stuff have been covered up year after year and we are beginning now to sweep it out from under the rug, that the world can see that we are not free in America. And, that make nobody free here until all- we all are free. But let me, uh, clear up another point with you, or have you clear up another point. Does the Freedom Democratic Party regard itself as a group that, uh, w-wants to make the Democratic Party more democratic in-in the way that Theodore Roosevelt in his Bull Moose tr- Party tried to change the Republican Party, going back and merging with the party
again when it, it had accepted his views. Or do you really consider this a third party now? Well, to me, it really seem to be actually a third party because it is so far different from the Democrats of this country and-and I don't see no other way other than a third party. Many people think of the Freedom Democratic Party as principally a civil rights organization that's entered politics. But is it more than that? Does it have a wide sort of uh program on a great number of issues beside this matter of of voting rights and civil rights? Yes, and it is not an organization. It is a party, not an organization. I'm glad you made that clear. Could you tell us something about the main platf- planks in the platform of the party, starting with civil rights that exactly - well - what you're aiming to achieve there in terms of legislation?
Well, uh, we- we stand, and I don't know what I should say all of this uh or not, but our policy far different from the- from even the National Democrat Party. It is it is it is very different, the things that we stand for you know uh huh and in foreign policy is-is quite a different Well good, now, now on domestic policy, I take it, you stand for a greater amount of legislation guaranteeing individual rights? Yes. And I gather you don't think in terms of just Negro rights but individual rights? Individual rights. You see, it doesn't matter to me whether the person is an Indian, a Jew, a Chinese, a- a Mexican, a whatever- whatever nation they are, I think they should have their rights. Now what do you mention foreign policy a moment ago for instance, the biggest issue in foreign policy at the moment is the war in Vietnam. Does the party take any position in American
involvement in-in an Asian conflict? Well, right now I had met with the Executive Committee to, you know, have no- to say what stand that the Freedom Democrat Party will have on a policy of Vietnam. I have my own personal feelings about Vietnam. mm uh You know. But party will come out with a policy on it? I'm not sure, but we might. We have been accused of saying that, you know, the stand we had taken but at the time it was said that we had taken, you know, made a policy of what we felt about Vietnam. The the-uh Executive Committees at that time hadn't had a meeting, you know, to say what we would say. But, personally, me, I'm against uh America going to Vietnam and the reason, I have several reasons why I don't think we have any business in Vietnam. First place, I don't think that you can uh tell me how and clean up my house if your house is you know is
nasty. I think we all have to think in terms of cleaning up our own place before we can go and do a job some other place. One of the other major issues regarding Asia of course is recognition of China, uh what they call a Communist China here, um and uh admission of China to the United Nations of-of the Peking government to the Chinese seat in United Nations. Do you have, does the party have a position on that? Well we don't have a position on that. But I hear the word "communist" quite often. In fact, I have been called a communist. And I begin to question now if-if communists, do communists stand for all the things we fight for? Because, you know, if all the things we fighting for, if communists stands for that, it would be a whole lot more than we've ever been offered in this country. But I don't know anything about communism. If I've ever seen a communist I don't know it. Well in fact uh President de Gaulle uh is pledged now to actively work for the seating of
in the United Nations of-of Communist China. He's recognized Communist China and I don't think he's a communist. Is that right? Of course, yes. Well, that's great. [laughs] You know, uh, you see, I don't know-I don't know actually anything about communism. I don't. But everybody I see ,you know, if we push just a little farther than they think we should push, you know, then they say, "This is communism." So I began to wonder about communists because from what the people is really telling us, it must be very good. Well, I've lived in around the world. I don't like communism, but the aspects of communism I don't like, which are the, uh-uh, repression of certain types of freedom, the control of the press, and so forth. We are finding that in many countries we are supporting. That's that's very true. What about uh questions like nuclear disarmament? Has the party come out with any positions on this? Not so far. Not on NATO? No. We hadn't come out with no policy. What about, er, well does this include domestic
legislation for instance on uh health? Now I'm from Britain and in Britain we regard it as a right that everyone, whatever his means, should have uh medical care uh as much as he needs, and the best available, uh without the thought ab- of cost to doctors and patients don't have to think of the money. Is there anything that appeals to you? Well, I-I, actually I don't know how far this will go, but, I- you know, we push for medical care, you know, because not only can aged people be sick without money but young people can be sick without money. And I think any person that need medical care should be, you know, treated. Do you have any feelings about the ownership of industry or anything uh? Is there any policy on this? Do you, have you taken any positions on this? The industry being in the state of Mississippi or? Well in the state or nationwide, have they got any theories about economic structures in-in society, about whether something should be nationalized or made into
cooperatives or? Yes, we-we are talking about that. In fact, now, one of the young men that have been working for us is, uh, bringin' out something that's called Bricks for Freedom and if we can get help with this we, you know, we'll have people trained to make bricks and also concrete and then real contractors to teach these people. And if, now, if this government is going to do anything for the poverty stricken people, it will be time for them to invest some money in and these people can be paid as they be trained to work and can build our own homes, do you know, that will be a decent place to live in instead of the present condition of the homes that we live in now. I noticed for the past, I would say, the fir- past 5 or 6 months, to keep the news of the Freedom Democrat Party, you know, from being in the light of people, for people to really know what the Freedom Democrat Party
purpose is and what is done, the news about the Freedom Democrat Party has been completely sabotaged. We can't get out news. Sometimes we have a press conference and they won't even show it. Even the national papers that have been sympathetic to the to the Negro cause like the New York Times? The New York Times hadn't been doing too much uh-huh recently. I don't know from what source they are getting pressure, but I think somewhere along the line they are being pressured. And I know we are not getting the news that we, you know, at the beginning, like in uh Atlantic City in 1964, the-the news media was almost run over you to see what the Freedom Democrat Party had to say. But now, they uh, you know, beginning to kinda get away from the Freedom Democrat Party. Now what has been happening to the uh fortunes of the Freedom Democratic Party? Has its membership been growing and would you tell me, first off, whether it's uh an all Negro party or whether it's, uh, it's multi-racial?
Well, we have-the party is open to any person, you know, that's over 21-years-old. It's open to all people. In fact, the Executive- the Executive, uh, National Committee man is a white man and he is a Mississippian. Reverend Edwin King from Tougaloo College, which is a chaplain there at Tougaloo College. He is the National Committee man, it's open to all people. And I would say that it's grown quite a bit for the past, uh, I'd say for the past uh 2 or 3 months. As people- In the last 2 or 3 months it's been growing more rapidly then? Yes, it, uh, because so many people now, like the people that's on strike in Mississippi, that wasn't involved in anything, you know, not only now participate with the uh Mississippi Freedom Labor Union but the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party too. Do you have an approximate idea of your membership? Well, it should be, I'm not sure, but it should be close to
78,000. Really? And how are they organized? And where? Are they 'cross Mississippi and Alabama only or? Well, actually right now, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party is only in Mississippi, but uh they have, uh, something, I would say, similar to the Freedom Democrat Party is beginning to pick up in other states, you know. People is- Negros in other states, even in the North, in New York City, in Brooklyn is beginning to run candidates, you know, in that area. That's right. Must be be scaring the daylights out of the Democratic Party to split the vote for them. It might be but that is what's happening now. That's one way of changing the Democratic Party. And it's one way of bringing a change, you know, for the uh poor people all across the country. There's another party now forming that's uh-uh out here called the Federalist Party that breaks away on- from the Democratic Party, and also of course from the Republican Party, on foreign policy issues and on all these other things
that's forming out here with a strong commitment to civil rights, and against the war in Vietnam, and uh similar things. You know that? No I didn't. We were just starting here. Before joining the Freedom Democratic Party, Mrs. Hamer had been a sharecropper on a Mississippi plantation. Her husband also worked there. He had advanced to the position of foreman. But even for a foreman, which is a high point of opportunity for a Negro there, life on a southern plantation meant long hours, low wages, humiliating conditions of work, and perhaps worst of all, no hope of being accorded fair treatment, a decent standard of living, and respect as a human being. However, Negroes were now demanding equal rights, and thousands were attempting to register to vote for the first time in their lives. Among them was Mrs. Hamer. Immediately after taking the literacy test to qualify for registration as a voter in Mississippi, she learned what it costs to challenge the system of white supremacy and white privilege in that
state. So I was forced away from the plantation because I wouldn't go back and withdrawal. You know, my literacy test, after I had tried to take it. I wouldn't go back and I had to leave. And my husband was forced to stay on this plantation until after the harvest season was over and then the man that we had worked for, he'd taken the car and the most of the few things we had had been stolen. I'd been in jail and I'd been beat. Yeah, tell us about that. On what grounds did they jail you? Wasn't no ground, you know. I-I-I don't understand that until today. I had been to a voter registration workshop, you know, to-they were just training and teaching us how to register to pass the literacy test and it was giving us enough training that we could tell other people, you know, how to pass the literacy test. So we had attended a workshop from the 3rd of June through 8. We finished a workshop on the 8th and then we got the uh
Continental Trailways bus to come back to Mississippi. And we got to Winona, Mississippi, uh I would say, about 10:30 that Sunday morning on our way back to Greenwood. And that was-we had got in 25 miles of the voter registration headquarters. And the bus stopped in Winona, you know, at the bus terminal and 4 people got off of the bus, you know, to use the uh restaurant to get food and 2 people got off to use the washroom. Well, I was still on the bus and I looked through the glass, I saw the people rush out and one of the girls would've gone in the washroom, she just got back on the bus. And I stepped off to see what had happened. And, uh, Miss Pandit told me that it was a state highway patrolman and the chief of police on the inside and began to tap them on the shoulder with billy clubs and ordered them to get out. And I said, "Well, this is Mississippi." So I got back on the bus and as soon as I was seated I saw them when they began to
put the 5 people what was, you know, off the bus. But they wasn't over 6 feet from the bus, began to put them in the Highway Patrolman's car. And I stepped off again because I was holding one of the ladies irons, you know, that they was arresting and she said get back on the bus Miss Hamer and then I heard somebody scream from the car that she was in and said, "Get that one there." And then a white man stepped out of a car and told me I was under arrest. And when he opened the door and I went to get in the car he kicked me. And they carried me on down to the county jail where they had, the other highway patrolman had carried the other 5. And they, you know, when I we walked in-when I walked in with the 2 white men that carried me down, and they cursed me all the way down. They would ask me questions and when I would try to answer, they would tell me to hush. And I-when we-when I walked inside of the booking room,
one of the policemans went over and jumped up on one of the Negroes' feet that was with us. And then they just began to you know put us in cells. And I was put in a cell with Miss Evesta Simpson. And after I was put in the cell, I could just see a some horrible screams and horrible sounds, you know of licks. And I saw one of the girls was 15-years- old that was with us and she passed my cell and she was real bloody. And then they asked the little man that clean up the jail to go inside and mop up that blood. And then I heard some more screaming and I heard some awful sounds. And I would hear somebody when they say, "Can't you say 'Yes, sir, nigger?' Can't you say 'yes, sir?'" And they would call her names that I wouldn't want to go on tape. And she said, "Yes, I can say yes, sir." "So, say it." And she said, "I don't know you well enough." And I would hear when she would hit the floor again. And finally she began to pray. And she asked
God to have mercy on these people because they didn't know what they was doing. And after a while they passed my cell door with this young woman, Miss Annell Ponder. And one of her eyes look like blood. And her hair was standing up on her head and her clothes had been torned from the shoulder down to the waist. And then 3 white men came to my cell and one of 'em was a state highway patrolman because he was wearing a little silver plate across his pocket that said John L. Basinger. And he asked me where I was from and I told him I was from Ruleville. And he said, "I'm going to check that." And he went out and I guess he called Ruleville, and they did-didn't like me in Ruleville because I worked with voter registration there. And when he came back he said, "You damn right. They say you're from Ruleville, all right. And we gone make you wish you was dead." And they led me out of that cell into another cell. And he gave a
Negro prisoner a blackjack and he ordered me to lay down on a bunk- bad. And a Negro prisoner said, "Do you want me to beat her with this sir?". And he say, "You're damn right. Because if you don't, you know what I'll do for you." And I lay down on the bunk like he ordered me to do. And the first Negro beat me. He beat me until he was exhausted. And after he beat, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack and during the time he was beating, I began to work my feet because that was a horrible experience. And the state Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro that had beat to sit my feet while the second one beat. And I just began to scream where I couldn't control it. And then the white man got up and began to beat me in my head. I have a blood clot now in the artery to the left eye and a permanent kidney injury on the right side from that beating. These are the things that we
go through in the state of Mississippi just trying to be treated like a human being. But still, this is called a part of America. I suppose it's a naive question, but is there no possibility of you making a civil complaint, or criminal complaint, or whatever it would amount to, against these people for this beating? The Justice Department brought a suit against these 5 law officials from Mississippi. And they had the trial in Oxford. And they had every evidence in the world if it ever was going to be any people convicted. Because, we had flew to Washington, D.C. and had the pictures made. And they had a picture today of what happened to us in that jail. The bus driver. They even had the waitresses from Winona at the uh bus terminal that said we hadn't done anything, we hadn't done no
demonstration. The Negroes that they forced to beat me, they came in they told the truth. They told how these white men had made them drink corn whiskey before they did beat us because they figured, you know, if they didn't have something in 'em, that they might not do it. They told all of that and nothing has been done. Those same men, I guess, are still wearing their guns. It puzzles me that Negroes in the South have not set up, in a way, territories of their own, uh with their own armed people. People But the deacons now in the south is armed defense organization, so that you are outside of the control of police officials like this. Why has this not happened? Is it because the white people there are so powerful, that such a rebellion has been impossible? They are very powerful in the state of Mississippi, but some of the people, I think, is beginning to get where now they just don't care. They are beginning to see if they tried to do
anything for themselves, well, they would be killed anyway. By the police officials? By the police officials. Because it's nowhere that I would call myself going in the state of Mississippi to be protected by a police official. 'Cause they are worse than a savage. The federal government isn't able to effectively se- give you security? No, because, as you know, the 3 civil rights workers that was murdered in Mississippi, they say their civil rights hadn't been violated. But they are dead. And one of-one of their killers is still the sheriff? That's right. In fact, the same men, uh Rainey and Price was assisting the people across the street. And they was havin' memorial service this year for Chaney and Goodman and Michael Schwerner. And Michael Schwerner was a Jewish person. He was one of the greatest men I ever met. You knew him? I knew him
very well and his wife, Rita. And-and, you know, I couldn't of went there for memorial service, not- and let these same 2 police officials guard me 'cross the street. I wouldn't have been low enough. [unclear] to go 'cross the street, let them guard me 'cross the street. If it hadn't of been for them, they wouldn't of been dead. What do you feel about the deacons, this is frightening some white people, that I-I can't understand why they don't understand that this is a natural development. I think it's one of the greatest things that ever happened. In fact, I admire those people. I respect those people. Because they are doing what I believe every Negro under the heaven feel if he doesn't have the guts to say it. What do you think of Malcolm X? Malcolm X was one of the best friends I ever had. A remarkable man. Oh, he was a great man! In fact, I
had invited Malcolm X to come to Mississippi. And he was supposed to come to Mississippi on Monday and was killed that Sunday. He had belonged to the Muslim organization. Is- Are the Muslim groups making much progress in the south? They seem mostly to be in the North. Mostly in the North because a whole lot of things that the Muslims stand for, I don't agree with their policies. But I did respect Malcolm X, and Malcolm X was a great man. What uh-what can you think of that the Muslims advocate that you don't agree with? You think of- one of the things is setting up a separate state. You know just give the Negroes a state. They want a state, you know, set up to- it would have to be more than a state for 20 million black people in this country, but just to have so much separation, you know, that, uh, we couldn't, you know, we wouldn't have to deal with the whites on no terms, and just put us out on what, I would say, on a deserted island. And what we had thought of with a lot of
white people in the country we'd last about, uh, 2 days. Sort of a reverse racism? Yes, and just-just be wiped off the map. Because, you see, I-I take this stand that I don't see all people as bad. And if didn't have some good white people, it wouldn't be anybody standing up, you know, trying to help bring about a change and make things better not only for the Negro but it will benefit every human being in this country if we was just free. What do the people in your movement think about Dr. Martin Luther King and his approach to this whole problem.? Well, uh, I couldn't just say in Mississippi because people-it is people have different, uh, feelings about, uh, Dr. King. They feel that he's accepting too slow a rate of progress? Well, to me, it is somewhat slow. But Dr. King's
organization do have some great people like Mrs. Septima P. Clark, that wrote the book Echoes in my Soul, is a great woman. And it's quite a few other people that I admire in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and respect. But,uh, I take this stand with any person: uh a person that was born in the middle class that have never had to suffer, you know, he can afford to take things maybe easier than I can. And all I have ever done was suffer, you see. And-and, uh, in fact, a person is born in the middle class and have always had things somewhat decent, he can't make a decision for me because actually he don't know how I feel. You know, when you mention middle class and middle class Negroes, and thinking of LeRoy Jones, who is middle class Negro, but is one of the most uh violent of the young Negro
writers and lecturers, how do you-your people feel about him? Well, uh, in Mississippi is not too many people know LeRoy Jones; although, I know LeRoy Jones. But it's a wonder every Negro in the United State didn't feel exactly like LeRoy Jones. It's enough to have happened to us that we should all you, know, if we wanted to, feel like that. But I just have never been, you know, my parents brought me up as Christian people and I believe strongly in Christianity and uh, to me if I hate you because you hate me I'm no better than you are and I don't hate a person because they hate me. I'll try to free that person too. Are there any people you see among the people who are speaking for the Negro, um apart from the people you mention in your own organization, for instance, Louis Lomax, or James Baldwin, or people like that, that you regard as being significant now for the future? uh Yes, I think uh James Baldwin is a great man. I have great respect for
James Baldwin. Are-are you hopeful of the future, uh, for your party, politically? Yes, I am hopeful for the future of this party because, uh, all across this country, we have young people that's very aware of what's going on in this country. Your membership is largely young people, is it? Uh-uh, in the state, members of the Freedom Democrat party will have to be 21. But we have so many other people, you see, out of state of Mississippi is very concerned about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Yes, but I mean people, say 21 to 30, are they most-is it in that age group you find most of your membership in Mississippi? No, we have people from, I would say, 21 to 75. Including a lot of older people, then? Yes. They've given up their old attitude of accepting things here. Yes. Nothing to lose now? You know in fact, uh, well some of the young workers there say that they-that they had never been in a place that
- Fannie Lou Hamer Interview
- Producing Organization
- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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- Pacifica Radio Archives (North Hollywood, California)
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- Colin Edwards interviews Fannie Lou Hamer on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, voting rights, human rights, and politics during an interview he taped during her visit to Berkeley. Mrs. Hamer also relates a vicious beating she received in a Winona, Mississippi, jail from two African American prisoners forced by officials. She discusses her admiration for the Deacons for Defense and her friendship with Malcolm X. For information on Mrs. Hamer, see Kay Mills, This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007).
- Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Voting--Mississippi; African Americans--Civil rights--History
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Interviewee: Hamer, Fannie Lou
Interviewer: Edwards, Colin
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: 2664_D01 (Pacifica Radio Archives)
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- MLA: “Fannie Lou Hamer Interview.” 1965-09-24. Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 21, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-bg2h70895r>.
- APA: Fannie Lou Hamer Interview. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-bg2h70895r