Video: Sisters of the Psychedelic Revolution: A Conversation with Leni Sinclair and Genie Parker

November 24, 2020
Sisters of the Psychedelic Revolution: A Conversation with Leni Sinclair and Genie Parker
"Sisters of the Psychedelic Revolution: A Conversation with Leni Sinclair and Genie Parker" took place on November 18, 2020.

Hippie culture left a lasting impression on the Mid-West of the United States. Historians tend to portray the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco and the East Village of Manhattan as America’s foremost psychedelic hotspots, but it was in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, that the psychedelic revolution seems to have succeeded, at least partially.

Leni Sinclair and Genie Parker were at the heart of Ann Arbor’s hippie scene. From their commune, Trans-Love Energy, they co-coordinated a robust alternative community, which included numerous underground newspapers, free health care clinics, free healthy food programs, a network of crashpads and communes, and weekly concerts in the park. Their motto was “S.T.P.,” which stood for Serve The People. When the Black Panther Party called on the hippies to join them in an alliance, Sinclair and Parker co-founded the White Panther Party, which later broadened its coalition of allies and became the Rainbow People’s Party. Honoring the global anti-colonialist struggle, these sisters of the revolution made a good-will mission to the Vietcong during the height of the Vietnam War, too.

In their discussion, J. Christian Greer (postdoctoral fellow, CSWR) asked Leni Sinclair about her celebrated career as a photographer, anthropological documentarian, and psychedelic idealist. The conversation also touched upon Genie Parker’s pioneering astrology column, “People’s Astrology,” her role in the formation of a “peace force,” known as the Psychedelic Rangers, that was to replace the police, and her political career with the Human Rights Party. Altogether, we hoped to lift the curtain on the totally electric, psychedelic scene of Ann Arbor, and reveal another dimension of the Age of Aquarius.


Recently awarded the Kresge Foundation’s Eminent Artist Award, Leni Sinclair was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1959. Sinclair arrived just in time to play an active role in bringing the hippie scene to Detroit, much of which she captured on film. Genie Parker “dropped out” of her life in Vernon, Texas, to join the Trans Love Commune during the Summer of Love in 1967. Her commune’s bold social initiatives, including the creation of a “peace force” to take the place of the police, succeeded as a result of her institutional acumen. Today, Parker is celebrated as the first non-Chinese woman credentialed to take on disciples for the Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Good evening, everyone. My name is Charles Stang and I'm the Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard Divinity School. Welcome to the third event in our yearlong series on Psychedelics and the Future of Religion, co-sponsored by our friends at the Eslin Institute in Big Sur, California, and generously supported by the River Styx foundation.

The next event in the series will take place in the new year. So as always, the best way to keep abreast of this series and everything else we do at the Center is to join our mailing list. We have an hour and a half together. And so, I will keep my remarks brief so there will be time for Q&A and discussion among the three panelists.

This evening's event is entitled "Sisters of the Psychedelic Revolution." And we're taking a different tack than we did with our first two events. The first two were squarely focused on the contemporary psychedelic renaissance, led in large part by scientific research into the therapeutic implications of psychedelics. With this event, we're revisiting the so-called first wave of psychedelic enthusiasm in the United States.

The history of the first wave of psychedelic use and research in the US is often told as a history of white men. If you read Chapter Three of Pollan's book, Michael Pollan's recent book, How to Change Your Mind, you'll see this story rehearsed with Timothy Leary front and center, as he always is.

But we suspect that the reality is considerably more diverse and that we need to hear from many, many more voices if we're going to adequately tell the story of psychedelic culture in the past or, indeed, in the present. So this is a first step, recognizing the role that women such as Leni Sinclair and Genie Parker played in the mass psychedelic movement and consciousness expansion.

In addition, their story brings our attention to the emergence of psychedelic culture in the Midwest, in Ann Arbor and in Detroit, rather than on the coasts, whose stories tend to dominate. Finally, their story will also showcase how psychedelic culture intersected with the revolutionary politics of the era, be it the movement against the Vietnam War or the White Panther Party formed in solidarity with the Black Panther Party's struggle for racial justice, or others.

This evening's event will be a conversation led by J. Christian Greer. Christian is a postdoctoral fellow here at the CSWR. He received his PhD in Western esotericism from the History of Hermetic Philosophy department at the University of Amsterdam. His research addresses the social history of new religious movements in the Anglo American world, the formation of religious counter cultures, and the popularization of esotericism in the digital era.

I'll leave it to Christian to introduce Leni and Genie. And I will soon disappear from your screen, only to reappear when we transition to the Q&A portion of the event. So once again, welcome. And thank you, Leni and Genie. Thank you for sharing your stories and wealth of wisdom with us. Christian, over to you.

Greetings, everyone. And thank you, Professor Stang, for such a wonderful introduction. Tonight, it is my distinct honor to be having a discussion with Leni Sinclar and Genie Parker. Though we've exchanged phone calls and messages over the last few years, this is our first public conversation. Needless to say, I'm overjoyed to be speaking with them, not just as a historian of psychedelic spirituality but as a deep admirer of both of these powerful women.

With you two here, I can begin my introduction. I will start this evening with a two part introduction. In the first part, I will contextualize our conversation within the program of the CSWR, the Psychedelics and Future of Religion program. In the second part of my introduction, I will give a brief overview of the contributions that Leni and Genie have made to the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s.

Now, believe me. I am just as eager to hear from Leni and Genie as you are. So rest assured, I have limited my introductory commentary to approximately 12 minutes. So how will psychedelics impact the future of religion? To be clear, this is not a new question. And at the risk of sounding cliche, I believe that, if we are going to understand psychedelics in the future of religion, we have to know the past.

Now, in the first two iterations of the CSWR's program-- which I should say can be viewed on the CSWR's website if you're interested-- in these first two lectures, we established a solid foundation for understanding of psychedelic experiences that is unfolding today as part of the psychedelic renaissance in scientific research.

Tonight's event will shed light on the history that set the stage for the current renaissance in psychedelic research. Now, this preamble is a little bit longer than usual for the very simple reason that this discussion is in fact an intervention in my eyes into the historical narrative of the 60s revolution.

Now, it is my hope that tonight's conversation between myself, Leni and Genie will address three gaps in the story of the hippies and the psychedelic movement they led. First, this discussion will hopefully intervene into the continued mischaracterization of psychedelic experience as an illegitimate form of religious understanding.

Here, let me speak as plainly as possible. LSD, mescaline, and the flowering herb cannabis have inspired a vital and vibrant tradition of American religion in the post-war era. Tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of spiritual seekers have, since the 1950s, ascribed religious meaning to the visionary experiences and higher truths that have been occasioned by psychedelics.

Now, Leni and Genie represent a special case. First, because they helped shape a wonderfully ecumenical psychedelic religion, Zenta, which I hope we can discuss later this evening. Second, they belong to the minority movement of hippie seekers that insisted on their constitutional right to practice their peaceful religion and, therefore, endured intense government persecution.

Now, to be sure, the movement of psychedelic seekers did not die out with the hippies. Rather, it was driven beneath the underground, so to speak, by the erstwhile war on drugs. This discussion aims to recover this important American religious tradition by speaking with those who lived and created it, Leni and Genie.

OK. Second intervention. The master narrative of the psychedelic '60s is structured as the story of great white men. Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Ken Kesey, Allen Gisberg, and John Sinclair. These figures loom larger than life in the story of psychedelics. Yet, in this talk, we will open up a new space for new voices so that we can create new narratives of this vibrant and exciting time in US history.

Here, I'm hoping we can tune our ears to the experiences of two women whose contribution, commitments, concerns, visions, and victories, as well as heartbreaks, speak to a new dimension in the age of Aquarius. Their reflections represent, in my eyes, the raw material out of which we can construct a new, more relevant narrative of the first wave of psychedelic enthusiasm.

OK. The third and final intervention. The master narrative for modern psychedelic history has been roughly the tale of two cities. You have the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco and the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York. Now obviously, psychedelic culture was far more diffuse. Not only within the United States, but on a global level.

Though the psychedelic city-states of the Haight Ashbury and the Lower East Side were undoubtedly important, they were certainly not the only geographic centers where psychedelic idealism shaped really exciting cultures of religious experimentation, social communitarianism, artistic innovation, political activism, and sexual free expression. Due to the efforts of Leni and Genie and their fellow communards, Detroit and later the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan became epicenters for hippie culture.

Now I would like to conclude my introduction with a brief timeline that gives some sense of how Leni and Genie shaped an alternative community which remains as an inspiration for hipsters around the world to the very present. Now, in your mind's eye, come with me back to 1964 Detroit. Having relocated from East Prussia, Leni helps co-found the Detroit Artists Workshop, an experimental arts center where Detroit's beatniks, jazz fanatics, poetry aficionados, filmmakers, and painters gather to dream up an alternative world. Poetry, leaflets, mimeograph, and chat books are created. They helped found the Free University of Detroit. They helped build housing co-ops for their bohemian friends and lovers. And it was here that Leni's lifelong and celebrated career as a photographer will begin.

Now, a year later, friends will be returning from San Francisco here in Detroit. And by returning from San Francisco to Detroit, they will open up a pipeline to the legendary Augustus Owsley Stanley III. He is the first known private individual to manufacture mass quantities of high quality LSD. Now, also keep in mind that at this point acid was not illegal and would not be illegal until 1966 with the passage of the Drug Abuse Control Amendment.

OK. Now we're going to jump to 1967. Summer of Love. Genie is hitchhiking from Atlanta across the United States with her boyfriend who's trying to get to Canada to escape the draft in the Vietnam War. On the way, they stop at Antioch College and drop LSD for the first time. Now, this wasn't the LSD of Augustus Owsley Stanley III. Rather, it came all the way from the Sandoz Laboratory in Switzerland, where LSD was first synthesized.

Needless to say, life would never be the same for either of them. Well, Genie and her boyfriend finally arrived in Detroit. And it's not long till fellow travelers recognize them and point them directly to the Detroit Artist Workshop. So, energized by their visionary experiences, Leni and Genie helped transform the Detroit Artist Workshop into Trans-Love Energies, an extremely dynamic commune that acted as the midwife for hippie culture in the Midwest.

From their commune in Detroit, Leni and Genie co-coordinated an even more robust alternative community, which included numerous underground papers, free health care clinics, free healthy food programs, a larger network of crash pads and communes to accommodate the influx of teenage runaways that had fled home during the Summer of Love and into Detroit.

Of course, how could I forget? They also helped coordinate the weekly concerts in the park, featuring the electrifying rock and roll stylings of the MC5. Kick out the jams, as they would say. So in addition to taking over the Grande Ballroom, which became the beating heart of their hippie culture, Leni also orchestrated the Bell Island Love In with her fellow communards. This was an open air celebration of love and peace that realized the hippies' dream of a more peaceful and beautiful world, albeit for the duration of an afternoon.

Speaking to the progressive concerns we have today, it was at this point that Genie formed the Psychedelic Rangers, a band of young hippie conflict mediators that served as the community alternative to the police at the free concerts in the park during the summer.

Now, it also bears mention that Trans-Love Energies also operated the Detroit LeMar office. Le, legalize. Mar, marijuana. And this was the first cannabis decriminalization initiative in US history. However, routine harassment by the Detroit Red Squad and the firebombing of their commune in 1967 drove Leni and Genie and their fellow communards to Ann Arbor, a somewhat sleepy college town 45 miles away.

Here, they re-established their utopian social project. And it was reformed once more after the Black Panther Party called out to hippies to join them in an alliance against the racist power structure. November, Ann Arbor, 1968. Trans-Love Energies becomes the White Panther Party. With Leni acting as Minister of Education and Genie as Minister of Information, the White Panther Party synthesized the hippies' psychedelic idealism with the revolutionary politics of the Black Panther Party to launch, if I can quote the White Panther Party manifesto, "a total assault on culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets."

Well, White Panther groups formed in the United States. White Panther groups would also form in Britain and Western Europe. In response, the FBI declared the White Panthers quote "the largest and most dangerous revolutionary organization in the United States." The FBI's declaration was part of Co Intel Pro, a clandestine government operation active from 1956 to 1979. This clandestine government operation worked to destroy the Black liberationist movement through illegal wiretapping, frame ups, and outright assassinations.

Ensnared in this government plot, Genie's husband at the time, Pun Plamondon, became the first hippie to make the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List. This, of course, forced him to flee the country and seek asylum with the Black Panther Party's consulate in Algeria. In fact, one of my favorite artifacts in this era is the Ann Arbor August newspaper that has Pun's FBI rap sheet on the cover. And under it, it says "Local Boy Makes Good."

July 25, 1969, Leni's husband at the time, John Sinclair, was convicted for possession of two marijuana cigarettes which he gifted to an undercover police woman. Found guilty. Judge Robert J. Columbo sentenced John to nine and a half to 10 years of federal prison time. He also denied him bond on the basis that John was a quote "danger to society."

As a testament to her love and her immense courage, Leni then led the White Panthers in building a nationwide campaign to free John, which culminated in the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in early December 1971. John Lennon and Yoko Ono headlined. 15,000 people attended. The White Panther roared. And the walls of Babylon shook. Three days later, John was released from prison, which the hippie masses hailed as a psychedelic miracle.

In the early 1970s, the White Panthers once more broadened the coalition of allies and became the Rainbow People's Party, honoring the global anti colonialist struggle. It was at this time that Genie, with two other young women representing the American Youth Movement, went on to make a goodwill mission to North Vietnam as a guest of the Viet Cong during the height of the Vietnam War.

She also ran for local public office as part of the newly formed Human Rights Party, which had the wonderful slogan "Vote Human." Among its achievements, the Party instituted the $5 fine for cannabis possession, which historians have cited as the breakthrough event for the cannabis legalization movement in America. Subsequently, Leni has raised a family. And with photo exhibitions around the world, she received the Kresge Imminent Artist Award for her photography in 2016.

And Genie is celebrated as the first non-Chinese woman credentialed to take on disciples of the Wu style, Tai Chi Chuan, which she has taught in Ann Arbor and numerous other Michigan locations, including universities, hospitals, and corporations.

Now, with this overview complete, we can turn to the discussion. Leni, Genie, thank you for joining me this evening.

Oh, thank you for inviting us.

That was very interesting.

Yeah. It was. That was fun to listen to.

You're too kind. Well, I suppose I'd like to start by asking you about your upbringing and the conversion you underwent to the hip lifestyle. So today, hip seems to be everywhere. But this was not always the case. So if you could, please describe some of your early life and your journey into the beatnik community of jazz, poetry, and reefer.

Leni, go ahead. You can go first.

Oh, that's a loaded topic if I want to start about where I came from. Actually, you said from East Prussia. It's true I'm from East Prussia. But that was before the Second World War that it was called East Prussia. That was a part of Germany that was north of Poland. And four million German people who lived there had to flee when the army rolled Hitler back.

And so, by a miracle, we were rescued and then put on a freight train and crisscrossed Germany. And when it looked like Germany was going to lose for sure, they didn't know what to do with all these refugees. And I think every village or every city got such a quota of refugees to take in. So we ended up in a little village called Fahlbor. And there was another refugee family, there were two refugee families living there, us and another family.

And then my parents joined an agricultural commune because the owner of the farm had left and went to West Germany. And all the workers came to work one morning. And their boss was gone. So they had to form a collective to keep going and keep milking the cows, keep feeding the chickens. And so, that's how it started.

And then in 1949, it was formalized that that part of Germany was to be the Soviet controlled zone called the GDR, the German Democratic Republic. And that was as opposed to West Germany, which was composed of the three Allies, America, England, and France. And there were no borders between them, it all became one.

But the border between East and West Germany had to be strengthened because East Germany and West Germany were so far apart economically that a lot of people in East Germany tried to find a better life and fled, of course, to the West. And I was wondering--

Is that how you got here at that time?

Well, yes. What happened is I escaped from East Germany after I turned 18 and then had just spend a year in West Germany working and saving money to come to America. And then, I had relatives in Detroit who sponsored my immigration to Detroit.

So, in a way, when I left East Germany, in the West I was considered a political refugee. Because they had demanded of me and everybody else who was trying to become an elementary teacher that they sign a piece of paper saying that they don't believe in God and don't belong to a church. You couldn't be a teacher and belong to a church.

And so, out of the whole auditorium of 18-year-olds, me and my girlfriend Uschi were the only ones that refused to sign. And we were the only ones left sitting in the auditorium. Everybody else had to get up and join the line and sign their signature. And we were the two sitting down. So I couldn't take the finals. And I couldn't get a job. And so, I said, you know? This is a good excuse for me to leave this place and go to the West.

At the time, it was easy because it was before the Berlin Wall was built. And people could just go from East to West Berlin by subway. And then, that's what I did. And then I turned myself into the refugee camp. And so, here I am.

[LAUGHTER]

Wow.

But I still consider myself an exile. I did not leave East Germany, I left because I had to get away. So I am still living in a strange country. But it also gave me an outlook on American life that I wouldn't have if I had been born here. Because I look at everything with different eyes than most people. And that's how I survived. I had a damn good upbringing. Communism or not, life was different then. It was OK. You know, we were never hungry and we survived.

But then, anyway, fortunately I got out of there when I did. Because after they built the Wall, the rest of my family got caught and couldn't leave. So for a long time, I could visit them. But they could not visit me or anybody in the West.

Wow. You know, Leni? This has me thinking, you mentioned getting away. And that had me thinking of Genie. You were hitchhiking in 1967. Was there an attempt to get away from your family? I believe it's in Texas. Or how did you conceive of this particular adventure, so to speak?

I had always been, you know, real contrary to what I was supposed to Be I was born into a military family. My father was a in the Air Force. So my mother was the colonel's wife. And I was the colonel's daughter. And my brother was the colonel's son. And we traveled. I lived for a couple of years in Scotland. And then I spent a year in France.

Let's see. By the time I was, when I came back to the States, I was 12, I think. And even by that time, I was already a little bit on the outside. A little bit wild. Always wanting to go out and hang out. And not liking having to be the colonel's daughter. And I would always dress one way on the weekend for parties and another time when I was just during the day or having to go be the colonel's daughter somewhere. You know, show up somewhere.

And when we moved back, we moved back to New Jersey. There is a big base there that's got Army, Navy, and Air Force. McGuire Air Force Base was there. And my mother was very smart. She wanted me to go to a public school rather than a private school. Most of the high ranking kids would go to private schools. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

But she wanted me to go to a public school so that I could actually get a taste of life, which I was always really grateful for and she was always sorry for. She told me later she really wished she had sent me to a private school. Because I became like a greaser. I mean, I loved dancing and partying and hanging out. And the school that I went to had a lot of just greasers, young farm guys. Because New Jersey was a big farm place. So I had a great time. You know? I loved it.

But one of the things that happened to me when I was there and during that time was when President Kennedy was shot, and he got killed. And I'll always remember that day. I was at school. I was in high school. And they sent us home. And I went home. And I was trying to think about, what should I do? I thought it was horrible. I was so upset that happened because he seemed like such a good man.

And I decided I would go to church. Well, I lived on a base. So I walked over to the church. It was a ways away. But I walked over to the church. And when I went in, I was the only person there. And I remember being so shocked. I think there was one other person, I hardly even noticed. There was one other person.

And I went in and I sat down. And I started praying. And I thought-- but more than anything, I stopped after a while. It was just like, where is everybody? Does nobody else care? Is nobody else thinking about what has happened?

And I guess a big part of that is that I was very much of a loner most of my life because we moved so much. I didn't get to make friends. I make friends quickly, but they don't last because you're going to be moving again. So we moved a whole lot.

Yeah. So I wanted to get away from it. I never had a very close relationship with either of my parents. My father was traveling all the time. And he was an alcoholic. My dad was an alcoholic. But he was a high ranking military guy. So my mother had to have parties and dinner parties and stuff all the time and play that role. And I just did not fit in and didn't want to.

So I promised them. They wanted me to promise that I would go to a private girls school for at least a year. So I did. In South Carolina, I went to a private girls school. And they asked me to come back for a second year because I was the only Philosophy major at the school at the time.

So I went back for a second year. And at the end of that second year, by that time, Life Magazine had done their cover on isolation tanks where people were starting to try floating tanks. And they would have psychedelic experiences. They didn't call it that then, I don't think. I can't remember if they did or not.

When you isolate yourself from all the input of the world, you enter a different world, so to speak. So you have more inner experiences obviously than outer experiences. And they always talk about how outer space is the final destination. You know, the final place to go and search. But it really isn't. It's the inner space that's more elusive.

So yeah. In a way, I mean I told my parents I was going to hitchhike to Detroit because one other girl at my school was from Michigan. She lived in Birmingham. And my boyfriend and I were going to hitchhike. I didn't tell my parents that. I told them I was going to go stay with a friend in Michigan who had invited me to come spend the summer and do stuff. And they believed me. So I went.

And we hitchhiked. And he was dodging the draft. And we went to Antioch on the way because there were friends there, too. So we went there. And that's where we took LSD and everything changed. And it was perfect for me. It was the most wonderful, I mean, I remember it greatly. And I'm so grateful that it was as pure as it was, the LSD that I took. It was Sandoz. So that was where it was originally from.

But it was such a wonderful experience. I never went back. I mean, part of it was that I used to wear makeup at that time. And it rained. And it washed all my makeup off. And I never put it back on for years and years and years, until I went back to work in sort of normal work. I had to start paying for my way. Then, I started putting on a little bit of makeup. Now, I wear a little bit of eye makeup. But that's all.

And that transitions into the next question. Here, I should say the term psychedelic was coined in 1956. And it roughly translates to mind expanding or soul revealing. And it can be applied to a diverse class of substances, both organic and inorganic.

Well, I'm curious if you guys can recall much of your first experience with LSD. I mean, were you familiar with some of the discourses? Were you familiar that people claimed to have seen God, so to speak? Or were you familiar with the spiritual discourses around it? Or was it more a surprise?

No. I think I heard a little bit. I mean, yeah. I had heard some stuff. Not a lot. But I had smoked marijuana by that time. Somebody noticed me, I had to take a course to make it up for the summer at a school in Atlanta. And there was some guys sitting at a table. And I don't know, they just picked me out. They knew. They knew something was different about me. And they said whatever they said. And I said, yeah. You know, let's get together.

And they had marijuana. Well, I had never done it before. And I had to learn all kinds of stuff about it. But I immediately realized how wonderful it was in terms of calming you down. I happen to be-- my mother and brother are, too-- just really highly tense nervous systems. You know, just real tight nervous systems. So we overreacted to lot of stuff. And just very big temper but a lot of love, too.

So when I first smoked, I pretty much realized from the beginning that there was a very relaxing element to it that allowed you to think more clearly. I know that's the opposite of what they usually say. Yeah, if you smoke too much, you're not-- you don't have a good kind, or you haven't figured it out yet or you're not used to it. You go off into all kinds of stuff. Because you're experimenting with your own brain.

But for the most part, that's a lot of what I think is happening now is that they are realizing that. And that you don't have all the side effects of all these medications and the opioids and all of that stuff. One of the things that's the most exciting to me is reading about finally coming to realize that very little tiny doses of psilocybin mushrooms can help with depression.

You don't have to have a big experience. You don't have to go off on a psychedelic thing. You just want to be able to feel lighter and not have all the heaviness that we can build in our own brains that keeps us all caught up in all kinds of things that we don't need to be.

And psilocybin, we used to call it silly cybin. Because psilocybin mushrooms, they make you laugh and enjoy yourself. And it was always so much fun. But I know there's a lot of people who have trouble, too. So you can go either way any time with any psychedelic. You can go bad, you can go good. And you have to be aware of it and make sure you're around people that will help you to stay centered and stay cool.

Leni, how about you? Were you familiar with something of this spiritual conversation around LSD when you first took it? Or were you coming to it with an open mind?

We had been planning for it. We knew about it. And then we got a hold of some really good acid from California. $5 a dose.

[LAUGHTER]

And we took it. And I remember there were about five of us. It was John, me, Charles Moore, Charles' girlfriend Raz and Holly. And I think Lyman Woodard. We all sat in the car in front of our house all night long talking.

[LAUGHTER]

Oh, we are crossing the threshold. We are getting there.

[LAUGHTER]

We knew that song by Jimi Hendrix where he sings, have you ever been experienced?

Yeah.

I have. Yeah. And this is what is was like. This was a new experience. And it was everything that-- you couldn't imagine even what it was going to be like. Your mind expanding literally into a new world and even a new way of thinking, of seeing things. Because I could look at my fingers and I could see the cells in my skin. And you see things that your brain sees.

Leni, that brings to mind, it's nice that you mentioned the individual experience. I'm also curious how doing these substances changed the way you saw each other. You know, you often hear the role of love. Peace and love is a stereotype for the hippies. But I'm curious. What are your reflections on how you saw social connections?

Well, it's a unifier. Somebody you take acid with, that's your friend. That is your friend for life, practically. Because this experience is so unique and so powerful. And it's not an individual experience, it's for the communal experience. Because everybody is feeling the same way but differently. But feeling something similar to everybody else. And it's amazing.

There's something about-- go ahead. No, go ahead. OK. I was going to say there's something about psychedelics that connects you with a bigger feeling of everybody is the same. We're all part of the same thing. We're all humans. We're all going through the same thing. A smile is a smile. Or a laugh is a laugh. Crying is crying. No matter what you look like, no matter where you're from, there are some real basic things.

And when you start, that wasn't really what people were talking about at the time. It wasn't. Yeah. So when you start doing whatever it is-- smoking marijuana, doing psychedelics, any of that-- part of the process is going to be an opening of your mind and sort of taking away the programs that we are programmed with by our parents and our schools and our churches and our everything.

It's kind of like what's going on now, in a way. There's a whole society of people who want things just to stay very, very status quo. And there is another whole big part of the world that is saying, it's all opening up in front of us now. We all have a chance to figure out how to--

I mean, the pandemic. I hate to say it, but it sort of makes everybody have to deal with the same problems and the same stuff. A lot of it brings you closer, even though you're right totally isolated. I mean, I'm totally isolated. I'm quarantined. I live alone. So I'm in my house alone. But I've loved every minute of it. Because it's quiet. I can think. I can do what I want to do. And I've loved that part.

But part of that love thing that you're trying to get to is something that almost all of us experienced. I mean, not everybody, of course. But most people will experience some kind of opening and relaxing of their heart to where you can be more tolerant of other people around you. And enjoy.

I mean, I think me traveling in the world and Leni, too, coming from another part of the world, you become much more open to other cultures. You want to know about other cultures. You want to know what they believe and what they think and what they're doing. And you listen. And if something sounds right, then you're capable of taking that in as a belief. It's a choice. I mean, like happiness is a choice. But--

That's really beautiful, Genie.

Well, that's part of what I think when people are talking about the Summer of Love. They always talk about love when you talk about psychedelics. And I think that's why. It gets released. You release it. And I think that's what world this world is about, it's all about love in the end.

And that brings me to my next question, which is scholars tend to have trouble describing the difference between the beatnik scene and the hippie milieu. I'm sure you could sort of introduce us, there are these stereotypes that the beats were existential and into jazz and poetry and nihilism, whereas the hippies were much more colorful and utopian. In your own experience, how did you see that transition as it played out between the Detroit Artist Workshop and the Trans-Love Energies?

Leni?

Well, when they first came up with the name hippies, we felt that calling somebody a hippie was derogatory as somebody who wants to be a hipster but didn't quite make it. So they're a hippie.

[LAUGHTER]

And we did not want to be called hippies by any means. We're all this group of beatniks and stuff. But the so-called hippie movement is like an uprising of young people that was much, much larger than the beatnik community ever was. But the beatnik and the poet community were instrumental in helping the hippies become more famous or responsible. Because they are the ones that organized the love-in in San Francisco. And they're the ones that were the originators of the San Francisco movement.

Put some flowers in your hair and go to San Francisco. That's because Alan Gingsberg was there, Jack Kerouac was there. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was there. And that's where the bands were, the bands that people loved to listen to, like the Grateful Dead or Big Brother and the Holding Company. And so, yeah.

That's how art sort of takes place, when you start opening your mind and you're different. And you're on the outside. And a lot of those guys, the original beatniks, they smoked pot. And I have a feeling-- I think, I don't know-- but it looks like to me it came through music. Musicians hanging out together. And the whole Black community having come out of what they came out of, trying to find some joy in their life.

A very creative, extremely creative creativity that was so different. All the gospel music was so inspiring and so beautiful. And the jazz was just very, very freeing for musicians to open up and allow themselves to just riff. Go through and be creative. And artists, painters. I mean, I started painting as an artist when I was a little kid. Drawing and stuff and painting when I was in high school. I was isolated a lot.

But we could all relate to stuff like that. And then you get to somebody like William Burroughs, who is writing in his. He had a phrase that John used to quote all the time, "Breakthrough in gray room." He would talk about how the world was headed for a breakthrough in gray room, meaning your brain. The gray room in your brain. And breaking through that and opening up and trying to find out who you really were, rather than just how you were brought up and how you were defined by your parents and the schools.

I mean, that's part of the reason, when we were in Ann Arbor, one of the things that we did was start a community school. A children's community school. Because when you looked at school and how people, kids especially, were treated, it was very boring. And too strict. And there wasn't any big fun, just little bits here and there.

Whereas, now there's a lot more going on. Not everywhere. And we're still going back. We've reverted a lot. And we have to figure all this stuff out. But being creative, being able to be creative and allowed to be creative and open, I think, had a lot to do with--

And you know, for me, there were no hippies. For all of us, there were no hippies at first. But the beatniks were the ones that were creative. They were the ones who were-- I remember reading about them and hearing about them and thinking how cool they were and all that. But I didn't really join in that. I did, in a way. I would dress weird sometimes-- weird, I say weird just because it was different.

But it wasn't until I started smoking marijuana and started to take psychedelics that, it was just part of the deal. And if you were young enough, I mean those guys were already older by that time. But if you were young enough, it just opens up so much. And it's so much fun. And it's so different.

Well, that brings me to my next question, which is I'd like to pair two historical events that were seismic. On one hand, April 1967, the Bell Island Love In. Planned to accommodate 2,000 people. 8,000 people show up. Leni, I know you were on the ground floor of that. I'm just curious as to, how do you explain that enthusiasm?

Well, that's because people in Detroit always looked to what was happening on the West Coast. And when we saw what's happening with the Love In in San Francisco, we always insisted on staying home and doing the same thing so people wouldn't head for the coast.

And so, we got a permit from the police. And bands played. And we had permits for everything. And a lot of people, by that time-- what was it? April 31. The weather was nice. People came dressed up. Lots of people wore flowers. And a lot of people were dancing. And it was a real, real beautiful thing.

We had no idea there was 8,000 people. But a lot of people came. And then towards the late afternoon or evening, there were some altercations with some motorcycle guys. And the police used that incident to invade the crowd on their horses. And people had to flee for their lives and run across the Bell Island Bridge back to the mainland.

And so, we, who had organized the event, were scared shitless that they would arrest us for starting a riot. But they never did because it was really the police who started it. If they had stayed calm and not invaded the crowd, nothing would have happened. They could have arrested one or two people who broke the law.

And to me, this brings up the Black Panther Party. Because I wanted to say, Christian, that there was another element that most people don't, I don't think, people think about a whole lot about the Black Panthers. It wasn't just a military organization. This was a group of people living in California who had no recourse when there was crime in their own neighborhood.

For example, it was very common then for the police to be raping their mothers and sisters and daughters. They had no recourse. They couldn't go anywhere to do that. That was common knowledge. It's in the movies, too. I mean, you can even see-- what you see in the movies is probably much more true than what you want to think it is.

And they were most concerned, the biggest program I think that got to us was their free breakfast for schoolchildren. Because they realized that, how are kids going to learn if they go to school hungry? If they can't eat, if they haven't had any breakfast, how are they going to pay attention and learn how to read and write and do all of that stuff?

So they set up a free breakfast for schoolchildren. And they fed thousands of kids, I'm sure, over the years. That was one of their biggest programs and one of the things that they were the most proud of. And when they talked to us, yeah, it was like we were an isolated community that the police had decided that we were a threat. Because of their kids, because of drugs. They still hadn't realized, they didn't know that marijuana was really a good thing and that it could help people and that it doesn't have all the side effects.

And they are, they're starting to realize it now. You can find out about marijuana on WebMD. I didn't know that. It makes me laugh now. It wasn't too long ago, you try to look up marijuana on WebMD and it would say nothing here. We don't have anything. And now, they have a lot. Because people are starting to realize that it is a wonderful medical tool, also.

So anyway, I just wanted to throw that in about the Black Panthers before. That was one of the reasons that we wanted to sort of look at them as an example of people who were being extremely oppressed, very violently being oppressed and yet would still care enough and know that that's part of what they had to do. Take care of the children and be there to help people get through life.

Yeah. You know, that brings to mind, I would like to ask about this particular-- I mean, in my research, it seems as though the hippy seekers, in some respects, represented a religious minority. And Leni, I know that you were there when Zanta was created, which if I'm not mistaken, Zanta was a psychedelic religion really based out of Trans-Love Energies commune. I was wondering if you could take us through the spiritual or religious elements at play here.

Well, it could hardly be called a religion. Because it's not a religion in what is understood by that word in Western culture. But it's a concept of a new type of spirituality that brings people together or that identifies people who use cannabis as a sacrament instead of alcohol.

And so, if somebody has that belief system, Zanta-- like you can say, I'm a Christian, I'm a Catholic, I'm a Muslim-- well, we say I'm a Zanta. It's the same thing. And we have a belief system. And we act on it.

But it's not like we have churches. Where every one or two or more people congregate to share a joint, that's a church service of the Zanta church, whether you call it that or not. But to me, there's millions of them just walking around.

[LAUGHTER]

And that brings up the question to me for Christian about the name of this. Part of the name of this has to do with religion. You know, "Psychedelics and the Future of Religion." What did you mean by religion when you say that?

Thanks, Genie. And I have to say, as a historian, I'm most curious as to the sites of religion that don't look like religion at all. That, to me, really gets me excited because it illustrates how religion is not concretized as a thing. It's a real human experience that is recreated. And for me, Zanta was such a fascination because that seems like such a-- by Leni saying, oh it's not a religion, I thought perfect-- it's a new sort of religious experience that does not resemble historical examples of religion in the past. Leni, did you want to say something?

There is this song by a group from Philadelphia international called the 90 Day People. They didn't have time to fight wars. They didn't have time to argue with each other. They didn't need a church with a steeple because their church was in the hearts of their people.

Yeah.

And that, to me, everybody has their own church and their own God inside of what they think, what they believe. And so, who is to say? Like when somebody says, what's your religion? I always feel like, that's none of your business.

[LAUGHTER]

I mean, Genie, I want to pose this question to you. Did the police violence against you and your communards, did it feel like they were trying to stop this movement of consciousness expansion, this love in the heart? I mean, if I could call it a religious movement or socioreligious, did it feel like religious persecution or cultural persecution?

Cultural. It felt like cultural persecution, for sure. I mean, the religious part, I don't know that everybody would talk about it. Even now, people don't talk about it a lot. You can read about it. And you hear about it here and there by the people who read it and study it in research.

But a lot of people, they don't want to talk about religion. I mean, I have a lot of friends who don't believe in God even. They don't believe in God. We just we don't talk about it. And they know that I'm extremely religious, that I love everything about religion. And I want to hear about it. Because it's how you think, it's how you see the world, it's how you treat each other, how you face your problems, how you deal with things, and how you help each other. And I mean, there are lots of facets to it.

But the police, I don't think that they thought about religion so much. They thought about the cultural stuff. They felt that we were really dangerous to their kids. And that's what came up the most, is that we were. Because kids loved us. They identified, we were kids, pretty much. Leni, you know what I mean?

Do I ever?

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's a cultural thing.

When we were living in the commune, there was a lot of kids that were even younger than 18. And their parents were grateful for them to be able to live with us. Because they knew if they lived in the commune with the Sinclairs or the White Panthers, they would be safe from heroine. And they would be safe from alcohol. They would be safe from speed.

Right.

Because we were opposed to all death drugs. That's what we called them. The downers, or death drugs. We brought life to the life culture. Weed, LSD, psilocybin, those were life culture drugs. We made a very clear distinction. But as much as we preached against heroine, we failed.

Yeah.

We failed. To me, it seems we failed because, well, I don't really want to--

Well, it's not over yet, though, Leni. I mean, Christian, somewhere you mentioned that it's sort of a general belief that the hippie movement or whatever ended in 1969. But as far as I'm concerned, it's still going on. What we were trying to do and what we believed in, what we were really working for is still trying to happen around the world, where people can be free enough to be creative and be open and love each other. And love who they want to.

I mean, I can't believe that they want to criminalize love. I mean, they do criminalize it. It's been criminalized. You know? People are not allowed to love who they want to. As long as it's within this group and within your particular situation, that's fine. I mean, that's so far from humanity.

And the amount, them calling marijuana so dangerous and all this stuff that they do with all the PR about it in all the movies and all the stuff that they did to try to make it bad, I think part of that was because of the alcohol companies. There was the fight. And the alcohol won, depending on who that was.

And all the synthesized drugs that people are going through now and having all that trouble, all of that is so contrary to what needs to be. There are natural things that are out there that are gentle that don't have all of the side effects. And no, of course, it's not gentle all the time. Of course, there are going to be people who overreact and have other physical and mental problems that have to be handled.

But the problem, it just seems like the police and most people, I think, are really stuck in their own culture. And they're not interested in finding out even about other cultures. And even if they do, it isn't for the purpose of trying to find out truth in the world. What is this world about? Why are we here? What is this for? What's the point?

I mean, I've had that as a question since I was a little tiny kid. So--

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Go ahead.

No, please. Please.

No. I was going to change the subject almost.

Go, Genie. Go.

Well, I remember we were talking about Rainbow, Rainbow People, and all different kinds of people and stuff. And this is something that really is, I think, so apropos to what's going on today. There was a legend back then that-- it was described as being a very old legend. I'm sure there are other people who know about this and know more about it than I do.

And they talked about how white people have really taken over this planet and had really taken over. And we're not doing a very good job. We're not helping everyone. We aren't making everyone equal. And they said there would come a time when the people-- this legend said, there would come a time when the people of color of the world would rise up and take back the world.

Well, I always thought of that revolution as a revolution in the sense of a violent revolution. But I'm thinking about what's going on now. What if it can be a peaceful revolution? You know, it's like John F. Kennedy, his quote. One of my favorite quotes is, "People who make peaceful change impossible will make violent change inevitable." And he used the word revolution. He said, "People who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

So if a peaceful revolution is what's going on now in terms of voting, we're voting. People of color all over, we've made it-- hopefully, this time, we've tried to make it easier and make it better for all people to be able to vote. And of course, there are certain people-- mostly the old white men-- who are trying to stop that. Because they're losing their power, perhaps. We don't know how things are going to turn out and how much longer it's going to take.

But I love that legend, the Rainbow People's legend. And let's do it nonviolently by voting. You know? And changing the world. And I mean, our criminal justice system is criminal right now. Hopefully-- and religion. Again, you say what's the future of religion? Well, hopefully the future of religion is opened up wide for everyone. And psychedelics just help you open it up and open your mind.

And yes, depending on who you are and what you're looking for and what you know already, what you've studied-- I mean, all kinds of things or none of that-- yeah, you can see God or what you would call God. You can have major, wonderful religious experiences that explain things to you and tell you things and open it up, each drug you do.

I mean, I did peyote. Peyote has a wonderful spirit that goes with it that will show you all kinds of stuff in the world. And you have to figure it out. It's not just going to be given to you. Yeah. But experiencing it. That's what Leni was talking about with Jimi Hendrix. Are you experienced? That's what he meant. Have you had some experience that opens your mind and lets you see things a little bit differently than the ordinary?

Well, I think that's a perfect segue way to open this up to some of the questions that have been pouring in. So if I could ask Professor Stang to join the line--

Hey. Thank you, Christian and Leni and Genie. Thank you. This has been thrilling to listen to you two. Such a joy. And also my phone is blowing up with texts from people who are saying how much they're appreciating all that you have to say.

Oh, thank you.

I'm going to go to one question from Steven Gelberg, who says, beginning in the late 60s, I traveled the routes from transformative psychedelic experience to Hindu mysticism and monasticism via people like Gisberg, Watts, Ram Dass. Actually later, he says, to Harvard Divinity School. With all these late 60s pointers to Eastern religions, did either of you do any experimenting in that area? Or were you drawn to that, as so many others of the era were? And Stephen ends by saying, for many of us, Eastern religions were the chosen way to integrate the psychedelic experience.

Oh, definitely. Yeah. It was, very much so. And that's when I started studying-- well, I had already started studying Buddhism when I was in high school. I can't remember right now why I did. But I did and loved it. And I went to lots of different religions. Again, when I was in high school, I decided to become an Episcopalian because I liked all the ritual. I loved the ritual. I wanted to be with a bunch of people doing things together. And the feeling you can get of community all of that. I loved all of that.

And then, yeah. I did a lot of experimenting with the different Eastern religions. And I've called myself a Seeker. Literally, people would ask me, what is your religion? And I would say, well, I'm a Seeker. I'm looking for answers.

And today, I mean, to this day, I still am. I'm still looking. I still study. I still read. I still think about it a lot. The Tibetans, the Tibetan Buddhism, to me, has answered more questions and brought me-- but if somebody asked me, what kind of religion are you? I will usually say I'm a Christian Daoist Buddhist.

OK.

[LAUGHTER]

So there. So I haven't finished yet. I'm still studying and thinking about it and experiencing it and loving it.

Now there's something in what you said, Genie, I want to pick up on. But before I do, I want to see, Leni, if you wanted to field that same question from Stephen about the appeal of Eastern religions to so many people in that era. Did you feel that appeal? If not, why not?

Well, when we were the Detroit Artist Workshop, some of our members would take a trip to India and study and acquire a guru who would be their lifelong guru. Like, James Seymour has his guru in India. And Howard Weingarten. And so, they were definitely seeking and able to go there. But however, a mother with two little children can't really go to India, either.

[LAUGHTER]

Right.

And so, I was studying texts. I was just too busy. And being a mother was like our religion.

That's a great segue into the question I wanted to ask Genie, saying being a mother is like a religion. Well, I understand that the category religion is obviously a troubled one both in scholarly conversation but also especially in this era, people are largely, I think, suspicious and hostile to religion.

So maybe if we shifted the frame from religion to ritual. Because, Genie, you said you were kind of attracted to ritual. If you think about the psychedelic activism or counterculture that you were both helping to bring into being, what were the rituals that were associated with that? Maybe that's an easier way to get at the question.

What were the rituals of hippies, you mean?

Well, no. What were the rituals that were important to you that were part of the sort of consciousness expansion and political activism?

Smoking joints with people. Like Leni said, we considered it a sacrament. It was a gift from God. It was a way of putting ourselves back into that. And it was very much a ritual to sit and share. People didn't smoke alone. You always looked for somebody to share a joint with. It was just part of it, sharing and being with people. And I think that's probably the biggest ritual don't you think, Leni?

OK. Thank you. Leni, did you have any?

Well, the Zanta rituals were to have a party and have some loud rock and roll and smoke weed and dance all night and be with your friends. That is a ritual. Going to the Grande Ballroom on the weekends and letting yourself and merge with the masses and let the sound just blow you over.

And thinking back about how the MC5 and JC Crawford used to sit together, smoke weed, and then talk. Now this kind of talk in Jamaica is called reasoning. Like the elders would get together and reason. Well, this is what Jesse Crawford did with MC5. They would sit down and reason. They would explain things. They would explain the universe.

And that's how JC Crawford had an influence over the MC5, with his spirituality. He was like a prophet sent from God. He held them together spiritually. And he was the moral core. Now, people think of my ex-husband John Sinclair as being the one that shaped the MC5. Well, I was there. And he did the books. He did the booking. And he did the driving. But it was Jesse Crawford. It was JC. And they were like one, the Five and Jesse together. The six of them were like one.

And then when they let Jesse Crawford would go because they didn't want to pay for him or something, then they let Jesse go because he was costing them money, that's when they lost their soul. And they never got it back to that point where they were when they had JC Crawford as their person to reason with.

I remember being in Jamaica and being among a couple of Rasta brethren sitting on the beach on a log and watching the waves and listening to this one Rasta man preach. It wasn't preaching. It was breathing. He wasn't trying to convince you of anything. But it was a lot of rhythm and waves. So that's what JC Crawford did. And that's how Zanta started.

Oh, may I mention something totally esoteric about Zanta? We, back then, didn't know anything. We thought JC Crawford had made up the name Zanta. And he probably did. I don't know what he had in mind or what it meant, if there was some meaning. But just recently, I googled the name Zanta. And what you find out is that it is the name of a battle in the 13th century, whereby the lowly people in the Balkans defeated the Ottoman Empire Army that was huge. And it was a really good battle for a religion to be named after, Zanta. The Battle of Zanta. Interesting idea.

Yeah. Yeah. Well, now that brings up to me, too, to think about-- Christian, I think you said something about the 1950s as when-- oh, I don't know. I'm just thinking about how all of these natural things have been around for thousands of years.

Oh yeah.

It isn't anything new.

Well, let's open it up. Huh? Let's see what the people have to say. Professor Stang, do we have more questions on the list?

We certainly do. Here's a question from John Brewer for both Genie and Leni. He asked, how much do you think psychedelics influenced your anti-racist beliefs and attitudes? Do you remember any specific trip or post trip reflection on race, humanity, and/or society?

Oh, I want to tell a story. Because I remember the moment I realized I was racist. I remember the moment. And Leni, it was when we were living in Warren Forest. We were upstairs. And there was a Black musician, an old Black musician. And hardly anybody else was home. And he and John were sitting there talking. And I was there, I can't remember what I was doing.

And John asked me if I would make him a sandwich, if I would make the visitor a sandwich. And I stood there for a minute. And it didn't compute. It was like I didn't understand what he was saying to me. He was asking me to make a sandwich for a visitor. But for me, I didn't understand for a long time what it was. Why was I so unable to understand that suggestion?

And he finally looked at me and said something about, what? Because he's a Black man, you can't make him a sandwich or something? And I had this quick flash where my whole life went by me. And I realized that, yeah. I had been brought up, my mother was born in Texas. My dad was born in Virginia. The only Black people I had been around were the maids and the servants. And for him to ask me to make, it did not compute.

Well, it finally did. And I went and made the sandwich. But it changed my life. Because I realized what had happened. I realized it. And plus, probably right around that time or shortly after, I read the autobiography of Malcolm X, which blew me away, too, in the sense of we all are the same. We all are here together. And thank goodness for the variety. I mean, how boring would it be if we were all alike? If we were all exactly the same.

So, for me, it was a moment that-- I'm still, I'm sure, I mean it's so deep. And when we don't realize it. And Black people are racist about white people, too. And Latinos. I mean, anybody can be racist about anybody. We happen to be white. You know? And that's the worst problem because the white-- I mean, I do tend to believe that they have kind of taken over. And it's not the right thing. And it will be changing, because the world tends to balance out. Things do change. I don't know if that helps, if that answers what you were asking for.

There is a very vibrant debate as to whether racism is a category that can be applied to people who are the victims of racism, like white racism.

Oh yeah. Right. Oh, that's true. I'm sure that's true. Yeah. I'm just saying it's easy, different peoples all over the world are-- the English enslaved the Irish, too, for a long time. I mean, slavery has been around the world for-- not nearly what we did to slavery. Not that I know of. So I'm agreeing with what you're saying.

Genie, was there anything about psychedelics that occasioned your anti-racist work? Or I mean, you just narrated an important realization.

Well, yeah. I mean, when you take psychedelics, it changes your mind. And it doesn't go back. I mean, you do go back. And some people just back to their regular lives. And it doesn't change everything dramatically. For me, it changed everything. So I was still-- and we would take it from time to time. And we hadn't quit. And we would smoke pot. And it wasn't like, you do it one time and that's it.

Yeah. And it changed my mind. I mean, I've taken a lot of different kinds of psychedelics. And they all act differently. But it's all the same. So it's mind food. It's mind opening and nourishing. And yeah, so I'm sure that affected it.

I mean, I remember being in high school in New Jersey. And there weren't very many Black people at the school. But there were some Black people at our school. And I remember feeling bad when they were treated right. I remember sitting at a homeroom table one time. And there were two brothers. And I liked them both, they were really nice people. And they were fun. And we had a home room table. And we'd sit there.

And something was said one time. And one of them was blushing. And I said something. I said, oh look, you're really blushing. And somebody else at the table, said, oh, how can you tell? And I thought, wow, what a nasty thing to say. And it just always bothered me. Racism always bothered me. And I'm a Libra, too, in astrology. So I want to even things out. I want them to balance out.

This has me thinking. Earlier in this discussion we're having, I mentioned two events that I'd like to touch upon. One was the Bell Island Love In. The other one-- and Leni, perhaps you could speak to this-- is the Detroit riots of 1967. These were worst in the world. I'm sorry, some of the worst in American history.

Oh yeah.

So Leni, I'm curious as to how you would locate yourself. These have been called the race riots of Detroit. Leni, how would you locate yourself in that historical moment?

Well, we don't call them race riots in Detroit. We call it urban rebellion. It was after a long time of repression. And yeah.

We were living downtown. So we were right in the middle of it. Leni, go ahead.

Go ahead. No, you go.

No, no. You. Go ahead. I'll start. And then you can come in. OK. So we lived downtown. We were in an upstairs apartment. And we were very young and impetuous kids. Right? And we hug a banner out that said "burn, baby, burn." I didn't even know it was out there.

But all of a sudden, there was a time when the police came into the apartment, came upstairs, threw us all up against the wall. They had shotguns. I mean, I had a shotgun up in my throat. And they were all there. And they were treating us as if we were snipers or something. And they eventually just left. Leni, do you remember that?

Well, I remember the confrontation at the door when the National Guard was trying to come in. And John stood in the door and said, you motherfuckers, you're not coming in my house. You have a warrant, you can. This is a free country. You can't just walk in here. And this was in June. And Sunny had just been born in May. So I had this little baby in my arms. And I was right behind John. And he was hollering at the police. And I was thinking that they could just kill him, just shoot him.

Eventually, I think he opened the door. Or they broke it down. I don't know. But then they looked for snipers in the closets. And when they didn't find them, they left.

They looked for weapons, too. They were looking for weapons.

That was my husband. He could not keep his mouth shut to the police. If he saw them doing wrong, he would call them out. And then, on the first or second day of the riots, we had a ball. We were driving the cars up and down Woodward ignoring street lights. There were hardly any cars. So it was like total anarchy. We were having fun.

And then we would go up on the roof. Some people had put up a TV on top of the roof. And they invited us to sit down and drink beer and smoke weed. And we were watching the fire, the city burning on the television set, while all around us the fire were really burning down in our neighborhood. And we were enjoying it for a while.

But then when they called in the National Guard and they started killing people, they arrested over 1,000 people. And they were just-- So oh, and then, after the people looted all the grocery stores in the neighborhood, there was no way to buy some food. So some helpful suburbanites had food drives. And they would get the food, bring it to the inner city.

And we opened the doors of the Detroit Artist Workshop for free food distribution. They brought us food. And anybody who needed some food come in and get it. And so, we were trying to make ourselves useful. We even put out a satirical flyer, like the school in San Francisco that put out satirical flyers. But we had one flyer saying, Loot. It's the American way.

[LAUGHTER]

Right. We did.

And the Big Stuff.

I have to say, guys, this conversation--

Anyway, after that, after they raided our house, we packed up and we fled up north to Travers City. And we sat out the last few days of the riots up in Travers City. It was a terrible time. Because when people get so mad, they start burning down their own house. And they have nothing left to lose. And that's a terrible situation.

And the city of Detroit, you go to Detroit today, it still hasn't recovered. It still has empty streets for miles that used to be houses. OK, when I came to this country in 1959, 1960, Detroit had nearly two million people. Then Detroit got robbed of its land and its people and its jobs for the next, what-- 

Now, the population is about 800,000. And the exodus from Detroit still hasn't stopped. To the point that there is hardly any white people left. It's a beautiful place to live. When my sister came to visit Detroit for the first time, I took her to one of the ethnic festivals downtown. She couldn't believe it. She said, this looks like Little Africa.

[LAUGHTER]

It's OK, it's OK to live if you live in the city. But there is a huge area outside Detroit that's not so friendly to live in if you are not white.

I should say that we should probably bring this evening to a close. And I just want to thank you both from the bottom of my heart for sharing your time and experiences with us. As a historian, it's customary for me to spend so much time with books. And I really have to remind myself that history is so much more about living people and sharing your ideas with them. And so, tonight has been honestly a dream come true. So once more, as a deep admirer and perhaps even a friend, I want to thank you for coming and talking to us.

Well, thank you for making it possible.

Thank you.

Thank you for making it possible for me and my friend Genie to be able to talk, thanks to you.

Yeah. Really. Thank you, Christian, for doing this.

And this is just touching the iceberg of the things we could talk about if we had more time.

And Charlie and Ariella, too, for doing the work to make this happen. But yeah. We could go on for hours, right? Easily.

But enough for now. Thank you.

Well, I want to say thank you to Christian for conceiving of this event. And it's obviously his connections to you two that made it possible. But obviously, the most thanks are to you, Leni, and to you, Genie, for sharing your time with us. It's been a real pleasure and honor to host you.

So for those of you who are joining us, let me make clear that we didn't get through, obviously, all the questions. We will share the questions with Leni, Genie, and Christian. So, even if they weren't answered in this, at least they will know what questions were asked.

Thank you.

So those of you who are interested in this series, please stay tuned. And we will have hopefully many more events for the spring semester. So once again, thank you all. And I look forward to seeing you at the next iteration.

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