Birmingham By Peter Galuszka

Just a few days ago, Elena Siddall, a Mathews County Republican activist and Tea Party Patriot, posted her account on the Rebellion of being a social worker in New York in the 1960s and the wrong-headedness of Saul Alinsky, a leftist organizer who had had a lot of influence back in the day, among others. I won’t comment on Ms. Siddall’s lively account and conservative point of view. But I do notice one thing: she is a 1963 graduate of what is now the University of Mary Washington, which then was considered the female side of the University of Virginia (campuses being segregated by sex back then).

I have a tie as well to Mary Wash, which is now coed. My daughter graduated from there last year and my cousin-in-law, now living in Tennessee, went there was well before moving on the U.Va. nursing. Our family experience at Mary Wash has been a big positive and I support the school. So, it is with considerable interest that I noticed that the Spring 2014 issue of the University of Mary Washington Magazine had a cover story of a different kind of graduate than Ms. Siddall with some very different views.

So, in the interest of providing some equal time among women who came of age during those years of intense ethical and political awareness, I thought I’d toss in the magazine story to further the debate and show that not every Eagle from Mary Wash thinks like Ms. Siddall (no disrespect intended).

The story has to do with Nan Grogan Orrock, class of ’65, the daughter of an Abingdon forest ranger, who got the civil rights fever when it wasn’t always easy for a young, white woman in Virginia to be an activist. But activist she was, from exhorting her classmates to join protests, to spending summers and other time in the Deep South demonstrating with African-Americans in SNCC, to staring down the real possibility of being beaten or killed and to even today, when she’s been active in the Georgia legislature shaking things up, such as trying to get the Confederate flag off public buildings.

The article, written by Mary Carter Bishop, class of ’67, is intriguing. The writer is a career journalist who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer in 1980 for the Philadelphia Inquirer when that paper was one of the liveliest and best in the nation.

As Bishop writes:Nan Grogan Orrock ’65 is among the South’s most veteran and well-respected advocates of social change. She is one of the longest-serving and most progressive members of the Georgia legislature and has left her mark on every sector of social justice: civil rights, women’s rights, worker rights, gay rights, environmental rights.

“She’s chased after cross-burning Ku Klux Klansmen, cut sugar cane in Cuba, started an alternative newspaper, organized unions, led strikes, been arrested a bunch of times, and still stands on picket lines. At 70, she’s far from done. I had to finally get to know her. The week before Christmas, I flew to Atlanta and sat down with her at the State Capitol.”

Please read both accounts – Ms. Siddall’s and Ms. Bishop’s article – and see ideas through opposite prisms of the 1960s involving two obviously very bright women.

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3 responses to “Two UMW Daughters of the ’60s”

  1. I worked with Mary Bishop at the Roanoke Times 30 years ago. I lost contact with her after I left. I’m glad to see that, though she may be retired, she hasn’t given up writing.

  2. larryg Avatar

    Peter done a good thing and I suspect there is more to both women’s stories because one of the reasons for the radical left and Saul Alinsky in 1963 was the treatment of blacks in our society – including at MWC which did not desegregate until about 1972.

    which convinced a great many of folks like Nan Grogan to get involved in righting a wrong – and not pursuing leftist policies for the hell of it.

    and I think there is an honest accounting of those of us who lived during those times – with regard to whether we joined efforts to give blacks their long-overdue rights – or did we stand on the sidelines watching or worse – worked on the opposite side.

    I’m not alluding to anyone here – only pointing out that some folks got to be “activists” over the systematic denial of rights – that had a direct connection to poverty – and welfare.

    Back in 1963 – fighting for civil rights – was not “liberalism” the way it is portrayed now days and welfare for blacks was only one of the issues of the day – all through the south.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    I guess this is where conservatives should blast Nan Orrock on a personal basis and call Peter’s post and the referenced article “a bunch of BS” or something like that. From there, other conservatives can chime in claiming that Ms. Orrock’s personal experiences are irrelevant and, in fact, some kind of liberal – socialist plot.

    After all, that was LarryG and LifeOnTheFallLine’s reaction to Ms. Siddall’s article.

    Of course, I won’t do that. I thought Peter’s post and the related article about Ms. Orrock were excellent.

    I guess the big difference between Ms. Orrock’s story and Ms. Siddall’s story is that the effort to achieve equal rights has largely succeeded while the effort to use government programs in a war on poverty has largely failed.

    Both women have first hand accounts of seismic changes in American attitudes and policy and both women should he heard and respected.

    In fact, it would be extremely interesting to hear Ms. Orrock’s opinion on the current state of public assistance and the war on poverty in America.

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