a tribute from alan fisher

Herman Blake opened a door to the world for me.  He came to our isolated colleges up on the hill bringing words and experiences that offered me an avenue to understanding the world beyond suburbia and secluded academia.  Herman’s eloquence brought to life the battles in urban California of which I had read but not understood.  He opened my eyes to the third world conditions of rural America, particularly for Southern Blacks. Realities which were critical to my understanding our country and how far much of it was (and is) from the promise it makes.

Those were the sixties.  There was the Free Speech Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, Watts, Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, Vietnam and more spinning my mind to understand.  Herman was a strong source of illumination for me.  It was a time when we thought the country could and should meet its promise.  I wanted to understand and play a role.

I didn’t come to UCSC for the isolation.  I came in hopes of finding real teachers, small seminars and intellectual growth and to get a degree and a good job.  I came because I loved the Santa Cruz beach and the ocean.  But, the reality was that we were very isolated.  Santa Cruz was the merchant center of an agricultural county distant from urban life.  And, UCSC was on the hill above it; and Cowell seemed determined to be Oxbridge on a hill overlooking the Pacific.  Certainly, I went to anti-war marches in San Francisco and engaged in late night discussions of social and economic change for society but I couldn’t really comprehend what was happening beyond the redwoods and meadows of UCSC.   Herman and the speakers that he brought to campus illuminated that world.

First, Herman opened a door to the world for me.  Then, he offered a path to live in it, if only temporarily, and maybe do some good.  He, with support from Page Smith and others, began the Cowell Extramural Education Program where students went to a low-income community of color for a quarter to offer what skills we had.  I was lucky enough to be one of the first students and went to Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, in the Spring of 1968.  To me, it was like getting into a time machine back to the South of the early 20th century.  The racial segregation of the Island and South Carolina stunned my mind.  Doug Brown and I did what we could for islanders but gained many times more in knowledge of the world and the depth of our fellow human beings than we ever gave back.  Our host, Ms. Viola Bryan, gave us the gift of her life wisdom and heart in a way that I still can feel.   Herman went on to expand the program and its gift to many, many more students.

The program gave me a sense of the world which expanded my understanding and gave reality to my feeling of social responsibility.  That has helped steer and motivate my life going forward to today and beyond.  Herman opened that door for me and I will forever feel grateful.

alan fisher
california reinvestment coalition