Skip to main content

The Fragile Peace in the Former Yugoslavia.

New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges. He reports from Serbia on the tense conditions that remain despite absence of war in the former Yugoslavia, and the nationalist ideology present in the three factions, one that has led to hate crimes against ethnic minorities and gypsies. (Interview by Marty Moss-Coane)

31:23

Other segments from the episode on November 12, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 12, 1997: Interview with Chris Hedges; Interview with John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin; Review of the television show "Law & Order."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 12, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111201NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Chris Hedges
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane sitting in for Terry Gross.

It's been two years since the Dayton peace accord brought an uneasy truce to the former Yugoslavia. UN peacekeepers have been patrolling the region, there've been a number of elections, and there's a semblance of normalcy for the war-weary public.

But the absence of fighting, says New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, can be deceiving. The area is now divided into republics -- Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia -- and the rump Yugoslavia Republic of Serbia and Montenegro.

The nationalism and ethnic hatred which tore the region apart, Hedges said, is simmering just below the surface and is threatening the fragile peace process.

We called Chris Hedges earlier today in Zagreb and asked him to fill us in on recent events in the region. He covered the war in the former Yugoslavia and is now the Balkan bureau chief for the New York Times. Recently, Chris Hedges had a story about the rise of street gang violence against gypsies living in Serbia. I asked him about these attacks.

CHRIS HEDGES, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: What we've seen with this terrible economic deprivation in the last few months is a rise of neo-Nazi skinhead groups that go around in the streets of Belgrade at night and attack gypsies.

They first began by attacking the street cleaners who work at night, most of whom are gypsy. They would strip them of their clothes, make them walk home naked. They would hold them down, light their hair on fire. They would beat them -- this kind of stuff.

And this has evolved into much more serious acts of violence. We had, before I wrote this story -- 10 days before this story came out -- a pregnant mother with three children was beaten to death by one of these groups, although she died in the hospital. And then we had this boy that I wrote about when I was there who had gone just down to the corner store to buy some juice, and was picked up by these skinheads on the way back. They ripped a side of a drain pipe off the wall and beat him to death.

So, I think the desperation, fueled with this nationalist triumphalism which has become part of the political discourse, is making it very difficult for people in the rump Yugoslavia who are not Serb.

MOSS-COANE: Are these street thugs -- are they organized in some way? You talk about the Serbian nationalist propaganda or agenda -- are they just carrying out the will, perhaps the unspoken will, of the government? Or are they more reacting to the chaos that's in their republic?

HEDGES: I think they're reacting more to the chaos. I don't think the government wants these kinds of beatings to go on in the center of Belgrade. And I must say that after this young boy, who was 14, was killed, the police presence in that area was pretty heavy and they were grabbing skinheads, hauling them away and -- they don't have the light touch in Belgrade either. I think these kids are probably in -- were in for a rough time.

However, because it's become acceptable, socially acceptable, to speak like this, I do think the government bears a certain responsibility for these kinds of activities. But they're essentially ad hoc groups of kids who have nothing to do and this is really their form of rebellion, and probably in a sick way, their form of entertainment.

MOSS-COANE: Do you see, then, this -- these attacks on the gypsies as portending bigger problems -- further ethnic and racial divisions, further ethnic and racial attacks?

HEDGES: Well, my feeling about the former Yugoslavia is that it has become politically acceptable and socially acceptable to use a language that we in the United States have fought very hard to abolish. And it is the language, essentially, of hate. It is a racist language.

When Croats, for instance, speak about Serbs and Muslims, I view it as racist -- the kinds of things they say are not only derogatory, but often smack of the kind of primitive racism, you know, in terms of sort of genetic inferiority et cetera, et cetera that one hears from, you know, these sort of crazy militia-type groups in the United States et cetera.

And that's become, you know, it's affected every -- everywhere. So I don't know how they're going to rise above that because all of these nationalist leaders -- President Tudjman, President Milosevic and even President Izetbegovic really base their political movements on this ethnic triumphalism, the flip side of which is of course racist.

So until we get a new crop of leaders that don't embrace this terrible nationalist ideology, I don't know how they're going to -- people are going to dig their way out of it. I think the situation is probably worse in the rump Yugoslavia because the economy is dysfunctional.

They're printing money without anything to back it up. They have severe problems with the two million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who are launching an increasingly violent movement. They overran 11 police stations in September. Montenegro, which is the partner of Serbia -- with Serbia in the rump Yugoslavia is now moving to secede.

So it's -- I think President Milosevic and his government are in deep, deep trouble all the way around. And this kind of chaos and economic misery tends to breed this kind of fanaticism.

MOSS-COANE: I read the unemployment rate is something like 50 percent.

HEDGES: Yes, it -- probably more than that. I mean, you know, even people -- one of the things you have to remember is that even people who have jobs don't really have salaries. I mean, it's not a salary that you can live on. It's not a real salary. So they're always trying to do something on the sly -- sell gasoline or cigarettes or something; or drive cabs; or -- it's a mess.

MOSS-COANE: Well, there was a recent election in the Yugoslav Republic and it looks as if the president of Montenegro is making noises about seceding from Serbia. Do you think there's -- there -- is that just making noises or do you think we actually might see something like that happen?

HEDGES: I think there is a legitimate movement by the new authorities in Montenegro, or certainly a consideration to secede. They're not going to do it now. They want to calm tempers in Belgrade. But they've sort of had it. Montenegro has 600,000 people. It's much smaller, of course, than Serbia. But they've -- they've paid the price of the war in terms of sanctions and everything else.

And their feeling is that this was Milosevic's decision, not theirs. There's certainly strong support within Montenegro for that.

MOSS-COANE: How, then, would you compare the election of -- in the Yugoslav Republic with the election in Bosnia in September?

HEDGES: The election in Bosnia in September was a bit of a fiction, because you were electing town councils based on the pre-war census. So for instance, in Srebrenica, where the horrible massacre in the summer of 1995 took place, of several thousand -- probably about 7,000 Muslim men by the Bosnian Serbs -- and then of course all of the remainder of the families were pushed out. There are no Muslims in Srebrenica now.

But they could vote. I mean, the former residents could vote in these elections for the authorities, even though they weren't physically there. Or they were -- if they were bused into a polling station maybe on the day and then bused out.

So you have Muslim authorities who were elected, but they can't go there. You've created these sort of mini-governments in exile who can't physically go to the places that they're supposed to govern; whose constituents don't live in those places and really don't have anything to do.

So, you know, unless the international community decides that these results will be implemented -- that people will go back; that these governments will go back -- these elections don't really end up meaning that much.

MOSS-COANE: And yet some have said, looking at the turnout -- some 75 percent turnout rate -- there was no violence; no one died voting in Bosnia. Many see that as a victory -- as certainly a first step toward some form of democracy.

HEDGES: Well my feeling that -- you know, especially after spending, now, 2.5 years in Bosnia is that democracy is a process, it's not an event. And we have lots of events in Bosnia. But I find most of them to be sterile.

The -- it is true that there was no violence, but the, you know, there's -- what? -- 31,000 heavily armed NATO troops here. You go to polling stations and there's armored personnel carriers and, you know, British soldiers in flak jackets and everything else. It's -- it would be pretty foolish and probably suicidal for any Bosnian Serb to go running in there with a pistol.

So I think it is true that there isn't violence, but I have yet to see these elections -- and we've had a series of elections in Bosnia over the last couple of years that have fundamentally changed the nature of the partition of Bosnia. I mean, supposedly we have a federal government in place that is supposed to, with a tripartite presidency -- with a Serb, a Croat, a Muslim -- that under Dayton is supposed to run Bosnia.

And they don't. The federal parliament doesn't meet. The federal bodies don't work. These people were elected to positions that don't function.

MOSS-COANE: Why, then, do you think -- and it's been about two years since the Dayton peace accords -- why have those accords not been implemented? Is there something wrong with them? Is there some wrong-headed way that they were conceived of and carried out?

Or is there something about the former Yugoslavia where it's just -- it's just not going to work and we're talking about unifying three ethnic groups into a unified state, some kind of democratic rule, some kind of multi-ethnic society. Is that impossible do you think at this point in that region?

HEDGES: Well Dayton, you know, the architects of Dayton led by Richard Holbrooke -- they promised everything to everybody. And you know, you -- the Bosnian Serbs, for instance, have their own entity -- their self-styled Republic of Srpska -- Republika Srpska. The Croats have their enclave; the Muslims have theirs.

And the Muslims, of course, want to create a unified structure. They are the majority in Bosnia. They want a federal system. The Serbs and the Croats do not. The Serbs and the Croats have powerful patrons, Belgrade and Zagreb, and they don't really need Sarajevo.

So unless there is a change in the attitude of the international community by which they will become incredibly pro-active -- i.e. you know, taking the one million Muslims who were driven from their homes and physically taking, putting them back into their communities, and probably having to help them rebuild their communities, most of which are destroyed -- I don't really see how we're going to overcome this partition plan.

MOSS-COANE: Well I'll tell you what, I want to talk some more, but first we have to take a short break. And our guest today on FRESH AIR is Chris Hedges. He's the Balkan bureau chief for the New York Times.

And we'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Chris Hedges and we're talking about the former Yugoslavia.

You have a piece in today's New York Times looking at the Muslim killings of Serbs that were previously unknown. How did you find out about this story?

HEDGES: Well those -- that story came from internal military court documents that were leaked to me. And these were the confessions and testimonies of 16 paramilitary soldiers who had been a member of one of these paramilitary units at the beginning of the war. And who admitted to having seen or been involved in the abduction and murder of ethnic Serbs who were living in Sarajevo.

MOSS-COANE: And had you heard rumors of this while the war was going on?

HEDGES: Yes. You did hear rumors, but you didn't hear anything more than that. You know, the people were afraid to speak, especially Serbs who were in Sarajevo were afraid to speak. And although the hard-line Serb -- Bosnian-Serb government in Pale harped on this as an issue, they would throw out these fantastic stories.

I mean, for instance, I remember them telling us that there was a hotel in Sarajevo where they held Muslim girls -- excuse me, Serb girls were being raped by Muslim soldiers. And there were 10,000 missing. And it was just so -- it was so fantastical. And they never did any kind of real, you know, work in terms of gathering credible testimony.

And part of it's difficult because flee and you don't know where they are and there's no coordination and communications are bad that it really, I think, took this document -- coupled, then, of building on that document of course, interviewing the former commander of the Bosnian army and the deputy commander and the former police chief and others who were willing to confirm that this kind of activity was happening.

MOSS-COANE: And it may not have been on the scale of Serbian atrocities, but was it the same malevolence?

HEDGES: It certainly was -- was -- I saw -- of course, like all journalists, you know, I print longer stories than my newspaper ever wants to publish, but they cut out some parts at the end that were really just gruesome.

I mean, there was, you know, they -- there was a beheading and mutilation and at one point, they had caught these two young Serb men who were trying to sneak across the front lines -- you know, the city was surrounded -- to the Serb side. And they were plunging knives into their corpses. And it was just disgusting.

So this was the kind of stuff that happened on the Serb side all the time. It didn't happen, I think, with the same frequency on the Muslim side, but it did happen on the Muslim side.

MOSS-COANE: But you also detail or talk about the secret trials that were held. How were these soldiers punished if at all?

HEDGES: Most of the sentences were pretty light. Of the 16 -- first of all, they were only tried for the murder of 10 people, most of whom were ethnic Serbs. I think it's pretty clear that they probably -- this unit alone -- and there were other paramilitary units that were also involved in these kinds of atrocities -- this unit alone probably killed dozens of people in the particular rocky crevice that they used to drop bodies in is about 80 foot deep. It's on the side of a mountain outside of Sarajevo, or on the edge of Sarajevo.

They began an investigation. They exhumed 29 bodies and then the Sarajevo government, for whatever reason, halted the investigation. But I spoke to the head of the Sarajevo police who was in charge of the investigation at the time, and he said clearly there was indication that there were more bodies -- more bodies down there.

So it was probably -- it was certainly more widespread than the government let on. They tried them for these 10 killings. Fourteen of them were convicted and most of them were given a sentence of just a few months. Four of them were given six-year prison terms and they're still in jail.

MOSS-COANE: Any evidence that officials in the government or higher-ups either knew about it or ordered it or looked the other way?

HEDGES: I think there's pretty clear evidence that they knew about it and they looked the other way. But you have to remember that in the early days of the war, the Muslims had no army. They had, really, no organized defense. And they relied on these criminal gangs to literally hold frontlines around the city.

They claim, and I think with some justification, that the chaos of the time and the desperation made it difficult to investigate rumors of what was happening on a section of frontline controlled by one of these paramilitary units.

However, it does appear to me from working on this story for the last week that they had pretty clear indications several months before they moved, including a five-page letter that I saw that was written to President Izetbegovic by the deputy commander of the Bosnian army listing names and talking about these kinds of killings.

MOSS-COANE: There are some, what, 30-, 34,000 members of the NATO-led peacekeeping force now stationed in the former Yugoslavia. How are they doing in terms of their mission there? And how were they received by the people of the region? How do they view them?

HEDGES: Their mission, essentially is -- certainly as the NATO commanders define it -- is to maintain the ceasefire and prevent violence. And that aspect of their mission has been accomplished with really very few problems. All heavy weapons are in cantonments so that even if a fire-fight broke out, there'd be no access to mortars or tanks or anything like that.

And you know, they've achieved a status where it's not really peace, but it's the absence of war. We've never gone beyond that. Now, NATO officials say that's not our role to go beyond that. That is the role of the civilian administrators who came in and were tasked with making Dayton work.

The civilian administrators counter this by saying: "well, we can't make Dayton work if we don't have the force or the coercive power to get the parties to comply" -- and NATO doesn't want to do that.

So there's been this sort of stalemate ever since the troops deployed, which was December of '95. We really haven't gotten -- gotten beyond this.

MOSS-COANE: What do you think would happen if the UN forces left the region? Would it erupt into war?

HEDGES: I think it would, and I think it would because the Bosnian Serbs were really broken by the NATO bombing in the fall of 1995. They had two weeks of sustained bombing. This was an effort to get them to pull their guns back from around Sarajevo where they were lobbing about 1,000 shells a day on the city.

But it wasn't just an attack on the guns around the city. They went after barracks, even down to individual pieces of armor; warehouses; communications systems. And they've never really recovered from that.

They're -- they have no money. The -- Radovan Karadzic distrusts the army. There was an effort by army commanders, Bosnian Serb army commanders, to actually remove him in 1993. And he built up his own praetorian guard within the police.

So the Muslims, especially with this training that they've been getting -- this American effort to train them and give them new equipment -- are getting more experienced. They're getting better hardware. Their morale is high.

I think there is a feeling that it probably wouldn't take too much for a resurgent Muslim force, especially given the state of the Bosnian Serbs, for them to move and take the rest of Bosnia. The Serbs have 49 percent, and the Muslims, well they publicly don't say that this is their goal, often say, you know, Dayton promised us one united country and the Serbs have been obstructing the agreement at Dayton which they signed off on, ever since it was implemented.

And if the agreement itself is unable to achieve this goal, then we'll achieve it by other means. That's sort of on the record as far as they'll go, but privately I think there's no question that if NATO pulled out, the chances of fighting, probably for that reason would -- are great.

MOSS-COANE: Well, about one-third of the NATO peacekeeping force is American -- are American soldiers. And Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State, said last week that she felt that the troops needed to stay past June. And the question, I guess, is whether Congress can be convinced of that.

If the Americans pulled out of this peacekeeping force, what effect do you think it would have on the force itself?

Well, the British and the French -- and it is the British, the French and the Americans who constitute the backbone of the force -- the British and the French say they will leave. They're unequivocal about that. And I think that is a problem. I -- you know, I don't cover London or Paris so I don't know how much of it is posturing, but I suspect that -- I think they would leave.

And I think there is a strong feeling that -- certainly among American NATO commanders -- that it is important for America to remain, for NATO's credibility and also you certainly don't want this war to spread and resume again. And I think part of that reason is that without an American presence here, probably the mission would fall apart.

MOSS-COANE: Chris Hedges is the Balkan bureau chief for the New York Times. He's been covering the region since the war began, and he'll be back with us in the second half of the show.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

Let's continue our conversation with Chris Hedges, Balkan bureau chief for the New York Times. He covered the war in the former Yugoslavia for the Times and he's been writing about events and conditions there since the fighting stopped.

I want to talk a little bit about the war crimes tribunals, and certainly they've been sold, if I can say that, as a way of providing closure, bringing some order, some justice. Any evidence that that's occurred because of the war crimes tribunals?

HEDGES: Has it brought closure? Well, we haven't had very many convictions yet. Most of the Bosnian Serbs, of course, have not been apprehended and they constitute the bulk of those who are indicted. The real -- I mean, the people who directed the war on the Bosnian Serb side -- General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, of course, remain at large.

I don't think that The Hague -- I think the concept is a good one, but I don't think it's had that kind of an impact yet, partly because they just don't have the people yet.

MOSS-COANE: And by that, you mean they don't have the police force to go get them? Or they just literally don't have the people who were accused of the crimes?

HEDGES: Well, the tribunal has no police force. The tribunal is really dependent on essentially NATO -- international troops in Bosnia to make arrests for them. There is, of course, this constant call for the ethnic leaderships to turn over their own war criminals. And we did have, by the way, under heavy pressure, President Tudjman intervened in the Croat enclave in Bosnia to turn over 10 indicted war criminals, including some very big leaders. I mean, it was a very significant move for Croatia.

But we don't have that yet with the Serbs, and the Serbs really carried out the bulk of the war crimes. You know, there were war crimes committed by all sides, but when you stack up numerically, I think the Serbs probably -- I mean, it's a wild guess -- but probably 80 percent were committed by the Serbs.

MOSS-COANE: Chris Hedges is our guest. He's the Balkan bureau chief for the New York Times.

I'm curious, the difference, I guess, between covering this region during its uneasy peace and covering it under war conditions. Certainly under war conditions, you're seeing death and violence and a great deal of suffering. But what you're describing to us now is corruption and unemployment and the rise of racial hatred. Does that still -- does that wear on you the way covering a war wears on you?

HEDGES: It wears differently. You know, the -- it isn't the first war I've been in. But I'd never been in a city under siege. I'd never been -- and it was a small area under siege. It was twice the size of Central Park. And it -- that wore my nerves down.

I mean, in other wars -- the Gulf War or El Salvador, other places I've been -- you would go to a frontline area and -- for a certain amount of time, maybe even a few days. And then you would come back to an area that was relatively safe.

You never had that in Sarajevo. You were in this fishbowl and you were never safe at all. I mean, there was big stuff coming in -- you know, tank rounds, Katyusha rockets coming in all day long.

And it had a -- I never felt that, you know, like I did for instance when I was in a firefight in Southern Iraq or in El Salvador, where I really didn't know if I was going to get out. I never felt that kind of immediate danger. But it was this daily kind of uncertainty that really wore me down; physically, I think, wore everyone down. Some, you know, you get older, you're a little less resilient, but I think it got to everybody in the end.

So I think that's the main problem of being in Sarajevo or was the main problem being in Sarajevo during the siege.

This -- it is a different kind of -- it's a different kind of exhaustion and I think it's -- reporters can get to a point where you feel like you've already written that story. You tend to write on themes that you feel you've already covered, which is a good sign that it's probably time for another reporter to come in.

And also, although it's not as dramatic, it has this corrosive quality, where it just -- you know, this -- this kind of malaise, this kind of corruption, this kind of grayness, this kind of depression can make you feel sometimes paralyzed and certainly tired and exhausted and depressed.

MOSS-COANE: Well, you've painted a fairly grim picture for us. Are there bright sides? And I don't want to be Pollyannish about it.

HEDGES: Right. Well, are there bright sides? Well, there's always individual bright sides. I don't think it can be underestimated that this was a horrible, horrible war. Two-hundred-thousand people died, you know, most of them young. And I don't think you can underestimate the benefit of stopping the war.

I mean, that is a real achievement. Yes, you know, it may now sort of be like Gaza, but it's better to be like Gaza than to be like Beirut. There are families that however much they're struggling are not losing their sons or their daughters or their fathers or whoever. You know, this took physically such a horrible toll on Bosnians that I do feel that you can never discount that achievement.

I don't know -- I don't see, you know, for this generation, I think it's going to be difficult. I think, you know, these kinds of problems take years to dig your way out of, despite all the goodwill of the international community.

So, I don't think there is any kind of quick and easy solution. Hopefully, over time, things will improve subtly and life will get better, but I think it's going to take years.

MOSS-COANE: Well I thank you very much, Chris Hedges, for joining us today on FRESH AIR. Thank you.

HEDGES: Thank you.

MOSS-COANE: Chris Hedges is the Balkan bureau chief for the New York Times.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: Chris Hedges
High: New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges. He reports from Serbia on the tense conditions that remain despite the absence of war in the former Yugoslavia, and the nationalist ideology present in the three factions, one that has led to hate crimes against ethnic minorities and gypsies.
Spec: Europe; Bosnia; Media; Military; History; Violence; Genocide; Serbia
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Chris Hedges
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 12, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111202NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: My Life and an Era
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: History has been one of the driving passions of John Hope Franklin's life. Franklin has received more than 100 honorary degrees, written many books and articles, and he's currently professor of history emeritus at Duke University. Earlier this year, President Clinton appointed him chair of the Advisory Board on the President's Initiative on Race.

But his most recent foray into the past is a much more personal one. He and his son, John Whittington Franklin, have just edited his father's memoirs, "My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin."

The story of Buck Franklin's life is the little-known story of blacks in the Indian territories of the Southwest in the late 1800s. He was born in 1879 in the area that eventually became the State of Oklahoma. Buck Franklin's father was a black cowboy and a successful rancher. Buck was a good student who went to college in Nashville. He later studied law by mail and became an attorney in Tulsa.

Buck Franklin's son and grandson are with me today to discuss his life. I asked John Hope Franklin how many blacks were living in that part of the Indian territories when his father was growing up there.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN, SON OF BUCK COLBERT FRANKLIN, CO-EDITOR, "BUCK COLBERT FRANKLIN: MY LIFE AND AN ERA," AUTHOR, "FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM: A HISTORY OF NEGRO AMERICANS," CHAIRMAN, ADVISORY BOARD, PRESIDENTS INITIATIVE ON RACE": Well, not too many. I think the population was perhaps 5 percent or something like that. And you see fairly large numbers of African-Americans had come over in the so-called "trail of tears" -- the removal of the Indians and all -- everyone with Indians, to the Indian territory to make way for the "cotton kingdom" -- that is, the area of Alabama and Georgia and Louisiana that came to be the center of cotton culture in the early part of the 19th century.

So that the -- some blacks, it's not terribly well-known, although there have been books written on the subject -- some blacks were slaves to Indians and they were removed; and some were married to Indians or had some other kind of attachment, relationship with Indians, and we represent both sides of that.

That is, we had slavery in our family -- slaves to Indians -- and we had free blacks who were associated with Indians in some way -- married into the Indian family and so forth. For example, my maternal -- my paternal grandmother was free. Her people had been free. She belonged to the Choctaw nation and was a part of the group that -- her people were part of the group that came over from the Choctaw nation into the Indian territory.

My father, on the other hand, was the son of a man who was a slave to Indians, the Zabrinas (ph), and they were a part of the Chickasaw nation and they came over at about the same time.

And then my grandfather met my grandmother, and the rest is us.

MOSS-COANE: Mm-hmm. Well, looking at this part of American history and looking at the territories here, out in Oklahoma. How did the Indians and the, I guess, former slaves get along together? How did they coexist together?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: As a matter of fact, their coexistence was very, very normal. The -- the slave system in the Indian community was not rigid. It was not a great for-profit system the way it was in the plantation area of the United States. They were more or less associated together. The relationship was a cordial one. And they worked very well together.

MOSS-COANE: What was the effect of statehood, then, on your father and other blacks living in this Oklahoma Territory?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Well of course by this time, the black population had increased somewhat. I guess by this time it's moving up toward 10 percent. For blacks, rushing -- coming into this area, we're talking now about the 1890s and the first decade of the new century -- blacks are coming in this area because it seems to be an area of opportunity. And so, the numbers -- the numbers will increase from let's say 1890 at the time of the opening up of the territory, down to 1907, the year that Oklahoma became a state.

And by that time, though, the whites in the State of Oklahoma or the Territory of Oklahoma were convinced that what was going on back in the old Confederacy was good enough for them, and they wanted to have the same kind of restriction, separation and so forth, only perhaps more so.

So that the constitution that was written in 1907 at the state constitutional convention immediately prior to Oklahoma's becoming a state was more rigid, more segregated, more extreme than perhaps any constitution that had been written in the past 15 or 20 years before that in the Confederate South.

MOSS-COANE: You were born in 1915, and I believe at that time your family was living in a town called Rentiesville (ph).

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Yes, a very small village, very small; all black, by the way.

MOSS-COANE: What did your parents tell you about race? What -- in what way do you think they tried to prepare you for a world that looked down on black Americans?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: They always taught us that we were as good as anybody else. Race from their point of view meant nothing. It certainly didn't endow people with any special gifts, talents, or anything else; that race was from their point of view, the distinction that you can make between people are of one color and the people who are of another color. And we grew up -- we grew up really thinking that, believing it.

And I must say that in the segregated schools, those views were reinforced by our teachers and by our principals.

MOSS-COANE: How much contact did you have with white people growing up?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Well in -- in Rentiesville I had almost no contact. The first humiliation I had was when -- going from the village of Rentiesville to the small town of Chicota (ph) where we shopped, on the train, five miles.

But we sat -- my mother and my sister and I -- sat in the wrong coach, and the conductor insisted we couldn't sit there, and my mother said "well, you know, the train was moving, I couldn't move my children." And he stopped the train, we thought in order to move us, but he put us off. And we were -- that was out in the woods. That was a kind of contact we had.

We had a little contact when we'd get to the town of Chicota and do shopping in the stores there. They're not -- weren't dramatic big department stores, but the stores where we got our supplies and our clothing and so forth. We'd go to the county seat, Yufalla (ph), which was 10 or 12 miles farther south, and I'd have contacts with whites there.

When we moved to Rentiesville when I was 10 year -- I mean, when we moved from Rentiesville to Tulsa when I was 10 years old, my contact with whites was greater, although Tulsa was an absolutely completely segregated city. But I went to court with my father and I was introduced to judges and the sheriff and the county clerks, that sort of thing. And they were all white, of course.

MOSS-COANE: Mm-hmm.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: And I had some contact with them there.

MOSS-COANE: Well, there was a violent racial conflict in Tulsa -- this is in 1921, before your family actually moved there.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: My father was there.

MOSS-COANE: Your father was there. And -- what precipitated this conflict and how much devastation in Tulsa as a result of it?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: It was precipitated by the rumor -- I must call it "rumor" -- that a young black man on an elevator with a white elevator operator had made some kind of harassment of her. I don't know the extent of it.

Well, I mean, there wasn't any -- it turned out there wasn't any. But people's imagination ran away with the thing and there was -- the rumors were that she was assaulted by him; that she -- that all kinds of things happened on the elevator.

And when that got out, he was arrested and was put in jail. Then there were the rumors that he was going to be lynched. Then the blacks began to organize to prevent the lynching, and one thing led to another, and before the day was over, before the night was over, there was complete rioting, conflagration.

The blacks were rounded up -- black men were rounded up and put into detention -- places of detention. My father was put in the convention hall. He was there practicing law where they -- and we were to join him, indeed, that week because that was the first week of school being out in Rentiesville. But of course, we didn't get there, and we heard that there was a riot. We read the paper which came down to us from Muskogee, Oklahoma. There were no telephones, no radios of course, no means of communication.

And we learned that there was a riot and then we did not know for days upon days whether our father was living or dead.

MOSS-COANE: And his office was burned to the ground.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Everything was burned to the ground. There was first looting. Tulsa was a very prosperous -- black Tulsa was very prosperous, been referred to, you know, as "black Wall Street." It was very prosperous. There were blacks who had businesses and fine homes and so forth. First, they looted the area and then they bombed it and burned it flat to the ground.

In his biography -- in his autobiography, we have a picture of the results of the devastation and the conflagration. And there's only one building standing -- and that was the high school, and you could see it in the distance in the photograph.

MOSS-COANE: We'll talk more about the life of Buck Colbert Franklin with his son John Hope Franklin and grandson John Whittington Franklin after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Let's get back to our conversation with John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin, talking about their father and grandfather Buck Colbert Franklin.

John Whittington Franklin, when you hear of your own grandfather's story and I know that you were quite young when he died, but do you understand your grandfather any more? Or do you understand this period of history any differently because he lived through it?

JOHN WHITTINGTON FRANKLIN, CO-EDITOR, "BUCK COLBERT FRANKLIN: MY LIFE AND AN ERA": Oh, most definitely. The African-American voices I was more familiar with were either from earlier periods than my grandfather's life -- slave narratives, the era closer to the Civil War, and then more recent periods -- really, sort of the 1920s on. This was a void in my knowledge and not only a void in my knowledge, but I wasn't familiar with what was happening with African-Americans in the Southwest during this time-period.

MOSS-COANE: Well, if I can put this to you, John Whittington Franklin, looking at all the natural resources in this region of the country, what role did petroleum play on some of the racial politics of that region?

JOHN WHITTINGTON FRANKLIN: Well, you see at the time when both American Indians and their African-American slaves and relatives were brought into the area, the area was viewed as environmentally poor. You realize that the five -- so-called "five civilized tribes" were coming from coastal and mountain areas, being brought into relatively desert dry savanna area.

Then when petroleum is discovered in the area, there is the rush to exploit those resources, and some of that land was occupied and owned by both American Indians and African-Americans. And there were -- there was the role of my grandfather in helping to defend the land interests of African-Americans and the American Indian during that very contentious period.

MOSS-COANE: John Hope Franklin, getting back to your father's own story, I want to read just a couple of lines that he wrote, and this is really under a chapter he calls "The World Today and My Beliefs," and he writes:

"While the Negro must ever remain alert and jealous of his God-given rights won in the courts, he must be patient, frugal and industrious. He must always seek to improve himself in education, cleanliness and manners. He should never watch the time clock, for a little extra overtime has its way of giving him added insurance when needed. If he has hatred, he must rid of it and never resort to violence or bloodshed as a means of getting even."

For you, John Hope Franklin, were these the kinds of words that your family lived by that he tried to impart to you?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Yes. He of course felt it was futile and sort of crazy for anyone to resort to armed struggle, so to speak, for he was absolutely certain that that struggle would be lost. And he felt that it was -- he also felt it was uncivilized and that the power -- that man's great gift was his mind; his capacity to reason.

And he felt that that was in the end the way in which we would solve any problems which we faced.

MOSS-COANE: You know, I'm thinking -- it's such a personal, intimate thing to edit someone's book. But to edit a father's book has got to be extremely intimate.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Yes, it's most intimate. I can't tell you how intimate it is, as a matter of fact. You see, I had this very warm and wonderful relationship with my father, and I was determined to do the best that I could in editing his own writing. But one of the things that was most moving was that as I read his lines, I heard his voice with such clarity and such directness that it was itself a moving experience.

And then I -- sometimes I would read the words over and over just to hear him, and he wrote in much the way that he spoke, so that it literally was a very moving and wonderful experience, it was as though there was some sort of resurrection, shall we say, and I was -- I was thoroughly taken in by it.

And when I did that, you see, that committed me more and more to just drive through right to the end. I had been busy those other times, but now there was no stopping me. I wanted to go on because I wanted to hear him some more and I worked with my son very, very assiduously for the last two years.

MOSS-COANE: John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin edited their father's and grandfather's memoir, My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: John Hope Franklin; John Whittington Franklin
High: Historian John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin, son and grandson of Buck Colbert Franklin. The two have co-edited his autobiography, "My Life and an Era." Buck Colbert Franklin grew up on the frontier when Oklahoma was a new state, tri-racial in composition. He then went on to start a law practice in Tulsa. His son, John Hope Franklin, wrote "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans," and serves as the chairman of the Advisory Board on the President's Initiative on Race.
Spec: History; States; Oklahoma; Books; Authors; John Hope Franklin; John Whittington Franklin
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: My Life and an Era
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 12, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111203NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Homicide and Law & Order
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: Tonight on NBC, "Law and Order" presents the beginning of a murder story that will be continued on this Friday's edition of another NBC crime series, "Homicide: Life on the Street."

These two shows combined forces once before, but according to TV critic David Bianculli, they're part of another TV stunt that's unprecedented.

DAVID BIANCULLI, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Two seasons ago, NBC pulled a stunt in which a case that began on Law and Order continued on Homicide: Life on the Street, with a few cast members from each show guest-starring on the other.

That happens again tonight in a story involving a death that took place in New York, the setting of Law and Order, but due to injuries that were inflicted weeks before in Baltimore, the home turf of Homicide. So mid-way through tonight's Law and Order, we have two of Baltimore's finest showing up to deliver information on the murder case and to make their claim on bringing the suspected killer back to Baltimore.

One of the visiting detectives is Muench (ph), played by Richard Belzer. One of the New York detectives is Briscoe (ph), played by Jerry Ohrbach (ph), who makes the necessary introductions to his colleagues.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, SCENE FROM TV SERIES "LAW AND ORDER")

SOUNDBITE OF KNOCK ON DOOR

ACTRESS: Yes?

JERRY OHRBACH, ACTOR, AS DETECTIVE BRISCOE: John. Lieutenant, I'm Detective John Muench, Baltimore homicide, you worked that subway bombing two years ago?

RICHARD BELZER, ACTOR, AS DETECTIVE JOHN MUENCH: Detective Paul Fazon.

ACTRESS: Pleasure.

ACTOR: Greg Curtis.

BELZER: You're the one with the kids? How's it going Ray?

OHRBACH: Good, good. What are you guys doing up here?

BELZER: I'm looking for a good piece of (Unintelligible), can't find any in Baltimore.

ACTRESS: Well, before you all slip into a hot tub together...

OHRBACH: They're not jumping on our case.

BELZER: The injuries to young Bringy Janoway (ph) that caused her death occurred in our town on our watch.

ACTRESS: Well, that's a theory you're here to explore, detective. Make him feel at home.

BELZER: Can you take a minute?

OHRBACH: Carnegie Deli OK?

BIANCULLI: The murder case is not only told on both series, featuring members of both casts, but each episode has been crafted in a style consistent with that series. On Law and Order, it's no-nonsense, straight-ahead police work and legal arguments. On Homicide, it's more stylized, and even makes room for a musical climax featuring Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home."

Best of all, the surprise ending of Homicide makes the entire two-parter a much richer and more impressive mystery, and does credit to both shows.

Don't miss it.

And make sure not to miss this Sunday's episode of "The X-Files" on Fox, because that's where the unprecedented TV history comes in. It's a flashback episode set in 1989 that shows David Duchovny as FBI agent Fox Mulder (ph) before he was assigned to the paranormal-obsessed X-files.

It also shows how those three paranoid lone gunmen, the computer hackers that show up on the X-Files every once in a while with their weird conspiracy theories, happened to team up in the first place. And it has one of them interrogated by a detective throughout this episode.

The amazing thing is, the flashback takes place in Baltimore and the detective in question is none other than Richard Belzer's character, Muench.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE X-FILES")

SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLANGING SHUT

BELZER AS MUENCH: Detective Muench, Baltimore Homicide.

ACTOR: Did they find her?

BELZER: And a good evening to you. Sorry, no sign of your mystery lady.

ACTOR: She is real. The FBI agent saw her.

BELZER: Yeah, well, Special Agent Mulder is currently being held under five-point restraints and jabbering like a monkey. And the FBI's not talking either. So what I'm looking at here is a warehouse break-in with nothing stolen; a shoot-out, but no guns; lots of blood, but no bodies. And an FBI agent wants to take off all his clothes and talk about space aliens.

BIANCULLI: So in the same week, Belzer appears as the same TV character on three different series -- Law and Order tonight, Homicide on Friday, and on a different network entirely, The X-Files on Sunday.

So far as I know, that's never happened before. And the fact that all three shows are wonderful makes it an especially impressive hat trick.

MOSS-COANE: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Dateline: David Bianculli, New York; Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: David Bianculli previews tonight's episode of "Law & Order" which teams up the lawyers with the detectives on "Homicide." The story will be wrapped up on Homicide Friday night.
Spec: Media; Television; Cities; Baltimore; Homicide; Law & Order
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Homicide and Law & Order
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue