- Interview with Suzy Post
Suzy Post (born 1933) is an icon of the modern civil rights struggle. The former president of the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union (KCLU), Post is the only surviving plaintiff of the historic lawsuit that resulted in the 1975 busing plan to desegregate the Jefferson County and Louisville public school systems. The mother of five school-aged children at the time, Post was the only white parent who signed on to this legal challenge, and she helped monitor the implementation of the court's ruling when she served as program director for the Louisville–Jefferson County Human Relations Commission. For nearly half a century, Post has been a tireless and outspoken advocate for civil, women's, and LGBT rights, fair housing, and other social justice issues.
I first met Post in the fall of 2004, when I helped to launch the Long Civil Rights Movement oral history project through the Southern Oral History Program as a visiting scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After a four-hour interview at her Louisville home, Post invited me to be her guest at the annual dinner of the Kentucky Alliance, a coalition of grassroots political organizations working on a variety of social justice campaigns in Louisville. It was there that I met Anne Braden, the legendary civil rights activist who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mentioned by name in his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail," and who, along with her husband and several others, was tried for sedition (the charges were later dropped) in the now infamous 1954 trial during the height of Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist campaign. The Braden sedition trial was an important [End Page 145] catalyst for Post's early political activism, and she worked closely with the radical couple in the trenches of Louisville's civil rights movement from the mid-1960s until Anne Braden's death in 2006.
In this wide-ranging interview—which showcases Post's radical spirit as well as our warm friendship—we discuss the influence of World War II–era newsreels of the Holocaust; the role of gender, ethnicity, and race in shaping her political conscience; her family, early activism, and central involvement in the Louisville school desegregation battle; her collaboration with Anne Braden; the "problem" of historical memory; the importance of history to radicals and other minorities; the challenge of Barack Obama's presidential campaign; and the danger of growing inequality in the United States.
Timothy Patrick McCarthy [TPM]: I have written down thirteen questions, but you know us, we may not stick to the script. We have the best of intentions, though.
Suzy Post [SP]: That's right.
TPM: My first question actually starts where we began last time [in fall 2004]. One of the things I remember from our interview many years ago now was that you spoke very eloquently about the old films you used to watch as a child in the theater. You said that you remembered how those movies of World War II—particularly the representations of the Holocaust—had a really profound impact on your social conscience as a child. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that again: How and why do you feel those movies about the Holocaust shaped you?
SP: Sure, because they played a significant role in my development. They weren't movies. They were newsreels.
TPM: OK, OK.
SP: In the 1940s, at the end of the Second World War, 1945–46, I would have been 12 or so. I guess I was about 12. Every weekend, every Saturday, I would go to the movies and shepherd my baby brother and sister. We'd go to a neighborhood movie, and we'd pay ten cents. We'd sit there in the dark [End Page 146] in our seats, and we'd see previews, we'd see a cartoon, we'd see a serial, and we'd see newsreels, along with one or two movies. It was the newsreels that burnt a place in my brain. I mean, they were newsreels about the opening of Auschwitz, Buchanwald, and the camps. And I'm sitting there in the dark...