As the twig is bent Children of famous '60s activists are coming of age

August 29, 1993|By Lena Williams | Lena Williams,New York Times News Service

It's 1993, more than two decades since the Black Panther Party, which disbanded in the 1970s, advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government; since a radical civil rights lawyer and his clients, known as the Chicago Seven, turned a courtroom into a theater of protest; since a Roman Catholic priest and nun were arrested and imprisoned for their anti-war/anti-nuclear activities.

It's 1993 and MTV has as its slogan "The music revolution will be televised." Fashion designers are creating $1,000 versions of hippie garb. Yippies, black militants and other radicals, once criminals who were wanted by the authorities and feared by the American mainstream, are now folk heroes, complete with their own autobiographies, lecture tours and film deals.

The 1960s are selling well. Even the drugs of that era, like LSD and marijuana, are enjoying a revival of sorts. Totems of the '60s are being thrown about with abandon, aimed as marketing tools at a generation that doesn't necessarily have the historical context to decipher the underlying slogans, imagery and politics.

Except, of course, the children of '60s revolutionaries such as Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver and Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister. These young people have a unique perspective on "The Revolution" and what it could or does mean to their generation. And they, like their activist parents, are speaking out.

Frida and Jerry Berrigan -- the offspring of Philip Berrigan and his wife, Elizabeth McAlister -- learned about politics at the knees of two of the most active protesters in the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. The Berrigans also have a younger daughter, Katy, 11.

Berrigan, a former Catholic priest, and Mrs. Berrigan, a former nun, gave up their religious vocations and were married in 1973. They did not, however, give up their causes, and they took their children along on demonstrations.

Frida Berrigan, 19, who with her brother has engaged in acts of civil disobedience since she was 7, this winter organized a student group at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., where she was a freshman, to lobby Congress and the United Nations for a non-violent, non-military solution to the crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Jerry Berrigan, 18, helped organize peaceful demonstrations at his high school in Baltimore to protest U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf war.

They both live at their parents' home in Baltimore, though it's more than just a home: It's a communal living space called Jonah House, which they share with one, sometimes two, other families.

Frida and Jerry Berrigan say their peers do not readily make the connection between their surnames and their parents. Rather, it is their peers' parents who ask: "Are you the son of . . . ? Are you the daughter of . . . ?"

Their parents' causes became their own, because, as Jerry Berrigan put it, "They just made sense."

Jerry: "I consider myself neither liberal, moderate or conservative. I'm a pacifist. Greed is the most destructive human trait to the country and to future generations."

Frida: "I have very strong religious beliefs. I believe in God. My parents left the church, but they didn't leave behind the tradition and that strong Catholic belief. Religion played a really large role at our house. When I decided to come to Hampshire, that worried me, because this place is totally secular and I thought I'd have to defend my beliefs."

Jerry: "It was always, 'This is our cause and this is what we believe in and why.' It always made sense. When I was younger, it was a real problem. It was a subject I avoided with my friends. As I moved on and my friendships deepened, I found it easier to accept and talk about."

Frida: "It's difficult when Mom's away. At least her being in jail now [last March] has stopped her from smoking, since they don't allow smoking in jail. This summer [of 1992], Dad was in jail, and it was a real bummer because he couldn't come up to college with me. But my parents always use their time in prison to catch up on their writing. I have letters that they've written me while in prison that I'll cherish for life."

The Cleavers

Joju and Maceo Cleaver are the daughter and son of Eldridge Cleaver, who was the minister of information for the Black Panther Party and who wrote "Soul on Ice" (McGraw-Hill, 1968), and his wife, Kathleen, who was communications secretary for the Panthers.

Joju Cleaver, 22, was in the vanguard of a student movement to diversify the curriculum at Sarah Lawrence College during the 1992-1993 school year. Maceo Cleaver, a Cornell University graduate whom his mother affectionately describes as "a black nationalist of the deepest dye," is working on a research project on the effects of environment and stress on black youths in Atlanta.

Joju and Maceo Cleaver's early life was spent on the run with their parents, who lived in self-imposed exile in Algeria and France. Since returning to the United States in 1975, the Cleavers have divorced.

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