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  1. '63 Boycott Post author

    Herb Mack was identified in this photo thanks to our research into the SNCC Archive at the Woodson Library, but it wasn’t long until one of his former students recognized him and gave us this description below. From Dr. Boria Sax, ’63 Boycotter and former student of Hyde Park High School:

    Herb Mack was a young teacher in Hyde Park High School, where I was a student. He had recently come back from a trip to Africa, where he had lived with a “stone age” (to use the terminology that was current then) tribe. He showed slides of it at the school International Relations Club (soon to become the Negro in History Club). He romanticized the tribesmen quite a bit, and he took the position that we should avoid exposing them to anything Western, even medicine, because any contact would undermine their way of life.

    He was a bit of an eccentric. When he first started work at the high school, he was immaculately dressed, as people were expected to be in that era, but then he would wear the same clothes for very long periods, and I believe he finally lost the job because of complaints about his appearance. About half a decade later, it seemed that dozens of boys were boasting about having been the first male in the United States to be kicked out of high school for having long hair. Of course, they couldn’t all have been the first, and I wonder if the first might really have been Herb Mack (a teacher, not a student, of course).

    We held a meeting of High School Friends of SNCC once at his apartment, and it was almost without furnishings. Since there were no chairs, everyone had to sit on the floor, but, actually, we were all used to doing that at meetings, usually because of lack of space.

    But when ever he talked about politics and society, Herb sounded eminently sensible. He was the only adult to attend meetings of High School Friends of SNCC over several years, and he was always the voice of reason. He didn’t talk a lot, but everybody listened very closely when he did. When passionate arguments started to break out, it was time for him to speak up, and then everybody immediately became calm.

    I remember just one occasion on which his even temper started to fray, and it was about a ridiculously silly thing. It was at the headquarters of a civil rights group, possibly even the boycott. He received a survey in the mail, and started to complain about how he didn’t like questionnaires, at while a female fellow-activist said that he should be more civil. He filled it out, but with a lot of curt, snarky answers, and, asked for further comments, wrote, “Your envelope is too small.”

    He might have been too odd to represent the boycott or any major organization publicly, but I suspect he had at least as much impact as any of the more visible leaders. He kept High School Friends of SNCC together, and it provided grassroots support, without which the boycott could never have been successful. Should we call him an “unsung hero”? Well, I am no longer so ready to divide people into heroes and villains, but it would be nice to see him get some credit.

    You can contact Dr. Sax at vogelgreif@aol.com and view some of his published works here.

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