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Portrait of a Young Man as a Revolutionary

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Portrait of a Young Man as a Revolutionary

Wednesday, November 13, 1968

Traveling the midnight coach between San Diego and Los Angeles I bumped into one of the prominent revolutionaries of our time. Larry Magid is not only famous for having helped launched the Eldridge Cleaver course at Berkeley, he is a man about sit-ins, teach-ins, be-ins and jail.

The brigadier of student power was standing in the ticket line looking as tired as the rest of us, but a little more rumpled in checkered sport shirt, fatigue jacket and red armband (from the student strike of the previous day).

While he dresses in the sideburns and immaterial fabrics of change, he looked not at all ferocious. Cherub-faced and broad-waisted, Magid could play Buddy Hackett, never Che Guevara.

From the ticket line, we migrated to the snack bar line and began talking – nobody likes terminals on the bottom side of the clock. Magid was buying a roast beef sandwich, he explained; because he had been invited to speak at UC San Diego, not eat there.

UCSD revolutionaries had no budget for feeding dignitaries.

Then he took his Saran-wrapped supper to a pay phone and called a Los Angeles contact to ask for a ride from the airport after arrival. The operator was slow in placing the call. The flight was already boarding. No airline waits for undergraduate leaders. Magid, gentle in his voice, was a model of patience.

He had to postpone his sandwich for the plane. Between gulps he told me about his day.

In the afternoon he had been at UCLA to describe what the Cleaver course has accomplished and to raise bail money for imprisoned veterans of the Sproul sit-in. Although the students were now out of jail, a bond had to be repaid.

The UCLA students responded well enough to make the trip worthwhile. So Magid flew on to San Diego for the second pitch. A faculty member had promised that the UCSD students were organizing for his arrival.

Magid never saw the faculty member at all that night. His plane was met by a young man who promptly drove to Del Mar where a cadre of hill-dwelling radicals wanted to meet Magid before the speech. Then he was driven to another house to impress some more activists. No food or donations.

Finally, the driver started toward the campus. It was an open car. Magid, like any sensitive spirit in the San Diego damp, began to get the sniffles.

Less than one dozen students showed up to hear him. There was a campus showing of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” that night. There was also a student -faculty dialog, scheduled earlier. And there were mid-terms.

Magid claimed he appreciated the audience’s intelligence; still, there weren’t sufficient people to fund-raise. In fact, Magid didn’t collect enough money to pay the plane fare. He had missed sleep, classes, meals without accomplishing much for the movement.

He told it all as a joke upon himself. A young man who has tilted with the system learns to survive a certain amount of futility.

And now he was riding back to Los Angeles because, in the turmoil of the day, he had forgotten his briefcase somewhere on the UCLA campus. I asked whether there were any secret plans inside that would imperil the cause if discovered by adult hands.

No, he allowed, just propaganda materials urging support for full credit to the Cleaver course. When you’re fighting an educational war on adult territory, every button counts. He would spend the night with a Van Nuys relative and then go back to the battles.

Loyal Larry Magid, who loses briefcases and has the sniffles, could have grown up in your house.


Eldridge Cleaver and Larry Magid, November, 1968

Eldridge Cleaver and 21 year-old Larry Magid, November, 1968

From The Limits of Freedom by Julie A. Reuben. Published by University of California Press


From the Tuscaloosa News, Friday September 20, 1968