Michael Delacour has been the human face of People’s Park since April 1969. He was one of several who conceived of it and built it, he fought the University and Governor Reagan to save it, he has nurtured it, he believes in it.
He personifies the values and vision of Berkeley of a certain time.
What follows is a sketch of his life up to 1969 when he stepped onto the stage.
I wouldn’t have figured Delacour to be into his family genealogy, but he is.
Smith came to the United States from England in 1871. He was Professor of Art Education in the Massachusetts Normal School of Art, Massachusetts State Director of Art Education, and the Director of Drawing for the City of Boston, providing art instruction and supervision to classroom teachers.
He wrote a series of books on art education, instructional works for teachers, and a drawing book for students of public schools and art schools.
Delacour speaks with pride of having in the last year gone to see his maternal family roots in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
James Albert McFetridge moved to Baraboo in 1875 and bought the Island Woolen Mill.
A fire in 1963 destroyed all but the administrative office building of the mill. It is now the Sauk County History Center.
This is the McFetridge mansion. Not bad!
James Albert McFetridge died in 1893 and his sons, Will Henry McFetridge and Edward Parker McFetridge, took over management of the woolen mill.
William McFetridge’s involvement in the day-to-day mill operations was minimal. He became involved in the McFetridge Lighting Company, interior building design and landscaping, and west coast sales. He dabbled in park-building.
McFetridge was a leading force on the committee that created the Devil’s Lake Park in Baraboo. In 1906 the committee published a pamphlet describing their hope for the park.
McFetridge wrote the chapter on plants.
Matt Colwin wrote this about the committee on November 16, 2008: “The park committee could see where America’s consumerist principles were leading and understood the necessity of reverting to an environmentally conscious approach to nature before it was too late. The committee’s plan was aimed at the removal of the hotels, as well as the timber and quartzite industries, in order to create a park at Devil’s Lake which could promote the area’s natural beauty.”
Deja vu? Delacour comes by his pro-environmental, anti-commercialization park-founding ways honestly.
Will Henry McFetridge married Blanche Budd. They had four children, one of whom was Jean Budd, born in Baraboo on June 11, 1910. She was the mother of Michael Delacour.
Delacour was born in 1938, the oldest of what would be five children. His father was a self-taught electronics technician. When Delacour was in 7th grade, his father asked if he wanted to go to New Mexico with him. Delacour went along and moved with his father from military base to military base doing civilian electronics work – Topeka, Spokane, and Santa Maria.
They ended up back with the family in Mission Beach. It is possible that as a 13-year-old Delacour drove his father’s car back to California.
At his suburban upper-middle-class high school In Mission Beach, Delacour had working-class skills. He had a girlfriend named Leslie.
This photo shows Leslie many years later on the right of their daughter Vanessa.
When he was 16, Delacour had a girlfriend named Leslie who was pregnant. She became his wife named Leslie.
School had not come easily to Delacour. He didn’t learn to read functionally until he was 19. The principal whipped him. He spent his time in the back of the classroom, operating the projector when it was needed.
In 1956 he went to work for Convair, an aircraft manufacturing company owned by General Dynamics which expanded into rockets and spacecraft. He was a blue-collar electronics worker.
He worked on the F-106 fuel system and then the Atlas missile at Point Loma. Convair built the Atlas to be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was a liquid propellant rocket burning liquid oxygen and RP-1 fuel in three engines configured in an unusual “stage-and-a-half” or “Parallel Staging” design. He provided a good living for his family. They lived in Santee, a San Diego suburb.
Mary’s Donuts may well have been the most interesting thing in Santee.
After eight years at Convair, Delacour took stock. Leslie and his three children were in Oklahoma where Leslie was living with another man. His eight years of seniority at Convair would not let him survive a seniority-based reduction in force. He was behind on child support and overwhelmed.
He quit Convair on April 3, 1964, and took off for a year to Europe.
For a year he bummed around Europe with a Eurail Pass. When he returned to the United States, it was to Berkeley, not the suburbs. He wanted a community and freedom and progressive politics. He found all three in Berkeley.
In 1966, Jamie Huberman introduced Delacour to Liane Chu. Huberman and Chu met as Sproul Hall arrestees in 1964.
Chu and Delacour moved in together.
In 1966, Delacour and Chu opened the Red Square Dress Shop at 2507 Dwight. The rent was cheap – $135 a month.
The name “Red Square” had obvious political connotations. The irony is – the pro-Soviet suggestion of the name quickly became So Decades Ago in Berkeley, with dogmatic leftists gravitating towards either Trotsky or Mao, but definitely not Stalin. Delacour and Chu chose it for the general left-wing connotation.
” I really loved the elaborate embroidered clothing from the Carpathians, which influenced some of my later decorative work.”
The reverse of the banner – a clenched fist! Chu reflects on the fist: “It used to be a tannish fist appliquéd on a red background. I can see it became quite faded over the 3 years it hung. Funny, seeing it today, it offends me that I cut it off at the wrist. With more arm showing, it would have looked less truncated and more suggestive of rising up.”
Chu and Delacour made clothes and worked the store. They lived in the back of the shop. Delacour says that Chu taught him to sew. He was handy and picked it up. He remembers that they tried to make a dress a day.
Delcour was active in the Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley. Movement superstars like Jerry Rubin took a lot of the oxygen out of the VDC room, but Delacour was active enough to have the FBI take interest and start a file on him. In the Movement, that became a badge of honor – lower perhaps in the hierarchy of honor than being indicted for conspiracy or being named as an unindicted co-conspirator or being mentioned by Ronald Reagan (which Delacour was), but an honor.
In the fall of 1967, Chu and Delacour organized a trip to Washington to march on the Pentagon.
The September 1, 1967 Barb, reported that Chu and Delacour were planning a trip to the demonstration in Washington. They bought a bus and a group convened and each person chipped in around $40 and they headed across the country.
The bus broke down in Wheeling, West Virginia. As it was repaired, the group decided to paint it. The hippie element in the group wanted “make love not war” and other happy peaceful things. The politicos, including Chu, wanted some grit. They compromised – one side hippy, one side politico, back of the bus politico. Viva la revolucion! Delacour, who is reclined in the front of the photo, missed the bus painting because he was in the garage working with the mechanics.
The West Virginia mechanics were so taken with the group from Berkeley that they didn’t charge for their work. Big Love! Delacour doesn’t remember the painting of the bus.
In the fall quarter of 1968, four professors arranged for Eldridge Cleaver to give ten lectures at Cal. The professors were Edward Sampson (psychology), Jonas Langerb(psychology), Jan Dizard (sociology and American studies), and Troy Duster (sociology).
On September 9, 1968, a board acting under authority of the academic senate approved a course for the fall quarter entitled “Dehumanization and Regeneration in the American Social Order,” designated as Social Analysis 139X. Of 20 lectures during the quarter, 10 were to be given by Eldridge Cleaver, not a faculty member.
On September 20, the regents adopted resolutions: (1) “Effective immediately … no one may lecture … for more than one occasion during a given academic quarter on a campus in courses for University credit, unless he holds an appointment with the appropriate instructional title ….” (2) “If Social Analysis 139X cannot be restructured to satisfy the policy … prior to the commencement of instruction in the Fall Quarter … [it] shall not be offered for credit. …”
The University objected to Cleaver, “who does not have academic qualifications, carrying so large a part of the teaching 10 lectures out of 20.” Governor Reagan jumped in. “It’s true, what they’ve been saying about me all these years, I’m an anti-intellectual. I’m going to take apart the curriculum of this University by at least one course.”
Social Analysis 139X proceeded but the University refused to give credit for it. On October 22nd, Cleaver gave his third lecture and exhorted the students, “If you think this is worthwhile, then do your thing.” They did. With a crowd of perhaps 2500 outside, a smaller group sat in; 120 students were arrested.
Delacour was arrested during the Cleaver controversy on the second day of the protests when he took part in a sit-in in Moses Hall. He was arrested for disturbing the peace, malicious mischief, and trespass. Three other Movement heavies were arrested on felony charges in Moses Hall – Paul Glusman, Stew Albert, and Peter Camejo.
Delacour was sentenced to ten days at the Alameda County jail in Santa Rita and a $300 fine. He did his ten days in the isolation unit where he did not have to cut his hair.
During these years, Delacour was a member of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers. He worked in refineries and shipyards. He remained true to his blue-collar roots. He paid the rent.
His ex-wife Leslie and his three children (daughters Vanessa and Kathy shown with him in the photo above) left Oklahoma and came to Berkeley. He did the best he could with his children and Leslie. Nacio Jan Brown made these photos of the children:
In later years, his daughters and son David spent a lot of time on Telegraph Avenue as part of a group of young teens who called themselves the Red Rockets. Telegraph had temptations. It claimed victims.
In 1988, temptations learned on Telegraph claimed Delacour’s daughter Kathy.
She made this drawing. It is on Delacour’s wall.
Delacour continued his anti-war and Peace & Freedom Party work. He was active enough to have a growing FBI file.
Then there were the Provos, a loose-knit group named after Provo, a Dutch counterculture movement. Delacour was attracted to their fusion of radical politics and counterculture excesses.
Bill Miller, who owned the General Store on Telegraph, was an active Provo. He would later join Delacour in building People’s Park. The Provos sponsored happenings :on a sporadic basis.” They served free food and asked “all souls interested in contributing food” to step up.
The March 24, 1967 Barb headline read “Provo’s Sunny Silver Be-In,” and the article reported that the official name of the be-in was “The Reversal of Earth Silver Be-In.” As the Provos did their hippie thing in Provo Park, about 350 people “paraded slowly in front of the City Hall, vigiling against the war in Vietnam.”
They ran the the Nova Express Love Provo Free Bus.
It ran irregular service to San Francisco and one-off trips such as taking taking a bus-load to Canyon for a festival. “People sang, played with tambourines and recorders, talked to each other, laughed, sat on each others laps, cheered the bus uphill, talked of passing cars, shared cigarettes, and more.”
The Provos ran a free store at 2228 San Pablo Avenue, the current site of the Quince Café. The July 28, 1969 Barb reported that the store “needs food and mostly like money.” They were still serving soup, bread at pie at Provo Park every evening. The December 15th Barb told us that the daily soup moved indoors to the store due to cold, wet winds. The Provos also ran an “emergency crash pad” for the “temporarily roofless.” The store served as a mail pick-up place for those without a fixed address.
He lived and worked on Dwight, just west of a vacant lot where the University had demolished the existing houses with plans for dorms, for which there was neither funding not a demand.
The University let the vacant lot turn into a parking lot at best, a muddy, trash-ridden eyesore at worst.
In the summer of 1968, Delcour had seen supporters of Ecology Action and the nascent Peace and Freedom Party turn a vacant lot on the southwest corner of Dwight and Telegraph into a short-lived community-built park.
He had an idea.
On April 15, 1969, he invited a small group to a meeting at Red Square. Present were Wendy Schlesinger, John Angelo, Doug Bogen (later known as Doug Cooper), Paul Glusman (head of the one-man organization “Concerned Stalinists for Peace”), Stew Albert, and an “old carpenter” named Curtis Rosa. Jon Read, Mike Lyon, Art Goldberg, Frank Bardacke, William Crosby, “Big Bill” Miller, and “Super Joel” Tornabene joined the core committee that would build and defend the park.
Work to build a park began on April 20th.
By the time of building the Park, Delacour and Chu (on the right above) had broken up and Delacour was in a relationship with Wendy Schlesinger (on the left above).
During the days of building the Park, Delacour was a leader in a movement with no leaders.
He was charismatic, a gifted speaker,, and his good looks didn’t hurt. But mostly he just worked harder and longer than anyone. His example inspired and established his leadership. He had a blue-collar work ethic. He could fix things and he could make things work.
On the 25th day of the park’s life,May 15), the period of our innocence ended when the University fenced the Park off, tore out the plantings, and destroyed the hardscaping. Protests left one bystander dead, one bystander blinded, and dozens of bystanders wounded. some critically, giving the name “Bloody Thursday” to the date. Governor Reagan filled the park with young National Guardsmen with rifles and bayonets, crewcuts and olive drab uniforms, smoking cigarettes not weed, not happy but well aware that this duty sure beat the hot, humid, malarial mosquito and red ants and leech-infested, death-dealing jungles of southeast Asia.
Delacour did not let go of the Park. He never has. Arleigh Williams, the Dean of Students during the Free Speech Movement and People’s Park, said this of Delacour: “Michael Delacour has been the mischief-maker. ‘Mischief-maker,’ I’ve written down, ‘by a continuous perpetuation of the myth of People’s Park.’ I got a little bit serious by saying that. Yes, it’s true that the people who are down there are God’s children, but isn’t it time that some of them work more strenuously to help themselves rather than to expect to be taken care of? This is something that, I think, Delacour misses; when something comes up he’s the mischief-maker stirring it up.”
Forty-nine years have passed and the park is still here. The park today is, in my experience, nowhere near the horror of its public image, but I agree that the status quo leaves room for improvement. For those first 24 days in 1969, though, the park shone as a beacon of 1960s counterculture values, visions, and ideals. Michael Delacour infused it with his spirit in those days, and he has infused it with his spirit all these years.
Close your eyes and imagine the sounds of the building of the park in 1969 – the greeting of “Hey brother” or “Hey sister” and you felt welcomed, at home, part of something, home, included – the WHACK SPLAT of picks breaking up asphalt or hardpan dirt and the grunts of the men and women wielding the picks, laughter and the heartwarming shouts and cries and squeals of children playing, music live or radios and never just one song or one source at a time but several at once, free-form drum circles with hand drums – bongos of course and pitch-bending tumbadoras and – djembe, kpanlogo, dun dun drums, ngoma and itotele, and some days tablas and pakhawaj and damru and nahl and mrdanga and high-pitched hand cymbals and – obligatory – tambourines, flutes and recorders and digeridoos and harmonicas and guitars not necessarily in tune and anything that can be banged on to make noise – cowbells, cans, buckets, pipes – and a sitar once in a while OH NO and once or twice a hammer dulcimer.
Without Delacour, there would not have been a park. He followed a path and he has done and is doing what it seems has been his appointed life mission. From blue-collar roots in San Diego to the park- a long, strange trip.
I showed the post to my friend. He had a few photos in his hand.
“Things changed a lot in a few years, didn’t they?”
I said, “Probably they did, but I don’t know what you are talking about.”
He showed me the photos.
“It was 1964. The Free Speech Movement Singers. The radicals! Pretty clean-cut, no? Five years later it’s People’s Park and it’s not so clean-cut.”
Yes, true. I refer to the period as “the Big Changes.” We agree to get out our songbook and listen to the Free Speech Movement album again after dinner.
But first, I really want to know what he thinks about the post. His verdict?