Oral Histories

Interview of Sondra Hale

UCLA professor of anthropology, chair of gender studies, co-chair of Islamic studies, and co-director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies. Co-founder and co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies.
Women's Activist Lives
UCLA and University of California History
Social Movements
UCLA Faculty
Women's Issues
Biographical Note:
UCLA professor of anthropology, chair of gender studies, co-chair of Islamic studies, and co-director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies. Co-founder and co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies.
McKibben, Susan
Hale, Sondra
Persons Present:
Hale and McKibben.
Place Conducted:
Hale’s office at UCLA.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Susan McKibben; M.A. Education, UCLA; Ph.D. candidate Education, UCLA; Graduate Research Assistant, Center for the Study of Women, UCLA. McKibben is a former student of Dr. Hale. Hale prepared for the interview by reading Hale’s published work on her life, research and activism; newspaper articles on Hale’s involvement in the 1982 controversy surrounding Women’s Studies at California State University, Long Beach; and secondary sources (theses, oral history transcripts) and archival documents (meeting notes and university documents) about Women’s Studies and the University of California.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Hale was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
11.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
Women’s Activist Lives in Los Angeles is a series of interviews done by graduate research assistants under the auspices of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. The series addresses the diverse ways in which women’s social movement activities affected public policy and transformed civic institutions such as education, social services, and the art world in Los Angeles. Several of the oral histories also focus on individuals who were involved with the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, which the Center for the Study of Women was involved in bringing to UCLA Library Special Collections at the time the oral histories were being done.
Hale’s birth in Des Moines, Iowa - Custody case - Adoption by mother’s second husband –Hale’s adoptive father - Mother's progressive race politics, education, and work life - Encouraging Sondra to have Black friends in the 1940s - Wilke House (first activism) - Mother’s ambitions for Sondra - Drive to attend college - Mother’s early feminist teachings and mixed messages about gender and class - Athletic activities - High school - Dad’s death - Religion - Poverty and consequences - Passing as middle class - Upbringing to appreciate music, visual arts, & writing - Relationship with Jewish students and awareness of anti-Semitism - Ventriloquism and acting - Domestic violence at home - Birth of brother - Social life - Teachers’ discouragement of her college aspirations - Mother cashing in her college money - Applying to college - Graduating - Working in UCLA/ high school - Going to University of Omaha - Mother’s alcoholism - Resigning from sorority in protest of its admission policy - Ambitions upon entering college – UCLA - Winning a talent show - Working at May Company and in comedy - Political awareness as an undergraduate - Demonstration to commemorate Hiroshima - Learning about internment of Japanese Americans - Evolving political consciousness - Taking classes - Not yet raised feminist consciousness - Meeting future spouse Gerry Hale and his influence on her socialism and interest in Palestinian issues -Treatment of female students - Need for a “village” to raise consciousness - All-white literature curriculum - Influence of her Jewish friends - Theme of seeking further marginality - Mother’s legacy of desiring intellectualism - Engagement - May Company’s union-busting tactics - Deciding to go to Sudan - Family’s impression of Gerry - Sondra’s feelings about marriage - Wedding - Feminist ideas - Building an egalitarian marriage - Ways they were viewed socially as a couple.
Going to Sudan for Gerry's doctoral research in geography—Hale's preparation and learning about Sudanese society—Her initial impressions of Sudan—Hale's status in immediate post-colonial Sudan—Colonial mentality in Sudan and how it positioned her—Hale's growing understanding of colonialism and British racism—Developing community and social networks in Sudan—Teaches at Unity High School for Girls and lectures at the University of Khartoum—Hale’s unorthodox, egalitarian teaching methods—Sacked from Unity High School for Girls due to her methods—Students conduct a sit-in to protest Hale's resignation—Reflections on the British system of education and how it was reflected in Unity High School for Girls—Challenges of understanding nuances of Sudanese society—Some historical reflection on Sudan—Being in Sudan helps Hale understand colonialism and the depth and insidiousness of its impact on a colonized society—Examples of colonial and racist attitudes that Hale noticed—Reflections on Franz Fanon's characterization of colonialism—Meeting Communists for the first time, including Abdul Khaled Majou—Learning about different forms of Marxist and Communist thought and criticism of these models in developing countries—The progressive state of Sudanese society for women compared to the U.S. at the time— Hale reflects on learning her feminism in Sudan—Sudanese women's confidence compared to the low self esteem of women she saw in the U.S. at that time—Hale learns about female circumcision taking place in Sudan and the effect of this knowledge on her—The contradictions of Sudanese society—The social warmth of Sudanese society—Challenge of experiencing Sudanese social obligations—Strategic and tactical methods of Sudanese women activists—Seeing some Sudanese women try to break out of the mold of women's groups as an "auxiliary" to men's, Hale learns to critique that form of women's organizing in the U.S. as well and to distinguish between economic and social emancipation—Hale discusses differences between the feminism she learned in Sudan and the feminism she later observed in the U.S.—Differences between U.S. and Sudanese feminists' views of sexuality—Hale boycotts the Islamist government in Sudan decades later—Changes Hale observed in herself and the U.S. upon her return to Los Angeles after her trip in the mid-1970s—Begins to learn about U.S. feminism after initially rejecting it on Marxist grounds—Hale and Sudanese feminist leader Nahid Toubia debate feminism and Marxism.
Hale’s championship tennis in Sudan—Former tennis partner is now foreign minister of Egypt—Reasons Hale continues to be drawn to Sudan—Decision to pursue Master’s Degree in African Studies—Importance of African Studies during African nationalist movements and anti-apartheid movement—Excitement of political atmosphere during graduate studies in the 1960s—Differences between New Left movement and the cultural revolution (hippies)—Influence on Hale of White anti-apartheid South Africans such as Martin Legassick—Political thinking about revolutions on African continent— Gerry’s anxiety about her safety as an activist—Explores different Leftist and Communist groups—Encountering masculinist attitudes in Leftist/Communists groups—Hale’s State Department, FBI, and Sudanese government files— Appeal of direct action and action at the site of production—Hale’s reasons for staying in academia—Challenges of activism with ephemeral student groups—South Africa divestment campaign—Importance of doing their homework in support of the divestment campaign—Easier and politically safer to advocate for Black South Africans than African-Americans—Other New Left involvement and causes—Hale and others saw links among local and international issues—Participation in the grape boycott and its effect on her consciousness of Latinos—Involvement in African Activist Association and efforts to support Black Student Union—Co-founding the African Activist Association—Student power was relatively new in the 1960s and African Activist Association students were quite effective in their demands—Hale contemplates the reasons for differences in student power then and now—Co-founding Ufahamu--Importance of having dedicated space when organizing—Hale’s recollection of the shooting in Campbell Hall—Reflects on uses of violence in Leftist movements—Political struggles at Ufahamu regarding Black English—Gender bias in leadership of Ufahamu and other Leftist groups and its effect on Hale’s feminist consciousness—Renee Poussaint’s demand for recognition of her labor at Ufahamu—Radicals at the African Studies Association annual meeting in Montreal storm the podium and demand end to White dominance in the organization—Masculinism in Leftist organizations—Hale’s acceptance of the Marxist position that feminism distracted from the revolution—Emergence of Hale’s feminist consciousness and co-founding of the Socialist Feminist Network—Hale’s views of the relationship between academia and activism—Challenges Hale faced combining the two—Angela Davis’s firing by the University of California Regents—Anti-Briggs Amendment fight—Women’s recognition of disparities between lesbians and gay men in the movement—Hale recalls all the many categories of activism in the period of the 1960s—Process of learning to be an ally to women of color—Hale reflects on coalitions—Anthropology student activism—Anthropology students put Professor Michael Moerman on “trial” for working for the CIA in Thailand—Anthropology students shut down the department in a strike and conduct political education about the Vietnam War—Hale returns to Sudan for Ph.D. research—Activism during the Sudan trip—Hale and Gerry return to Sudan for two years beginning in 1973—Decision to adopt from Ethiopia/Eritrea—The Hales’ adoption of their daughters—Sudanese responses to the children—Professional consequences of adopting trans-racially and from Ethiopia/Eritrea.
Hale’s dissertation research in Sudan—Parenting transracially in Los Angeles—Joins a women’s group and begins to develop a feminist consciousness—Joins a feminist reading group—Feminist process in the group—Controversy in the group over Palestine and related splits in Women’s Studies—Socialist Feminist Network—Reproductive rights work and views—Taking her children to rallies and a women’s music concert—Teaching the first Women’s Studies class at California State University at Northridge—Differences between Women’s Studies at California State University campuses vs. UCLA—Gender disparities in women’s positions at different universities—Women of color in the Women’s Studies curriculum—Challenges to building coalitions between Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies.
Hale's activism against the Vietnam War—Search for a group that will address all the various issues of concern to her—Disappointment that her colleagues saw anti-Vietnam War activity as a white issue—Response to the killing of student protesters at Jackson State University and Kent State University—Hale's thinking about links among anti-Vietnam War, Civil Rights, student, and other movements—Governor Reagan sends National Guard onto UCLA campus in response to student protest—Striking against bombing of Cambodia—More on anthropology students' tribunal to "try" faculty member Michael Moerman—Students' power and the differences in views about who "owns" the university in the 1960s as compared to 2011—Challenges of student organizing—Resistance to Defense Department money in the University of California—Students get C.I.A. recruitment and R.O.T.C. off campus—Keeping records at Ufahamu for subsequent generations of student activists—Responses to shootings at Kent State and Jackson State Universities—Hale’s activism on Palestine—Teaches the first Women’s Studies class at California State University at Northridge in the early years of the field—Hale teaches at California Institute of the Arts—The Woman’s Building—Raising her children as feminists.