This week on From the Vault we pay tribute to social activist Frances Emley, who made Berkeley her home and Pacifica Radio--KPFA the media outlet for her work. Emley passed on December 1st, 2015 at the age of 84.
Perhaps an excerpt from a tribute piece posted on the independent online news site Berkeleyside best honors Emley:
"In the early 1970s, anti-war protesters at Stanford University inspired Frances to pick up a tape-recorder and craft her first radio news report for KPFA. She had no previous radio experience, but wanted people to hear alternative viewpoints in the news. Soon, she was splicing large reels of tape on her kitchen table, editing poignant interviews about farmworkers using the short hoe, Chilean victims of torture, American incarcerated youth, veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure and Native Americans trying to secure land rights.
Her programs, still archived at KPFA and Pacifica Radio, raised awareness about the plight of others suffering and the importance of speaking out. She loved a story of rebellion."
Pacifica Radio Archives honors Frances Emley by presenting one of those programs, El Cortito: The Short Hoe, which chronicles the legal battle to ban the use of the short hoe on farms in California. Produced in 1974, the program is a perfect example of Pacifica's concept of radio for the common good of the community: exposing the back-breaking working conditions in the fields that ensured food on American dinner plates. The manner in which the short hoe was used had horrible consequences to the farmworker: its effective use necessitated stooping in the fields (for up to 16 hours a day), which commonly resulted in chronic spine and lower back injuries.
Thanks to the space that Pacifica Radio provided, the work of Frances Emley was a crucial component in effecting a change in public policy: in 1975, the Supreme Court of California ruled that the short hoe was an "unsafe hand tool" and, therefore, banned under California state law.
From the Vault is presented as part of the Pacifica Radio Archives Preservation and Access Project, funded in part by an award from the GRAMMY Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives and Records Administration, and past grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and the American Archive funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, along with the generous support of Pacifica Radio Listeners. We also thank our partners and collaborators at the Pop-Up Archive, Amara, Other Minds Archives, George Blood Audio, and the California Audio Visual Preservation Project.