Oral History Spotlight: “Rebels with a Cause” In the Archives
In this series, we spotlight oral histories from our collection. The Mill Valley Oral History Program is an ongoing collaboration between the Mill Valley Historical Society and the Mill Valley Public Library. We gather the stories and opinions of individuals from the community and preserve them for posterity. You can explore this collection of over 250 interviews by visiting us in the History Room at the Library. A growing number of interviews is also available online.
“You don’t do these things individually. You only do them with the help of the community and the help of people there who care enough to keep themselves informed and up to date and watchful of the heritage that exists there, making sure somebody doesn’t run off with it and build
a skyscraper on it.” – Huey Johnson
In honor of this month’s First Wednesday program sponsored by the Mill Valley Historical Society and Mill Valley Public Library, we are celebrating the work of a myriad of environmentalists and everyday heroes who stepped up to protect open spaces here in Marin and across the country. Beginning in the 1950s, Marin was home to a series of grassroots battles over land led by ordinary citizens in response to encroaching pressure from developers and other interests, which helped to spark a national land conservation movement that secured countless public lands – including fourteen National Seashores - and inspired decades of grassroots activism. Mill Valleyans such as storied environmentalist Huey Johnson, lawyer Doug Ferguson, and physician Martin Griffin played a significant role in building local resistance movements to proposed developments, sparking the nation-wide movement to protect open spaces, farmlands, and coastlines. This story is featured in the award-winning documentary Rebels With a Cause, screening at the Mill Valley Public Library on Tuesday, March 3, at 7pm. In his oral history, Ferguson recalls a conversation he had with the filmmakers, Kenji Yamamoto and Nancy Kelly about the film’s concept which eloquently expresses the spirit of the movement: “The hook is, ‘This film is going to tell people to save the stuff they love.’ And how to do it. Most people would say, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ You don’t have to know how to do it, just do it. Just go out and save it. You’ll find a way. You’ll make the way. So this film is about people who do that, and that’s what this whole thing about the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is: a bunch of people, I was only one of them, but there’s a bunch of them who care so much. They can’t be stopped. And they don’t worry about the money. They don’t worry about politics. They just say, ‘We’re going to make this happen,’ and so it happens. At least in my limited lifetime, it has happened so many times that I’m still enthusiastic.”
Want to find out more about this pivotal period in Marin’s history? Did you know that you can find the oral histories of Huey Johnson, Doug Ferguson, and Dr. Martin Griffin, as well as other local environmentalists, in the Lucretia Little History Room and online? You can hear Huey Johnson recount his love for Mill Valley and his prodigious career in environmental advocacy in local, regional, national, and international projects and leadership positions. You can also listen to one of Doug Ferguson’s colorful stories about his work on the Marincello and Slide Ranch conservation efforts, or hear physician and author Martin Griffin recall the first moment he laid eyes on Bolinas Lagoon from the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, igniting a lifetime of environmental activism, including his efforts to save Richardson Bay, Bolinas Lagoon, Tomales Bay, and his battle to halt the coastal freeway from San Francisco to Sonoma. Curious about hearing from others who have been leaders and active participants in land conservation and environmental movements? The archives holds more voices and stories about land conservation and environmental advocacy in Mill Valley, including artists such as filmmaker Gary Yost, local legends such as Elizabeth Cooper Terwilliger who was responsible for introducing generations of Mill Valleyans to local ecology, and open space activist and lawyer Martin Rosen, who worked alongside Johnson and Dough Ferguson. Whether you are seeking context or perspective on the legacy of Mill Valley’s environmental activism, or simply some inspiration for the continued environmental battles we face, the oral history program is a wonderful resource available for the community.
Want to hear from some of these local activists in person? Have you registered yet for our special First Wednesday event with Johnson, Ferguson, and Griffin on Wednesday, March 4? If not, there’s still time! Please visit the Mill Valley Public Library website for details and registration.