RIP Studs Terkel — 'Take it easy, but take it'

People who thought they were middle class began to accept middle-class values as their values. They accepted someone else’s ideas about what they are. In my book, you find steel workers and farmers out of work, but still liking Ronald Reagan. During the Depression, people who lived in shacks called them Hoovervilles, but I never heard anyone call them Reaganvilles.

—Studs Terkel, 1988 interview in The New York Times

Studs Terkel, a real champion of working-class Americans, died Friday at age 96. The writer and prolific interviewer was best known for chronicling the struggles of working Americans in books like Division Street: America.

Terkel was not afraid to stand up for his liberal causes, including civil rights (yes, one of those dastardly lefties who dared to demand equality for blacks and for all “average” working-class Americans). He had some interesting things to say in his final days.

“I’d ask Obama, do you plan to follow up on the program of the New Deal of FDR?” he told Edward Lifson at the Huffington Post in an article posted eight days before Terkel died. “I’d tell him, ‘don’t fool around on a few issues, such as health care. We’ve got bigger work to do! Read FDR’s second inaugural address!'”

Fellow Chicagoan Roger Ebert said:

Was he the greatest Chicagoan? I cannot think of another. For me, he represented the joyous, scrappy, liberal, generous, wise-cracking heart of this city.

Terkel also knew what it meant to defend and promote working class Americans, and paid a price for his convictions, getting blacklisted because of the atmosphere spawned by the future Gov. Sarah Palin, er, the past Senator Joe McCarthy, for daring to sign liberal petitions and standing firm for his political beliefs. In his work, he championed the rights of all Americans.

“Studs Terkel was part of a great Chicago literary tradition that stretched from Theodore Dreiser to Richard Wright to Nelson Algren to Mike Royko,” Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said in a statement (via Bloomberg.com).

And for all those mocking the Senator from Chicago for his tag-line of “hope,” here’s what Terkel had to say to Amy Goodman after his 95th birthday:

One of my books is Hope Dies Last. Without hope, forget it. It’s hope and thought …. That’s what it’s about. That’s what I hope I’m about.

As Studs Terkel said in his radio sign-offs on Chicago’s WFMT: “Take it easy, but take it.”

A complete aside: I know he wasn’t a sporswriter, but with his portrayal of Hugh Fullerton in the movie version of Eight Men Out, shouldn’t Studs have been an honorary permanent panelist on the Chicago classic “The Sportswriters on TV”?

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