PHIT is proud to announce the publication of Voice Lessons, a major memoir of one of Austin’s own legendary activists. Alice Embree is indeed a Texas legend. When I arrived in Austin in the mid-1970s, tall Texas tales were already being told of her free speech battles with Frank Erwin, the rather misogynist chairman of the UT Board of Regents.
In her memoir, Alice still seethes over Erwin’s sneer about “that Embree girl.” She still seethes over the demeaning, the belittling, tone that male figures of authority routinely used to put women in their place. “That Embree Girl.” We Texans all know that Erwin’s quote was probably considerably cleaned up before it was passed on to the public.
Well…PHIT is also proud to report that the Frank Erwin Center is being torn down. And Alice Embree is making a victory tour with her new book.
Voice Lessons is a memoir, a work of art, as well as an historical document.
Some other reviewers have said that they are glad that Alice Embree found her voice. They are sort of missing the point. It is rather obvious from the memoir that Alice Embree always had a voice. We all have a voice. The Voice Lessons are a story of how to make that voice heard, how to make that voice effective and how to make that voice to “be of use” in the world.
All the years that I have known Alice Embree, she has preached about participatory democracy. She preaches it and she practices it. She has spent long years in the trenches. In the early and mid-60s, Alice protested segregation in numerous Texas venues. She protested against the Vietnam War at LBJ’s home. She helped start the RAG, the underground newspaper. (If you haven’t seen the PHIT Documentary on the RAG, be sure to visit the documentary page on this website or https://peopleshistoryintexas.org/documentaries/the-rag-austin-underground-press-1966-1977/).
When writing this review, so soon after reading Forget the Alamo, I am tempted to treat this book as the beginning of a new Texas myth, and to treat that merry band of resistance fighters that she writes about as the new Pantheon. And one of those elements in that folk-tale would be the Saga of ’68.
For those of you who know their history, they will remember that 1968 was a big year in New Left history. Alice was present at all the stations of the cross. She was at the Columbia University Strike. At the time, she was living in NYC, researching for NACLA and helping out at the RAT, that NYC underground knockoff of the RAG. She was at the Chicago Democratic Convention. She was at Woodstock.
When Robin Morgan published Sisterhood is Powerful, the first comprehensive collection of writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement, Alice Embree contributed an essay.
She is a indeed a legend, but when most activists eventually settle down, Alice Embree continued actively participating in democracy. That is the point of the concept of participatory democracy—to participate. Read the book and see how she pulled it off
Oral histories and biographies of those folks who weren’t elected to office or who weren’t heads of major corporations are essential to the understanding of our history and how we got here. Your voice counts. Voice Lessons is for all of us. We all need to find our voice and make it heard, make it useful. So read this book. Read this road map of one person’s journey as they learn to put their voice to good use.
Full disclosure. Alice Embree gives PHIT a shout out for our efforts at publicizing women’s history and for our documentaries on the Rag and the Standins. I honestly believe that this memoir will become standard for all students, young and old, who read about social change in America. And we thank Alice for including our efforts in her memoir. So all those future generations will look for our documentaries and oral histories. So buy the book. And watch the PHIT documentaries.