“Failure To Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss: A Memoir” by Emily L. Quint Freeman— Finding True Self

Freeman, Emily L. Quint. “Failure To Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss: A Memoir”, Blue Beacon Books by Regal Crest , 2020.

Finding True Self

Amos Lassen

Emily Freeman’s “Failure to Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss”  is the story of “a lesbian of conscience who became a fugitive, on the run for over nineteen years using several identities.”

Those of us who lived through the period that Freeman writes about remember it as quite a time in history; a time when those of us on the college campuses really cared about what was happening in the world. Many of us were not just students but activists as well. It was a time when we could not openly be who we were yet there were those of us who dared do so even if it meant separation from family and society.  Freeman and myself experienced the same backdrops—, the assassination of a President, civil rights battles, the war in Vietnam, the Nixon and Reagan administrations (I was out of the country), the coming of the women’s and gay liberation movements and the AIDS epidemic. We need to be reminded of these events as we think about this country today.

This is a memoir about finding self and identity at a time when it was extremely difficult to do so. Freeman shares her story with a sense of immediacy and vulnerability that I had almost forgotten. Parts of the memoir are written by the name she used at the time and this is a story of survival because of the need to survive so that others would never have to go through what we all had to deal with.

Freeman was an idealist back then and she had to face rejection from her family, lost idealism, life underground and the reality of renewal. As a college student, she was a peace activist and fighter for social justice. Her journey was the kind we read of but never really knew anyone involved. It was not a short journey but one that lasted almost two decades.

She grew up as Linda J. Quint in 1950s Los Angeles, but by 1965 when she was a sophomore at Berkeley and becoming radical. Along with others from her generation, she was dealing with what she saw as the wrongs— especially civil rights and the Vietnam War.” Just those two issues would have been enough to upset her parents but Quint also shared that she was in love with another girl and the result of this was that her father stop assuming financial responsibility for his daughter. After she graduated from Berkeley, she vanished and reappeared as a member of Chicago’s activist left. She helped destroy 50,000 selective service records and was soon on the run with a new ID (Margaret Wilzbach). She hid out in places like Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama and became increasingly  feeling increasingly disillusioned with “the Revolution.” She then became Judith Jablonski and found sanctuary in Atlanta. It was also in Atlanta that she found a lover. Eventually she became Alexa Emily Freeman and got to San Francisco, where the work of liberation was just beginning. It took several identities, several cities and two decades for Freeman to become “a soldier for the cause of freedom–a cause that itself wore many guises” just as she had done. 

Freeman stuck it out, Unlike her I fled this country looking for the freedom I sought in the quickly growing nation of Israel, having had enough of the apathy of the American people. Freeman, on the other hand, has come to represent the tumultuous years of coming of age in the 60s and dealing with the many problems that America was facing. Her story is indeed made up of notes from the underground and if we think about what that means, it is quite shocking. Citizens of the greatest democracy in the world were forced to live underground so that the democratic ideals could be preserved. Identity became fluid and ever-changing and individual pasts disappeared; living in safe houses became a way of life.

Politics and individuality merged and the Freeman that we meet here is one who dared to revolt. We gain a look at the person and the times; of a subculture that we have not seen the likes of again. Freeman devoted everything to the cause and she was changed and shaped by it. We, too, were changed by it.

I must admit that I wept through parts of the book. The idea of a brave soul who really believed in what she was doing emerges as heroic. She had been sentenced to prison for her part in a non-violent protest against the Vietnam war not to forget that she had been rejected by her parents, who refused to acknowledge her sexuality when she came out to them as a lesbian. I cannot help but admire her resilience as she fought to survive and be who she was.  

There is humor here as well but there is a lot of heartbreak and emotion. How lucky as we to have this story! The prose is well-written story an is reflective and deep and above all totally compelling.  Freeman survived and has been able to build a successful life for herself on the surface but she has the scars of those years of being lost.   Freeman gives us an amazing look at identity, sexuality, loss and underground life that I will not forget.


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