Bill Bronston and Friends: Diana McCourt's Story
Produced by Dr. David Goode
Produced in 2005
Dr. David Goode: In 1965, you got Bobby Kennedy making a statement to the New York Times about a snake pit, right? You get '68, you get a local channel but nonetheless, public television. Then you get in the '69, '70 Jane Curtain publishing photographs and doing all kinds of exposé, but nothing's happening. You know, the place was still going and going. So what changed that made something happen, given that there were exposés going on?
Bill Bronston: History is made from below. History is made from little people rising up, not big people, you know, being upset and saying something [Inaudible].Talk
Diana McCourt: I just want to say that in the early days before Bill, during Bill, there was a parent organization at Willowbrook, but it was very focused on taking care of emergencies. There were constant emergencies at Willowbrook. Somebody was brutally beaten. The heating plant broke and so everybody was freezing. There were no clothes in building 6. You know, on and on. So everybody was always running around.
Also, volunteerism. People put a lot of effort into bringing candy, taking people on trips and things like that. But there was no vision. There was no vision for a different way of doing things. And there was only a emphasis on making friends with people in the administration to try to get some little thing changed. And parents were really grateful, believe it or not, grateful to have a place to put their child, even though it was Willowbrook.
And because they just had the culture was such that these were basically throw away people. That, you know, there really was no possibility of doing anything better with them. They act like that because that's all they are. Instead of having a vision... that a different environment a more homelike environment, a community situation would nurture them and people could flower and grow like anybody else.
So the parent movement and almost all reformists were sort of stuck in that let's fix the thing as it is, you know. And the outside people had, like even the Association for Retarded Children had a vested interest in keeping things quiet because they had made inroads with Albany and all that. And they actually came to some of our meetings and told us to keep it cool. You know, We've got some friends.. we've made friends, and we don't want to upset them, you know, and you don't know where your bread is buttered on and so on and so forth.
So I think the whole thing of making that leap of vision, which is very scary to a family, because they've gone through this tremendous decision to finally, you know, turn their children over to the state. And then to have to think about going through it again, of facing change, of really facing what was going on in the institution.
I brought my mother there once and all she could look at was the curtains because she couldn't look at what was going on. She kept saying, "The curtains look pretty," you know. There is a kind of blocking when you see something so horrible, you don't see it.