The Table

John and Bonnie Raines (Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY)

I went to a funeral today after seeing a movie that reminded me of loving and losing my own good man. This morning, it was John Raines,  a colleague at Temple University. You may have read his obituary in the New York Times a week ago Sunday.

The Times headline blared “Evaded Capture in F.B.I. Breach.” That’s because in 1971 John, his wife Bonnie, and a few friends broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole records of then-unknown Cointelpro, illegal activity to defame civil rights activists and infiltrate peace organizations. John was a minister and professor. Bonnie was a day care worker. They had three young children. The eight conspirators read the evidence in a farmhouse, copied it, and sent it on to Senator George McGovern, Representative Parren Mitchell, and three major newspapers. John called Reuters to inform the world that the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI was responsible for the burglary. Nobody would know who they were for twenty years, when they revealed themselves to the Washington Post reporter who broke the story in 1971, Betty Medsger – and to their children. In 2014 her book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI and the film 1971 made the identity of these saintly criminals public.

Who is a saintly criminal these days? People like John and Bonnie, who risked their jobs and the security of their children to end abuses in the public realm? People like the women who violated the agreements they signed to end abuses in the private realm?

John Raines was 84, much older than most of those who claimed in these weeks that they grew up in a different era. Maybe it was before John’s time to believe that everybody could use his (deliberate use of pronoun) power by forcing women to face risking their jobs and security or to agree to something they despised doing.

Professor is a position of trust. I appreciated John most in that role when a very bright senior in a STEM field told me he elected my American Studies course because the one he had taken before, The Sixties with Professor Raines, inspired him so much. I am sure John was not sharing the FBI story then; he had been a civil rights activist and a Freedom Rider, again risking injury with the likes of now-Representative John Lewis. Inspiring to a white student from a Philadelphia “rowhouse” neighborhood is the kind of teacher John was.

The last time I saw John was at the bus stop after he had agreed to retire. What do I do with myself, he asked? I teach one course, John, and I work for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church; Bonnie has supported us for years. John’s funeral was at Christ Church, where founding fathers like George Washington and Ben Franklin had pews two centuries ago. Today, while the rector is a man, the minister is a woman.

3 comments on “Mourning the Loss of a Good Man

  1. Kate says:

    Thanks for this, Regina.

  2. Regina Bannan says:

    We are having trouble making access to the comments both secure and easy to follow. Please help us by posting a comment. Thanks. Regina, Kate, and Ellie

  3. Maureen Tate says:

    Thanks Regina for the tribute to John Raines. I was a Religious Studies major at Temple U in the 70’s and John Raines was my favorite professor. I think I took every course he offered. I was the proverbial Philadelphia Catholic School girls who had my worldview expanded in courses on contemporary religion and society that included issues of race, class and politics. At one time, he asked if he could nominate me for a ministerial fellowship for women. I explained that I was Catholic and did not meet the criteria as I was unable to prepare for ordination in my tradition. Ever the radical, he suggested that I apply anyway and see how they would respond to my situation. With his encouragement I applied and was accepted into several MDiv programs. In the end, I chose a different path but I was always grateful for the possibilities he opened up for me. I was surprised to hear of his role in the breakdown and the secret he carried during those years I studied with him. What courage they mustered and the risks they took for what they believed. It certainly was in keeping with his passion and energy for justice that he shared with his students every day.

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