Confrontation in Lowndes, Memories of Stokely Carmichael
By Randy Battle

Recorded & transcribed by Peter de Lissovoy sometime between 2001-2006.

[Randy Battle worked for SNCC throughout the 1960s.]

You know when Viola Liuzzo got killed over there in Alabama, I was sitting up in Atlanta, and they called the SNCC office there in Atlanta, and told us she got killed, and old Bob Mants, he was the project director over there and he needed some help. Me and a gal named Cynthia Washington, I believe, we jumped in old Featherstone's car. And all we had — she had a Dutch — a like a dagger, I swear, with a scabbard, on her belt, and I had me my pocket knife was all. And we was going over there and fight crackers!

It was a SNCC car, that 64 Plymouth. So she and I we took off to Alabama. And we got over there, and I am going to tell you something. You talk about some hungry motherfuckers. You go to Alabama, I am telling you they is some ornery people, I will say, they feeding you on some parched corn — yeah, they take roasting ears and parch them — the people they was poor as shit! Man, they cook fatback and blackeyed peas with so much grease in it I don't think a hog would've ate it. I like to starve to death over there in Alabama those three days. Heh-heh-heh! And you know a SNCC person eat pretty darn near anything. Cause you was always hungry. But usually you got better meals than that where you went at when we was taking care of business.

Anyway we went to that mass meeting over there that first night. Stokely Carmichael was over there too. He was the main speaker. The meeting was in the main Baptist church in Lowndes County, it was way out in the country. You know, they shot her on the highway as she was driving, Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, and we were over there and we was having a mass meeting, and look here, man, them crackers got a rumor that Martin Luther King was coming and they came out there to start some trouble and them crackers pulled up there in droves!

That church was out in the country — way out in the country. The crackers pulled up on both roads that went up to that church and they parked there in dozens of cars. And every path that you could get to to come up through to get to the church they had their headlights on and pointed at them and pointed at the church and they drove up there and they started to getting out of their cars.

But them niggers was there waiting on them. And you talking about shotguns and rifles and about every kind of weapon you could name! There was people out from the church watching for them, we knew they were coming. And them goddamn niggers' trunks started popping open and they were getting out their shotguns and starting meeting them crackers, and they flipped on their headlights too and them crackers backed out. They got the idea that they had bit off a little more than they wanted to chew and they got back in their cars and backed out and they got back the hell away from there! Now they didn't rush about it, one and two, they just took off, where they parked all alongside the road.

Now hell, you talk about black fools — somebody gave us a .25 automatic. What the hell you going to do with a .25 automatic? Against a shotgun ha ha ha ha ha! And thing don't want to shoot but nine or six or seven times or something. Somebody gave us that .25 automatic — lady we were living with matter of fact, gave it to us.

And so after the meeting we leave, like, there was about five or six SNCC cars, and they were interspersed with all the others, every so often, and you in the first SNNC car you leave and you get to a road where somebody got to turn off , the whole row a cars got to stop and wait on the side of the road until you go on up there about a half a mile off the road or whatever to their house and turn around and come back and somebody else turns off and the second SNCC car rides with them and everybody has to wait together and it took us damn near all night to get home, it was damn near day in the morning after the meeting closed down till when we got where we was sleeping at.

I don't think there was no more trouble by then, them crackers had backed down, and they done enough damage already, they had killed Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, so that was that they thought. But you know, we were into sticking together and that was what the SNCC kids was there for, to give the people some little bit of cover. So we drove along with half the people home with them.

You know that was one place I was glad to leave, there in Lowndes County, Alabama. They didn't have a damn good thing to eat over there. . . .

They thought Martin Luther King was coming to that mass meeting. The crackers was coming to kill King. But Stokely Carmichael was the guest speaker. We came real early to the church. Them young niggers — them young niggers — everybody that came brought a gun, cause we already knew, we had got the message that they was going to come and raid the church. And wasn't nobody standing for that crap that night. You know, it was do or die. And I was standing up there with a .25 automatic ha ha ha ha ha! But I think if it hadn't been for us them niggers would've started shooting that night. But we were supposed to be nonviolent. Which I never was. Stokely never stopped speaking. Stokely just kept on talking inside the church. Some of them came out the door to look at it but the meeting never was interrupted.

That meeting was for Viola Liuzzo, you know, but it was always really about the Movement thing. SNCC was always looking for any excuse to get people together and rile them up and make progress, even on an occasion like that, especially then of course. You know how it is, a preacher come to a funeral, and instead of burying the dead, he's trying to save souls.

Viola Liuzzo was killed there in Lowndes County, and she had carried somebody someplace back home for a meeting and on her way home the crackers they shot her in her car. She run off through a fence up there somewhere. They let her go and drop off whoever she was taking home and on her way back they just shot her. They did a lot a folks like that. I don't even believe we got the numbers on them all they did like that. Some got shot and lived and you didn't hear much about it.

They were crazy times I'm going to tell you. And I'll tell you what. It wasn't no good feeling times neither. Like me, I'd be running that road by myself, and I would always have me something. You know, at least like a pistol or something. But I knew it wasn't worth a damn if I got surrounded by crackers. I didn't want to jeopardize nobody else's life, so I just went by myself. And got away with it. And how I don't know. Because I'm driving with a Dougherty County [Georgia] tag or a Fulton County [Georgia] tag and they know I'm a freedom rider. And I would be driving up and down them lonesome highways and them backroads at two and three in the morning and shit. That's where they usually catch you at, down them backroads, that where they know you coming down, they know you not going to stay on the main highway, you going to sort of sneak through the back way. And I have been so doggone scared I couldn't talk plain!

Stokely Carmichael came to my defense one time, you know, I never will forget it. A bunch of them middle class folks was making fun of me and he let them know about it. I had never been to no conferences or that sort of thing. You know, [Charles] Sherrod took me in the back room there in the SNCC office on Madison and got me to reading, and what I didn't understand I'd make a note of it and he'd come back and tutor me on it and so on. He'd hand me a book and say read this and if there's something you don't understand remember which part and we'll go over it. Eventually that gave me confidence.

So the first big conference I went to was at Union Theological Seminary up there in Atlanta. I was kind of gung-ho, and I had done got up and made me a nice little speech, and what do I see but them middle class folks done started laughing at me, and all of a sudden before I knew it I was standing up there crying.

Stokely was up in the balcony. The balcony wasn't too high up, you know. Stokely jumped up. He jumped from up there right down to the floor! He come down there and snatched that microphone and put his arm around me and the tears were running down my eyes I'm so embarrassed.

Stokely shouts, "Goddamit!" — that's what he says — "Goddamit, I'm going to say the same damn thing this man just said. I got me a degree in talking! I want to see you laugh at me, you — " he called them motherfuckers, just like that right there. And he said now come on Randy and let's go.

And I promised myself right there that the next time I got up in front of a crowd I'm going to know how to address them. I sure enough put myself into learning then, you know, I had been kind of half-ass at it while Sherrod was trying to teach me, but after that I grabbed every book I could find and read it. And if I didn't understand something I'd go to somebody who did. But Charles Sherrod was the main one I would go to, because he would spend about two hours a night with me, and I got to where I could read a book in a day. And then there were a lot of words I might not know but when you read the whole sentence you understood it.

Then Stokely married Miriam [Makeba] and went to Africa and I never saw him no more. He went to Africa and stayed over there a long time.

Copyright © Randy Battle

Copyright ©

Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the story belongs to Randy Battle.

(Labor donated)