As told to the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the student-led sit-ins of 1960, the rise of youth-led activism, and the founding of SNCC. Main library, San Francisco, March 27, 2010.]
My name is Scott B. Smith, Jr. Give me time to get my voice down right, and I won't be trembling as I'm talking before you. I'm going to change this somewhat to say right now: I did not agree with being non-violent. I did not and I do not even today agree to be non-violent. You lay your mother-fucking hands on me, and you belong to me. As old as I am, I believe in going down fighting. I had a great deal of difficulty with the Civil Rights leaders as they expounded constantly about non-violence, while we're getting shot at, chased, sometimes different ones were beaten. I didn't like that. I didn't like different ones in SNCC such as John Lewis and Foreman crying about non-violence and being non-violent.
But today I say right now, if we had been revolutionary, truly revolutionary, and therefore carried ourselves in another kind of manner, participating through warfare similar to what happened in Detroit, Michigan when the riots went up, Obama right now would not be President. This country would not have elected him to be President with the people that he represented as a base, coming from being an African and also an American. They would not accept him at all. He would not have even gotten far, close to the door.
I really remember great deal the times I spent with Hardy Frye, who I met in jail. He was a different kind of man. He was a fighter. He still is a fighter. That's why I admired him. Hardy was a fighter, and I know that. He called on me; I'm ready for a fight. No problem.
We were on a trip going to Chicago in a car with two white women going through Alabama to get to Chicago to visit our relatives and friends. We got into Chicago, on the south side of Chicago where I'm from — born and raised — we were confronted by some Blackstone Rangers. In the car we had our guns, our shotguns, our 30-30s, and our pistols, because we had to get out of Dodge at that time in Alabama. We were traveling with these two ladies. Eventually, because of the relationship, we both got married to the both of them. They were very good, strong women. Strong. Got guts. They were backing us up. You don't have that nowadays in American families. Women turn their back on a man in a minute, because she's concerned about one thing: how she's going to pay that credit card.
I met Willie Peacock in Greenwood, Mississippi. People say he was crazy, because Peacock was mad because he had a shotgun in his house and [someone] threw some firebombs against it. And all those in SNCC were trying to tell Peacock: Don't, don't, don't get angry. No, no, no. Be nice, be nice. No, we've got to be nonviolent. We got to be nonviolent. And Peacock was screaming blood. He was going to kick them son-of-a- bitches. I admired him for that. I still do today, because he was willing to put his life on the line, to go all the way, not half-way. Not talking bull but go all the way.
Jimmy Rodgers, I knew he would back me up when a deal came down, when push come to shove. We were stopped by these Blackstone Rangers. There's somebody here right now that knows very well, and she probably met him and worked with him in Wilcox County, that saved our lives. A fellow named James Austin. James Austin was a member of the Blackstone Rangers with Stokely Carmichael. And he told the guys there to back off. I did not intend to go down fighting my own race. I never have and never will. I said to the youth: Look for the courage you have inside to go against the grain and go against the grain and learn more about yourself than any other time. You take care of yourself; I wish you the best; you're going to have a celebration pretty soon.
Sorry if I got a little misty-eyed, a little emotional on you, but hell, it's been a damn good life. I had a good damn time. I've seen a President I never thought I'd see before in office. I've seen changes going through this country right now that I never thought in my life I would see. I've lost two women I've been married to, trying to raise — be a grandfather to some other children. You have one life to live. If you don't live it to the fullest, your mother should have killed you way back.
[Laughing and Applause]
Copyright © Scott B. Smith, 2010
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