Oral History/Interview Wazir (Willie B.) Peacock July, 2001

[Wazir Peacock was a SNCC field secretary in Mississippi and Alabama from 1960-1966]

Rust College, Mississippi    
Down in the Delta
Joining SNCC
Tuskegee & TIAL
Making a Difference
Direct Action
Black Power


Bruce: Where did you get the name Wazir?

Wazir: My name was Willie B. Peacock, and I kind of modified that. So many Willie's in the world. [Laughter] Wazir — I came to Islam right after SNCC around 1966, and from that — after being there about 11 years, I was given the name.

Bruce: In Arabic, the Wazir was the main advisor to the Sultan?

Wazir: Yeah, but it has different meanings. That is one meaning. One is like the premier, but it means essentially one who shares with the people. One of the persons who interpreted or translated the Koran into English — he said that the best meaning was one who worked on behalf of the people for the God, for Allah. A servant of the people in its truest sense, rather than one like the Wazir that's mostly served. [Laughter]

Bruce: So why don't we start with how and why you got active in the Civil Rights Movement?

Wazir: Basically, my involvement in the movement came about as a result of my background. Living in Mississippi and under those oppressive conditions as a youth, it was always just a part of my upbringing. My father was actively involved — my mother did not know it — in the meetings that were going on in the little town of Mound Bayou where they — the Black soldiers from World War II — came together to meet. They formed a statewide organization.

I guess he was just kind of tutoring me all the time but I didn't realize it. And so it was in me to get involved. I was always trying to do something — in high school and before that. We ended up on the plantation somehow, and I got a chance to see what slavery was probably like and feel it. It really made me want to do something at an early age, because I hadn't experienced that with living in a little town, not subjected to that kind of plantation treatment. It made me ready to do something really. So the first thing I did, I ran away from home when I was about 14, and when I finally came back I started school. I went to college. My motivation for going to college was to put myself in a position where I could do something.

Rust College, Mississippi

Wazir: I went to Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. I was in college when the sit-ins started in North Carolina, so we started right there on the campus. The little theater we used to go to downtown, the movie theater, the first thing we did was boycott it, because we were sitting up there in the balcony. It was separate. The college students provided 90% of the income for that theater, but we had to sit up there in this balcony separated from the main floor. So we did that successfully. So rather than integrate it, the owner of it, he closed it. He closed it, because he wasn't going to step out there on his own and do something. Economically, he couldn't go on running the movie without us, so he closed it. That was our first action. We got our feet wet. That was the first thing we did.

In the first part of '62, Dion Diamond came over [to Rust], and he met with some of the students who were ready to do some action. We didn't see him anymore. I heard later what had happened to him. He and Chuck McDew had a case in Louisiana, and he went back for that, and they kept him.

Bruce: A long time. [After meeting with students at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Dion Diamond was arrested for criminal anarchy and and trying to overthrow the state of Louisiana. He served a long sentence. When SNCC members Chuck McDew and Bob Zellner visited him in jail, they too were arrested for criminal anarchy.]

Down in the Delta

Wazir: Around the spring of '61 I first met the guy that I was going to be working with mainly, because he came up with Jim Bevel to Holly Springs. Jim Bevel, Sam Block, and Joey Green Jr. came to the Rust College campus in the spring of '61. After that, around the fall of 1961, that's when I first met Bob Moses. He was dealing with people who had attempted to register to vote in Tallahatchie County, and so he came up to the campus to get a bunch of students to come down there to support — be a moral support for those people. They had white people coming out of the woodwork to intimidate all those people. So we did that.

Bruce: Bevel was still with SNCC then?

Wazir: Yeah, he was still with SNCC at that time. And I guess he was coming feeling things out. Yeah, it was SNCC. So a bunch of us students met with them, and then we didn't hear anything else until Bob Moses [in the Fall]. We had heard about it, because it was a big thing. We had heard about the big thing that went down in Amite County.

Bruce: McComb?

Wazir: McComb and all of that, and so he hadn't been out of jail too long when he came up there. And that was the first time that I met Amzie Moore, in Oxford, Mississippi up at the Federal Court. When I saw him, I had seen him before. I knew I had seen him before. Then I came to realize later on that summer of '62, about August, when he and Bob came to my house to get me, it clicked. I had seen him in association with my father.

Wazir: And then later Frank Smith came over from Georgia, from Atlanta. We started working together. He went back for a little while, and then he came back and I worked with him the next spring.

Bruce: When you say "worked with him," what were you doing?

Wazir: We were doing voter registration. We started out organizing right there in Holly Springs. The first thing we organized, we got together with the Black civic leaders there. What they wanted to do first of all was they wanted us to help them organize a credit union. So we helped them to organize a credit union, and then Frank and I went around. We went around together to gather petitions from people who had attempted to register to vote. Together we went out into Marshall County, and we got them notarized.

Bruce: You mean affidavits?

Wazir: Yeah, that's what I mean. Affidavits. We got the affidavits notarized, and we sent them to the Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC. The guy who was head of that division, he was so impressed. He actually flew Frank Smith there to talk to him about the things that were going on, the atrocities, and the denials, and the level of education of the people who were being denied. Because actually the literacy rate of the Black people in Marshall County was higher than the whites, because there was two Black colleges there: Mississippi Industrial and Rust College. So that made for a good case. And so we continued to work with other students. Frank started teaching them how to give spiels, you know at churches and all of that kind of thing. So we really got rolling hitting these churches on Sundays and going door to door knocking on these doors in Holly Springs and other places in Marshall County.

Joining SNCC

Bruce: And by this time you were on SNCC's staff?

Wazir: Uh, I would say I was working with SNCC, but I wasn't actually staff.

Bruce: You were still going to school?

Wazir: I was still going to school. Just in case I didn't get a chance to go to medical school that fall, I took some educational courses so I could teach if I needed to. So I was around that whole summer with Frank Smith, working with him, right on up until August when I finished all the course work. And then the time came for me to make the decision, what I was going to do. So I went home.

Bruce: This is August of '62?

Wazir: Right. August '62. I went home, and my father's sister was there visiting, so I was poised to leave with her and go to Detroit and maybe work about a month and then return to the south, go to Meharry Medical School in Nashville.

I think I was home about a week, when Bob Moses and Amzie Moore said to me, "We need you, man." So I said, "OK." I went and talked to my mother. She was scared. She was definitely disappointed. My father was pretty happy about it because his old partner, his old buddy Amzie Moore was there. They were Master Masons and they were giving signs, and they were like just having a good time about it, you know. But my mother was really upset. So she gave me her blessings to go on, so we left.

SNCC veteran Dorie Ladner adds the following:

Reading the above and reflecting on my first meeting with Wazir reminded me that he was one of my heroes. I remember the day I first met him when his father and Amzie Moore introduced him to Bob Moses in 1962. Amzie and Mr. Peacock were speaking in a language and making signs that I didn't understand. I later learned that they were Mason terms and signs.

I was a Tougaloo student, having transferred there after being expelled from Jackson State for leading protests in support of the Tougaloo Nine in March of 1961. Colia Lidell and I, two Black women, joined the Freedom Riders in Jackson in the late spring of 1961 and remained with the Movement in Mississippi along with other Freedom Riders such as James Bevel, Diane Nash, Paul and Catherine Brooks, Lester McKinney, Bernard Lafayette, Tim Jenkins, and others.

Colia was from Jackson, she worked with Medgar Evers and was president of the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council. I was from Hattiesburg MS. She and I were drawn to be Freedom Riders because they had brought us a message that I had been searching for all my life since the death of Emmit Till. So we started attending meetings with the Freedom Riders who had begun to teach nonviolence, civil disobedience, and community organizing. In 1962 I began working with SNCC in the Mississippi Delta doing voter registration and community organizing. That's where I first met Wazir.

Wazir: We left that evening, and I was amazed at Amzie Moore. He knew all these people. All these people that I found out, about all these people who were involved, that I had no idea. And I grew up right there in Charleston, and I had no idea because he made his rounds and contacting all these people before we left Tallahatchie County.

Bruce: Well, it's just like the Resistance. Everybody keeps secret.

Wazir: That's right. Yeah, that's what happened.

Bruce: If one person is captured, they can't tell who the others are.

Wazir: That's right. That's right. That's what they did.

Bruce: Where did you go from there? To McComb?


Wazir: No, we left and went to Cleveland. Amzie Moore's home that night. I was destined to Ruleville. That's where I was supposed to go and work. But what happened that night is that Sam Block and Lawrence Guyot and the other guy, Lavaughn Brown, were about under a siege there in Greenwood by the Whites. The Ku Klux Klan branch, whatever you want to put it. They called, and at that moment, they said that there were a bunch of white men out here in white T-shirts, and they got bats and ax handles and stuff, and they're getting ready to come upstairs, what should be do? And Bob said that the first thing, you should get out of there. [Laughter]

Bruce: Yeah, I heard that story. They came out off the roof.

Wazir: They had to push them through the opening. And the TV antenna, that's what he slid down. He hurt his hand. It was just raw when we saw him the next morning. So Bob and I said, "Well, let's go to Greenwood." We went to Greenwood. I was wondering all along the way what we were going to do once we got there. So we arrived I guess about midnight, and papers were scattered everywhere.

Bruce: They had trashed the office?

Wazir: They had trashed the office. And so we got ready to go to bed. That was cool, but the thing is Bob turned on the thermostat. It was hot, and he turned on this noisy fan. I mean, it was a big old fan that sits like in a box, and it just made noise. I just kind of went along with it, but damn, he's going to let these people know that we're here. I said, "Well, if I'm still alive in the morning, I guess I might as well dedicate myself to staying here with this stuff the rest of the time." And I was alive the next morning.

Sam Block, Guyot, and Lavaughn Brown, they showed back up, and Sam was saying that he was burned out. He needed to get away. So Bob was talking seriously about just shutting this project down, because it had implications of the same kind of thing that happened down in McComb. You get hurt, get killed. They didn't want that. My argument was that we'd contacted too many people. Sam had already taken people down to attempt to register to vote. I said, "He's known. He's got an office here." I said, "We just can't leave." So we talked about it. I said, "Well, I'll stay." So he allowed me to stay.

Bruce: Just you?

Wazir: Yeah. I guess for about three weeks, I was there by myself. They made arrangements for me to stay at a dentist's, Dr. Cornwall, and nobody had any idea where I was staying. I would have to get out in the morning, before they would even leave, and I would call before I would call back at night. I would call and he would tell me what time I should come and what route. I never came back to his house the same way twice. I was relatively isolated, because I couldn't allow anybody to know where I lived. Nobody. Because he was such an upstanding guy in the community, and nobody had any idea he would do that kind of thing for us.

He had four boys, four little boys, and they made a punching bag out of me. Those boys would attack me every night, because I guess that was their way of saying, "What are you doing here?" So about three weeks, Dr. Cornwall got concerned that things were heating up a little bit, and that he couldn't stand the heat. So I had to get out of there, and by that time, we had been going every weekend over to Amzie's to learn how to write reports and write and all that kind of stuff.

I found my uncle. My uncle lived in Greenwood. I was on campus one day, and I ran up on him, and I hadn't seen him since I was about — I must have been about six years' old, but I recognized him because he looked a lot like my dad. So I asked him, "Are you Uncle Percy?" He said, "Yeah. Who are you? Are you Georgia's boy?" I said, "Yes." Just decided like that. So I started staying at his house at night. Sam and Guyot, they were working — they had started working back in Greenwood during the day time, and they would leave at night, and I would stay in Greenwood.


Wazir: Then after awhile, Charlie Cobb, James Jones, and Jesse Harris, they all came to Ruleville. So we would leave Greenwood, Sam and I, and Guyot and all, and we would head over to Ruleville. We would help them work in that county, Sunflower County. We would go to Cleveland. We would go into Indianola, come back to Cleveland.

It was intense. All this was taking place in August. And after awhile, we got Ruleville moving, and we got to take a bunch of people over to Indianola to attempt to register to vote, and one of those people was Fannie Lou Hamer. And when we got back a particular night on a bus, we got stopped on that highway by the highway patrol saying the bus was the wrong color and all that kind of stuff. So when we got back, we had a mass meeting at the church. And we saw this lady back there sweating and singing. Her voice stood out way above everybody else's.

Bruce: This is in Ruleville?

Wazir: Yeah, Ruleville. And that was Mrs. Hamer, and she had gotten evicted from the plantation that very day. I think it was August 12th or something like that. But you see, during that time we're just moving, moving fast and intense. So we had to find — we found her a place. They knew her, so she stayed in Mr and Mrs [Seshulm's] house. We tried to keep it secret where she was. And then from that point, we started just hitting — We were working in Indianola, Greenwood, Ruleville. We did a little work in Cleveland. Cleveland wasn't such a challenge.

Tuskegee & TIAL

The early part of '63, in January, it demanded more of me and Sam's attention. We spent more time January to February really intensifying things in Greenwood, and then Greenwood broke in February. So a lot of big things happened in Greenwood. Most of the time I was in Greenwood. From that point, from the fall of 1964, I went back to school, at Tuskegee. Then I got involved with what was called on the campus, Tuskegee Institute Advancement League.

Bruce: TIAL?

Wazir: TIAL. I worked with Sammy Younge, who did a lot of work in Macon County, and then we made a big move when Martin was supposed to march, and he didn't. We went to Montgomery with about 1200 students sit-in at the church on Dexter. That was pretty successful. And then after the spring of '65 and school was out, I came back to Greenwood, and we did some folk festivals. This is '65 now. We did some folk festivals, which we thought — people were being made ashamed of their culture, and that's where most of the blues and all that kind of stuff came from. So we thought it would be a good idea to do some cultural revival stuff, and we did that the whole summer, right on up to February of 1966. And then maybe in April or so, we left, me and Sam, and came to California.

Bruce: I want to go through these kind of frequent questions, which will probably sound a little dull, but [Laughing] these are what kids ask.

Wazir: Right. Exactly.


Bruce: Was violence or repression ever directed against you personally?

Wazir: Yes it was. Sam and I, we were working late one night in Greenwood. March 6th, we had been over to the church, because Dick Gregory had sent a bunch of clothes and food down [for the people who had been fired and evicted for trying to register to vote].

Bruce: This is '63?

Wazir: Yes, '63. So we went over there to sort it. We had names that we were supposed to issue food to the next day, and we went over there to break the food down and box it to make it convenient for the people. All they had to do was come and get their box. So we must have finished that up about 11 o'clock, and we were going to go home. Sam and I and his girlfriend and her sister, we were in the car together. Sam was having an asthma attack, and he wanted to go by the office and pick up his breathalyzer, atomizer, whatever. His girlfriend said, "You've got one at my house, so come on."

I had this bad feeling. I told Sam, "Don't go back." I did everything to keep Sam from going by the office, and I begged his girlfriend. I said, "Don't let him go by the office." And we went by. He drove on, and he stopped at the office. I rose up from the back seat, and I said, "Don't let him get out. Don't let him get out of the car." And she said, "Sam." As soon as she said that, we heard this thundering noise. Both of the front side windows went out. If she hadn't leaned over to say something to Sam, and he hadn't leaned back toward her, his head would've been blown off. She saved his life. If she had been sitting over there, sitting straight up, it would've gotten her too. Those big buckshots man.

Bruce: From a shotgun.

Wazir: Yeah, big shotgun. So the car drove off. It was a station wagon. There was about four people in it. They drove off very slowly, because they thought they had really done their work. And I was either crazy, angry, or one. I jumped out and ran down the street throwing bricks at the car. They sped up, but that was a close call. Came close to death at that particular point. So yeah, it was directly at us personally. That was announced.

And the second time, that was the spring of '64, when we were getting ready to go to Oxford, Ohio to do an orientation with the students that was going to come down [for the Freedom Summer project], we stopped outside of Columbus, Mississippi. They took us to jail, took us out, beat us up, and the next day they had a trial. And miraculously, a telephone call came while they were getting ready to start trying us, because they were going to send us to the county farm so they could kill us. This judge — this call shook him up. He said, "Do any y'all know who [name]?" And we all said in unison, "Yes, that's our lawyer." They stopped proceedings right then and there. Went back in the back room, and when they came out, they let us out. They charged us — collectively, we had about $15 that they had taken, and that's what they charged us for the fine.

Bruce: [Laughing] Yeah, I know those Mississippi courts — 

Wazir: Those are the main two times that we thought that it was over.

Making a Difference

Bruce: Really. So as a Civil Rights worker and the work that you did, do you feel that you made a difference?

Wazir: I think collectively we made a difference. We faced fears straight on that the population faced every day and just had a lot of fear. The workers, the people who came down later, began to realize the kind of fear that people lived under. Fear that most of the people who came down in '64 had never had to live under in their whole life. It was really unreal to most people, but this is the kind of stuff that the Mississippi staff had grown up under.

It was like a shock to the police and authorities to see. They knew we were Mississippians, and to see us facing up to them and standing up to them, they couldn't understand what had happened, what had gone wrong. So breaking through that fear and getting people to make the attempt to register to vote, that was a big, big step. And I know the students asking the questions, they cannot appreciate how big a step that was. But yes, we made a difference. We made a difference, because we put ourselves out there first. We had to do what we were asking the people to do.


Bruce: Do you think the Civil Rights Movement changed race relations in the United States? Do you feel that there was progress made?

Wazir: Yes, progress was made. It changed relationships. It brought to surface some of the racism that was in this country that people didn't really want to recognize. It ran all the way through our society, but it wasn't realized until we made the move that we made in the South. To make an example, the point I'm talking about, when Martin Luther King went to Cicero, Illinois, that's when people realized that it wasn't just in the South, that it was all over the country. Maybe even people who didn't think they were racists, when it came home to them, they had never been tested before.

The status quo affected different areas of the country in different ways. In some, the population of Black people wasn't that great. They never had to show and tell so to speak, so it brought things to the surface, and I think you have to bring things to the surface before they can be worked with. So in that way, it made a difference and for the better. The laws were made, but I think that it takes a little longer for the human fact to accept that which we thought idealistically would be better for human relationships. So I think that's ongoing.

Bruce: Beyond just bringing it to the surface so everybody could see it, was there any other kind of progress or changes made?

Wazir: Yes. The obvious example is that in Mississippi, when the 1965 Voting Rights Acts were passed, we were able to get great numbers of people registered to vote. That changed the politics in Mississippi. Actually, politics started changing in 1964 when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party went to Atlantic City to challenge the regular party for their seats. That had never been done before by Mississippians. Now, as far as politics, you have more Black elected officials in the state of Mississippi than you have anywhere in the country, and you have good and bad and in between.

You know, the schools were integrated in the state of Mississippi and Alabama where Wallace stood in the door and those schools were integrated. And the University of Mississippi was integrated where Paul Johnson stood in the door like the Governor of Alabama. In a lot of public places, like the swimming pools and places like that, the cities closed them rather than have Blacks and whites swimming together. One hotel closed. It still stands there empty doing nothing on the Capitol Street in Jackson, Mississippi. Instead of integrating, they closed, and it's just sitting there, an eyesore now. In many different ways, progress was made. But we lost some things too. The Black schools were reduced to middle schools or something like that. They would have had Black superintendents of the schools. We lost a lot of that.


Bruce: Do you think there is still racism in the United States?

Wazir: There was racism then in the United States, and there is racism in the United States now. The Voting Rights Act didn't change that. It didn't change the hearts and minds of people. Like I said earlier, the Civil Rights Movement brought to surface the amount of racism that is in this country. We can see now, that to a large degree, this country, this United States is divided along racial lines. The racism in this country is scary. It's dangerous, because it is so divisive. It makes it where it doesn't look like a United States. The politicians are doing the same things that Bilbo, Governor Barnett were doing. They're using race for their politics.

Bruce: Strom Thurmond.

Wazir: Strom Thurmond is still there. Right. So they feed it, so we don't expect change to come from politicians. There has to be a change of heart with the people.


Bruce: What did the Civil Rights Movement fail to accomplish?

Wazir: Let's see. What were the goals of the Civil Rights Movement? The goals of the Civil Rights Movement were, in my estimation, limited. To a large degree, those goals were achieved, on the surface: integrating public facilities. You can ride from one end of the country to the other now without worrying about being hassled too much.

But the bigger picture, I think the Civil Rights Movement could not achieve the changing of the hearts, because we were strictly using the law, the Constitution of the United States, that which was already legal but had not been enforced. Although they made new laws to bring some change about, but they already had good laws on the book. They just weren't being enforced. If I say we failed in any area, I'd say we might have failed in — how should I say this? Is articulating to the population of this country what our goals were. I never thought that what we were doing would achieve the complete picture of what needed to be. But it would be a start. So I can't say we failed in what were trying to achieve.

Direct Action

Bruce: Do you think the marches, sit-ins, and other direct action demonstrations helped or hurt the movement?

Wazir: They helped. Because they were part of mass education. At that time, we used the media. The media was showing to the country what was going on, and by the same token, they had to explain why we were out there demonstrating. At the time, some people who thought we shouldn't be doing that, like "How dare you?" Especially in the South, they weren't ready to see what we were doing, so it sure made them angry. It brought about a lot of Klan activity. Sure that hurt, but it was a part of the whole thing that was necessary. We couldn't avoid that. Those people had been oppressed by these forces all the time. It was a time for confrontation, to bring it all out to the surface, so in that sense, the sit-ins, the marches, and all of that was necessary, and it helped.

Bruce: A lot of people say, "Well, all of that turmoil was just hurting your cause."

Wazir: I heard a lot of that. I heard a lot of that during those days. It's hurting your cause. The cause, well, it was hurting that cause. In other words, it seems to me that they were saying, "You're going to cause me to act in a way that I don't want you to see me that way. But that's where my heart is. That's who I am. I am part of the same people that would come out in a mob and hang you. But at least I'll talk to you, and you hurting your cause, I can't, you know..." Some people said, "You're moving too fast."

Bruce: And too far.

Wazir: And too far. Too fast, too far. It needs to be more gradual. We weren't hearing that. We were young and all. We weren't about gradualness at all. We wanted it right then and now. And it was already too late as far as we were concerned.


Bruce: Do you think that the President did everything in his power to better the situation at the time?

Wazir: No, he didn't. He didn't do all that he could do. We should have gotten federal protection, because we were doing voter registration. The citizens had the right to vote. It's a right, not a privilege. In the South, they were treating it like it was some kind of privilege. It was in the law and the power of the President to order the Justice Department to give us protection, but we had a director of the FBI at the time [J. Edgar Hoover] who boldly said that he was not going to protect those Civil Rights workers. He had that kind of clout, he could say that. Of course, the President could have ordered him, but he never did. He never ordered it. He never did order it, and for good reason for himself. He was already getting himself ready to run for a second term. You had the [Senator] Eastlands and the [Senator] Strom Thurmonds and all those politicians. He had to play politics. He couldn't come out, just to be elected again, he couldn't come out like that. We didn't have, Blacks in the South, did not have the vote yet.

Bruce: You're referring to both Kennedy and Johnson or just one?

Wazir: I'm referring to Kennedy. Kennedy, at that time, he was crucial. For example, when Fannie Lou Hamer, in the fall of '62, was shot at [for trying to register], and there was those two girls that got hit — they thought that Ms. Hamer was in that house where they shot into. Kennedy spoke about it the next day, but that's all. At that time, he had the opportunity. He could have justified sending Federal marshals in to protect us wherever we said we wanted to work on a particular day. He didn't do that. He had the opportunity to do it if he was going to move on it.


Bruce: What are your thoughts on non-violence?

Wazir: Non-violence was a philosophy, a way of life. Over the years, not during the 60's, but over the years, I have found that it works. It actually works. But we hadn't been schooled in real non-violence, real satyigraha. Passive resistance. We hadn't been schooled in that. Only people like Jim Lawson and people like that who really had the philosophy down, who really believed in it as a way of life.

We used it as a tactic, and it was the best thing to do because we sure couldn't outgun them and if we'd have walked out to march with guns, that would have been good as they wanted since they would have justification to just shoot us right down. Whether we pulled it out or not, they could. That would have been the end of the movement. It would have been over just like that [snaps fingers].

So non-violence as a tactic was good, it would have been even better if we had been more disciples of it because we would have lasted longer. We would have done more. We would have gone places that — we would have gone into areas that we're just now getting to. I think that's what should be used now. I think that worldwide where they're having conflicts, I think that's what should be used. Non-violence. Weapons haven't, war, it hasn't solved anything. I really believe in it.

Black Power

Bruce: What are your thoughts on the Black Power movement?

Wazir: Black empowerment, I think, was where we were coming from all the time because, at the time, in the South, Blacks had no power at all.

The form of Black Power that was being espoused, I don't know — that came later after me and Sam had left and come to California in '66. That was when Stokely Carmichael — Kwame Ture — had declared Black Power. That form of Black Power where you separate yourself from your allies, regardless of what color they are, I don't go for that. All the allies who saw the deficit, the need to bring about a balance in this country by helping to empower another people — we just happen to be Black and without any kind of power — I think that's good. I think it's good for the country, good for the whole world, because then you bring to the table the elements that's in the position that needs to demand justice.

Other people, speaking of white people, there were injustice going on along with them, but not to the same degree that would cause them to move. It was so blatant among us that we needed a mass movement to bring about a change. So we needed power, and we just happened to be Black and power. Real power has no color. Power's just power.

Bruce: Except maybe green.

Wazir: Green. [Laughter]


Bruce: What are your thoughts on the assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King?

Wazir: My thoughts about it is from what I could see at the time. I was in New York in 1964. Because I didn't participate fully in the Freedom Summer project of '64 with all the students I knew. I was in New York getting myself together. I went to some of those meetings at the Audubon, and the kind of tension that I felt, that I'd never felt anywhere before then or since. I felt there were elements there that was — it was like a conspiracy brewing. As soon as they got this guard to stop having people check for weapons, that's when he got it. I think he was assassinated and they picked the right time to do it. It's when there was controversy between Malcolm and Elijah Mohammad. It was a good time to do it. I think they picked the time right.

Bruce: Who's they?

Wazir: I think it was the United States government that did it. I think they planted people there to take him out. Because when Malcolm went to Mecca and came back, he started talking about another kind of thing. Because he went to Mecca, and in Mecca he saw white people. He didn't know that there were white Muslims before that. That Islam was universal. He had been given — Malcolm had been, from that trip, he had been elevated in the Islamic world to a higher — 

Bruce: The Hajj?

Wazir: He was a Hajji, but at the same time, he was, it was like a position — it's not talked about or written much. He had been given a position in the world of Islam. He never got a chance to exercise that. So the State Department had a lot of reasons to take him out.

The same goes with Martin Luther King. It was obvious that there was a conspiracy going to kill him. Starting with everything that happened in Memphis, housing, security forces were moved around and changed. They set it all up. The timing — that somebody had to get him out there on the veranda at the right time. Somebody among that, around him, which I don't know which one of them it is, I just know who all was around him. I know there were people who got elevated and got rewards after his death. I'm not saying that — but somebody had to get him out there at the right time. I feel that he was — I think Martin knew that there was no escape after seeing things that happened. He was going to get it.

Bruce: And that's why he gave that speech that night?

Wazir: Right. That's why he gave that speech. Right. I think the reason why is that they thought it would stop the movement, especially the way they thought it was going. He began to — his philosophy and all was getting to appeal to everybody. That wasn't good for the politicians.

Bruce: He was also addressing economic issues.

Wazir: That's right. Economic issues and the [Vietnam] war. And he was powerful. He was powerful enough to stop the clock. They had to stop him. I think they'll stop anybody if they can. I think they're watching it close to not let anybody, regardless what color, get that powerful again outside of their — without their permission. That they don't have control at all.

Bruce: And they in this case?

Wazir: The "they's" are the bureaus of our government that's gotten out of control and the CIA is one of them. The military industrial complex is out of control. I mean, they run the country. They basically just try to run the world and anybody that gets in their way, they — it's almost got to be a kind of a system that nobody can stop. It runs itself now. It runs itself. They talk about this artificial intelligence. The thing is running itself. It has to run amok before something can be brought about.

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