Stokely Carmichael: "Integration is completely irrelevant to us: what we want is power for people who don't have it"

Originally published in The Movement, June, 1966.

The one thing I learned from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was that you don't work for integration in this country -- what you've got to work for is power. The mistake we made was that we went to the National Democratic Party begging them to come into their party. If we're to do anything, we have to stop begging.

Organizing Techniques

One of the first things we decided when we moved into Lowndes County was that we wouldn't hold mass meetings at the same church. We held them at different areas of the county every Sunday night. What that meant was that everyone in the county was able to come to a mass meeting and you wouldn't get just the same people. Only two or three times did we have less than 200 people.

We also organized community meetings. Every community has a meeting once a week where they discuss all the things that are relevant to that community.

I also found that the role of the organizer had to be minimized, but I got out of that bag of manipulation. I went in there with certain ideas. One idea was to organize people to get power. And if that is manipulation so be it

No Strings

When I went into Lowndes County I had a big argument with the Alabama staff. We decided that we weren't going to a SNCC for a penny and that all the money we got we were to raise in Lowndes County. Now we've done that.

Bob Mants went to Detroit. Everybody in the county gave him a name of their sons or daughters or their grandmothers or their kinfolk. Bob got all those people together and had a meeting with them. And they made a committment to send $100 a month down to Lowndes County. Now that was good because that meant you cut off all your white liberal support. That's something else I found out from the MFDP; when the chips were down the white liberals cut out and we were left holding the bag. But if you didn't depend on them for anything you could do anything you wanted to do.

It Isn't Integration

Now what happened in Alabama is that we started building something, and we made whites irrelevant to everything we did. Whites in the county and whites in the North. We were building a party for black people, because they were disenfranchised in Lowndes County. I'm not in any bag about "Black Nationalism" and all that. We've done it without talking about "Whitey" and "getting rid of Whitey" and that shit. We just don't want to become a part of the Man.

What I've learned about integration is that this country always defines it. But it was always a one-sided thing: Negroes were always going to whites and it was in fact white supremacy. Because everything good was white.

For example: in Lowndes County we boycotted the school to get rid of the principal. She's still in there. But next year she won't be. We will control the school board and we will determine who is principal. And we won't need to protest anymore. Now you have to understand that very clearly because that ain't anti-white.

It's impossible for a man making $3 a day to vote for a man making $10,000 a year. It's impossible for both of them to be in the same party. I've seen that clearly in Lowndes County. You just can't do it.

When you talk about going for power, moral force and non-violence become completely irrelevant. When you go for power you go for it the way everyone in the country goes for it.

Black people never have a chance to define integration. It's always defined for us by the New York Times, by Time magazine, by OEO and the Headstart program. What can really happen in Lowndes County: Once we take over the Board of Education, we can spend the same amount of money on the Negro schools as they do on the white school -- make it a real school -- then the problem of integration will become irrelevant. You can have integration being initiated on both sides. Integration in this country has always been initiated on one side; black people have always initiated integration.

What King is about to do is integrate this county. That's what he tried to do in Alabama. He told all those Negroes that the best thing they could do was instead of voting for black people like themselves was to vote for crackers like Al Lingo and Wilson Baker, and that they should ignore the county level where their power really was. What you have in this county is that Negroes are always told to vote for someone who is less of a racist instead of more for Negroes.

We thought we could take over the Democratic Party in Mississippi and that's a farce. Them crackers ain't never going to let us in. We got to build something of our own. The Negroes who voted Democratic in Alabama are like Negroes all over the country who pulled the Democratic lever: like Negroes in Watts -- they voted Democratic and they don't have a damn thing to show for it. Because they can't control the vote. You've got to get people into independent political power where they can control on the county level. They can control the money that comes into it, they control the law, 'the taxes.

When they can do that, then they can meet a white man with power. Right now we can't do that. When the Man says, jump we got to ask him how high.

"Black Nationalism"

I want to talk a little about this "black nationalism." Now a lot of people are talking about how this organization has to become all-black. What I learned was when we were starting the Party we kept saying to people -- "We got to have it all black, cause that's what we really need." And they wouldn't touch it. Local people would not touch something all black because they think it's bad. The way we had to do it was to say -- This is a party, it's just like the Democratic Party and the Republican party. We want power, that's all we want. After we get power we can talk about whether we want all black of not.

The thing we get beat over the head with by Martin Luther King and people like that is that anything all black is as bad as anything all white. But that's not true. All white is only bad when you use force to keep it all white. And something all black isn't bad if you don't use force to keep it that way. But these arguments didn't make any difference to local people: they want to see black and white together. You have to leave some spaces open for white people.

Now I have said, and I mean it, that the Democratic Party is the most treacherous enemy of the Negro people on a national basis. They step on us, they take our vote for granted and we're completely irrelevant. Johnson passed that Voting Rights bill because he knew we were going to vote Democratic. He knew he was going to have all those votes in 1968. And that's what's going to happen unless we begin to move, and start controlling those things with independent forces.

Poor Whites

There are also a lot of poor whites and they're in the majority and they don't control. That can start growing too: independent parties that those people control, and eventually we can hook up with. That means there's a chance for real deep change to be wrought in this country. SNCC has to become less popular because it's going to have to say the things that I'm talking about.

Copyright © The Movement & Kwame Ture, 1966.

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