From the Streets of L.A...
James Garrett

[As told to and discussed by Freedom Movement veterans and family members at a story-telling session, U.C. Berkeley, September 30, 2018.]

Movement VeteransGuests
Stephen Bingham SNCCRachel Reinhard (UC Berkeley)
James (Jimmy) Garrett, SNCC 
Miriam Cohen Glickman, SNCC 
Rick Sheviakov, CORE 

James: Yeah, I mean, because I — what you're saying — This is very interesting to me, because of what you just laid out, that history in Berkeley, because that was part of a study that I was doing before going on to San Francisco State for the purpose of organizing with the [campus?] Black Student Union.

So in your statements about Berkeley, they have a very important piece in relationship to what I've learned about San Francisco. And what I learned was — whatever people thought it was — it wasn't. And the Black folks and the Latinos and the Native Americans who lived out in Emeryville, they knew.

What I will do is I have said to Miriam earlier that I was going to — and I have a few notes to do a quick thing on something that might —  Well, let me give you a little background. Jimmy Garrett is who I was named. [But] when you get to be 100 years old, it's probably better to call you "James" than "Jimmy."

I was born in Dallas, Texas. My family comes from Texas and Louisiana. My father lived on land on a very large ranch, and his family grew food for the ranch, and they broke horses for the ranch after the Civil War on. And so my father's family were landowners and farmers who serviced a very large cattle ranch, a horse ranch, very large, like 4 or 5,000 acres. My mother's people were more urban. They picked cotton like folks did in the South, but they were based in Dallas, where all the women in my family worked as maids in white folks' houses.

So I grew up —  Of course I didn't know I was poor until I came to California [General laughter]. That's when I was kind of designated "sociologically poor." And so I came to California in '57. My father came to California because of the lynching of one of my cousins and then the execution of another of my cousins, Tommy Lee Walker, for raping a white woman he had never seen. Two of them went down for that.

And so I began my activism in the Civil Rights Movement in 1960 as a junior, I guess, or at the end of my sophomore year. I went back down South, because my family was trying to get me out [of Los Angeles], my family was trying to keep me out of the gangs which I was very much involved with the business {UNCLEAR}. And I attended Jefferson High School in L.A. and was very much involved with {UNCLEAR} and this and that and the other.

And I got involved in the sit-in movement in '60, and then I was in {UNCLEAR} from that time to this, in the Movement. From '61 I was on the Freedom Rides and ended up in New Orleans. From '60 on, I kind of gravitated towards the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in L.A. and did work in South L.A. organizing teenaged groups and went down South for this vote, for the Freedom Vote. In '63, there was a delegation sent from L.A. CORE, Los Angeles CORE. We went down, and I ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time and got arrested and ended up in Parchman hanging out with your partners, in Parchman for about 30 days.

So I learned a lot of the —  I was training to become an organizer. I was exposed to union organizing. I was exposed to kind of the Alinsky style of organizing. I've been exposed to all kinds of organizing. And by '62, '63, I moved closer to the Communist Party with Dorothy Healey in Southern California; she was head of the Communist Party, and I was being groomed for that, with a minder and the whole nine yards. So I learned that, built party building, a lot of reading, the introductions to DuBois and others.

So I was trained from an early age, although I didn't know it. I was recruited; I was working with CORE, and I was a member of the staff of what was called the United Civil Rights Committee (UCRC) in Los Angeles. The only youth on their board, and the only paid person on that board — that was a group of mainly religious and good folks, responsible Negroes and responsible whites in L.A. who had come together in the wake of a speech that Martin Luther King had given. And they had formed the United Civil Rights Committee to control the Civil Rights Movement in L.A., and I was hired to work in their office.

And then Jayne Cortez, who was with SNCC, came to town and asked me if I would go South, in the early spring of '64. And I went. I rode with two white women on a bus from L.A. to Ohio, and then I was on the second week of the [Freedom Summer orientation] after Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner [disappeared] — just as they were — well, I was there awhile when Bob [Moses] made his famous speeches about telling people to go home.

And I went South and worked in Laurel with Gwendolyn now Zoharah Simmons. And our project director, Lester McKinney, two days after we arrived, he was put in jail, and he spent the summer in jail in Laurel. Jones County was the home of the Ku Klux Klan, and they had a very large Masonite plant, so they had working class whites and Blacks, and it was a working class city. So the SNCC folks decided to put Gwen on staff, and Gwen said she wasn't going to go on staff by herself, and she wanted me to go on staff, so I went on staff. And I stayed on SNCC staff for a couple of years like that. And so now I get to this piece very quickly. At the end of the summer, I got hurt in rural Madison County, in Madisonville outside of Jackson. I got beat up by the police, and I went to the hospital in Jackson, in the basement of the hospital in Jackson.

Rick: Of course.

James: And that was one of those times when Willie Ricks went crazy — but that's another discussion. So, Willie Ricks can go crazy. That was in August. In September, I went back to L.A. and started working with Jayne Cortez and Bob Rogers who was the head of the L.A. SNCC office, and they asked me to give a series of speeches about my experiences, and we talked about that a number of us did that. In late October or early November of '64, Jim Forman and Betty Garman, who was the head fundraiser for SNCC, came out and I was on a platform with Jim Forman, and I talked about some of the linkages between what was going on in the North (meaning the West) and the South. We called everything that wasn't the South the North.

And so Forman and Betty Garman had been talking to people, and they talked to Jayne Cortez and Bob, and they asked me —  I was recruited; actually I was recruited. I was told that I was going to become the Director of the L.A. SNCC. I was 20 years old. I was just three years out of the projects; I was not middle class; I was not college trained; I was not white; I was not typical of a lot of people who were Blacks in SNCC who had come from the North, out of DC, NAG [Nonviolent Action Group at Howard Univeristy] or any of those other groups. That wasn't me. I had come out of the gangs, really. I mean, I had come of the gangs in the local high school.

And they called Ruby Doris, and I had a long harangue with Ruby. I didn't have — I was harangued by Ruby Doris, and then when Robinson agreed, and apparently there was some background checking, and then I was given over the role to run the L.A. office. I was supposed to raise $150,000 within one year, and the New York office raised $250,000 [equal to $1.2 million and $2 million in 2018].

Now that's a huge amount of money in those days. It's nothing now, you know. You can't even live in San Francisco on less than $300,000, as a human being. But that was huge money. A half a million dollars is a lot of money in those days, to those who don't have it. Anyway, what they did was they told me they gave me the responsibility, delegated for me to do it, on the assumption that I would do it, and they didn't tell me I couldn't do it. I mean, their thing was one of those, 'Of course you can.'

And that kind of confidence in you — at first I was scared to death of Jim Forman. Betty Garman was all right, but Ruby Doris said if I screw up even a little bit, she's gonna come out and kick my ass. And I was more afraid of Ruby Doris than I was of Jim Forman, and so I did my best. We opened up two offices. We opened up an office in Hollywood on Hollywood Boulevard. Now, West Hollywood Boulevard at that time was Skid Row. There were more prostitutes and gamblers and hustlers — I mean, that's what Hollywood was before it became — Like 42nd Street in the 1970s in New York was a huge whorehouse, a huge brothel. And I mean, you could get robbed and all kind of stuff on 42nd Street. Same thing was true on Hollywood Boulevard.

We opened an office on Hollywood Boulevard about four blocks from Vine Street. The SNCC office was on the second floor of an old bank building, and we kept the office that I worked in on Manchester and Avalon in Watts. Now I'm describing the place that you guys probably don't know about, but that was right at the border of Watts. I grew up in South L.A., but I had moved to Watts by that time.

Hollywood SNCC. I wanted to say something about Hollywood SNCC. The Hollywood SNCC office was run by Peggy Penn. Her husband was Arthur Penn, and he was a guy who was directing a film called Bonnie and Clyde at that time. They had a young son whose name was Matthew Penn, and she would bring Matthew Penn to our office. She had her own office. She was the field general of Hollywood SNCC, and we wouldn't call them Friends of SNCC; Hollywood SNCC was mainly composed of whites who were involved in the entertainment sector, but they were either the non-Communists or anti-Communist sector, like Bud {UNCLEAR} who had turned State's evidence before HUAC and this and that and the other.

And I'll give some names. I'm only dropping names, because they're important for the context. Candice Bergen, who to me was Edgar Bergen's daughter. Edgar Bergen, the ventriloquist, with Charlie McCarthy. Because nobody knew her, she was kind of somebody's mistress or something, I don't know. Jane Fonda, and then later the guy who was — Richard Beymer, who had gone South and spent a summer in the Mississippi Summer Project; he was the co-star in the movie with Natalie Wood, the musical, big musical of that time which was — 

Rick: West Side?

James: West Side Story. He was the guy who got killed at the end. He was the lover of Natalie Wood in that movie, so he {UNCLEAR} was active. So the way we operated, what I learned was how to fundraise. What I learned was — 

Rick: It sounds like a fundraising arm.

James: Yeah, the main thing was to fundraise. The reason I'm telling this story is because it doesn't get told very often. I call it another country. Part of my job was to organize speakers. James Baldwin was at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. He was giving speeches for SCLC and SNCC at that time. He was also writing the script for a movie on Malcolm X's life, with the OK of Malcolm X. And then Malcolm X gets killed in February of '65. So he's at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel writing the script, and my job was to make sure his life was cool, because he was raising good money. He split the money between SCLC and SNCC. So we worked together on that project, and I got to know James and David Baldwin, his younger brother, very, very well during that time.

Again, the context is I didn't even know who most of these people were. Now, I had gone on the March on Washington, and I was on the plane. I was on the famous Hollywood plane with all of the stars on the plane, and I kept the manifest. I still have that manifest. Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were supposed to be on that plane, and they missed the plane. But I didn't know these people. I didn't know.

Rick: They were just names.

James: Yeah, all of these people didn't mean anything to me, because I mean I was in a street gang, so I wasn't going to the movies. And if you go to —  I forget what those outdoor movies were called.

Rick: Drive-in?

James: Drive-in movies. You went there to kiss the girls. I mean, you didn't go there to — we didn't care what movie it was. You didn't see the damn movie anyway. I'm just telling you the truth now.

At the same time, there was an organizing team based at Emmanuel United Church of Christ. There was a young, white minister there who had a Black wife. And there were people who ended up in the South, Linelle Barrett and Candy Brown who were both people who were in the Mississippi Summer Project. Mary Anderson, who Ron Bridgeforth knows very well. The person who's the head of the Pan-African Film Festival down in L.A. whose name is Ayuko — Tony Ashley was his name. His name is now Ayuko Babu.

And two people who I did some work with who I didn't know that they were movie stars. We worked in Carson. Their names were Marlon Brando and Pernell Roberts. Pernell Roberts was in a TV program called Bonanza. He was the young, good looking guy, dark-haired guy. We were involved in organizing, and I didn't know who these folks were. But I knew that they would show up to work, and they were very, very solid.

So in those days, we're talking about '63, '64, '65. The last piece I will talk about is how this stuff ended up collapsing. There were two watersheds. The first watershed was Bloody Sunday with the Pettus Bridge activity. We were doing house parties and raising $10-15,000 per clip. We were doing very well. We were about to do a big thing at the Greek Theater, and I was going to raise all the money at one set, and so we had a fundraiser by the name of Jack Trager who was helping us put this together.

But, what happened was that Bloody Sunday came, and we got calls that we needed to demonstrate in support of people doing the march. Well, at first it wasn't in favor of the March to Montgomery, because SNCC ended up setting up its own headquarters in Montgomery to counter the major dynamic that was happening with King and the Democratic Party. So Jim Forman had that. So there were two headquarters, one in Selma and one in Montgomery. And so SNCC people had to go back to Selma in order to participate in the march.

Our job [after Bloody Sunday] in every major city in the United States, the job of the local Friends of SNCC, was to demonstrate, and so we sent out — a group of us set out. They were not the Hollywood people but the people that I had been involved with in Movement activity, to shut down downtown L.A., and we did shut it down for 10 days. And we shut it down; we shut it down. I mean, we shut down the federal building, and in the first two days we shut down the freeway.

Numbers of groups of people didn't like that. First of all, you can't raise money like that. Second of all, you frighten a whole set of people who might give you money. Third of all, the Communist Party who I was close to felt that we should be operating under the aegis of the NAACP which was the major national front under which they operated. Because I was a young activist and probably didn't know any better.

The second watershed took place — there's a place called The Daisy; it's on Sunset Boulevard, and it was a private club where you could hold parties. And we scheduled a party that Elizabeth Taylor and her husband — 

Rick: Burton?

James: Yeah, Richard Burton were sponsoring, and we were going to raise good money with that. And the house party was to take place on what was the first day of the L.A. Uprising [starting in Watts]. So on the night of the party, that afternoon is when the stuff blew up. And for the next 10 days, I was out of pocket. I was gone. I was in the streets. And at that point, all that energy that was building in Hollywood almost totally disappeared. Peggy Penn wouldn't talk to us. Arthur and Peggy decided they were leaving, going back to New York which they did, and Arthur became a big producer.

Only Michael Kellen who was a character actor stayed around, and Pernell Roberts. Marlon Brando of course became very, very active. Jane Fonda and I were hanging out at that time. But that entire community became traumatized. The Hollywood community who supported SNCC and civil rights generally became traumatized, and their thing was that there was a fear that was generated in opposition. I mean, not in opposition, but there was a fear that blocked, that paralyzed whole sectors of the people. And I mean, actually, I took the fall for that.

After that, I went to the office — there was no need for an office in Hollywood, and then I was invited to go to Japan, and I went to Japan. This was in October of '65 I went to Japan. I was invited to Japan by NHK which was the only national television station in Japan at the time. And I was then invited to go to China, and then I went to North Vietnam, in '65. I mean North Vietnam. And then when I came back, there was a great deal of conflict and struggle with my behavior.

Rick: I was going to say, I'm sure you made some lists. [General laughter]

James: Yeah, so I got cut off by the Communist Party. I got cut off by SNCC leadership, this, that and the other. And so that is that story. I mean, I have a Black Student Union story and a number of other stories, but that story is one I just have to tell today, because it's the least controversial of all of those ones.

Rick: Let me ask you a question about that, because that's really good stuff. I mean, it's stuff we don't know. Is it your sense that the Hollywood community got scared when Civil Rights came, and all of a sudden it was in Los Angeles rather than down there in Mississippi.

James: At their doorsteps.

Rick: Yeah. It got real.

James: I mean, it was tactile. You could taste it; you could feel it. Their thing was, 'Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You can't disrupt my lifestyle. You can take all the money.' I mean, there were people giving us a lot of money. I mean, in those days, it was a lot of money. I mean, I'm making $25 per week [equal to $200 in 2018], so I'm "rich." You understand what I'm saying?

But they were giving us lots of money, and their thing was — I mean, things just froze. They didn't want to see you. I mean, my name came up from the Chief of Police Parker. Named me, put me on a wanted list. And boy I tell you, that was — I needed to go to San Francisco, which is what I did. I mean, there was no way. I would get out of Dodge. It was like it was so cold that people changed. I mean, we had done things at Burt Lancaster and Charleton Heston's house. Charleton Heston's politics changed. Burt Lancaster wouldn't — I mean, I'm naming these folks because they're human beings first. I didn't know them as stars. I knew them as people at whose house would be a good place to raise money.

Rick: Who you thought were friends. And when the going got tough, the tough got going?

James: And I was a sponge. I mean, people told me about Marilyn Monroe's real death, and Dorothy {UNCLEAR}. I learned stuff about what happened, why people shifted going to Las Vegas and drifted out of L.A. because of various sectors of the Mafia. I mean, people felt they could talk to me. I was little, skinny, and Black. And a male. And so they could talk to me. And they did. And then Whoosh! Yeah, we got to their doorstep. And unapologetically. I mean, I think if there had been a 'I'm very sorry that this has happened.' Of course, I wasn't apologetic for it. I thought this was actual resistance.

Rick: You should talk to the Singletons who are here today, because they're in L.A. at the same time, I think. They had Freedom Rides from L.A.

James: Yeah, I just met Bob Singleton. I knew about his wife. Before she was his wife. And then I know about her face. But I don't know him. I just met him. And he's at UCLA I just found out.

Steve: You mentioned in passing at one point that you got cut off by the SNCC leadership, and I didn't quite understand how that fit in and why?

James: Well, my raison d'etre was to raise money. I was supposed to be raising money for SNCC. First of all, I mean they said, 'If you want to do a little organizing on the side — ' Well, half my time was spent organizing, right? Because I didn't need to tell Peggy Penn anything. I mean, she and that group were mainly middle aged women, first wives. Yeah, mainly first wives. They could put together a party. But there was the threat to the income of SNCC. A number of people in SNCC leadership didn't want — in '64, '65, their people to be at the fulcrum of an uprising, a riot — right? So I was criticized over a period of time.

Steve: Were they supportive of what was going on in L.A., but they just didn't want you to be involved because it was detracting from raising money? Or was there some part of the leadership that didn't want this kind of activity going on at all?

James: Well, I think that all three of those points that you just made. There were people in SNCC who thought it would turn whites away.

Rick: But that was fine with some of the folks in SNCC.

James: Well, I know that, but SNCC is more horizontal in a lot of ways. But the fundraising aspect, there's a small group who controlled the fundraising section. The rest of the people who were floaters or "freedom high" people or this or that or the other. They floated. And so a lot of people floated out to the West Coast, and we spent a lot of time together.

I mean, because I was nurturing a position about whether it was possible to rebuild the Black Student Movement on a predominantly white college campus. That's how the Black Student Union of San Francisco State came about. So I could discuss this stuff with this group. There's a whole other group whose thing was, particularly people from the West Coast who were whites in SNCC, whose thing was, 'You're screwing up our thing.' And "our thing" meant basically, people were still saying the Civil Rights Movement ended when the vocal white people left. And I never thought that was the case. It didn't end in 1965. It didn't end when Black Power was asserted.

The Civil Rights Movement didn't stop just because white people in main were not central to its function, because that would've meant that's another statement of white privilege. Wouldn't it be? When they determine when it is, when it begins and when it ends. So there was that group. Then there were people who were influential around the left whose thing was, 'That's not the proper strategy to have a visible person from SNCC being that involved in an uprising.' And I was very involved with it.

Steve: You probably had discussions with some of those SNCC people since. Do they have a different perspective now?

James: I mean, two years later, Jim Forman was saying, 'The revolution will come from a Black thing.' But we had always talked about Black Power and stuff like that and this and that and the other. But I think if it happened in Birmingham, it's one thing. It happens in L.A. and New York and Chicago, you are a support base. Your job is to support the Movement. And I agree that is what I should've been doing. My principle purpose was to make that $150,000, even though I didn't know what $150,000 was. I had to do that. So I understood it. When I met with the people from — I forgot one of the front {UNCLEAR} of the CP, and they said, 'You get no support from us.' I mean, I was undisciplined. And I was. I was undisciplined from that framework. I was undisciplined.

Steve: Well, you were in your young 20s.

James: I was 20. I mean, I was arrogant. I was all this stuff. You name it. But my thing was that I wasn't going to stop organizing, because for me, organizing was not an avocation. It was a way of life. I was learning, and I was serving my apprenticeship, and I was getting through the journey piece, and that was what I was going to do. So I probably should not have taken that job, but I had to take it. But there are a number of things I wish I had done differently.

Steve: Well, that's too bad is that somebody couldn't fill in for what you were doing, because you're a real organizer, and you obviously had a certain amount of success doing what you were doing.

James: But the problem was that initially there was a great deal of success raising money. And the first visible Black person in L.A. who could go around in his blue jean jacket and this and that and the other and then speak semi-articulately. And I didn't have a threatening look. I mean, I looked like everybody's nephew or baby cousin. I mean, I must've weighed 110 pounds soaking wet in those days, you know? And all nose and ears. So who's going to be threatened by me? And I had lived the life. I had the credentials. I had the cachet. I mean, they chose the right person, and then they chose the wrong person at the same time.

Miriam: I want to know what Ruby Doris said.

James: Hmm?

Miriam: I want to hear more about what Ruby Doris said when the fundraising stopped.

James: Well, actually, when the fundraising stopped, Ruby was not as upset as some of the other folks were, because of the reason. She thought it was principle. She got on me. At the beginning, she said, 'Don't mess up. Don't mess up. You're out there with them white folks. Don't mess up.' And so I mean, I could feel the hair —  You guys don't know Doris. She's a tough, tough — 

Miriam: I knew Ruby Doris.

James: OK, so then when the pressure came on me, Ruby Doris' thing was, 'What the hell you expect them to do? Run away from the Black community when it's in motion? You know, it was a good thing for him to be there.' So she stuck with me, but I was very contrite myself about it. I was going to be in there at that time, and again, I was still serving. I did better on my next project. I think I did much better on the San Francisco State project than I did on my L.A. project.

Miriam: I'll just mention I had a friend who I met on the Mississippi Project who got through Mississippi — he was a white guy — without any problems. He got his nose broken, not in Mississippi, but at San Francisco State.

James: A lot of heroic — in fact, that's what we're doing right now, the 50th anniversary, we are trying to put together a scholarship. The scholarships have been broken down into minority students and this and that and the other. So we're trying to construct a scholarship for children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of anybody who was involved in the struggle at San Francisco State. SDS, PLP, the Third World Liberation Fund, the Black Student Union. So we're trying to address that piece to show that for us, identity politics was a consciousness building thing. It wasn't itemized until forever.

You know, I mean because some of the people whose — I mean, there are people who lost a broken nose, young women with their teeth knocked out, all kind of terrible things happened because the state was very angry that young whites were joining in a situation where Black people were in the leadership, and they were engaged in, at the time, radical activity. So they hated that. Sometimes they were more — In fact, more whites were brutalized in that setting during the strike, and during the first short strike, that's who they attacked. So I agree with you.

Steve: Well, I was just going to mention, because I worked on the legal defense committee, and did we work together at State on that {UNCLEAR cross-talk}

James: Well, I got arrested with [Terry] Hallinan and John Gerassi in January of [1968] — We shut down on December 6th [1967?], so I was already — I mean, they had shipped me off to —  They were trying to ship me off to prison in the spring. I wasn't here for the strike. I wasn't here for the strike. They had already found me guilty of assault on a police officer.

Rick: You're guilty of something. You must be!

James: Oh, I was guilty of many things, that I would do all over again.

Steve: Did you get a lawyer through the Guild?

James: No, my lawyer was Henry Ramsey, Clint Weiss.

Steve: Is that right?

James: And Willie Brown. It was Willie Brown who got the deal cut.

Steve: Well that's a different kind of {UNCLEAR}. [General laughter] But we'll have to talk about that at a break. Yeah, Henry Ramsey went on to be a judge. Amazing guy.

James: And Willie Brown went on to be Willie Brown. [General laughter]

James: Thank you, facilitator, for allowing me to go overtime for a little bit.

Miriam: You noticed that.

James: Yeah, you didn't {UNCLEAR}

Steve: I wasn't breathing the whole time. That's a story I've never heard.

James: No, I'm a hardliner like that. {UNCLEAR}

Steve: You've got to write a book about it.

James: I am writing a book about it.

Steve: Are you?

James: Yeah, I'm writing that whole 60 years or 75 period.

Steve: Good for you. You're actually in the middle of doing it?

James: I'm getting to it, man. I'm on it. And Jane Fonda's new book, Jane Fonda just published a memoir.

Rick: Right.

James: She has a whole piece in there about Friends of SNCC in L.A.

Steve: Oh yeah?

James: That she talks about.

Steve: Is it accurate?

James: Huh?

Steve: Is it accurate?

James: Well, except that she's smart enough to leave the names out of the people she — 

Steve: Yeah, it's interesting, memory. You know, each of us personally somehow thinks our memory is accurate. And of course, it isn't. And so you have two people experiencing exactly the same thing, and they remember it differently.

James: Well, also like with me and my brother, my older brother, same bed, and we have different memories of what was going on in the house, so I mean, I think that's — 

Steve: Yeah, I've had people insist that we did something together that I'm absolutely certain never happened. And I'm not angry at them. I don't think they're lying on purpose. I think they actually believe what they're saying happened.

Rick: And you believe it too.

Steve: And I believe my version too. [General laughter]

But that makes it difficult to work out with people when there are the kinds of disputes you were describing; that makes it difficult 30, 40 years later to get it worked out, because you remember things differently.

James: Yeah, I think that's true. Yes, I know it to be true, especially with the thing with Jane Fonda. I was communicating with her a year and a half ago when she was starting to work on her book, and she knows about how things shut down, but she has a whole different set of reasons for it. She sees the rise of the anti-war movement, the people began — the civil rights sheet became an anti-war sheet. And so there was a shift, and she thought that people were already shifting from being interested in that cycle, and they were moving over to this other cycle.

Steve: I don't know that Hollywood got all that interested in the anti-war movement in the way it did around the Civil Rights Movement. Some people, but not in terms of fundraising so much. I mean, there was this very powerful — 

James: Just the interest, where they were more concerned about those issues and this and that. I don't know; we discussed this back and forth, but that was her view.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

James: And it also definitely reflected her own experience, her life experience.

Steve: Yeah. She was big time in the anti-war movement.

James: Well, she became that. I mean, I was around during the early days, because like I said, there were only three Americans who had been to North Vietnam, and I was one of them. And the group that — 

Steve: That was '65?

James: '65. It was '65. And when I arrived, I gathered that there were two males, two white guys who had already been there. And those were the people who ended up helping, facilitating Jane's trip to North Vietnam.

Steve: So had Tom been there already? Tom Hayden? Or he went with her?

James: No, no, no, no. Tom's relationship to Jane comes much later.

Rick: He was involved in SDS and the Chicago thing.

James: Yeah, he didn't go. He didn't go for years. That was much, much later.


Rick: Well, in terms of the Panthers and the Black Student Union. I mean, that was some powerful —  I get it. But it shut a whole lot of folks out who wanted to help.

James: Let me go back a minute.

Rick: OK. Educate me. [General laughter] I'm serious.

James: I'm a little less — I bring a little less hubris to it than I used to. I'm nowhere near as arrogant. I'm much more doubtful in a lot of ways. But in terms of the loss of community that I've heard — so as far as I'm concerned, I have come in contact with a number of people, particularly whites, who never got past 1964. And from '61, with the first Freedom Riders on up, and what happened was that the SNCC, CORE, COFO or whatever it was, became their community. And for many, it was the first community that they were a part of that they didn't feel alienated, from which they did not feel alienated. And then they got alienated from that.

[Referring to conflicts and issues regarding the role of whites in the Movement.]

And so, over time, there have been a lot of things that have broken. And my thing is that I think it was a loss of community. I mean, I know people who know of people who had nervous breakdowns and going crazy behind it. They just could not function. I mean, people have told me that the first time they'd ever been embraced, hugged physically was by some Black woman or person in whose house they stayed. And the first time they really felt — 

Steve: Loved.

James: Yeah, in a tactile way, loved, was that time. And so I think in some ways that situation for whites was a renewal for them, or if not even a renewal than a beginning of a renewal. Because some of them came from families where they had food, clothing, shelter, and all these things, but there were so many restrictions on their lives that this gave them an avenue. And they were courageous, and they took chances, and they did what young people do. They coupled; they screwed; they drank together; they did all kinds of stuff.

And so I want to first say that I first started hearing about Black Power from reading Paul Robeson. My Black Power stuff didn't start with — I mean, by the time Stokely got to saying "Black Power," I was so far past Black Power that a number of us thought, 'Why is he calling for this shit? We've been running this line for years.' So that's what I'm saying.

I come at it from a different place, but I recognize that sense of loss. And I don't think that the Movement developed a series of social spaces so that people could either transition or have the time to build new communities or overlapping communities. On the other hand, I was associating with whites who were involved with SNCC or involved with CORE or involved in Mississippi who made that transition, that is they didn't feel kicked out; they felt that they had learned the basics, enough for them to move forward at another level. So some people responded to it in an A way, and some responded to it in a B way.

That's number one. And so I think that some people were dropped off into a situation where they felt they had to deal with it individually, although there have been movements that engaged huge numbers of whites. I mean, I was one of those people who was involved with the founding of the Congress of Unrepresented People, Paul Lauder and Bob [Moses] and a number of others, who consciously worked to help create a framework, because they saw the whites being pushed out of the southern part of the Civil Rights Movement, and they helped create — I mean, I watched people help create an Antiwar Movement for whites so that they would have something to do.

Miriam: In August of '65, Bob asked us to come to Washington, D.C.

James: And I was in the planning group in March, and Lauder was there. He had just gotten back from North Korea. There were a number of people. There was a woman from Gaucher College. But there was a group of people who were part of that planning group, and I was a part of that planning group. And the group, we met at American University; we met at the Institute for Policy Studies. That was the group that did that, and that group in May issued a call for a Congress of Unrepresented People to take place in August.

Miriam: Then you are partly responsible for my second arrest.

James: Well, that sounds like good news. [General laughter] So far, these arrests you're talking about, they don't sound like bad news to me. They just sound like news. [General laughter]

So what I'm saying is that there was space available. So I'll just stop with that. The thing about the Black Student Union and all of that, they're trying to build a — it would probably be good at some point, maybe at the next gathering, that the reason for building the Black Student Union was not about keeping white people out of the Movement. In many ways, it wasn't about white people at all.

Rick: No, I get that.

James: The same thing that we found — I mean, me and Charlie Cobb were arguing this point. He's going to a Black school, and I'm going to a white school. But the purpose was to rebuild a middle cadre which was the soul of SNCC; it was middle cadre. Not Jim Forman, not Bob, not this, not that. It's the middle cadre, right? It's the Wazirs and the Frank Smiths, the Cynthia Washingtons, and the people who went to those projects and worked 24 hours a day, spent their lives at them, right? Learning the organizing skills. So we wanted to train the —  our thing was where could we find a place where we can do human capital development? Train people, run them back through the community. But this time, we do it on a national basis. And so it wasn't set up to exclude whites. What we felt was that whites already had several constituencies.

Rick: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, that's the problem.

James: And so they had {UNCLEAR} constituencies, but there was no critical mass of Blacks, and then ultimately when we built the Third World Liberation Front, we built critical mass, trying to build critical masses of other people of color. During that time, we were engaged in intense debates with SDS, ideological struggles, and the PLP, the Progressive Labor Movement. I mean, there were white folks everywhere involved in movement. That's the point I was trying to make. The purpose of this was not exclusionary. It was, in fact, to build a sector so that we had an effective component in the Movement.


Rick: [After I got out of college] I get this one job offer which is in lily white Marin.

James: Not lily white. Because I spent some time in Marin City.

Rick: No, I know. But it's more so than most.

Rick: Yeah. I know. I know Marin City, and the schools are just a disgrace.

James: I mean, goodness gracious, man. I mean, the Marin City to San Quentin pipeline is famous all over the State of California. Tupaq [Shakur] comes out of there. So you know what I mean. I mean, I can tell you that's deep. Because I worked over there at the community — what's it called? CSF, Community Services District.

Rick: Right, CSD.

James: Yeah. And I was a person they hired to put together their library, and I put together a library of music, because the guys, they wouldn't read, so we did a digital library and albums and this and that and the other. And that's where Tupaq and his [partners], so-called thugs; they weren't thugs. We used to call them {UNCLEAR}. They weren't thugs. You know, anybody wears a thug thing, as a tattoo, you already know he's not a thug. But these are the poets; these were the soft guys and this and that. The guys, if a different setting had emerged, they would be an advanced set of creative people. Two-thirds of them are dead now. But all I'm saying is that that — don't get me started on Marin, because I know that the Marin — I knew about that woman who got that money from Exxon. There was a — 

Rick: The Buck Fund?

James: The Buck Fund. Now don't start me on this, because I really do know. The biggest {UNCLEAR} theft. This woman set up a fund for the poor and colored people of Marin, and all the money now goes to the ballet and to the opera. No money went to the poor, meaning poor whites, poor anybody. The poor and colored of Marin. This was like a 75 or 100 million dollars.

Steve: Oh, it was more than that. The legal — I'm a lawyer too. So let's not get into too big of trouble. I don't usually say that, but I read — I read the piece, and I just said, 'Man, you're talking about a theft.' They stole —  And then they {UNCLEAR}. They did an ethnic cleansing and left a little reservation up on the hill and built a shopping center below. Man, I'm telling you. I'm {UNCLEAR} Marin.

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