Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)

Research interview for Who Speaks for the Negro?
Interviewed by Robert Penn Warren, March 4, 1964

[Provided courtesy of the Who Speaks for the Negro?" archives, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. See Stokely Carmichael for background information, the original transcripts, and streaming audio version of this interview. Some errors in the original transcript have been corrected, others have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available at the URL listed above. Time stamps are included in the retyped transcripts to aid in this process.]

Note that unintelligible portions of the tape are indicated in this transcript with {UNCLEAR}.


Start of Interview
Relations With Whites
Afro-American Writers
The Sit-Ins
Growing Out of the Neighborhood
Worlds: Negro & White
Whites in the Movement
Black Consciousness
Civil Rights & Revolution?
1960, Youth March & Fayette County    
1961, Freedom Ride
Southern Whites
At Parchman Prison
In the Movement
Black Nationalism
Preferential Treatment
Violence, Reprisal & Nonviolence
Problems of Leadership
Strategy & Power


Start of Interview

Carmichael: ... and when we got off to the last meeting.

Warren: You and Bob Moses.

Carmichael: And then {UNCLEAR}

Warren: I don't think so, no, no.

Carmichael: {UNCLEAR} We got into the car, there were three cars, {UNCLEAR} we had guns hanging out the windows, and George started off driving, "{UNCLEAR} Godammit, Moses, we're being chased." Bob looked back and could see the headlights,

Warren: At night.

Carmichael: Yes. He said, "Well they won't bother us," and Bob turned over and went to sleep. (laughs) James and I {UNCLEAR} and Bob went to sleep.



Warren: Let's turn to some matter of your personal history. Mr. Carmichael. Where were you born?

Carmichael: I was born in Trinidad, West Indies.

Warren: Trinidad, West Indies. And would you tell me something — 

Carmichael: When I came here, I was about 10.

Warren: You have some recollection of that life?

Carmichael: Very much so, I've been doing a lot of thinking about it.

Warren: Where did you live in the United States when you came here?

Carmichael: In New York, we first lived, and {UNCLEAR}, {UNCLEAR} my father, five of us in the family, four girls and myself, my father was very nervous about the neighborhoods, and we moved to middle {UNCLEAR} about 180th street, on the east side of the Bronx.

Warren: Where did you go to school?

Carmichael: Went to Bronx High School of Science.

Warren: That's a highly competitive school, isn't it?

Carmichael: Yes, I learned that. When I was in elementary school, did a lot of reading, but not the type of reading the students at Science, had done, simple novels and short stories, and {UNCLEAR}, I was behind in American history, so I read the Horatio Alger type stories, about Abraham Lincoln, hard working, you know. And I graduated as an honor student, or was graduated as an honor student, without doing very much work. And so I went into science, my old man thought I was a genius, I found out that that wasn't true at all.

Warren: That's an old story, isn't it? You didn't invent that story. When did you finish the Bronx High School of Science?

Carmichael: 1960

Warren: And you are a junior now, or senior? Senior

Carmichael: Senior.

Warren: Senior now. What are you majoring in here? [Howard University in Washington DC.]

Carmichael: Philosophy.



Warren: Yes, I didn't know that. What sort of reading have you been doing at Howard, not your course reading, but your reading by choice. What do you find most nourishing to you.

Carmichael: Now that I've been in civil rights, magazines on {UNCLEAR} etc. etc., books by DuBois, Frazier, McGill.

Warren: Ralph McGill?

Carmichael: Also, some of the fellow in Richmond Times, Richmond News, segregationists. What do you call them

Warren: Hutchins?

Carmichael: No, not {UNCLEAR}, I can't think of him.

Warren: Not Dabnik?

Carmichael: Not, not Dubnik. {UNCLEAR} in Richmond Times, oh well, maybe it will come to me.

Warren: But you haven't, you have more or less confined your reading to matters directly bearing on the civil rights.

Carmichael: Well, it's started to taper off, I've been doing that, and also reading a lot of political readings, but I've started reading other things, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I read this book last night Segregation in Conflict, I started reading also previously, a lot of white southerners, {UNCLEAR}, {UNCLEAR} [Lillian] Smith, Anne Braden, but I want to taper off and read a lot of other things besides civil rights. I find that I'm being dominated by the movement, {UNCLEAR} the whole thing just {UNCLEAR}.

Warren: Have you read [Ralph] Ellison's fiction?

Carmichael: Oh yeah, I read Invisible Man.

Warren: It's a wonderful book, wonderful book. Have you read Faulkner's Sound and Fury?

Carmichael: No. I think the best thing I read by Faulkner though is the "The Beer," a little short story.

Warren: Which one?

Carmichael: "The Beer."

Warren: Yes. Yes.

Carmichael: Yes, I think that's the best one, I haven't read all his works, but I couldn't forget.

Warren: Sometimes, it's said by a Negro that the character of Dilsey [in The Sound and the Fury] simply represents, you know, the Aunt Jemima type — slightly disguised, and this character was invented by some Negro critics. How do you feel about Dilsey?

[In this context, Aunt Jemima refers to the minstrel-era "mammie" steotype of a jolly but subservient Afro-American cook or maid. Quaker Oats (today owned by Pepsi Company), branded their pancake mix "Aunt Jemima" to evoke that stereotype. In the 1960s, some activists used "Aunt Jemima" as a female version of the derogatory "Uncle Tom".]

Carmichael: I wouldn't, I wouldn't criticize Faulkner, my feeling about Faulkner, is I like his style of writing, I don't think that he was writing the story to win anybody, he was just writing a story to recall it, {UNCLEAR}, and that's how he saw it. I don't think you you can blame him for that. He wasn't trying to show everybody there's something wrong with the south.

Warren: Well, [James] Baldwin's attack on Faulkner, was to assume something quite different and remote in those things as possibilities, that he is entrapped by a certain southern stereotype about the Negro, unconsciously, and that Dilsey represents a sort of libel as it were on the Negro.

Carmichael: Yes, Baldwin wrote an attack, and that's why Baldwin's attack was a form of personal attack, even though he had to admit that, something like — Nobody Knows My Name — 

Warren: It was an attack on Faulkner.

Carmichael: He admitted, that, he even broadened the criticism if I remember correctly, he said the whole southern way of life, the people who grow up in the south, hate to admit they lost the Civil War, yet they wanted the country, and the whole schizophrenic development. Seems to me his attack was on the schizopohrenia, he had to admit that Faulkner was the same who would write about Dilsey, and still give his money, his prize money to the Negro College Fund. Am I getting in.

Warren: But I think about Dilsey, do you feel that this is an honest human rendering, or it does partake of some concealed southern stereotype?

Carmichael: I think there is some concealed type, I can't deny that.

Warren: In Dilsey?

Carmichael: Yes.

Warren: Would that be a stereotype if such a person as Dilsey existed not uncommonly?

Carmichael: That's what I prefer to {UNCLEAR} about. Because I think that such a person does exist.

Warren: Then he is drawing from life, not creating stereotypes, just sees himself in some unconscious way.

Carmichael: Yeah, well that's what I started off saying. He's writing about it as he saw it. If I were writing the story, and I were depicting Dilsey, I would do it, probably the same way he did it, but then I'd go on a little further and say, well I can understand it and it might be that I would be rationalizing.

Warren: Well, Dilsey is made the moral center of the book, isn't she? She is the only person in the book who is totally human. In control of her faith in the moral sense. And has compassion and understanding for others.

Carmichael: Well, this is the whole stereotype of the Negro maid. She's compassionate, she's understanding — her faith,

Warren: We're going now to the story of Requiem for a Nun?

Carmichael: Well, I haven't read that.

Warren: Oh, well, you're just as well off, I think. It's not — one of his weakest books.

Carmichael: See, the trouble is that when you stand on, on an issue like this, there's just nobody run, you have to take one side of the coin. I think we ought to be careful, when we start criticizing people, we're not just criticizing people, because as Negroes, we want to wipe out all the stereotypes. See, I'm not sure I want to wipe it out.

Warren: But here is the point you're getting at, then. I don't want to nag at this question, but it's an important question, I really feel. If, given the whole context of life, in which a Dilsey or people like Dilsey, grew up, you have here a kind of great moral triumph, out of various kinds of deprivation, and oppressions, you have a character, morally and in all ways superior to anything around her.

The white world around her is given by a Faulkner as a decaying and corrupted world. She is the moral center, the moral force of the book. Now his intention was to glorify her, show her strength, her strength of character, it admits people who are incomplete or weak or wicked, that's his intention, the intention of the book, the picture he gives. Yet then how, {UNCLEAR} her becomes taken as a libel on the Negro race.

Carmichael: Well, I think it becomes a libel because people read into it what they want to read. They don't want to remember the Aunt Jemima type.

Warren: In other words, it's the fact that her being poor, oppressed, and loyal to certain white people, her loyalty to certain white people, comes up as a mark against her, is that it?

Carmichael: Well in a sense, it becomes that way especially since Faulkner was writing it, I think the fact that Faulkner is writing it, I think for instance, if Baldwin had written it — 

Warren: Baldwin not being white, and not being a southern, it would have been — 

Carmichael: Right.

Warren: — would have been then a moral triumph for Dilsey to have a pity for the idiot whiteboy Benjy. Well, now, if Faulkner does it, it's not a moral triumph, it's a piece of obsequiousness and stupidity.

Carmichael: Absolutely. For an example. You know Malcolm X.

Warren: Pardon

Carmichael: If you ever listen to Malcolm X personally. Malcom X does the exact same thing that all white people have been saying. Negroes are dirty, they should clean themselves up, they should stop drinking, they should stop smoking, they should stop cutting each other, go to church, get good jobs, clean up their neighborhoods.

Now, if a white person were to get up and say it, he'd be attacked from here to God knows where. Now Malcom X can get up and say — well we know why, it's because the white people, you know, and get away with it. I think this has to do a lot with color.

Warren: In other words, now you are studying Logic, now this is the odd homonym, isn't it? The extreme, isn't it?

Carmichael: Well, that's because we all try to seeourselves as {UNCLEAR} it doesn't really make a difference whether {UNCLEAR}


Relations With Whites

Warren: How did you first become involved in this, in the civil rights movement, how did you enter SNCC for instance.

Carmichael: Oh, when I entered Science, I — 

Warren: This would be about '56?

Carmichael: Yes. This was '56. I realized how inadequate my whole intellectual background was. For example, I was attending school with students who knew so much about things you know that I just vaguely heard about. I remember in my freshman year walking into a science class and students the same age as me, explain Einstein's theory of relativity, and all I knew about Einstein, he was some nut, who used to go out in the sun with an umbrealla.

I remember having people talking about Marx in social studies, dialectical materialism, and all I knew was that Marx was a dirty guy who was a communist. I remember making friends with a fellow, Gene Dennis, and finding out later, that in meeting his father, I thought his father was brilliant, good looking, charming fellow, finding out later, his father was Chairman of the Communist Party, and he was a Communist.

Warren: This was a fellow student.

Carmichael: Yes.

Warren: At Bronx Science.

Carmichael: And these were all confusing to me, I didn't know, I thought that I wasn't supposed to hang around with communists. And here they were letting one come to school. I began to realize, my parents never finished high school, we had no intellectual background, all these student's fathers had been Harvard, Yale, {UNCLEAR}, doctors, dentists, PhDs, they had the intellectual background which I didn't have, tried to develop my own.

Oh, just beginning to read as quickly as I could, anything that anyone mentioned, to develop my own intellectual background, it was naive at that time, but it was sincere, in that I felt that I had to beat everybody in science. The fact that I was a Negro did stand out, everybody was my best friend, I went to all the teas with everybody else,

Warren: Excuse me, let me interrupt, how many Negroes were in the school?

Carmichael: I think in my graduating class, were only about six of us.

Warren: And a couple of hundred students?

Carmichael: Oh, let's see, there were about, 2000 students, and out of that, I'd say there were about 50 Negroes

Warren: 50 Negroes in the whole thing? You said everybody was your best friend. What do you mean by that?

Carmichael: Well, I was always being invited to parties, and I remember — 

Warren: You mean, you were being invited because people were leaning over backwards to be nice to you, because you were a Negro student in the school?

Carmichael: I remember for instance, going to a party on Park Avenue with a friend of mine, I think he's in Yale now, he invited me, he kept asking me — won't I come to a party, and I didn't care about getting to a party, but he just kept on me, he said — won't you come, won't you come, I decided, well I'll just go to the party to see what it's like.

So I went to the party, and well I got there, was very impressed with the place, doorman at the door, and elevator went up and opened to the living room, sunken living room, open fire place, stereo all over the house, rugs about that thick. Never seen this before, only in movies. His mother came in during the party and he insisted that everybody meet his mother, but more than that, he insisted that I meet his mother, I didn't particularly care to meet his mother. I was so fascinated with the place, he was living on about the 15th floor, and I was looking out the window, just enjoying myself just being there. But he insisted, so finally I thought I'd just appease him.

Well, his mother had a group of other ladies there, I was about the last one to meet her, and like I hit it off right away — she said, oh I've heard so much about you, you've got such a good sense of humor. {UNCLEAR} always talks about you, you're such a good looking boy, what features you have, on and on and on and on. Finally when I was leaving, the door was just about closed, his mother turned to the elevator, said, oh yes, we let Jimmy hang around with Negroes. I didn't like that.

Warren: Not very much.

Carmichael: I left the party. It was a continual thing, everybody would ask me, who's party are you going to, we'll be there, oh, you can dance so well. I can't dance — all the stereotypes were carried over, leaning backwards.

Warren: Reverse.

Carmichael: Yeah, reverse. Everyone telling me how well I could sing, I can't carry a tune. And all the stereotypes, with a good sense of humor,

Warren: Now, how much of this was merely fashion, merely chiqueness, and how much was some kind of honesty mixed up in it?

Carmichael: I think they were sincere without realizing it.

Warren: Without realizing what they were doing, in their sincerity.

Carmichael: Yea, I think they were sincere, they wanted to be my friend, really want to be my friend, and of course, every time there was some racial conference, I was always consulted as the spokesman.

Warren: You mean, they wanted to be your friend as "the Negro," but not your friend as Stokely Carmichael, is that it?

Carmichael: Well, I think there was a little of both mixed.

Warren: But what you resented was being taken as a type.

Carmichael: Right.

Warren: As an example, rather than a person.

Carmichael: Right. I had great fun with this, I just went out to the NSA Conference [National Student Association], and I would take the floor and just say any ridiculous thing, you know, about Negroes, about the race conference, here were students from all over the country, and they would never have thank me no matter what I said, because I was a Negro. The whole thing is shifted so much, ifyou're a Negro, you're among a white group, you're good, you're great, you're — I'm sure, Negroes are bastards too. You know, but I was good no matter what I did.


Afro-American Writers

Warren: Now, have you followed the controversy between Irving Howe and Ralph Ellison in Dissent and New Leader in recent months?

Carmichael: No, I didn't see that, I just got the subscription to Dissent in the last two issues.

Warren: Well, it just came out in the fall, the substance of it, is this — similar to what you have been saying, about yourself. I won't dwell on it now, but Irving Howe deplores the fact that as a novelist, Ralph Ellision has not pursued the protest line of Richard Wright, the angry man, the violent protestor against his life, and his pain, his lot, as a Negro. Well, Ralph turned around, and [said that] this is just like Bilbo, you are trying to stereotype me, I refuse to stereotype, because life tells something else to me, as well as the indignities in the white man's world. And I intend to be an artist, and not accept your stereotype.

[Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi was a virulent white-supremacist and member of the Ku Klux Klan who publicly proclaimed on the Senate floor that Afro-Americans were racially inferior, that segregation was necessary to preserve the purity of the white race, and that Blacks should not be allowed to vote anywhere in the U.S. His racist diatribes stereotyped Afro-Americans as dirty, lazy, ignorant, and criminally inclinded sexual predators]

Carmichael: I remember Baldwin, and [the] fellow who did [the play] Purlie Victorious — 

Warren: Can't remember him now.

Carmichael: Ossie Davis, and Killens, they were all saying that in order for them to write anything, now, it has to be a protest. Publishers won't publish anything by Negroes unless they're writing protest.

Warren: They publish Ralph.

Carmichael: Well Ralph Ellison, when was that book published — nineteen forty...

Warren: No, in 1952, or '53, '52, I guess, and he publishes wherever he wishes, he's in a great demand, he hasn't finished his other book, it will come.

Carmichael: Well, the only book he's written is The Invisible Man.

Warren: The only book, yes. But now did you feel that the Invisible Man was a betrayal of Ralph's obligation as a Negro?

Carmichael: I did not. I thought it was a fantastic book, I thought it was a well portrayed book, introspective feeling of Negroes. I think the whole development from the south to the north, the old feeling of still being alienated {UNCLEAR}. I couldn't see the betrayal. He was involved with the radical people, got involved with them in [the] North, I think the communists he was talking about, I don't see it as being a betrayal. He could have written something, could have a Bigger Thomas, {UNCLEAR} but then I think he would be Wright if he wrote a Bigger Thomas.

[Bigger Thomas is the central character in Richard Wright's novel Native Son.]

Warren: Ralph says, in one of his replies to Irving Howe, that no Negro has tried to pressure him into writing protest novels, always white people.

Carmichael: And it's probably true.

Warren: That [a] white stereotype, another one, a more fashionable one now, is being imposed.

Carmichael: This is the mistake that [James] Baldwin is going to make. I think that the white press is going to demand that Baldwin keeps writing protest novels, and if he ever tries anything else, he's dead. And you wonder how long can he go, how far can he go.

Warren: Do you see any difference in quality between Baldwin's polemical writing and essays, and his fiction?

Carmichael: Yeah, he's an essayist.

Warren: Great polemical writer, great essayist.

Carmichael: Great essayist. Funny, but I liked Giovanni's Room, not many people did.

Warren: I didn't, to be honest, I thought it was a great come down from his first novel.

Carmichael: Now, Go Tell It On The Mountain, is a fantastic, a fantastic work.

Warren: A real honest portrayal of a boy growing up.

Carmichael: Right. Fantastic work. Flashback, and all the luxury of a good writer. But I still think that as an essayist, he's better.

Warren: I should agree, that's the way he found himself.


The Sit-Ins

Warren: Let's go back to your involvement in civil rights movement, and your growth and awareness, about the whole question. You say when you went to the Bronx High Schoool, you had your friends, and you were pampered as the respectable Negro.

Carmichael: I was always told that I was going to be a brilliant Negro leader. And my parents wanted me to be a doctor, good Negro doctor, regular stereotype, I didn't particularly want to be a doctor, but I never told them I didn't want to be a doctor, just let them assume. While at Science, I started meeting a lot of people on the left. Young socialists, people in Advance, ran around to [Communist Party leader] Ben Davis' office, listened to what a lot of people had to say, began doing a lot of reading on the left, I became aware of the fact, and I even believed that I could be groomed as a Negro leader, maybe not a Booker T. Washington, and I heard about [W.E.B.] DuBois at that time, did a little bit of his reading, I thought that he made some mistakes, and I thought that I was going to be brilliant, and study very hard, I was gonna solve the race problem.

In 1960 I picked up the newspaper, and I read about Adele Bland's Four Companions, and my first reaction to this was this is the wrong way of doing it.

[Apparantly referring to the The Greensboro Sit-Ins.]

Warren: The sit-in.

Carmichael: Yes. Threw the paper down. This was the New York Times.

Warren: Why this reaction?

Carmichael: Why this reaction, well, actually what I said, was Niggers always looking to get themselves in the papers, no matter how they do it. And my opinion, was We don't know what they're doing, and I'm quite convinced now, that they didn't know what they were doing. {UNCLEAR} and spoke to them.

Warren: You mean, they stumbled on this.

Carmichael: Yeah, they didn't know what they were doing. About three weeks later, the New York Times documented on the front page, the sit-ins that had spread all over the South. My reaction then was, Niggers are just like monkeys, one do, all do. Threw the paper down again.

About a month later, television interviews began to appear. I'd hear students from A&I [North Carolina Agricultural and Technical?] students from Greensboro College, and {UNCLEAR}, very distressed about this, you don't want a revolution, you want to be intelligent, I still had conceived the idea that you got to have somebody in the same, not just talk about it emotionally we've been treated bad, I get tired of seeing that stuff all the time. About how badly Negroes were treated. By about March, no about by April, mid- April — 

Warren: '61?

Carmichael: '60, still '60. I thought there were possibilities. Something could be done with this. In May of 1960, I was on a committee, an Anti-HUAC Committee. And we had the hearings on the Merchant Marines in Washington, D.C. Came down to D.C. as part of the protest, group to listen to HUAC, and met a number of people who were then involved in the sit-ins.

[The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was one of two congressional committees engaged in smearing and destroying progressive social movement and organizations including attacks against the Freedom Movement in the 1950s and '60s.]

Warren: You were still in the high school now.

Carmichael: Right. I left the HUAC, and went on a sit-in Virginia, very impressed, with the kids, they had what seemed to me, courage, I had always been oriented on the left, from an economic point of view, sort of, well not an economic determinist, but certainly great proclivity for that sort of thing. And realized that a lot of kids weren't talking what I thought they would be talking about. They said — we have the right to human dignity,

Warren: You mean, this as opposed to an economic approach.

Carmichael: Right.

Warren: You mean a human approach, the moral approach, as opposed to the economic approach.

Carmichael: It seemed to me this euphemistic, is always covered up, I think men always cover up their actions with moral issues. So I began thinking seriously about this whole problem, whether it was an economic problem, or whether these students were right, whether nonviolence was really the thing. And love, I never took the approach, of you know, we've got to teach them to love us. I thought that was nonsense, from the beginning. But I was really, I was really impressed by the way they conducted themselves on the sit-ins. The way they just sat there and took all the {UNCLEAR}.

Warren: You mean by their not just fortitude, but by self-discipline, and personal power, inner power.


Growing Out of the Neighborhood

Carmichael: Right. I was really impressed, because I lived down {UNCLEAR}, I learned that you don't get tapped on the shoulder without turning around, it was a rough neighborhood, and my aunt lived in Harlem and I used to spend a lot of time down there, and got to know all of the young fellows my age on the block and there's always internal conflicts too, with this way of life {UNCLEAR}.

Warren: In what sense? The internal conflict.

Carmichael: The gang-fighting, the stealing cars, and when I moved to the East Bronx, an old Italian neighborhood, balanced on the one side by a Jewish neighborhood, Irish neighborhood, we're about the only Negroes in the neighborhood, and my father kept saying before we moved up to this good neighborhood, I had a fight, my first week, everybody had heard that Negroes were tough, and wanted to see how tough I was.

I had to prove all the bad things to prove my point. Gang fight with everybody else. By the time I got to about the 8th grade, well, interesting thing happened, when I was in the 8th grade, and I knew all about marijuana, and pot, had heard about from my cousin, I never touched the stuff, in the 8th grade, some friends, acquaintances, from school, said that he had some, and he wanted me to show him how to do it. Before I knew it, I had to put on a demonstration for about 30 people in the bathroom, how to blow up. I did it.

Warren: Now, who are these people?

Carmichael: People, white Italian fellows.

Warren: Any other Negroes besides yourself?

Carmichael: No, I was the only — 

Warren: The only one.

Carmichael: Yea I was. There were only three of us in the school. And I thought, now why did I do that? To prove a point. When I went into Science in my freshman year, it was hard for me to adjust, because even though I did that little gang fighting nonsense, always fighting with people, I always kept reading, because my mother kept saying you must remember one thing, those guys are white, and you're Negro, they all make it, and you won't unless you're on top of the rung, kept drumming it into my head, and to get her off my back, I read, as long as my grades were good, she didn't care what I read.

[I] Stayed out of trouble. When I got to Science, found that people did more than fight with each other, they'd swear, and were respectable, and they read a lot, good books, and they discussed all these things at the lunch table, read. Elementary school, we discussed {UNCLEAR} who was the best writer, read the New York Times editorial, etc., hard for me to adjust.

At the same time, I was beginning to alienate myself from my old neighborhood. And by about the end of my freshman year, that summer I stayed in New York City, and hung around with all the fellows I used to hange around with, the gang, stole cars, gang fighting and all that. By about the middle of the summer, I kept thinking, I'm gonna get into real trouble if I keep this up. So I used to start alienating myself from them. And I started calling up people from Science, who I knew, started to hang around with them more, and go swimming, play tennis, of course, all my old friends would call me fag; by about the middle of my sophomore year, I had completely broken all ties with my old neighborhood.


Worlds: Negro & White

Warren: This raises the question as a kind of interruption, you know from DuBois and from other writers, the notion of the psychic split in Negro. Thinking of ourselves and loyalties, on the one hand, the feeling of commitment to a tradition which is Negro, {UNCLEAR}, black mystique and all of this, and Negro culture, as separate from white western European culture. On the other hand, the impulse to move into this white society, to integrate with the society, accept it certainly to a large degree, its values even if they are criticized, and perhaps be absorbed racially, and biologically into that world, later, actual loss of identity. Now, some think this is a real problem. A real problem of real spiritual depth. To others it is not. How do you feel about it? You were talking about another kind, now how do you feel about this.

Carmichael: Well, it's also split between Negro neighborhood, I was gonna get to that, because I developed certain loyalty ties in Harlem, used to go to parties down there, at the same time my mother and father consciously talked about the fact that you hang around with all these white kids, where's your social life gonna be, they don't really accept you. Don't be fooled by them. Old distrust. My father was a laborer. Carpenter. He really got screwed around by the union.

Warren: Couldn't get into the union?

Carmichael: Well, see, my father was an Honest Abe, he wouldn't steal, he wouldn't bribe, and he believed, very very religious fellow, more than my mother, because God would always take care of everything. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I left the church. Because of my father. He was in the union, and his union representative would never give him a job, because he wouldn't bribe him, see, all the other fellows bribed him.

Of course, he attributed this to the fact that he was Negro. Well, my mother and I called the union representative over, I was a freshman in high school, we had a cousin who works on the SS America, and he happened to pick up some perfume, my mother gave him some perfume and $50 for his wife, my father got a job. My father never knew this, of course, he attributed it to God's good will, and God will take care of us. But he'd always get screwed on the job, in terms of being foreman and other little things. A lot of them were justified, a lot of them were overemphasized, overexaggerated.

He had a complete distrust of white people, it always worried me. White kids are coming to meet me, and then when I'd bring up my freinds from Harlem, he was worried, don't you have any respectable Negro friends? I began thinking, why do I need respectable Negro freinds. They thought they were moving into a white neighborhood, and those white kids taught me tricks, I never knew about breaking into a store, stealing cars, I never knew that, maybe because I was younger, I guess had I stayed around the {UNCLEAR} in Harlem, I would have learned all these things.

But they still said it was a good neighborhood because it didn't have all the things connected with the ghetto. We owned our own house, it was a shack, and my father was a carpenter, and remodeled it, with long long hours, he was industrious man, I sometimes wouldn't see my father for a whole week. He'd work his regular job, and he'd work off job, and then he'd drive a taxi at night. When things got rough in the winter, he became a marine [seaman], and he'd go out on the sea. As long as he provided for his family, that was the important thing. All this was a conflict, because he wanted me to be respectable, with white kids. He didn't like me to wear dungarees. I wore dungarees, all the time. He wanted me to be very proper, speak, do the same things as all the white kids were doing, I wasn't sure I wanted to do all that.

I used to hang down in the Village, with everybody young, about 16, we'd all go down to Greenwich Village, because that's where everything is, that's happening. I used to see a complete reverse, {UNCLEAR} white kids jumping into Negro neighborhoods, becoming completely Negrofied. If you can use that word. "Yeah, man, yeah, baby," you know, everything out of context, just dropping words that come from the Negro neighborhood. I always thought this isn't right, and I wondered, wouldn't I do the same thing.

Warren: In making over a white world.

Carmichael: Right. Would I do the same thing. And that bothered me quite a bit, because I didn't want to do that.

Warren: You thought some loss of integrity, is that the idea.

Carmichael: I wasn't sure if it was loss of integrity, maybe there was, some some loss of integrity, as it was loss of not being yourself. I was always concerned about that.

Warren: You thought your identity was being betrayed, somehow, is that it?

Carmichael: Yes, like, I would — Negroes and whites, teenagers, dance entirely differently. Now I've danced both ways, and I find myself, at a party for instance, beginning to lindy, now lindy, I don't know if it's still around, is probably a white dance, Negroes slop. And when everybody would start looking at me, they said, now you dance just like a white boy. And then I'd stop, and I'd catch myself, and I'd say — yeah. I do.

You hang around with them white kids there? And I said, yeah, I hang around with white kids. Man, you ought to be square, you don't know what's happening. Then I'd go to a white dance, and do a slop, and oh man! That's cool! That's real cool, show me how to dance! This was leaning over backwards here. Now I wonder whether or not — in Harlem, they were completely fair when they said I was square when I was hanging around with white kids. Well, that was internal conflict. I resolved the problem with my just going wherever I wanted to go. If I felt like going to Harlem, I'd goto Harlem, if I felt like going down the Village, I'd go down to do whatever I wanted to do. But there certainly was a lodd and a cutting off of culture.


Whites in the Movement

Warren: Let me make another excursion for a moment. Several people have told me, most notably, Robert Moses, that when you've had students or people little older, coming in to help with the voter registration, who are white or sometimes northern Negroes, real friction may or sometimes develop. One of the objections is tht the white boys coming in, will try to assume attitudes, vocabulary, and stances that are Negro. Now this is resented or at least, if not resented deeply, becomes a matter of satire, some contempt for the person who feels he can enter arbitrarily and take over another world. One of the points of friction. You see. Did you encounter that in the movement?

Carmichael: Quite a bit. Bob [Zellner], {UNCLEAR}, from Alabama — 

Warren: I haven't spoken to him, no.

Carmichael: Well, there are a few other white peopole in the movement, who have not, what we call, completely Negrotized. He maintains there's still a difference, you can tell, you know, people who come into the movement, try and say that there is no difference. Also, the other conflict, you get, northern white, one of the reasons they do this, all committed to equality, on a humanitarian level, and intellectual level, and they themselves don't know Negroes, they don't even have Negroes in their own neighborhoods, never known a Negro. And they don't a Negro is really different. When they come south, and find out that it's entirely different, and they jump into it right away, to accept it.

Warren: Try to assume the culture without understanding what's behind it.

Carmichael: Right, and they say things without realizing what they're saying. You know, Yeah, man, I really dig that. And "dig" can be used in two ways, really, sarcastically, {UNCLEAR} a lot of times, they use words completely out of context, without knowing it, they want to be accepted right away, without being accepted for their work,

Warren: Social climbing.

Carmichael: That is {UNCLEAR}. They want to be accepted right way for their work, as a Negro, not as an individual, or their ability to assimilate into a culture which — we'll show them, well, look, I'm not like the other whites, you know, I dig you {UNCLEAR} snap their fingers, out of tune, {UNCLEAR}. Talk about — 

I dig Ray Charles, and {UNCLEAR} once a white fellow came in and he started playing Ray Charles, and {UNCLEAR} Negroes {UNCLEAR} he came by and he said, man! Ray Charles is {UNCLEAR}, he's swell, man! Too much! And after he walked out, one of the Negroes out loud, in the whole Barbecue Shop, because he did this out loud, so everybody would know that he was there, and you know, he's good guy, said — "You know, that white boy don't even understand, cause Ray Charles play like white boy can't even think." And everybody laughed.

It seems so true that Ray Charles played music the way white people don't even think, and for him, to come on, and putting on a show, was resented. As much as it would be resented if I put on a show to show how white I was. How much I absorbed the culture.


Black Consciousness

Warren: In other words, both wings, the question of some self understanding of self-respect is being violated, is that it?

Carmichael: I think so, because I remember at one point, I merely, I think I was about a sophomore in high school, realized that I was really being ashamed of being a Negro. And one point I was really ashamed of it, would stop saying things that I would say, you know, in the Negro neighborhood, and I was afraid of gospel music, which I always liked, I remember thinking about that for about two weeks. And then I decided I'd go back to my gospel music.

Warren: How common do you think is the situation of the Negro accepting some derogatory white stereotype of himself? Unconsciously or consciously.

Carmichael: I think it's very, very common, because whether our Negroes admit it, they are 150% Americans. They think, they act, they accept America without even questioning it.

Warren: Including the white man's version of himself?

Carmichael: Including that, I'm afraid. Including that. When one becomes aware of the real problem, because you're not sure how much truth there is to it, if you really want to be honest about it, you have to admit if you just walk through Harlem, it is about the dirtiest place, there are always drunks on the street, people are always cutting each other, there are prostitutes on every corner, there are bars on every corner, you have to admit all this. Now then you've made one of the prime reasons, and you want to be careful that you're not just rationalizing. Now you start off with the basic premise that Negroes aren't really inferior. And you wonder about have the conditions really been thrust upon them, or are they just, are they really lazy, this problem bothered me for a while, too. But you do accept it unconsciously.

Warren: Then the question of how the, what is the escape, what is the solution? Of this acceptance of the version that defines you as inferior? What is the solution, the psychological solution?

Carmichael: Well, for me, the psychological solution was to read as much as I could, to show that this is, maybe I even do it now, I think I still do it, as soon as I meet a white student, I want to prove to him that he isn't any smarter than I am, that I do just as much reading, as he does, I'm aware of what's going on. And before we even get a chance, to do anything, this is what Baldwin talks about, when the black boy meets white boy, play a game of cat and mouse, let's see how much you know, and I'll tell you how much I know, cause I know you think that because I'm a Negro, I don't know very much, I'm gonna prove to you that that's not true.

And so you see, subconsciously, you go completely on the reverse, for instance, I even caught myself during this September, I met a white boy from Yale, and kept playing this game. So, you know, how do you analyze the situation, and then I caught myself, what do I have to prove to him. Why am I doing it?

Warren: In other words, you are acting like the Yale boy who got to Mississippi.

Carmichael: Yah, yah. In the reverse. So you see, it's so subconscious, that unless we play with it and think about it constantly, we don't really become aware of it.


Civil Rights & Revolution?

Want to go back to involvement?

Warren: Yes, let's go back to involvement, your involvement in the civil rights movement, go back to your high school days.

Carmichael: I worked with the Youth March on Washington, in my high school. That was really no problem, because everybody that [thought] it was a good thing, and — Now I was vaguely aware of the problems that existed in New York, became more aware of it as I took an economic look at the question. I used to hear a lot of people talk, and they say that when the "revolution" comes, and they throw that word around, it will come from the South first, and then move up North.

Warren: The "revolution" being the Negro civil rights movement, or the revolution being something else?

Carmichael: Well, the revolution first starting with the Negro civil rights movement. One of the reason why I began to distrust a lot of people on the left, it seems to me that they were always jumping on this band wagon, let's get the Negroes on it, and they'll start it for us.

Warren: Pull the chestnuts out of the fire, you mean.

Carmichael: Yeah, and I really became very very suspicious, of this, because we have that goal, everyone would want to tell me how we should start the revolution, how Negroes should do it, and then after they'd been convinced that once you got it started it, they can come in, and then we can follow all this {UNCLEAR}. You know, it seemed to me that they weren't really sincere about Negroes, they were just trying to use Negroes, to get something that I wasn't sure I wanted. And they all seemed to be convinced, and they knew what they wanted.

And I asked them to define or outline a program, they never knew, see. And neither do I. I don't know how in the long run things are going to be solved. I think about that. I was arrested two years ago in New York, on a demonstration. I was arrested two years ago in New York on a demonstration at Bethel Hospital, trying to get the union to organize Negroes and Puerto Rican, and while sitting around talking, some Negro who had been working for quite a while, said, he remember when they had a big stink about getting Negroes hired. I thought what a vicious cycle this was, 15 years ago they fight to get hired, and now here they are having a vicious fight, just to get higher wages, where does it all end, when does it end?

And it started me thinking, well, am I really gonna get started, what I am doing, why I am in this fight, why did you go to school, what am I gonna get out of this, do I know what I want out of this. Funny, but when I read that line in the book about the segregationist who said — "well, I don't know why I'm doing it, but I guess I got to do it" — I sort of of thought last night, you know, what is Mr. Warren going to ask me tomorrow, and am I really like this guy, I just feel that I have to do it, When I first came back from Mississippi, Freedom Rides, I had everybody on my back, calling me, asking me why, why, why, why, people from all over the country, and I couldn't answer why, and I still can't answer why.

Warren: You've got a compulsion which you couldn't analyze.

Carmichael: Yeah.


1960, Youth March & Fayette County

Warren: Joined the Freedom Ride.

Carmichael: Well, from, if we go back to 1960.

Warren: Yes, let's go back.

Carmichael: After that demonstation, I became very impressed with these people whom I had seen, the southern students, and really {UNCLEAR} now it seemed to me that they wanted — 

Warren: Like Lamb (?) and people like that?

Carmichael: Right. Dionne [Dion Diamand? Diane Nash?] {UNCLEAR}, they wanted restaurants integrated. And they were willing to pay the price, for it. I didn't think that that was too important, and I thought well, you got to start somewhere. At that point, I had thought that, along with Tom {UNCLEAR} in his revolution, that the labor unions were gonna come in ultimately, and help really get the problem going.

I'd done a little bit of reading on the Populist Party, and thought that this would solve a lot of the things. Well, during that summer, I'd take frequent trips back down to Washington on weekends, and worked with the people in Virginia. One of the deciding factors that made me decide to come to Howard University, I wasn't sure I wanted to go to Howard University, didn't want to go to an all Negro school, wanted to go to school, where I thought I'd get a good education, and I wasn't sure that Howard University was a school that could give me a good education, and so I did decide to come to Howard University.

And one of the deciding factors was the fact that I could work in the Movement while I was here. All year I worked with the Movement around Virginia, sitting-in, etc, and the December of 1960, Went to Fayette County in Tennessee, took a ride down. Very impressed with the people down there, it seemed to me that they were really doing something on this issue of the vote.

Warren: You mean the Negro workers there?

Carmichael: In Tennessee. One of the things that really impressed me, while I was there — actually it was about four days — I was cold, hungry, freezing and miserable, the ground was hard, when it was hard, and muddy, ankle deep, there was firewood, and kids would go out and chop firewood, come back, and sit around and sing songs in the evening, very very moving thing. I thought this was way more important than a restaurant.

You know, the power to vote. I came back, and we still worked along the sit-in movement, I kept thinking, now, if I don't believe in this, as much as I think I am, what am I doing here. I came to the situation, well, you've got to motivate people, on some issues, you've got to motivate them on an issue that they can see clearly. Now they can see this clearly. And then after they see this, then maybe you can move on.


1961, Freedom Ride

Then came the freedom ride, and I packed up and left. After that, I just stayed in the south.

Warren: That was in the first Freedom Ride?

Carmichael: Yes, the first freedom ride.

Warren: What were your experiences on that ride, I mean, your internal as well as your external experiences. Your {UNCLEAR} mood. Try to tell me, will you?

Carmichael: Well, from Harlem, I knew that people could hate pretty viciously, and I'd seen what people could do to people. From my neighborhood, five guys could jump up on someone and beat him up, I was sometimes the victim of that. And I realized that, for instance, we used to have a constant gang war with people who crossed the bridge. Kids who crossed the bridge. I don't know what they call themselves, the Parkchester boys, or something like that. And we were the Mosh Park Avenue Dukes, and if a Mosh Park Avenue Duke saw a Parkchester boy, you just had to hit him. I thought that was kid stuff. I saw a lot of vicious things that people do to each o ther. So I was aware of what people could do to each other. But the whole thing about, you know, for instance, in Fayette County, they tell about how they were being shot at, etc.

Warren: This is around in Jackson, Tennessee, you mean,

Carmichael: No, Jackson was the place. But I first went into New Orleans.

Warren: Jackson, Tennessee, I'm talking about.

Carmichael: Yeah, Fayette County. Now, I felt when I was going, you know, this is really serious. And somebody may really die, and I thought, now, do I really want to put myself in a position where I can die? Do I think that if I do die, that something will be solved? Well, I got rid of that very easy, by saying — yes, somebody will die, but it won't be me, it will be the guy next to me. And that was all there was to that.

So the next question, was why was I going? Well, I was supposed to go on the first, be on the first bus that left, the bus that was burned, but I had about a week and a half left of school, and I felt well, it was silly to leave school now, I'll just come down here after I finish with school.

When the bus was burned, and everybody was beaten, everybody on the bus I'd known very well, I'd worked with, I was very upset. And I thought, now you just can't go off, just because somebody got beaten, or just because the bus was burned, what's that gonna prove? The decision was well, I have to go, because they're in jail, we're buddies, they need friends, the least I can do, is keep them company.

Well, I thought that's pretty weak. I thought I have to go because you've got to keep the issue alive, and you've got to show the southerners that you're not gonna be scared off, as we've been scared off in the past. And no matter what they do, we're still gonna keep coming back. Perhaps that was the deciding factor.

When we got into New Orleans, about 3 o'clock in the morning, and I never seen a mob stay up till 3 o'clock in the morning, but they were there at the airport. People just yelling and screaming, and throwing cigarette butts and what have you, and my first reaction was, Wow! I sure hope those policemen can keep them under control cause I don't know what I would do. See, I'd been involved in situations in Virginia, you know, but I thought, gee, this isn't Virginia, this is Louisiana. When we got in a car and drove away, the next morning, we went to the train station. We were all arrested, I didn't know for what — 

Warren: You say you got off the plane. And then drove from the plane to — How did the mob know you were arriving by air?

Carmichael: That I don't know. I don't know that. Maybe someone -- I was very worried about that, it was 3 o'clock in the morning. And they were still there. Maybe they notified the police. I think what CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] might have done, they probably notified the police for protection, and somehow word got out. Well, anyway, we had a police escort for a while, and then pretty soon we went to the outskirts of town, stayed in some project.

We got up the next morning, went to the train station, got arrested, I don't remember what for, we were released about 45 minutes later, I kept remembering the face of the chief, he kept saying, "You're not going to change anything, you're not gonna change anything, , I mean, we'll just keep throwing you in jail, we'll beat you up, and further more..."

Warren: He said this?

Carmichael: Yes, "...and furthermore, those people are gonna end up killing you, you're not gonna change anything. You're not gonna change anything."

So we were released and we were getting on the train, to go to Mississippi, were mobbed all over, I've never seen people — for the first time in my life, I really got scared of people. Just had all sorts of faces, One thing was an old lady in particular, she was about 70 years old, shaking a cane viciously, just trembling all over, and I just kept looking at her, not because I wanted to antagonize her, but because I really couldn't believe this.

We got on the train, and wherever we stopped, there were policemen with pump rifles, keeping mobs back. I kept thinking, why, why, why are there such mobs, why are they so loud, what is it? Of course, when we got into Jackson, the police were waiting, in the waiting room, not outside, before we got outside, we had quite a struggle to get through the mob. And people just saying, "I'll kill you." And for once, I really believed that they meant it.

You know, people say to me, they'd kill me, before, I never took it seriously, but then I thought these people meant it. And I wondered whether or not, I really believe they meant it, or whether I was scared because I was in the south, and heard so many stories about it, you know.


Warren: Where were we, oh you were telling me about going to Jackson, Mississippi, on the Freedom Ride,

Carmichael: The long walk into the waiting room, we face a mob, and I was trying to look at people's faces, in the meantime trying to hold two fists up, so I wouldn't get up cigarette butts, they were flicking cigarette butts at us. And I kept thinking, you know, why, why, why. A naive question, but it's something that still comes back, because you still can't find the answer. When you try to find the answers to questions that bother you, really a problem. Am I really irritating people, and would it be best if I didn't, really become, will things really work out, is it really my business etc. etc., all these questions went flashing through my mind.

We got arrested, though, I got to know the jailer. Everybody in jail, preachers are very religious, I'm not. And they were praying all time, singing, I'd sing, I wouldn't pray. I'd sit and read. We spent about a week in the Jackson City jail before we moved to Parchman [Prison], before we were moved, the night before, we found out that we were being moved from the prisoners below who, there were Negro prisoners below us and they thought we were great, you know, heroes, etc., and they told us everything they knew.

Warren: You say you were in the jail, where they moved you to Parchman.

Carmichael: So the jailer came up and held the bars, see, we got to know each other fairly well, I mean, us as a group, and and he as an individual.

Warren: What kind of man was he?

Carmichael: An old man, about early fifties, I'd say, believed in the southern way of life, whatever connotation it brought to him, but he was an honest man, and he thought at first that we were just a bunch of trouble makers, agitators, and we were just coming down to cause trouble, we were communists, etc. etc. And he was gonna rule with a ruthless hand, and that we were gonna do as he said. And he found out that we wouldn't do what he said, no matter what he did to us. We'd still keep singing, when he'd say not to sing.

And after a while, it became a little petty game, you know, he'd do certain tricks to try and keep us in line, and there'd be soup for a meal one day, and it would be hard for me, I can't say how many, let's say there were about 30 of us in there. He would pass 30 hot bowls of soup, with about 3 spoons, you know, and then say I don't have any more, pass it around. So if you were at the end of the line, you'd just have cold soup. All these simple little things. But he found out that we wouldn't break, under those little things.

Then he got so that you know, he'd even joke a little, and laugh, and he'd say, you gonna be here for a long time, and then we'd say — "Yeah but you gotta be here with us, don't forget that." I think you know I hate to use euphemisms, but I think we got to respect each other. Anyway, I got to respect him. After a while, the respect grew. And we got to respect each other very well, sort of. It grew because I respected him as a man, forget that he was a white southerner, that he was my jailer.

Well, it came that we can really talk, about issues, and he'd tell us about what we didn't understand about the southern way of life, of course, he'd say the same stereotypes of Negroes were treated well, etc., and everybody would answer, would say, well that's not true, you know, Negroes aren't really treated well, it's bad, etc. etc. We finally came to some understanding, I guess a sort of unspoken understanding, that we won't mention, our radical points of...

[*** Material missing from original ***]

lot from him, about Mississippi and the way of life, you know, that he used to go fishing with Negroes etc. etc. and he thought it was on equal footing.

I didn't think it was an equal footing. I don't know, it might have been, it's something that bothered me, but anyway, the night we were leaving, well, the day before we were leaving, he came to the bar, and he held on to it very very tightly, and all of a sudden he started talking, about his life, and started talking about this maid — can't remember her name — let's call her X anyway. He said, "Addie [Annie] was good, she brought up and raised all my five kids, and we loved Annie dearly." A deep introspective thing, about "When Annie died the whole family cried, they went to Annie's funeral." Every year he places a wreath on Annie's grave.

And he wanted us to understand that we were all wrong, about race relations in the south. That they were really very good, and gonna be better, you know, and the Negroes really like it that way. But he was shaking, visibly seen shaking, and we had our points of view as far as he was concerned, and he had his. He didn't want us to try and change them, he was gonna keep to his way of life, he believed in God, and he believed in the way of the life of the south, he believed in human beings for what they were worth. He started crying. Tear dropped. And finally he said, "I want you to know that whatever happened to you, that you caused me a lot of trouble. He said, " can't go along with the trouble you caused me, but you're still human beings, you have your beliefs, and I have mine." And he left. I thought about that for a long time. Everybody else felt that he was just putting on a show.

Warren: I doubt it, I doubt it.

Carmichael: I doubt it.

Warren: I doubt it.

Carmichael: He didn't have to.


Southern Whites

Warren: Let me tell you something, briefly, that Mr. [Charles] Evers said in such a conversation as this. I asked him about the future Mississippi, and he said, "Well I think we can work it out. Otherwise I wouldn't stay here." One thing these Mississippians, {UNCLEAR} and everywhere, but he said, "They are are raised by and large on some notion of respect for courage. This is part of the code they are raised on. And when they see that we have courage, to stand up on a point we believe in, it gives respect for us, and this respect is the basis for something that we can build on. If they respect that, in a sense, then we can respect. And though there may be against each other to the shooting point, there's a mutual respect possible."

Second, he said, "Once this white segregationist crosses a line himself and starts to deal with you, he won't lie to you. He has crossed the line already. He's not like," he said, "the fellow up north, who'll slap you on the back, and say — that's fine, that's fine, I'm with you. He won't lie. We have some basis, for hope. Otherwise, I wouldn't be in Mississippi." Does that make any sense to you?

Carmichael: Well, I think the courage part makes sense, because my feelings is that people in the south are entirely different, they still have the sort of wild way of life, but there are certain things that are dear to them. There are certain things that are dear to them. No, I never thought about the courage part, as a Charlie developed it, but I think there's something to be said for that.

Warren: For what it's worth, this is what he put on the tape.


At Parchman Prison

Let's go back to your narrating, we've left the jailer now — 

Carmichael: I wanted to speak to him, he left. I wanted to ask him what is he trying to say, because I knew he was trying to say something. I knew that he knew that we were leaving. And I wondered if he wanted to say we were leaving, he did say it, because he said — no matter what happens to you, I want you to know that, you know, you have your way of life, and I have mine. And before he left, he turned around and he said, " don't know what's gonna happen," he said, "but I want you to know I want my children to have happiness and my grandchildren to have happiness," he said. "And I'm sure you all want the same for your own kids." And he left.

And next night we were moved out. And I didn't see him after that, at all. We went to Parchman, and we had at first, good, they told us we had a big drill sessions early in the morning, we were {UNCLEAR}, you know, you're gonna do as we say, same thing. After the same sort of breakdown, with the little fellow we used to call Sarge, and a fellow called Sherriff Tyson.

Sherriff Tyson once took our mattress away, and I thought it was unfair, so I told him. I protested. And he said that he'd start with taking me first. But when he got out to drag me out the cell, the mattress and everything else. So he said he would do it, he said he would do it by himself, he wouldn't need anybody to help him. So he opened up the door and started dragging me out.

Well, he dragged me out in the hall, and took the mattress away, and said, now get back in the cell, I told him I couldn't do that, you know, I'd have to resist him, nonviolently, he'd have to get me back in the cell. Well, he said he's not going even drag me, he'd got something that would take care of me.

So he got some wet {UNCLEAR}, on my arm, those things really hurt, man. And he started twisting, and I just kept looking him straight in the face, he kept twisting and twisting, and twisting, and then he said, "If you ain't the damned doggonest hardest nigger I ever met," he said, "You gonna get in that cell?" I said "No, I can't do that, Sherriff Tyosn," I said, "I think you're unfair."

And all of a sudden he stopped, he said, "Unfair!" he said, "You mean to tell me you think I'm unfair!" And he started an inditement against me, saying, "Now how could you say you unfair? You sing when I ask you not to sing. You pray when I asked you not to pray. You make noise when I asked you not to make noise. You just think you gonna run my jail, and I can't let you do that, no who's unfair?"

So I forced the man, he believed in fairness. You know, from his point of view, I was being unfair. From my point of view, he was being unfair. So he said, "Now you say I'm unfair!" He said, "Now you won't get back in the cell, cause I say to him, you're a prisoner, you're prisoner!"

So I said, "Yeah, but I want to be treated fairly because I'm a prisoner." See I was finding myself for once on the defensive. And I thought, "Damn, I'm letting a stupid southern sherriff, put me on the defensive," and so finally, he called the {UNCLEAR} he said, "Put that boy in the cell."

And after he put me in the cell, he came back, an hour later. He was also visibly shaken. And he said, "Now I don't think you're right to call me unfair." And for once, I forgot that he was a southern sheriff, like we were discussing in philosophy class the concept of fairness and justice. And he made an indictment against me, because he asked us not to do what we'd done, and I answered him by saying — "Yeah, well, I think you are unfair in taking our mattress, because, you know, we have the right to pray, you don't let us have any ministers, we don't see our lawyers, you take away our clothes, you take this away without giving us reasons."

And he said, "Well, nobody asked you to come down here," I said, "Well, that's right, I come down here, I'm gonna accept the consequences. But I'm not gonna accept them without putting up some resistance..

And he said, "Well, that's always the trouble, people always got to resist. Well you go on, cause I have to resist too." And I wanted to ask him why, I've always wanted to ask him, but he {UNCLEAR}, and before I could ask him, he walked away, and then I thought, well why did I have to. And he walked away. We got to be sort of good friends, too, in a funny way. I spent about 39 days up there, every time trouble started, he'd automatically come to me, and he'd say — "Now this is what we gonna give you,this, this and this. And this is what we want from you." "

It got to the point where we really, like it became intriguing, you know, he's gonna give you this, we'll give you that, and you give us this and you give us that. He'd always resort to his last tactics, when he thought that we were being, we wouldn't listen to him. And one tactic he was gonna do, was throwing people in the hole. He did this once.

Warren: Solitary?

Carmichael: Solitary confinement, yeah. And he threw Hank Thomas in the hole who was in the cell next to me, and I started shaking the bars, because Hank, can't remember what it was, it was some protestor something, and I called him back, and he said, "Now, what you want?" I said, "Sheriff, now you threw Hank in the cell, in the hole?"

And he said, "Yeah, and he gonna stay there." I said, "Well, sheriff, you got to put me in the hole too," He couldn't understand. "Now what's wrong with you, I haven't done anything to you. Now that's between me and that boy, down there."

I said, "Yeah, but I think you weren't fair, Sherriff," He said, "Well, if I'm unfair, it's between me and him." I said, "No, Sherrif, as long as that's between you and me. It's between you and everybody else in the world."

And he said, "You really mean you want to go to the hole?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Open up the door." When he opened up the door, everybody else banged on the door, and said we all got to go in the hole. A good thing, he let us out, because I don't think that we could have taken it, you know, we could hardly breathe, not enough water, when we came out, everybody was back in the cell, he said, "I think you crazy?"

And I looked through and smiled, and I said, "No, no, Sheriff, you don't think I'm crazy, you think I'm too smart for you." He said, "No, you're not smart, you're not smart, you're ignorant." And then we went on to have a couple of conversations, that didn't amount to very much. Except that one time, when I was leaving, he took the pleasure of getting me out. And he called my name last, and opened up the cell door, and he said, "I'm glad to see you go." He said, "Are you glad to be going?" I said, "No, I'm gonna miss you Sheriff, " He said, "I'm gonna miss you too, all the trouble you caused me."

I said, "I'll probably be back, Sheriff," He said, "Well, I'm not going anywhere, I'll still be here. And besides, he said, in a very sad voice, "I wish you all would just leave everything alone." And Sheriff {UNCLEAR} just sort of nodded. And I wanted to say, "Well I can't do that," but I didn't. I just walked out.

But that was the only confrontation I had with white southerners. And I really got to see that outside of a mob, alone, they were just like, you know, we were, outside the mob.


In the Movement

I can go on freedom rides, with people around me, and I can say — oh yeah, nothing is gonna happen to us, when you get alone, and you're sitting in that stool by yourself, and somebody's behind you, and you hear knife clicking, hot coffee being poured down people's back, in one minute you're isolated, and you're alone, you really begin to feel, why am I here, when is it gonna end, but just before that first punch, just before you get hit, that little period there, just before, when tensions are built, and you can't control your stomach, and it's jumping, and you start thinking over and over again, I think, maybe that's the way it is, when you're really alone. When you really want to sit down and talk to people, when you really got to say, let's just sit down and talk this out, Sheriff Tyson, just me and you, and let's see, where are we going from here.

And you say , well you can't do it, you always wonder why, why can't I sit down and talk with Sheriff Tyson. Why can't Charlie Evers, sit down and talk, Medgar Evers sit down and talk to him, you always wonder why, why. Well, after I got out of jail, I went to New York City for about two weeks, and my father and mother told me, this is it, you know, you're finished, you've done your part, end it, forget it, a week later I found myself in Nashville, Tennessee, started voter registration at the end of the summer, and went into Mississippi, with {UNCLEAR}, Liberty [town], voter registration. From then on, it's just been.

Warren: That's just where Allen was just lately killed.

Carmichael: From then on, it's just been. There are other developments, since just a summer apart. There are a lot of developments, in that I, you know, began to find out that a lot of people who were just talking about civil rights, are jumping on the bandwagon.

Warren: Who had been just talking about it.

Carmichael: Who were now talking about it.

Warren: But not acting, you mean?



Carmichael: No, even if they're acting, one of the things that bothers me, is that I'm all for demonstrations, but I think that people are beginning to have radical demonstrations, or radical actions without radical thoughts, like you question the proposal of bussing people back and forth to Harlem.

[Northern school segregation was based on applying the concept of "neighborhood schools" to residentially segregated areas of a city. "Bussing" refers to the controversial practice of attempting to integrate those schools by sending children on buses to attend schools in a distant neighborhood with a different racial compostion. For example, bussing students from the Harlem ghetto to schools located in white residential neighborhoods and bussing white kids from Queens into Harlem.]

Warren: Yes.

Carmichael: And you say, well, if I speak out against that, Negroes will think that I'm betraying them. I don't honestly believe that.

Warren: [Regarding] the bussing system.

Carmichael: Yes. For some white person, a white person will say to you, well, what's your opinion, what would you say? So you say to him, well, you can't say yes — 

Warren: I was going to ask you about it.

Carmichael: That's just the question that's been bothering me, you can't say well, it's nonsensical, and are you gonna say to them, you know, these Negroes don't know what they're talking about? 'Cause so many Negroes {UNCLEAR}. Well, I'll tell you, I'm against it. I think it's silly, I think it doesn't solve the problem, because in about 10, 15 years, most of New York City will be all-Negro, so what you gonna do, bus kids in from Pughkeepsie? That's not gonna solve the problem.

Warren: Washington, D.C., has to go to West Virginia, now. For balancing.

Carmichael: That's right, that's nonsense.

Warren: Some Negroes, of course, say it's merely a matter of a tactical device, to dramatize the situation.

Carmichael: Yeah, but it's not solving any issues. It's not solving the issues. I'm all for dramatizing issues, but you're gonna dramatize them, you hope they will be solved. I don't think you dramatize issues to dramatize issues.

Warren: Are there two separate issues in this matter of New York, one being the quality of the schools?

Carmichael: Now that would be a good issue.

Warren: So that's clear that there are inferior schools, there's no question aout it.

Carmichael: I agree with that, because I've worked in Harlem, and I know the schools, I would agree, if they would say, now the schools are, we sent the poorest teachers, the schools are run down, etc. etc. Now, I'll agree to all that. If you were to dramatize that and ask for those issues. But now when you bring in the question of bussing kids, it seems to me you're being unfair, because I think, let's face it, Harlem is not picnic ground, you know, I don't think that Harlem is a place for race rioting.

[Note that this conversation took place before the July 1964 urban violence in Harlem which was the first of the widely publicized 1960s era ghetto uprisings by Afro-Americans in the 1960s.]

But one thing that Dick Gregory does say, it's very funny but very true, is that you don't have a race riot, you don't have a bad neighborhood, or a neighborhood that's because black people are living there, want white folks come in there, they get beat up. It's not a bad neighborhood just because white folks get beat up, because Negroes get beat up in the neighborhood too. The Negroes get beat up in Harlem all the time, so just because you're white and get beat up, it doesn't mean that all the Negroes are beating up white people. It's a bad neighborhood, let's face it, whatever conditons there are, whatever produces it, it is. And you can't really and truly ask anybody to send their kid in there.

Warren: There's another argument, on this side, on the side of the bussing, given by Negroes. Alright, we suffer, we want the whites then to suffer some too, and if he would send his children to our school, the white children should share the suffering, spread the suffering around. Even at the expense of a 10 year old child, getting bussed two hours a day out of his life.

Carmichael: That's nonsense. Plain nonsense. You can't. I don't go for "through suffering, comes redemption." I don't go along with that.

Warren: This vengeful suffering too, this saying, let's pass something to the white man, make his children suffer too, by being hauled around.


Black Nationalism

Carmichael: That's a problem when people jump on the bandwagon. And the funniest thing is to watch the rise of the Muslims [Nation of Islam] in America. Now the Muslims, when I used to go to Harlem, used to stand on the corner on the stepladder, and yell and scream and the same nonense they're yelling and screaming now. C. Erick Lincoln, whom I don't thiknk is a very intelligent man, or even competent researcher, that other book Black Nationalism by {UNCLEAR}, is a way better book,

Warren: Much more thoughtful.

Carmichael: Yeah, it's a competent book, I read his book in 1960, he came to {UNCLEAR} to speak to us, the man is ignorant.

Warren: You mean Lincoln?

Carmichael: Yeah, Lincoln. Yes, and the white press read the book, somebody got scared, and they said, "Wow, we're not even aware of this." And they started writing in the white press {UNCLEAR}.

Dick Gregory said something else that's very funny. Malcom X never knew that he had 200,000 followers until the New York Times told him so. The Muslims got respectable, they got off to Staten Island, they put on ties and jackets, and they became famous. Everybody is afraid to say the Muslims are full of beans. Nobody says this. The Muslims are full of beans, they're never gonna get a separate state. That's nonsense. They are switching one god to the other god, they talking about Allah, and everything they're talking, {UNCLEAR} as no solution to the problem.

All of a sudden, Malcolm X started, began to be invited to speak on all issues, on the, see, I went to hear Malcolm X, I knew Malcolm personally, and I told him, you talk, you keep your talk, and you can say what you want, I don't even think that you put me in a better bargaining position at all, you know, because you don't say anything. Doesn't say anything. Everybody is afraid to attack him.

The funniest thing I read was an article by {UNCLEAR} Miller on the west coast, fellow, vice presdident of the NAACP, wrote an article in The Nation about two years, ago, called a "Farewell to White Liberals." Which was a ridiculous article. He got pepped up with this black nationalism, and said goodbye white liberals — we don't need you, you don't do anything for us. {UNCLEAR} shows the article is ridiculous, and everybody started, the NAACP put out prints, reprinted it, and passed it all over the country, ridiculous. When they were attacked by Malcolm X, instead of standing on ground, they told him, absolved, and said — we're friends. You know, people just jump on bandwagons. That's one of the things you have to worry about. See, the ones that move in, become accepted, then you've got to worry about it, because people don't really look for real solutions any more.

Warren: Well there are a variety of types of leadership clearly in this, and different competing groups, you know, that's only natural, I suppose. But what is your diagnosis, as to this division of leadership and division of policy. How serious is this as a danger to the movement?

Carmichael: I think it will become more serious, I was in Cambridge and Princess Anne [MD] this weekend, and Gloria [Richardson] just got the food surplus things to come in, and while I was at the house, about five white people called, anonymously, and they said, I don't play your racial stuff, I'm not for it, but I'm real glad that you got the surplus food, because see, surplus food is gonna be distributed on an integrated basis. They said we've been needing this for a long time.

And Gloria would, and after they said that, "Well, would you speak out?" And they said,"Well, I can't you know." But it proved one thing, it does prove that people are beginning to see beyond all of this. Beyond. Really getting, what I consider, at the real issues. You know, the Eastern Shore [of Maryland] is dastardly poor. The Eastern Shore is dastardly pooor. And if white people can realy come out and say to Gloria, "Yeah, we're with you on this issue," it may mean the breaking ground for more issues. And all the people who are Philadelphia, what is all this clan nonsense about. What is it gonna solve, and you wonder, you know, if people are really opportunistic, you know, and that's something that bothers, I think, a lot of people that are honest about the movement, you know, makes you wonder, you know.



Warren: Do you know the Reverend Galamison

Carmichael: Galamison from Brooklyn?

[Rev. Galamison was a leader of school desegregation protests and school boycotts in New York City.]

Warren: Yes

Carmichael: Yeah, I know him.

Warren: You know him personally?

Carmichael: I've met him once. I don't think he's a very intelligent leader. See, if you're really serious about it, it seems to me you've got to think about whether or not you're opportunistic. It bothers me a lot. If I see my name in the paper, I'm not sorry it's there. You know, when Robert Penn Warren writes me and says he wants to interview I'm not sorry he wants to interview me, I sort of feel good.

I mean, you got to wonder, well, which comes first, you know, the seeing, or that, you've got to take that seriously, because if I'm saying a lot of things, that maybe you wonder that isn't really true. You're just saying that because people want to hear it, and you don't want to do that, if you're really looking to solve issues. One of the reasons why we respect Bob [Moses] is because he doesn't do that. He doesn't do that, he says what he believes. You know, right or wrong, accept or not accept it, not right or wrong. Accept it or not accept. He's gonna say what he believes.

Warren: He doesn't close up the official fund, as it were, he will state it to his own position. Without worrying about tactics of it, or the consequences of it.

Carmichael: That's one of the things that we have to be worried about. And the trouble is, that you get an opportunist, and he becomes a rhetorician, he says things that are gonna appease people, he's not gonna really look for solutions. Now, everybody is all hepped about this busing thing, in New York, and they never solve anything. What is it gonna solve? I want to know.

Warren: You think it is just a test of power on an issue as immediate as an issue?

Carmichael: I wonder if it's not just that some people are really beginning to feel, you know, Negroes are really nice, let's get on there, you know. You wonder what are the political connections, beyond everything. I always wondered about that, I no longer — 

Warren: Now, are you talking about Negroes joining up, or are whites joining up?

Carmichael: I'm talking about Negroes. Talking about Negroes.

Warren: The questions of whites too, joining up, in the civil rights movement, because it has a kind of fashion, or a kind of winning team — 

Carmichael: It certainly does, there's no doubt about it, you mean, you're very suspicious about white people, in the movement, you always wonder why? Why is she here? But it really bothers you when you start getting suspicious about Negroes — that's been developing more and more. You know, I get very afraid if I read the name of one person over and over again, who's saying nothing, essentially nothing, he's got the press following him around, and he's saying actually nothing.

You worry whether or not they ever read anything, you know, I've heard people get up and talk about the civil rights bill, and they've never read the civil rights bill. Now how can you do that? How can do you do that?

Or they get up and they give their opinion about what's going on in Mississippi and they've never been there. And it all runs back to the same thing, it's those dirty old white people, you know. I know white people. If they just give us equality and our freedom — it's a funny thing, if you ask somebody what they mean by "freedom now."

[At the time of this interview, the slogan "freedom now" was becoming popular among CORE, SNCC, and other activists. It was seen as a more militant alternative to the previous "we shall overcome" because the earlier slogan came from the song lyric we shall overcome someday but the new slogan called for freedom NOW!]

Warren: Well, that's one of the questions one is asked always, what is meant by "freedom now?"

Carmichael: Ask them, what is freedom now, you want it now, what do you want?


Preferential Treatment

The other nonsense, most nonsensical thing, I've ever heard in my life is "preferential treatment" for Negroes.

[Preferential treatment was seen by many activists as a strategy for addressing generations of discrimination in hiring, promotions, college admissions, access to government programs, and so on. An employer or institution might agree (or be forced) to stop discriminating against nonwhites but that still left their workforce, student body, and so on overwhelmingly white for the foreseeable future. Equal, race-blind, practices effected change very slowly because white applicants greatly outnumbered nonwhite so only a trickle of nonwhites would gradually change the racial makeup. Race-neutral promotions based on senority, for example, would leave management and higher-paid positions entirely white for a generation or more. "Preferential treatment" meant preferring nonwhites in hiring, promotions, admissions, and contract awards until a racial balance was achieved. In other words, adopting race-conscious instead of race-neutral practices as a redress for long-standing inequality. Preferential treatment was extremely controversial because it meant discriminating against whites who, of course, resented it.]

Warren: In what sense would you argue that?

Carmichael: Number one, it doesn't solve any problem, because you're not gonna get the government to give you preferential treatment. Number two, the Negroes who are getting preferential treatment are Negroes who don't need it. Who? IBM is gonna give Negroes preferential treatment? Theyre not gonna hire Negroes — they're gonna hire Negroes who are competent. They have to. Who's gonna get preferential treatment? Is the labor industry gonna get preferential treatment, does the person on welfare get preferential treatment, how are you gonna do it? Can you get the government, to put through a mass preferential treatment, the answer is clearly no.

Warren: I have talked with the president of an insurance company, a white insurance company, in the south, who volunteered this to me, he said, "I'm swinging to the policy of preferential treatment for Negroes. I think we have to do this, to take up the slack, give special training and as a choice, take the Negro, and as a matter of social tactics," he said, "to take up the slack, we have to do this." He's a man of very high position in the business.

Carmichael: And is he afraid that his business might be boycotted?

Warren: No, he is not. He says this is a policy, he's not advertising the policy, he says this is a policy I believe in, as a matter of social good. He says it's a matter of general social good. To give preferential treatment.

Carmichael: I feel on a broad basis that can never work. Because what you'd be doing on a broad basis, is putting white people out of jobs.

Warren: Yes. Sure, sure, and it becomes another problem.

Carmichael: Dr. {UNCLEAR} believe that too, now how do you get out of the hole?

Warren: As I was sitting in a cafe in Cambridge, the day before yesterday, three or four white men, two of them unemployed, came in at the counter, and one said, "I haven't worked in six weeks," and the other said, "I know why, your face is not black."

Carmichael: See, now what's it's doing.

Warren: Whether it's true or not, there, I'm sure it's not true, but the point, this is the talk at the lunch counter.

Carmichael: And when they are backed up into that corner, it seems to me, the only thing left for them to say, what they have been saying, which I don't agree with, is that — well, the reason why we need it is because we've been so long oppressed, you know.

Warren: Back pay.

Carmichael: Yeah, back pay, you know. You owe us this. It's a drip right now from the Muslims, you know, you owe us dues. I don't know that anybody owes me anything. You know, I can't hold you guilty. And I don't want you to hold me guilty for what my father did. I don't believe in the bible, that the guilt of the father is involved in the children.

Warren: Consequences do follow the children.

Carmichael: They certainly do.

Warren: Not guilt, consequences.

Carmichael: I agree with the consequences, but I don't think that you should be made to pay the consequences of the act, of someone else. The other problem is there are a lot of white people who just don't give a damn, one way or the other, about civil rights.

Warren: Yeah, I'm sure.

Carmichael: And they're gonna be paying for it. In otherwords, do you want to make people pay, I'll go along with you if you can get me the right people.


Violence, Reprisal & Nonviolence

If you say this, so and so shot your friend, well, then you say — let's go kill him. I might think, well, that's okay, we'll go kill him. But if you say to me, so and so got killed, and one of those people did it, let's go kill them. It's kind of {UNCLEAR} for me to go should go kill just anybody.

Warren: This really is a very very important question in my mind, and one that's really worrying me, I'll tell you about it. In my long session with Mr. Evers, he said over and over again, and I played the tape back a few days ago, to be sure it's exactly wht he said, he said — violence and bloodshed solve nothing. We must think of the future, build a society that we can all live in. White and black. Birmingham was {UNCLEAR} — that's a direct quote." These lines like them, with the notion of nonviolence, all sorts of pressures, short of arbitrary reprisals,

Now a week later, there was the 17th of February, he made a speech in Nashville. Now, this was reported on the front page of the Nashville paper, and I've got, I wasn't there on the 17th, had to leave town, before his speech. I didn't hear his speech. But, this advocates nonselective reprisals, reporters write this down, see, according to the reporters, {UNCLEAR}. Now I don't trust any paper. Having been the victim of it myself. So I, unless I was there, I won't take it. He says — if a Negro is shot in Mississippi, we will shoot a white man, not one that's guilty, or not one who has a symbolic role, any white man. Next, if church is bombed with children, we will bomb a white church with children. Direct quote.

Now I wrote him a letter, after we'd had our tape, I played it back, myself, and I'm disturbed by this shift of view. He's not the kind of man who says something to me, and then says something else you know. Doesn't play to an audience. Some change of thinking taking place, some change in {UNCLEAR}. I haven't heard from him, but I can't print, just an interview with me, without reference to this, it would look stupid on my part. I want something side and make this out to be — an explanation. I hope that he will will give me a letter, so I can explain, account for the shift of view. I haven't heard from him yet, I've been away. But I was deeply disturbed by this. This shift, and I don't quite, I don't understand it. If this man is a responsible man in a responsible position. What he advocated then, in his Nashville speech, quite clearly, not by implication but quite clearly, nonselective reprisal. And I was really troubled by this, on many counts.

Carmichael: I might agree with them, if violence and bloodshed itself, as a act per se may not solve anything. But I think the consequences involved in some bloodshed, may wake people up. I think that in many cases it is inevitable.

Warren: Well, I think there is grave danger of its happening, I think there is no question about that. But that is different from nonselective reprisals.

Carmichael: I'm not sure that I agree fully with him on the fact that bloodshed and violence solve nothing. It's true, that Birmingham, Alabama, was disastrous, etc. etc. but it's also because of Birmingham, Alabama, there's a civil rights bill in Congress. So we're not quite sure that it was just you know nothing else. Unfortunate that 4 children had to die. But it would have been more unfortunate if some Negro had bombed another church with other four children, I would think. I would have to think that, because you would be getting the right four children,

Warren: There are no right four children.

Carmichael: Right. That's true. True.

Warren: Of any shade, complexion in the world.

Carmichael: You wouldn't be getting the people who committed the act, anyway, and I'm not sure that I believe in capital punishment. So my whole thinking is very shaky one the bombing of those four kids. Because I thought, John Donne says that the death of any man diminishes me because I'm involved in that {UNCLEAR}. I read that when I was a sophomore in high school, and it took me until I was about a sophomore in college, to really understand what he meant, to really believe it.

I do believe it, but I thought when those kids in Birmingham, bombed, that — yeah I'm diminished, but they died for one reason, that's because they were black. You know what it means, we're black, and that means I can die too just because I'm black, and that diminishes me even more. Because that lays the threat very very close. See, and the fact that 6 million Jews died in Germany is a horrible thing, both intellectually and emotionally, but it's more horrible if you were a Jew, and it's even more horrible if you're living in Germany at the time, the Jews are being killed. So it becomes more horrible for me. Because I am black.

Warren: It's bound to be more horrible, no way for it to be different.

Carmichael: I can't see, I've heard Charlie [Evers] say a number of ridiculous things, I {UNCLEAR} get criticizing. But I don't know, I can't see someone saying something like that.

Warren: But I was disturbed, in many ways, because of the inconsistency here, between the two things. Things are fluid. People do change, their views because situations change. And I don't know what the line of events between the 12th of February and the 17th.

Carmichael: Let's see, when did that girl get hit by the car in — 

Warren: That was earlier. That was earlier. I got there on the 9th, 8th or 9th, it was I think on the 7th that the riot occurred in Jackson College, and he was then getting the students off the street.

Carmichael: Yeah, I remembrer that.

Warren: And he was under criticism among some of the younger people, because he had not let them demonstrate.

Carmichael: I disagreed with his position at that time.

Warren: Several times, some people say, we want a big blowup, a real riot, and then get the guard [National Guard?] out {UNCLEAR}. This would be a {UNCLEAR} with a big {UNCLEAR}. And therefore we whould have let it run its course, whenever the blood {UNCLEAR}.

Some said, I'm guarding this, Mrs. Richardson said — if it had been taken off the streets, they should have had a nonviolent session right away, with the song, and prayers and explanation of the purpose and go right back out nonviolently so there could be, there would be no bottling up of {UNCLEAR} and confusion of motion. But send them off the street, and nothing more, There are several lines of criticism on his policies, you know, his behavior. Now, I asked him, I said, in relating, is it related to the pressure that you're under, or because of that event. Now this is an impertinent question, but it is because the other questions were asked.

Carmichael: See, there are all sorts of problems with Negro leaders. See. A lot of them don't really seriously think about the problem.

Warren: Beg pardon?

Carmichael: They don't really seriously think about the problem, the whole problem of segregation, see. That's something you've got to watch. Merely because someone goes to jail, 17 million times, or merely because someone's brother is shot, there's no reason why he should be selected to be a leader, it seems to me.

Should select leaders because they have good programs, because they show you some way that is likely to solve the solution. Just because they've been to jail, and they've got good hard, you know, {UNCLEAR} believe it. I've been very disturbed about that, because a lot of people are coming into bloom as leaders, because they're saying a lot of things. I was very worried about that speech at — 

Warren: Nashville

Carmichael: No, the one I did at the nonviolent seminar.

Warren: Oh, yes, at Howard University. The one I heard.

Carmichael: Yes, right, I have a tape of that, and it seems like I was really getting the point of trying to convey that Negroes don't really all love white people. I decided, I was saying that, to counteract a lot of things that Nelson and King was gonna say that night, you know, that nonviolence is the way — that's not true. You know, that we have to show white people the love, it seems to me that tht's not true.

I think the issue of nonviolence is very important in the question of solving certain things, It's not true that it's bring us closer together and make us love each other, so that if it does in certain cases, I'm not going to deny this. Eddie Dickerson, from Cambridge , Maryland, a white fellow, two years ago, dragged me off a stool, and kicked me in the stomach about 7, 8, 9 times. Really gave me a good roughing up, one of the roughest times I've ever spent, was at the mercy of his hand. The same night he came back to church, apologized, said he was sorry, and started working in the movement. About the last summer, he was the fellow who a white owner was smashing the eggs over his head, the white restaurant owner, and kicking, he was the same fellow.

Warren: What's his background. Is he an intelligent man, of education — 

Carmichael: No. he's not.

Warren: No education. But intelligent.

Carmichael: Well, I think he's, I worry about people who can switch just like that.

Warren: Well, Paul {UNCLEAR} and Paul, you know, Luther.

Carmichael: He doesn't have formal education, he's, he decided that you know, he was wrong, he didn't have any right to beat us up, and he apologized to me personally, and stretched out his hand, and I wouldn't take it, you know. I was sore. Somebody doesn't come over and stamp on you and then offer the hand to shake.

Well, finally I took, and he started out and he said, you know, I'm not here to join you. He said, but I just want to tell you, that the next time you're out there, you know, I won't be leading the mob. Because I don't think this was right. Now this happened personally to me twice. It happened once in Nashville, when a white fellow did the same thing, and we all went to jail, and the fellow did go to jail too. And he said, you know, I was wrong, and he said, "I don't believe in what you say, and you can't change my mind, I'm gonna be a segregationist till I die. But I don't think I should have been out there doing what I was doing."

Okay, that's agreed, I agree, okay, that's okay with me, that's fair grounds, he said, "Now, don't expect me to talk to you if you come out there next week and I'm in the crowd. I'll try not to be there, but if I'm there, don't expect me to say hello to you, or don't expect me to try and stop them, cause I'm not gonna do it. That's their business what they do." And I, the next week, he came back to the church, he didn't show up for the demonstration, he came back, and he said, he was pretty disturbed about it, he thought there must be a better way . And he joined. We got him out ouf Cambridge and sent him to New York, to CORE, and CORE gave him some sort of nonviolent training.

Warren: This was a Nashville man, or the man from Cambridge?

Carmichael: From Cambridge, {UNCLEAR} Dickerson, right. And I saw him early this fall, and spoke to him for a while, he was working, still working with CORE, I haven't seen him since. But he's beome a strong person in the movement, but those are only exceptional cases, I don't think it's gonna teach people through nonviolence. As a tactic it's very useful.

Warren: Well you are planning to talk to people through nonviolence.

Carmichael: But a lot more people we've got to face.

Warren: Yes, but how much, how much do these two cases mean, there's no telling what they mean, is there really? Behind — 

Carmichael: You see, it seems to me that nonviolence, is worthwhile for about 4 or 5 reasons. The first one, was that you know, the south didn't know how to deal with this, there was always publicity, and white people heard about it.

The second thing, was that we didn't have to justify our acts, you know, the white liberal element will justify all our acts for us. We're just students sitting and reading a book. The white liberal element, and even the {UNCLEAR} I can't think of his name, I was trying to refer to it in the beginning, who spoke, I think he's on the Richmond Times, he wrote an article, he saw a sit-in, you know, and he said, this is exactly what I saw, and then he said, these Negroes came into the store, he is a segregationist, he believes in separation of the races, and he said, but the very end, he said, you know, there's one thing that bothered me, he said, I saw those students sitting very very still, very very quiet, not doing anybody any danger, except they had no right to be there, and they're the inferior race, he said. "Then I saw the superior race," he said, "my fellow whites, yelling and taunting, and spitting and acting like animals." And he ended the editorial.

So they had to justify our acts, because they had to admit, that even though we were wrong, the officer should arrest us and let it go at that. But see, the south is getting smart now, it's not doing it any more, in many cases, it's not gonna be so, they're putting you in jail for long periods of time, and charging tremendous bonds, money we won't be able to get out, and will make all sorts of legal procedures now, so they're beginning to deal and manipulate with you. On your grounds.

The other reason I think why nonviolence works, is because you had small core of students, you had small core of students through Congress of Racial Equality, from NAACP, and were all well disciplined, well trained students. Now you're not having that any more. You didn't have it in Albany [GA], you didn't have it in Cambridge, you didn't have it in Birmingham, you didn't have it in Jackson.

Warren: Ill trained, or not trained

Carmichael: Not at all trained, you're having a mass movement, see, and {UNCLEAR} talking about, this is gonna be a mass movement. But it wasn't you had about the same students that I saw in New York on a picket line, were the same students I saw in Mississippi behind bars, see, and the same people I saw in Cambridge, but now there's a whole town of Cambridge involved, and you can't tell that whole town of Cambridge to be nonviolent. In Mississippi it's not just three or four students on a bus ride, you're getting thousands of people to go down and register and vote, and you can't tell them when somebody shoots into their house, not to shoot back. See.

Warren: Shooting back is very different from assassination in reprisal.

Carmichael: Yeah, well I don't hold out for assassiation as reprisals. I don't know, I haven't — 

Warren: It's a very different act.

Carmichael: It is certainly is.

Warren: Dr. {UNCLEAR} and I were sitting there every night, with the rifle through the window, I stuck there with him, I mean, through a long session, at the window, so I know what's happening.

Carmichael: I know that, I know that. But it seems to me, that when you have a whole town like Cambridge, how can you discipline them? To be nonviolent, you know. What are you gonna say to the people? You don't have the right to demonstrate, and you feed them because you're not nonviolent, you're not disciplined? This is one of the hardest arguments, we used to fight with us in the movement, when it first started, was the people demanded that you wear a shirt and tie, and a suit, to go in a city, and I refused to do it, and the ultimate question was, are you gonna tell me that I can't demonstrate for my freedom? So those decisions you're gonna have to make. Background certainly.

Warren: Organization and discipline required in just any movement, whatsoever.

Carmichael: Certainly. So the problem, is this movement so developed that it can discipline people. I don't think it is.


Problems of Leadership

Warren: What's the next move, then?

Carmichael: Well, then, I don't know.

Warren: The next move, organizationally speaking. As leadership.

Carmichael: Well, see, it's a problem. I thought about that quite a bit, you know, how do you get leaders of a movement? How did you [get] a John Lewis? A couple of people sat down and voted for him. A couple sat down and voted for James Farmer, and a couple of people sat down and voted for Roy Wilkins. Now when these people voted for them, they said, now this is your leader.

The kids in Atlanta [at a SNCC meeting] heard John Lewis, speak, and they liked him, and they said, well, I'll follow him. They didn't say it verbally, as a matter of fact, they had a silent vote. They didn't say I oppose him, so they accept him. And that was all there was to it. Same thing with Roy Wilkins.

How conflict arises [is] because John Lewis says to Roy Wilkins, well we don't think the courts are gonna do it. We think we have to get out on the streets. And we think we have got to push hard. And conflict arises When Roy Wilkins says — No. The people have to say, well who you gonna listen to? And problem arises, what are the people in Detroit gonna do, they're gonna listen to Roy Wilkins about what to do in Atlanta, or are they gonna listen to John Lewis about what to do in Atlanta. We got all sorts of problems creeping in, as to what is to be done.

Warren: That's part of the history of every movement.

Carmichael: Yes. And the other things that you've got to worry about is something that has been bothering me, is that you're gonna start getting politics inside of the movement, and that's bad — 

Warren: Don't you have it already?

Carmichael: But it's developing, it's really heightening, now, and it becomes very very bad, because once you have politicking here, you begin to lose focus, from without. And that's bad, see. The real way, I think, to become a leader, is to develop a good program, and present it to the people. I think if you got a good program, people follow you. If you make sense. Cause that means you've got to start attacking all the rhetoricians, you know.

Warren: Now some people, I think it's the secretary of the NAACP in Boston, with whom I have not talked — this, I read it — said, I think I'm not sure it's "he," said, that the trouble in demonstrations now, is that the element of overreaching, each one must be more dramatic than the one before. It's like American advertising. That the rational pressure is not the problem now, of maintaining the rational pressure, or the goals, but making each one stupendous, more stupendous, and superstupendous. You are caught in an advertising escalator, which is an irrational force operating within the movement.

Carmichael: I think it's not only within the movement, I think it has to do a lot without the movement, too. For instance, four years ago, if three little students pulled a sit-in, every paper in the country would be there. Now, if about 500 students pulled a sit-in, nobody comes.

Warren: This is a part of the general quality of American civilization and America in general.

Carmichael: It certainly is.

Warren: To get the attention, you have to put on a bigger and bigger show. The movement is a victim then of the whole American psychology of "colossal."

Carmichael: Tell them one person got killed, that doesn't make a difference, you know. If three other people get killed, again, won't make a difference, cause 6 have already been killed, gonna have to get 10. See. You have to get 10.

Warren: This then raises the question of coldblooded Machievelian, manipulation, of risks and drama and violation. Doesn't it?

Carmichael: The question is, who makes the final decision?

Warren: It raises that question, the logic of violence begins to emerge in terms of this process, doesn't it? The danger of violence.

Carmichael: The question still boils down, who makes the final decision.

Warren: Yeah.

Carmichael: And if you do make it, how will you know that the people will follow you? That is a problem.

Now I think, my own personal feeling on Mississippi, is that you got to keep pushing people to register to vote, got to pushing now, you can't back out. But the whites are gonna start pushing back too. And then what's gonna happen. Now, if you really being honest with yourself, you'll say — well, the strong, very very strong possibility of violence, and you know it. Especially if you went to {UNCLEAR}. You know, we've been shot at, and you can say you know it could happen. You say well, should we stop. If you are gonna avoid violence, then the way to avoid violence, is for you to stop. Since nobody else is going to enforce this.

Warren: Yes. Yes. The question of violence doesn't mean the surrender of the issue, does it?

Carmichael: No it doesn't mean it. But the other question is now, if we stop this tactic, what other tactic can we use, that will be as effective? Now you can't deny the fact that publicity is a great help in the movement. You can't deny that fact.

Warren: Sure.

Carmichael: It certainly is.

Warren: Yet these are the facts that we have a climate of opinion among the white people of the country, the movement can succeed.

Carmichael: And that is why it becomes essential that you don't start talking preferential treatment, because that little fellow in Cambridge, Maryland, says — "Well, that's cause your face isn't black" — means what he says. And in the long run, he's gonna not even hate Negroes because he hated them before, for one of the traditional reasons, yeah but now he has something real to hate them for, they're putting him out of his job. Now it becomes an issue. See. Now they're gonna be fighting in the streets. And they're gonna be fighting over jobs.

Warren: Yes, that's, this comes at a time of unemployment. Becomes really another picture entirely.


Strategy & Power

Carmichael: The other thing, the poverty is becoming popular, everybody's talking about poverty. So everybody talks about it, nobody sits and introduces a program, to solve the issues.

Warren: How much is this matter a class matter and an economic matter, behind the screen of race. The race issue.

Carmichael: Well, when I was in high school, I thought everything was economics. I was a freshman in college, I was convinced everything was economics. When I was a sophomore in college, G. Franklin Edwards, Dr. Edwards, sociology department, had a long talk with me. And we used to talk quite a bit, not only economics, other reasons, you know. If someone isn't realizing they're manipulating, they don't know that their actions are motivated because someone on top is motivating them and this one someone on top. That article that whats-her-name wrote in The Nation, about {UNCLEAR} intervention, power structure, and what they're talking about, {UNCLEAR} — 

Warren: "Power structure" has become a cliche now. Everybody uses it.

Carmichael: Power structure, revolution, demonstrations, freedom now, equality, indignity, are words that people just throw around without giving serious thought. Now, you talked about "power structure," let's isolate, let's — Washigton D.C. We decided to have a rent strike in Washington, we want to work on it. A decision was made, number one, because we think that there is need for emergency housing in the district. {UNCLEAR} gave a report to the Commision on Housing, said there is no need. Now we feel that he's wrong. We documented. People have gone out and made surveys. We're convinced among ourselves, that there is a need. We need to have rent controls in the district, because there are none.

Warren: What do you pay for rent in this apartment, may I ask?

Carmichael: $77.50.

Warren: Two rooms.

Carmichael: One little bedroom in back.

Warren: That include your utilities.

Carmichael: Yes. This is a good apartment, and it's a good price in Washington, D.C. The lady up the block, named {UNCLEAR}, pays $90, lives on the top floor,and you can walk to the door and look right at the {UNCLEAR}.

Warren: Through the ceiling.

Carmichael: Right through the ceiling. It rains and it leaks all the way down. She pays $90. Everybody else pays about $125 in the building, and it's clearly too much money. Miss Uler is on Welfare. The welfare cases in the district, are handled very very badly. Because Congress handles everything.

You start saying — well, the way to solve this problem is to get the rules and all that, but you need Home Rule in the district, because where economists cannot handle the problem of a growing metropolis, as Washington, D.C.

[At the time of this interview, Washington DC was entirely governed by Congress and the White House who appointed municipal officials. DC Residents were not allowed to vote for local officials, members of Congress, or the president. Home Rule was a campaign to give the city an elected municipal government, representation in Congress, and the right to vote in a presidential election. Today in 2018, Washington DC has an elected municipal government, citizens can vote for president, they have representatives in Congress but those representatives are not allowed to actually vote on congressional matters and Congress still controls the city's budget and has the power to veto decisions made by the elected mayor and city council.]

Now you got to decide how you get it. You say, well, you can't get it through the courts, because they've been trying that since 19 some odd years. So then you decide, well, the other alternative, as we see it, is have mass demonstrations, mobilizing people, dramatize the issues. Now there may be other alternatives, I'm not saying there are not. But we see this one as the best. So you decide to go out and have a strike. We talk about the power structure, talk about the real estate board. Because the real estate board, clarly came out against Home Rule.

Do you realize what it means if you have Home Rule? When we say we're against the power structure in Washington, D.C., we're against the real estate board. On that issue. You say you're against other things, you're against, you know, low wages in the District, for laundry workers, and you are against the owners of the laundries, clearly. I don't think she's fair when she says we don't know what we're talking about when we talk about the power structure.

I think that we ought to, you know, stop using those words, I agree with you. Within the movement itself start the development and defining of issues in terms clearly, because you're not getting away with what you got away with before. You've got to justify your own acts now, see. We've got to justify a rent strike. If it was the sit-ins, liberal white elements justified, it, we wouldn't be even asked, they'd just say we understand why you were doing it. Isn't it terrible. And you'd just have to tell about the horrible treatment you got.

You no longer can do that. You've got to tell the people in Cambridge, why they shouldn't vote for an issue when you get into a thing, I agree with Gloria on this. I thought that was a correct position. But you got to justify that. That's not being done. Because, I think it's being demanded that it be done. And that's why civil rights groups are gonna be under attack more and more. That's why preferential treatment will be under attack. You've got to justify preferential treatment.

Warren: Then it's more and more their responsibility, was not present even two years ago.

Carmichael: Absolutely right.

Warren: Another kind of leadership is in order.

Carmichael: Right.

Warren: With a more closely reasoned philosophy.

Carmichael: Yes, and someone who's really taking his homework seriously. You can't just get your name in the papers any more. Because the papers aren't gonna say you're a good guy, cause you are a Negro. You know. They used to say that once. Now they don't say it — you're not a good guy any more, as a matter of fact, you're idiots.

Warren: Of course, the argument is now, in some circles, in which I move, a white man criticizes any Negro's policy, someone turns on him, some other white person, and says, you are another, you know,

Carmichael: Bigot.

Warren: Southern bigot. This is another whole world of cliches. You see. And social pressures around {UNCLEAR}.

Carmichael: {UNCLEAR} in a mix.

Warren: {UNCLEAR} mix.

Carmichael: {UNCLEAR} fix and a mix.


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