Stokely Carmichael Interview
My name is Terrence cannon. On the editor of a West Coast newspaper for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee I'm talking today with Stokely Carmichael. Snick field secretary working in Lowndes County Alabama. Stokely is an organizer of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization also called the Black Panther Party Black Panther Party is an independent political party of negroes in Lowndes County. Who are seeking to gain political power in their county. And to strengthen and organize independent county by county political organizations in Alabama. When snippets of research material in Alabama. One of the things that they stress is that Alabama is not really run by the politicians it's not really run by the shows that's run by the businessmen.
Corporations are people who have economic power.
Now when you talk about most kind of dream organization and black political party you're talking about voting power. Now how do you feel this is going to change the real power or do you think the real power is economic or is not economic power.
I don't know that it will.
And some of the things that we question now in Alabama is whether or not the fault will make property less people as equal as property owners. We don't know. I've been told in college in my political science textbooks that the way to get a road fix and we get the lights in the way to get better jobs and better housing is through the vote. I don't know that for a fact. And that's what I've been telling people in Alabama and what we're about to do is find out.
You know people react to that if people think that they're going to get real improvements in their every day this situation do you think that.
Well it's not that easy. A number of things that comes into play here. Number one the attitude of the country has changed tremendously in terms of the ration.
So bad that you've had passage of several bills.
The Austrians have changed the atmosphere of the country they haven't done the change on the concrete bases for Negroes. There are for example a number of Negroes if you negroes who got jobs in the poverty program and a few Negroes who've gotten jobs on Wall Street. But other than that they haven't done very much.
So that when the negroes in Alabama know what to do is to see whether or not the vote can really bring the changes that they want on a day to day living when not their dissolution remains to be seen and never voted before. We walk and I think people run their own interest and we try to hold that political power inside the community not outside of the community as it lies throughout the country. What sort of issues you are not right. Well the first issue we organize one's poverty and lives. So it's very easy to organize around lines because this country lies. This country has been saying that if you work hard every day you can make it. That's not true. He goes work from sunup to sundown to day. That's why. So that that just isn't true. I mean the hard working person doesn't make it the person's got the money except and those people are poor so we organize around that. How do you in fact change it that you don't work from sunup to sundown to today.
How do you how do you change that.
Well with enough white show what we do is that you just organize people you change the emphasis of the boat example set up a new law in his organization which is not tied to any Democratic Party. Bodies when developing are not tied to the democratic body and all their power will rest within the community or each county organization is an entity unto itself so that it isn't geared to what's outside of the county politics or the politics of every county community executive community and and they all get their politics outside of that county. But this will be good inside the county so that the money that's coming is that county will be able to be controlled by the people of the county. And we've been doing some exciting things with time within the political spectrum.
For example we take every weekend we take people over to Atlanta. Last weekend we took about 150 people to Atlanta. And what we did was that we and the research department we taught the people what the duties of the sheriff thought the following weekend we do tax assessor and then. Go.
To all the different duties and the officials on the county level for people who attend these workshops then come back to Alabama and they conduct the same workshops in the community in the community rooms. What that means is that those people for example know this county there are about 400 people who know what the duties of a sheriff up or those 400 people feel qualified to run for sheriff. So that you were in fact not have somebody running for sheriff who got out of line the other was that's what campaigns are all about you know one then gets up and says that he will not escalate the war in Vietnam and the other man says that he will. And you just spoke with a man who lies the best and keeps on a straight face. So you have the Nobel because you know what the duties of a show but more than that is that once that sheriff is elected he can't do anything outside of it. As everybody knows just what his duties are.
Mostly you look to sure of who controls politics and is at the courthouse.
Yes SS the courthouse concept we call it the courthouse concept.
Negroes have to gain control of the court house and the black vote alone as the sheriff of Rainbow Circle couldn't do much except not beat up negroes become minor reforms and to get a thing else you have to change a lot more to changing everything.
We make no bones about it.
In Alabama in the Black Belt counties for example ounds County where 80 percent of the population go for one. Whites control and run everything every single thing. And they run that based on a racist attitude. They have no respect for the negroes to come into the courthouse and in fact their court house has come to be an oppressive tool. He goes I'm afraid of it. When they go to pay their taxes they go there with their hats in their hand. Now we're going to change that and the only way to change is to get rid of all those whites. It's very simple we make no bones about it we're taking over the political machinery that political machinery now in existence is tied up to the Democratic Party. That Democratic Party holes into Kennedy. It also holds in a nascent it also Cason Maya and holds a box the most forgot sit down to table and talk and they make a compromise. Negroes get hurt. And what we have to do is to make it so Negroes do not get hurt so that you don't have to be interested in a Democratic Party I mean the Democratic Party I showed just where they stand with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. They taught the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that we don't recognize you but we recognize Coleman in Johnson and all the other races they have the power in Mississippi and so we said to them fine in Alabama we don't recognize you wear the power in these counties and that has to be.
Well the president going out on the county level on the state.
Well there's been shootings and regular violence but we're getting used to that now. Aside from the start aside from that they've been using all sorts of propaganda it's a black Muslim black nationalist. It's putting the Negro vote regular propaganda time stuff. People don't seem to be bothered about it because we've had white nationalism for so long and want to whites two rights don't make a wrong. Doesn't seem to me to want to make a right. Doesn't seem to me anybody is willing to right the wrong has been committed for so long said negroes and then I've divided as they see fit. And that's what they'll do. But you're talking to.
You have to see for certain posts within a certain November 8th of November 8th we're going to take over all the political offices there.
Do you have enough negroes registered to vote now.
Yes there are two that yes there are and we have until 45 days before the November 8th election that sometime in September to get all of them registered and we just don't know what's them what's the step by step machine or other words how do you get on the left.
What's the each step by step where the primaries are OK if you are having been a political party you don't vote in the Democratic or the Republican primary because it's illegal.
You can then go. To.
Primaries from one of the railroaders early on that same date you have a convention the county convention and this convention convention we want everybody to come all the negroes and they will let this slate of candidates.
And 60 days before the election the names will go on the balance of the names go on the regular you know eyelets and the Black Panther which is the emblem goes on there so there are people who are literate can read and write they can just about half of their members back then.
Now how do you qualify to get on the ballot illegal just by having it just by having a kind of convention and having you acted.
That's correct. No written about 20 percent of the people you can be called a political party until you vote. After after the vote if you receive 20 percent of the vote then you have to recognize political party so that we can call this county Freedom Organization after November because it's gonna be a party.
What are you organizing on a county by county basis rather than say taking all counties and making one.
Well number one Alabama has a unique law that allows for such organization on a county level. That's a first and the second thing is I feel very strongly about global politics in terms of openness. If you organize for state level I think things is going to confuse and you lose a lot if you are in the US for a national model it's the same thing that happened too many compromises to be made. Too many what people call political decisions and what happens of powerful people make those with the decision that the other people just get stepped on. If you control the county level and you control everything else working for the cause. I'm not interested in the state level or.
National service of the county level is a is kind of free. Here's an army of love connections. You know pressured or trapped from love and doesn't love it is relentless.
It's not it's not but if you control it if you have the power then you're in a position to make that bargain. You can make the bargain once you control your county and you can tell whether you're bobbing in this is what we want we have the power. If you go for the state you know have the power to use have to get what you can. But once you control your county OK who's Governor George Wallace on James Eastland. I mean they still have to meet that power on that level in the county.
The seem to be quite strategy for keeping better. Oh yes there are all sorts of them.
They've got negroes who are saying the Democratic Party is the salvation for the race. They've got negroes who say they were trying to spit the Negro vote. And up until Sammy Young was shot they had Negroes who kept saying Look at us the gun I see this. So after Sammy was shot they couldn't say that and we organized for you know organization in making. The other strategy is what Wallace introduced new legislation to try to keep Negroes from voting in any way that he sees fit and that was what he asked for his own words on the floor of the legislature.
What happened in the well of past 1:53 in what they call a study to find ways to keep illegals from voting. But that's all irrelevant. I mean in 1066 they're going to be black people sitting in those offices come hell or high water now are all local positions running in this election.
You can't you know we follow suit clowns kind of make all the offices void all the elected offices void as a member because those people are elected by illegal means by murder etc. and that's how they got those offices that disfranchise 80 percent of population.
If the justice of this country which as we've noted to be probably will know soon enough they will have the sheriff tax assessor to county schoolboys and tax us open.
What about when the other all of the positions come up. Well some of them 68 some of them as far as 70. Well we have such a democratic society I imagine that those offices will probably stay until somebody does something.
No let's take the response of the Democratic Party has a beneficial response. Do you think that they'll try to break up your activity the way I think it was tried in Arkansas which was by running out of time.
You know this I'm sure they'll do that very shortly. I'm sure that pressure will not only come from the state Democratic Party but it will also come from the National Democratic Party.
Johnson gave the voting rights bill the Socialist Democratic Party would get all the Negroes to vote in their party they never have to worry about the stuff that's just not true these independent political parties need us on the Democratic Party they're in trouble so it's to their benefit to see that Negroes vote Democrat.
So show us all sorts of means to to stop the independent political organizations also become very dangerous thing if the idea spreads for example in Lowndes County the Dan River mill as a building.
That's just tax free. I mean what happen if we got a tax assessor and she taxed then River mills which we intend to do on the basis of the profit they make there of Republi move so be it will have lost nothing but what happens if that idea spreads.
Yeah OK first of all but it's spreading.
One of the counties and I want them of that. 30 percent 20 percent 10 percent Negro population where you strategy in one's care only in the black. This seems Arroyo majority of Negroes.
What do you do for your 10 percent or 5 percent negroes the first thing you do is that those negroes organize themselves in their own interest. So negroes voted Democratic Party across this country but then organize a democratic body. That's why Chicago doesn't have to do anything it doesn't have to do anything because negroes of vote Democrat I mean so they don't move and they vote Democrat but they're not organized. So what those negroes have to do is organize themselves and then they have a weapon. I mean even with 10 percent of the people voting you have some sort of voice. I mean that's what we're about doing. We're walking izing Miklos to conserve all the gains have been made in the last six years in the last six years and he goes a country pub a long way and it would be silly to throw it all away over a question of whether or not you vote Democrat or Republican. That's the relevant you want to get to things that you've been asking for and done and you do that however you see best. They see this final denies in themselves and maintain control of those interests and that's what the negroes in those counties will have to do to organize themselves and they can organize themselves and show the fine song. Some voices among other organizations in my community probably have the same problems they do what they have to be organized and they're not.
Do you see any chairs on the state level.
Of course if you organize about the negroes of 30 35 percent of the population down. If those illegals organize into one solid block the rest of the 65 percent people voting have four factions by three factions. They have the Republican Party who's putting a lot of money to say about about it this year to try and make its gains and they have within the Democratic Party is split between the lawlessness in plucks and the rich for flowers so that you have three factions fighting for that 65 percent of the vote and you have 35 percent of your vote started. If you can't at least control the state you become a very very powerful bloc. That 35 percent of your vote and will be the same thing with that 10 percent of the vote.
If you have a 10 percent that will organize it becomes a very strong blogging for us.
Do you see where they use leverage from one county to another. Well it was a way that a county with a well-organized Black Panther Party can help out. He goes by I have it with him it said 20 percent or 10 percent.
I mean was there was an iced or not you know nice you can start sending like we're doing people who are organized to go out all over Alabama they do the talking to organizer the negroes that suffer a lot of people know about it saying that snake has been spitting the Negro vote because now you've got legal Shlomo Ben-Ami saying that they should join these freedom organizations but that if in fact that those negroes all the nicest guy they could make certain political deals maybe against the other counties next to them you know a state wide level they sway an awful awful voice that's 11 counties in the back row. And if they're all organized only 30 35 percent of the vote they become a very powerful one.
It was all about extending you know moving at the last count of that.
You don't reject the idea of coalitions and turbaned but other words for the whites your white moderates white moderates would have my feelings about.
I don't know what that type of animal is.
No I don't reject coalitions. I just say that what they would need those have to do is to realize that when you form coalitions you aim towards what people call national interest or national interest and never the same as an equal interest. So they have to maintain only interest first and then certainly they can form coalitions but I don't see any coalition forces in the country that snake could hook up with today over that allows County freedom of musicians can hook up with outside of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party there is no courts today. We can hook up for example with the plane on strike workers. I'm talking about there is no established force in the country they can hook up with they can cope with new movements you see.
Insurgent forces yes insurgent forces they can hook up with certainly and that's being done.
Snake Eyes work isn't the way to go on a great strike and that's tonight just to see that those troops spraying the poor What do you think you could say organized the group already working for certain economic interests could get poor boys involved just on this weekend so.
Well Terence you see that's an academic question because the poet is not in the US and that the racial hostility is still there. But once we have the poor white organizing.
The 35 percent of what makes you think that that could stay a solid block vs. Mississippi it shows that you can't keep Negroes are so low just as Negroes that middle class negroes pull off they go for the illusions of the White House.
It's very difficult to keep any kind of soul well respected by the difference is that the people we were flown out on a whole been sharecroppers and the strength of those negro politicians who all their lives have been sitting with the white moderates quote unquote have been cut off from the negroes and we work with they have no basis. I've been I've had spent a year now about them and that you have done nothing but go out and talk to people and given them strength and most people have enough strength to move on.
When I said one of the things the Mississippi experience we learned was that we did seek out coalitions and that's what the price of coalitions. We didn't seek any an element just so people that they want to realize from the beginning that they're isolated and that whatever they do have to do in their own home for the best. Maybe they'll win lose draw time. But that once they start seeking coalitions that the power is not theirs anymore. The loss of the coalition force.
As of over reaction but go on this. Have you tried to gain control over the programs in that area or are other public programs that you work with.
Yes but we didn't get bothered fighting for poverty programs. It's more for people not more of a pain. They've been fighting five months for money. That's just a very academic fight the way to live it.
Eliminate poverty is to give poor people money. That's all people want give them the money and to go for these applications and red tape and bureaucracy who decides the programs just too much that people don't understand have it and they just lost interest. They just lost interest. Aside from the fact the poverty programs and it would come through George Wallace negroes that just wants to pool their money just absurd so they said OK. And George Wallace said well I'll appoint a fair minded man which he did. And then the money had to go through him which of course had to be vetoed and have to go see if the federal government I mean it was just a tie up and I refused to work on it I don't work for the federal government.
And when I started working for the federal government to pay $25000 a year I worked for a snake a $10 a week and my job is to organize people to overthrow the governments that are now pressing them not to organize and to beg for money from the federal government. If they all control those those county government offices they won't have to beg for money monies that is take it what other to give back to my first question What is the strength.
Does industry or business have it right here. Suppose you had a black political structure why economic structures were breaking out of that.
I see a way of that quite the coquetry of the problems I have my own questions in my own mind. If I broached those questions so people usually say Oh leftist communist or an anarchist. Whether those terms mean. But it's clear to me that the Constitution of this country was written by property owners and it was some time before people who didn't own property could vote. And I would think that the property owners who wrote the constitution voted for their own interest not for the interest of the people. Nobody to me so that they have to give people something that will equal the power if you didn't own property and that was the vote.
Now what happens in Lowndes County when you have 90 percent of the people who are property less and they now control politically 15 percent of the people who own the county economically.
That's what I'd like to see I don't have any questions or answers maybe some good American political scientists could answer the question for us. I don't see negroes are any better off than anywhere in the country when I get a nice photo there. They're still property let's announce County they can't get any more property because land is not just being sold. So what's going to happen to those people that they don't live with. It's going to be interesting but it's going to have to be used as an indicative scale of it's going to happen to the country in terms of that question propertyless people start asking those questions. A mouse County for example negroes who get evicted off of land have to live in tents now because they voted they see every day here. I go up to canvass and talk to somebody says you told me to vote.
You told me I'd get better houses you told me get better schools you taught me to be a first class isn't how I lost my house now you get me a house.
See I can't just walk away and say well that's part of it. Those people need a house.
So how do you handle a question we've been trying to put them up in tents and squeeze him in with other families and have split up their families. It's credit me the Negroes to control the resources of the country and that the people who would have to speak to that means in need will have to really touch seriously the question of the unknown that money is going to stop going it is going to have to go into Alabama So there's going to be to add interest to stuff that was not even a moral issue but a practical issue.
So you don't believe that we can both have a war and continue like drugs but I think we can't because just can just keep ordering more money to be made these very long.
The press has a rural strategy you're talking about basically. But it goes well I think it was applied again as I think that for example in New York City what the negroes have to do is to organize themselves.
For example the political power of New York City in Harlem does not lie in home and life in Chicago can be seen very clearly the political power of Chicago lies in the daily machinery doesn't lie inside the community of Chicago in Watts It was very clear that the political power did not live inside of Watts. It lived outside of Watts and so what were about very simply is doing something that we've been talking about. But even Malcolm X was talking about that political power has to live inside the community and that's all and that's North-South who will industrial wherever you go for there's no mayor was there's a share of wolves.
Where's America for sure. Oh you know that you can you can take over those positions.
They organize on political straight nose and eyes and once you get a 70 mage and once they represent is that power inside of once the US stamps you know. COATS No so that's one of those people you know. That had better stand up once then they wouldn't have to be fighting over the public. When the idea of who gets it. The power lies in Brown's step and he fights over who gets the fights over who gets the money not the people of Watts because it's clear they know you know best and that's the hard work that that's ahead of everybody who wants to be an organizer. It's not as easy as being a student demonstrator so much harder to organize but that's a task for people working full time one project that we just have to staff people sky above man's self but with both people know about the planet about it now scouting to organizing in other counties now and that's the way it should be. I will leave out about my the end of this year and that work has to go on. That's one of the things I like about Snick. One of the things about steak is whether or not it lived or died. The organizations that it was in the eyes would continue as a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Slick would become beloved.
What if things learned or put another way think they were from the Challenger experience so much about evolution that oh it has been the means of learning those learned that there's no such thing called justice in this country that's me you know in the courts there's.
Less power in it's politics and people who control it get it for a simple maybe sometimes you can organize and you have to organize to me that base and that's what we're about. Alabama we recognize that people are impressed by demonstrations but they are suppressed by political power. That's what Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party understood and understood that you can't go out for coalitions because coalitions are formed by people who have their interests at stake. Join us and then when you go into coalitions with somebody who's already established there isn't very much they can get you can get from them. They got you that's what they learned that Mississippi challenge when they had all these forces that were behind them all of everybody willing to accept the challenge and they also learned that there is no such thing as it is just this country again because the people who are recognized by the National Democratic Party.
That's the official party with the racist whether criminals whether they were the ones who make it so that when they went it they just start from rock bottom and you start with nobody but each other and that's where you go. You don't look for anybody else who's already established. You look for people like yourself starting out on the outside just trying to get in you know for people like the farm workers and the way you know you know people like the freedom organizations that if you don't you may find yourself coalescing with all sorts of forces and ending up being the Labor Party supporting them you know.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Stokely Carmichael Interview
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- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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- Pacifica Radio Archives (North Hollywood, California)
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- A discussion with Stokely Carmichael, field secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Lowndes County, Alabama. As an organizer of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), also known as the Black Panther Party, Carmichael discusses the importance of maintaining political power inside communities at the county level and of remaining outside of the Democratic Party to avoid compromises that would harm African Americans. The interview is conducted by Terence Cannon, editor of the West Coast newspaper of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. For information on Stokely Carmichael, see Peniel E. Joseph, Stokely: A Life (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2014). For information on the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, see Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama?s Black Belt (New York: New York University Press, 2009).
- Black Panther Party; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.); African Americans--Civil rights--History
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Interviewee: Carmichael, Stokely
Interviewer: Cannon, Terence
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: 20660_D01 (Pacifica Radio Archives)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Stokely Carmichael Interview,” 1966-04-21, Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 21, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_28-zw18k75h85.
- MLA: “Stokely Carmichael Interview.” 1966-04-21. Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 21, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_28-zw18k75h85>.
- APA: Stokely Carmichael Interview. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_28-zw18k75h85