Interview with James Bevel

All right, let's just go on. Tell me, tell me a story about what it was like when you started to train all those children. You had thousands of children that you were trying to train. There must have been some funny incidents.


Well, what happened—I had come out of the Nashville movement and the Mississippi movements where we had basically used young people all the time. And, well, at first King didn't want me to use young people because I had eighty charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor—minors—against me in Jackson, Mississippi for sending young people on the Freedom Ride. Well, that was about five to ten, twelve people would go on demonstrations each day and my position was well, you can't get the dialogues you need with a few people. Besides,most adults have bills to pay, house notes, rents, car notes, utility bills, but the young people wherein they can think at the same level are not, at this point, hooked with all those responsibilities. So, a boy from high school, he get the same effect in terms of being in jail in terms of putting the pressure on the city as his father and yet he is not, there is no economic threat on the family because the father is still on the job.** So the strategy was, OK, let's use thousands of people who won't create an economic crisis because they're off the job, so the high school students was like our choice. And we brought that to them in terms of you're adults, but you're still sort of living on your mamas and your daddies, so it is your responsibility in that you don't have to pay the bills, to take the responsibility, to confront the segregation question. And what we did, we went around and started organizing say like, the queens of the high schools, the basketball stars, the football stars, so you get the influence and power leaders involved. And then, they in turn got all the other students involved. Because it was only about, like I said, 15 people a day demonstrating was willing to go to jail because the black community did not have that kind of cohesion in terms of a camaraderie. People knew each other, but only in terms of on their way to jobs, on their way to church, but the students they have sort of community they'd been in for say, ten, eleven, twelve years since they were in elementary school, so they had bonded well. So if one went to jail, that was a direct effect upon another when because they was classmates. Wherein parents, people live in the community do not have that kind of closeness, so the strategy for using the students was to get the whole involvement. To help them overcome the crippling fears of dogs, and jails, and to help them start thinking through problems on their feet, to think through a living problem causes you to think. Wherein if you're just reading books and referring, but once you get involved, you have to think.