Interview with Stokley Carmichael

When you were elected chairman, what were folks saying about by rejecting John Lewis [inaudible]


Well, I think that struggle in SNCC has been brewing. We have discussed the struggle of Atlantic City Convention and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and here we were already see the pro—what do you call it when they begin to—polarization that was occurring inside of SNCC. John's policy was one which was good for SNCC in the early days, but if you took a clear look at John Lewis he looked more like a young Martin Luther King, Jr. than anything else. A role which he, himself was quite happy and pleased with. John was quite honored and perhaps the biggest compliment he could paid was after a meeting where he presented SNCC's program, somebody would come and tell him, why you sound just like Martin Luther King, Jr., why this was the highest compliment you could pay him, but he was out of touch with SNCC staff. He had not done organizing with SNCC staff. He had brought, come into SNCC as a chairman of SNCC and served always as chairman, in that role, most of his job was to put, present SNCC's program publicly across. I do not mean to imply here that he did not take part in campaigns in the South or take part in going to jail. No, he took part in it, but again, these were not long going programs. And he didn't do long time organizing. He came from the tradition of mobilization, organization, against segregated facilities, not that of organizing in SNCC. So, he had lost contact with the SNCC staff which had gone harder into organizing, and as a result took on more revolutionary policies than did those with just dealing, short term goals of desegregating public facilities. Thus, the spread had already developed. The concept of nonviolence had already been passed, surpassed him. The concept of integration of non-nationalism had also surpassed him. So, because of his policies and his space between the SNCC's field workers himself, it was clear that he had been alienated from the SNCC staff. So the vote against him represented that. But more importantly it represented the clear insight of the SNCC organizers that understood that the question of morality upon which King's organization depended, to bring about changes in the community, were not possible. The SNCC people had seen raw terror and they understood properly this raw terror had nothing to do with morality but had to do clearly with power. A question of economic power of the exploitation of our people and they clearly saw that the route to this liberation came first through political organization of the masses, of the people. Thus, because of these clear insights, [ John ]John's policies were not capable of holding up with the direction SNCC had to go into.