Interview with Stokley Carmichael

Can you tell about going into the church and eating dinner at his house.


As a young man in SNCC even before becoming a, taking a position of leadership in SNCC Dr. King and I grew on many terms. I received many place—SNCC had made me in charge of receptions for him in many, many places. In Washington, D.C. while a student there, he came to give a talk at a nonviolent seminar where I represented SNCC. I was also given the task by SNCC to represent SNCC in meetings with him and to be of assistance to him there in Washington, D.C., and this would be about '62 or '63. Of course later on in our works we bumped shoulders. When I went into Atlanta I would go and eat in his house. Our relationships were very strong even where we had political disagreements. I'm reminded of the war in Vietnam. You know, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was the first one to take a position against the war and not only against the war but for the destruction of the draft. Of course SCLC did not take this position. And at that time I was serving as chairperson of SNCC and recognizing that we were being isolated politically, I instinctively understood that once King takes a position against the war in Vietnam, we will no longer be isolated. Thus, my task inside of SNCC politically was to put pressure on King to make him take a stand on the war in Vietnam. We understood from the people that I selected to help in this process that here we were going to use nothing but nonviolence, love with him. You know, the statement was, we're going to beat them with nonviolence and love. It was clear that his philosophy made it impossible for him not to take a stand against the war in Vietnam. I remember one time, just joking with him, I said, "You remember", I forgot the name of the brother, but there was a brother who he remembered and the brother was in Vietnam and got shot. I said, "You remember so-and-so?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "He got shot." He said, "What? Where?" I said, "In Vietnam." I said, "Yeah, you didn't tell him not to go in Vietnam, be nonviolent there." You told him to be nonviolent in Mississippi. He didn't get shot there, but he got shot in Vietnam. You should have told him to be nonviolent in Vietnam. That's what your problem—you didn't carry your stuff like you say you're supposed to carry it. These are just examples of the way that I would, but it got to such a point that I remember I was in Atlanta on the night he was going to make a statement, that Sunday he was going to make a statement against the war in Vietnam. He called me in Atlanta. He said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Tomorrow's Sunday." He said, "Are you going to be a good Christian and go to church?" I said, "Well like a good heathen I'm going to work for the people. I've got all this paper work. I've been working since six o'clock in the morning." He said, "Well I want you to come to church." I said, "Come to church, where?" He said, "The Ebenezer." I said, "What's happening there?" He said, "I'm preaching." I said, "Well, you know, OK, I can always come hear you preach, you know. Because even though I don't believe in your stuff. You make me tap my feet, you know." We joked. And he said, "Well, I really want you to come tomorrow." I said, "OK, I'll come." He said, "Because tomorrow I'm going to make my statement against the war in Vietnam." And I think between us there must have been 35 seconds of silence. And then I said to him, "I'm going to be on the front seat of your church." And the next morning I got Cleve [Cleveland] Sellers, I said, "I got good news for you." And we went and we sat in the front row of the church and he gave one, I consider it to be one of the most profound speeches. You know, unfortunately, King is just becoming commercial and most people don't know him. They think, for example, his "I Have a Dream Speech"" is one of his best speeches. But if you know King, I have a dream is one of his most vulgar speeches. I mean just—