Interview with Stokley Carmichael

Talk about the Black Power speech in Greenwood.


We knew, as I said, we planned to use the march as a political platform. And we understood this political platform would put us in contradiction to King. But we didn't want any hostility with King. And throughout the march SNCC can clearly show that, at least in my relationship with King, there wasn't the slightest hostility. We had different positions. They were clearly understood and laid out. So, as Ricks were telling us about how great the people were, we were moving into Greenwood. Now, I, myself had been in Greenwood, Mississippi since early '60. I had worked in the project there. And when the head of the second, second congressional district, this was our base. So, I had spent time in the jail in Greenwood so many times, the police knew me. The police chief knew me. Everyone in the town knew me. So we decided Greenwood, it was SNCC's strongest base in the Delta. We couldn't go wrong. Unfortunately for the police we went to set up some tents there and the police had decided to arrest me. OK, so before I was arrested we were discussing Greenwood. This is where we will launch Black Power. So, when I got arrested Ricks was on the side there when the police, said, "Let them arrest you. We'll get you out of jail and you come out and make the speech tonight." And he disappears. Well, you know how Ricks speaks. Anyway, I went to jail. But I was bought out and when I was released it was at night, the speech was going on, and when I came to the speech I was in line. Ricks came back, he said, we have everything prepared. We're ready for Black Power. We've spoke about it all day. We've primed up the people and luckily for us our biggest problem was Martin Luther King. Because I knew that once Black Power was said, Martin Luther King would have to come, not fight against it but with his best try to give reasonings to water it down. But luckily for us, the night in Greenwood, King had to go to do a taped television thing, I think for Meet the Press. So he had to go to Memphis. So he was not there the night in Greenwood. He had other people there but they were not a threat to us. King was the real threat to us. And so King was not there. It meant the whole night belonged to us and we were in Greenwood, in SNCC territory. As a matter of fact the last time King came to Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1964 as head of the project for SNCC, I was the one who take care of him, met him at the airport, took care of his housing, took care of his feeding, arranged all of his meetings. Everything. And provided his bodyguard for him. So, Greenwood, King knew was SNCC territory if he didn't know anything else. So maybe for that reason he said, well, he would miss Greenwood. But that was the night. Ricks had everybody primed. He said, "Just get to your speech. We're going against 'Freedom Now.' We're going for Black Power. Don't hit too much on Freedom Now, but hit beneath the power." So we built up on the need for power and just when I got there, before I got it, Ricks was there saying, "Hit them now. Hit them now." And I kept saying, "Give me time. Give me time." When we finally got there and we dropped it, "Black Power." Of course, they had been primed and they responded immediately. But, I, myself, to be honest, I didn't expect that enthusiastic response, you know. And the enthusiastic response, obviously, not only shocked me but gave me more energy to carry it on further. By the time we got down that night, SCLC was running around everywhere. We knew it was finished. We had made our victory. They could not bring it back. It was over. From now on, it was Black Power. We continued with the slogan. King was immediately rushed back. It was too late. We had a meeting the following morning where King tried his best to ask me not to use the term Black Power. But I told him that really I could not do that. That this was an organizational decision, not mine. And like him I represent an organization and I must represent that organization or I resign from the position which I hold, and I was not prepared to do that so we would have to use the term.