Interview with Ben Chavis

And how did you specifically relate to the country? I mean, what is the country doing at this point? you had mentioned King's assassination, Nixon. for people who don't know Nixon law and order, what is that whole thing with King's assassination and law and order? what does that mean?


Well, for me, the early 1970s was the backdrop, was in the wake of King's assassination. King's assassination in 1968 was devastating to the movement. Ah, particularly in the South. And people were really wondering whether or not it would be worth it to take the risk in the early '70s to struggle again. But because of the impending crisis like school desegregation, overt racism being committed, on, on Black people, we had no other choice. We had to take the risk at the local level to struggle again. And as a result, we felt the brunt of the Nixonian repression. For example, when, when people talk about COINTELPRO, it wasn't just something happening in Washington, D.C. It happened in Wilmington, North Carolina. It happened in Charlotte, North Carolina. It happened in Raleigh, North Carolina. Where police were setting people up, were following people. I mean, I, I was followed so much, I knew all of the different sedans that followed me. Some of them were federal, ah, agents, state agents, and local agents. And one of the things that COINTELPRO allowed, it allowed for cooperation between the federal, state, and local authorities to circumvent, to divert, and to disrupt the Movement. Ah, and that's, and that's, ah, ah, what they became experts at. And so, those of us within the Movement in the early '70s, we became very knowledgeable, ah, and also very conscious of these disruptive tactics. We would not let that succeed. For example, ah, the times I mentioned when I was put in jail for not having, ah, ah, my registration card to present, or because my signal light didn't work, I went right back the next night and organized a rally anyway. Because one of the things you learn is that when you are a victim of that kind of localized repression, you can't let, you can't let the repressor win the victory. You gotta get up and go and try to mobilize the people anyway. And that's the real reason, ah, why the struggle in Wilmington, despite the violence, really grew. Because we intended to not let that kind of intimidation, ah, put fear in us. And it's very important for the organizers and for the mobilizers and the leaders not to have fear, because if people who want to follow you recognize that you are afraid of the man, as it's called, if you are afraid of Hoover, if you are afraid of Nixon, if you're afraid of the local authorities, then they're gonna be less will, have less will to struggle. So it's very important, ah, for local leadership to exemplify some determination and fight the repression.