Interview with John Conyers

OK, can you talk about what happened between the Congressional Black Caucus and Nixon, trying to get him to meet with you and his refusal, and then your going into a boycott of the State of the Union Address?


Well, we, we determined that the first thing we should do is bring the plight, the issues of Black America to the President of the United States. And so the negotiations that began to, ah, lead up to a meeting, ah, actually, ah, after a while it was clear there wasn't going to be any meeting. He had no desire, ah, to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus then, which was still less than a dozen members. But still that, that was something that he did not entertain as, as something that was feasible or necessary. So, our counter position was to boycott the State of the Union address, ah, all of us, ah, ah, as a group. And the, the reaction was phenomenal. Ah, it, it was, ah, it was very clear, ah, and we made it clear that the reason was our inability to meet with the President, to air the demands that were, were growing in terms of the hostility that his administration was showing. The, ah, the lack of enforcement of, ah, federal laws that would, would give us some protection to, to, ah, citizens. And so, ah, the, the Congressional Black Caucus in a way was instantly put on the map because of the incredible reaction, ah, that came about, ah, from our refusal to, to, ah, to attend the inaugural, and at the same time his refusal to meet with us. We, we seemed to have created a stage in which we could at least, ah, have our presence felt. That they could no longer ignore us, ah, that it, it wasn't just a request that you could throw in the wastebasket and say, "That ends that." And so it, it gave a heart, politically, ah, to, ah, people from one end of the country to the other, as we began this, ah, new assertion of ourselves within the Congress, ah, no matter how difficult and how, ah, how, how, ah, outnumbered we were.