Interview with Ossie Davis
QUESTION 3
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Tell me about how you grew into it?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Well I grew into it because--

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Give me a full sentence. I grew into calling myself Black--

OSSIE DAVIS:

I grew into calling myself Black because I was aware of what was involved in the change. Both from my own feelings inside and also from an understanding what the historical context was. Those who are around remember that Malcolm X made the term Negro rather unpleasant for us and he kept pounding away at so called Negroes. He himself indicated by his own name that he certainly wasn't a Negro. He didn't know who he was. He was an X but at least there was a certain honesty in that. And, ah, Malcolm's pounding away at us, you know, made us examine what do we meant by the term Negro. It also may us aware that we did need a change of name. Negro was a title that did have a specific relevance and meaning at a certain historical phase and our struggle in America. We needed something else. Now in '64 along comes a Stokely Carmichael and he starts talking about a relatively new concept Black power. And, um, I was amazed at the response the terms got and upon reflection I can understand why. America has always looked upon Black as potentially frightening no matter what else they feel about it. And to some degree America still feel's there's something in the Black thing is scary. Stokely combined Black which was a frightening concept with power. Oh, God that's too much. So everybody sort of tended to sort of run away from Black but the more people ran from it the more we felt hey this shakes things up. So we will no longer be Negroes we'll be Black. But even the term Black ah has its own place in the historical struggle. Now we are looking for a new definition. We call ourselves now African-Americans. And as long as there is a contradiction between how we define ourselves and we are defined by White America we will keep looking for that definition that satisfies both us and them. We haven't found it yet. I don't think African-American is the final answer. It serves a need. It moves us closer to our goal but we're going call ourselves something else.