Interview with Richard Hatcher
QUESTION 28
SHEILA C. BERNARD:

What was the experience of repression in the years leading up to Gary?.

RICHARD HATCHER:

Well the, the late '60s, the early '70s, there was tremendous repression particularly of, of Black activists, not just elected officials, but Black activists, ah, ah, everyone from the Panthers to people who were just involved in civil rights organizations, in fact, fairly middle class civil rights organizations, ah, like NAACP and so forth. But I think Black elected officials being a kind of new breed, a relatively new group of people who were speaking out and speaking up, were a special target of, ah, the Justice Department. Ah, there were lots of frivolous investigations of Black elected officials. Ah, they, they were constantly being hauled before grand juries and ef- efforts were made to find something that they had, had done or to convince other people that they ought to, ah, ah, testify against them and so forth. And, and that was going on. Ah, people, ah, people's telephones were being bugged. And so when we went to Gary in 1972 when the National Black Political Convention took place, that was a serious part of the discussion, what to do about this kind of overall oppression that was taking place in the country using police departments, local police departments, the FBI, ah, other federal agencies, even the Army Intelligence, ah, ah, agency was involved in domestic spying on Black elected officials. Ah, and ah, it was a very repressive time and, and it was a time when simply to stand up and speak out, ah, for the rights of Black people, ah, could, could cause you great personal grief. And while it wasn't as bad as the days in the South when, ah, when you might be physically attacked, ah, ah, that didn't happen a lot, but you certainly could be investigated, you could be required to spend a lot of money on lawyers trying to defend yourself against many of these charges that were made sometimes, that were simply the result of some newspaper reporter who decided to write this story implying, ah, that a, a Black elected official had done something wrong. Ah, so, ah, we talked about that a lot and, and what to do about it and, and how perhaps we could address that problem politically, ah, if we could become politically stronger, then, ah, we could confront, ah, the political structure and stop this kind of, ah, oppression of Black elected officials that was taking, taking place. And there's not a Black elected official during that period, ah, say from about 1968 to 1980, I suspect, who did not have a horror story to tell about how he or she was investigated, in many instances with no real reason other than the fact that they had t- the audacity to speak up, stand up and to speak out and to, ah, try to work on behalf of Black people.