Interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton

As a movement activist which chose law as a strategy, how did you feel about others, like the Black Panthers, specifically, whose choice involved picking up arms? Did you feel that they were jeopardizing hard-won gains of the movement? Did their language, you know, "Off the Pig," and so forth and their posture have an effect on you?


Well, as a lawyer, as a follower of Martin Luther King, Jr., I did not identify with unlawful activity or with violence, for example. On the other hand, I certainly identified with brothers, like the Panthers, and chose to identify with their peaceful work, ah, not with the advocacy of violence that, that sometimes one heard from them. The breakfasts that they served seemed to me to be the example. I remember being on the Johnny Carson Show one night with a Black Panther who was advocating a right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, and I was brought on to tell the story of the Second Amendment as a lawyer, and that is to say that it, ah, was not meant to empower individuals to bear arms, but was meant to empower states to have state militia, but in the proc--in, before we went on the show, even though the brother knew that I was there to speak differently about the Second Amendment, he and I became fast friends. There was a terrific bond, you see, he had his way to beat color-oppression; I had found mine. I believe mine would prevail, I believe mine was the better way, but it was impossible to, to break entirely with him. There was too much that united us, and ultimately, of course, after the Panthers got in all kind of trouble, what remained, certainly in my mind, was the benign activity, the ki--the breakfasts, the care, the care they showed for, for young, young people. What I think Americans have to remember is that it is a national miracle of the first order that Black Americans, after three hundred years of slavery and discrimination, chose non-violence in the first place as a way to liberate themselves, and that only a few groups emerged, ever, who advocated violence. That is a blessing for this country for which it should be profoundly grateful.


Great. Cut. That's wonderful. OK.