Interview with William Rutherford

Tell me about the trips that you and Bernard Lafayette took to talk to more militant Black groups.


Well, Bernard and I made several trips and, for a number of reasons I would say. Not only to recruit people for the Poor People's Campaign and to participate in the campaign and to support the campaign but also not to interfere with the Poor People's Campaign. We sought, ah, the widest possible constituency. We sought not only the participation of majority America and Black America. We sought all of those that we thought had common interest and would make common cause with us. So we sent out another call, ah, from SCLC to related groups. We sent out a call to the Hispanic groups. We sent out a call to the, ah, Appalachian poor White groups. We sent out a call to the American Indian groups. And we invited them to come and sit with us in the councils and to participate in the discussion, the reasoning the strategy and so on. And, ah, this had happened earlier where you had small groups of these other, ah, that is to say, ethnic constituencies and so on that that had participated in SCLC organized civil rights drives and so on but for the Poor People's, Poor People's Campaign, again we thought we'd have a token representation. And again, we put out the call expecting perhaps 50 people and we ended up with perhaps 150. They came from north, south, east and west again. We were expecting one or two, American, Native American groups to participate, ah, and we had maybe ten. We expected one or two Hispanic groups to participate and we had all of the mainline Hispanic groups in America at the time. We expected some of the, ah, tenants' rights groups in Chicago, which is an essentially, all-White poor peoples group in Chicago. They came. But so did people from Appalachia and so on. And Bernard Lafayette and I walked into this group to this meeting which Andy had sort of, with the back of his hand, said, "Alright, Bill, why don't you and Bernard handle that one?" And we said, "Okay, sure, we will." And we went over and were overwhelmed and immediately sent a scout back, you know, get the leader, he needs to see this and get him over here and so on. There was just a tremendous turnout with such enthusiasm and so on. So in fact Dr. King was right all along. His hand was absolutely on the nerve of America. People did respond and would respond, ah, but that was our sending out the call to affiliates or to allies in the, ah, community in America. But also we had to allay, ah, or I should say, parry the possible interference of the Black Panthers, other radical groups, who tended to disrupt, ah, peaceful demonstrations to use them for their own purposes where they couldn't assemble a group of ten thousand, whereas, ah, Dr. King could. They would then attempt to make, ah, their point and advance their agenda by disrupting the meeting and calling down repression, the more repression their thinking was, then the greater would be the public reaction and, ah, rather than the contrary. So we had various meetings with the Black Panthers, with some of the, ah, Black Power movement organizations, ah, SNCC, what am I thinking? The, this New York outfit, ah, Roy Innis' group at the time, which was also a very militant, very much into the Black Power thing and was not about to, ah, pretend that they were non-violent, not at all, on the contrary. We went to see the Gray Beret--pardon me, the Brown Berets in Oakland. I remember going out at some point, ah, we needed permission. I made up an arrangement whereby any expenditure above a certain level in SCLC required two signatures including one of the, ah, principles and myself or Bernard. And if there weren't, weren't two signatures available as far as I was concerned.