Interview with Sonia Sanchez

You were talking about the Blackness that the Nation represented. Could you talk a little bit more about that?


You see, Malcolm had made the country receptive to Blackness. Had said, simply, "It's okay to be Black. It's beautiful. Ah, it's okay to have that history. It's okay to understand that part of what it really means to love yourself." So what, what, where were those people going to go, you see? There was no other place for them to go with that information, with that intelligence, um, with that kind of movement, so they moved in almost en masse into the Nation, you see. And, the Nation says, "Here I am. Here. Yes, I, I respect your Blackness. I say you are a Black woman, and you're beautiful and you're queen of the universe and walk up and be correct, be moral." It was the greatest moral, ah, place for people who were trying to be correct, who were trying to be political, who were trying to be very much involved with their Blackness. People were trying to learn about themselves--that was the place to go. And, of course, there were restrictions involved. There were problems, make no mistake about it. But, that was that arena, ah, that had been left--the legacy that Malcolm had left was that legacy right there for many, for many people, masses of people. It was an arena, also, where people said, "I want to get off drugs." See, what people forget, during that period, drugs were decimating the Black community. People want to forget that. They say, "Now Crack is new." Crack is new, but the whole idea of people being on drugs was not new. And, so people were, I, I actually saw men come into the temple who were out, and woman were out, and they were resurrected in one week, and would come back, it was like seeing people rising from the dead: "Stand up straight." Brother would stand up and say, "I was yesterday here," and was standing up straight and was walking. They had the best drug rehabilitation program on the planet Earth, right there. And the same with women. The same thing happened with women. When, when you told a woman, "You're not a ho, you're not a whore," you know, "You're not somebody's whatever." I saw women, who, in one thing came in, you name it, whatever, and three weeks later, two weeks later they were coming in saying, "I know I am not on that level." So, here was this, this, this, um, this organization talking about resurrecting and, and, and reordering you life. And, and not just, I don't mean moral in terms of dress; I mean moral in terms of responsibility to your people. It was that kind of morality that they were talking about. "You are responsible to your people. So, therefore, you must do the following." You see? "You must act in a certain fashion, but, you must also preach this message to bring people to the sense of themselves. You must, indeed, um, do as Du Bois and others said in the '30's," you know, ah, ah, "Go and frequent Black businesses, you see. Erect Black businesses. Work for Black folks." It was that whole push in terms of Blackness. It was a sea of Blackness there, to see people saying to themselves, "I like me." I saw people, ah, liking themselves. I would walk down a street, and people who were like, you know, were not doing right, as such, would say, "Ah, uh, don't worry now, Sister Sonia, uh, uh, I'm going to get it together, uh, uh, uh, yes, and I know," but, but would stand up better you see, at some point. There was moral energy ah, in the country that made people--whether they wanted to be a Muslim or not--think in a fashion that was, ah, healthy towards each other. Old people, old women in Harlem could cross the street and no one mugged them. Women could walk down the street with diamonds, and no one, because even though the brothers ah, were poor, or po', they knew they could get a meal if they went in there. They knew that someone would give them food for thinking, which would make them say, "I don't need to do that. Let me go out and get a job. Let me go out and sell the paper; let me do something else." So there was that moral fiber that was given to that Black community that was so necessary and so needed.