Interview with Roger Wilkins
QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

I wanted to ask you about Chicago in '66. You, at the seminars, told a wonderful story about arriving in King's apartment very late at night. Starting from when you walked into the building with John Doar, can you tell me that story again in terms of both, what was happening inside Dr. King's apartment and on the streets in Chicago?

ROGER WILKINS:

We got to King's apartment, which all kinds of cynics in Washington had said was probably the only gold plated ghetto apartment in Chicago, the Chicago--the Illinois National Guard was in the streets. And there were kids on the streets throwing rocks and, and, bottles at tanks and armored personnel carriers. Ah, but the streets were quieter that night than they had been the two previous nights. Ah, King, as I recall, had an apartment on the top floor of a four or five floor walk-up. And it was a very hot night. It was in July. And Doar and I walked up and knocked on the door. King knew we were coming. We had talked to him, and Andy Young answered the door and the room was just full of people. It was a living room and it was, it was hard to get in, you had to push your way in because there were people in every conceivable nook and cranny, on the floors, on all the furniture, standing around the walls. And all the people were young men, young Black men. They were gang men, and King was sitting on the couch and he was talking to them in a conversational tone. He acknowledged our presence and then continued to talk to them. As we listened it became clear that in this conversational tone he was preaching, in the simplest ways possible, his, his doctrine of non-violence. And these were young gang members whose desire was to go out and throw stones at tanks and National Guardsmen. And in essence King was saving their lives. Ah,, a lot of these young fellows sounded as if they hadn't had much schooling, they sounded like they were probably illiterate, they sounded like they were tough, regarded themselves as tough people. Ah,, King would talk, they would ask questions, King would answer patiently, he would talk more, they would answer. And it didn't matter how much he was asked to repeat, he would repeat. It was very hot and uncomfortable in that room. I remember Andy Young had chino pants on and tennis socks and, and tennis shoes. Ah,, the stunning thing about it was that it went on for three and a half or four hours. Ah,, with the two emissaries, two Presidential appointees, two emissaries from the President of the United States, standing there waiting as King spoke to these young men, saving their lives. That was one stunning thing. The other stunning thing was that there were no cameras there. There were no reporters there. The view of a lot of people was that King was a glory hound, a publicity hound, that he did it for money.

INTERVIEWER:

Stop here. Please stop for a second. It's a great answer, the pro-


ROGER WILKINS:

When we got there, the streets were quieter than they had been a couple of nights before but we did see some armored personnel carriers and we did see a couple of tanks and guardsmen patrolling and every once in a while a kid throwing a rock and running away. We walked up the four or five flights to King's apartment. Ah,, and Andy Young opened the door. It was hard to get in. The place was full of people and it was hot. Ah,, a lot of people were sweating. Ah, they were all young men. They were on every conceivable piece of furniture and standing jammed against the walls and sitting, crammed up in the middle of the floor. Andy was sitting on the floor. He had chinos on and, and tennis shoes, and King was preaching non-violence to these young men. Ah,, they were tough kids. They wanted to go out and throw rocks and Molotov cocktails and King was preaching non-violence and telling them that they would get killed. He was patient. He would answer questions over and over again. Ah,, some of them didn't understand. Some of them just were, were, you could just see they were aching to get out, impatient with this man. And King was patient with them and over and over four hours he did, as Doar and I, emissary from the President of the United States just stood there in a corner while King did his work. No cameras, no journalists, no nothing. Finally, one by one, all these kids got it in their heads that they would be, either that they would be killed or the non-violent message, and whichever it was, all of them finally said, "OK, we, we won't go out and face the guard with rocks and bottles." Then King's, only then when King's work with them was over, did he turn to us and then he, they left and he got Mrs. King up and got her to make coffee in the back of this railroad flat and then we talked.