Interview with Roger Wilkins

Thanks. The last question I had of you--


Having watched all the riots from '64 through '67, it was quite clear to me that the riots were an extension of the Civil Rights Movement, not something different. Poor Black people in the North had watched their TV sets just like everybody else and had seen progress being made in the South. Moreover their racial feelings had been stirred just like everybody else's when they Bull Connor's police dogs, when they saw the rioters at the University of Mississippi trying to keep James Meredith out. Then they saw the Congress pass these laws, '64, '65. When they looked around, they saw that nothing, absolutely nothing, was changing in their lives. They were still poor, they were still jobless, they still lived in miserable housing, their kids still went to lousy schools. What I thought I was seeing in these riots was not what Hoover saw, which was a communist plot, but rather hopeful people who believed that the political system would respond to them. And it was kind of a jagged plea to the political system, "Pay attention to us, we're left out, we ache." And in a sense, it was a hopeful scream because these people had been awakened from being niggers who were beneath consideration, to people who believed that the country could and would pay attention to their plight. Now that's not to say that there weren't a lot of thugs among the looters, that there weren't people who were doing it for criminal reasons, but a lot of them, in my judgment, then and now, was people who's racial consciousness had been raised, who knew that--