Interviewer: Sheila C. Bernard
Production Team: C, A
Interview Date: December 12, 1988
Camera Rolls: 3079-3085
Sound Rolls: 337-339
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Richard Hatcher, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 12, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
I wanted to begin by asking you about the Congress of African Peoples in Atlanta in 1970, and the significance of that meeting, and more than that, the significance of you're deciding to go. Who was there? What did it mean that you joined them.
Well, the Congress of African People, ah, meeting, ah, involved a lot of people who considered themselves nationalists, and, ah, who were at that time were, ah, considered, ah, extremists almost. And, ah, so for a so-called mainstream, elected official, such as myself, to attend such a meeting, ah, was a little unusual. Ah, many people felt that a certain stigma would attach if you became associated with people, ah, who in some instances were even advocating, ah, the violent overthrow of the government. And, ah, so there certainly was not a, it was not an unusual situation. But I went, for a number of reasons. Ah, first of all, I felt, ah, ah, very comfortable in working, ah, with any Black people. And I felt that, ah, nationalists had a very important, ah, message, and one that should be listened to. And, ah, that it was important that some of us who were in elective office, ah, ah, have a clear understanding and a relationship, ah, with, ah, individuals who perhaps might not be at all interested in running for elected office, ah, themselves. And, ah, so, ah, it, it, it was an interesting, ah, place to be at that particular, at that particular time. And, ah, the speech, ah, that I delivered, ah, there as I recall, ah, today, ah, was not necessarily, ah, a great speech at all. But, ah, it certainly was a, a, a speech that talked about some of, ah, the concerns, ah, that Black people had, ah, at that time. Ah, the James Baldwin, ah, quote from his Stranger in the Village essay, ah, Blacks at that time truly did feel that even though they were citizens of the United States, they were strangers, ah, in the village. They were, they were not accorded the same rights and the same opportunities that other citizens of this particular village were accorded. And so, ah, it was a, a speech that basically said that, that the present condition of, of, of Blacks, ah, in the United States was unacceptable, and something needed to be done. And there had even before that meeting, among nationalists particularly been a growing movement towards some kind of national, ah, Black political convention. And, ah, in that meeting, ah, at the Congress of African Peoples meeting, there certainly was further talk and definition and refinement of the idea of calling this massive convention of Black people and plotting our political strategy, planning what we would do, and, and looking at perhaps a new political institutions. There was great discussion at that time about, ah, ah, the possibility of a third party. And, ah, there was some discussion, ah, at that point even about, ah, a Black running for President of the United States, ah, as a democrat. Ah, all of that was swirling around, ah, that Congress of African Peoples meeting.
Was there a divis- or divisions within the Black community that you saw a chance of bringing together and repairing or healing, by going to Atlanta?
There, there was a tremendous amount of distress between, ah, the nationalists, ah, people considered themselves nationalists, and, ah, the elected officials, Black officials, and people who operated in the electoral politic, ah, arena, and, ah, in the civil rights, ah, civil rights arena. The leadership of the civil rights, ah, community, ah, for the most part saw many of these, ah, nationalists almost as anarchists, and as people who, ah, were more interested in "Burn, baby, burn", then "Build, baby, build". And so, um, there was this kind of division, this schism, ah, within the Black community. And, ah, one of the reasons that, that I found myself in many instances, ah, ah, in meetings with nationalists and with others was that I, I saw the damage, ah, that this, and other people saw it too, the kind of damage that this division was doing, ah, to the whole movement, to the whole effort to improve the lot of Black people in this country. And because, ah, my base in Gary was a fairly secure base. That is, by that time, by 1970, the majority of, ah, people in the city of Gary were Black. Ah, certainly it was clear, ah, that I was in fairly good shape, ah, at home, and I also would like to believe because I believed, ah, that it was critically important that these two factions come together. Ah, there were times when I found myself, ah, being the kind of middle, middle person, ah, who sort of met with this group, and met with the others, and was able, ah, to, ah, speak with some legitimacy, ah, to the concerns of both groups. And, ah, ah, there were other people who played that kind of role also. Ah, I think particularly in the civil rights arena, ah, I think of a Carl Holman, an M. Carl Holman, who certainly was almost like the glue. Who was, you know, sort of in touch with everyone. He was in touch with, ah, with people on the far left, and he was in touch with people on the right. And he, he, he kept all of us kind of talking to each other, sometimes through him. He served as a kind of conduit, ah, for many of us. And then, ah, much credit has to be given, ah, to people like Amiri Baraka, and, ah, Haywood, Hayward Joiner[SIC], ah, Haywar- Haywood Henry, who were nationalists themselves, but understood the need, very much the need for Black people to come together.
I just want to interrupt you and have you take us through the steps--
How did this notion that the nationalists had at Atlanta grow into the Gary convention? What were the steps that led people to come together?
I think several things were happening. Ah, the nationalists were very active, ah, around the country. And they were talking to people, and people were listening. And, they had this wonderful sense of history, and of Africa, what Africa really should mean to us. And, much more so I think than many of us who were elected officials. Ah, ah, the nationalists were thinking in terms of where we ought to go and where we ought to be in terms of power in this country. While I think many of us who were elected officials felt that we had already arrived. That, that after all, we'd become mayors, we'd become congr- members of Congress. And so we really were there. But the nationalists understood, ah, better than we did that there was still a very long ways to go and much that needed to be done. And so the idea of this national convention, ah, to really talk through these things and to plan a political strategy, ah, for our people, ah, evolved out of these meetings. Ah, the meeting in Atlanta, and, ah, some of the, ah, Black Power conferences that had taken place in the '60s, during the '60s. Ah, and, ah, there, there was this feeling that we must come together and, and somehow, ah, fashion, ah, our, ah, our destiny, fashion, fashion our future. As I said, much better understood, ah, but the nationalists, ah, than we. And the other side of it was that nationalists seemed to know a lot more about Africa, and, ah, understood African institutions, ah, better than many of us who had been, ah, ah, pretty much, ah, weaned on, on American institutions as such. And so, ah, they brought all of that to the table. And people, it was an exciting notion, and people responded to it. And, and, and in some sense, without being critical of elected officials, I was one, ah, myself, but in some sense, it was a matter of kind of catching up, because it was clear that the people were moving in that direction, were moving towards the idea of Black unity, of, of, relating to Africa and all of that. And so, ah, for many elected officials, it was a matter of saying, "There go my people, I must catch up and lead them." Ah, what eventually evolved in terms of the Gary convention, the National Black Political Convention, was that, ah, the elected officials, the civil rights leadership, ah, pretty much took over the planning of that Gary convention for 1972. And, ah, at one point there was even some question as to whether nationalists would be, ah, permitted to be a part of the planning, ah, which is ironic since it was probably more their idea than, ah, ours to begin with.
We just ran out of film, we got that answer, it's a quick switch and then I'm going to--
You and Congressman Diggs and Amiri Baraka were a kind of fascinating trio to come together and lead this convention. How did that come about, and how did you work together? What was it like?
Well, it was interesting. At the point where there pretty much was a consensus that this convention should be held, ah, the meeting, the last meeting that I recall was in Washington, D.C. And there was a, a group of, of Black leaders in that meeting. And the decision was made that there ought to be three conveners. Congressman Diggs was, ah, at that time a very prominent member of Congress. He had founded, ah, the Congressional Black Caucus, ah, 1970. Ah, he was a, ah, a logical person to select, if you were talking about an elected official at the federal level. Ah, Amiri Baraka, ah, was clearly at that time the leader of the nationalist movement in this country, although, ah, Maulana Karenga was also very prominent and, and very active in that, in that movement. Ah, so the selection of Baraka basically said that the nationalists were in. Selection of Diggs said that elected officials were in. Ah, aside from the fact that the decision, ah, was made subsequently, ah, to hold the meeting in Gary, ah, I'm not quite sure why I was selected as sort of a third or the in-between person, other than, ah, as I indicated, ah, this feeling that I felt comfortable talking to both sides, and relating, relating to both sides. And so it was, ah, a kind of way I guess of putting a moderating influence between these two, ah, these two, ah, ah, groups, ah, representatives of groups.
How did your working relationships evolve? How, did you work together well?
We, we absolutely worked together. Ah, I recall one time that we felt it was very important that John Johnson of Johnson Publications be supportive of this because we wanted him to do stories in Ebony and Jet about this upcoming convention. And so we thought it was really very important to go see him personally. Which we did. The three of us went, went to see him. And, ah, the, ah, ah, this incredibly plush office and Mr. Johnson was very gracious, and which turned out to be a surprise to us. Because, ah, going in, ah, we really felt that he might not be so receptive to the idea of this kind of convention with this mixture, this volatile mixture of, ah, different, ah, parts of the Black community. But he, on the contrary, was very responsive and very supportive. And, but we did that together, and that required us being together and talking to each other. And then, ah, as the planning continued, ah, it just necessitated almost a day to day, ah, contact between us. And we were, ah, when you think about it, it's pretty incredible. This convention was pretty much put together over a period of a little over a month. And, ah, to put together a convention that ultimately brought close to 10,000 people, of, of the broadly disparate backgrounds and so forth together, ah, now that I look back at it ,it was pretty, pretty incredible. There was some distress, I must say. Ah, we did not know each other, the three of us did not know each other very well. But, in this process we got to know each other, ah, very well. And I think, ah, we got to like each other, ah, quite a lot. We understood each other better, and, ah, I think particularly between Congressman Diggs and, ah, and Amiri Baraka, that, whereas they had been divided before, I think they came much closer together. Ah, there were still things that they disagreed with each other on, and I'm sure they disagreed with me on just about everything, but, ah, I think we really became friends. And it's a friendship that, ah, has survived, ah, over the period of the last 20, ah, 20 years or so. Ah, so, ah, that was one of the, the wonderful, ah, ancillary benefits, of, of this convention for me personally.
What, what was Baraka's role? What, what was Baraka doing to make the convention possible?
Amiri Baraka was, first of all, one of the hardest working people that, that, that I have, have ever had the opportunity to work with. Ah, secondly, he really understood. I, he, he was a person, he was a very literate person, and he really understood power relationships, and, and how important a meeting such as this could be. And as a consequence, I think he really committed himself, and all of the resources at his disposal. So while I, as mayor of the city of Gary was in fact able to utilize much of my staff, ah, the city police department, and other, ah, resources that were available to me, he also had resources in terms of people, ah, who could write, who could type, who could put things together. Ah, who were willing to stay up all night, and work all night if that, that's what was required. And so he put all of that into this convention. And, and in many ways, ah, that was critical to the success of the convention. There certainly were other people, I, I, I keep thinking again of Carl Holman and how important a role he played in helping to, ah, put the logistics of this convention together. And there are people in Washington, ah, Ivanhoe Donaldson I remember, sent, ah, at least two staff persons that he had to Gary, ah, for about two weeks before the convention to work on the organizing of this convention. Ah, the support, the support was tremendous, that, ah, through it all, especially while the convention was underway, ah, Baraka, and, and, and the people that he brought in, ah, really kept things moving. When papers, ah, had to be, resolutions had to be typed overnight, ah, in many instances he's the one that got it done. And, ah, ah, he was the head of the, ah, resolutions committee. He was chair of the resolutions committee, and, ah, that was a lot of work. Ah, but he was able, able to get that done.
You described his staff and how they worked together. Can you tell, describe a picture of that?
Well, just to give you an example, as I said, they were very hard-working, and would work for hours on end, ah, ah, without, ah, any real relief. And, ah, but if you watched them back in the rooms at this huge high school, ah, where the convention was held, ah, they would work, ah, for maybe an hour or two hours. Then they would take a 15 minute break, and the break would be to form a circle holding hands, and then they would begin to do chants and sing, for about 15 minutes. And it seemed that the music, the singing, the chants refreshed them, and then they would go back to the typewriters and work for another two hours. Ah, it was a pretty incredible sight. Ah, most of them, ah, wore these long White, ah, full-length gowns and turbans. Ah, they were just incredible people, and they, ah, they produced, ah, work that made it possible for that convention to go on and, ah, ah, for us to have the documents we needed when we needed them.
I want to ask you about the city of the Gary. Once the decision was made to meet in Gary, and then how did your city at first, and then as things evolved?
The decision was made, ah, I believe in a meeting in Washington, and there were I suppose lots of reasons. Ah, it, it, it came as a great surprise to me when, when someone said, "Well, we should do this in Gary." Ah, I think the reason given was that we should do it where we have a Black mayor, and Gary was one of the few cities in the country at that point that had a Black mayor. And, ah, we should do it, ah, at a place where Blacks from all over the country could come and feel comfortable. Wouldn't have to worry about the police, ah, beating them. Ah, wouldn't have to worry, ah, about getting cooperation from city officials. And, ah, so the judgement, and also the fact that Gary was located geographically pretty much in the center of the country, so that people coming from the West Coast as well as from the East Coast, ah, and from the South, ah, had roughly the same, same distance to travel. So all of those things were factors. Now there were some real negatives about doing it, ah, in the city of Gary. You were talking about a convention of thousands of people, and Gary, ah, had one viable hotel, ah, with 300 rooms. Ah, and that, ah, that was a real problem. There were, ah, a number of small motels, but there, there was nothing approaching the capacity, the hotel capacity to accommodate the thousands of people who were invited or anticipated coming to this convention. But the decision was made that the positives outweighed the negatives, and then of course, ah, once we knew that there was interest in coming to Gary, ah, city officials and civic leaders in Gary, ah, assured the leadership of the planning, ah, committee that they would do what ever was necessary to accommodate this meeting.
You'd said that--
Once it became clear that the leadership wanted to have the meeting in Gary, another problem developed, and that was basically that the White business community in Gary, ah, had these extreme fears about this large number of Blacks coming to town. They thought in terms of crime, and, ah, all kinds of horrible things. It was almost as if the- someone had just announced that the Vietcong was coming to Gary. And, ah, their initial reaction, ah, was very apprehensive, and there were a number of meetings held, and, ah, discussions about this. And, ah, ah, eventually, ah, they, ah, said, "Well, we'll see what happens." Ah, the fascinating thing is that it ultimately turned out that the White business community as well as the, ah, leadership of the Black community in Gary, ah, opened their arms and welcomed, ah, the delegates to town. Ah, the Chamber of Commerce prepared a wonderful, ah, pouch or folder for people to keep their papers in. Ah, it was a leather, ah, pouch, that had the names, the thousands of names of delegates of the convention on that, on that pouch, and gave one to every delegate coming to the convention. So, ah, first of all, their attitude did in fact, ah, change in that regard. And secondly, ah, the marvelous thing was that during the course of the four or five days that the thousands of people, ah, were in town, the crime rate in the city of Gary actually went down. So, ah, ah, the fears, ah, that, ah, were expressed, ah, initially simply were not realized. The other, ah, truly marvelous thing that occurred was that this problem of no hotel, ah, capacity, ah, ah, required that, ah, we call upon the citizens of Gary to open their homes, ah, to the delegates who were coming to the convention. And they did it with relish. It was, ah, there were just hundreds of wonderful stories that were told, as, as the delegates lived with Gary families, and, ah, over the period of the time of the convention got to be friends, and friendships were established that continue even to this day, ah, as a result, ah, of the people of Gary opening their arms, ah, and, and their homes, ah, to the convention delegates. So, um, overall it turned out to be a very positive experience, ah, for our city, and, ah, hopefully for the people, ah, who visited.
I want you just stop now and think about--
The beginning, no, just the very opening of the convention, you've been planning this for years. Where were you just before you went out on to the podium? Can you just paint that picture for me?
Well, ah, the interesting thing, the opening session, ah, that morning, I had to be in my office, the Mayor's office, because there was some city business that had to be, had to be taken care of. And I think I was really concerned about two things. One, I was concerned about whether I was going to get this business taken care of in time to get over to the, ah, school for- because it was on the far west side of the city, ah, in time for the opening, ah, ceremonies. And, secondly, to be very honest with you, even at that point, I still had some, ah, concern that we wouldn't have very many people, that not very many people would show up. Well, the, the truly wonderful thing was when I got to the hall, and, ah, ah, came from behind the stage and out on to the platform, I saw a, ah, a veritable sea of faces. It was, ah, probably, ah, one of the most glorious moments of my life, ah, when I walked out and saw all of these Black people of every color, every, ah, hue, every shade. Ah, the colorful, ah, dashikis and, and other African garb that some of them wore, ah, mixing with, ah, three piece suits and, and so forth. It was just an incredible sight to behold**. And in that crowd, ah, to see people over the next few days who were really famous, famous entertainers, ah, ah, individuals who in one field or another had achieved, ah, great success and great national and sometimes international fame, but to see them simply mixing with the people. Walking around like any other, ah, delegate, any other person. There was this, this wonderful sense that, ah, we had truly come together, ah, as a people, and a warm feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood that, ah, I'm not sure we've been able to duplicate since. Ah, but it was certainly there, and there was a kind of electricity, ah, in the air, and it was clear that people were there about very serious business, and wa- and really saw this as a meeting that would have a long term, long range impact, ah, on the lives of, of Black Americans.
Tell me how you came out on the podium and began your speech and the reception that you got. What went through your head as you--?
Well, I, I, I don't recall who introduced me, but whoever did it, ah, was extremely kind, overly so, and they, ah, they really gave me a very warm introduction. Not just as a person who was about to, to make the next speech, but also as the host of, of, of, of this gathering, and, ah, ah, they were extremely kind in their remarks. And so, ah, the response, the reception, ah, ah, from this huge audience, ah, was pretty incredible for me. Ah, I was unused to that kind of, that kind of, ah, warm, and I think very genuine, ah, appreciate response. Ah, and, and, and it also caused me, I, I had this sense, ah, that I feel sometimes when I'm in a Baptist church. Ah, there is just something about a Baptist audience that makes you feel that, ah, you, you've suddenly become ten feet tall, and that, ah, you are a combination of, ah, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, and, and any other great orator, ah, in the Black community. A Baptist audience makes you feel that way, and that's the way this audience made me feel. Ah, it, it has to be the kind of feeling that people have, ah, that, ah, ah, ah, a basketball player has when he knows he can't miss. He knows that every shot he takes is going to go in. Well, a speaker has that kind of feeling with certain audiences, that I know that I can reach and I can communicate, and I can relate to this audience, and that was my feeling as I, ah, I began that speech ah, ah, at the National Black Political Convention.
What was the significance of the variety of people that came to this?
What made this special, different from a traditional democratic or republican convention?
Well, I think first of all, it, ah, Gary was different because the nationalists and so-called mainstream Black politicians came together at Gary. Ah, there weren't that many Black elected officials, maybe, ah, 2-300 or so. But, ah, ah, they really had not communicated very well with the nationalists, and the nationalists with them. But Gary represented maybe the first time that these two came together, agreed on something, agreed to work together on something, and in some instances even agreed on goals and, and objectives, although there was much disagreement also. Ah, so that made it different. It, it, it really was our total community that was coming together. Ah, some, ah, just before the convention opened, ah, unfortunately Roy Wilkins, who was then the head of the NAACP, ah, really denounced the entire convention. He said that, ah, it was not legitimate, that the people who were involved were not, ah, ah, the really influential people there, and there were articles, I believe in The New York Times and other, other publications quoting him as saying this was not a good thing that this meeting was taking place and that he would not participate. In all fairness to him, one of his major objections was that the convention, ah, the planners made it clear that this was a convention for Black people, and that the Whites would not be permitted to attend or to be inside the hall. And, ah, that, ah, Roy Wilkins felt was inconsistent, ah, with the NAACP's commitment, and, ah, to a, ah, an integrated society. And so he, he criticized it on, on that basis. But that criticism, interestingly enough I think, ah, gave the convention more exposure, more public exposure, and caused more people to come. In other words, local members of the NAACP chapters across the country came in full force, as did members of the Urban League, and so forth. Vernon Jordan, who was then the head of the Urban League, himself came to the convention. Ah, he did not play a truly active role in the convention, but he was there. So, he made a statement, ah, by being there. And, ah, other members of the civil rights leadership, ah, of our country, ah, certainly came. So it was this, this idea of all these people coming together, first of all, this wonderful--
Just the idea of people coming together--
All those people coming together. What was the feeling in Gary?
Well, the idea of all these people coming together, this, this wonderful kaleidoscope of colors and, ah, ah, political philosophies, ah, coming together in one place and working with each other, and trying to establish some common goals. That made Gary different. Ah, Gary was different, ah, in another sense, and that was that the nationalists had a better understanding, ah, not only of our history, ah, but also of Africa and what Africa was all about. And, ah, they understood that it was necessary to replicate in this country some of the institutions, some of the African institutions in a way that many of us who are elected officials, ah, simply did not, ah, did not understand and, and really appreciate in some instances. Also, ah, we were coming, ah, out of a period, ah, where the pride, ah, the idea of, of, of Black pride was a very powerful force. And it was also the--a time when we were looking at the whole question of power, and how, ah, ah, who had it, how to get it, what to do with it, ah, when you had it. And again, ah, I must say, ah, without, ah, ah, being critical of, ah, many of my colleagues who were in the electoral politics and so forth, that the nationalists seemed to understand the concepts of power better than, ah, many of us did. And so when all of that came together in Gary, ah, that made Gary a very unusual and, ah, particularly interesting place to be. Ah, in addition to that, we had this debate, ah, going on about, ah, one, whether we should go the third party route, or whether we should remain in the democratic party and try to make the democratic party responsive to the needs of Black people. And there were very eloquent and forceful and powerful, ah, arguments on both sides of that issue. Ah, and, ah, that was a part of the Gary, ah, discussion. And then the other part was the whole question, "Should we run a Black for President of the United States?" After all, 1972 was a presidential election year, ah, it was a year that ultimately would see the nomination of George, ah, McGovern as, ah, the democratic nominee for President. But at that time, our focus was, ah, "Shouldn't an African-American get out and run for President?" Well, ah, as the convention, when we finally arrived at the convention, ah, by that time Shirley Chisholm, ah, the Congresswoman from New York City, had announced that she was a candidate for President of the United States. Frankly, that took a lot of Black males by surprise and shock. And, ah, many of them, ah, were not quite sure how they felt about that. Ah, many of us tried to get Shirley Chisholm to come to Gary, to come to this convention. Ah, we were absolutely convinced that that would be the right thing for her to do. Ah, others who were advising her apparently, ah, persuaded her that she, if she should come to Gary, she would run the risk of, in effect, be- being rejected by that convention, and therefore before the whole country it would appear that her own people had rejected, ah, her being a candidate for President.
What did you think would happen if she came?
I absolutely believed that if Shirley Chisholm had walked into that hall, just walked into that hall, she wouldn't have had to say a word, and the entire convention would have gone up, ah, in smoke almost because, ah, there was such a great sense of pride that a Black woman had the courage and the fortitude, ah, to a- announce that she was running for the highest office, ah, in this country, and perhaps, ah, the most powerful office on earth. Elective office on earth. And, ah, she without a doubt would have gotten the overwhelming, ah, support of that convention, and I think in many ways, while her candidacy was significant and, and broke new ground, it would have been more significant and would have been enhanced by the kind of momentum that would have come out of Gary in support of her. But, ah, for whatever reason, ah, the decision was made that she would not, ah, not come to Gary. But even that debate was a very interesting, ah, debate. Should we go with, ah, a Shirley Chisholm? Should we go with, ah, ah, a Black candidate for President? Or should we, ah, ah, support, ah, the party that we had supported for such a long time, since 1932, the Democratic Party.
I want to go back to that third party issue. A lot of people came to Gary expecting the third party to be formed right there. What did you think?
I think that, that many of the people who came to Gary thought that the whole purpose of the convention was to form a third party. That there was going to be a Black third party, and, and that was just that. Gary would formalize that. Ah, however, there were many, ah, individuals, and I include myself in that number, who were not commi- ah, committed or were not convinced that that was the best strategy for us to take. Ah, I felt at the time that, ah, we should give the Democratic Party one more chance. And it seems ironic now, ah, some, some 17 or 18 years later, ah, that in the last campaign for President in 1988, that I, I heard people saying, "Give the democrats one more chance." Ah, it's, ah, indicative that over a period of 17 years, ah, ah, the, the, the, the compensation that people generally receive from a political party that they support so overwhelmingly has simply not been forthcoming from the Democratic Party. But in 1972 that was my feeling. In fact I think somewhere in my speech, after pointing out what the Democratic Party had done to us since 1932, and talking about our being in the hip pocket of this party, and, and it almost being a reflex, ah, ah, an automatic reflex to support the Democratic Party on the part of Blacks in this country. And, and yet, ah, when you look at our role in the party and look at, ah, the benefits that we derived, ah, from that party, ah, they were not very substantial. But after, ah, ah, chronicling all of that, then I said, "But I think we ought to give the Democratic Party one more chance." It's interesting that Reverend Jesse Jackson in his speech, ah, literally, ah, came within a hair's breadth of calling for the formation of a third party. Ah, he was, ah, very, ah, very articulate and his, ah, language was very colorful in calling, ah, for a third party to be, ah, to be formed. Ah, in the final analysis the compromise was the formation of the National Black Political Assembly. And the idea was that the Assembly would do many of the things that a political party does without declaring itself to be a separate party. And that it would eventually, the thought was that it would eventually evolve into a third party.
What were the agenda items--
What was the agenda that was passed at Gary aiming at and ah?
Well, It was a wonderful agenda. Ah, it addressed the issue of political parity. It was pointed out at that time that based upon our numbers, instead of having I believe, ah, around ten or eleven, ah, Black congressmen, we should have had 43. And so a goal, a target was set to achieve, ah, that level of, ah, members of Congress. Ah, we talked about the need to expand the number of local, ah, Black elected officials. And people were encouraged to go back to their home communities and organize politically, and run candidates for offices like city council, mayor and so forth. And, ah, that was a major thrust of that meeting. Talking to people about, ah, and trying to inspire people to go back and to run for public office. And the truly incredible thing is that it happened. Ah, people, ah, at that time we had, as I said, maybe three, four hundred Black elected officials, including dog catchers and everything else. Ah, we have evolved now to where we have over 6,000, and that all has taken place in a short period of about 17 years. So Gary was truly inspirational. A meeting that was held two years later in Little Rock, Arkansas, ah, was significant, ah, for the fact that there were workshops on how to run for office, and a lot of people learned, ah, how to go back home and run for these, ah, these various offices. So political parity was a major thrust of, of this convention. But we also talked about economic parity, and the need to establish economic institutions. Many of the discussions that are ongoing today, ah, were occurring at that meeting. Unemployment, the disproportionate level of unemployment among Blacks. Ah, the disproportionate level of poverty among Blacks, and what to do about it. What kinds of new institutions could be, ah, created to address those problems**. At that time one of the major issues of the day was the issue of busing. Ah, busing for the purpose--
Your doing great.
In the end, the media had really focused only on two agenda issues in Gary. What were they, and how did that come about?
Well, I, I think the two agenda issues that the media spent a lot of time on was the issue of busing for the purpose of integration, and the issue, ah, the so-called Israeli, ah, issue, ah, the Middle East question. And, ah, the interesting thing is that, ah, the agenda was not dominated by those two questions. In fact, the first several days of the convention involved the kinds of things I've talked about. Political parity, ah, economic parity, ah, the need, ah, to, ah, promote Black pride. Ah, all of those things were very, ah, ah, important in terms of, of that convention. One of the things I must say about the meeting, and the reason, one of the reasons so many people were able to be there was at that time there certainly were a large number of federal programs. And those programs made it possible, ah, for people to come on expense accounts. That is, they, they were able to come to a meeting like this as a part of their work in terms of community organizing and so forth, and so a lot of the people that were there were there based upon that ability to, ah, ah, work on their program. It was a part of the program that they were working for. Ah, it also meant, however, that they could only, ah, they had to get back home on Sunday so that they could be at work on, on Monday morning. So, The last day of the convention was Sunday. We were slated to wrap up at noon. And the purpose of that last day was the adoption of the resolutions, ah, that had been agreed to by the body**. Ah, these, many people, I would say, ah, better than half the people who had attended the convention had left by the time these two resolutions on busing for the purpose of integration, and the issue of the Middle East came up. And both of them, as I said, were very, very controversial issues. And so it was the rather limited number of people who remained, ah, who debated and voted on those, ah, those two issues. Ah, the vote on those issues won against busing for the purpose of integration, which, which was a position directly contradictory to the NAACP's position, and many other national, ah, Black organizations, and then certainly the, ah, calling, ah, for a homeland for a Palestinian people, which at that time was a very radical position to take. It's interesting that today almost everyone agrees, ah, on that. But at that time it was very radical. Ah, those were the two resolutions that were adopted, and those were the two resolutions that the news media, which frankly up to that point, with the exception of, of very brief mention on the evening news on the day, several days prior, had pretty much ignored the convention because they were very angry about being locked out and not being permitted to come in. And so they pretty much ignored it. But when those two resolutions passed, they picked it up and ran with it, and that was the story, ah, that was told in the national media of the Gary convention. Ah, interestingly, as I said, only a small part of the discussion acted on, ah, by less then half of the delegates to the convention, and yet that became the dominating, ah, story. Ah, one of the reasons, ah, today, if such a meeting were to be held that I don't think that would happen is that today there are more Blacks involved in the media itself. At that time there were very few Blacks involved in the media, with the exception of the small weekly Black newspapers and a few radio stations around the country. You did not have Blacks, ah, at NBC and ABC and so forth, ah, in any significant numbers. Ah, so it was a very, ah, hostile press, ah, that looked at, ah, what was going on in Gary, and selectively decided what it would emphasize and, ah, did so in an extremely negative way.
One final question about Gary. What do you think the mood and the energy and the enthusiasm of the delegates took home with them was? What did they come away with?
I, I, I think they were tremendously inspired--
Please say "the delegates"--
Yes, ah, you have to think, ah, in terms of that fact that, ah, some of our very greatest, ah, orators and speakers, ah, appeared on that platform. Some, some of our, our most revered and respected leaders. Coretta Scott King, ah, they were all there. Ah, Harry Belafonte was particularly active in helping, ah, to organize and raise, ah, money to make the convention work. Ah, Isaac Hayes, ah, I remember he did a tremendous performance. Ah, there were other entertainers who came, ah, Nancy Wilson, who just came as people, and just wanted to be a part of something very important that was taking place. And, and so, ah, you couldn't be at that convention for that week without coming away, I think, feeling great pride in being Black, ah, being very encouraged that there was hope, ah, for Black people in this country, and being very determined to go back to your home, your city, your town, and, ah, to try to implement many of the things that you had heard at that convention. And that is exactly, I think, what happened. People went back home, rolled up their sleeves, and ran for public office in a way that Blacks had never thought about running for public office before**. And, ah, the amazing thing, as I said, many of them were elected. Ah, they laid the foundation for, ah, Blacks moving on to the national, ah, platform. Ah, ah, ah, as they have in recent years. In fact, ah, I believe that you can trace the candidacy of Jesse Jackson for President of the United States directly to that Gary convention in 19- 1972, because when that foundation was laid, it was a natural step then to run, in a very serious way, a person, ah, for President of the United States. And so much of the political success, ah, that we enjoy today, I think, ah, emanated from the meeting in Gary and, ah, the coming together of all parts of the, ah, Black community's philosophical spectrum. And, ah, a kind of determination to go out and to change the world. And, ah, in many ways, ah, that's exactly what has happened.
: Wonderful, let me just stop for a second.
I'm worried about your--
What were some of the behind-the-scene discussions that went on around the third party, and how was the decision actually finalized to not do that.
Well, I think those who advocated a third party, ah, really attempted to lobby other people, and lobby state delegations to support, ah, the notion. There was a resolution that had been introduced calling for the creation of a third party. Ah, on the other side there were, ah, those who were lobbying against it, who were saying basically that this was not the time. I don't think anyone, ah, was opposed to it as such. But a number of people felt that this was not the right time, ah, to, to form or create a third party.
Well, I think again it was this idea, ah, that the democratic, "Give the Democratic Party one more chance. Give them one more chance to prove, ah, that they can be fair. Ah, that they can treat Blacks in a just way." Ah, so that was sort of the argument. Now there are other, more fundamental reasons. Ah, there were many people at that convention who had a real stake in not seeing a third party form. Ah, some of them were employed, ah, in one way or another by the Democratic Party. Ah, ah, some of them were very active and had relationships in that party that they did not want to sever. And, ah, as a consequence, you know, were, were opposed. There were many reasons. Ah, I do not want to in any way suggest that, ah, these were not legitimate reasons. But there were just many different reasons why people did not see this as the right time. There were some people who simply felt that in a, in a sense it would be committing political suicide. In fact, you would be out with a third party, the history of third parties in our country not having been very successful, and that you'd been in a third party while the real, ah, transactions, ah, the real influence was being wielded in either the Democrat or the Republican Party. And we'd sort of just be outside, and not have anything to say about anything. And so there were all these reasons on the one side, and then there were the counter arguments on the other side. That, ah, we had not been treated well be either of the parties. That, ah, if we form a third party at the very least, ah, we could have our own nominees for president and so forth. Ah, we would be establishing our independence of the, ah, Democratic Party. It would be a little like declaring, ah, a, a, a new emancipation proclamation. That we were free of the Democratic Party. Ah, you know, that had sort of held us captive for, ah, since 1932. Ah, all of those arguments were going on ,on the floor and behind the scenes. Ah, as these resolutions were coming up, ah, for a final vote. Ah, many of the speakers, ah, as I said, ah, ah, place themselves on one side or another of this issue. Ah, ah, Rev. Jackson, ah, as I said, said, you know, "I think we ought to stop talking about it and go ahead and do it." I mean, it was almost that, that blunt.
Yes, that's great.
In terms of race, in terms of reforms, in terms of where Chicago was heading at that time?
What did the Harold Washington campaign signify?
Ah, without a doubt Harold Washington's campaign in Chicago was a campaign of liberation, ah, for Black Chicagoans. Ah, up to that point, ah, most of the prominent Black elected officials in Chicago had been part of the machine, the Daley machine, and, and even before then. And while they were persons in many instances of, of tremendous intelligence and ability, they had always played the game. They had always been, ah, part of this structure, this machine that said, ah, "You do for me, I'll do for you; you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back." And in many instances, the interest of that machine clashed with the best interests of the Black community. And when that happened, ah, for the most part these Black elected officials went with the machine and against their own community. That's how, ah, strong their attachment and involvement was. Ah, the, ah, really fascinating thing about the Harold Washington campaign, ah, was that without a doubt the Jackson boycott of ChicagoFest and the march and the demonstrations that were led by Rev. Jesse Jackson really sparked this drive against Jane Byrne and, and for a Black mayor. But the interesting thing is that the people who picked up the ball and really ran with it were not necessarily community activists, who for years had been saying that you had to go against the machine, and people like Lu Palmer, and people like that had been fighting the machine, and the Gus Savages, and other people like that. But, this time the thing that was different was that the Black middle class business community got involved. Mr. Gardner from Soft Sheen, ah, ah, Bill Berry, ah, people who up to that point had, had sort of been looked at I think pretty much as team players, as people who didn't rock the vote, and so forth. That they really took the initiative, and they used their money, they used their influence, they used their prestige, ah, to get behind this move to support a Black mayor, particularly to convince and persuade Harold Washington that he should run. So, ah, that was kind of interesting that this real push came from the Black middle class business community in Chicago, and, and, and that way the community activists, the people at, at PUSH and other places, who as I said for years had advocated the overthrow of this machine, ah, now had a really powerful ally working with them, and they had this wonderful, ah, candidate, ah, who was truly charismatic, ah, who certainly was about as charming, ah, a person as an individual could be. And yet, you know, had this powerful voice and was, ah, really, ah, ah, had this very strong image. So all of that came together, and, ah, the groundwork I think had been laid for years, but it, it finally all came, all came together. And so it was, it, it really freed the de- ah, the Black community in Chicago in a way that it had never been free before, and particularly the Black political community. It allowed people who were in the city council and, ah, who held other offices to stand up in some cases and speak out, some cases for the very first time. And, ah, Harold Washington gave them this sense of liberation. It also gave, I think, Black people in Chicago in particular, but Hispanic people and progressive Whites a sense of hope, because in many respects, Harold Washington's election was, ah, ah, about race, yes, there was no denying it, but it was also about reform. And perhaps sometimes the question of reform was more objectionable to certain forces in the city than the question of his race. And, ah, Harold Washington made it clear from the outset that, ah, if he were elected, that he would dismantle that machine. And there would be no more patronage politics, ah, in the city of Chicago. And, ah, he was well on his way at his death. He was well on his way, you know, to making good on that, on that promise. And so, in many ways Harold Washington freed Blacks, ah, from the kind of racial oppression that they had exist- ah, that had existed before.
OK, cut. Quick change. That's great. You said everything. Mostly talk about--
Now what was going on in 1983?
We were in 1983 concerned about the upcoming presidential election of 1984, and what the role of the Black community would be. As a consequence, a group of maybe about 15, 12 to 15, ah, Black leaders from around the country, leaders of civil rights organizations, political leaders, ah, began a series of meetings, ah, that took place over the space of the year. Ah, we would, ah, fly into an airport somewhere, hold a meeting at the airport and leave. There would be no publicity, in fact we worked very hard to not let the press know that we were having these meetings. Ah, we had meetings at the Atlanta airport. We had meetings at the Chicago O'Hare airport. And, ah, the discussion initially began around a Black agenda for the 1984 presidential election, that is, an agenda by which we could test the presidential candidates, and determine whether they were worthy of the support of the Black community. Ah, somewhere along the way, ah, the discussion evolved into a question of should a Black run for President of the United States? And as I said, ah, there was tremendous division, ah, on that question. And at each meeting we'd have a debate. There would be talk about taking a vote, but we would not take a vote because it was clear that the group was, ah, very much, ah, divided. Ah, and we had, ah, elected officials, ah, mayors, ah, Andy Young, myself, ah, others were there. We had heads of civil rights organizations. Ben Hooks, ah, Joe Lowery, ah, ah, attended, ah, some of those meetings, along with others. Ah, Rev. Jesse Jackson was at those meetings. There were a number of people who in one way or another, ah, played some leadership role in our community. But, ah, this division prevented our reaching resolution of this question. And it became rather frustrating, very frankly, to me, so that at the meeting, the, the last meeting that was held, which was held in Chicago at the airport, ah, I had reached a point where, ah, it just seemed to me that the time had come for us to put up or shut up. And so, ah, I asked that we go around the table, because some people were suggesting that one reason they didn't want to, ah, say, "Go with the Black candidate," there was a real question of who that candidate was going to be. And I think that many of the persons there had some suspicions that this whole series of meetings had been staged, ah, by Rev. Jackson to somehow promote his candidacy. And I can tell you flatly that was not the case, that his involvement, ah, was a very sincere involvement. It was, "I believe it's time for a Black to run," but it was not a question that, "I'm the one that ought to run." I don't think that, ah, when those meetings began, and certainly as they went on that was, that was his thought. So at any rate, I finally said, "Let's go around the table, and ask each person here if that person wants to be a candidate for President. We ought to ask that question!" And we did. We went, ah, from one to another, ah, and asked the question, "do you want to be a Pres- ah, candidate for President?" "Oh no, absolutely not." I mean, everyone going around the table said, "No." Rev. Jackson said, "I think that it is so important that a Black run, that if no-one else wants to run, then I would be willing, ah, to be a candidate, because I think it is, ah, it is so important." Well, once we had gone through that exercise, then it became clear that there was nothing left to do but to vote on this question, "Should a Black run, or should a Black not run?" And the motion itself was very carefully worded, ah, to, ah, say, only that if it passed, that it meant that a Black should run, or could run, that it did not in any way endorse any particular individual being a candidate, and secondly, that if people wanted to support, people in this meeting wanted to support a Black candidate who might decide to run, they could do so if they chose to do so. So, it was a very innocuous, carefully worded motion that ultimately passed and was passed by the group. Ah, so that basically what it did was to leave anyone there, or I suppose people who, people who were not there, if they chose to run, they could run. Ah, in another words it would not be viewed as a betrayal of the Black community if they should run, which is an interesting ah, interesting notion.
Wonderful. I have one kind of summary question. For our last program--
--the years 1965-84 what's the legacy, what do they represent for you?
I think overall it represents it represents ah, our struggle to participate, to gain access to the political system especially and to become players in that arena, to become full participants in that arena. And if one looks at where we were in 1985, ah, 1965, ah, the passage--
Can you start that again, if one looks at where we were.
If one looks at where we were in 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the, ah, Civil Rights Act of '64 and '65, and then one looks at the end of that period, ah, with a Jessie Jackson running for president of the United States, coming in second in the, ah, nomination, for the nom- Democratic nomination for President, you can see that, ah, tremendous progress was made over that period of time. Ah, 1965 you're just talking about the right to vote, 1984, '88, you're talking about the actual right to sit in the White House and run the most powerful country in the world. Ah, that all came about over that period of time because I think there were people who had vision and courage and who were willing to strike out and, and open new, ah, ah, new avenues of possibilities. Ah, a Shirley Chisholm running for president. Ah, you saw members of the Congressional Black Caucus, ah, which was formed I believe in 1970, ah, taking, asserting themselves in the Congress and also being our kind of national political leaders, ah, during that, ah, during that period of time. Ah, you saw this quiet revolution at the local level of, of people running for and being elected to the City Council and mayors and we grew from only about two mayors in 1968, to over 300 mayors of, and, and mayors of some of the largest cities in the United States today. So it was, it was a period where we were moving into the system, we were really carving out ah, our piece of the action, ah, within the American political system. And if one looks at, ah, looks back at that, it set the stage. We had just come from the period from about 1865 to 1965 of struggling for civil rights, for legal rights in the courts and so forth. But this period from 1965 up to now has seen us, ah, become participants. Ah, we still have a ways to go, we have not ah, achieved all that we should, but we, we are now real players, ah, we cannot be ignor--ignored. And I believe that our next stage, as I look out to the year 2000, will be, the challenge will be, "Can we take the political progress that we've made over the last 15, 20 years or so, and can we turn that into economic progress?" which, in the final analysis in the United States of America, ah, seems to be the bottom line.
Wonderful, thank you, and stop.
I wanted to ask, yeah, roll sound please.
What was the experience of repression in the years leading up to Gary?.
Well the, the late '60s, the early '70s, there was tremendous repression particularly of, of Black activists, not just elected officials, but Black activists, ah, ah, everyone from the Panthers to people who were just involved in civil rights organizations, in fact, fairly middle class civil rights organizations, ah, like NAACP and so forth. But I think Black elected officials being a kind of new breed, a relatively new group of people who were speaking out and speaking up, were a special target of, ah, the Justice Department. Ah, there were lots of frivolous investigations of Black elected officials. Ah, they, they were constantly being hauled before grand juries and ef- efforts were made to find something that they had, had done or to convince other people that they ought to, ah, ah, testify against them and so forth. And, and that was going on. Ah, people, ah, people's telephones were being bugged. And so when we went to Gary in 1972 when the National Black Political Convention took place, that was a serious part of the discussion, what to do about this kind of overall oppression that was taking place in the country using police departments, local police departments, the FBI, ah, other federal agencies, even the Army Intelligence, ah, ah, agency was involved in domestic spying on Black elected officials. Ah, and ah, it was a very repressive time and, and it was a time when simply to stand up and speak out, ah, for the rights of Black people, ah, could, could cause you great personal grief. And while it wasn't as bad as the days in the South when, ah, when you might be physically attacked, ah, ah, that didn't happen a lot, but you certainly could be investigated, you could be required to spend a lot of money on lawyers trying to defend yourself against many of these charges that were made sometimes, that were simply the result of some newspaper reporter who decided to write this story implying, ah, that a, a Black elected official had done something wrong. Ah, so, ah, we talked about that a lot and, and what to do about it and, and how perhaps we could address that problem politically, ah, if we could become politically stronger, then, ah, we could confront, ah, the political structure and stop this kind of, ah, oppression of Black elected officials that was taking, taking place. And there's not a Black elected official during that period, ah, say from about 1968 to 1980, I suspect, who did not have a horror story to tell about how he or she was investigated, in many instances with no real reason other than the fact that they had t- the audacity to speak up, stand up and to speak out and to, ah, try to work on behalf of Black people.
What do you think the effect was on the unity of the movement during that period?
Well I think it made Black people, it caused Black people to come together, ah, to be more united because it was a kind of circling of the wagons. It was that but for the grace of, ah, ah, our, your support, I would be the one being, being, ah, ah, attacked or investigated or indicted or in some other way, be- become the victim of ah, J. Edgar Hoover and people like that. So it, it created, I think it contributed to a sense of unity, the need to be united because if we were not, then it was very clear that we could be picked off one by one. And literally the entire movement demolished in much the same way, much the same way right after the end of the Civil War during the Reconstruction period that Blacks were subsequently driven, literally driven from office. And there was a kind of second post-reconstruction that was taking place in that period from about 1968 to about 1980.
Wonderful, thank you, fine.