Interviewer: Sam Pollard
Production Team: C
Interview Date: November 15, 1988
Sound Rolls: 221-222
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Jim Ingram, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 15, 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.
OK Jim. First question: take us back to 1967. Tell us about the arrest at the gas station, that and what happened when you got to the police station.
It was the third afternoon since the rebellion had started that Sunday, I believe it was a Tuesday afternoon in '67 and, ah, I imagine it was July 25th, 'cause it started on July 23rd, that Sunday. And we were en route to picking up a young lady who was a friend of the family who had gotten stranded at her job because the buses had stopped running on orders of the mayor then, Jerome Cavanaugh, and we were riding with a man we had just met, sort of an acquaintance of the family of the girl that we were going to pick up. And he needed gas and he stopped at a gas station on Vernor and Sharon, which is a fairly active area of the city. People, throngs of people on the street. And we placed into this gas station which was relatively empty and that kind of caught me funny at the time because normally that gas station was full. But we saw that there were a couple of cars in front of us, one a gentleman was pumping gas into a vehicle and he had on coveralls as if he was a service station attendant. And so we were sitting there and it dawned on me and I said to the driver at the time that it dawned on me that "Hey, I think the governor has banned gasoline sales because of the, the possibility of people using that to make Molotov cocktails. I don't think we can get any gas here." So an argument ensued with the four of us, Ross Mitchell, my brother Don, and myself, and the driver, ah, and they were saying things like, "Well, why is he selling gasoline?" And at that point, when someone made that point or asked that question the, ah, guy jumped in the car and sped off. So, we knew he in fact was stealing gasoline and wasn't working at the station, just happened to have on a gasoline attendant, a gas station attire. So at the point where he careened into the street and around the corner on two wheels, we looked to our right and here came the Michigan State Police, firing automatic weapons out of, semi-automatic weapons out of the window and, ah, I just told the guys at that point, "Put your hands behind your, your necks because, ah, they're going to think right away that we're doing the same thing." And sure enough they, after they saw that they couldn't really catch this guy who had sped off, ah, they turned back into the station and, ah, trained their weapons on us and ordered us out of the car with our hands behind our necks. Of course we had been sitting there waiting for some thirty seconds already. And when we got out of the car, ah, I spoke to one of the State Troopers who said that we were stealing gas. And I said, "No, we were here trying to figure out what was going on and I was telling the driver about the ban and so forth." At which point he said, "Well, we just got to get some of you people off the streets." And I said, "Well, you know, let us go and we'll be off the streets immediately. We just going to go pick up this lady since we don't have any gas, maybe we won't and we'll just go home." So, ah, we were, he said, "No, we just got to get some of you folks off the street." So he put us up against the wall and, and told us to lean there with our legs outstretched and we remained there for I guess ten, fifteen minutes until a Detroit Police paddy wagon came careening around the corner. Ah, out jumped this, ah, I guess he was an officer, he had no badge, he had a police type uniform on, ah, no insignias or anything, a dark blue shirt, dark blue pants and brown army helmet askew on his head and this really wild look in his eyes. And he jumped down and he said, "Oh, so you niggers want to fight, eh?" And we all kind of looked at each other like, you know, "Where is this guy coming from?" Ah, so at that point they handcuffed us because we had just been standing there with our arms against the wall. They came out with all these pairs of handcuffs and handcuffed us and then told us to get one by one into the back of the van. As we got into the back of the police van, ah, this officer proceeded to kick the first guy, Ross Mitchell, he kicked the driver and then myself and my brother was last and my brother did a kind of little fake like he was going, got kicked at him and got off balance and he shot past him. So he didn't kick either one of us because we both did basically the same thing.
Cut. That's good, that's good.
Take us back to '67 and the gas station.
It was the third day of the rebellion in '67 in the afternoon. We were on our way to pick up a young lady who had been stranded at work because the buses weren't running. And we were in this gas station 'cause the guy was driving needed gas. And I realized that there was a ban on gasoline. The governor had posted a ban and, ah, there was a car in front of us and a guy who looked like a service station attendant was pumping gas and we discovered all of a sudden that he was stealing the gas because he jumped in the car and sped off around the corner on two wheels. At this point the State Police car came flying down the street firing automatic, semiautomatic weapons at him and I said, "Oh heck, we're in trouble. You know, they're going to think we're stealing the gas," and, ah, when we were just sitting there discussing it. So I told the guys, "Put your hands behind your neck" and we got out and the police came and ordered us, "Hands behind your neck." And they pointed these weapons at us. Lined us up against the wall and, ah, "We told them, we, you know, we weren't stealing gas, we were trying to figure out what to do, what was going on because we thought this guy was selling it." Ah, they said, "We got to keep you, get you people off the streets and we'll straighten it out later at the station." Ten minutes later, this Detroit Police van comes careening around the corner and, ah, this White male jumps out with a police type uniform on, no badge, brown army helmet askew on his head, crosswise, a real wild look on his face and he yells, "Oh so you niggers want to fight, eh?" And we, at that point, looked at each other, "What's, what's, what is it with him?" You know, and, ah, he directed us to get into the back of the van. As each one of us proceeded to get into the back of the van, he kicked the first two of us, as they went in, and, ah, my brother Don and I, we kind of did a little change of pace, fakery and kind of caused him to go off balance and he missed kicking us, so. ah, we missed getting kicked. Had to sit in the van for some 40 to 45 minutes. They turned the heat up as high as it could go. And, ah, we just sat there and sweated for, I guess, the better part of an hour.
Let's cut one. Let's cut.
Ready? Tell, tell me what happened when you got down to the police station. What happened when they got you down there in the paddy waggon?
We were taken to the 7th Precinct, I knew that because the ride was very short and, ah, the doors were flung open and, ah, somebody started yelling, "Run niggers, run." And, ah, an officer started slinging us out of the van. I couldn't see that clear what was going on in front of me but I was the last one out of the van and I saw my brother in front of me being swung at. There were National Guardsman on the right and police on the left and they were swinging rifles and, ah, swinging these red, bright redly[SIC] painted, brightly painted, ah, red pick ax handles and I was trying to dodge some of the swings, ah, I don't know how I got through there with only being hit hard one time with a rifle barrel and that's what broke my right arm. And, ah, we sort of ran I guess as fast as we could and tried to dodge those, some of them were really swinging quite wildly, ah, but it was, it was an experience I'll never forget. It was like I was going to myself, "What have we done?" I mean they, we were guilty of Lord knows what in these guys', ah, ah, minds, you know. I mean they were treating us like we were hardened criminals or something. And all we were doing was, ah, attempting to buy some gas in a gas station. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tell us about what happened when you got to that cell, the other guys that were in there and then the story about when you were finger printed.
We were placed in a holding cell which was rather large but still very crowded because there were so many people in there. At one point, ah, ah, we were all talking and they brought in this White kid. I guess everybody at that point was Black or Hispanic or whatever. And this young White kid came in and some of the younger Black guys, ah, as soon as he got inside that door and the door was slammed shut, just charged him. And he, he apparently was fairly alert because he knew right away he was, ah, going to be dead meat. He literally climbed the, the steel bars of the door and climbed all almost all the ways up, all the way up to the ceiling. I don't even know how he maintained his balance. At that point, Ross Mitchell and myself and several others just kind of prevailed upon the guys, you know, "Hey, leave the kid alone. He's not bothering anybody. He's in here with us. He may have been doing some of what, some of the things we were doing, you know, and he may in fact be innocent so why are you trying to do something to him?" You know. At that point, I began to think of myself that this really wasn't, couldn't be characterized as a race riot, although there was that White, Black thing in terms of the schism between the police and those they were locking up. And I guess they were hurling their resentment of the police back at this one kid. And I didn't think that was fair. We--
OK, we'll stop.
Tell us the story again about when they took you to the cell and the White cat who they brought in.
Were were taken to a holding cell which was rather large, but crowded, and ah, I guess about five minutes after we were there, they brought this young White kid in, and he was immediately set upon by, ah, some of younger Black males who were incarcerated there with us. Ah, and the kid I guess was pretty alert, 'cause right away as soon as they slammed the door shut, he looked behind, ah, and he saw these guys kind of converging and mumbling and grumbling, you know, and then they charged him. And, even before they charged him, he went right up the steel bars on the that door, almost to the ceiling. I don't even know how he maintained his balance, but he somehow balanced precariously on the top of that door, and I guess pressing against the ceiling and screaming. At that time, Mitch and myself, we prevailed upon the guys to you know, "Hey leave him alone, back off, this kid hasn't done anything to us." And that was when I began to, in my mind, characterize the rebellion as not a race riot, in the sense that Blacks and Whites were out there being arrested together, and doing some looting, I guess together, from what I could tell. But, I think that the hostility directed towards the White police and guardsmen, which were all White kind of transferred to this kid, and I didn't think that was too fair.
Tell us the story about when they, when you got fingerprinted later on.
After a while they brought us, ah, one by one out of the cell, I know they brought me out to be purportedly fingerprinted. Ah, as I walked down that corridor, one national guardsmen pointed a rifle at my head and as I got to the end of the corridor another put an Army .45 at my temple. And I was going, "What do thin think I'm going to do, try and escape?" And they said, "You've got to be finger printed, nigger." So they steered me to the left over to this little bench where they were fingerprinting people. And I, I remember I started trembling, one officer took my hand and squoze--squeezed it real tight and told me, "Relax your fingers." And I said, "Well ask him to take this gun from my temple, how can I relax? I mean, what do you think I'm John Dillinger or something totally surrounded by all you guys, why the gun to my temple?" And he says, ah "Nigger, I'll show you how to relax," and he put a cigarette out on my hand, and, man, you talk about pain, I never knew that kind of pain existed. Ah, just that little pin-point fire that I felt starting in my hand it almost made me, ah lose consciousness, you know, I went limp the guardsman that had the rifle up to my head sort of grabbed me, and I never really was finger printed.
OK, let's, let's take it up again from when you were pulled out and you were fingerprinted. Ah, truck. Let that pass. OK.
Presently they took us out one by one.
Lets start it again, you know "later in the day they took us--" ok. Lets do it again.
Later on they took us to be fingerprinted and I was taken down this corridor with a young guardsman with a, holding a rifle to my head. And I got to the end of the corridor and this really young kid, looked to be no more than 16, put a .45 automatic to my right temple and I was asked to relax as I was led over to this bench where a police officer grabbed my hand and squeezed it real hard and said "Relax nigger". And I said, "I can't relax, this guys got, why don't you have him take this, ah, gun from my temple. What am I John Dillinger, going to escape? I'm totally surrounded by you guys. I'm cooperating." And he said, "I'll teach you, I'll show you how to relax," and he put this cigarette out right on my hand. And it was just a pinpoint fire that just seemed to shoot right up my arm. I never knew that kind of pain existed. I mean it was excruciating. I lost consciousness almost. I remember the one kid with the rifle. He grabbed me and tried to hold me up. And I never was actually finger printed.
How did you feel after you were let out of there? Just tell me, after, how, the jail.
After I got out, I'd gone through so much, ah, pain and.
Lets start in from after you got out of jail, after you were released from Wayne County, where was it?
The 7th Precinct.
Right. Let's do it with, start with that.
After I was released from the 7th Precinct and went home. I'd gone through so much, ah, mental, emotional, and physical pain. The physical pain was nothing compared to the deep emasculation and sense of having been dehumanized while in that holding cell and while also in the shooting range in the basement. Ah, I was just totally filled with rage and, and, ah, a sense of, ah, deep and profound injustice to the extent that I felt that this whole thing had happened to me so that I personally could join others in trying to just wipe out the White race, that they had, I mean what they did was so incredible. Ah, to walk around and appear civilized, ah, you know by day and night and then under cover of the kind of, ah, ah, I guess you could call it darkness, being inside the station, they were doing all these incredible things to human beings. Ah, I just felt like the White race, should be wiped out and have no possibility of ever reproducing itself. So I thought that, ah, that's what I should do. Just try to kill as many of them as I possibly could.
Tell me about when you were released from the 7th Precinct, what your feelings were, what you had been, in terms of what you had been through.
I left the 7th Precinct with a, a, burning, raging, fury inside of me that, ah, had resulted from the physical, emotional, and mental pain, primarily emotional and mental, of, of, being so emasculated and dehumanized. And what I mean by emasculation, my manhood, I felt like my testicles were literally, physically being just crushed. You know my father always taught me to look another man in the eye or another person in the eye. And we got to a point where if you looked at the guards, whatever expression the National Guardsman or the police, whatever expression you might have had on your face was literally taken to mean something by them. If you tried to appear pleasant, like you were imposing no threat or anything, they'd say, "Oh, nigger you think this is funny." If you tried to appear serious or somber, then they would say, "What the hell is wrong with you? Or, Why are you glaring at me." And they'd on each occasion, take you, drag you out, and beat you with those bright red ax handles. So, ah, my way of dealing of this was just to avert my gaze whenever they would say anything to anyone of us I wouldn't even look at them. Ah, at one point they called, ah, called me and another guy out and didn't, didn't call us by name and he had to yell three or four times before I finally looked to see that he was talking about me. So I left with this deep sense of, of a mission that there was so much inhumanity among the White race. These people whom I'd have thought were, you know, guardians of the law and protectors of the people were in fact brutal, racist oppressors and I felt that they had to be wiped out totally. That I had a personal mission out of that experience that meant that, ah, it was my job in conjunction with others to, ah, to see to it that they had no, to kill them all and make sure they had no chance of ever reproducing, that they were evil devils, so much as, as the Muslims had said, and, ah, I along with eleven other people formed something that we called the Order of the Burning Spear and that was our mission. That was our primary mission to kill White people, beginning with the police and guardsmen.
OK, lets cut.
Take us back to Attica now and when you first went into D yard as an observer. What you saw and how you felt.
We went through a series of corridors.
Let's start again. One night when we were going toward D yard, we went through a series of corr--corridors.
When I entered D yard for the first time and accompanied with some members of the Fortune Society and this character Kenyatta, we went through a series of corridors, ah, that were lined with New York State Troopers and prison guards all giving us these hostile stares, what we call the "nigger stare", you know, that was common in the South. Ah, they would rack shells into the chambers of their weapons as we walked by which I knew was just a, a trick of intimidation because either you already got your weapon loaded and, and ready, or primed or its not and you don't wait until we walk by and we're not the enemy to do that so. We went through this series of tunnels and, ah, approached what they call the demilitarized zone where the State left us and we were then in the hands of the inmates. And the inmate guards there was a total dichotomy between the way that they behaved and the way these so called professionals behaved, I mean, there was a concern for our safety, ah, and we were led immediately to this tunnel where brother Shango who was from Detroit ran up and embraced me and began to tell me about how he had, he was instrumental in getting me there as one of the observers on the original list of demands. As I entered D yard I just had this great, ah, surrealistic sense of, ah, dreamlike quality, I mean I was enveloped by a dream. Everything was gray or Black. There seemed to be no colors except for the, the little pinprick fires that we're hearing about. Ah, 1200 men were out there along with the hostages. Over near the front, I came to the rear of D yard.
Take us to when you first went into D yard.
As I was led into D yard by the inmate guards I remember this, ah, being enveloped by this fast and profound, surrealistic sense of unreality, of, of ah, being ah, blanketed by this, this grayness and darkness. Everything seemed gray and Black other than the little pinprick ah, points of light that I saw. Ah, it, it was a vast yard and there was some 1200 men in there and they had their bonfires stretched out across the yard. I was taken up to the front of the yard having entered from the rear ah, where there was this long, long series of tables made into a, a, one table and a microphone or two, a television monitor, and all these people sitting at the table. And there were the, ah, inmate leaders and some of the other observers who were already in there. But I just, ah, remember that it, it just seemed like a, a nightmarish quality to the whole thing ah, but at the same time nightmarish it also seemed so totally unrealistic. And I kept kind of asking myself, "Am I really here?"
OK, let's cut.
Tell us how the observers were treated by the guards and specifically the story about when you, the volunteer brought some food to you in Stewart's room?.
The prison guards ah, as well as the New York State, State Troopers but especially the prison guards ah, treated us with a great deal of hostility. Ah, they didn't say a whole lot but the way that they would look at you, ah, the curt responses that ah, came if you asked them a question. Ah, the townspeople were totally hostile. I remember a, a civilian volunteer, ah, brought in some, ah, doughnuts and coffee, and I guess ah, he thought that it was for the guards. Ah, when they brought it into our room, he looked up at us and he said, "Damn it, if I'd known that we were bringing it to, ah, you guys, I would have spit in!" And he in fact did spit on a couple of the doughnuts, at which point we threw half the doughnuts away and began a little discussion about what if he did know in ah, in advance and had already done something to this coffee. But we'd been in there for 12, 13, 14 hours, ah, some of us for two days without an sustenance at all, anything to eat or drink other than occasional water down the hall. So, ah, we went on and, and consumed it. But ah, those people were extremely hostile. We'd come through the ah, crowd assembled at the gate to the prison and we'd hear, ah, taunts of ah, obscenities and "Nigger, this" and "Nigger that". And the guards themselves, ah, almost unconsciously referred to their billy clubs as "nigger sticks". And they didn't seem to even notice that, ah, they were in the presence of, ah, New York State Assemblyman, ah, at least one editor of the New York Times, myself a reporter, ah, a United States Congressman, ah, they just didn't seem to care or realize what they were, ah, I mean how easily and loosely they flung that term nigger around.