Interviewer: Callie Crossley
Production Team: C
Interview Date: October 11, 1985
Camera Rolls: 501-509
Sound Rolls: 1501-1504
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Rev. Andrew Young, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 11, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). 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.
THIS IS BLACKSIDE, INC. EYES ON THE PRIZE, SOUND ROLL 1501, ON CAMERA ROLL 501. FIRST SLATE UP IS 01. INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW YOUNG. ONE IS UP.
THERE'S A STORY CIRCULATING THAT UH, THE PLANS FOR SELMA WERE REALLY OUT THERE, BEFORE, ENOUGH FOR WILSON BAKER TO GET COPIES OF THESE PLANS. UM, AND GO AND SEE BURKE MARSHALL IN LATE NOVEMBER OF '64 IN AN EFFORT TO GET HIM TO STOP THE CAMPAIGN IN SELMA. WERE YOU AWARE OF THAT?
I'm not aware specifically that—let me—there has been a rumor that the plans for Selma were already out in 1964 and that Wilson Baker took copies of them to Washington to Burke Marshall to try to get him to intercede or to stop the campaign. I don't know that to be a fact, but it's quite possible. In fact, it's even probable that that was the case. The plans for Selma grew out of a lot of the thinking of James and Diane Bevel and it was a part of a strategy that they began to develop in response to the bombing of the church in Birmingham. When the four little girls were killed in the church in Birmingham, we felt that that was directly a result of the kind of inflammatory political rhetoric that was coming from George Wallace at the time. And we then knew that even though we had a Civil Rights Act, that integrated lunch counters, and that made it possible for us to work in new places, it eliminated the signs on restrooms and public facilities, but that incident convinced us that unless you changed the politics of Alabama, that you couldn't really change the society. You really didn't want to have to go out and demonstrate every time there was a grievance, and the only way to avoid that was to elect the public officials yourself. So Jim and Diane Bevel began to talk in terms of getting rid of Wallace, and they had all of these little buttons that said GROW, G-R-O-W, Get Rid of Wallace. And they didn't tell anybody what they meant. We just had them made up and we were passing them around. And a part of the thinking was that in small groups, all across the state, that people would plan simultaneous demonstrations. We felt that to change the political structure, in Alabama, we couldn't go back to Birmingham. Birmingham had borne about all of the strain that it could bear. And that in the smaller towns, like Selma, and Montgomery, we would probably have to operate in as many as five or ten communities simultaneously. So there was this plan to mobilize the entire state, and it was evolved really, by the grass roots participants. And this was done before it came to Atlanta, with the Executive Staff and Dr. King, but it was typical of the way the Southern Christian Leadership Conference operated. We didn't see ourselves as putting plans into other people's lives. We brought people out of the situation in a citizenship education program and we gave them a week off by themselves, to discuss their problems. And we discussed them with them and they then began to devise, well, they began to come to some of the same conclusions: that they had to vote. And that when Selma did this, we brought some people from Montgomery, and then some people from Anniston, and some people from over in Marion, Alabama, and Demopolis, and Tuscaloosa, and Lowndes County, throughout the Black Belt. So it was, it was a plan in evolution. But I should say that nothing like that ever disturbed us. We operated under the Gandhian notion that we were completely open. During the Selma movement, the John Birch Society and the White Citizens' Council had people in our meetings, taping our meetings, and making films, and we didn't put them out, and we knew who they were. We would take the microphones off from wherever they would hide them, under the pulpit, and put them right out on top, and Reverend Abernathy got quite famous, every night, for preaching to the little "doohickey," which is what he called the bugging device. And he would say whatever he wanted, either President Johnson, or J. Edgar Hoover, or Governor Wallace, or Wilson Baker, or anybody he felt like preaching to, he preached to through this little recording device. So that it didn't disturb us that everybody knew our plans. We wanted them to know our plans.
ASIDE FROM THE SPECIFICS THAT YOU'VE MENTIONED HERE, THERE WAS A FOUR-POINT PLAN THAT WE READ ABOUT, MUCH MORE GENERAL, NONVIOLENT MARCHES IN THE STREET, PART ONE, GET THE RACISTS TO RETALIATE, GET THE OUTRAGE OF THE AMERICANS, AND MAKE THAT OUTRAGE MATERIALIZE IN LEGISLATION. WHAT ABOUT THAT?
Well, I doubt that we ever spelled it out that way, because we never wanted racists to retaliate. That was probably not an SCLC plan. What we did say was that we would put so many people in jail that we would bring the system to a halt, and that our emphasis was on noncooperation and economic withdrawal, and that that would be the thing that would bring about a change legislatively. We saw this, we saw the marches as a means of bringing about economic boycotts, and that the, the pattern that we had developed in Birmingham, which essentially stopped the black community and white people of good will from buying anything except food and medicine, for a period of about ninety days, was basically a workable plan in any community. And that you didn't have to completely close down the businesses. The profit margin in most businesses is ten or fifteen percent, and if you take the black community and the Black Belt out, you could cut the profit by fifty percent. You could stop business in almost any city in America with an organized effort and daily demonstrations, and that was basically what our strategy was.
WHEN YOU WENT INTO SELMA, THIS WAS A SOPHISTICATED MOVEMENT. YOU'D BEEN THROUGH THE ALBANYS, THE BIRMINGHAMS, YOU HAD THE HIGH OF THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON. AND NOW HERE YOU ARE AND YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO. CAN YOU DESCRIBE A LITTLE BIT OF WHAT—WHAT THE THINKING WAS OF THE ORGANIZATION AS YOU GO IN, WITH LESSONS LEARNED.
I think our thinking, going into Selma, was that we had a lot of experience in Albany, and in Birmingham, that we would apply in Selma. But I think we knew enough about people and we knew enough about the political situation, to know that you couldn't prepackage a movement. That a movement had a life of its own, the people had a dynamic of its own, and you had to get in and work with those people. We had never done anything like a march from Selma to Montgomery. That came out in Jimmy Lee Jackson's funeral, and it was a spontaneous thing that came from discussions along the funeral march. And most of our tactics, we had never met the kind of sophisticated opposition in Selma, I mean, in Birmingham, or Albany. Well, Albany in some ways was about as sophisticated, but Wilson Baker was a very skilled person at managing conflict. And if it had not been for Jim Clark and the excesses of the Alabama State Troopers at the march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I think Selma would have gone the way we planned it, which was a longer, slower, economic withdrawal campaign, that would have changed the local politics and then changed the national politics. As it was, they escalated it to a national issue, and the Congress responded to the death of Reverend James Reeb, and to the killing of Mrs. Viola Liuzzo. I think shortly after that, Stokely Carmichael was shot in Lowndes County, and the Reverend Jonathan Daniels was killed. It was a bloody period, and none of this was planned, and none of this was expected on our part. It just—in fact, none of these incidents occurred in demonstrations that we planned. They occurred on the fringe of demonstrations. Ms. Liuzzo was killed after a demonstration. Jimmy Lee Jackson was killed in a restaurant after demonstrations were over, by the state troopers. The—Stokely went to get Reverend Jonathan Daniels, no, I think Jonathan Daniels went to get Stokely out of jail, and they were both shot.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LOCAL BLACK LEADERSHIP IN SELMA? I'M THINKING OF MRS. AMELIA BOYNTON AND FREDERICK REESE.
Well, the local black leadership in Selma was really responsible for the Selma movement. Selma was not a place that we picked out. We did not choose them, they chose us. I had been to Selma, my wife is from thirty miles from Selma, and we had our first date in Selma. So I knew Mrs. Boynton. We had trained some of the people, including Mrs. Boynton, in our citizenship education program, some years before. But Mrs. Boynton's background goes all the way back to the early NAACP days, before the NAACP was outlawed in Alabama. And John Lewis, who is now in the Atlanta City Council, and Bernard Lafayette, who I think is teaching at Tuskegee, were a part of going down with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to attempt to register voters. Well, they were beaten up pretty badly, and then the local courts put a total injunction on the city, where it was unlawful for more than three people, no, more than two people to even walk down the street together, where no more than four people could be in a public meeting without permission from the sheriff's office. I mean, it was really a very repressive kind of South Africa-type situation. And Mrs. Boynton came to the SCLC Board meeting, just after Dr. King won the Nobel Prize, and she told us about this incident, and this situation, and she asked us if we would come over there to work with her. I think the meeting was scheduled, there was a traditional Emancipation Day service, which was scheduled normally for the first of January. This year, since the second of January was on a Sunday, they had scheduled it for the second of January. And to hold that Emancipation Day service was a violation of this particular injunction. And we decided that that would be the way to come to Selma, that we would come to the Emancipation Day service. We would let everybody know well in advance that we were going to do it, that we were going to hold it, and we would publicly announce that we were going to defy this injunction, and then from that time on, begin to work in Selma.
DESCRIBE THE FEELING THERE, THAT FIRST MEETING.
Well, Martin had a way of making fun out of any dangerous situation. And he talked about going down into Selma and of course, Coretta is from Marion also, and he had pastored in Montgomery, so we all knew Selma. We all knew Lowndes County, and we knew the kind of people that were there. And he started preaching everybody's funeral, because he was saying, we were lucky in Birmingham, all of us got out alive, but some of us weren't going to make it out of Selma. And he'd go out, around the room, you know, sort of saying, well Ralph, now if they get you, and then he'd preach Ralph's sermon for about five minutes, you know, and he just made a fun of saying all of the embarrassing things he could think of saying, and pretending that he was preaching our eulogies, and our funerals. And so, that was the way that we dealt with the anxiety, and the fear, and the tension, by joking about it and laughing about it.
IN SELMA, YOU WERE THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT THAT TIME, OF SCLC, YOU HAD JUST TAKEN THE REINS FROM WYATT T. WALKER, IS THAT CORRECT?
WHAT IN THAT FUNCTION, WHAT WERE YOU TO DO, TO ASSIST THE MOVEMENT, MOVE IT FORWARD.
Well, as the newly appointed Executive Director, I was sort of the link between the field staff and the executive staff, and between what was going on in the field and Martin and Ralph in Atlanta. And most of the field staff, I had worked with and trained, and I had hired most of them, when I was Program Director and working with the citizenship education program, which, incidentally, was a program that the United Church of Christ Board for Homeland Ministry sponsored. And at that time, I was still not on SCLC's payroll. I was still being paid by the Board for Homeland Ministries of the United Church of Christ. So it was, well, I, I saw myself in Selma, as kind of keeping things together. You didn't run SCLC. It was never an organization which gave orders from the top down. I used to say it was like riding herd on a team of wild horses, and I kind of kept them all in the same road. And that was the way, Jim Bevel, and John Lewis, probably were more directly in charge of the day-to-day tactics of Selma, and I was sort of the liaison between them and Martin. We provided the staff services, and backup. We arranged with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to supply legal services. I ended up coordinating the media, to some extent, so that—because the media was a very important part of a nonviolent movement. It was the way you got the message across, and made a local issue a national issue.
YOU MENTIONED SNCC, THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN 1963 HAVING LAID THE FOUNDATION, THEY'VE BEEN IN SELMA BEFORE, HERE COMES SCLC. WHAT WAS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SCLC AND SNCC AT THAT POINT?
Well, it was sort of like me and my younger brother. We loved each other, but we fought all the time. And I think that it sort of depended on who it was with SNCC. With John Lewis and Ivanhoe Donaldson, we basically functioned as we were one staff. Sometimes with Jim Foreman, and Stokely, there were little tensions. It depended on whether or not the SNCC persons involved resented Martin Luther King's prominence. Some of them did, some of them didn't. But I had been involved in Selma training; in fact Mrs. Boynton had come to one of our workshops, as early as 1962. And we had been training people throughout that region, since 1961. So that it was—we didn't see it, and I was in charge of the training—but we never asked people whether they were SCLC people or SNCC people or NAACP people. We just brought people together. In fact the way we tried to identify leaders, was, we said, we wanted the kind of people who had Ph.D. minds who never had an opportunity to get the formal training that enabled them to have an impact on the society that they ought to have had, because of their intelligence and natural leadership ability. And in going through the community, Mrs. Boynton was clearly one of those that we identified. And she became sort of the leader, and supervisor, of all of our work, working through the Dallas County Voters' League, I think.
TO FOLLOW UP WITH SNCC, JUST A QUICK RESPONSE TO YOUR ROLE AS A MEDIATOR BETWEEN SNCC AND SCLC.
Well, I think that I ended up being a kind of mediator, because there was a certain hostility to preachers, and I, though I was a preacher, and got along well with the preachers, I was a Congregational preacher that had a lot more free attitude toward life, than say, most Baptist preachers. And it—there was a slight, there was a little less—I mean, Martin and Ralph were about four or five years older, and the difference between twenty and twenty-five is a lot different than the difference between twenty and thirty. And so I was sort of halfway—right now there's no difference. You know, at fifty-five and fifty, there's no difference, but from twenty to thirty, five years could make a big difference. And so, I would still hang out with them a little at night, and most of the student planning was done in late-night bull sessions. And so, it was mainly a matter of contact, and being available. And I was just available, to both sides. But I… really do think that most of the tensions came about on slow newsdays, when um, the press didn't have anything else to write about, so they would—they would write about the difference. The differences though were very slight. Well, I remember Willie Ricks who's now still around Atlanta, but Willie Ricks always wanted confrontation, ah, and confrontation always got a lot of folk hurt. We frankly tried to minimize confrontation. We were much more patient and would count more on the day-by-day marches, even if nothing happened, ah, because it was the day-by-day marches that slowly built up an awareness in people, ah, and you didn't have to provoke a crisis everyday. The purpose of the marches was to maintain the boycott, and it was the boycott—the boycott would require, you know, at least thirty days before its effect would be felt. It didn't matter, you… you couldn't make a boycott work any quicker than thirty days. And most of the time it took sixty to ninety days, and so we were… we were much more patient, ah, about social change. I think there was a tendency on the part of a lot of students in SNCC to make a commitment that they were going to come south for one semester, or one summer, and they wanted to see all of the changes in the world come that summer. We were almost as naïve. I felt like it would take five years, ah, but it turned out that it's a lifetime struggle, and you move from one phase to the other. And people who couldn't make that adjustment and who couldn't change with the different phases, I think ended up rather frustrated.
[unintelligible background conversation]. TAKE FOUR HEAD SLATE IS UP. CAMERA ROLL 503. CONTINUATION OF ANDREW YOUNG. TONE.
YOU WERE COMING TO THE END OF YOUR THOUGHT THERE, AND WE'LL GIVE YOU LIKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO FINISH IT.
I forgot it.
[laughter] NO PROBLEM. MOVING RIGHT AHEAD. I'M GOING TO THROW OUT A HIT LIST HERE OF CERTAIN PEOPLE, AND I'D LIKE JUST YOUR QUICK RESPONSE TO THESE FOLKS, REMEMBERING TO INCORPORATE THEIR NAMES INTO THE SENTENCE.
You want the truth?
YES, I WANT THE TRUTH. GEORGE WALLACE?
George Wallace, I think, was an opportunist and a charlatan ah, who I think frankly, did undergo some level of repentance after his own suffering, ah, but we never felt that George Wallace was as bad as he sounded. It was almost as though he was saying what he thought it ah, required him to say, you know, to get elected and to stir up, you know, poor white people in Alabama.
Jim Clark was a near madman. He was what, you know, Anti-Defamation League would define as "the authoritarian personality." He was probably mean to his wife and children, ah, and ah it just infuriated him for anybody to defy his authority, even to the point of wanting to vote. If he said you couldn't vote you were supposed to go away, and just to stand there enraged him. Jim Clark incidentally was arrested for running drugs ah, and in addition to having served time for a civil rights violation, ah, he has served time for being a drug runner.
Frederick Reese was one of those ah, really courageous minister-teachers that lived in small towns and…
Frederick Reese was one of those people who lived in small towns who, ah, had no intention of living anywhere else, was just determined to make his town a good place in which to live. He was not hostile to the community or he was not belligerent, but he was a determined… ah determined to challenge the status quo and make things better for himself and his children.
Now, there are two Al Lingos.
COLONEL AL LINGO OF THE ALABAMA?
I never really knew Colonel Al Lingo, um, by his work, he had to be very close to Jim Clark. I mean there was absolutely no reason for anybody to mob people, ah, you know, on television cameras, on a Sunday afternoon, as he did on that Edmund Pettus Bridge. I mean here were people who were not throwing rocks, they were not ah, I mean. they were on their knees for all practical purposes. They were not in any way hostile, not even not even verbally antagonistic, ah, and yet, he saw fit to teargas them and ride horses in their midst and beat them. You've got to be some kind of maniac to do that.
MAYOR JOSEPH SMITHERMAN?
Joseph Smitherman, ah, a good ole boy, and a mayor who was neither hot nor cold, just lukewarm. He couldn't do anything particularly courageous, but neither was he particularly evil or bad. The irony of it is he survived and is still the Mayor of Sel… of Selma, and I bump into him at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and at the National League of Cities and we reminisce about old times. But we used to talk then, ah, and he was not the kind of madman that Jim Clark was. He was just a man who was caught in a trap and didn't have the personal strength or courage to, or even the… the wisdom to make any changes. He was sort of swept away, along with the tide.
WE'RE STILL IN 1965, RESIST THE IMPULSE, I KNOW IT'S GREAT, BUT TELL ME ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING THEN. WILSON BAKER?
Wilson Baker was one of the most intelligent and sensitive law enforcement officers I've ever met. Ah, and ah, he understood the Civil Rights Movement, was evidently well-read in it, ah, he had no hesitation to discuss things with you in a very honest and relaxed way. He was very secure, ah, in his own dealings with ah, both ah, the problems of racial justice and the problems of law enforcement. I thought he was a very fine police officer.
WE'VE JUST PROMPTED YOUR MEMORY ABOUT JIMMY WEBB. JIMMY WEBB?
Jimmy Webb was one of the young kids ah, that just sort of tagged along with the movement. And he was very bright, very articulate, ah, that would immediately emerge out of a crowd, ah, to give leadership, in any kind of crisis it would seem as though we wouldn't have to name the leaders. They would just come up. They would pop up. And they would say what had to be said. And Jimmy Webb was one of those that was like that. Ah—
I THINK WE BETTER…
CONTINUATION OF INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW YOUND ON CAMERA ROLL 505, SLATE NUMBER IS 05. TONE. [unintelligible background conversation] TAKE 5 IS UP. TONE. CALLIE IT'S ALL YOURS.
ONE MORE PERSONAL REMEMBRANCE, DO YOU REMEMBER CHEYENNE WEBB?
THE EIGHT YEAR-OLD GIRL?
NOW I'M GOING TO GIVE YOU A HIT LIST OF EVENTS, AND I WANT SOME OF THIS SIMILAR KIND OF RESPONSE IF YOU CAN. THE NIGHT JIMMY LEE JACKSON WAS KILLED? CAN YOU DESCRIBE IT? WE'RE YOU THERE?
We'd been in, on the night Jimmy Lee Jackson was killed, ah, we had been to ah, Marion and had come back to Selma, and so we didn't really know for sure that he was dead for a few days. We knew that after the demonstration and after we left, ah, that the State Troopers had gone around intimidating people, and roughing them up, ah, and we had heard that ah, there was a particular rough ah, handling of one young Vietnam Veteran. But we didn't know who he was and we didn't know what happened until a few days later.
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF HIS DEATH WHEN HE FINALLY DID DIE? [unintelligible background conversation]. DID IT GALVANIZE THE COMMUNITY? DID IT MAKE PEOPLE ANGRY, THAT THEY—OR DID IT HAVE—YOU CAN'T RECALL?
The death of Jimmy Lee Jackson is almost like every other death in the movement. It was something we became sort of anesthetized against. I mean you expected death, you knew it was going to come, but you couldn't let it slow you down, you couldn't… you couldn't get enthusiastic or pepped up about it. It required a kind of a steeling of one's will to go on, ah, but you didn't let yourself feel about it. I, uh, and that was true of all of the deaths, I think right on through to Martin's death, and the deaths in the movement is one of the hardest things for me to deal with yet.
[unintelligible background conversation]. MALCOLM X'S VISIT TO SELMA.
Malcolm X's visit to Selma was one that we were rather nervous about, because we didn't know how the press was going to play it. I had known Malcolm, and Malcolm always visited SCLC's offices when he came to Atlanta, and so there was nothing that we really feared about Malcolm X's visit. It was just that, for the press to play off violence against nonviolence, at a time when we were struggling to make sure that people remained committed to a kind of disciplined nonviolence, made us a little nervous. But I think, it provided a good news item, that kept a certain amount of interest in the movement, and made a very positive contribution. You saw, though, the difference between the North and the South in Malcolm. I mean Malcolm was electrifying to northern audiences. But it was almost as though the people in Selma, ah, didn't relate very much to what he was saying at all. And there was, I think one of the things that we were aware of… I mean we were sensitive about, ah, was that ah, in fact we… to protect ourselves against that, we sort of put him up in between, I think, ah, I don't remember who introduced him. But we arranged for James Bevel and ah, Reverend Shuttlesworth to speak after Malcolm, just in case he said anything that was ah, a problem, ah, that they would have a chance before people went out in the streets to… to correct it. But Malcolm was not a southern style preacher. And he didn't know the language of the rural south. And ah many of the people there, see, didn't really even know who he was. He could have been a Congressman, he could have been a—I mean Selma was a pretty remote and isolated place in 1965.
Bloody Sunday was… one of the incidents that made the Civil Rights Movement. It was also one of the things that not only did we not plan the way it happened, ah, we were trying to call it off right up to the last minute. Dr. King had decided that we would move the movement from Selma to Montgomery and that we would march to Selma, from Selma to Montgomery, but, ah, we really didn't set a particular date. And Albert Turner, who was our field secretary in Marion, Alabama, figured the best day to do it was a Sunday. It turned out that that was the Men's Day in Dr. King's church, and he had to be in ah, Atlanta, because he pastored his church and he went back to preach just about every Sunday, wherever he was, ah, and so we were all back in Atlanta when people began showing up in Selma to march from Selma to Montgomery. So they called me about 9:00 o'clock in the morning, and um, I jumped on a plane and went to Selma. And when I got to Selma, I saw, driving in from Montgomery, I saw all of the State Troopers on horseback, ah, and I saw them with their teargas masks, ah, but they were all standing around. There must have been a couple of hundred of them, and they were all standing around, you know, in a very relaxed sort of manner, not looking menacing at all. And ah, so when I went across the bridge going to the church, ah, they didn't bother me and I didn't stop and bother them. But we called Dr. King, and we—he had asked us to call off the march. And we persuaded him that since there were about three hundred people there, maybe they could go ahead and march, that they weren't going to get far anyway. That we had seen the State Troopers and they were going to probably stop them and turn them around, or maybe they would—people would get arrested. So he said, "Well, OK, go ahead and march," he said, "but don't you all go to jail." And we thought that what was going to happen was that we would march over there and everybody would be arrested. So, John Lewis and Hosea Williams and I, and James Bevel decided that only two should go. Well, John said, "Well, I represent SNCC, so I'll go, and one of you all decide which one will go." So we played odd man, and we flipped a coin and the odd man got to march, and the odd man was Hosea Williams. And… but nobody anticipated the kind of savagery and brutality that occured. When the…when we heard the shots, the shots of the teargas canisters, I mean, you almost can't tell from a distance, they sound like gunshots, and it sounded like somebody had opened fire on people, and then we saw people coming back screaming. We were about two blocks away from the bridge, and we went back to try to help people back, but the police were riding along on horseback beating people, and the teargas was so thick you couldn't get ah, to where people were… were in need of help, and people, I mean really three hundred people being teargassed unexpectedly panicked. Teargas not only burns your eyes, it upsets your stomach, ah, and it was a kind of a combination of teargas and… and the same sort of nausea gases that they were using in Vietnam, and people were just wrenching and… and… ah, and totally panicked. And so we… we really had to turn the church into a hospital, ah, just to get people back to their senses. And it was a… it was a horrible two or three hours. Fortunately, I don't think there were any bones broken and not too many… not too many perm—permanent injuries, but there was a tremendous amount of shock. Ah, and ah it… it panicked the demonstrators, but it also panicked the nation. That happened to occur right in the afternoon, right after the movie "Judgment at Nuremburg" on the Nuremburg trials, and people saw what happened in Nazi Germany side by side with what was happening in America in Selma, and they made the connection, ah, and it was shortly after that that Lyndon Johnson made his famous "We shall overcome" speech.
MOVING ON TO CAMERA ROLL 505 ON SOUND ROLL 1502. TONE. NEXT TAKE WILL BE 08.
THIS IS SOUND ROLL 1503, BLACKSIDE, EYES ON THE PRIZE, CAMERA ROLL 505, CONTINUATION WITH ANDREW YOUNG. NEXT SLATE NUMBER WILL BE 008.
[unintelligible background conversation] TONE. …TELL ME ABOUT THE MARCH AND THE AFTERMATH.
Well, the… the march from Selma to Montgomery, like every other march was basically made up of women and children. And um, for a group of unsuspecting women and children to be suddenly fired upon with teargas and then a group of big burly Alabama State Troopers start beating them with billy clubs, ah, just produced a sheer mass panic. And then on top of that, they ah brought horses in, once the teargas began to lift, and they followed people and beat them, ah, blocks and blocks way. And it was just a… it was just a savage kind of situation.
THE NON-VIOLENCE BEING ON TRIAL THAT DAY, ACCORDING TO FREDERICK REESE, AND HOW DO YOU GET PEOPLE TO THE POINT OF NOT WANTING TO RETALIATE IN THE FACE OF THAT KIND OF VIOLENCE?
Well, basically we… we trained people to think rather than react, ah, and the women and children, see there really weren't many big, burly able-bodied men. They were mostly young boys, and… and ah, there was, there was… well, the odds were so out… out of matched? You know, I think if there had been any black man with a machine gun, then he might have done something, but blacks had no available arms, and here were people who were well-armed, and we always trained people that the one thing that the police could not deal with was non-violence. That they could deal with violence and that all you had to do was for one person to fire a shot, and that gave them an excuse to mow down hundreds of people. And we were very pragmatic and practical about it, and we explain violence in the kind of situation in which we lived, as suicidal. And that it required, I think the term that Bevel used to use, was a kind of revolutionary patience, ah, that you know, that you just didn't respond. Occasionally people would, you know, jump up and want to talk bad, and there were people who came back to the church and started talking about going to get their guns. You had to talk them down, ah and you had to talk them down by simply asking questions, "What kind of gun you got, .32, .38? You know, how's that going to hold up against the automatic rifles and the 12-gauge… you know 10-gauge shotguns that they've got? And how many have you got? There are at least 200 shotguns out there with buckshot in them. You ever see buckshot? You ever see what buckshot does to a deer?" You know, and most of them had. And you make people think about the specifics of violence, and then they realize how suicidal and nonsensical it is.** See. Ah, and um, you also kind of help them to understand what was really happening to them. See, Dr. King said you had to bring the violence in the system to the surface. Most folk there, in that march, had been abused and brutalized at some time or another by the police, ah, verbally if not physically, and the thing was you had to help them to see that we did this deliberately. See it's one thing to be brutalized by yourself on a dark night when nothing can be done about it, but when you're brutalized together on national television, something in the society is going to change. And you had to help them to think through ah, the fact that as Dr. King—"honor and suffering is redemptive," and you had to help them to see this honor and suffering as producing a larger good. And gradually people began to calm down, and the truth of it is, nobody really wanted to go fight anyway. I mean there were, in other situations, when people would really get bad, and we couldn't turn them… we couldn't physically restrain them, we'd say, "All right, go ahead. Help yourself. Go ahead and… and ah, you know, who are you going to kill first, you know? And what's going to happen when you kill that one?" See? "Where are you going to go after you've killed two or three white folk?" See. "You got an escape plan?" Say, "Where are you going to hide? Where are you going to get money to live? Are you ready to take on an underground terrorism movement?" And you know, once they realized they hadn't thought about even violence ah, and that what they were really doing was a kind of macho foolishness, ah, they'd calm down. But you… you see, we were convinced that violence was weakness, that violence wasn't strength, and that violence was the surest way to get a whole lot of people killed. Violence would not work as a method of social change in America. Violence by almost anybody was counter productive. Indeed, the violence of the Missi—of the Alabama State Troopers produced the very gains that we wanted.
WHAT ABOUT THE DECISION OF TURN-AROUND TUESDAY? CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT WAS BEHIND THE DECISION NOT TO GO THE WHOLE WAY?
Well, um, after the beating on the bridge, we immediately sent out a call for our friends. We… we didn't think we could provide, we could count on police protection. People said we should send in the National Guard. We didn't think that they would send in the National Guard to protect black people. And so we sent out a call by, to people of good will,** and we sent it through the Commission on Religion and Race. We sent it through the Conference of Catholic Bishops. We sent it through the Rabbinical Association, and the Synagogue Councils of America. And we literally ended up with hundreds of people coming down, ah, you know, I think it was the following Tuesday, or soon, shortly afterwards. Well in the meantime, we had gone into the court, to ask Judge Johnson for a restraining order, to restrain the police from stopping us and giving us permission to march. And Judge Johnson was a fair judge, but he enjoined us against attempting to march, until he had a time to hear the case and settle it. So really for us to march, ah, would have been in violation of a federal court injunction from a judge that had always been fair with us.
I'M SORRY, I MISSED THAT. I NEED YOU TO HAVE THAT ONE LAST SENTENCE OVER AGAIN. "FOR US TO MARCH WOULD HAVE BEEN IN VIOLATION OF THE INJUNCTION."
For… for us to march we would have been in violation of a federal court order from a judge that had always been fair with us. And so we were in the delicate position of having people who had come down wanting to march, ah, but for them to march would have meant that we would have turned the movement around. And so we basically worked out a compromise. Since the police—the troopers—weren't going to let us march anyway, ah, we worked out a compromise that we would go up to the march and have our prayers, and to the place where people were beaten, ah, and then turn around and come back. Ah, there were some people who wanted to insist on another confrontation, and I think probably if it had not been the fact that this was a federal judge—Martin made a deliberate distinction between federal judges and state court judges—he said that from 1954, the only ally we've had has been the federal courts. And we have to respect the federal courts, even when we disagree with them, ah, and so he just refused to violate any federal court order. Some of the students wanted to violate a federal court order—
I'M SORRY. WE'VE JUST RUN OUT. IT'S ALL YOURS, CALLIE.
OK, NOT VERY MANY PEOPLE KNEW A COMPROMISE HAD BEEN MADE, AND THAT ANGERED SOME PEOPLE WHEN YOU ACTUALLY DID TURN AROUND.
Well, I don't think any compromise had been made with the judge. I think it was just our thinking through it ourselves and deciding that this is what we wanted to do, ah, that this was the only thing that we could legitimately do. And you… I mean the truth of it was that there was nothing much else to do. I mean here were policemen standing up there. We'd been ordered by a judge not to go any further. If we had run into that police line, they would have beaten us up with court approval.** You know? And so we… we… we knew we didn't want that to happen. And I think that… that again our problem was the people who came down there wanting to experience some kind of confrontation felt shortchanged. They didn't feel the danger and the excitement that they were looking for, ah, but that was one of the… the illusions that led to the death of the Reverend James Reeb. They didn't realize how hostile that situation really was, because it seemed like such a peaceful town. So that when Reverend Reeb, in fact there were three Unitarian clergy that left the restaurant, and if they had turned left instead of right, they would have been all right. They turned to the right and they went by a… a bar of… and people just came out and beat them up, ah, and that could have happened anytime, anywhere in Selma, not knowing your way around. But it… it ah, and I think once that happened, they realized that they—people realized—that they were in danger, and ah, they were sort of grateful that we didn't force a confrontation.
I NEED TO GO BACK TO AROUND TUESDAY. WHEN THE MARCHERS OPENED THEIR LINES, WHAT DID YOU THINK? THERE WAS ONE POINT WHEN—I'M SORRY, NOT THE MARCHERS—THE TROOPERS OPENED THEIR LINES, AND AS IF, TO POINT… TO OPEN THE WAY TO MONTGOMERY, THAT WAS, OF COURSE, YOU COULDN'T HAVE KNOWN THAT.
No, in fact I don't recall them opening their lines. I mean we had made a decision in advance that we were going to the place where people had been beaten, and we were going to stop, and we were going to turn around. So whatever they did, ah, that's what we were going to do. We never let our tactics be dictated by the opposition. We'd decide in advance what we were going to do. We told anybody and everybody what we were going to do. I think part of the problem there was we had a lot of people that had flown in ah, who had no… who didn't have very much briefing. They didn't really know what the movement was all about in detail, and they didn't have any sense of us having a long-range strategy. They had seen an incident. They responded to an immediate crisis and they wanted to be a part of the excitement of that crisis, and they felt disappointed.
WASN'T SNCC AS WELL… SOME OF THE MEMBERS OF SNCC WEREN'T THEY UPSET AS WELL ABOUT THE DECISION TO TURN?
Some of the members of SNCC wanted to force a continued confrontation. Ah, but that was… that was our basic disagreement all along, that change didn't come through confrontation and violence. Change came through sustained discipline action on the part of the black community
NOW GOING BACK TO REVEREND REEB'S DEATH, THIS REALLY LEADS US TO ANOTHER PART OF THE SELMA STORY, WHICH WAS WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN WASHINGTON. WHEN BLOODY SUNDAY OCCURED, WE READ THAT THERE WERE JUST ALL KINDS OF RESPONSES MADE FROM CONGRESSMEN WHO WERE SHOCKED BY THAT. I WONDER IF YOU COULD DESCRIBE THOSE RESPONSES, AND IN ADDITION WHAT KIND OF RESPONSE YOU GOT FROM REVEREND REEB'S SHOOTING, AT WASHINGTON?
Well, actually we had, Dr. King had been in jail before. There were fifteen congressmen who came down, ah to march. Well, they didn't march with us. They came down to visit Dr. King in prison, and so you had a small group in Congress that was familiar with the Selma situation, and so that made for a big response. The problem was, we were all in Selma, and we didn't read The Washington Post and The Washington Post, and the Selma papers didn't carry anything, ah, and so we really didn't know what the national mood was.
DID YOU HAVE A SENSE OF JOHNSON'S RESPONSE TO THAT? REVEREND KING WENT TO MEET WITH JOHNSON TO PUSH HIM TOWARDS VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION. THERE IS SOME SUGGESTION THAT HE WANTED IT, HE JUST DIDN'T FEEL THE TIME WAS RIGHT, AND THERE IS ANOTHER SENSE THAT HE WAS BEING DRAGGED TOWARD IT. WHAT IS YOUR SENSE OF IT?
Well, I think that when we first met with Lyndon Johnson, ah, Lyndon Johnson was under the influence of J. Edgar Hoover, because Martin had just come back from receiving the Nobel Prize, and we were invited to Washington, and instead of being taken to the White House we were taken to the Justice Department where we met with Nicholas Katzenbach. And then Vice President Hubert Humphrey came over, and it was only in the middle of that meeting, ah, that suddenly they jumped up and said, "Look, the President wants to see you at the White House." And we got the impression that, that Lyndon Johnson, you know, just didn't want to be that much involved, at that point. When we talked to him, he explained to us all of the reasons why there couldn't be another civil rights bill because he had just gotten through that civil rights bill from '64, ah, in July 2nd, I think it was. This was early December, and he didn't see how he could introduce new civil rights legislation. We made the appeal for voting rights legislation. We made the appeal for equal job opportunity, and some kinds of affirmative action. And he said he agreed, but he just didn't see this coming in Congress in this session.
NOW APPARENTLY REVEREND REEB'S DEATH PUSHED HIM TOWARD REALIZING THAT THIS VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION WAS IMPORTANT AND SHORTLY THEREAFTER HE ASKS FOR THE BILL. WHAT'S YOUR FEELING ABOUT THAT? WAS THERE A GREAT SENSE OF VICTORY IN SELMA WHEN HE GETS TO THAT POINT?
Well, I think President Johnson's introducing the bill in response to ah, Reverend Reeb's death was pretty much the way non-violence works. It works, I mean change comes through suffering, and we had anticipated that some of that suffering would come from us, ah, and ah, it… it was, I think the response that we expected. And it… it, well, it… it, we knew it was going to be a long time before it passed, ah, and introducing legislation didn't really mean a lot to us. I think the fact that Lyndon Johnson quoted "We shall overcome" for the first time, I think, put the President of the United States publicly on the side. President Kennedy had been privately on the side, but this was the first speech that was a public declaration of the support of the White House for the Civil Rights Movement, and we really appreciated that. We didn't think it was going to mean a lot, because we knew the situation in the Congress as well.
AND WHEN MARTIN LUTHER KING HEARD HIM SAY THAT, WE READ THAT HE CRIED. WERE YOU THERE WITH HIM WHEN THIS HAPPENED? WHEN HE HEARD HIM SAY THOSE WORDS, "WE SHALL OVERCOME"
Well, I only know of one time that Martin cried, and that was when he saw poor people in Mississippi. Martin was a very steel willed person who very seldom gave into his emotions.
THE FINAL MARCH… IT'S BEEN APPROVED NOW, YOU'RE ON THE ROAD, DESCRIBE THAT FEELING, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE MOMENTS, WHAT THAT WAS LIKE, AFTER ALL OF THAT?
Well, um, the march from Selma to Montgomery, from my perspective, you know, was a job. We had 300 people to feed everyday, and we had to find a place to pitch tents, ah, and we had to be concerned about security, ah, all along the road. And ah, it was, I mean there was absolutely nothing romantic about it. It was anywhere from, I think the shortest march day was ten miles, and I was running back and forth mostly with Ivanhoe Donaldson of SNCC, trying to keep the march together and solving problems from one end to the other. And so I figure anytime they marched ten miles, I did closer to forty. And so, you know, some days we did ten, twelve miles, some days we did as many as eighteen miles, ah, and so it was really work. Ah, and it ah, and yet it was enjoyable. There was no apparent tension, ah, the fact that we had to cover a certain amount of mileage, the fact that we had to provide food, ah, the fact that we had to find a place to stay and pitch the tents. And also that the fact that there was a group of ministers from this group that had turned around, who stayed, and who basically provided—they were sort of the quartermaster core—they provided the… the services. They took care of the tents. Ah, they arranged to move the blankets from place to place, and ah, but it was a tremendous logistical operation.
AFTER—THE MARCH FINALLY REACHED MONTGOMERY, AND I'D LIKE YOU TO DESCRIBE THAT MOMENT WHEN DR. KING WAS SPEAKING ON THE STEPS.
Well, before we got into Montgomery, I think there were there was a situation in the City of St. Jude, right on the outskirts of Montgomery, ah, where ah, we thought we were being—
[unintelligible background conversation] TONE NUMBER 11.
ONE, TWO, THREE. SOUND ROLL 1504 ON CAMERA ROLL 507, CONTINUATION OF ANDREW YOUNG INTERVIEW. NEXT TAKE IS ELEVEN. TAKE ELEVEN IS UP. CONTINUATION ON THE SAME TRANSCRIPT CASSETTE, SIDE B. ONE K REFERENCE TONE RECORDED MINUS TEN DB…ON YOUR PLAYBACK HEADS, USE NINETY HERTZ LOW ROLL FILTER ON ALL MATERIAL. TONE.
OK, YOU SAID THAT YOU WERE SO BUSY AND IT WAS REALLY, REALLY WORK FOR YOU MAKING YOUR WAY TO MONTGOMERY. IF YOU DIDN'T HE TIME TO SORT OF GET INTO THE MOMENT RIGHT THERE THAT OTHER PEOPLE WERE EXPERIENCING, WHEN DID You STEP BACK AND REALIZE WHAT HAD HAPPENED AND HAD YOUR MOMENT AS IT WERE ABOUT THE FINAL MARCH T0 MONTGOMERY?
ah, the last day when we got tO Montgomery,
START THAT AGAIN.
the t- when we got to Montgomery, ah, John Door came to me and said, "Look, we understand that therets a plot on martin Luther King's life," ah, and said, "we can't search every house in Montgomery. We'd like for you to drive him from the city limits down to the capitol. Not let him walk through this entire town." Well, we normally didn't discuss things like that with Martin. And we just told him we thought that he needed to ride and didn't tell him the reasons. And he said, "No." He wanted to walk. He was going to walk in with everybody else. And so finally then we told him what the situation was, and he said that he didn't care. He still wanted to walk. You know. And ah, so he had a… I mean Martin always wore the good preacher blue suit. And um, I… I figured since we couldn't stop him from marching we just had to kind of believe that it was true when white folks said we all look alike. So everybody that was about Martin's size and had on a blue suit I put in the front of the line with him. Ah, and… and of course I had on my blue suit. Ah, and we all just lined up. But there were some very important people who felt as though they were being pushed back. Ah, but all of the preacher's loved the chance to get up… to get up front in the front line With Martin Luther King, but I don't think to this day most of them know why they were up there.** But it, I think when we finally got through, I mean that created a kind of a tension where you're looking around and you never know where a bullet's coming from, you know, walking all through town for an hour or so. And when you finally got downtown to the state capitol and past the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, ah, and you could see the capitol and you knew sort of made it, ah, I think then I just… ah, I really then felt you know, filled with jo at… ah, and his ah, his sermon was different, you know, his speech was different from the March on Washington. But I thought just as good, though he didn't get the kind of publicity. I mean it wasn't new anymore. In the March on Washington people were shocked that here was such a great orator. Ah, by Selma they'd come to expect him to say brilliant things, and I think he did.
WHEN YOU GOT TO ALBANY YOU WERE FAIRLY NEW TO SCLC. HOW DID YOU WORK THERE? WHAT WAS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY?
Well, I was in charge of the Citizenship Education Program in Albany, Georgia. And um, when I went down there it was because ah, Martin had been almost trapped into a movement. Ah, Dr Anderson was his claSSmate from Morehouse who was the leader of the movement, and who was down there with the… the student movement. Ah, and ah, they had asked Martin to come down just to make a speech, and he went only to make a speech.** Ah, but people came from all over the region, and there were two big churches right across the street from each other that were filled and people were all out in the streets in between. Ah, and ah, Dr. Anderson got carried away. And in public asked Martin to demonstrate, to lead the march with him. Ah, and ah, and he agreed. And then he got put in jail. Ah, and with no plan, no thought of what we were going to do.** So it was sort of an emergency to that I went down with Wyatt Walker, ah, just to sort of help anyway that I could. And when we realized that this was going to be something that we were going to have to deal with for a long time, ah, what I did was take the program that I was working with, the Citizenship Education Program, and we began to identify some of the local leadership. And we took them off to Dorchester Center, which was over near Savannah, for a week, ah, to try to train them to come back and put together a real movement n a sense, my role was to help take a step back from the crisis, and help people to realize that non-violence wasn't magic. Ah, that it was a slow, long disciplined process that people had to be trained for, they had to understand, and ah, and so we committed to work with the community. Ah, but nothing really very woody suddenly got very cold, ah, if of Sumpter County, which was the County just north of Albany, ah, not only did he not turn the heat on, he opened the windows on this cold night and put on the fan to pull the cold air in. And it had been hot in the daytime and got suddenly cold at night. And people were really, I mean, I mean people were in lightweight clothing with no blankets, and and no sweaters, and… and we had a sudden freeze on our hands. And so that, the day after that… and… and… I think Martin felt that he needed to get out of jail and get all of those people out of jail with him, and ah come, you know, come back to Albany, ah, and do it right at a later time.
Cornell was a wonderful singer, a lot of fun, very serious, dedicated Freedom Fighter who started very young and is still at it.
Charles Sherrod also from Albany, um I think decided that he was going to stay there until changes came through out the society, uh, and has now purchased six thousand acres of land and is trying desperately to maintain control of that land and help people to survive in the rural South.
DR. WILLIAM ANDERSON
William Anderson was a dedicated physician uh, who risked his life and his practice to get the Albany movement started.
James Gray was a Northerner that came South and tried to out-Southern the southerners. Uh, and became a very conservative, uh, figure on the side of racism.
Laurie Pritchett called me into his office one time and uh, asked me to help him to become a US Marshal uh, because he felt as though he was in a moral contradiction uh, his, he was Roman Catholic convert who felt like what he was doing was wrong and he couldn't say it publically and uh, I helped him to get out of Albany and helped recommend him as Police Chief of High Point North Carolina.
WAS HE REALLY NON-VIOLENT IN ALBANY AT THIS TIME
Yeah he was. He was a very good man I think, who realized that he had to uh, well, he had to keep control of the situation. And I don't think, I know he didn't enjoy doing what he did at all, putting all, of us in jail.
WHAT WAS KING'S MOVEMENT.. (END)
a demonstration. Jimmy Lee Jackson was killed… in a… you know in a restaurant after demonstrations were over, ah, by… by the state troopers. The ah, Stokely went to get Reverend Jonathan Daniels… ah, no I think Jonathan Daniels went to get Stokely out of jail, ah, and they were both shot… ah…
WE'VE JUST RUN OUT. WE DIDN'T GET TRAT LAST SENTENCE.
Coretta's book in terms of an overview.
WHAT WERE THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE MOVEMENT?
The weakness was that it was totally un
START THAT AGAIN?
he weakness of the Albany Movement was that it was tally unplanned and we were totally unprepared, and ah, it was a miscalculation on the part of a number of people, ah, that a spontaneous appearance by Martin Luther King could bring change. Ah, that it wasn't just a spontaneous appearance by Martin Luther King, ah, it was the planning, the organizing, the strategy that he brought with him that brought change. And the weakness was not understanding that. The strength was more powerful and beautiful people. Ah, Albany was one of those areas where blacks seemed to be still intact culturally. Ah, W.E.B. DuBois talks about Albany in Soul of Black Folk. Ah, Ray Charles comes from down in Albany. Ah the singing, the folklore, ah, had a kind of indigeneous power to it that meant that you couldn't walk away from Albany
NOW SNCC HAD BEEN IN ALBANY BEFORE SCLC GOT THERE. AND YOU ARRIVED, ONCE AGAIN THERE'S A LITTLE POSITIONING. WHAT ROLES DID YOU PLAY?
Well, actually SNCC and SCLC had gone in together. Ah, a Freedom Ride going down to Albany and there users of SNCC and members of SCLC on that first Ride. Ah, SNCC took on the organization of the movement, and we tried to stay out of we tried to respect turf, but you really couldn't. And ah, because once something started everybody got involved. I think the tension there was between Wyatt Walker and Charlie Jones. Ah, and ah, Wyatt was a good, strong Baptist preacher that felt like-. in fact, Harry Belafonte was involved in that because Harry had given Wyatt some money, ah, to come, you know, for us to use together. And Wyatt insisted, as we all did in SCLC that ah, any monies that anybody received, ah, you brought receipts, you accounted for how it was spent, and ah, at that point the student .movement didn't have those kinds of financial controls. Ah, and people operated basically, ah, individually. They didn't get any money from anywhere, and ah, they used their own resources. So there was, ah, Wyatt refused to turn over the money unless they agreed, unless Charlie Jones agreed to account for it. He was head of the ah, project. And it wasn't any problem accounting for the money. it was just that here was a preacher telling a student what to do, ah, and he was insisting that he was as much a leader, ah… and they were both, again that was a case of the five to ten years difference. Ah, I was in the middle. And ah, when I first went to Albany, I guess I was really in the middle, because I ended up sleeping on a couch, ah, with Cordel Regan and ah Charles Sherrod. Ah, and ah, the couch pulled apart and I ended up falling down in the middle. Ah, but it was ah, well, ah, I was always being the mediator, interpreting one one group to the other.
WYATT T. WALKER, DEMEANOR, WE READ, ADDED TO THAT TENSION. NOT SO MUCH THE SPECIFICS OF YOU KNOW, PREACHER TALKING TO STUDENT, BUT HIS DEMEANOR, IS THAT TRUE? ABOUT A MINUTE LEFT ON THE ROLL.
Well, Wyatt… Wyatt, I think was, always believed even in SCLC with us, I mean Wyatt was a hard-nosed administrator. He felt that the movement was most vulnerable. And this is true, that most black movements have been vulnerable to the charge of financial misappropriation. And that the way the FBI and everybody else sought to undercut the movement—
[unintelligible background conversation]
TONE [unintelligible background conversation] TONE 13.
Well, when Martin left Albany he was ah, very depressed. Ah, but we went away—
[unintelligible background conversation]
Martin left Albany he was very depressed. but ah, he knew what had happened. Ah, and he really felt that a… again it was a federal judge ah, that called Oi off that movement. Ah, he had a very, you know, emotional exchange with Burke Marshall over that, because he felt that though the Kennedy Administration had helped to in Alban. But when we went to Birmingham, ah, by th e he ah, knew that non-violence was on trial. That it had not failed because we had been pulled into an unplanned movement, and that now we had to plan a movement, we had to take on segregation, ah, and he was very optimistic. And though, very serious… I mean he knew the dangers and knew the difficulties, but ah, he knew he had to go ahead. I say that Birmingham was the first time that Martin Luther King deliberately and consciously assumed leadership. Every other time he was pushed into it by forces that were beyond his control. But he decided to go to Birmingham and he decided to go to jail. He wrote the letter from the Birmingham jail in jail. Ah, and it was a deliberate act of will on his part, ah that gave him the leadership of the movement.
YOU WERE KEY IN THE NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE CITY, TRYING TO COME TO AN AGREEMENT ABOUT BIRMINGHAM. WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THOSE MEETINGS?
Well, I had worked with the National Council of Churches before going to ah, SCLC, and I had met a young woman who was the Director of Religious Education for the Alabama Diocese of the Episcopal Church. Ah, we always understood that non-violence required negotiations as HA. well as demonstrations, ah, and reconciliation. Ah, and um, so we always tried to have somebody to talk to. Nobody would talk to us in Birmingham. So I told Martin that I knew this young woman and that perhaps she would arrange for him to meet with the Bishop of the Episcopal Church. So it was through Peggy Horn that ah, meetings were set up with the… with Bishop ah Murray of the Episcopal Church who then brought in the business cotmnunity. And once a week we basically went down to meet with them. Martin went at first, after that Iwent on a regular basis. But we wanted to tell them what the movement was about, we wanted to answer their questions, we told them exactly what we were going to do, and why we were going to do it, and we pretty much told them what was going to happen.
DAVID ANN IN THOSE MEETINGS, DO YOU REMEMBER HIM? OK, DAVID VANN IN THOSE SESSIONS?
David Vann didn't become a part of the sessions until the final negotiations. And he then represented the business cormnunity and the detailed negotiations. And ah, he was a very reasonable and calm man, who tried then to find a solution. But by that time, Reverend Shuttlesworth was so worked up, ah, that I can remember Fred cussing and David-Vann crying, ah, and it just seemed like when David Vann wanted to settle, Fred wasn't ready to settle.** Ah, and we finally worked that out. But was a… it was a difficult kind of negotiation, all night long.
HENRY'S QUESTION. WHEN DID YOU FIRST FEEL LIKE YOU WERE A PART OF THE MOVEMENT. THAT YOU HAD TO BE A PART OF IT. THAT THERE WAS MORE THAN YOURSELF I WOLVED?
I felt like I was a part of the movement ah, almost from the time I got to SCLC. I had been living here in New York, and when we felt… when we went back we really felt as though it was the movement calling us back. And I didn't know what that meant, or how it would work out. But I knew that's where I was supposed to be, and that's where my family wanted to be.
AS A YOUNG MAN WERE YOU AWARE OF THE EMITT TILL CASE IN 1955? DID THAT HAVE ANY IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE AND YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN THE MOVEMENT?
Um, well I had grown up in Louisiana, and I'd travelled a lot around Mississippi and I always knew that my life as a black man wasn't worth very much. Ah, fortunately I had developed enough coping skills ah, to avoid confrontations and to talk my way out of most difficulties. Ah, but ah, nobody ever felt safe and secure.
[unintelligible background conversation]
THERE CAME A POINT WHEN DR. KING SAID, WE… HAD AGREED THERE WOULD BE NO MORE DEMONSTRATIONS. AND THEN HAD BEEN IN THE HOSPITAL, CAME OVER AND SAID, NO, WE'RE NOT GOING TO DO IT THAT WAY. CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT HAPPENED IN THAT MEETING?
I think that Fred was the leader of the local but he'd been in the hospital and we had reached pretty much the conclusions—in fact, Dr. King had talked to Robert Kennedy, ah, and Fred, I think, frankly was saying that nobody could settle the movement but him. And we had a little confrontation where I had to physically restrain him. And ah, fortunately at the very mOment that I gr-ahbed him and threw him up against the wall, ah, Robert Kennedy called him, and ah, Bobby Kennedy convinced him that the President was sincere about passing civil rights legislation. And then he told me i could go out and dismiss the kids. But see, we had 5,000 kids in jail that we were getting out of jail. And he had another 500 down there that he was putting in jail, we had no money. Ah, it was a potential disaster, and ah, it was just one of the little, ah, human moments when ah, well, it worked out.
[unintelligible background conversation]
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT?
I think the… the most memorable moment for me in the movement was when everything broke down in Birmingham. Ah, Martin had been in jail—no, everything had broken down.
WHY DON'T YOU START AGAIN FROM THE BEGINNING.
In Birmingham, there came a time when we had done everything that we had planned to do, and when we had spent all the money we had spent, we had raised… when we still had about 5 or 600 people in jail and no ffkoney to bail them out, ah, the ah, press and the ministers, white ministers, and many black ministers were trying to organize an effort to get Martin out of town. And ah, some of the black business leadership came in to say to him, ah, that ah, we needed to call off these demonstrations, they had failed, and they would help us raise the money to get the people out of jail, but just go away and let Birmingham alone. And he sat there—
TONE OK, WE'RE BACK. MEMORABLE MOMENT.
Mrun-hmm. When Martin finally decided that ah, he would have to be involved, ah… Iet me start over.
[unintelligible background conversation]
When… when… when the high point of the movement for me At was the moment where Martin took the leadership of the movement and essentially threw himself into the forefront. Ah, we had written out a plan which he had been a part of, but it wasn't his plan. Ah, he had gone along, done everything we'd suggested doing. We'd raise money. We had about 5 or 600 people in jail, but all of the money was gone and we couldn't get people out of jail. Ah, and the business community, black… the black business community and some of the white clergy were pressuring us to call off the demonstrations and just get out of town. Um, and um, we didn't know what to do. And he sat there in Room 30 in the Gaston Motel, ah, and he didn't say anything. He listened to people talk for about two hours. And then finetlly he got up and he went in the bedroom and he came back with his blue jeans on and his jacket, and he said, "Look," he said, "I don't know what to do." He said, "I just know that something has got to change in Birmingham. I don't know whether I can raise money to get people out of jail. I do know that I can go into jail with them." Ah, and not knowing how it was going to work out he walked out of the room and went down to the church and led a demonstration and went to jail.** Well, that was, I think the beginning of his true leadership,** because that Sunday the ministers published in the newspapers, a diatribe against Martin, calling him a troublemaker and a communist, and saying that he was there stirring up trouble to get publicity. And he sat down and took that newspaper, ah, and he had no paper and he was in solitary conf ineipent, and he started writing an answer to that one page ad around the margins of THE New York Times.** And ah, by the time it came out three days later it was what we now know as "The Letter to the Birmingham Jail." But he put in concise form exactly what the problems, the moral dilemma of segregation and racism. That I think led to a new resurgence of the movement nationally, ah, and ah, in another week we had thousands of people going to jail. Ah, and it was those events, I think, brought on the change in America non-violent action.
OUR SERIES IS DEALING WITH THE YEARS BETWEEN '54 AND '65. WHEN YOU ASSESS THAT TIME SPAN, WHAT DO YOU THINK IN TERMS OF WHAT CIVIL… THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT BROUGHT TO THIS COUNTRY?
The changes in America between '54 and '65 were mainly in the black community itself, and I think even more so in black leadership. We did not know what we were doing in 1954. Ah, didn't have the slightest idea. Martin went to Montgomery ah, to try to find a quiet place to finish his Ph.D. dissertation. Ah, and ah by 1965 he knew not only what American racism was all about, but he'd won a Nobel Prize, ah, he was concerned about the War in Vietnam, and he understood the international implications of non-violence. Ah, there was a new consciousness, black people became a part of the leadership of America. And it's my contention that black people never had to lead… black leaders don't lead black people. Black leaders have to help lead the white coffnunity. You have to interpret the feelings and the focus, uh and the reality of blacks in a particular predicament, and whites in a particular predicament to the majority of people who are not involved in… in any way. And I think Martin could articulate the dilemma, the moral dilemma of racism and segregation, or violence ah, and war, ah, and poverty in a nation that really wanted peace and had the potential for plenty.
(BACKGROUND CONVERSATION] TONE THE QUESTION IS—TALK TO KELLY IF YOU WOULD—PART OF A MOMENT AND NOT JUST AN INDIVIDUAL?
Yeah, I think that's… I said from the very beginning that we… we left New York because we felt that we were being called down there by a movement. And ah, I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't know what my role would be. I really wanted to write. Ah, and I thought that by writing and recalling this history, I understood that this was something that was going to change America. I really thought it would fail. I mean my background is theology, and theological movements have a way of failing K. and then people understanding what they're all about ten, fifteen years later. This one was fortunate enough to have succeeded in our lifetime, far beyond our imagination.
[unintelligible background conversation]
That became inown as "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail."
[unintelligible background conversation]
END OF TAPE.