Stokely Carmichael, Charlie Cobb, and Courtland Cox discuss the SNCC ; part 1
BROADCAST: Jul. 23, 1965 | DURATION: 00:39:24
Stokely Carmichael, Charlie Cobb, and Courtland Cox discuss civil rights and African Americans in politics. Discussing the philosophy of SNCC.
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Studs Terkel You were saying, what were you were saying a while ago about--oh, Charlie Cobb, about Julian Bond's election? You went door to door, was it? Where was this, in Georgia? What town?
Charlie Cobb Atlanta.
Studs Terkel It was in Atlanta, itself? Is Atlanta--has Atlanta--Atlanta, itself, has undergone quite a change, hasn't it?
Charlie Cobb It's become much more sophisticated than it was 30 years ago. I don't know for sure about the changes in terms of, say, between the--that race riot they had in 1919 and now but they reapportioned--see, we had two Negro--it's a very interesting political scene, I think, because you had two Negro state senators who won elections. One won in '62 and the other won in '64, and so you had them in the state senate. You have a very strong middle class, I mean, and they're strong financially so they have weight on the economic scene and we're in a position to use those senators, I think, to lobby for a reapportionment that [will? would?] be beneficial, you know, to Negro aspirants to the state legislature. Which is exactly what they did and you wound up with, you know, with eight districts where, you know, the population was 80, 90 percent Negroes [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel This is a very thrilling event that Charlie Cobb, one of our guests, is describing. He's seated around the microphone with Stokely Carmichael and Courtland Cox, three veteran SNCC field workers in the deep, deep South. And describing Stokely Carmichael, who is considered one of the leading wits of SNCC, as well as what Courtland Cox and Charlie Cobb have something to say about that, I know. But this event that Charlie's talking about, Charlie was campaign manager for the poet Julian Bond, one of the first Negro representatives elected in the state of Georgia, wasn't he?
Stokely Carmichael SNCC field secretary.
Stokely Carmichael His claim to fame is that he's a SNCC field secretary.
Studs Terkel A SNCC field secretary.
Studs Terkel You were saying, what were you were saying a while ago about--oh, Charlie Cobb, about Julian Bond's election? You went door to door, was it? Where was this, in Georgia? What town? Atlanta. It was in Atlanta, itself? Is Atlanta--has Atlanta--Atlanta, itself, has undergone quite a change, hasn't it? It's become much more sophisticated than it was 30 years ago. I don't know for sure about the changes in terms of, say, between the--that race riot they had in 1919 and now but they reapportioned--see, we had two Negro--it's a very interesting political scene, I think, because you had two Negro state senators who won elections. One won in '62 and the other won in '64, and so you had them in the state senate. You have a very strong middle class, I mean, and they're strong financially so they have weight on the economic scene and we're in a position to use those senators, I think, to lobby for a reapportionment that [will? would?] be beneficial, you know, to Negro aspirants to the state legislature. Which is exactly what they did and you wound up with, you know, with eight districts where, you know, the population was 80, 90 percent Negroes [unintelligible]. This is a very thrilling event that Charlie Cobb, one of our guests, is describing. He's seated around the microphone with Stokely Carmichael and Courtland Cox, three veteran SNCC field workers in the deep, deep South. And describing Stokely Carmichael, who is considered one of the leading wits of SNCC, as well as what Courtland Cox and Charlie Cobb have something to say about that, I know. But this event that Charlie's talking about, Charlie was campaign manager for the poet Julian Bond, one of the first Negro representatives elected in the state of Georgia, wasn't he? SNCC field secretary. He's what? His claim to fame is that he's a SNCC field secretary. A SNCC field secretary. Thank you, Stokely. But this event--how did this come about? This sounds, you know, to many people here in Chicago, this sounds like a remarkable event. And, yet, we know it didn't happen accidentally. It happened because of people like our three guests. And Julian Bond elected in Georgia to the state legislature. So, we'll keep this a free, wide-open discussion involving SNCC itself, of course, and experiences of our three guests. You were saying, Charlie, continue, with Stokely and Courtland pitching in here, too.
Charlie Cobb Well, see, I guess you can--if you were to describe, you know, for, so people could understand, at least one very clear nature of our work, you could say it's political and that that takes on a lot of different forms and shape. And one of the areas that we, in terms of our work in the South, that we've never really had an opportunity to experiment with is politics and the traditional political frame because there just haven't been any openings in the Deep South. And the first place that this ever happened was in the state of Georgia with reapportionment, which I described to you about the, you know, what the Negroes did because of their rather unique position in Atlanta itself. The question for SNCC, I think, was for Julian, you know, Julian hinted that he was going to run and then, you know, turned off and on, you know, about running. I mean, cause, you know, cause of our own attitudes in the organization about politics and all of that. My own feeling being that, you know, the most violent thing in the country is politics. And he finally decided to run at the last minute which meant that there wasn't really enough time to, say, get him to run as an independent because you had to go through the process of getting signatures, etcetera. And, so, he decided to run as a Democrat because that was just a matter of laying down $500, which we borrowed from the community, and you're automatically a Democrat. And very interesting, because as soon as Julian registered as a Democratic candidate his father, who was on the executive board of the Republican Party, resigned to support Julian and his campaign.
Studs Terkel I suppose that was--this leads, I'm sure, to a matter that I know concerns the three of you and all SNCC field workers--the question of generations. Here was Julian Bond's father who was a--what? A, he was a Republican in a traditional party in the state of Georgia. And this question of generations, you know, you're young and I suppose--did you encounter originally in work, in your work, some trepidation on the part of elderly, older people, a generation ahead of you? Stokely?
Stokely Carmichael Older civil rights groups usually look to SNCC as the young hotheads and the irresponsible people who need guidance in order to do what they're doing correctly. Of course, we are opposed to [all of this?], we're diametrically opposed within the organization, because we feel that within a given situation, that a civil rights organization--a national civil rights organization--shouldn't be allowed to make decisions for a local area, but that the people within that area should make those decisions. That has a lot to do with how you view an organization and how it gets tied up across the country. For example, I could never see working in Mississippi and asking people in Mississippi for money, let's say, for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and then taking that money out of Mississippi and paying a SNCC field secretary in New York to write up something. I think that money should be used in Mississippi and that it's just, it's ludicrous to ask those people to give money to support. They should give it to support their own organizations. For instance, that's, I think, the trouble with the Freedom Democratic Party--the money used there should go for the Freedom Democratic Party and not to SNCC. That's one of the reasons why we, in the very beginning, said we would not have membership dues or anything like that.
Studs Terkel So, why--isn't that one of the key aspects of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee? The fact that there's very little administrative, you know, from afar, expense. That, that the dough goes exactly where the problem is, isn't it?
Courtland Cox It goes where the action is.
Studs Terkel Where the action is.
Courtland Cox [That's for your?] members of the Pepsi generation. [laughter]
Studs Terkel [You would say that?] [crosstalk]
Courtland Cox I think that, I mean, it's traditional to think--I mean, elders--to think that, as, I mean, Stokely was commenting from last night, the elders to counsel and the youth to action and so long as--
Stokely Carmichael That's Plato. That's Plato: old men to council, young men to war.
Courtland Cox Well, I think that that's the attitude that many people not of our generation have towards us. [Now?] as long as we are considered the battle-scarred youngsters, we're in our place. When we get out of that place, in terms of making decisions about what we want to do ourselves and how we want to project things, then we run into trouble.
Stokely Carmichael Yeah, that runs right across the country. Of course, could you imagine what would happen, let's say, if all those soldiers fighting in Vietnam decided to make the policy about Vietnam? It just couldn't happen. Now, the people who make the policies have to be the McNamaras and the Rusks but they don't do the fighting. Our theory is that the people who do the fighting should make the decisions. Now, I would assume, see, that if all the soldiers in Vietnam were really allowed to make decisions, a lot of them would decide to come home to their wives.
Studs Terkel This is an interesting parallel and this, then, I think your, this parallel you draw, you know, as strange though it may be, this is the way SNCC works then, isn't that? The people who are actually working in the field are the decision makers. Doesn't this raise a problem? The question of how, you know, the question of to avoid anarchy, you know, and coordination?
Stokely Carmichael Yeah. That's a bad word. [laughter]
Charlie Cobb There's a lot of problems in that, I mean, the problems between--of course, we do have an administrative structure. I mean, that's fact, that we have a chairman, an executive committee, executive secretary; and they all function in one way or another. Sometimes we wonder, but they do function. And there's this constantly reoccurring problem, and argument, and discussion about how your administrative structure relates, relates to your work. Because, obviously, at least in the minds, I think, of most SNCC people, is it's really inconsistent with what we believe and, say, project in our work. You know, to have the work, you know, controlled administratively. I mean, you couldn't do that. Yet, you know, your administrative structure, I mean, there's need, there's--it does serve some function and it's just not clear at this point when we're--that's a real long, I think, really a complicated, deep problem that I don't know whether we'll ever reso--see, I read this article, and I usually don't read articles and books about SNCC that people write about. I did break down once and read one and--
Studs Terkel This Howard Zinn's book? [Any revelations?]
Charlie Cobb No, I haven't read it. I read this article in "The Nation" and the one thing I can say that really profound ins--
Studs Terkel Jack Newfield's article, was that the one?
Courtland Cox [Either Newfield or Kopkind?] [crosstalk]
Charlie Cobb Kopkind. Andrew Kopkind. Now, the one profound thing I thought he said that showed really a lot of insight was that the freedom movement, you know, has acquired increasing momentum and power, really, in terms of its influence on political--on the American scene, really, and that that will probably grow. And that as it grows, what will be raised, what will happen is that there will be increasing conflict between those who want more freedom and those who want more movement, see. And movement, say, representing organization as opposed to freedom which remains undefined, I think. And he went on to say that nobody knows whether this ever will be resolved, ever can be resolved, but that SNCC, I mean, that SNCC is probably digging deepest at trying to work out some kind of way to resolve [new conflicts?].
Studs Terkel Isn't this a fascinating challenge? We hear so much talk--the individual today says, you know, so much bureaucracy. If those who attack bureaucracy, well, they can back SNCC, which is exactly the opposite of bureaucratic, isn't it? This matter, Stokely, or Courtland, or, you know, that people, the individual feels helpless in view of so many things happening. And this is a phrase you hear so often, you know, I'm helpless. SNCC is saying exactly the opposite, isn't it?
Courtland Cox Well, if you look at it this way, executiv--one thing that I think the people in the country--ordinary, little people are not allowed to do--is to act. I mean, to move and to have motion. And that one of the things that executives are supposed to do--to execute, and to act, and to be in motion. And one of the things that, I mean, I say as an individual--you talk about, I mean, thinking--that I should make decisions about my life and I should be allowed to act. And I think that once you start on that, I mean, according to the analogy that Stokely gave about Vietnam, and what the MFDP was trying to say in Atlantic City, that we as ordinary, little people should be allowed to act and not be told what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it. And that was in--
Studs Terkel Well, this is almost a dream come true and a strange [unintelligible] dream. I know you have a battle, a fantastic battle and we'll hear about your experiences and yourselves, but this, this very thing we dream about is what you are trying to make a reality--that the man on the street, the guy who says, "Look, I have a will and I can do something, and I can accompli"--isn't this pretty much SNCC's credo, then?
Stokely Carmichael Yeah. But we have so much to fight. I mean, you fight the whole philosophy of the country. You fight the Horatio Alger--
Studs Terkel Myth.
Stokely Carmichael Lie. Not myth, lie.
Stokely Carmichael That's what you fight. You see, I think that the country has certain criterias for what most SNCC people call qualified. I've narrowed it down to three. There's either money--if you have money then you become qualified. There is formal education--a college degree and the higher up you go, the more qualified you become. And the final one is who you know. And if you have those three things, in any combination or any one, then you can become qualified to help make decisions in the country. Now, what happens in the country, you see, and why I say what Horatio Alger has is a myth, is that only certain people are allowed to have these three things. I mean, like a college education--it costs $1710 per year, per student, to go to a private institution of higher education. And for a state school it runs about a thousand dollars. Now, an American family of average income--white, white--can't send his kid to college unless he gets a scholarship, and you only give scholarship to gifted people, not average people--
Stokely Carmichael Or athletes. Or athletes. And they gifted, too. And you can't get a federal loan until you're enrolled in school, and they are very few [and sparse?]. So that, if indeed, they were serious about that, what they'd have to do is to open the doors for higher education for everybody, so then they can become part of that qualified thing. But then, you see, they're not qualified. So what the country says is that only the people who have one of these three things can make decisions, can become politicians, and can get projected in the newspapers as people who speak. Now what I found out when I worked in Mississippi was that the people who were unqualified, the people who didn't have any of these three things, believed that. I mean, they didn't believe that they were capable of analyzing their own situations and posing solutions--
Studs Terkel They doubted their own sense of personal worth.
Stokely Carmichael That's right. And they were waiting around for someone like, let's say, a Martin Luther King, who does have one of these three criterias, to tell them what to do to get out of the problems that they were in. And that our main job was to convince them that they were qualified to talk and do the things that were needed to get them out of that. That's why it was important to project a Miss Fannie Lou Hamer rather than a SNCC field secretary who did have a college degree. And--but that runs rampant throughout the country. I daresay even in Chicago, people who live in slum areas don't feel that they can solve and get out of those slum areas themselves unless you have somebody who's [unintelligible]. [crosstalk]
Studs Terkel They accept--I'm sorry, go ahead, Charlie.
Charlie Cobb And what happens then, just to continue what Stokely says, because I agree is that then when you--because he's Stokely Carmichael--what happens when people do start deciding, whether it's the decision to go down to the courthouse cause they--that's the first expression I ever heard of this fear that you weren't qualified, when people say, "Vote? That's white folk's business," you know. Whether it's from going down to the county courthouse, or trying to work out a problem of national scope, say poverty, that when people really try, and decide, and work out and pose solutions then, of course, it threatens people who are qualified. So they have to move to control. Now, that might be a, you know, an assault at the county courthouse which is one way of control, to using, say, some institution just to discredit the people, or something like that which, you know, is increasingly happening say, to SNCC, The FDP, and other organizations around the country who are trying [the same things?].--
Studs Terkel FDP, Freedom Democratic Party, for those listeners who may not--
Charlie Cobb Because SNCC isn't the only one trying to do these kinds of things. And, so, they have to move to control people and which, you know, I think maybe is really a crux of the disfranchisement in this country--Negroes, whites, just everybody. And my own way of articulating that--see, I think that what people say, say about SNCC, or about what we do is that it's disorderly, and that my own view of that is that, you know, just that the country's disorderly. I mean, the country's in absolute disorder, chaos. I mean, in this sense, in that people don't have a right to order their own lives.
Studs Terkel And our values are in disorder.
Charlie Cobb Well, I don't know. I'm not being, even, a specific--I'm just saying the country is in disorder at every level.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Stokely Carmichael Well, you can be specific. I mean, you can relate that very specifically to the war in Vietnam. I mean, here, here is a war that was started essentially by President Johnson and a few other people. I mean, it's becoming a war. And that the Congress of the United States, even the Congress couldn't say anything. But within the arena, in the political atmosphere that we have in this country, the people who are fighting, the people who are being made killers and who are being killed, have nothing to say about that. For example, if my draft board calls me tomorrow, I go to them and I say, "I don't believe in killing anybody, for anything at all." See? Then what they say to me is that, well, either you go or you're a traitor. They've labeled me, and I become a traitor and a coward, or I go and become a killer. But that's all--those are the only two alternatives open to me. So, if I'm a traitor I go to Leavenworth for a couple of years, or if I become a patriot, see, the other choice is that I become a patriot and a hero, I become a killer. Over something that I really have no concept about at all. But I know a few people in the country are very clear on it, very clear on what's going on in Vietnam. I'm not, but I'll be made to fight. The people who have a clear conception of that are not the fighters now.
Studs Terkel Well, of course, this is a fascinating [parallel?]. Go ahead, Charlie.
Charlie Cobb Yeah. That's a perfect example of the kind of disorder I'm talking about. I mean, [you?] just can't, there's no way in this country to really order your life. I mean, if you try and do that, then in terms of the way the country is ordered, you're being disorderly. I mean, at every level, whether it's a street demonstration, or talking to the draft board. It's a real problem because what happens then, I mean, it's so strong, I mean, these things that tie you in a very orderly fashion in this country. [It's that? It's as if?] you just can't move in any direction, I mean, because then, you know, you're afraid or, you know, you're not qualified or--
Courtland Cox You're a communist.
Charlie Cobb You're a commie, you see why there are a thousand and one labels, maybe.
Studs Terkel Specifici--Courtland?
Courtland Cox Well, they can do you like they did the Indians, put you on a reservation. I mean, that's precisely the first thing [about?] control. I mean, the first attempt to control in the country was the Indians. I mean, you put them on the reservation. I mean, they've developed more sophisticated methods, with the exception of World War II when they put the Japanese in those [things?]--
Charlie Cobb Concentration camps.
Courtland Cox Alright, but I think that--
Stokely Carmichael That's what they called them.
Studs Terkel The relocation camps.
Courtland Cox I think that when they, I mean, for, especially for people in the North, that they always say the South is such a bad place, and that's something outside of us and what we are in Chicago, say, or New York, or San Francisco, and that those people are bad. Well, that's--that's not true. Because, I mean, those people are like them [on another?] level. And I think that if you take the two wars, or the two ways of life that we are defending, or that's being defended in the country, you look and you begin to see that whole thing. In the South you're allowed to kill for the Southern way of life and the country dislikes it. I mean, North dislikes it, because that's not their way of life. And they--then they turn around and then kill for their way of life.
Studs Terkel Inside, you mean?
Courtland Cox No, they kill, say they kills people in Santo Domingo, or Vietnam, or the Congo, Venezuela, or that--or different things like that for their way of life.
Stokely Carmichael Or Bay of Pigs in Cuba.
Courtland Cox I mean, or, I mean they have, I mean, so what you have is, then that, I mean, it's very hard for people in the North to see that the people that they condemn in the South are really the same type of people they are, motivated by the same types of things.
Studs Terkel This is int--you raise an interesting question here. This matter of North and South, the Northern white, the Southern white; there's sort of a self-righteous look by the North, South, without facing its own reality. Can I ask you for a prediction? When eventually there will be, you know, integration--where will it come first?
Charlie Cobb Integration? I mean, I don't know. It's very hard for me to think in terms of integration and segregation. North or South. Because I just don't see it as possible, integration in any real sense, unless the country is really prepared to radically change. There's no way because there's not--I mean, it can't integrate the schools, North or South, partly because of what Stokely says, in part because, see, your white schools, I guess, in terms of what the country defines as education, the white schools are best, North and South. Now, and the best students from the white schools go to the best colleges, or the students with the most money go to the best white schools and have enough money to go to college. Now, it seems to me that there's not enough room in the colleges for all the white people and as--cause everybody's been talking about it for the last 10 years, this big college, this big scramble to the college, and they quote figures about how many folks are going, and how many are going in 1970. And then they say, "Oh, there's not enough college space for all the students who want to go." If you add Negroes into those schools it's going to jeopard--I mean, then, you know, jeopardizes the chance--less white people are going to have a chance of going [unintelligible]. And the parents are not going to dig that. I don't care whether that's North or South. I mean, it just cuts across those boundaries. I think that operates just at every level: jobs, politics. Maybe it doesn't matter so much in lunch counter kinds of things so much. I mean, well, one thing is poor people can't--the restaurants that desegregated, the big restaurants, I mean, Sun-n-Sand in Jackson, I mean, not too many sharecroppers wound up in Sun-n-Sand, to spend the night, you know?
Studs Terkel Middle class integration?
Charlie Cobb I mean, just, integration is just not going to happen unless the country--it's just going to have to change.
Studs Terkel Isn't what you're really asking for is a change in the basic values of our society? Isn't this what you're really asking for? Integration is merely one aspect of it. Isn't that, basically?
Stokely Carmichael Well, I think that's where we started. I mean, but, see, I think the Negro is in a particular advantage--vantage point, in terms of the American society. And that the American society can use the Negro in terms of analyzing its own structure and values because the Negro is at the bottom of the ladder economically, politically, and socially, so that he feels all the idiosyncrasies of this society on him most severe.
Stokely Carmichael Most severe, see. And that that's what the country can do. For example, the problems with jobs, and with things becoming so automated and so technical and hardly anybody understanding them. Even the inventors who invent them. The Negro is going to be the first to go. Now, he'll be the first to go now, because he doesn't have any skill. Not just because he's a Negro. Now, of course, he doesn't have any skill because he was a Negro. But then a lot of white people are going to go--I, when I used to go to school, I used to travel the New Jersey Turnpike quite frequently. And they had these white guys--the job was never integrated--people in ["The Call"?] always used to complain it and say we want to do something about integrating those jobs. But they had white people just stand there and hand out these tickets. They had about 40, 40ish. And I'd think to myself that is the most boring job in the world, just standing there and handing out a ticket on a tollbooth. About three years later I passed through the New Jersey Turnpike and those guys weren't even there.
Studs Terkel Machine.
Stokely Carmichael There's just a little machine and you grab a ticket and you keep going. Now, those were all white guys, and I thought to myself, now what can a 40-year old guy in this society who's been handing out tickets do? See, so that across the country, you have white people being displaced, jobs too. But now, the Negro is going to feel it hardest because he's going to be the first to go. Now, if the society was serious, it can analyze that situation. It's the thing that Charlie talks about with college. I mean, the Negro can't go to college because he makes less money than anybody else, but an awful lot of white people can go. I think the [same?] thing that saves white people is that psychological identification. Like if President Johnson appears on television, and I'm looking at television with a white boy, he can identify with Johnson right away. I can't. I just [sense?] this whole color, color thing that stops me from even going on. So maybe he can live the Horatio Alger lie. But I know for a lot of white people, a lot of white people in this country, you just can't live that Horatio Alger lie, because there's no hope of getting to college, getting money, or anything.
Studs Terkel You know, I think these insights, I think what's, I feel, rewarding about this roundtable thus far to me, are the insights of three leading SNCC field workers here--Stokely Carmichael, Courtland Cox, and Charlie Cobb--that this is more than a question. Clearly, more than a question of integration per se. Far more is involved here. It's [finding out?] who we, what we--everybody--Black and white, this is what you're really doing deep down. And I think it would be good [for our audience to know?] how you got that way. Each of you, [instead of an autobiography?], in a sense, how you became part of [SNCC?]--[we'll?] start with Stokely, you know. Stokely Carmichael. How did it happen?
Charlie Cobb Our philosopher [king?]. [laughter]
Studs Terkel And then we'll go Courtland, then Charlie. How did it happen?
Stokely Carmichael Well, I was born in the West Indies, in Trinidad, and I spent my early childhood there. While the country, economically, is controlled by the whites--that is, from England--of course, it was then the British West Indies, everything else, though, was Black. For example, the media authority--teachers, preachers, the politicians--everything was Black, so that for me there was an immediate identification; I could aspire to be one of these things. Then I moved to New York City, moved around, Harlem and the lower Bronx. Everything was white. The policemen, the teachers, the preachers, and politicians. And that, I think, was the first thing that struck me very, very clearly. Because now I couldn't identify with that. I went to a special school called The Bronx High School of Science in New York which is supposed to be one of the top academic schools in the country. At that school there were about, I think, in the whole school, about ten Negroes. And what I found out about those situations--of course, I've had physical reprisals in the South from white people--and at Science I had mentical, mental anguish from white people. And I found out that you can't really compare the two of them. And sometimes, I think, even the mental anguish is worse than the physical anguish. And just the way they, things that they said to me, and how they moved around, and how they viewed me as being their best friend and being an exception to Negroes, and not an exception to whites because, indeed, as far as they were concerned, academically speaking, I was an exception to white people across the country. And every white person didn't go to the Bronx High School of Science but they never viewed it that way. I was just an exception to Negroes because they had their own views of Negroes in Harlem drinking wine, and cutting people, and being dirty and filthy, etcetera. And I began to ask myself whether or not I was an exception. And I began to move from there. And during that period I listened to a lot of discussion about the color, the color question. And what I found out about that was that the people who were always solving these problems, or who pretended to solve these problems, were people who were very much tied up within that structure itself. I mean people like Ralph Bunche. At that time he used to do quite a bit of speaking on the color question. Or, for instance, people like Carl T. Rowan, or Robert Weaver, but that they were all tied up within that structure. And in my own thinking, whether or not I was correct or incorrect, valid or invalid, it seemed that they were the people that were allowed to escape out of the cage that we had.
Studs Terkel The exceptional ones.
Stokely Carmichael Yeah, but they were allowed that. I mean, it wasn't because of any great thing. Now I, if I had followed on that track, see, I would have attended an Ivy League college and I would have been allowed to escape, too. And I would have been the example for the rest of Negroes that, indeed, Carl T. Rowan--
Studs Terkel You might have been the head of the United States Information Service.
Stokely Carmichael Yes. I, too, could speak for the Negro. That's what I found out. So I began to question all of those things very seriously. And when I asked questions I always got stock answers. See, if you asked a question in class about why do you need a police force, the first thing that people would say is because people are bad and you need a police force to keep those bad people down. Now everybody who said people are bad never thought that they, themselves, were bad. It was everybody else who was bad. So you need a police force. Or, why do you need armies? You need armies because people will fight. But they weren't the people who will fight, [always?] the other people. And so I thought, then, maybe what I had to do was start talking to the other people who would fight and find out from them. Now, I found out in Mississippi there are a lot of towns without a police force. The county, in Lowndes County, Alabama, where I'm working now, there are only three policemen in the whole county. It's one of the biggest counties in Alabama. And people somehow seem to make it. I mean, there are squabbles but they, they just ploddle on and there isn't as much crime, let's say, you know, other places where there are a lot more policemen.
Studs Terkel This is a very fascinating point. Go ahead, Stokely. Continue the saga of Stokely Carmichael. Then we'll go to Courtland, then--Cox--then Charlie Cobb.
Stokely Carmichael And I wanted to know why it is that there are these things. Now, the solutions that were posed were always the stock answers and I thought they were wrong. So that means you had to start thinking differently. I mean, the reason why it's hard for SNCC people to communicate to the rest of the people in the country is because we think differently. It depends upon who you see when you get up in the morning, and we see sharecroppers. We see people who have been pushed outside of anything in their framework called society, and they're the ones we live with, and they are the ones we talk with. And we learn from them. I mean, we don't teach them. We learn from them. And we learn to view society the way they viewed it. Now they've viewed it this way for years. But the difference is it never got the projection, because college people would never think of that. They would solve the problem for the people, and the way to solve the problem was to give the people more education and give them some more initiative. And let Horatio Alger wave his magic wand and they'll all make money.
Studs Terkel Of course, this is, as Stokely's point, it depends who you see when you get up in the morning. Who did you see when you got up in the morning? Start at the beginning, Courtland Cox. And where was this?
Courtland Cox Well, I was born in Harlem, in Harlem Hospital, but my parents were also from Trinidad.
Stokely Carmichael See, all great intellectuals and radicals in the Negro movement are West Indians. [laughter] We let Charlie Cobb hang around with us. [laughter]
Courtland Cox And I went to the West Indies when I was four and came back when I was twelve. And my mother wanted to, I guess, believing that going to a public school with, where the quality of education was pretty bad, decided that I should go to a Catholic school. And I found myself being the first and only Negro in there. And I think some of the things that Stokely talked about, and mental anguish was, I had some of those experiences also. The thing that used to bother me was that they never talked about the Negro in the Catholic schools. They were too busy talking about Jews.
Studs Terkel Fascinating point.
Courtland Cox And I knew who was next. [laughter] So I usually stood in the corner in those discussions. I think my involvement began with a single act, and that act of going on the picket line, I don't think that I--I think that I might have been anxious about many things but I think that, through action, those things became clear and I began to develop a rationale about them. And the belief that I can act, and move, and my thinking, and think about things and try to make them a reality was the, I guess, thing that sustained me and still is sustaining me. I guess that's about me.
Studs Terkel It was an [Act 1?]. We'll return to the saga in a moment with our two West Indian friends. Now we come to Charlie Cobb.
Stokely Carmichael Yes. Speak American.
Charlie Cobb Thank you, boss man. I lived in the South, a part of Kentucky for four years.
Charlie Cobb Four years, went to four grades in Kentucky.
Studs Terkel Was it in a city or was it a rural community?
Charlie Cobb Frankfort.
Studs Terkel Frankfort.
Charlie Cobb It's a capital but it's rural. The school was three rooms and I have a lot of sharp impressions. I don't know how living in Kentucky affected me. I haven't sat down and analyzed that yet but I just know that I can detail that whole town. I haven't been there, maybe, for 15 years but that I know, like, how the town is laid out. I mean, in some kind of way it left a vivid impression on me. But, anyway, I went to school in Massachusetts--Springfield. I went to high school, college prep school. Now, first, first thing I should say about my neighborhood was that when we moved we were the second Negro family to move into--
Studs Terkel In Massachusetts?
Charlie Cobb Move into this neighborhood.
Stokely Carmichael In Massachusetts?
Charlie Cobb Yeah. And that when I was in elementary school it was just a handful of Negro kids until the next year, then it was all Negro. And I didn't understand that too well. And I went to an all Negro junior high school. And, see, now the college--the high schools come up to you in junior high school and they say, you should come to my high school, the college prep, or you should come to my high school, it's a trade school; they recruit you for these high schools, five of them: business school, prep school, technical school, trade school, and Catholic school. And it's like a small university. And, so, my mother signed me up for the college prep school. You had to take these cards home, you know, get your parents to sign them, and the counselor called me in and told me how I wanted to be able to do something when I got out of high school so I should go to the trade school. And whipped out another card to bring home for the trade school. My mother didn't appreciate that and this big uproar because she was ticked off cause she couldn't get a job teaching in her field because they didn't hire Negroes in the high school at that time. So I was living through all that and I was moving, see, like, in and out of middle-class community. These were my junior high school and high school years. In other words, my mother's and father's circle of friends were essentially middle-class, I guess, Negro middle-class, maybe some difference. But that's what they were--are. And a lot of the people, see, that I had known in junior high school, you know, were, you know, just from the dregs of the ghettos. I mean, the kids I'd been to school with. And I knew them and, you know, they took me to the pool hall, and the joints, and all that. So I learned to move in that world, you know. So, on Sundays, I would dress up, make the church, you know--
Courtland Cox His father's a minister.
Charlie Cobb Father's a minister, see, I'd make it to church and then [whip it off?] Sunday afternoon to get on the block. So, and this happened all on--now, I had a feeling in high school, cause I was one of six Negroes in the high school, that I was being used by all the white people, because it was really exactly like what Courtland outlined, you know? And I especially had that feeling when my sister came into school with me cause they made her cheer--the first Negro cheerleader and all this jazz, you know.
Courtland Cox And you go first.
Charlie Cobb So you have, you know, you get invited to all these parties and things, and teachers would say, well, you ought to read this book. Especially, you know, and you know, it would be a book that would give me some culture.