OPEN MIND Special: Race Relations in Crisis 6/12/63 - 11/13/92

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Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Dr. James Farmer, Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker
Title: Race Relations in Crisis 6/12/63 – 11/13/93
VTR: 11/13/92

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND, as I long had been nearly three decades ago when the program on “Race Relations in Crisis” that follows today was first broadcast.

Malcolm X was my guest that fateful day in June, 1963. So were the two Black leaders who with me have survived these near thirty years of racial concerns, and who – after we share with you this historic document – will join me again for this special edition of THE OPEN MIND both to look back and to look ahead at race relations in America.

Now, when Malcolm (and the others) explored the subject with me, it was still weeks before the massive 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream…”

But already what one person has called “two lines of descent – two temperaments, two potentials – contended for the spirit of Black Americans: a tension between the “children of Martin and the children of Malcolm”, a tension so evident in our exchanges the day I pre-recorded the program we are about to see.

Wednesday, June 12th, 1963. Earlier that morning Medgar Evers was assassinated, shot in the back by a bullet from a high powered rifle.

Field Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Jackson, Mississippi, Evers had long lived on the very edge of racial violence. At 14, his own father’s friend was lynched for allegedly insulting a White woman. He had himself been beaten over the head with a revolver by a policeman. His life had repeatedly been threatened. And ten days earlier he had said, “If I die, it will be in a good cause. I’ve been fighting for America as much as the soldiers in Vietnam”!

Medgar Evers did die of the assassin’s bullet eight hours before I recorded our program. As with most of the thousands of racially-motivated murders of Blacks since the Civil War, most of the lynchings, the killer or killers have gone unpunished.

Now the day before, however, had also been historic. National Guard troops, federalized by the President for that purpose, had forced Governor George C. Wallace and his State Troopers to step aside and for the first time permit qualified Blacks to enroll in the University of Alabama. There was no violence.

And that night, in a dramatic and emotion-laden nationwide television address, John F. Kennedy appealed to what Lincoln had once called “the better Angels of our nature” to help set right the relationship of White to Black Americans.

“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue”, led the young President who would himself be struck down before the year was over.

“It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American constitution. The heart of the question is…whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark…cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?”

Hours later Medgar Evers was assassinated. Later still Malcolm X and my other guests joined me to record the program we are about to re-visit.

But first, one caveat…a personal one. Be forgiving, please for the incredible foolishness of a young host for literally smoking up such a storm.

VTR: 6/12/63

Let me then introduce my guests. First, Wyatt Tee Walker, Chief of Staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Executive Assistant to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King; Alan Morrison, New York Editor of “Ebony” magazine; Malcolm X, Minister of Mosque Number Seven here in New York City, a leader in the Black Muslim organization; And James Farmer, National Director of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality.

Mr. Farmer, I think I would begin the program by putting a first question to you, referring back to this “Ebony” magazine story that quotes you as saying that Negroes are fed up. You say they are “not afraid to go to jail now, they wear jail sentences as badges of honor, not even being afraid of being shot. These people aren’t going to stop”. And I wonder, Mr. Farmer, how you would conclude that…”aren’t going to stop…” Until what?

Farmer: We aren’t going to stop until a Black skin is no longer considered a badge of deformity by the American people. We are not going to stop until the dogs stop biting little children in Alabama…until the rats in tenement slums in Harlem and the hundred Harlems throughout the country stop biting our people. We’re not going to stop until the bigots of the South and the North no longer challenge a man’s right to live simply because he is asking for the rights which the Constitution says are his, as happened to NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers who was shot and killed in Jackson, Mississippi. We’re not going to stop, in a word, until we have the same rights that all Americans have. We’re not going to stop until we have jobs and are not walking the street unemployed in a proportion which is more than two times as great as among Whites. We’re not going to stop until we have the right to a house, a decent home, an apartment, any place we choose to live. We’re not going to stop until we have the right to enter any place which serves the public, all over the country. We’re not going to stop, in a word, until America becomes America for all people.

Heffner: What would your assumption be about the time when, as you say, “America becomes America for all people”?

Farmer: Things are moving very rapidly now. And I think they’re moving to a climax. This is a climactic stage of the struggle. And I would expect that within two or three years the most brutal aspects of segregation in the South…that is formal segregation, will be eliminated; segregation in businesses that serve the public. I would expect, however that there will be exceptions, that in the hardcore states of the Deep south, such as Mississippi and Alabama, and the hardcore areas of the upper and middle South, it will take a few years longer for us to break down those barriers. I would expect that it will take several years longer in the North for us to wipe out the more subtle forms of discrimination in housing, in employment, in de facto school segregation, and of police brutality. I think, however, that within five or ten years at the most, I’ll be able to take a vacation and go fishing.

Heffner: How do you gentlemen feel about Mr. Farmer’s timetable? Mr. Walker?

Walker: Well, I would agree with Jim wholeheartedly that the revolution now has been mounted. What has been seen in the last four or five years has been perhaps the rumbling and thundering of the revolution that had only established beach-heads. And I think this is…the critical significance of Birmingham, Alabama…that here the movement for Negro…the Negroes’ full emancipation took a significant turn. And I think the mood of the Negro around the country has been well…knowing the frame of reference in which Birmingham has existed…if Negroes can stand up like this in Birmingham, Alabama, then…what the hell, we can…we ought to do something here. And I think it has given a new sense of militancy and a new sense of direction to the entire Negro community in America.

Heffner: What do you think was the ingredient here that lead to this attitude? And Mr. Farmer said a moment ago, this is a particularly crucial period, we’re all aware of that. What has changed now? What has changed in this year and in the last?

Walker: Well, I think the mounting of the revolution…in, in other words there has been the contagion of heroism. I think the human spirit admires heroism and courage. And in an instance like Birmingham they have seen this demonstrated by the young and the old alike, male and female. And it has an infectious quality, and the compounded frustration of 244 years of slavery, and the last 100 years of quasi-freedom with all of the geometric frustrations that the Negro has had. I think this is a part of what Dr. King describes as a zeitgeist…it just had to come. And this is the moment.

Heffner: Malcolm X?

Malcolm X: Well, as a follower of the Honorable Elijah Mohammed and a Muslim, we believe that Mr. Mohammed has been raised by God to separate the so-called Negroes in this country from our former slave-master, and to lead us to a land of our own where we can stand on our feet and solve our own problems. And because we religiously believe it is intended as a…it is part o God’s plan to separate the former slaves, so-called Negro, from the former slave master, the American White man, we also believe that every effort to force integration upon the White man or to force the so-called Negro into the White society is actually in direct and divine opposition to God and we’re a…and will meet with bloodshed and destruction and no progress or benefit either to the so-called Negro or to the White man in this country.

Heffner: Mr. Morrison?

Morrison: Well, I agree with Reverend Wyatt Walker when he says that the revolution which is, is now going on in America against second-class citizenship and against racial oppression had to come. I, I don’t altogether concur with Reverend King’s analysis which I think is well-intentioned, but founded in a, in his mystical philosophy that this is a zeitgeist period. I think the revolution was, was the result of inevitable historical forces, and we must recognize our 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued that a…that a chattel slavery was succeeded by racial segregation, and that as chattel slavery had to be overwhelmed and destroyed by a military conflict, and by force and it may be necessary, as we are seeing today that racial segregation has to be confronted in a similar manner. And that the force and might of the State has to be exerted in uprooting inequality from our society and in destroying racial segregation which is simply the successor to chattel slavery. The revolution, (I am very glad to note that that word has reached a new significance and a respectability in our culture and language), embraces all classes of the Negro population, from the young to the old. They are united in the determination which has reached a zenith, a new point, in fervor that they will not suffer indignities further, and that they are prepared to die…Negroes are prepared to pay the price of violence in their struggle for equality, as a noted Negro educator stated this week, outside of the United States I may note, but there it is. The confrontation is here, and we must face it, and all of its consequences. And that we must also be prepared to realize that the struggle may take other than non-violent means. Now this does not mean that the Negro is by nature violent. The Negro wants his rights, and the Negro-American will achieve his rights. But it may be necessary to defend his, his birthright, to defend his heritage and to maintain his status and go forward to goals that he has set for himself, to protect his life, to protect his family, and to protect his status as a citizen. Violence is upon us and we, we must face it. And I think that there is great alarm in the land in high places as well as low, and I think it is reflected in the…in President Kennedy’s great concern about what he calls “moving the Negroes’ demand for equality from the streets into the courts”. It’s been in the courts for a long time, and the Negro became impatient. He became impatient and demonstrated in the streets. Now the power structure of this country wants to contain the struggle…where it…where it will go from here we now have to consider.

Heffner: What do you mean “the power structure wants to contain the struggle”?

Morrison: I mean that those interests who own, who run, who rule the economy and the political structure of this country are now terribly alarmed that the Negroes’ up-surge for equal rights and for the abolition of, of the badge of color which Mr. Farmer referred to just a minute ago, may, may result in a grave destruction of the status of the United States and its economy. It could result in serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. A very, very interesting statement was made characterizing this threat. An organization was formed just a week ago by Negro intellectuals and a couple of political people, and the man who formed it said, “It is now easier, and it will become far, far simpler to persuade and prevail upon the legislators in Congress to pass Civil Rights legislation because the danger, the menace to the system here…to American society…is great and serious”. And he put it this way…”the White man is afraid that the Negro is going to tear up the pea-patch of America”.

Heffner: Mr. Farmer.

Farmer: Well, I, too think that the Negroes’ revolutionary struggle is a part of a historical process. We see a world-wide struggle for freedom and Negroes could not escape becoming a part of that. Their struggle is going on in Africa and Asia. It’s going on all over the world. And certainly the Negro-American was, was bound to come to the point where he asked, “What about this American fate, and what about these tenets of democracy? Don’t they apply to me? And if not now, when?” I think that in historical terms we can date the new militancy of the Negro back to World War II when Negro boys in uniform were fighting against the master race theory of Hitlerism. Of course, they were bound to ask themselves, what about the master race theory back in Alabama? And Mississippi? Shouldn’t I fight against that just as hard? I think another reason for the evolving militancy is the increasing education of Negro youth. As one o f the Negro sit-in leaders replied when he was asked back in 1960 what accounted for the difference between his father and himself, he said “Well, Pop had only a Bible. I’ve got the Bible and a college education.” How are you going to teach a man about the tenets of American democracy without expecting that, at some point, he will ask, “Don’t these things mean me? If not now, when?” A third factor that has created the new revolution is, of course, the emerging nations of Africa. Negroes have gotten a greater sense of identity and identification, and a greater sense of pride as a result of it. You can only push a man around so long. And this has encouraged Negroes to demand that the pushing around stop. Now then there come the sit-ins, the freedom rides…before that Montgomery, but bus boycott under Dr. King’s leadership. Now Birmingham. So it’s like a miasma now…North and South…Negroes are saying, “Not tomorrow. Not next week. But now”.

Heffner: Of course, what I’d like to do is get back, in just a moment, after we take a break, to the questions that you gentlemen raised…particularly the one that Mr. Morrison raises about this, this effort of the power structure in this country, as you say, to contain the struggle that you are discussing, Mr. Farmer. But, let’s just take a break and we’ll be back to that subject in a moment. (Break) Mr. Farmer, let’s go back to this matter that Mr. Morrison raised about the power structure in this country wanting to contain, and I presume that means restrain, the struggle for equality of the Negro. How do you react to that notion?

Farmer: Well, I think the power structure in the United States is no different from any other power structure. And power structures always try to protect their position and try to avoid trouble. They don’t want trouble. They want to contain it as much as possible. To illustrate that, in Greensboro, North Carolina, after massive demonstrations, and after 1,500 arrests, we were asked to stop, just stop. Of course, we refused to do that, and they finally offered us two theaters, de-segregated, if we would agree not to demonstrate against anything else. And presumably this meant till the end of time. Well, needless to say we could not accept that because what we’re asking for now is complete de-segregation of everything. We’re asking for an open city. And power structures always have to be prodded. And I think that if we continue to prod the power structure of the United States as we’re doing it now with marching feet and by sitting in…with the demand for freedom such as a picket line that is going on up in Harlem now, protesting unemployment and discrimination in the building trades…we will continue to prod the power structure so that the economic part of the power structure will realize that the choice is between granting the demands, the legitimate demands of Negroes, or going out of business.

Heffner: Yes, but when you talk about “power structure” I think now the national government, and I think of President Kennedy’s speech on , on Tuesday night. I think of more than a locality, more than the particular economic interests involved, and I wonder whether you gentlemen feel that basically the American power structure in all of its ramifications and implications seeks to contain or restrain.

Farmer: Before Minister Malcolm takes off on this, let me make another comment…

Heffner: Go ahead.

Farmer: …with regard to the Administration. The Administration’s position in the past three years has been to try to contain it, to stop the trouble. In the Freedom Ride we were asked to stop and cool off. This has been the response of the Administration at all times. But now, as there is growing momentum to the revolution, the Administration is being pulled along. And I think they’ll be pulled along enough so that they’ll take the lead, and actually do something constructive.

Heffner: Well, let me…Malcolm X, if I may, let me pursue this just a moment, Mr. Farmer. When you talk about the Administration, when you talk about containment, are you talking about containing the, the acts of violence or near violence, or are you talking about containing the Negroes’ effort to secure for himself the equality that is the birthright of all people?

Farmer: We’re talking about containing the militant struggle…stop what you are doing and let’s go back to the old way of doing it, by sitting around the table, and parceling out a few minor steps here and there. But this is not enough any longer.

Heffner: But do you think that this reflects a basic refusal to accept the development of the Negroes’ position?

Farmer: I think in part it’s a refusal or failure to recognize the intensity of the demands. Now I think that that recognition is coming, I think that the Administration is beginning to recognize it. The speech of the President recently on Civil Rights indicates that. But this is because the pressure is kept up. And I fear that if the pressure relaxes now that the tendency of the power structure to move will decline. That’s why we intend to keep up the pressure as I’m sure the other gentlemen here do.

Heffner: Malcolm X…I, I think…I think perhaps we ought to turn to Malcolm X who wanted to comment on that.

Malcolm X: Yes, on this White power structure. When you say “power structure” I know you mean the White power structure because that’s all we have in America. And the White power structure today is just as much interested in perpetuating slavery as the White power structure was a hundred years ago. Only now they use modern methods of doing so. And realizing that the Black people in this country are waking up and becoming filled with a desire to be looked upon as men, and as human beings, the White power structure to slow down that struggle for freedom and human dignity uses tricks. A hundred years ago they could do it with chains…today they, they use tricks. And one of the tricks that they’ve invented is, is this token integration, to give the…to get Negro, so-called Negro leaders to accept a few token crumbs of integration, that don’t solve any problems for the masses of Black people in this country whatsoever, but it does make the hand-picked Negroes be satisfied to slow down the cry of the masses. And a good example of that is as soon as the spirit of rebellion or, or of revolution begins to spread among the masses of Black people in this country, and they begin to take an active part, and they showed that they weren’t confined to this non-violent approach, then the government, or the power structure began to sit up and take notice and now as the…as you said earlier, the President is talking about new legislation and…to put it…to take it out of the street and put it back in the courts. Why, as long as it’s in the streets, it’s in the hands of the masses of Black people who will not compromise, or who cannot be brought out. But when you put it back in the courts, then that puts it back into the hands of the hand-picked Negro leaders who will allow the judges and the, the other persons that are, that are involved in this White power structure to slow them down. It’s only a trick. And as long as the masses of Black people are involved in the struggle for freedom, not integration, but freedom…a respect as a human being, respect as men, and who that they’re willing to die to be respected as men then the power structure sits up and takes notice. But as long as the mass element is led, and when I say led, I, I use “led” in quotes…actually, contained by Uncle Tom Negro leaders, who hold them back, who tell them “turn the other cheek”, and things like that, then the White power structure isn’t worried at all. They’re only worried when they know that the masses of Black people are ready to explode, and in exploding it will destroy some of the furniture in their house. And then they react accordingly.

Heffner: Mr. Morrison?

Morrison: Well, I believe that the dominant interests in our society, which are White, of course, are extremely worried that their, that their system will be seriously damaged. It is disrupted now, and they want to halt the, the disruption which is being caused by the rising wave of militancy among Negroes all over the country. President Kennedy in commenting on, on the efforts and the methods being used by American negroes to gain their ends and their goals, which simply stated are unrestricted access to citizenship rights…said that it is better to settle these matters in the courts than on, on the streets. But the Negro started out trying to settle his problems and to correct his, his disadvantages and, and destroy the, the, the basis for his struggle and eliminate the grievances, very serious grievances he had, in the courts. Our NAACP was set up on the basis of, of legal struggle and legal tactics alone. And it had…it has had to revise its whole approach to the, to, to the question.

Heffner: And yet…and yet, Mr. Morrison it seems to me that the President was saying that while he seeks to remove the struggle from the streets, that the courts have gone quite far. That the President, the Presidential office, the executive branch of our government, in the President’s terms…

Morrison: Well…

Heffner: …has, has made certain steps, and he seems to be saying more now…he says, “We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people that cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative body, and above all, in all of our daily lives”. Which is more than saying “Let’s send it back to the courts”.

Malcolm X: Why didn’t he say this three years ago? He…why didn’t he say this when all of these sit-ins and Freedom Rides were very peacefully going on in the South and in other parts of the North? The man didn’t say anything until he found out that Black people in this country were ready to explode. And as soon as he saw that the explosion then was a threat to the White society he came up with the mealy-mouthed speech, which is too late, and it’s only a speech. We still don’t see any, any actions that have stemmed from it. It’s still only in the stage of words.

Morrison: I think the speech is late, Minister Malcolm X, but not too late. No, no pronouncement that was that impressive and forthright from a President of the United States…

Malcolm X: No one made a better pronouncement than Abraham Lincoln made a hundred years ago and that still hasn’t been put into practice.

Farmer: I would…I applaud words for what words are worth, and those were good and beautiful words. Now we want to see the President follow up these words with deed, because we will judge him in the next election. We will judge the entire administration, not by the beauty of the words which they uttered, not the soundness of those words. We will judge them by what they do. Now what can he do? He will propose legislation…this legislation must be forthright and powerful legislation, covering the whole gamut of discrimination against Negroes in housing, in employment, in schools, in public places. It must strike at the very root of segregation and prejudice. The President must do more than propose the legislation, he must get out and fight for it. He has a good chance of pushing it through now. I’d like to remind us that the President, in part, foreclosed the possibility of success of civil rights legislation by not fighting for a change in Senate Rule 22 at the beginning of this session of Congress. Now it will be more difficult, but I think he can push it through. And I’d like to say that we’re not going to sit by idly if we have to be spectators at the same old tragic, comic opera of a filibuster in the Senate of the United States. We plan to have demonstrations, non-violent demonstrations and massive there, and I’m sure Wyatt Walker can tell you that they have similar plans.

Walker: Yes, I would heartily agree with Jim Farmer, and I can understand the impatience and frustration that Malcolm X evidences…

Malcolm X: Not frustration, I want to straighten you out…maybe impatience, but not frustration.

Walker: Well…

Malcolm X: You’re only frustrated when you don’t get what you expect. And, and a Black man is out of his mind, after sitting around here listening to these political speeches by politicians for 100 years…he’s out of his mind…

Walker: Well, I was…

Malcolm X: …if he thinks that he’s going to get anything more today than he got a hundred years ago.

Walker: Well, I was about to say that Mr. Kennedy probably has another thing coming if he proposes legislation, and I personally don’t believe that it has a prayer of passing…I hope he doesn’t think that this politically will get him off of the hook. Merely to propose it and then it gets killed by a filibuster will not be enough, and as Jim Farmer’s indicated CORE had some definite plans, as does the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I don’t think it can be solved this summer by proposed legislation which is, it seems to me, destined for failure. I think it’s got to come through some strong executive action…it may be that we’ll have to see Marshall Law declared in several areas throughout the South…

Malcolm X: You mean a military dictatorship?

Walker: Well, I, I don’t…I don’t choose to describe it as such…

Malcolm X: It’ll take a military dictatorship to bring Black people and White people together in the same house. It will take a military…it takes…if all of the token integration, which you’ve seen in the South, and it’s only “token-ism”, and if this has caused the bloodshed that it has, what do you think White people…both North and South will do on the basis of real integration? If, if you only ask for crumbs, and you’re…and the granting of those crumbs causes bloodshed…what do you think will be caused when you ask for a loaf of bread, or a bakery in which to bake your own bread?

Walker: Let me continue…

Heffner: Go ahead, Mr. Walker.

Walker: …with the business of the power structure which is the point I ultimately wanted to make about wanting to contain it. I agree with Mr. Morrison in the point that they’d like to have the revolution developed on a schedule. But revolutions don’t develop like that. And I think this is what’s apparent to the Administration and to the whole nation. And the reason we’re having such a, a thrust now is because America, as a nation, has never really grappled with the problem of race and color prejudice in America. And it’s most grievous error was made shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, when it made a moral compromise and we’re bearing the fruits of it now. And the revolution is not going to develop in an orderly and scheduled fashion. It’s going to develop so fast that the Administration won’t be able to cope with it until something is done nationwide…North, South, East and West. I don’t think there’s any other course for it to take, and, and in some moments I think it’s going to be even more swift than what Jim Farmer conjectured. We may, may see the resolution of this in another year.

Heffner: Mr. Farmer?

Farmer: Yes, I think what the power structure is really afraid of, more so than guns, because they can get bigger guns, they can pull up howitzers in the age of the atomic bomb and the nuclear bomb, they’re not so much afraid of the guns which we may have…we don’t have many guns compared with the guns which they can pull up. They are more afraid of the dollar. A. Philip Randolph has said that the only book which is universally understood in our country is the “pocket-book”, and he’s right. What the businessmen in Greensboro were scared to death of was the fact that people were not buying…not only Black people, but White people were staying off the streets…perhaps for different reasons. I’m sure for different reasons…but they were staying off the streets downtown…nobody was buying…and if they can’t make money out of the situation then they want to do a re-think because they love the dollars more than they love discrimination and segregation. Now, we in CORE are going to use the dollar weapon, more than we’ve ever used it before. We have set a deadline of July 4th and we are calling upon all businesses that are parts of chains, North and South, not only to stop segregating in their facilities, but also to stop discriminating in their employing. That they must employ Negroes and Whites in all categories, by July 4th. If they do not, and if they are parts of national chains, then they will face our imminent boycotts, economic pressure and mass demonstrations. We’re not saying that they have to complete the process of creating open businesses without discrimination by July 4th. But, at least, there has to be a commitment for the imminent end of segregation and discrimination in their places of accommodation.

Walker: It should be also said to buttress what Jim has just indicated, that this is why the power structure wants to contain it, because granting to the Negro full emancipation means a re-adjustment of the entire economy of the United States. The financial economy and the political economy. Once a Negro is given that, then America has to, to change its entire posture. I think it’s inevitable…an inevitable move toward some kind of socialism, of a sort.

Heffner: Mr. Walker, are you saying…and I would like to ask you gentlemen…the rest of you gentlemen this question…are you saying, therefore, that you do not believe that President Kennedy and the present Administration mean what it is they say? Let’s forget the question of tactics, or delay, or whether this should have come three years ago, or what…but are you saying, when you refer to the power structure, and you’re talking about a fear of something akin to socialism…a changing, a thorough changing of our economic and political structure? Are you saying that this Administration, and all of those political leaders who have stood through the years for the fight that you are waging…are you saying that they don’t mean what they say?

Walker: I think it’s well-intentioned, but when I look at it realistically as a Negro living in the Deep South…I do not see that this is sufficient to bring about what needs to be done immediately. I don’t think legislation alone can do it. And I do believe…

Malcolm X: How can you believe it’s well-intentioned then?

Walker: Well, I’m charitable enough to believe it’s well-intentioned. But I don’t think it’s realistic.

Malcolm X: That’s why we’re still in the condition that we’re in…our, our leaders are too charitable toward those politicians who have been using flowery words, but not coming up with deeds that will be equal to those words.

Farmer: I think the real question is not whether they mean it, but what they do about it. Whether they can put it off…because we’ve heard good words for hundreds of years now, and they haven’t come off.

Walker: Yes, but…

Farmer: …now, maybe they mean it…I don’t know. I can’t look into a man’s mind, and read his mind. I’m not a mind-reader, but what I know is that those words have not been backed up by deeds. So we will have to judge the Administration, we’ll have to judge it’s good intentions by what it does, not by what it says.

Heffner: But, of course, it all comes back to Mr. Morrison’s statement about power structure, and this is why I keep…not beating a dead horse, because it’s hardly dead…coming back to the question of whether you feel that, basically, the power structure, however one might define that in this country, is basically opposed to the Negroes search for equality. This, it seems to me, is such a basic question, and such a basic question that we ought to take a break for a moment, and come back to it in just a moment. (Break) Mr. Walker, you wanted to say something about this.

Walker: Yes, I want to take strong exception to the present suggestion that it’s better to move the struggle of the Negro for full emancipation out of the street, back into the courts. And I take the inference as meaning it’s, it’s dangerous for the battle to be waged in the streets. But I think in the lives of our American heritage, that I don’t want anyone…the public to think that our means of fighting for equality in the streets is an illegitimate method. It’s part of the American tradition. And I do not want it thought that because it is dangerous, that it should be taken from us as a methodology to secure full emancipation now.

Heffner: May I just say as an historian, my reading of what the President said on Tuesday night is not that there is something wrong with what goes on in the streets, but that he himself, as an historian, knows that this is the way so much has been accomplished in our own history. But rather as saying that this has been the prelude…of writing into our governmental structure…thorough our legislatures, through our executive branch of more fundamental reforms. I don’t think that he is saying that there is something illegitimate about what happens in the street, in the actions that you gentlemen are responsible for. I don’t think that at all. This is, this is my own reading of it…but rather he is, he is seeking out to make firmer within the context of what this total American structure what has been stirred up by the actions…

Walker: But…

Heffner: …in the street. I’m sorry.

Walker: But when he says “it’s better…” fortunately, or I guess, Unfortunately, John Kennedy has never been a Negro, and I can’t wait to go through the courts, because I’ve seen a hundred years of that…and it’s city by city, and county by county, and specific instance by specific instance. And that’s why the courts alone will not do it, and I can’t buy that it’s better to move it from the streets into the courts. What this nation must face is that we have a legitimate right under the First Amendment guarantees of the Bill of Rights, to peacefully demonstrate. And this is what the non-violent revolution is directed at. And this is why we insist upon it, as a means of…if you will, creating a crisis so severe that the government, the Federal Administration has to grapple with it, and do something immediately.

Heffner: But it seems to me that what, what President Kennedy is saying…that he is urging upon the Congressional branch of government, the Legislative branch of government, what it is you have just said…that the Federal government must seize upon this question now that it has been dramatized…

Walker: But, I…

Heffner: …so successfully by what has happened.

Walker: But I think he knows full well that it cannot be done like this, this summer. And we say it must be done this summer.

Heffner: And yet what you say is that the national government must do something…the means by which the national government does things is through the executive branch…or the Congress. The courts have acted. You say the courts do not function quickly enough. I think the President concedes that. I’m not here, obviously as moderator, and forgive me for stepping out of my role, taking one position or another, but rather trying to clarify what it is that the President has said. And he is not, it seems to me, denying the validity of what happens in the streets, but rather, as you have suggested, saying “this must lead now to other action”, and is urging upon the Congress this other action.

Farmer: Mr. Moderator…

Walker: Let, let, let me…

Farmer: Okay, go ahead…

Walker: …little bit further about legislation. Just Sunday, Anell Ponda, one of our Field Secretaries, and six other ladies and young girls were returning from South Georgia. In Winnona, Mississippi they went into the previously all White waiting room of the Trailways Bus Station…and this is supposed to have been settled by legislation and ICC Regulations two years ago…climaxed in the Freedom Ride. Yet they were arrested and beaten and put in jail and held incommunicado and in need of medical treatment that they never did receive. Now this is why the Negro mood is such that we won’t buy legislation alone…it’s got to be legislation that is enforced by whatever it takes to enforce it.

Heffner: Mr. Farmer?

Farmer: I hope we understand that Negroes don’t like being in the streets. I don’t like being in the streets myself. But it’s something that we have to do. I would much rather stay at home. I would much rather take things easy. I’ll only be able to take things easy, you see, when this problem is settled. That’s the way that we can get the matter out of the streets, by settling it. And the sooner we do it, the better, for all of us. Until it is settled, we intend to stay in the streets. Not as something we want to do, but as something we have to do.

Heffner: Mr. Morrison?

Morrison: President Kennedy not only stated that the…that his Administration considered it much better…I would also assume, safer…for the struggle of the Negro population to be removed from the area of street demonstrations and protest to the courts. But he also stated, and I quote “where legal remedies are not on hand, redress is sought in the streets and demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence. Well, I say that responsibility for the tensions and the violence lies not with the Negro people who are proceeding peacefully and legitimately for legitimate rights which the Constitution says they should have. And privileges which have been denied them as citizens. And I also say that in the tradition of American struggle for freedom, street demonstrations and public protests are completely consistent with American rights and with American history. We must not forget that the Revolution which created independence for this Republic was started in such a street demonstration on Boston Common. And a Negro played a rather significant role in that demonstration even though the Negro population of that country…of, of this country at that time was not a political factor, but was enslaved.

Heffner: Oh, I don’t think there was any question but that anyone who knows the history of this country would concede, in fact, insist that this kind of street work, street fighting…the indication by the mass of the people of their feeling has been quite consistent. And as a matter of fact, perhaps been one of the, one of the finest aspects of the American heritage. But it was the farmers who said they better raise less corn and more hell, or, or whatever group it might be. But their action led to change, led to governmental change, led to legislative change which the President is now urging, and it just seems to me…and I, I don’t want to pursue this further…but it just does seem to me that the President isn’t denying the validity of mass demonstration…of what has taken place on the part of, of, of your movement, Mr. Walker. Your movement, Mr. Farmer. But rather is saying this must now be institutionalized, which is what I should imagine you gentlemen would want. Malcolm X?

Malcolm X: You can’t…you can’t compare the revolt of farmers with the revolt of Black people in this country because if the farmers are revolting over more or less corn, which in no way involves the Constitution or, or what this country is supposed to stand for, but the Black man in this country is supposed to be getting freedom. The country is supposed to be based on that…democracy, freedom, justice, equality and all that stuff that they teach us in school. And now why should the Black man have to go to court to get freedom when a White man in this country is free when he’s born? Why should the Black man need some legislation to approve that he’s a human being, when you don’t need any legislation to approve that Whites are human beings? So, I make this point because to come right back to my initial statement at the out-start of the program, you will never get real freedom and recognition between Black and White people in this country without destroying the country, without destroying the present political system, without destroying the present economic system, without re-writing the entire Constitution. It’ll be a complete destruction of everything that America supposedly stands for before a White man in this country will recognize a Black man as something on the same level with himself. And this is why the Honorable Elijah Mohammed teaches us that the best way to solve the problem is complete separation. Let the Black man…those of our people in this country who want to…have a country of our own where we can go and stand on our own feet and solve our own problems, and not have to continue going to court, or waiting for some politician to legislate for another hundred, hundred or two years to prove that we’re human beings.

Heffner: Mr. Farmer?

Farmer: Moderator, I’ve discussed this with Minister Malcolm before, and after seeing Mississippi and Alabama close up I’d be glad to give him those states if it were within my power to do so. Yet there’s…I, I think…I’ve said before…

Malcolm X: Why Mississippi and Alabama?

Farmer: Because, I’ve said before, Minister Malcolm, the thing that bothers me about your idea of a Black nation within a nation, presumably if it can be effected then, is that if the White man hates us as much as you say he does, what a target we’d make if we were all together…

Malcolm X: …not as much as I say he does…

Farmer: Okay, okay.

Malcolm X: …his deeds prove that he does.

Farmer: Okay, if he hates us that much, then I would hate to be all gathered in one place. I’d rather be dispersed throughout this nation. He could drop one controlled atom bomb and wipe us out. He could strangle us with a net of…

Malcolm X: He’s wiping you out…he wiped out the Field Secretary of the NAACP…

Farmer: May I finish? He certainly did. But he could strangle us with an economic noose around…

Malcolm X: Strangle…

Farmer: Alright…

Heffner: Gentlemen…

Farmer: I would rather be dispersed, Minister Malcolm, and I think then I would make a poorer target. You know, if you’re all together, one gun can shoot you.

Malcolm X: Harlem is all together.

Farmer: But if you’re scattered…

Malcolm X: Washington, DC is all…

Farmer: Alright…

Malcolm X: Washington, DC has already become an all Black city.

Farmer: This is why Harlem is being strangled economically, I think, now. And this is why this summer we plan to have Task Force people, volunteers, working in key sections like Harlem, the Bedford Stuyvesant area, and Newark, New Jersey to tackle these slums and to organize the tenants for possible rent strikes against the terrible conditions that exist there.

Heffner: Mr. Farmer, this is what I wanted to ask you when you mentioned your July 4th deadline before. What actually is going to take place on July the 5th?

Farmer: Well, I would not say July 5th, maybe it’ll be the evening of July 4th, or maybe it will be the morning of July 6th. But for those concerns that are parts of chains that have units in the South that are still segregated, or South and North, fully to employ Negroes without discrimination, there will be nationwide demonstrations in spontaneous…in cities all over the country…simultaneously…they will demonstrate, there will be sit-ins, there will be an economic boycott. We are now in negotiation with some of these companies, some of these chains. And at least we’re, in one case, they have agreed…complete de-segregation and an end to discrimination in employment. And I hope others will come across by July 4th. If they don’t, then we plan to take our necessary action.

Heffner: What do you think will happen?

Farmer: Well I think there are going to be some that won’t come across. I think there’ll be some which will offer token compliance with our demands. And tokenism will not be accepted…we’ve gotten beyond tokenism now. We demand the whole loaf, we want an open city, open states and an open country. We want, in other words, to get this nonsense of race and racism behind us. So that we can release the tremendous resources that are being tied up. Not only in terms of money, in terms of talent and intelligence and thought…to work on the problems of unemployment, generally, the problems of disease and health, the other problems that afflict all people in our country.

Heffner: When you say “we”, and “we are going to bring this about”…do you mean…

Farmer: When I say “we”, I mean the Congress of Racial Equality and its 70 units throughout the country.

Heffner: And what about its connections with other Negro groups? To what extent will there be that unity of action?

Farmer: There is a complete cooperation between the groups as Reverend Wyatt Walker can tell you. We have worked closely with them and have enjoyed their support, and they have enjoyed our support in their projects. And we expect that that support and cooperation will be a continuing thing. The NAACP is another example of that cooperation. In city after city in North Carolina we’re working closely with the NAACP. In a coordinated drive we expect that there will be full coordination in this campaign for economic boycott.

Heffner: Well, then I would turn to Mr. Walker and ask him what does he see happening on July 4th, or 5th or 6th?

Walker: Well, certainly one of the resources we have to put at the disposal of the overall program of the Congress of Racial Equality as far as economic withdrawals, if they are going to withdraw their support from the Kresge chain or the Woolworth chain, or the Sears Roebuck chain, we have a moral commitment to cooperate with them. And we would notify our 85 affiliate organizations across the South to cooperate with them in this regard, because our goals are exactly the same. We may differ in timing or methodology at one point or another, but there’s very little theoretical or philosophical differences that we share. We insist that the Negro, individually and collectively, must have the opportunity, as immediately as possible to move into the mainstream of American life without the burden of his high visibility being an unnecessary burden to him.

Heffner: What about economic instruments? Do you think these are the most effective as Mr. Farmer was suggesting?

Walker: I agree absolutely. This is the one thing that gives the Negro community leverage…I, I suppose in all good businesses, according to The Wall Street Journal, 6% is the margin of, of profit and the Negro community is the critical margin in America with his income and with his buying power. Just let us suppose what would happen if we proposed to the automotive industry or some member of the automotive industry that this fall, if we can’t go to Detroit and look through the offices of General Motors, or Ford or somebody else, and we can’t find it dotted proportionately with Negroes…what would happen to the stock market of the automotive industry if all Negroes joined a nationwide effort to not buy new cars this fall? The margin of profit is so slim I think it could have a real effect on the Dow Jones averages.

Heffner: Are you going to Detroit this fall to take that…to make that search?

Walker: We are in the process of making a decision as to whether we will have a national conference in Detroit on a nationwide selective buying campaign against some major industry that does not practice fair employment.

Heffner: You say that decision still has to be made. What would be the arguments against it?

Walker: Well, I as a Negro, I don’t’ know of any arguments against it. It could, with the accelerated thrust of the Negro community…it may be that some other focus might have priority…

Heffner: You mean some other industry?

Walker: Some other industry or some other focus.

Heffner: But I gather what you gentlemen are saying that we can expect, this year, to find some kind of massive economic…

Walker: The year of ‘63 is going to be a year of decision for America and for the Negro community.

Heffner: There was talk also now…of course, in the papers today…on this day of a massive march upon Washington. Do you feel that this will take place?

Walker: If reasonable goals are not reached on the national scene, I think it is highly probably.

Heffner: What do you mean by “reasonable”?

Walker: Well, here again, I suppose we might consider this charitable, but some good faith and reasonable efforts and results, over this summer. I would say before Congress dismisses.

Heffner: Well, let me turn back to Mr. Farmer and ask him what he would consider “reasonable”. You haven’t mentioned marches on Washington, but, of course, they appear in the…word of them appeared in the paper today. Do you think that this is going to achieve anything important for you?

Farmer: Well, I think it might. The more pressure we can maintain on the situation now, the better it will be. And incidentally CORE is cooperating in the plans for a march on Washington. We will be participating in it, if it is necessary for there to be a march. And by “necessary”, I mean if there is still discrimination in employment and still proportionately two and a half times as many Negroes unemployed in our country as whites then it will be necessary for us to march on Washington.

Walker: We’ve go to…

Heffner: I’m sorry…Mr. Walker.

Walker: We’ve got to do something about the, the voting inequities in the South. I, I was so dismayed at the program “Meet The Press”, when Governor Wallace says to the nation that Negroes are voting all over Alabama. Now I could name almost two dozen counties where a Negro has never voted at all. Where…there are ten counties where no Negro has been on the registration list.

Heffner: Well, of course…

Walker: You’ve got a 21 question form that has to filled out, and you…the only way you know you’re registered is you get a letter from the Registrar…who knows whether it goes in the file 13 or not. Two years ago we had a drive in Montgomery, Alabama where 4,000 Negroes applied, and when the registration books were closed, they announced that 210 odd people had passed the test. Well, this is all in the hands of White registrars and White racists…the Negro just cannot get a fair shake at the voting booth. And this is another one of our primary concerns.

Heffner: In a moment, we’ll come back and at that point, Mr. Farmer, I’d like to ask you, actually, whether, by definition, in terms of what you say the criteria must be to avoid such a march, there isn’t going to have to be one. But let’s talk about that in just a moment. (Break) Mr. Farmer, a moment or so ago you were talking about the conditions which would have to exist if there were to be this march on Washington. If there were to be the kind of action that you gentlemen have talked about for the summer of this year. It seemed to me as you describe what it is you feel must be accomplished to avoid that, that we’re not going to avoid that. You seem to be asking for things that are quite legitimate…everyone at this table and many, many, many other people…but it didn’t seem to me that it was too likely that you were going to achieve what it is that you want to achieve. Does this mean that this summer we’ll see the kind of march on Washington, we’ll see the kind of action that you’re talking about?

Farmer: There will be a march on Washington early in the Fall unless these demands are met. And I think that they are legitimate demands. What the Federal government has to do or needs to do in order to prevent such a march is first of all to pass strong civil rights legislation with teeth in it. Second, to see that all places that serve the public are completely de-segregated, and third, stop using Federal funds to subsidize segregation in the area Re-development Administration where funds are loaned to businesses that want to build units in the South, factories or what-have-you. Many of these are businesses go South, then employ only White persons. I saw a sign on a highway in South Carolina…just a month ago…stating that such-and-such a firm will build a factory here on this site and 500 White women will be hired. Now this was to be with money loaned by the Federal government to the concern. Well, that has to stop. We have to put an end to discrimination in employment. I think it can be done. I think it must be done.

Heffner: Do you assume that enough will be done by the Fall of the year to avoid the kind of march you’ve talked about?

Farmer: Well, I’m not assuming anything. These, these are our demands. And if they are met, we’ll be delighted because I don’t want to march. I have bad feet. I don’t like marching. But if I have to march, I will march because there is something that is more important than my feet.

Heffner: In the criteria you establish, I wonder about the question of Federal aid to education, and the importance, in your mind, of preventing such aid from going to Southern states, or other states that practice, officially practice discrimination.

Farmer: Yes. As long as those states practice segregation or discrimination officially, then Federal fund should not be used there.

Malcolm X: Or unofficially.

Farmer: Unofficially, yes. This was a recommendation of the Civil Rights Commission, that all Federal funds be withdrawn from Mississippi. I go along with that. I believe in it. Now CORE is waging a campaign now against school bonds that are issued by school districts, cities and states in the Deep South where the schools are completely segregated. These bonds are marketed in seven Northern states including New York State. Hundreds of millions of dollars are involved. The people who put their money into those school bonds from segregated areas are thereby subsidizing segregation. Now they may be good people in the sense that they don’t beat their wives, they don’t push ladies down subway steps. They don’t realize that the money that they are pouring into those bonds, that they’re investing into those bonds, are being used to build and maintain segregated facilities. Well, that should stop.

Heffner: Logically, of course, I have to go on and then ask the question about your concern for segregation in Northern schools. And logically, thereafter, I suppose I must ask about your attitude toward the bond issues floated in Northern communities to support schools in which you do not feel there has been sufficient effort toward integration.

Farmer: Well, let me say that I think segregated schools are bad and a violation of the Supreme Court ruling whether they are by law segregated, or de facto segregated. By law in the South and de facto in the North. There is just as much school segregation in the North as there is in the South. So this will be the next step. Our first step in this campaign is to stop the errant segregation that exist by law in the South. Then we will turn this campaign into Northern cities. We are presently, as you know, engaged in drives in city after city in the North to eliminate de facto segregation. There have been boycotts, student boycotts in which we’ve been involved. And in Englewood, where the local CORE chapter is involved there has been for a long time now, a study…and this is a new kind of end where the kids, the children, who were boycotting decided that they would attend the other school, where they wanted to go and would receive a better education. They are sitting in in those classes and studying and I’m told that They’re actually being called on now. But still, they presumably will not receive any credit for the courses which they take there. Well, this sort of technique will be used more widely, following that, the economic approach.

Heffner: Well, I was just going to ask you that…about that…you say this technique will be used more widely.

Farmer: Yes.

Heffner: Specifically, what are you referring to?

Farmer: Specifically I am referring to “study-ins”, boycotts and “study-ins” in Northern schools which are de facto segregated.

Heffner: Are these planned, as of now, for the Fall?

Farmer: These are being planned, as of now, for the Fall.

Heffner: In particular localities?

Farmer: In various cities. I cannot specify the cities at the present time.

Heffner: I, I cut off Mr. Morrison before…I’m sorry.

Morrison: I was going to say that the, the proposal to withdraw Federal financial aid and subsidies from those Southern states which practice segregation officially, and as Reverend Walker pointed out, unofficially…is a good sound one. It has been advocated before, it is not really new. But what…I think is most significant historically about the last demand was that it came from an official agency of the United States government, the United States Civil Rights Commission, which…it’s significantly…it’s predominantly White. That it shows, I think Minister Malcolm X, that there are many White people who favor drastic action against the, the segregationists of the South, and are seeking conscientiously to end segregation and to create equality between Negroes and whites in America. That I…

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One Response to “OPEN MIND Special: Race Relations in Crisis 6/12/63 – 11/13/92”

  1. Maurice Howard says:

    Excuse me … where is the video? If you don’t want to post it put it up for sale. It is frustrating to have a tool in your toolbox until you need it coming to find out later somebody came and took it.

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