Stokely Carmichael as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
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Editor's Note: Kwame Ture passed away on Sunday November 15, 1998 in Conakry, Guinea. The following interview was done while he was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on January 30, 1967. The interview was conducted by the editorial staff of the "Movement" newspaper based in San Francisco, California. Carmichael (Ture) was in the Bay area to attend the "Survival of Black People Conference" held on January 28 and 29 of that same year. This document is being reprinted in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the advent of the Black Power movement in 1966.
Text of Interview: The Movement: Has the American Government started to mess around with you because you've started to move outside the country?
Stokely: I asked for a passport, and they didn't give it to me. They said they had to have a decision on it. So when we got to Puerto Rico, we started by announcing at a press conference that they wouldn't give us passports. They sent them Special Delivery, when we got back. But I'm sure that the international relations area is the one most vunerable in the country.
The Movement: It seems to be the area that got Malcolm killed.
Stokely: Malcolm did his bit, you know, and then he was wiped out by
them, and now maybe its SNCC's turn, and, when we get wiped out, there'll be somebody else. But you always keep agitating, awakening, arousing, enlightening, and you do it around the most vunerable spot which is international relations of the country.
The Movement: What happened on your trip to Puerto Rico?
Stokely: We went to Puerto Rico at the invitation of the Movimiento Pro Independencia, the MPI party, and the Federacion de Universitrios Pro Independencia, FUPI, the University group. They invited us because in July they had endorsed the concept of Black Power. We'd been talking to them; we wanted to see where we could find strong forces with which to coalesce. And the MPI represented to us one of those forces. They were the one group in Puerto Rico which has taken a strong stand against the draft. They are totally opposed to the draft, and they are not for peace; they're for liberation. They've been opposed to the control the US has on the island. They've been fighting for their independence. We spent three days moving around the island, finding how we could help and assist each other. They're going to take the colonial case of Puerto Rico to the UN in February at which point our organization will assist in every way we can to help bring that case into the spotlight.
The Movement: Is that going to involve action inside the US?
Stokely: Yes, and it is a necessity for us because in the ghettos the
Puerto Rican community and the black community usually intertwine with each other and they have always been antagonistic to each other. We can now begin, using that as a lever, to bring those two groups together in this country because they face the same problems and are opposed by the same people.
The Movement: What else did you do in Puerto Rico? Were there
Stokely: There was an anti-draft demonstration which went across San Juan and ended up at the recruiting station. Do you know Puerto Ricans are drafted to fight in the US army; they have to fight for America. They have been taking a strong position against fighting, so there are some groups which are opposed to the MPI and FUPI. They don't think that people should have the right to demonstrate. Interestingly enough, most of these groups are Cuban exiles.
The Movement: How would you describe the two organizations that you worked with? Are they like anything in the US?
Stokely: They have the MPI, that's the adult group for people over 35;
they're fighting for independence daily. They're the main political
strategists. Then you have the junior MPI which is for people, say, just out of college. Then you have FUPI which is the university group with the same ideology as the MPI. Then you have FEPI which is a high school group. So you have a tightly organized cadre of people who have the same political ideology.
The Movement: What's their strategy in terms of their fight for
Stokely: The first thing is that they don't want any strings attached
with the US. So they're starting with the boycott, they're doing the same thing the Buddists did in Vietnam. They just boycott any vote, any elections. They say that if they can't make the ground rules there's no need for them to participate in the elections. They just refuse to participate. You have to remember that in Puerto Rico people have been fighting for independence for years and year and years. Their latest fight was led by Alviso Campos who died in 1964. They were taking over towns in the late fifties. He had taken over sixty towns in Puerto Rico before he was captured.
The Movement: What's their political point of view?
Stokely: Their political point of view is that there should be complete
political independence for the island; it belongs to Puerto Ricans. That is, Puerto Ricans should vote to decide the type of government they want. And the US should get off the island entirely, every facet of it--they don't need any bases, any military arms. And they don't need the US owning 13% of the island, and having 13 military bases. In San Juan the poor can't even go to some of their best beaches; in that city Americans build hotels and casinos, like the Caribe Hilton, just for tourist trade.
The Movement: That's the same way it was in Cuba.
Stokely: Si. that's why it's going to make for interesting fights.
The Movement: The case before the UN is going to come up in...?
The Movement: What is SNCC going to do?
Stokely: Well, we have a lot of contacts in the UN, the Afro-Asian
contacts. We're going to start asking them to pressurize for the
resolution. Through our publicity, we can put out a lot of materials on
it, explaining the importance of the case to the black community.
The Movement: Will there be an attempt on the part of SNCC to put the case of America before the UN?
Stokely: Right, but that will be at some distant time. There are no
The Movement: So how do you see this movement being carried into, say, New York City? Did you talk about a joint strategy?
Stokely: Right. Oh yes. When we bring MPI people over here they can talk in the Puerto Rican communities and we can go in with them. And Puerto Rican and black communities in New York are a quarter of a million people. This is one place to start, but we also have a large Puerto Rican community in Chicago, and also we started contact with Mr. Chavez, with the Mexican workers down here (in southern California). Now we want to develop these and tie them in much stronger.
The Movement: This raises the whole thing about how SNCC is going to start working in the cities and what the strategy is.
Stokely: We have an entry into the Puerto Rican community, whether or not some the Puerto Ricans here believe in independence. It's an entry because we're officially involved with the island.
The Movement: What's happening to SNCC in New York in the Black
Stokely: Well, we're just slowly working. Most of the workers are around the schools, right now, the I.S. 201 problems. We're building the People's School Board where people take over the school board.
The Movement: Can you break that down?
Stokely: Well, we have the concept that parents should make up the school boards and they should decide the appropriations for schools and have final say on the hiring of teachers. We're slowly being able to do that by setting up parallel structures to the regular school boards.
The Movement: How do these parallel structures take power?
Stokely: We haven't decided that yet. We're just developing the idea.
See, first you have to develop the atmosphere in which one can seize
power. You never seize power in an abstraction, and you can't do it in an isolated area. If you take over one (area) you could easily be squashed, but if you develop a number of footholds around the city and you take them all at the same time then there's a problem squashing it.
The Movement: Do you see that in working in the cities, mostly around the schools? Is that how SNCC sees itself getting into the city?
Stokely: No. We get in any way we can. We see the problem to be a
political problem--who can control the votes. But in order to get in, we
have to follow whatever problems people are affected by, and if they're affected by schools, then that's where we start.
The Movement: How does that relate to the bigger things SNCC is involved in, like the Adam Clayton Powell fight?
Stokely: We've used the Powell fight to show black people where the
Democratic Party is at. Our job is to alienate, in every way we can,
black people from the Democratic Party--just get them out and begin to form an independent political force around the country.....
The Movement: Do you think it's possible to build a black anti-draft
Stokely: Yup, oh yeah...The strategy is first that you tell black people
that they're colonial subjects, and they'll say Hell No period. Black
people are the one force in the country, who are susceptable enough to build an anti-draft base, much more than anybody else.... It's clear to me, number one, that there's never been, during a wartime period in the black community, any number of blacks advocating not to go to war, except possibly in the pre-Korean War period. A. Philip Randolph was raising the question: since there were segregated troops, there was no need to fight.
Then, of course, Truman signed the executive order that integrated the troops. Today, a large number of blacks are articulating a position of not going to war--anti-draft postion--not anti-service but
anti-draft--against compulsory conscription. You also have a number of other people doing it, I mean there's SNCC, there's CORE, and there's a host of community groups inside the North and South and that can be augmented by a now growing force of white students who finally stopped talking about the peace movement and started talking about the anti-draft movement which is much more important, cause it's a big difference between a peace movement and an anti-draft movement and a liberation movement.
The Movement: You said yesterday at the Survival of Black Peoples
Conference, that people have to start talking about more than blackness; that people have to start articulating political and economic programs along with the blackness. I notice on the west coast a lot of people seem to be just thinking about blackness. Do you think this is a west coast phenomenon or is it nationwide?
Stokely: Well no, I think that a lot of people think that blackness is
sufficient. We say that blackness is necessary; it is not sufficient.
There are groups who have what we call the "noveau blacks," you know, people who just found out they're black, and refuse to analyse any programs. Their only analysis to any program is based on its blackness. There's a lot of them who are infiltrated by the man himself, who just wants to stifle programs. Others of them are just not political and they don't understand anything about a movement, cause a movement runs on politics, obviously, not on blackness.
The Movement: But what do you do, if one of these groups comes in to where you're organizing and takes the people into the streets. Has
Ivanhoe run into that in New York?
Stokely: Yeah, we run into it. We just deal with it, cause I think
they're trying to run, again, a movement on a cultural aspect, but you
don't fight political organizations on cultural aspects, you must fight
them on political aspects. The important thing is to incorporate your
cultural aspects so that you maintain your cultural identity, while you
fight for your liberation. Now that's important. To maintain your
cultural identity while you fight for your liberation. Not to fight for
liberation through your cultural identity. You see, that's the mistake, I
think, that many nationalist and noveau black groups make.
The Movement: There seems to be both a lack of political awareness and cultural awareness among blacks, which one do you work on first, or do you work on them simultaneously?
Stokely: I think you work on them simultaneously. I agree with Mr.
Nkrumah when he says: "Seek ye first a political kingdom." But I do
think the cultural aspect is vastly important. You keep advocating a
political philosophy but always agitating around the cultural identity
aspect of it. That is, I don't think you can gain anything if you have
your cultural aspect alone. You must use that as a means of getting your group together to move politically. You have to develop a political frame of reference in which to move once you get that cultural identity established.
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