Interviewer: Judy Richardson
Production Team: A
Interview Date: February 17, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2094-2095
Sound Rolls: 242
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Clory Bryan, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 17, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
This is Clory Bryant, CAMERA ROLL 2094.
What was your first impression of Chicago coming here as a 17 year old?
Well I thought Chicago was one of the most--
If you could just preface it with, when I was 17, however, get your age in it somehow.
Well when I came here I was 17. And I was just out of high school. And ah very young and idealistic. And I thought I was really going to go to Chicago and knock em dead. Ah the--the beautiful tall buildings, I thought they were just fascinating. The bright lights, because I lived in the country. And I was not used to lights. And to see lights burn all night long, I would just get up and look out of the window and look out at the lights. I thought they were just beautiful.
Talk about what your family was coming with. I mean what were they leaving behind in Arkansas and what did they expect? What was the dream about Chicago?
Well we didn't leave much behind. We did have a house and ah--
Tell me something about what you left in Arkansas.
Ah well we left, what we left in Arkansas was segregation. Ah poverty, ah lack of job opportunities. Ah there was very little to offer us at all. And when we came to Chicago, we thought, you know, here's the land of opportunity. And ah as a little girl I had seen people come home ah on vacation from Chicago. And they had on pretty clothes. And they drove shiny cars. And they had money. And I thought, gee I want to go there and enjoy some of that. And but when we got here it was different. It was not that at all. Ah I guess those people must have saved a lifetime to come home and spend that kind of money. Jobs were hard to find. And housing was really poor. Ah and even when there was housing, you couldn't meet the rent because you didn't have a job. Ah educational opportunities was also very poor. You could go to high school, but after that, then college, there was just no way.
How was housing different from what you found as a Black family moving in from what White people had in Chicago at that time?
Well most Blacks lived in kitchenette apartments. And these apartments were, normally what Whites had, were six room flats. And when Blacks took over that, those communities, they became apartments about four to each flat. Ah cut up apartments and ah you had to share a common kitchen between four different families.
Cut just a second. If there's a way that you can say--
How was the housing different from the way Whites had it and the way it was for Blacks when they arrived?
Well when Whites had it they were six.
I'm sorry, could you say, when Whites had the housing--
When Whites had the houses, ah they were like flats, six room, or seven room, eight room flats. When Blacks to over that housing, each bedroom became an apartment ah where you share a common kitchen and you share a common bathroom with four and five, sometimes six ah individuals or families.
And was that different from the way you had known it in the south?
Oh sure, even in the South ah you probably had a shack. But it was your shack. You know you didn't share it with anybody else.
How as housing different from what it had been for Whites and Blacks when they arrived?
Well in those communities ah where apartments were like flats, they were six, seven and eight room flats when Whites had it. When the Blacks moved into those same housing, each bedroom became an apartment. And ah so consequently you shared the kitchen and bathroom with five, six, other individual families. Even in the South, ah you had maybe a shack. But it was your own shack and you didn't share it with anybody else. And that made an awful lot of difference.
In a couple of choice sentences, how would you describe the Daley machine?
Well the Daley machine was, well I guess I could do that best by trying to describe Mayor Daley. Ah he seemed to many to be omnipotent. Ah he took a Machiavelli approach to government. He was in control. He was strong, demanding. And ruthless. And ah certainly racist.
Why do you say that he was racist?
Ah because Blacks who were here in this city and who worked to support the machine ah always wound up getting the crumbs while somebody else ate at the banquet table. And we got was thrown aside, the bones and the crumbs.
And you had some particular instances where you remember specifically being, running as an independent. And you mentioned some specifics of that daily power. You talked about a Negro who needed a Christmas tree. I was wondering if we could talk about that story.
Well yes, that was ah, ah in the early sixties, I was running for a public office. And I had asked a neighbor of mine--
If you could preface it by saying you were running as an independent against the Daley machine.
I was running as an independent ah in the early sixties. I was running as an independent against the Daley machine. Ah I had asked a neighbor of mine was she going to vote for me. As a matter of fact I says, I know you'll vote for me. And she said, "No, I'm afraid I can't because ah--ah my alderman always gives me a Christmas tree for my vote. And--and ah I know you can't afford to go around buying these many trees. So I'm just going to vote for him because I have to have my tree." And so I didn't get her vote.
And talk about what happened in terms of the public housing when you were in public housing. And you had a problem because you'd gone to a meeting I think?
Yes, well having run for public office, a lot of people in the community saw me as a leader. And of course if something would go wrong they would come to me and this group came to me about housing. They were being asked to move. And I went to that meeting that night and addressed the group. And ah in doing so, ah I said a few things that might have ah not been right with the powers that be, and of course by Tuesday, I had a notice in my mailbox that my rent had gone up from $61 a month to $178.
Talk about what happened when you spoke out at a local meeting.
Ah well there was, it was during the time that I was living in Chicago public housing. And ah there was some, people had been asked to move and they didn't want to move or couldn't move or whatever. They asked me if I would come to this rally that night and--and help them to organize. An--ah to protest that move, and I did. On Tuesday, I had a notice in the mail to come down to the Chicago Housing Authority Office. And I was informed when I arrived there that my rent was going from $61 dollars up to $178 dollars. And I'm sure it was because of the statements that I had made at the meeting several nights before.
Talk about running again as an independent and the problems you had in speaking at your own church.
Ah again when I was running as an independent, I had ah approached my minister and asked him if I could speak five minutes before or after service on Sunday morning to drum up votes. And ah he said he would discuss it, you know with ah, some of the church members and see what we could do. But then I was denied. And when I was told why, they said that the ward boss had ah bought the very seats that we sat in on Sunday morning. And that I had a lot of nerve to ask them to stand in that pulpit and to speak against him. Then of course I was denied the right to speak and that was in my own church.
What problems did you have in terms of where Dr. King based his support in the Chicago campaign?
Ah there were, there was a group of people who were concerned that Dr. King did not work as close with the grass roots as they had hoped. Ah there was influence from some of the cities biggest universities. Ah from some of the political bosses in the Black community with whom he aligned himself that we were, well I don't know if they were political bosses, but let's say they--they called, they were set up as brokers for the Black community. And they were not always, as we used to put it on the square. And we had reasons to mistrust them. And we had hoped that Dr. King would not align himself with those people. But he did. I don't know whether it was because he was not well informed. I'm sure that's--that's probably the reason why. Because I can not think of another person on earth that was anymore fair than Dr. King.
Did you have any problems with the summit agreement with the accords that were reached around housing?
Oh yes ah you now when you say summit agreements, ah that's the problem I had. I don't like ah summit agreements and covenants and things like that because they're too easy to duck out on. I would like to have seen something much more concrete. Ah a contract, an agreement with a time frame, and some signatures.
OK, we can cut.
Tell me why you had some problems with those who were deciding on things at the summit?
Well we, first of all we felt they were deciding for us. We lived--
Start again and say something about the summit.
Oh because they don't hear your question, OK. Ask me again.
Why did you have problems with people who were at the summit deciding issues for you?
Ah those people who sat in on the summits with the housing, ah department were not the people of our choice. We felt that those people who lived in Chicago public housing, those people who were emotionally involved. ah those people whom, Chicago housing was a way of life, should have been involved and who were a articulate enough, to say what the problems were and who was involved enough to know. And concerned enough to care. And those are the people we had wanted because we don't care about summits ah--ah taking place without us. We don't care about ah--ah covenants. Ah we want contracts in Black and White with some hard answers for us. With some signatures and some people we can hold responsible to and some time frames. But none of this was--was there. Again it was just another piece of paper.
And you said something about the people there didn't now public housing except through movies.
Except those people did not know ah who sat in on those summits and negotiated these deals for us. Nothing whatsoever about public housing except what they had learned from the movies and from what they had read in the papers. And that is the--the extent of their knowledge.
Give me a description of the staging of the Cicero march and how you didn't think you were going to go you were just bringing your daughter.
Well ah we had kind of agreed, we went to the March on Cicero--
I'm sorry, could you mention your daughter?
ah--ah with my daughter that, both of us wouldn't go to jail.
I'm sorry, let me start from the beginning.
You know what you asked me the other day, that was good, wait a minute. You said--
On the day of the Cicero March, what happened with you and your daughter?
Ah the day of the Cicero March, ah I wanted to take my daughter to the march. And ah I was not to march only she was going to march. And I was going to take names of people who were going to go in to Cicero and then we'd be there when they come out to take their names to be sure that all of our people came back safely. And ah we ah got there and, with such few we became a little frightened. And ah we kept ah standing around and finally it was 12 o'clock, I believe it was 12 o'clock. And all of a sudden guys started getting out of cars and people started coming out of doorways and they said, "OK, Lucas, step off time." And I just couldn't believe that all these beautiful warm bodies were there to support us and we didn't know it all this time. So they started to launch and I felt so good. I said to my friend, let's walk over and see what's going to happen. So we went in behind them a little piece but by the time we got there we noticed that the National Guards and the Cicero police, Chicago police and everybody else was there with guns and bayonets, pointed at the marches. And ah instead of pointing at the people who were--were throwing the bricks. So ah we were afraid to go back. So I was forced in to go on. But I'm glad I went. It was a beautiful experience, I was scared all the way. But we kept walking. And people from the post office where Lucas worked, joined us later on into the march. And when we knew anything, they were just thousands. And it was one of the most successful marches that had taken place in the city of Chicago.
Why was the character then so different from Dr. King's marches?
Well it was not a King march. Ah you know we just went out there on faith. And ah we didn't have the bigwigs flanking us on the side. We just went, little people. And ah you know Dr. King's marches was like kind of staged where you knew who was going to be involved. Everybody who was going to be involved, organizations, the ministers and the other people, but you know, were there to--to support him. We didn't have that kind of support. The only support we had was those community people who just heard about it and saw it on TV and on the radio and just got in their cars and came. And that was the difference. It was a ground swell of grass root people.
And was, Talk about the difference between the nonviolence and then throwing the rocks back.
Well ah that's another thing. The ah Cicero march was different ah in that nobody there really believed in nonviolence. We went along with it. Ah but that was not our really, ah, that was not our belief. And when they throw bricks they got em back. We caught em and we threw em back. And ah so it was give and take in Cicero for ah oh a mile or so. And I'll never forget it. It was, it was ah one of the most ah outstanding things that I have seen accomplished in the Civil Rights movement. Cicero, you don't know what Cicero meant to people in Chicago.
What did it mean?
"You don't go into the viaduct honey, because if you do you may not get back." Cicero was on the other side of the viaduct. And you didn't walk through Cicero alone. You didn't let your car break down in Cicero and get out to change a tire. You just didn't go in Cicero if you were Black.
Well what did it mean to march through there?
Well it let the world know that together we can do anything we want. If you can march through Cicero, you know, you can accomplish almost anything. And I think people felt that. And from that point on, there was no turning around. We--we really went on and began to accomplish things like electing a Black mayor.
Did you think that by going through Cicero you were saying something to the people of Cicero too?
Yes. To the people of Cicero and the people outside of Cicero.
I'm sorry could you say that--
You know we ah, we, by marching through Cicero, I think we made a statement to those people who lived in Cicero and to those people who did not live in Cicero. Because for those Blacks who told us we were foolish to go, you made a statement that we can go if we go together. To the people in Cicero, we made a statement. We are coming. And we are here. And nothing happened. Few bricks. People in Cicero were not what we thought they were.
Cut. OK, we just--
Why was the Cicero march different from Dr. King's march?
Ah, the Cicero march was different from Dr. King's march because it ah took on the character of the leaders. And those were local people and were militant people. And people who did not necessarily believe that nonviolent was the only way. You know it might have been one way but then there might have been other ways. And they tried the other way.
Cut, that's it. That's absolutely it.