Interviewer: Judy Richardson
Production Team: A
Interview Date: February 17, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2096-2097
Sound Rolls: 242-243
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Linda Bryant-Hall, 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.
How did you feel when Dr. King came to Chicago?
Well, when I first heard that Dr. King is going to come to Chicago, I was elated. I said, Oh, my gosh, Chicago is going to get involved in all of this. You know ah, Dr. King has got, ah, ah, a powerful following, a powerful message, and he's going to bring it to Chicago to help with the movement here. He sure need it. And, I was looking forward to his coming.
Now what did you think about the fact that he was basing his um--but first--Now what were the differences between the southern communities and the northern community that he was coming to here, in Chicago.
Well, I didn't really understand how different the communities were until he came and the people he brought with him, ah, and I got a chance to meet them, and see what kinds of people they were. And, in the south I got the impression that that community was more ah, monolithic. Ah, after he came here, it was quite obvious--at least to me--that this was a more diversified community and the tactics were going to have to be a little different here. What happened is that ah, when he came in, I think what he tried to do was to try and take that kind of style he had operated with in the south and just plan it down here in Chicago as if it worked there, it would work here, too. Not taking into consideration the differences that were here.
Well, what kind of differences would be here?
One, Black people would--
I'm sorry; the kind of differences--
OK. The kinds of differences that existed here were, ah, the fact that Black people were all kinds of social-economic, ah, they--we had Blacks who lived there, Chicago public housing, we had Blacks who lived in very poor slum areas, and we had Blacks who lived on Chicago's gold coast--one of the richest communities in the world. Ah, and, but, they all had a commonality: they all needed Dr. King here to help their voices be heard. And, all of us wanted Dr. King to come. I mean, and to this day, ah, I realized that I was a very lucky person to get to meet him, and know him.
You mentioned also that one of the other problems was the sense of the "bigness" of it--the vastness of it; and that each community had separate kinds of--
Tell me that question again.
What was the difference between what King had been used to in the southern communities, and what he is coming into in Chicago, and to center it around the sense that it is so "big"--Chicago is so big and there are many different communities with the history and an organization. So he couldn't come in with just one program--OK?
So, what is the difference between what King is used to doing in the south and what he is faced with here in the north in terms of the diversity and the largeness of the Black community here.
Well, I think what happened when King came to Chicago, and he found out--or, he needed to find out--was that, ah, the city was so large, and people were so different. Ah, there were people here from all over the city who--and, each community had an organization already existing and each community had a plan and each community had their own kinds of goals set. And, ah, we were working together in group called, ah, Triple CO--[CCCO]--I forgot the exact name of it at the time--but, headed by Al Raby. And, at that time, we had just decided that we need an umbrella group. And, therefore, we came up with Triple CO, and all the community groups got together, and tried to pull our resources. And, when King came, though, what he wanted to do, was just work with that one umbrella group. And, then not understand that each group within that group had a program of its own--had leaders of its own, had its own kind of direction that it was going in; but, we all had a common goal. Ah, but we needed somebody like King. We needed him to lend us his strength, ah, to lend us his name. Ah, and we wanted him to come in join our movement--not come in and lead it, because we already had leaders. So, when he came in to try and ah, discount ah, what was already here, I think, he offended quite a few people.
OK. That's perfect. That's absolutely--
Give me a sense of problems you had with Dr. King basing his movement in the church, as he did in the south.
OK. The problem with Dr. King wanting to base his movement here, in Chicago, only in the church was a big problem for us. In Chicago--as I said--there are people who ah, are very diversified. And, some people in Chicago didn't even believe in churches, didn't believe in God; I mean, they were avowed atheists; and, for someone to come in now and ask them to come into the church, ah, and follow his movement through that mechanism it didn't wash so well with a lot of people. Ah, and then too, the churches might have--in Chicago--represented something different from what they did in the south. In Chicago, the churches, many of the Black churches--not all of them certainly--many of them ah, had very close connections to the political machine. The political machine supported many of the churches. I mean they did so much as buy the pews where the people set. They provided the church with a store front. They provided the minister, in some cases, with a salary. Ah, so for him, now, to turn to the community people who had been fighting against this kind of set-up, and say, come and follow me. You know, it just wouldn't go over.
When Stokley um, issued a thing of "Black Power" make you feel--what did it mean to you?
When I first heard him--
I'm sorry, if you could just mention Stokely--
When I first heard Stokely Carmichael stand up--and I saw him on the news--and he stood up in front of crowds of people, and screamed "Black Power" with his fists raised, I just said, oh, boy it's about time somebody said that. I mean, it's like we were afraid to say it; it was whispered, and we were told--our element of the movement were told, you know, not too loud with that; we don't want to offend anybody--ah, but Stokely had the nerve, the gall, the audacity to stand up and say, "Black Power", you know, and not be ashamed of that. And, I like that. I like that very much. And, ah, I sort of--I was sorry that King was afraid to say it. Because, then again, he looked real meek. And, ah, that was unbecoming, to many of us.
What did it mean to you as member of CORE? I mean you where kind of the outside of what was going on in the traditional kind of movement?
Well, you know with CORE, we looked--we were the Congress of Racial Equality. And, a lot of times, our goals, too, were ah, integration. But, we also wanted to say, not only integration, but, ah, in fact that was just the by-product, I guess, of what our goals were. But, what we really wanted people to understand, is that Blacks wanted power; we wanted, ah, ah, the power to make some decisions on our own; the power to decide where we were going to go and what direction we were going in. And, when we said power, that meant not only did that statement go for White America, but, it went for Dr. King also. Ah, you can find yourself, if you are going to come in and be a total power in a situation. You can find that you can be oppressive, also. Ah, I don't think he intended to do that. But, we felt suppressed in many cases. Our views were, ah, were not accepted with Dr. King and so we felt Dr. King was almost doing like, ah, ah, the White community was doing us; and, it was hurtful.
Cut. That's interesting.
Am I? Am I starting all over?
Yes. All over on Stokley too? Yeah.
Lets see if we can make it one, OK, 'cause she said there were two things--
When you first heard Stokely say, "Black Power", what did you feel and what did that mean to you--in the sense that it might have even connected to what you had heard Malcolm talk about.
OK. When I heard Stokely Carmichael say, "Black Power", and I saw the picture of him standing there with his fist raised, he had such an--he drew such an excitement and an energy that came to me--and those others who were in CORE ah, at the time--that we wanted to say, yes, we--this is what we want; we support you in this; and, we don`t want to be ashamed of wanting "Black Power"--is there something wrong with wanting "Black Power"? No, there isn't. And, we would like to be able to say that to people; I mean he came with the same kind of energy that Malcolm X came with. And, that's what we liked--not that we wanted to ah, overthrow our government (and there may have been some who wanted to); and not that we wanted to do anything violent; in fact, I was one who followed Dr. King's ah, methodology. But, I also wanted Dr. King to be a little more forceful about what it is--Sorry you told me not to say Dr. King.
That's OK. It wasn't bad as matter fact, it's a shame .
Um? Give me a sense of what it meant to you as a member of CORE; you had talked about what you had wished Dr. King would do, and what you were hearing from Malcolm, as well.
OK. Um, being in CORE--you know CORE is not a religious bases organization. And, therefore, we did have a lot of people, also, who were not necessarily church people, ah, who didn't even believe in churches, were adamantly against it. But, what we did have in common, with everybody in the movement, is that we wanted Blacks to, to move ahead, to move forward. And, we were going pretty slow. Ah, we decided that what we needed to do, was to give it--give this whole thing a little more energy. And, when Stokely Carmichael decided that he was going to dare to say, "Black Power"; that was like a sign to all of us across the country, ah, OK it's OK now--you can say it, it's out there and open. Let's deal with that. And, Dr. King, when he decided that that was going to be something that we should hush a little bit, ah, I think that made it even more attractive to us, ah, the fact that somebody would tell you not to harp on it too much, to ah play it low key; ah, in fact, we decided then that, yeah,that must be the direction that we need to go into, because we're getting too many people who are telling us to go gradually, and to go slow.
I'm not saying that right--
Think about it a second. Because, what you were saying originally was that----and so you were hoping that you would be a little bit
So you don't have to remember anything. Just however you want to play it.
When you heard Stokely issue that call for "Black Power" what did that mean to you as a member of CORE?
It meant at the time--when Stokely Carmichael decided that he was going to stand-up and say "Black Power"
Not even decide, but when you heard--
OK.OK. When I heard that Stokely. When I heard Stokely stand up and say "Black Power", and he said it with so much force, and he wasn't ashamed to say it, and he said it with so much energy, that I knew that that was what I needed--that was the call I needed to adhere to. And, so many others of us in CORE, at the same time, felt that way. And, he said it in a way that we were, it said, I'm not ashamed of it. Yes, that's what I want. Put, it right out here on the table, you know; this is what it is, this is what it's about: "Black Power"--let's pick that up , and deal with that. And, they thought it was a challenge to those in the movement who were, ah, less, ah, militant. Ah, to either deal with that, or to ah, step out and say, I'm not backing it, one way or the other. But, ah, it was an exciting time for us, because we felt, yeah, these people all over the country are feeling just like we`re feeling right here; they want "Black Power."
Cut. That was it. That was it.
What role did organizations like CORE, which are more militant, play in getting King to be more militant?
Well, the fact that we would take an opposite--ok, yeah.
Yeah, you have to mention CORE that's all.
Ah, groups like CORE, made, ah, Dr. King, I think more militant--kept him more to the left than he probably would have been if we had not been around. Ah, whenever we decided we were going to do something very radical, such as our march on, into Cicero. That made Dr. King have to say, well maybe, it's not such a bad idea, because, Dr. King was not going to denounce us, as we were not going to denounce him. We had to show unity, even though we were at different points. So, when he, when we decided that we were going to do something very militant, like support "Black Power." Dr. King and his people, they had to look at "Black Power" and say, what is this? Is this something good here; is this something that we ought to be looking at? And, this kept him more to the left than he, I think, would have been, if we had not been there.
When Dr. King calls off the march, how did you feel?
When he called off the march, we were surprised; we were shocked. This is the march we looked forward to. The other marches were nice. But, the one in Cicero had special meaning for us. The Cicero community was been--has been a very hostile community to Blacks for years--ever since I can remember. And, I looked forward to the time that I could march down those streets and, and in defiance of all those people there. Ah, when I was a little girl, we were told ah, never go on the other side of Plusaki; never go ah, on the other side of Cicero--and, especially, don't go there by yourself. Ah, so, when Dr. King said he wasn't going to march in that neighborhood, I said, my gosh, well what's it all about? This is the neighborhood to march in. AH, they've been known to have "toughs" in that neighborhood, and even some gangster, ah, connections there. But, we were saying, you know, we're talking to all of those White bigots, and whether they're mafia people, or whether they're just ah, some White hecklers, we want them to know, yeah, we're going to come to Cicero; Cicero's got to yield too, like the rest of the country. So, when we decided that we were going to go that morning when we gathered for the march, we had made this big statement, saying we were going to defy Dr. King and march to Cicero. Well, that took a lot more ah, than just conversation to do. So, we got in the park at the gathering point, where we had announced to the city in public press releases, we were going to march. There were practically more reporters than there were people; there were about six or seven of us who showed up to go on this march, and we just knew we were going to fall flat on our faces, and just, this is going to be the ultimate in of embarrassments. And, when we decided--we waited around, we were supposed to start I think about twelve o'clock; we waited around and waited around and waited around until, finally, we had to go. And it became obvious no more people were going to come. And, just at that point, I think the community almost felt sorry for us--the community people: they started to show-up. Well, these were the people who lived adjacent to Cicero, too. So, they sort of knew the relationship of Cicero with Chicago; and, especially with Cicero with Blacks. And, so they started to fall in line. We hadn't knocked on anybody's door. We hadn't leafletted[SIC] that neighborhood; we had not done all of the kinds of community organization things that it takes to get this kind of march going; but, yet, and still these people just sort started to come out of their houses, they were--they had been sitting in cars watching, you know, the reporters and the new people around the cameramen and all, and they were watching. But, then the kids were playing basketball, they decided to come, go with us. And, I guess what happened is that everybody really was just tagging along to see who was there and what was going to happen. But, as we got into the Cicero, the hecklers got so bad, that everybody decided, well, you know I'm not going to let my people go over there and ah, maybe I need to go with them. And, I think it was sort of a ground-swell. And, the next thing I knew it was just at least a couple of thousand people, ah, going into Cicero. And, once you got in there, you couldn't come back by yourself, so you had to stick with the march. So, as we got into Cicero, the, we noticed that the National Guard had been alerted, of course. Loucas[SIC] had promised ah, this, the city to ah, to ah, ah, fathers, that there was going to be no violence. Now, how he could promise somebody there was going to be no violence, I don't know. But, that's the only way they were going to give us the permit to march. So, we decided we would go on and tell them, yeah, nobody's going to riot, nothing's going to happen; and, in fact, on our part, nothing did happen. Ah, when we got there, we noticed that all of the bayonets, ah, and the guns that were out were aimed at the marchers and not at the hecklers. The hecklers were throwing bottles and rocks and spitting and calling us all kinds of filthy names and ah, ah, doing some other things that I wouldn`t even repeat. But, it, what happened is that people became so excited, and we were--it was a closeness in that march. Even the Chicago police, I think, saw some of the things that were going on and felt that those things were unjust, and they decided, for the first time--Chicago police did not beat the marchers; did not throw the marchers around. Chicago police decided to protect to us. Because, it was obvious who the National Guard were there to protect; they were there to protect Cicero and those people who were heckling us.
Talk about how the mood was different in terms of the sense of self-defense on the march. And then possibly throwing the bottles or the bricks back.
OK. Yea. It was--you felt really threatened. You felt like this was not just a regular picket-line that you're walking, where you're going to go down and make your presence known and walk your ah, mile or two and come back ah, a given route. Ah, when you got there you really felt like you were surrounded by an air of hatred. And, even Dr. King had ah, mentioned, when he marched, that Chicago had some of the worst people that he'd ever encountered. Ah--
Just a second, because I'm asking you the wrong question. Ah--
How was the character of the Cicero march different from Dr. King's usual marches in Chicago?
Well, Dr. King's marches in Chicago were usually made up of movement people. This march was community people. These were--these people had not attended any workshops on non-violence; they had not listened to any lectures on love and loving but, you know, your fellow man and all; they were just people who were angry about what was happening and wanted to do something. And, when they all decided to go on this march, and people started to throw bricks and bottles at us; a couple of people caught the bricks and threw them back; threw rocks back; they even ah, ah, would jump in between ah, a lady sometimes. Ah, women who were on the march were very protected. The fellows were there--I saw these coats that looked as if men had something underneath them. Ah, I don't know if anybody had anything. I didn't see anything, but the coats were really heavy. Um, and these people were saying you know, yeah, we're going to come to Cicero and we're not going to go limp. Ah, we're going to march through Cicero, and we`re going to march to the point that we said we were going to march to, and we're going to come back. And, that in itself was a triumph, because, people just didn't do that in Cicero.
Cut. Thats it--