Powell discusses the state of organization, strategies, and prospects of the civil rights movement, as well as its leadership. Throughout the interview Powell refers to his own work in the 1930s as well as his legislation and other activities in Congress. He expresses a strong belief in nonviolence. He believes in integration rather than separatism. He discusses the role of demonstrations, expounding on when they are good and when they are bad, and their potential dangers. Prompted by Warren, he discusses Gunnar Myrdal's theory of how Reconstruction could have been handled better, including compensation to slaveowners for the loss of their slaves. Powell discusses economic and employment issues facing African Americans and the intersection between race and class. He disapproves of white leadership in the civil rights movement, mentioning in particular that in the NAACP. He discusses the state of liberalism in the U.S. in general. He emphasizes the need to get “real black history” into textbooks. He discusses a tendency of African American leaders to move toward the white world and away from their own people.
Audio: The sound files were apparently made from tapes recorded at extremely variable speeds; speech varies from extremely slow and low-pitched to (very infrequently) unintelligibly fast and high-pitched. Almost all the speech is intelligible, however, if at times unintentionally comical. The first file begins in media res.
Image: Original caption: Washington Conference on "Black Power". Washington: Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) and Stokley Carmichael (seated) are shown during their press conference today. Powell announced he will invite all Negro leaders to a Washington conference on "Black Power" Labor Day weekend. Carmichael, a chairman of SNCC, said he asked the Harlem Congressman to convene the conference. July 27, 1966. Copyright: Bettmann/Corbis.
Audio courtesy of the University of Kentucky.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) was an African American politician, pastor, and civil rights activist. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and received a master's degree in religious education from Columbia University. He rose to prominence as a civil rights activist in Harlem in the 1930s and succeeded his father as pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church there. In 1944 he was elected the first black congressman from New York. He was involved in the passage of numerous social legislation bills and in 1961 became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. Criticism of his personal behavior and his management of committee funds led to his loss of the chairmanship in 1967, and he had to sue to retain his seat in the House, which he then kept, though without his seniority, until being defeated in the 1970 Democratic primary by Charles Rangel. Seventh Avenue north of Central Park in New York City has been renamed Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
Image: Original caption: Washington Conference on "Black Power". Washington: Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) and Stokley Carmichael (seated) are shown during their press conference today. Powell announced he will invite all Negro leaders to a Washington conference on "Black Power" Labor Day weekend. Carmichael, a chairman of SNCC, said he asked the Harlem Congressman to convene the conference. July 27, 1966. Copyright: Bettmann/Corbis.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
ADAM CLAYTON POWELL
POWELL: You know what the trouble with that kind of books?
[handwritten note: Silverman]
Q: What’s that?
POWELL: Times are moving so fast that they’re outdated. By the time they go through the process of publication, which is usually six months, they’re outdated, and Silverman really as Malcolm X says, he knows probably as much about the black revolution as any white man. But his book, I can tell by the way he had me in there in footnotes, that by putting me in the footnotes, and other people in footnotes, he was desperately trying to publish it, to try to update it.
Q: I don’t want this to be topical in that sense. I want, many of the personalities that are available now, as it were, will remain important, with varying , although some new names will appear. But this, it won’t be three months, before the book’s out, four, so things will change, but at least the quality of personality will remain important.
POWELL: I think it’s going to be a very explosive summer, and so if it’s out in three or four months, gonna be .
Q: Well, the magazine will be out sooner or course, the magazine will be out . May I plunge ahead?
POWELL: Yes sir.
Q: On the telephone the other day, you said to me that you thought that the old leadership by and large was finished, the old line organization leadership was finished. Do you mind expanding that, please sir?
POWELL: Well, I think as most old ladies, in all movements, they have not kept pace with the times, as I said in the summer recently, let’s trace the birth of an idea. It’s born, it’s rampant radicalism; it then becomes progressivism, then becomes liberalism, then it become moderate, then it becomes conservative, then it becomes outmoded, and then it’s gone. And the old leadership has not brought forth, new ideas, so the ideas they had, have not become outmoded.
Q: What do you conceive the function of your organization, ACT?
POWELL: First, I do not belong to ACT. I said this repeatedly. I have only participated in one of its meetings, at the written request of the chairman, Mr. Landry of Chicago, and in the letter he asked me to come and participate as “a consultant”, so as the grand old man of the black revolution, because I’ll be sixty years old in four years, and these are all kids in their twenties, they’re very few in the thirties, even, I was there as a consultant, and I gave them certain definite advice, based on my years of experience, because I led the first successful nonviolent campaign amongst Negroes in the United States, for 11 years, from 1930 to 1941, and I quite [quit] in ‘41, because there were no more worlds to conquer, almost like Alexander the Great, but don’t mean that. Now, we have new worlds to conquer. The northern school desegregation, the housing and the retraining of older Negroes for this new world, automation, and the training of our drop-outs and push-outs for employment, and upgrading, and political patronage commensurate with the Negro’s balance of power, in the big key electoral states.
Q: In the question of most revolutionary social changes, in those situations, there is usually a drive toward centralization of leadership.
POWELL: That’s correct.
Q: Almost always happens. That has not happened to this point.
POWELL: It’s only one year old. It’s only one year old. I think there’s gonna be a polarization. I think that these people who belong to ACT may be the catalytic agent in the polarization. Right now all we hear among the demonstration leaders here, is a dissatisfaction, which is not constructive, of the old leadership. Now, with a catalytic agent such as ACT, there might be produced a polarization so we will have the two poles. Right now we do not have the poles. Eric Severeid, [Sevareid] by the way, I have it over there, commented in a column, that in the Negro revolution the fight is not between the conservatives and the liberals, the fight is between the liberals and the extremists.
Q: Well, how do you place ACT in that spectrum?
POWELL: As a catalytic agent, a group fumbling around, trying to find something to hang its hat on, definitely stating before the press, in Washington, that they were not a new organization, they got word that we want to be a clearing house. And I said – what you should do is to make your umbrella big enough to include everyone. And I pointed at Malcolm X with whom I disagree, ideologically, but who I have great admiration for some of his insights.
Q: He has some great insights.
POWELL: That’s right, that’s right, I’m glad you said that. I don’t agree with the Black Muslim movement, don’t believe in separation, so I did something which sounds like semantics, before the ACT program, which they ate up. I said -- let’s don’t fight. Let’s fight for desegregation, and once we desegregate, then let each one go the way. the way they want to, the Black nationalists want to go for separation, let them go. I’m an integrationist.
Q: You make the sharp distinctions then between integration and equality.
POWELL: That’s right.
Q: And equality, you take as a prior condition.
POWELL: Desegregation now, then after that, let each one indulge in the luxury of whatever philosophical point of view they have.
Q: But deal with the matter of first, civil rights approach, the F.E.P.C. approach,
POWELL: No, we’re not even concerned with the civil rights. This is very important. If the Civil Rights Bill is passed, in its entirely without any watering down amendments, it would not affect the black revolution in the north one bit.
Q: Would affect the south.
POWELL: It would affect the south. You see, the black revolution is two-pronged. In the south it’s middle class, and upper class Negroes, it’s the preacher, the teacher, the student, and they’re fighting for the golf courses and the swimming pools, and the restaurants and the hotels and the right to vote. Those are the two primary thrusts. But when you leave the south, where only one-third of the Negroes now lives, and come on into Washington, here you have a revolution of the masses. Not the classes. And that’s the revolution around the country. And that revolution is interested in schools, housing, and jobs. And the Civil Rights Bill will not help that at all.
Q: It will not clearly. In a direct way. But
POWELL: It will create a climate. Will create a climate.
Q: Yes, the climate is important. One questions about his distinction between leadership and masses in the big northern cities. This distinction leads to speculation as to how leadership can control, what’s the relation of leadership to that kind of a mass based movement.
POWELL: There is no leadership in the old line and the new, that can control the masses. One of the shocking statistics, is that if you take the so-called Big Six, of the Civil Rights organizations, they don’t have but 900,000 members. And many of those are white. So you have 19 million black people, who are uncommitted by loyalty to the Civil Rights Movement.
Q: What is the problem of leadership then, you have this vast mass of people, many of them deprived and dissatisfied, and angry. What’s the problem of leadership there?
POWELL: The problem of leadership is as follows: I have had here in Washington, two summit meetings, they were not recorded by the press, although it was released to the press. Here I think is the quickest way to get into the heart of the masses, and if I wasn’t so extremely busy with this tremendous committee I have, that handles 40% of the domestic legislation in the United States, I would do it. I asked the Bureau of Census to give me the names of national organizations that were black-led, black membership, black-financed. And they give it to me. They gave me the Masons, the Elks, the _______, the doctors, the lawyers, the National Assn. of Colored Women’s Clubs, and altogether there are 51 in the Bureau of Census, national Negro organizations, totally Negro, totally financed by Negroes, which had a membership of 12,100,000. Now of course there are many duplications. The church for instance, the Baptist Church, the A.M.E. church, these have not yet been brought into the black revolution on a organizational basis, and that’s where your mass is. So if someone could ever form a council of Negro organizations, they’d be getting right into the heart of the black masses. This was tried by A. Philip Randolph years ago in Chicago, and they found [founded] the National Negro Congress, and the commies took that over.
Q: Two things stem from that situation that you’re describing. One is that we know there is no social change without power involved. What is the nature of the threat of this power? Power means a threat. What is the nature of this power and the nature of the threat it mounts?
POWELL: Threat to whom?
Q: Threat to the status quo.
POWELL: All right, as I said in my speech in Harvard Friday, and at Indiana University last Monday, the white man is afraid today. He’s afraid because all of the instruments of containment, of containing the Negro in a second class status, he had a cartel. He monopolized these. He had a cartel, a monopoly, _________ national guard, the police force, electric cattle prods and the numerical superiority. All of a sudden Birmingham exploded. And the demonstrations began all over the country. And these demonstrations based on the ________ of nonviolence. And you cannot stop nonviolence with violence. So the white power structure now stands aghast. Wondering what to do, in the face of these kids rolling out in the streets, these people marching, with nothing but “We shall overcome some day.”
Q: That is, the technique of nonviolence is a decisive factor in Negro power.
POWELL: The day the Negro changes from nonviolence to violence, he is finished, and the Black revolution, has to start all over again at some future date.
Q: Now there are some Negroes in responsible positions, even ________ organizations, that profess nonviolence, which think ________ some other platform, which speak of ________ of violence. The threat of violence, has uncontained ________ (TAPE RECORDING IS COMPLETELY UNEVEN –SWITCHES BACK AND FORTH FROM 3-3/4 speed to 1-7/8 speed or somewhere in between --)
Q: Well, back to out topic of leadership and the centralization of leadership, it’s always true apparently, that any competition for power, or competition for policy, you find the crisis of over-reaching, entering very soon. One person promises more, offers more, more and more radical solutions. This conforms to expectations as well as to personal ________, but this carries dangers. How much danger do you see now?
POWELL: I don’t see any danger of that at all, except in the ranks of those self-proclaimed leaders who are trying to move up the ladder, by virtue of these promises, because they have no other method of moving up the ladder.
Q: How did you respond to Rev. Valamison’s now well-advertised statement, that the schools could be wrecked if not conforming to the time table of integration. [Next to this statement, rewrite is hand-written in left-hand margin]
POWELL: The schools could be wrecked?
Q: Should be, the public schools should be destroyed if they don’t conform to his time table of integration
POWELL: Well I don’t subscribe to that no more than I can subscribe to the white segregationist destroying the public school system rather than obey the Supreme Court decision.
Q: They are parallel.
POWELL: They are exactly parallel.
Q: In the area of overreach. Now what about the stall-in? Is that an overreach clearly?
POWELL: Yes, it’s an overreach, but I was in favor of the stall-in, not knowing anything about the techniques, nor the organization, whatsoever, because to me, any form of demonstration that’s nonviolent, necessarily quickens the thinking of people in the power structure.
Q: Now here’s what I’m getting at. In terms of nonviolent demonstrations, is there a distinction between the legitimate and the illegitimate. That is, those with different kinds of social reference. That is, the stalls _________ is one thing, picketing or sitting in or
POWELL: No I don’t think there is any difference, I see no difference, I say any form of nonviolence, has its effect.
Q: Oh violence has an effect too of course.
POWELL: Yes, but I don’t believe in it, because, I don’t believe in violence totally, not just as a Negro. I don’t believe that violence has ever accomplished anything, you’re a historian, and you know, that better than I do, that war and violence does not accomplish any satisfactory solution – our civil war, our world war, making the world safe for democracy and so forth. So I’m against violence period.
Q: Well, what about demonstrations directed at specific targets, and those that are merely expressions of dissatisfaction or anger. Nonviolent.
POWELL: I believe in demonstrations directed at specific targets, because when you have demonstrations of just bitterness and resentment and frustrations, with no goal in sight, then you’re on the edge of something that could turn into violence.
Q: Well, this then is the distinction between the stall-in had no objectives. Just hypothetically, ________ it had no objective ________
(OFF ON A DIFFERENT SPEED OF RECORDING AGAIN)
POWELL: The stall-in had an objective to me, although as I said, I never even met the leaders of the stall-in, probably came to Washington, never spoke to him more than 30 seconds. The stall-in had an objective in pointing up to people coming from all over the world, all over the United States, the, first, the lily-white policy of the Worlds Fair itself, second, the segregation and discrimination policies in the building of it; third, for instance, the African pavilion at the World’s Fair, was built entirely by white labor. No Negroes worked on that at all. In a city where there are 1,200,000 Negroes and 800,000 Puerto Ricans. So I think the stall-in __________, I thought the stall-in had an objective in pointing that up. That was it for me. Now if the leaders of the stall-in didn’t have that as their target, then I say they were wrong.
Q: Well, the point I was getting at, is the different kind of social reference, you see, that picketing of the African pavilion, the Fair itself is one thing, had a specific target. The other refers to society in general, and can have serious ________ consequences.
POWELL: Yes, that’s true.
Q: That makes a real difference, doesn’t it?
POWELL: Yes, it does make somewhat of a difference, but I believe that anyone who goes into a demonstration, must go into the demonstration with a view that there’s life and death involved. All you need is one trigger-happy policeman, and that’s all, and it’s all over, we’ve had it happen.
Q: It’s happened.
POWELL: Yes, the Student Nonviolent Group, SNCC, has had four workers killed in the south.
Q: Oh, yes, that’s the question where the demonstrator himself takes his risk, not the risk of a sort of innocent person, in the ambulance, being whirled away to the hospital, being stopped on the road. That’s the kind of risk.
Q: Coming back to something else, how much apathy is there still in a place like Birmingham or a place like Harlem?
POWELL: I can’t speak for Birmingham, all I can speak for is Harlem. I would say that the apathy in Harlem, was massive until the Birmingham explosion. And now it recovered from its lethargy and indifference because they thought they were so well-off, they made all these gains back in the ‘30s and early ‘40s, and when the school demonstration was called first by Galamison, the New York Times, in recording statistics, of the school demonstration, pointed out that in my district, central Harlem, was 92% absent from the classrooms. Nearest to us was Galamaison’s district, 68%, Bedford Stuyvesant.
Q: What about the question of Negro responsibility? Now the white responsibility is clear at this point. There’s no question about that, ________. What is the Negro’s responsibility?
POWELL: I think the Negro responsibility is different than what you are probably thinking about. The responsibility of the Negro is to quicken the white man’s responsibility into action.
Q: He has no other responsibility than that?
POWELL: Not right now. This is a time of crisis, time of emergency. That’s his responsibility. All this business about fixing up your houses, and not spending money on luxury products, and getting a better education, all those things, right now, have become secondary, because this is a time of crisis. This is the year of decision, and therefore the normal responsibility of the Negro, the long-range responsibility has to be waived now, for the present crisis.
Q: Should the freshman in college suspend his studies?
POWELL: If necessary, yes, if necessary, yes. He has to risk being kicked out of school, if necessary.
Q: That’s something else, kicked out of school.
POWELL: Everybody got to take a rest. For now.
Q: This thing of Dr. King’s speech at Bridgeport a few weeks ago, which after his ordinary aggressive line, I would have to put that before it, when you say it, it different, he winds up, you see, with the – not cast down your buckets where you are, but if you are the street sweeper, you know, sweep that street; if you are the nuclear physicist, do that job; that line. As being a necessary associate,
POWELL: I don’t believe in that right now. As I say, I repeat again, that all these normal responsibilities, all these responsibilities, must be waived in the face of the immediate crisis.
Q: Well, suppose we are past the immediate crisis, suppose we assume the proper direction, at a speed to be acceptable.
POWELL: Then we come back to the responsibilities, that of the normal responsibilities of any group of people in the world.
Q: Doesn’t that seem like an arbitrary distinction to you?
POWELL: No sir, not to me.
Q: Here’s another idea to toss around. ________ that segregation gives the advantage of the disadvantage, very often you profit from the disadvantage.
POWELL: Oh yes, surely. But that advantage, if you travel through Negro communities, is not of such a significant nature, that it should stand in the way, just a few people here and there, profit from it – the Negro insurance company, although the white insurance companies, are now using actuarial tables that give Negroes – the same as whites. The Negro undertaker, one of the wealthiest undertakers in New York is a white firm, Walter Cook, burying Negroes. The Negro doctor, anyone who will practice in the ghetto, whether the ghetto is Italian, Jewish, or Sutton Place, all these are ghettoes, the ghetto to me is merely a place where a group of people live, who basically are of the same race. I don’t consider a ghetto necessarily a place of slums. I consider Sutton Place, a ghetto.
Q: You mean a gilded ghetto.
POWELL: That’s right. So anyone that practices in those areas, is bound to succeed in those areas. Succeeds by compulsion.
******** Unnumbered page – sentence transition doesn’t make sense ********
very good relationships with men from the south. People would be amazed on both sides of the fences if they knew how well we got along. Because I know their ________. _________
right now I have two or three outstanding southern congressmen from the deep hard-core south, who are begging me to attack them, in public, because they are afraid they might low the primary.
Q: And you
POWELL: _________ scared to death because of Wallace.
Q: There’s a line taken by James Baldwin and some other Negro ________, that the real aim, one aim anyway, ________ of the Negro revolution, is the moral regeneration of America.
POWELL: Correct. That’s my view. My view changed at the Bandung conference. Until the Bandung conference, I believe that everything I had done, in picketing in New York for 11 years, in being the first Negro in New York City, Council, in authoring or co-authoring every civil rights bill, in the Congress, I wrote the first F.E.P.C. 20 years ago, it’s my F.E.P.C. bill, I wrote the _________ on the withholding of funds, which is in the F.E.P.C. bill, all of this, was for the good of Negroes. But when I came back from the Bandung conference, April 19, 1955, I said – no, this now is a fight to save America. The question of civil rights, the question of all these demonstrations is not gonna help the Negro, this is to save the Untied States. Moral regeneration yes, moral regeneration before the eyes of the world. And this is a question which is asked me when I go to important international conferences. I will be the chairman
******** End of unnumbered page. Sentence transition does not make sense ********
But the advantages of segregation for the Negro are rapidly fading. ________
Q: Without reference to that
POWELL: The fact that the white people are beginning to open their doors of business, and employment, oh, it’s one of the threats to the whole society, the chain store is wiping out the small business man, white as well as black. Happening in Harlem.
Q: Du Bois said long ago, that he noted the great split between the pull of Negro tradition or even an African tradition, as well as ________ ________ as opposed to the impulse, pull toward the western European American white society. That pull. This, for some Negroes, has created a very fundamental _________
POWELL: I think that the African nations’ attitude toward the Negro ________ is _________ that the Negro in the United States of America, is more concerned with being an American with full rights than with preserving any African culture that he doesn’t know about, ________
Q: Forgetting Africa, though, there is still the pull for some people, to the Negro American culture, as distinguished from the white middle class world of outside.
POWELL: The Negro never had any American culture. The nearest thing you had to it, is something the whites have adopted and that is the Negro spiritual, which is the only original music that America has ever produced. But there was not much Negro culture, the church was different than the white church, but now as the churches have gotten larger and wealthier, ministers better educated – you know, here is a fact that’s amazing, I’m sure you know about, very few people do. There are more Negro young people in the United States out of a population of 20 million, going to colleges and universities, than all of the young people of England, out of a population of 56 million.
Q: I didn’t know that.
POWELL: I know it, very few people know it. It’s a statistic from the Bureau of Census, that’s been running over there since 1960. It’s amazing! When I read it, I was just so shocked. And
POWELL: This indicates the fact the Negro has a responsibility, compared to England, indicates a fact that he’s interested in being an American, and the Negro college is fading. The Negro press has come back because it was almost on its last legs – but its circulation is up now because it’s the organ of protest – of the revolution. The Negro church always will be strong as it is because people go to the church around the corner. But there are a lot of whites going into fringe area churches, a lot of Negroes going into white churches, and churches beginning to have Negro clergymen even, in mixed congregations.
Q: One town I know in Vermont – is considering a Negro clergyman.
POWELL: You know, I used to tutor the interracial project in Vermont around 20 years ago, where at our own expense, in my church, we sent about 50 youngsters to Vermont, to areas where they’d never even see Negroes, and then the farmers there would take them in as their guests for a two-week period, and in the winter time they would charter a bus, and 40 or 50 would come down and spend a weekend living in a Harlem apartment, __________.
Q: There is no Negro in this township that I’m thinking about. I suppose there’s never been one there.
POWELL: They’re probably able to hire him because he’s better trained than, at a salary they would offer to somebody from Yale Divinity or Harvard Divinity.
Q: In the town in Kentucky where I was born, at one time, there was a Cornell doctor, a Ph.D., principal of the Negro school, and the principal of the white school, I should say, was semi-literate.
POWELL: That’s right, that’s right, we have problems like that in government here. Where we have supervisors, high school graduates over men with bachelors and masters, one of the things we’re fighting right now, the President’s Committee.
Q: Myrdal says in his big book, that the ideal program of the reconstruction of the south in the Civil War, would have had these other provisions – one, compensation to the now ex-slave holders, for their ex-slaves, their “property”, two expropriation of land, but compensation to the _________; three, land distributed to the freedman, but not as gift; long-term, supervised sales. Plus move the population, taking a certain number of Negroes, and resettling on public land. Do those things strike you as reasonable?
POWELL: They were in those days, because Myrdal is copying that from what Queen Victoria did. When Queen Victoria freed the slaves, she paid everyone, she got them land, and the bitterness and the friction was not there.
Q: Well, it didn’t happen here anyway. But you would find no resistance to the idea.
POWELL: No, none whatsoever.
Q: It’s strange how often there’s a vast emotional resistance to this idea, on the part of both Negroes and white, as condoning a moral wrong. Isolating the moral question from any other context.
Powell: Well, as Myrdal points out, it wasn’t a moral wrong only, it was an economic loss. And just like compensation now to Israel for Jews that were murdered. ________ been worked out between West Germany and Israel.
Q: You don’t ________ moral question out of context ________You see it in terms of human economic and social context.
POWELL: That is correct.
Q: That’s a big split along discussions of all kinds, isn’t it?
POWELL: Yes, it is. Now you take our manpower development training act which
END OF TAPE ONE
TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
POWELL: On the business of Gunnar Myrdal, that he proposed, you take, on the relocation, that’s the one that people get so emotionally upset about also. And yet, one of the main features of the Manpower Development Training Act, which was my first major bill, New York Times said it might go down in history, as the greatest labor bill of this century, and then my vocational education bill, we put in those bills, federal funds, to relocate people, if ________ take Manpower Retraining Bill, there we have federal funds, available to move workers, and their families to other areas of the United States if they so desire, and to retrain them in those areas for job vacancies in those areas. So there again, I point out that the emotional business of the relocation of people after slavery is unfounded. I don’t believe now in the relocation of Negroes as proposed by some of the southern senators because that merely a gimmick.
Q: _________because they said they wouldn’t be happy in Vermont though.
POWELL: Well, I can recall when I married, Hazel Scott, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Vermont, rented me his lakeside chalet, for my honeymoon, and the neighbors of the Chief Justice, threatened that if I did come for my honeymoon, that they would have my water supply cut off. This is not so many years ago either. My son is 17, at M.I.T., so it would be about 17-1/2 or 18 years ago.
Q: Well, it hasn’t changed entirely, I can assure.
POWELL: I don’t think anything will ever change entirely.
Q: If we had equality in legal terms and all basic social ________, doesn’t that mean intermarriage, and doesn’t that mean integration automatically, it means ________ at least for a long time, increasing, of the centric forces that draw groups together. Does this ________
POWELL: Oh yes, the ________ in marriages is ridiculous because that’s something you can’t stop. White girl can marry Negro boy, or Negro girls marry white boys, can’t stop it. And it’s not widespread.
Q: You certainly can’t legislate it.
POWELL: No, you can’t legislate it. It has nothing to do. I think Gunnar Myrdal pointed this out, this is the last thing Negroes in his ten points.
Q: What about quotas, how do you feel about that whole problem?
POWELL: I’m against quotas, but I’m in favor of preferential hiring, as an emergency measure only, until a norm is reached, and I base this not just on my feeling, but I base it on something that I did. In ’40 or ’41, I led the nonviolent picket campaign against bus company in New York, because it wouldn’t employ Negroes except as maintenance workers, and cleaners.
And in 12 days, I halted the buses, in New York, and as a result we had a tripartite agreement legally drawn up between Mike Quill of the Transport Workers and the McCarthy, president of the bus company, and myself representing the Negro consumer, and in that we agreed that the bus company would hire two Negroes for every white, until a reasonable had been hired; from that moment which is over 20 years ago, I have not one single complaint from a Negro in the company or applying to the company, and today Mike Quill has 10,000 Negro union members in the Transport Workers Union, and that is proof positive, that preferential hiring does work, and has worked, but purely as an emergency measure, but quotas, no.
Q: Preferential hiring, that is, at a certain level of competence.
POWELL: Oh yes, yes, yes, in other words, when two people appear, and both equal, hire the Negro, until you’ve got a reasonable number in your plant.
Q: With reference to Quill, I’m reminded of this notion, how do the Teamsters Union stand on the matter of race? Their practice?
POWELL: In the locals that do not deal with cross country hauling, very good. In the locals that deal with cross country haling, no good, because of the simple fact that a Negro teamster pushes a truck across the country, can’t get accommodations.
Q: Simple as that. Not prejudice.
POWELL: Can’t get accommodations.
Q: It’s outside the Teamster Union attitudes.
POWELL: I talked this over with teamster officials, not with Mr. Hoffa, I’ve never spoken to Hoffa, have seen him in restaurant in Washington at a distance, but I’ve talked it over with other people, and this is their problem, that’s why they’re so much in favor of the Civil Rights Bill.
Q: What do you think will happen?
POWELL: I don’t know, I don’t know, I think the article by Fred Cook in last week’s Nation is absolutely shocking. The Nation devoted only 50 pages to an analysis of the way they tried to, and did, hang Hoffa. It’s unbelievable, star witness, for instance, who has been on the payroll of the Dept. of Justice, which is against the laws of Congress, $150 to $200 a week, and the jurors not only were served liquor as they were locked in, but the male jurors, women were procured for them by the Dept. of Justice, and paid for by the Dept. of Justice.
Q: Gives it a new glamour doesn’t it?
POWELL: If the women were glamorous, it did.
Q: What about Ruby? Do you make any sense of that?
POWELL: No. I am completely at sea concerning that whole situation.
Q: It’s a fascinating
POWELL: I would like to see Ruby allowed to have a press conference.
Q: Well, I’d like that too, just out of morbid curiosity.
POWELL: You know he hasn’t said one word to the press at all, not one word has come out directly or indirectly.
Q: Well, I suppose we’ll never know.
POWELL: I think that’s it. Will never know.
Q: For sure.
POWELL: “All the King’s Men”
Q: Well, that’s a thing we’ll never know. Here’s a problem that’s always up, in one form or another, it’s _________ the race question and the economic class question. How do you I think I know your drift of thought on this question. This intersection which is clear, it’s a fact, but not clear in the implications or the policy which ________. I think I know some drift of your thinking about this, but could you be more specific? And more theoretical if you wish. Take the individual Negro – it’s a race question and also an economic class question. Now how do you discuss this intersection, or deal with this intersection, these two issues? Now, many Negroes now and many white people now, think of this thing as purely as a matter of race, and I think, integration, as a panacea, perfect medicine you see.
POWELL: No I think the Negro participates in the economic class struggle in the United States, the same as the white man, he and he indicates this himself, by being one of the most consistent purchasers of brand commodities, and of status symbol. I think that that will continue as it is in every strata of American society. I think definitely, that, and integration won’t have anything to do with it, because it’s part of the American escalator system of going up. Status symbols, and split level housing and Cadillac’s and so forth.
Q: This one period of conspicuous consumption is more obvious among Negroes, because they have less outlet for their
POWELL: And because of their visibility too. Yes, your black man in a white Cadillac is different than seeing a white girl in a white Cadillac.
Q: Yes, high visibility.
POWELL: Visibility. Now you take compact cars. Compact cars do not sell among Negro people, as they’re selling among whites. People can’t understand my driving around in a 14 year old Jaguar, well it serves my purposes. I’m not interested in status symbols, so then people say – well that’s because you don’t need it.
Q: Well there’s a truth about all those status symbols, isn’t there?
POWELL: Oh yes, sure fellow ________ in the office just now, outstanding lawyer in Washington, say – what are you doing in that suit, you got two holes in it. I like it.
Q: Have you been reading Whitney Young’s Marshall plan program?
POWELL: Yes, that’s the kind of thing that Lyndon has just applied to the Appalachian region by the way. It’s really an old W.P.A. I think my War on Poverty bill will take out some of the wrinkles. I know my vocational education bill and manpower retraining bill and juvenile delinquency bill – these are the major
Q: They’re more inclusive.
POWELL: These are specifics. These are much more important than Civil Rights Bill, to the Negro, much more.
Q: Because these are aimed at giving the context. Creating a context.
POWELL: That’s right, correct.
Q: Let me ask you what you think of Abraham Lincoln.
POWELL; Well, you’re the historian, as I keep on saying, and I have read history, you can see by my library here, this is one of my ________. I think Lincoln is vastly, vastly overrated. I think that he did nothing at all except that which he had to do, and he did it in terms of winning a war. He was considered with the Union more than with slavery, and that’s why he said that slavery was not the real issue involved, in the War Between the States.
Q: What about Grant?
Powell: I don’t know much about Grant at all. Except Lincoln’s famous remark about his drinking liquor. And I never can understand, maybe you can tell me why, why was Grant buried in New York City?
Q: I don’t know. Except that he lived there for some years, and his friends were there. This is very generous of you – this time you are giving me. Tell me this, what’s the role of the white man, the liberal, what is his role in relation to the Negro revolution, and in relation to society in general?
POWELL: All right, in relation to the Negro Revolution, Joe Barry who writes a column for the New York Post, asked me this same question in Paris last June, at a press conference I held in the Embassy there. And my answer to him was very terse. Not to be abrupt, but just to give him the answer. “Follow black leadership.”
Q: In the Negro movement.
POWELL: That’s right. The white man can no longer control, nor should control the black movements. This is the only ethnic group left in the United States, that has participation by people of other groups. Interrelation groups I believe in, but in terms of the black revolution – no. Black lead, white workers, white followers.
Q: I know your remarks about Jack Greenberg of the N.A.A.C.P.
POWELL: Jack Greenberg, Spingarn, right on down the Board of Directors.
Q: That has been always a biracial
POWELL: Let it be known as one. Let it stop say in that this is the voice of the black masses. As long as you got so many whites sitting in the Board of Directors, and President, in policy-making position. Can’t find this in any other ethnic group. The Polish American Congress for instance, Polish American Congress wrote me the other day, asked me if I’d make remarks on the anniversary of Poland’s being taken over by Russia. I, as a Negro will make those remarks, but no Negro serves in the Polish American Congress. Federation of Italian Societies, ________, B’nai Brith [B’rith], so forth and so on. So it’s time for Negroes, 100 years of adolescence, to have their own black organization with the white liberal supporting it in every way. Working on the staff too.
Q: What is the white liberal’s role in the society out of this question now?
POWELL: To advance the entire course of liberalism. With Negro liberals, I don’t think there should be such a thing as white liberals – just liberals. I think that’s the way we have taken the word liberal and decimated its power, by saying white liberals and Negro liberals, there’s no such thing.
Q: Well, the phrase white liberals stems from the Negro _________
POWELL: Negro calling the white man a white liberal now, when he wasn’t to lead, or be in the power structure of the black revolution. If he is a white man and he is a liberal, in labor, housing, anything else, the Negro doesn’t call him a white liberal. Only when he wants to put his foot in the door of the policy making of the black revolution.
Q: What about the whole liberal movement in America now?
POWELL: Oh, I think it’s almost finished, and it’s just trying to come back, but beginning with McCarthy, and during the Eisenhower period, this nation had a blanket of mediocrity. It became a cult. Like Samuel Hoffenstein once wrote – years ago – come weel, come co, my status is quo. That’s a beauty. Now I think with the freshness of Kennedy and Jacqueline, there was a rebirth, and there was something in the air, and the white liberal and the Negro liberal are beginning to move again. But before, I think the liberal movement as about finished.
Q: Let me read you a quotation here, from a man whose name you will know – Arnold Rose, Myrdal’s collaborator, you remember, on Negro history. The rewriting of Negro history, and the investigation. The whole tendency of a Negro history movement, not of history, but of propaganda, is to encourage the average Negro to escape realities, of the actual achievement and the actual failures of the present. Although the movement consciously tends to build race pride, it may also cause Negroes unconsciously, to recognize that their group pride may be built partly on this delusion. And this may result in an devaluation of themselves, for being forced to resort to self-decision.” That a long pice [piece].
POWELL: Yes, yes, I know what he’s trying to say, he’s trying to say that the efforts of people like the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and people who are in the pulpit, I mean, the broad pulpit, not just the church, to instill pride among Negroes, might lead them to thinking that they are more than what they really are.
Q: The evidence that they offer have been not adequate for the claims made.
POWELL: But on the other hand, persons such as myself, chairman of this committee on education, and my staff, the tremendous resources of the Library of Congress, we are initiating a curriculum study of American textbooks, with a view of seeing that these textbooks more accurately portray the Negro, not with a view of building up some false pride in the Negro mass, but with a view of building up truth in the minds of Americans, white and black, concerning Negroes. For instance, very few people know that the first man to die that America might be free was Crispus Attucks, a black man from Barbados.
There is a little monument tucked away in the commons up in Boston, that’s all. If he had been white, there’d be a monument in nearly every major city, there’d be a poem about him, like a poem about Paul Revere and so forth. So we want to get this, we want to put the facts into textbooks for the good of white Americans as well as for the good of Negroes.
Q: Every country has its own myths, not substantiated by the facts.
POWELL: Incidentally, that’s a great line from Fulbright’s foreign policy speech, that we are in conflict between the old myths and the new realities, and we are shrinking the grounds of discussion by confining discussion of this to what he called unthinkable thoughts. A great statement. And that’s the problem, not only in foreign policy, everywhere. Old myths, the new realities, the unthinkable thoughts.
Q: That’s well put.
POWELL: Oh, wonderful
Q: It’s well put indeed. He has a gift for phrase.
POWELL: Yes. Yes.
Q: He ________
POWELL: ________ I have very good relationships, I gave the War on Poverty Bill to ________ of the congressional delegation to the I.L.O. convention in Geneva again this year, I’ve been that three years in a row. Now just there, but white Europe asks me – how can we take the United States seriously on its position as being the leader of the free world, when we have this picture of this woman down on the street with two policemen on top of her. Baldwin is correct. This is no longer the Negro’s fight, and the sooner the white man realizes it, and not too late, the better.
Q: How widely is it realized?
POWELL: It’s not, it’s not. It’s realized very, very definitely and desperately by people in top positions of power, but when you get down into the counties and the backwash of America, the rural areas, and even in the cities, it’s not realized. Lyndon Johnson made Carl Rowan head of the United States Information Service, in his own words, he said – I want a black man to be disseminating our propaganda. He has just taken another Negro, friend of mine, Carter, who is Asst. Secretary of State, and this coming Friday, tomorrow, he will be made the Deputy Chief of Protocol, of the United states – why, because the people who are coming here, now are dark. They come from Asia, Africa, Latin America, ________.
Q: Now how much is this told of the Negro “leader” in politics, in the arts, in business or anything else, since dealing with the white world, he loses something of the Negro world, the old suspicion of the sell-out? Is that still ________
POWELL: Yes, very definitely. Very definitely and unfortunately it’s proven repeatedly, when we had demonstration in New York City under Galamison, I was the only elected Negro official that supported it. And the Negro press, the Amsterdam News, just castigated editorially week after week, the assemblymen, city councilmen, and state senators, and so forth. Another problem is that Negro leaders don’t live with Negroes. I am the only Negro leader and I don’t count as a Negro leader because I don’t have a national organization, but I’m a Congressman and I’m a minister of a church in the heart of Harlem, I am the only one that lives in Harlem. The others don’t. They live Riverside Drive, Long Island, Westchester, it’s all right, if you’re gonna do it. But I can do it, why can’t they? And in Washington, I live in the heart of the slums, in Washington, in Southeast Washington.
Q: Now we come back to the problem of integration. Comes out of this. There’s been a process, slow but increasing.
POWELL: There’s so many ________ definition of conversion. Remember the definition of conversion is the process slow or sudden.
Q: This matter of the pulling out from the Negro community, of successful Negroes, has been the basis of a lot _________
POWELL: The Negro leadership has got to stay with the Negro masses as he fights to integrate the Negro masses, and for him to go out and be integrated is of no help to the masses. He is taking, he is draining the leadership resources, out of the community that needs it. Needs those resources.
Q: ________ does give a new public image of the Negro.
Powell: No. Don’t believe it. No. Ralph Bunche moves where he is. I moved for instance, in Fleetwood, well, in Westchester. I moved there, on a street quite a few years before, where they broke out the windows and burned crosses on the lawn. I moved to a very lovely house, and it didn’t affect the attitudes of the people ________ they didn’t _________ burning crosses, maybe because they were afraid. And after several years my immediate neighbors, meaning the house next door and the house across the street, only, became friendly with us, on a semi-social basis. See and it gives them an escape, they can say – well, Ralph Bunche lives with us, or Jackie Robinson – like saying – I’m a member of the N.A.A.C.P. Or gave them thousand dollars. No, Negroes are suspicious of this, back to your original question. Negroes are very suspicious of this breakfast that was held at the height of the demonstrations last year, where Courier of the ________ Foundation got whites to pledge $800,000 to the Big Six civil rights movement. And they grew suspicious of a sell-out. And I think to a certain extent they were justified, because one of the most able organizations in terms of demonstrations is SNCC, and SNCC was part of the Big Six, and they didn’t give SNCC a penny. I sent SNCC a hundred dollar check, just a couple of days ago, and they wrote me back – thank God, all we had in our treasury when your check arrived, was $9.17. But they got $80,000 split among the Big Boys. And I don’t care whether it’s overt or not, subconsciously when you get that kind of money into organizations operating on a marginal basis, you’re gonna think twice before you make some utterances or do some things.
Q: Just take an episode like this. I live in suburbia, Connecticut, a group of people where I live there.
POWELL: I’ve been there, a friend of mine, a doctor, had a house in Riverside.
Q: I live over in Fairfield. I’m between Bridgeport and New York.
POWELL: I see, well, Riverside is between Bridgeport and ________ on the coast. I have a very eminent and extremely wealth doctor friend who lived there for years, used to weekend in his summer house very luxuriously, no impression on his neighbors. Speaks fluent French. Has Rolls Royce. No impression. Go ahead.
Q: The question is simply this. People I know around that neighborhood, are organizing, people I know, the people I know are the white middle-aged ladies, who take the civil rights movement and the integration question very seriously, and they are giving a biracial dance to raise money for the N.A.A.C.P. This sort of thing, I was told by certain Negroes I know who I thought would have been opposed, something peculiar about it, they thought it was fine. I don’t know how much humor was in this statement as fine, you see, but they played along with it. I can’t quite fathom the whole complications of it myself, I’ve tried to feel what my own feeling would be if I were a Negro, and ________ this occasion, I haven’t been able ________ But the ones I know ________ along with this, in their stride.
POWELL: I don’t think
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