The 1968 Tuskegee Revolt: SNCC, Black

  Power, the Legacy of Booker T. Washington,

           and  the Assassination of M.L.K. Jr.” 

   

          INTERVIEW OF (AND CLARIFICATION COMMENTARIES

    BY)ALASHE MICHAEL OSHOOSI (MICHAEL F. WRIGHT PH.D., J.D.)

                                                  

         A Research Project for a Ph.D. Thesis by Dr. Brian Jones

                                 (City University of New York, 2016)

                                                                                                                                                             

THE INTERVIEW: 

 

Brian:
We are recording. Just to confirm orally, at least for now, that you saw the consent form and you do consent and you're going to send me the document in the mail.

 
Michael:
That's correct. I agree with the terms of the consent form.

 
Brian:
Thank you so much. What do you want me to call you? Do you want me to call you Dr. Wright, Oshoosi?

 
Michael:
Dr. Wright is fine or Dr. Oshoosi-Wright ... Sometimes people ...  For the purpose of the inter- views, Michael is fine.

 
Brian:
Okay. All right. Thanks again. I really appreciate you taking the time to be interviewed about this. I guess, if it's okay with you, I'd like to just start at the beginning, about how you came to be a student at Tuskegee.

 
Michael:
Sure. I was raised predominately in North Philadelphia in an African-American community, for the most part. I went to regular schools, public schools there and at the time that I grew up, in the 1950s, Tuskegee had a great reputation among African-Americans nationwide. I'd heard about the school, of course. I'd heard about Booker T. Washington and that legacy and when I was looking for a place to go to college, it's one of the places I considered. I spent the summer of 1965 working in a warehouse and also attending the University of Pennsylvania as a pre-fresh- man youngster but I got accepted to Tuskegee and I was exceedingly happy, mainly to be able to get away from Philadelphia and the Northeast. I was seventeen so you could imagine how burn- ing the desire was to see something new and different. As I said, I knew about the reputation of Tuskegee. I didn't know how beautiful the place was until I got there but I applied and they gave me a little student loan and financial aid and I went. That's what happened.

 
Brian:
Okay. What was it like when you got there? What was it like socially, culturally, intellectually? What did you find as a freshman?

 
Michael:
Well, my first impression was literally getting there. I took the train but I got in New Jersey and then back down to [??] and then we took a little train, I'll never forget it called the Louisville or Nashville or something, some little trunk line train and it stopped at a place called Chehaw (and Chehaw had but one building, I think, in the entire town—the train station). It's in the middle of a huge cotton field. I had never seen cotton before, didn't know what it was, and we couldn't un derstand the thick southern drawl of the conductor who was trying to explain to us what it was and where the bathroom on the train was. It took ten minutes to clear that up. I just couldn't understand the man. When we got to Chehaw, there was no ladder or platform. We had to lit- erally jump off the train. One woman saw that and she wasn't going to get off until they came on something because the level is very high. It's about four or five feet off the ground. I jumped onto the ground in the middle of this cotton field and there was one taxi there. He was willing to take me and my friend to Tuskegee for fifty cents. I think that's what it cost. 

 
We got there and as I got into the town, again I was struck with how quaint it was but also lit- erally how beautiful Tuskegee is. It's about five thousand acres of rolling hills and all the Greek lawns and buildings, stately old buildings and everything. I found it beautiful physically. As I began to get oriented and meet other students in the incoming class and whatnot, it was an amazing amount of fun and the excitement buzz to meet African Americans from all over the country but obviously mostly from the South. I got hazed by some of the football players I think the second day there. I didn't know what to expect. I saw youngsters pledging. I didn't know what that was. I thought they had all lost their mind and it made me second guess being at Tuskegee. I woke up one morning, all I saw was incredible antics going on all over the place and me from north Philly, I knew nothing about the fraternities and sororities or anything. Even- tually, I got with the program and after a couple days I saw a group of nursing students, all females, picketing the nursing building. I went to find out why. 

 
It turned out that one of their students had been dismissed from school from violating her curfew, staying out until twelve. I thought that that was really harsh so I joined the picket line with the nurses the second day I was there. I was the only guy on the picket line but it made perfect sense to me. I was all in favor of nurses being able to stay out after curfew. (laughter) So I did that. The next day, there were athletes picketing and raising cane about not getting their financial aid and I was just sort of with them and then I joined the little campus newspaper. From there, I began to meet all kinds of characters including completely in the first week, people who worked SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and I met just briefly Sammy Younge Jr within the first week or two. I came to know his brother, Stevie, a little bit better because Sammy was about three years older than me. Stevie was my age. He was coming into college there. It was a great social experience and you can just imagine it was just a lot of fun for a seventeen-year old. I had some political consciousness when I got there that sort of leaned me in the direction of working in the movement as opposed to joining a fraternity or something like that.

 
Brian:
Right. Is that because your family had been involved in politics?

 
Michael:
Not electoral or partisan politics so much but in terms of movement politics, my family ... You could say they were involved. I'm one of the few African Americans that you'll meet that can trace his or her ancestry back to the 1680s in this country, in Maryland. Our people were the first free African American community in the United States. It's called Wetipquin, Maryland and it was founded in 1683. They were pretty much freed then, occasionally indentured servants but they were brought into the Maryland Virginia area very, very, very early, long before there was a United States. 

 
As a result, we had a certain consciousness that ran through the family lin- eage. You know, social responsibility, some pride in being African American. We didn't use the term black then and I prefer not to even use the term black now. I'm still African American but at the end of that, we had that kind of legacy and one of my elder ancestors in the 1790s actually fought in the Revol- utionary War against the Americans. I don't know if you're aware of this but seventy five percent of the African Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War fought for the British. My ancestor was one of them because the British basically promised freedom. They would get land and they had promised slaves that they would get their freedom. A lot of African Americans took them up on that and fought for the British. They were called Loyalists. Well before the Civil War, Harriet Tubman, her farm, and I had been there, her farm is only nine miles from our property. Our families, the Wrights and the Duttons and about six other, maybe eight other, surnames which were all a part of an extended family and clan of mainly freed men. They had quite a bit of property in that area, meaning probably, and I'm estimating this, a couple of thousand acres between those families and Harriet Tubman most likely escaped to our property, fought her way out of the Bucktown area which is just nine miles from our property.

 
Brian:
Wow.

 
Michael:
Certainly, I'm sure she used the property to organize escapes in her subsequent visits back down into Maryland and Virginia so there's a long tradition of people in that area supporting the lib- eration of slaves; and our local "watermen," they built boats and they had boats and the last name Wright probably comes from the boat wright or shipwright. That's what they did in the area. They took slaves out. Half of the African Americans in the area were slaves and the other half were not. They would take slaves out the eastern shore of Maryland up the Chesapeake Bay in the bottoms of the boats and they would get them off the boats and into what people now understand to be the Under- ground Railroad. 

 
There were a variety of ways of getting people out but our folks participated in that as well. By the time I was being raised and I was born in the late 40s and even early in the 50s, my mother in particular was highly political and she was one of the founders of the Harlem Writers Guild in New York and was very close to Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson. I lived with my aunt and uncle in north Philly. That's where I was mainly raised. My mother was quite a cosmopolitan and educated, political person. Part of my education, a large part of it, derived from her and her associates and husband. That's part of the influence. A lot of it was just growing up in north Philly. I was aware of what was going on in the emerging Civil Rights Movement. As a matter of fact, my first picket line was picketing Woolworths to support the student sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina and that was when we were up in Harlem and the headquarters of Woolworth's was in Harlem. I think it was 125th and 7th Avenue, somewhere around there. I was thirteen years old and I was on that picket line. That was in 1960. As I said, we had quite a sense of social political responsibility going back 300 years and I just continued that.

 
Brian:
Wow. So when you got to college, it was your turn. Was there an organized group that you gravitated to, be it SNCC or TIAL?

 
Michael:
That's exactly right. TIAL was the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League. It was a student or- ganization that supported the Civil Rights Movement and those members participated in it. They also had issues with the administration of the school, which all students often had issues with the Governors of college. TIAL members worked with SNCC and some TIAL members either worked with SNCC or for SNCC and SNCC was not a membership organization per say. One either worked for it, which loosely meant somehow, you got a little honorarium or stipend if you ac- tually were on the staff. Most people who were SNCC workers were working with SNCC, mean- ing that you weren't get- ting paid. You just lived basically from hand to mouth. You lived col- lectively in freedom houses and maybe you got a $5, $10 a week stipend to work in the move- ment. Usually, you sort of lived off the land as the saying goes, but which means you just got community support. People supported you with food or a place to stay and you did the organ- izing work. SNCC people and TIAL people were in Macon County, Alabama which is where Tusk- egee is. It's in the very heart of Alabama. 

 
That's who I connected with within a few weeks of being there. Then I think that first semester I formed an organization called The African American Association. No, no. It was called The Af- rican Heritage Association. I created that along with some culturally minded students who we connected with the African students who were there to celebrate our African heritage. We also had issues with the administration there about everything bad food to compulsory ROTC, com- pulsory chapel, or vespers as they called it. A lot of things we just didn't want to ... We thought that we would do better if we were or- ganized. That association actually continued for many years at Tuskegee. As far as the question you're raising, yes, it was mainly SNCC that I tended to work with, who had a presence in the black belt area of Alabama.

 
Brian:
What were some of the fist activities you did with them? I know that their purview extended… to all over. People, from what I'm reading and hearing from folks, were going to Lowndes Coun- ty, were going all over. Were you active in those campaigns and active in the town of Tuskegee? What was the extent of your activities with SNCC?

 
Michael:
Probably through the end of 1965 I was mainly acting and operating and surviving as a student at Tuskegee Institute. I was learning to get around Macon County and SNCC, my buddies in SNCC who were all 18, 19, 20, they were teaching me how to drive. Especially in SNCC you'd have to be able to drive any car you got in on a moment's notice, that was just part of the ethic of being a SNCC worker, so I had to learn how to drive because your life depended on being able to be mobile and to evade being shot at. Some of those things… I had to learn the lay of the land. I heard about the Lowndes County organization but I didn't go to Lowndes County. In '65 I was mainly within Macon County. End of 1965, I had met Jim Forman, who was then the executive director of SNCC. I had agreed with him to basically drop out of school and start work with SNCC. It was just a matter of time. 

 
As it turns out that Sammy Younge Jr, who was technically enrolled in Tus- kegee that same sem- ester, but he never really attended classes. He was organizing in Alabama and … January of 1966, and I happened to be there in a meeting with him, I think at Freedom House, the night he was killed. I think it was January 3rd but I'm not sure. He offered me a ride back to the camp as I had walked there with another organizer guy named Scott B. Smith. It was dark walking back through the woods and all that type of stuff so I was happy to accept his offer of a ride. He was going to go to town first. He had some reason he needed to go there and someone else offered me a ride and they were going to go directly back so I went with them. 

 
I think I got back to the campus dormitory around 11:30 or midnight or something like that and went to my room and went to sleep. I woke up at about 5:30 or so to go to the bathroom and then a guy who was a student there told me, he said quote, "Your boy just got killed." I said, "Which boy, who you mean?" He said, "Sammy." I was crying, I said, "No you can't…, I just saw Sammy 4 or 5 hours ago." He said, "No, he just got killed." It turns out that Sammy had gone into town and decided that he wanted to use the bathroom at a service station. There was a white bathroom and a colored one and the proprietor had just demanded that he use the colored one. They had words and then he had an altercation and the guy ended up chasing Sammy away with a gun and he ran on a bus for protection but the bus driver put him off. Then he ran and he got, well they say he got a golf club from his trunk. The guy shot him through the head and then all hell broke loose. 

 
Sammy, not only was he a dedicated Civil Rights worker and had the meeting that night because he was in a verbal altercation with a voter registrar about their inordinate delays in registering black voters to vote. The meeting was about what we were going to do about that confrontation the next day but Sammy didn't make it to the next day, he was killed that night. That's when the rest of, basically, the national leadership came to Tuskegee to protest his death and to particip- ate in his funeral. At that point I never went back to class for a couple of years. Then I started working with SNCC doing voter registrat- ion work right there in Macon County and also deseg- regation activities. 

 
If we heard about any place that was still segregated in terms of accommodations and what- ever, we made it our business to go there with two or three people, sometimes by ourselves, and we'd just demand service all over the Black Belt. We just would not tolerate anything segreg- ated. Every week we were finding some place to desegregate but the main work was actually voter registration work because I was dedicated to registering many voters in Alabama and in building these freedom organizations to run African Americans for local political offices. That's what movement in Lowndes County was about. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization was just one of many. There was the Greene County Freedom Organization and the Dallas County Freedom Organization, Macon County Freedom Organization. That was in line with what SNCC was doing. We were really stepping up voter registration work. That was my actual first practical work with SNCC.

 
Brian:
Can you talk a little bit about the role of Tuskegee students in general in SNCC? I think most people don't know the extent to which Tuskegee students… and how many Tuskegee students got involved in these things, and the extent to which times you're able to use the resources of the university for some of these activities. Can you talk a little bit about the role of Tuskegee students in general in SNCC?

 
Michael:
Sure. Tuskegee is sitting in the middle of the black belt. It's right on highway 80. That highway goes from Dallas all the way up through South Carolina and it's called the Arc of Terror because that's the highway that the Selma to Montgomery march took place on. It was also planned simultaneously a march from Tuskegee to Montgomery planned in the other direction. Viola Liuzzo was killed on that highway. Other cities, towns, in which other workers were killed was on that highway and it went through Columbus in Georgia all the way over to Savannah, actually. Tuskegee is sitting in the middle. It is a ground zero for the Civil Rights movement. I think almost everything of importance in the southern Civil Rights movement took place within a hundred miles north of that long highway or a hundred miles south. Two hundred miles worth of African American humanity, the biggest concentrations of African Americans across the Mississippi del- ta, which ran sort of north-south. The second largest concentration of African Americans running east-west in the middle of Alabama, which is where Tuskegee sits. 

 
Tuskegee is generally socially conservative and I suppose officially not known for a lot of Civil Rights activity. There was some. There was the Gomillion vs Lightfoot legal case that litigators fought to desegregate voter registration and elect one black person to city council. Tuskegee was geographically located in the heart of the black belt. Which means in that Civil Rights wor- kers from SNCC and also the SCLC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were always in Tuskegee and going back and forth through Tuskegee using the area as a place for rehabilita- tion and socialization. We would use the student government to print things, the mimeograph machines… and to eat. Students would give us their meal cards if they weren't using them and we could eat. It was sort of a base area to have some support. And it was almost entirely African American. The Klu Klux Klan was ... The street that white people in Tuskegee and the town of Tuskegee had the Klan on the one side from African Americans on the other was the street I lived on. It was fine but I lived right on that street. Thought I might have opened a SNCC office on that street as well. 

 
Where we were was pretty safe. The Klu Klux Klan stopped marching through Tuskegee in the 1940s when Tuskegee got an ROTC. I guess figured it was better not to provoke African Amer- icans like that anymore. We were in a pretty safe area but it was mostly conservative. Its leader- ship was entirely in the hands of the establishment. After that we would use Tuskegee as a base to have meetings and minimal resources. Intellectual discussions, you know, big current events, teach-ins and things like that. Tuskegee was quite active. As I mentioned, we had our own local issues at Tuskegee that we were always in battle with the administration.

 
Brian:
Right.

 
Michael:
One local issue after the other.

 
Brian:
It seems like all of those issues, including the campus issues, really heated up after Sammy's mur- der.

 
Michael:
Yes, because Sammy's murder was not only a practical tragedy but it was also..., because he was the first SNCC worker to get killed who was actually an enrolled student. Many people in SNCC had been students. SNCC's real core was the group of students at Howard University called NAG, I mean the acron- ym was NAG, N-A-G. Nonviolent Action Group is what I think it was spelled out to be. That included Stokely Carmichael and Courtland Cox and Jean Wilder and Charlie Cobb and Stanley Wise and many others. I think Ralph Featherstone.

 

Many of them were active in the DC area and they would come to the south in the summer to participate in registration drives and desegregation drives from 1960 onward. SNCC had a stud- ent center based in Atlanta around Atlanta University and that included people like Julian Bond. I forgot to mention Marion Barry, of course, in that DC group. There were another group of SNCC students, or people who would become SNCC functionaries based in Nashville, around Fisk University. The major black colleges had SNCC activists in them and they were very brave and very active and Tuskegee was one of them. 

 
It’s just human nature for people to sort of click with people from similar backgrounds. A lot of times the role of Tuskegee, even Alabama SNCC as a whole, the SNCC workers in Alabama were not known in subsequent history quite as well as those from the Washington DC based groups. We were quite active and in the whole second half of SNCC from '65 through '69 I can assure you Alabama was probably the most active base for SNCC operations, because of the freedom move- ment. Later, the press started calling these freedom organizations “black panther parties.” The “freedom organizations” stretched through Alabama’s Black Belt: from Greene County, through Selma in Dallas county, all the way over to Tuskegee in Macon county was an area of activity for us.

 
Brian:
Can you talk about how things changed or heated up on and off campus after Sammy was murdered?

 
Michael:
Well after Sammy was murdered, I wasn't on campus that much. I think by that time I'd gotten a room somewhere in the town. I was quite mobile, moving all over Macon County and by the point the black belt… westward toward Dallas County and I wasn't that active, I think, in the campus. As a matter of fact I was asked to leave. I think I registered the first time, but the dean of students and whatnot… Then they threatened to throw me out if I didn't leave and what have you because they were tired of my activism on the campus. We were protesting, as I said, essen- tially bad food, compulsive ROTC, we were opposed to the Vietnam war. While I had been in my first semester formally a member of the ROTC, I quit that and then I didn't even go back there putting on the uniforms, anything. The deans down there were pretty tired of me from the beg- inning. 

 
When I was asked to leave I think my mother actually had Langston Hughes write a letter to try to get me back in college. I can't say all the things that they were debating about on campus but I can tell you there was a judicial council there. In other words, students who were charged with infractions of campus policies were hauled up before the star chamber operation. I was also hel- ping to defend students, more of that in 1967 and ’68. I think it even began then, to advocate for people who were just ... There was no due process. If you were called up before that committee you were on your way out of there. 

 
Anyway, like I said, there were many local things, but by that point I was not only working for SNCC in Macon County, but I had actually moved to Atlanta. I was working on the Julian Bond campaign to become elected as a Georgia state assemblyman. I met Julian in January. I traveled with him very briefly on a little tour in Alabama where he'd go to visit black colleges and cam- paign in Georgia. Then SNCC had come out against the war so we were doing a lot of anti-war agitation, anti-draft. More than anything else, anti-draft. Those are some of the impressions that I remember from that period of time. By the spring and early summer, I was living in the freedom house, the SNCC freedom house, with about 15 other people. Rap Brown lived there with us then. Yeah, the SNCC project director in Greene County, Alabama for a long time but he was with us for a while. Again, we were doing ... Probably working on Julian's campaign as much as anything through the summer of '66. 

 
Then I ... Oh. Yeah. We were ... SNCC's office in Philadelphia, which is a small office, it was set up in Philadelphia by some agents provocateurs charged with plotting to blow up the Liberty Bell and other kinds of that stuff so there was a full court press, a political attack against SNCC in Philadelphia and I was from Philly. I actually visited Philly in the late summer of '66 and got in- volved in the defense of these SNCC people that were being charged for these felonies. I was working with Jim Forman there. We converged on Philly to build a defense and it was often we were quite successful. It put me, even in my own home town,… it really opened my eyes to how entrenched the racism was in Philadelphia. We were fighting a police commissioner, he was a deputy commissioner then, named Frank Rizzo, who later became notorious as a persecutor of the Black Panther Party in Philly… Mumia Abu Jamal… they were children when we were there in '66, I think they became active in about '72 or '73. 

 
We dubbed him the Cisco Kid and we fought him tooth and nail. We got the SNCC people basical- ly out of going to prison. I went back to Atlanta in the end of August just in time for all kinds of riots going on. I was arrested, not in a riot, but driving a SNCC car with some other people. Police followed us and arrested me and charged me and a few other people with felonies of distribut- ing insurrectionary papers, and so on and so forth. That was my first time going to jail, going there with SNCC in September of '66. 
 

I'm getting, I think, away from the question that you asked about Tuskegee.

 
Brian:
No, that's all right. You know what, let me ask you a question. While you're traveling around and living in these freedom houses and arrested for putting out literature… it does raise a question for me which is, what were you all reading at this time? What was the content of the discussions going on in SNCC? Were there authors or books that were very influential? What were some of the ideas that were moving around in those circles?

 
Michael:
SNCC had a deep bench when it came to intellectual activist dens. One of the things that com-

petent organizingstarts from. Most other groups, SCLC and eventually the Panthers, nobody could compare to the type of African American intellectuals SNCC had brought together. We were, of course, Baldwin, Calvin Herndon had one, I think, on sex and race in America, it was very popular. By '66, an English edition of Franz Fanon's book The Wretched of the Earth had come out and it was a big seller, Grove Press put it out. We were reading and trying to understand it, in a fairly sophisticated reading for us, but it was part of our conscious development to try to read and understand Fanon and what the applicability was of his ideas. Mind you, they were actually not particularly applicable or mystified in the United States but he was very important. 

 
Let me see. Of course, we read a lot of black history. You know, at that time Du Bois, Basil David- son, John Hope Franklin. They were important. We had to do it on our own because Tuskegee was so backwards, believe it or not, in the 1966 there was only one Negro history class in the entire college. They had to fight tooth and nail for that. That's one of the struggles we had in '65 was to get Tuskegee to concede that there should be one Negro history class on the whole damn campus. That's how backwards they were. We were of course, like I said, saying not only do we need a class like that, we need several of them. We're going to be reading these African Am- erican historians and also white, like Herbert Aptheker would have been popular for people, Genovese, from New Jersey. 

 
Ah, Camus. SNCC, especially, had Howard University activists like Courtland Cox and Carmichael and whatnot. They were very philosophical and they were reading Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. There were just lots of influences to try to sum up [what was going on in] the world. Of course, Nkrumah published "Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism." That was a big read for ev- erybody, We were Internationally minded. We considered ourselves to be internationalists as well as Pan-Africanists. 

 
I can't think of any other books off the top of my head but there was quite a robust intellectual life, discussions, and debates in SNCC.

 
Brian:
Right now you're talking about '66 and '67. At some point did you come back to the campus in '67?

 
Michael:
I did, yeah, I'll get to that in a sec. One thing that I think it's important to men- tion in '66: Not only was SNCC organizing in the black belt, the organized freedom organizations. SNCC also was reacting to a change in its internal politics so that it was much more of a black nationalist organ- ization. The prevailing view of African Americans in the movement, whether they were in college or full time working for SNCC, was the white folk who had come into the south in SNCC to work in the Mississippi freedom, to build the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in '64… They had basically done, frankly, a heroic job in what they were doing, but the Mississippi project was not a particularly successful one in terms of getting the Democratic Party in the United States to recognize the MFDP and delegitimize the Dixiecrats and whites in Mississippi. 

 
Many of the white SNCC workers in Mississippi went back to their respective cities, but a few remained active in the south, organizing. SNCC itself recognized that that was a particular proj- ect and it was not a particular goal of SNCC to maintain a high percentage of white activists when we needed those activists to go back into white communities and to agitate against white supremacy in their own communities. Which was a very important thing to do but not particul- arly easy for many of them to do. Many of them felt ostracized and betrayed by SNCC's growing nationalist orientation. 

 
It was important for SNCC to develop that orientation because on the agenda was the Black Power movement. It hadn't developed yet at that point but it was nascent. There was a march against fear in Mississippi led by James Meredith from Memphis straight through Mississippi through SNCC's organizing partly into Mississippi, and Greenville particularly. He got shot within a couple days of doing that. You have the big issue and then SCLC got involved in supporting that march and SNCC got involved. Carmichael and King were both vying for, essentially, publicity as leaders of that march in Mississippi. I didn't go to that march in Mississippi, but I was working with SNCC and that week I was in Lowndes County. 

 
If I'm not mistaken, I might have my years wrong, that march might have been in '67 but I know that in '66 we would travel all the way from Mississippi and then straight through to Georgia and South Carolina where there were SNCC projects. I would go with people to these various places and meet SNCC work- ers and spend a few days here and there. A week or two here and there. I wanted to fill that in. You'll have to do some fact checking for me about the Meredith march but now that I'm thinking about it, I think it might have been more like June '67. 

 
In any event, in response to the question, I was working with SNCC through '66. I got out of jail in November of '66. I wasn't supposed to leave the state but I wasn't going to stay in Georgia in the face of unwarranted felony charges. Indeed, amazingly, there were three demonstrations going on in Atlanta at the same time. And me and three other SNCC workers were miles and miles away from them (and had not been in any of them!) when we were targeted and arrested by the police in car parked in a church parking lot for having leaflets in the car castigating the mayor—a purported liberal—at the time).

 

[Clarification: The insurrection laws of Georgia were written during its Antebellum slavery years in the 1840’s and had been declared unconstitutional three times by the U.S. Supreme court prior to them charging us SNCC workers with an offense—"distributing insurrection- ary” papers under them. Not surprisingly, the State of Georgia continued to briefly charge anti-war activists and civil right workers under them in order to get activists out of the  community streets. That done, as in my case, they dropped all of these pretext charges against us within weeks or a cou- ple of  months, in some cases.—MFW].

 

So, I went to Alabama the next day after finally making bail and on the next day after that I was on my way to Canada to check on some anti-war and anti-draft activists that had gone there, but I ended that plan by pulling up in Chicago and connecting with a SNCC organizing project in the city of Chicago and I decided to stay there. I worked with SNCC in Chicago from November of '66 through about the middle of '67. That was a fascinating experience for me because, at that point, the Chicago SNCC office and project was the only actual functional urban organizing proj- ect that SNCC had. 

 
There was another one going on in Atlanta called the Atlanta Project and they were able to con- tinue but the main project at that point was Chicago SNCC. We were running alderman for the aldermanic district in the south side of Chicago. Of course; “the Black Power ticket” running against mayor Richard Daley’s machine on the south-side of Chicago; can you imagine that? We had to fight the Daley machine about that. A lot of oppression, police raids, pogroms, and what- not. I was involved in all of that in Chicago. I also was able to raise a little bit of money, a few thousand dollars from donors in Chicago, to go back to the South, which I took back to Alabama. Probably June of '67 or maybe May, something like that. I opened up a SNCC office in Alabama and I also used that money to support the SNCC office in Dallas County, in Selma. All the way through most of '67, and actually the first half of '68. That's how I got back to Alabama after that hiatus in Chicago. 

 
Again, not a student. Living from hand to mouth. I slept on chairs and newspaper offices and different people would let us, not just me… all SNCC workers would function like this, any way you could. Somebody let you have a couch somewhere, that was home for that week. Or you could sleep in a car. Anything, whatever it took that you were dedicated. You had to live with the sup- port of people who appreciated what you were doing politically, though they themsel- ves, they may not have been able to be activists. That's how I lived. 

 
Then, in the summer of '67, I definitely was able to improve my ability to survive because I got a job as a tutor in a program in Tuskegee that put us in the 12 surrounding counties. We basically had a little program to support many of us who were SNCC workers. Johnny Jackson, Wendy Paris. All of us were able to get between 30 and 40 dollars a week or something, I forgot what it was. It was a very small amount but that went a long way. We were basically doing SNCC organ- izing and getting a little stipend to do it from this anti-poverty tutorial program.

 
Brian:
Is this TICEP?

 
Michael:
Yeah, TICEP, Tuskegee Institute Community Education Program. What we did was not only ... We did SNCC organizing when we weren’t on TICEP time, especially in the evenings, but during TICEP time we organized a group called the Southeast Alabama Self-Help Association, or SEA- SHA. I'm the one who actually gave that organization its name. We had a contest within TICEP and I came up with that name. It was basically a farmer’s cooperative. That organization still exists to this day.

 
Brian:
Wow.

 
Michael:
That's to support black farmers in the Black Belt. Again, we were innovative. Nowadays all these young activists, they have non-profits all over the place but we didn't have that then. We did what we had to do to survive and to organize the freedom organizations and to run candidates for office and whatnot. As a matter of fact, even in that summer, I was ... Was it summer of '66? One of those summers, it could have been the summer of '66 or '67, I was running around trying to get a black sheriff elected, he became elected, named Lucius Amerson. He's the first black sheriff elected in the Black Belt since Reconstruction. I think that's in '66.

 
Brian:
Yeah, I think it was.

 
Michael:
Me and my people, it was very dangerous, that outside of Tuskegee you were in rural Alabama. Even in Macon County, the Klan and the white supremacists were hoping more to pick you off, if they could catch you alone or go after your or chase you and what have you. I remember working to get that guy elected. Two years later we in SNCC and the movement, we hated this guy. He was pretty backwards but he was willing to run for sheriff and that was something, so anyway we supported him. I almost got killed a couple times doing voter registration work to get people to get to the polls to elect him. Later he became my nemesis and I his. Literally, he was the ar- chitect of my demise up to and including as far as ... Let's put it this way, my best information and opinion (because I don't literally have the physical documents) but I was given to believe by people I trusted in that Tuskegee area, that he was one of the arch- itects of the plan to assas- sinate me. From his point of view for good reason, because I gave that man fits. 

 
I ended up having to leave Alabama in June of '68 because white physician in Tuskegee informed me about this plan to kill me. I believe that that was going to be done by black deputy sheriffs and I probably had a week to live before I thought I’d be killed. But, I'm jumping ahead of our in- terview schedule.

 
Brian:
Yeah, yeah. Can you got back to the end of '66 because that's when the verdict came down that Sammy's killer was found not guilty and the student body really erupted. Were you there?

 
Michael:
No, I wasn't. See that's ... I'm glad you're helping to verify the dates. That's why I was in Chicago. I worked in the Chicago SNCC office in November to about June of '67. I was aware of what hap- pened, I heard about it, nothing surprised me about the white supremacists willingness to move for a change of the venue in cases of murderers of African Americans.

[Clarification: The change of venue in this case was from Macon County to Lee county. As you know  that's standard operating procedure by defense attorneys and that's what hap- pened there. I was aware of that having occurred.--MFW].

 
Brian:
Can we go back to TICEP? That was controversial. Rather the fact that activists were using it for off campus SNCC organizing... Dean Philips resigned over this, didn't he?

 
Michael:
That might have been a factor in his resignation. Complicated guy. He was very progressive and I really love Bert. He supported me to the bitter end even though I caused the poor man so much in terms of doing things that politically embarrassed him but he was very progressive. I have a lot of good things to say about Bert. One of them is that he did, he headed TICEP and he had to get written permission from bureaucrats in Washington to even hire me and to hire Wendy Paris because there was great resistance among even some of the Negros that worked for him as they were part of Tuskegee establishment, the middle class of Tuskegee, they didn't want us. They had no need for SNCC; as a matter of fact they didn't like us. Bert was progressive enough to find out a way to get us hired. 

 
It was controversial. He also did all kinds of other progressive things and he tolerated our or- ganizing on the campus against the establishment. He toler- ated a lot of that. He tried to ac- commodate a lot of that. He became really despised by the black middle class and the plant- ocracy of Tuskegee, to be embodied in the person of Luther Foster but there was quite an es- tablished, entrenched, and quite backward middle class there. Bert alienated them on many levels.

 

I had a little place out there at the end of a small street in Tuskegee, Alabama. The sheriff's department and I did not get along; but black police department of Tuskegee, they really liked me. You've got to understand something about the social dynamics. They would drive by my place every night to check on me a couple times to make sure nobody was hanging around, loit- ering, gon’na burn the place down with me in it; anything like that. But that's the local town police. 

 
Eventually, one of the guys who owned the little garage I lived in (it was really a car garage) that had been converted into little living area. It was only one room with a kitchen. I came back from Orangeburg, South Carolina. I took 5 people up there, 4 people with me, to see what we could do to help black students up at Carolina State. They had ... 27 had been shot one night and then 4 got killed. When I came back from that, the roof of my little bungalow was off. I walked in the door and looked at the sky. All my little stuff was in a couple cardboard boxes and so somebody was trying to give me a message and I had no place to stay. Bert Phillips actually let me stay with him and his wife, Judy. Many nights in a given week he forced them to allow me to stay in the hotel there at Dorothy Hall. I was paying rent, I just had enough money to pay whatever it was--$5 or $10 a night or something to stay there. 

 
The same guy who took the roof off my house, who owned that little bungalow, was also the manager of that hotel. He was fighting like mad to get, you know, they were doing everything they could do to get me out of that county. Bert, he was supportive. He's very progressive. I think at one level he was also supported by people that had a higher level in the Democratic Par- ty, who were probably aligned with government forces that were not on our side. That was at a higher level, you just got to understand how the party works against conservatives, but also ul- timately is quite conservative, even though they might represent the more enlightened aspect of the ruling class. I think Bert was kind of associated with them, quiet as it's kept. He left and started working for a foundation [around Washington, DC] or something. I never trusted them (the Democratic Party), I always thought that [they were about] Establishment stuff. 

 
In any event, the answer to your question is correct. By allowing us to work for TICEP, but bas- ically doing SNCC organizing, he got a lot of heat for that.

 
Brian:
Can you talk a little bit more about this, what you're calling a petit-bourgeoisie Establishment? You're saying represented by Luther Foster. Can you just talk a little bit more about this estab- lishment and the way that you see it in the town and on the campus?

 
Michael:
Well it's legendary. What else could happen? Tuskegee would pride itself, as a matter of fact the song goes, "Tuskegee pride of the swift growing South." It was the embodiment of a vision star- ted by Booker T Washington in the 1880s to build a black proprietary petit-bourgeoisie or “mid- dle class.” To train under trained and under educated African Americans throughout the south trades and professions. The African Americans from that time onward were mainly shuttle into … the only profession they could really participate in was teaching. African Americans from Maryland all the way, our whole history is not only just in the South, but particularly from Mary- land all the way through Texas we were very big on education. 144 African American colleges opened up. The mission at Tuskegee was to not only create, produce educators but also den- tists and veterinarians and tailors and bankers and other people who had trades and profes- sions. Naturally they would create a quasi-middle class or middle class that provided the social leadership at these black colleges, including Tuskegee. 

 
Tuskegee was a little different than some of the others because, probably second only to How- ard university, Tuskegee was wed at the hip with the American Department of Defense and the American State Department and supported by philanthropists from the Carnegies to the Rock- efellers and all that. Tuskegee was their pride as well. That was reflected in the board of trust- ees at Tuskegee. They had all these very wealthy corporate white elites and they only had one black person on the whole damn board, other than the president. About 15 very wealthy and in- fluential white people from the econ- omic aristocracy or the economic ruling class or the polit- ical ruling class in the country. 

 
They, Tuskegee’s middle class, had their jobs and their mortgages and their livelihoods depen- dent on not alienating their benefactors in the government and in private industry. They got the Veterans Administration Hospital, which involved difficult negotiations with the former presid- ent of Tuskegee, who was Robert Russa Moton, in exchange for depressing black military revolts against racism in the US military during World War I. Robert Russa Moton endeared himself to what would become the Department of Defense, I guess it was the War Department then. In any event part of his reward was for de- pressing the legitimate grievances of African American soldiers in World War I, and even when they returned home, they faced race riots and all like this. The Department of Defense, or its precursor, agreed to build a Veterans Administration hospital in Tuskegee. Of course, in regard to black soldiers. Tuskegee—i.e., its Establishment--was sup- porting its own economic infrastructure. 

 
They were very much status-quo. They were following, as best they could, the Booker T. Wash- ington political vision of minimal political activism. Rather they preferred to focus on, if you will, economic development and the development of a proprietary middle class. Which they did very well but they did that, to some extent, at the expense of African Americans because their apol- itical, i.e. their ostensibly apolitical, line that they had, left us all in a very difficult position. You can't have any economic development in a politically hostile environment. It also disguised their little backroom dealings, their little back- room accommodations with the racists of Alabama to carry on and keep these “Negros” pacified and to train them in trades so that by the time they got their degrees from Tuskegee their trades were 20 years outdated and under-capitalized. But,at least, it kept the black masses, from their point of view, somewhat pacified.

 
... At all and they were brought kicking and screaming into the Movement even though they were physically, and geographically or logistically, right in the middle of it.

 
Brian:
This is really interesting because I'm curious to know if you remember the way students viewed this issue at the time, because based on what I'm reading there's different viewpoints. Some students, then and now, like Gwen Patton, saw Booker T. Washington as a primogenitor of the militant “Black Power” activists.

 
Michael:
I know. Listen, Booker T Washington did some amazing things. I would not belittle, generally speaking, his vision. I think it would be arrogant for any African American, especially one raised in the North, to do that because his work was very important and very meaningful and very dangerous. In fact, people don't even realize, and I think Gwen, who is very class conscience, is where this ... Booker T Washington actually supported labor union organizing in Alabama in the 1890s. That was really extraordinary, okay, and very much under the table. He wasn't known for that. I'm very empathetic to his version of incipient black power in this sense, and in this sense only. 

 
If you can imagine the entire history of Tuskegee from 1883 through the time of his death which was 1915, the repression of black people in the South was increasing. It wasn't decreasing. After the failure of Reconstruction in 1877, six years later,part of the payoff was these white industrial trialists and philanthropists who helped to pay for Tuskegee, that is to pay for the buildings and pay off the land to buy the land of it and all of that, that was basically guilt money in my view. It was useful, though, because there was reality. There were 4 million African Americans who were under-educated coming out of the Civil War. We're only talking about 18 years after the Civil War. Less than 13 years after the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were passed. 

 
The South was very, very dangerous and as Tuskegee developed it was becoming even more dangerous. Washington and his cohorts did, I guess, what they could do to carve out an island of sanity and development for African Americans. They kept a log of all the lynchings that were going on, it went through until 1920 or something. They were race conscious and class con- scious but as is the case in the South, they were dealing and wheeling in effect as best they could. That is why I think the debates about whether or not accommodationism a la Booker T Washington versus militant resistance in the Du Bois school of social activism, that debate can be waged quite superficially. I choose not to do that. I think it's important to recognize that Tuskegee was and is a great place to help African Americans as best they could under the very, very difficult circumstances. It was impoverished and yet the students built Tuskegee with, lit- erally, their bare hands. They developed a great reputation all over the United States. Booker T. Washington was the biggest hero, probably second only to Garvey, ultimately. 

 
He was quite a hero to African Americans and an inspiration all over the country. There are pic- tures that you will find in the archives there of graduation day. I encourage you to go look at the old pictures from the teens and 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. People from all over Alabama, black peop- le, and even from Georgia, would take wagons, horse drawn wagons, take them a week to get there just to attend a graduation as Tuskegee. When they said the pride of the swift growing South, they really meant it. I have to speak somewhat empathetically about Booker T Washing- ton's view, the development of a black middle class, and educating African Americans and so we can't minimize that.

 
Brian:
You know what's interesting...

 
Michael:
On the other hand ...

 
Brian:
Okay, go ahead.

 
Michael:
On the other hand, the school of thought of militant resistance to the political disenfranchise- ment of African Americans as symbolized in Du Bois' philosophy, which is, I think, ultimately the correct view, if you will. If I was forced, and I would be forced, if you will, to take sides, I think Du Bois had an edge here. I'm trained as a lawyer and I kind of know how the system operates. There is no such thing as economic viability in a hostile political environment. Legislatures can wipe away your debt, or, I mean, wipe away your wealth with the passage of legislation and the signing of it by and executive. If you can't vote, you have no control over the laws in the area that you're trying to succeed in economically. If you can't sit in courts. If you can't bring lawsuits. If everything is in civil society is arrayed against you, you're not going to get very far in any econ- omic development. It will always be marginal and you can't protect it, you can't protect any- thing. 

 
Ultimately, Du Bois went to Atlanta, I think in 1895, Atlanta University and the whole 15 years he was there he refused to ride in a segregated trolley car. He, during that period of time, helped to initiate the Niagara movement to later become the NAACP, in which he was a board member. He was right, you can't have this accommodationist philosophy and hope to sustain social and econ- omic development that the white establishment is all in favor of helping you to promote. It's not going to be very viable, it can never be defended. Then there's the question of dignity. The 13th, 14th, 15th amendments were passed and immediately nullified by the growing Black Codes throughout the “Dixie-cratic South.” They're two things, they say there are three sides to every story, I think there are at least three to this one. 

 
Tuskegee students inherited that tradition of self help and social Black Power. Left to its own devices it was highly naïve and anyone like the black middle class at Tuskegee that would defend it, would be defending it thus naively and also for their own personal opportunities and their own personal self-aggrandizement and sustaining their lifestyle which ... The lifestyle of middle class black folk in Tuskegee was luxurious compared to lifestyles of poor farmer share croppers, poor working class people right in the town. Not to mention in the county outside of Tuskegee. Some in that black middle class, by the way, also fought to exploit them. You remember the Tuskegee syphilis experiment?

 
Brian:
Yes.


Michael:
But none of us civil rights militants, nor anybody else, with the exception of the doctors, nurses, and Public Health Service people who enabled the 35 years of that this abominable experiment was carried on, knew anything about that until 1972. All right. Who do you think was running that at Tuskegee? Some of the black middle class professionals and doctors at Tuskegee! Who were they exploiting? The poor black farmers and share croppers and tenant farmers all around that town and that county. They were backwards.

 

[Clarification: Even when that story broke, Tuskegee and its lawyers made it look like the culpable parties were with the Department of Public Health —a government agency. Their law firm, in my opinion, had at least the appearance of a conflict of interest in that it not only represented the poor folk who were plaintiff-victims but had, historically, represented the Institute, as far as I know—which was a party that, arguably, could have been aligned as a defendant in the case as well--MFW]. 

 
Anyway, those are some of the class dynamics. The kids of this middle class, like Sammy Younge Jr, however, were quite militant. They wanted the full social empowerment of African Americ- ans. You've heard of the R&B boys, The Commodores, I guess they're mainly a funk band. You could tell if you listened to their music, especially listen to Lionel Richie, who wasn't the lead member of the band by any means but he later became probably the most known, and Tom Joiner, all of them were very middle-class Tuskegee youths who, to this day, have great social and political consciousness. I admire them greatly for their social consciousness. For example, the album “Heroes” by the Commodores. It was not a big seller, but it was a tribute to the Civil Rights workers and their ideals. And when one listens to the Tom Joiners, to this day, you can tell that they are very progressive minded and put our folks interests in high regard. 

 
They were the children of this entrenched black middle class there. The dynamics of this was very eloquently drawn out by Jim Forman in his book, Sammy Younge, Jr. He really talked about those intraclass dynamics. Anyway, may- be I've ranted along here.

 
Brian:
No, no. no. I wanted to ask you about that because I remember, when we first spoke on the phone, when I told you I was at Tuskegee while we were talking, you said, “Brian, you're on sac- red ground.” I think it's interesting because I have noticed this pattern, that even the students who are the school's biggest critics, who were part of these protest movements on campus, retained this intense loyalty to the campus.

 
Michael:
Yeah. That solidarity there, I mean, Du Bois said it. He said the American Negro is conservative in all matters except race. (laughter) It is our African tradition culturally to be conservative. Well, we were put in a position, being slaves in a society, where on the question on everything racial, which brings us through damn near everything in our lives, we had to become militant and only being bought off on a class basis could suppress that. That's where some of the dy- namics arose. 

 
People have very good reason to be proud of this Tuskegee tradition, what its mission was. Like you said, Gwen is an example of someone I think maybe overstating it, that is “an admirer” of Booker T. Washington. I think you just have to remind Gwen to go back and read DuBois, okay? Wait a minute. (laughter) This is more retrospective revisionist idealization of the black petit- bourgeoisie and what Booker T. Washington represented than reality. There's a lot to be said for what they stood for and what they tried to accomplish and what they did accomplish, and even their attitudes. 

 
When I was at Tuskegee, Tuskegee made it its business to recruit poor students. I think at least half the class had to be poor, black students from Alabama. Whether they're from Birmingham or little counties around Alabama, they meant to educate poor, black kids who would otherwise not have an opportunity to get a good quality education. They were dedicated to it, even these backwards, middle class, black folk had their own race pride. You follow what I'm saying? You get this black middle class way of looking at it, but I don't doubt their sincerity. 

 
I saw many a youngster at Tuskegee who might not have been able to register for the next sem- ester of school because he simply didn't have the money. Now, if you were a troublemaker like me, then this wouldn't apply, (laughter) but if you were a regular student and you wanted to get an education, those black people who were the teachers and administrators at Tuskegee, or the chaplains or whatever, they will find a way to get you some money to go to school. I never knew any student, back in those days, at Tuskegee that had to drop out of school because they could not come up with the tuition or money to live in their dorm. They would find a way for them to do it. I deeply respect that, even though we had our big picture political differences. 

 
That's why I think it would be arrogant for those of us who were socialized in the north to take for granted how abjectly oppressive and dangerous the Booker T. Washington project really was. Gwen, in that sense, may … again, she may be overstating a little bit, but there's good reason to be proud of Tuskegee and also proud of the militant... I told you, Claude McKay got kicked out of Tuskegee. Ralph Ellison, he was not kicked out. You know, after writing The Invisible Man. Oh, my God. He could never go back there. The president of the alumni association was a great suppor- ter of mine in the ‘60s. He himself had been kicked out of Tuskegee in the ‘40s for leading a stud- ent revolt in Tuskegee in the 1940s.

 
Brian:
What's his name?

 
Michael:
Mr. Woodson. James Woodson. I think he passed away not long ago. He was a hell of a great per- son, and he was a part of the Tuskegee social establishment. Again, his power base was the al- umni association. Thank God he had a power base. A very, very progressive guy. Stanley Smith was a professor there back in the … After Gomillion vs. Lightfoot, he was able to run for city council and was the first black person on the city council in Tuskegee. He was very progressive. I keep talking about understanding the South. The South is just tricky in terms of people’s social consciousness, they have a lot of race pride, as it were. You can’t underestimate that. Yeah, they sometimes bow their heads, scratch their heads, shuffle their feet and all that, and trying to get along with white folk or even trying to outslick white people. 

 
And then, Ralph Abernathy come out with support of Nixon, and I said, “Leave it to somebody from rural Alabama to come up with something like that. Ain’t no way in hell Richard Nixon had the slightest interest in … that was congruent with the interest of the African-Americans, but Ralph Abernathy and SCLC’s knowing the Southern strategy was going to work, that Nixon was putting in place, they try to make accommodations with backward racists like him, and he wasn’t even the worst, basically going to outslick white people. 

 
Well, I’m sorry. It’s naïve. You cannot outslick white supremacy. It has to be confronted. It didn’t mean that they didn’t try, but what they were doing in daytime, what they would turn around and do at night was the opposite side of politics and they were, again, quite militant in their own right and their own respects. Even in terms of armed militancy, you could not take anything away from our brothers and sisters throughout Dixie in terms of putting up with physical and militant intimidation by white people. They did not take that lying down. They had a lot of white folk who died, one way or another, by the hands of black people, okay? They would never, of course, pub- licize that. Sometimes they wouldn’t even know what happened. 

 
I guess that I give our brothers and sisters in the South the greatest of accolades for how they maintained a militant posture as much as they could under the circumstances. Now, what I lear- ned too, you can ask Gwen about this bec- ause she has a very good take on this, Alabama is not Mississippi. Alabama had an industrial base and Mississippi didn’t. When you look at labor organ- izing, in Alabama it was always a little more militant, and especially Birmingham got a lot more militant after the union organizing drives of the 1930s. The Communist Party was instrumental in organizing, inside the CIO, to bring black prolet- arians into the union movement, especially in a place like Birmingham, Alab- ama, with its steel and coal industry. 

 
I organized in Birmingham in the summer of I think ’71 or something like that, probably ’71, at the United States Steel plant there, and also a place called American Cast Iron and Pipe Com- pany. I got to be aware about the militant labor organizing of not only black workers, but in league with white workers in the labor movement in the South. When I was even in Tuskegee, not only … Like I said, Tuskegee is a base, but I went all over the Black Belt before the end and the time I was there. 

 
I met great, great militant African-American men and women who were old people to me then. I was in my early 20s. I mean, I was 20 years old literally, 19, 20, ’21. These people were in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and so they were old to me. They had been organizing sharecroppers, they or- ganized with black workers and tenant farmers in the South from the 1920s. They had militant marches on Montgomery, Alabama in 1927, ’28 of black and white sharecroppers, going up ag- ainst the government of Alabama. 

 
Again, even in the 1940s, there was a SNYC in Alabama and Mississippi in 1940s. What is SNCC, which means Student Nonviolent Coordinating Com- mittee, but 1940s the SNCC there then was Southern Negro Youth Congress, SNYC. It was SNYC, okay? They did exactly what we were doing in the 1960s, even though we did not know much about them. Some people in SNCC’s leader- ship, like Jim Forman, were great historians, so we were constantly getting political education so we can to find out about them and the Southern Coop- erative Movement and what have you. Then there were black militant defense organizations throughout the South, in the Masonic lodges and the Deacons for Defense in Louisiana and stuff. 

 
I think that if people hear this or read what I’m saying, they need to take a deeper look at the history of the movement in the South, its relationship to the economics of the South and to the white supremacist terrorism, and also Southern … the soulful Christianity of the South. You cannot understand the Civil Rights Movement without understanding it was basically a Christian liberation theology movement.

 
Brian:
Let’s get back to 1967 and how you came into conflict with the administration. What did you do in the fall of 1967? After the TICEP gig tutoring that summer, what happed in the fall?

 
Michael:
Well, I was able to enroll for the second time or the third time. I mean, go through the enroll- ment process. I didn’t … because I have a place … I had a place to stay by then. I think that’s when I first got that little garage to live in and I was going to sneak off probably in August and September of ’67. The next thing I did was try to organize a campus chapter of SNCC, but in or- der to do that I wanted to make sure we had a progressive person as a student gov- ernment association president. I ran the campaign of a guy named Warren Hamilton and, if he’s still living, he’s a lawyer in Philadelphia now. I organized his campaign and, naturally, we won. (laughter) We organized it so he would win.

 
Brian:
Alright.

 
Michael:
A very progressive brother and the administration was uncomfortable with that, but Bert Phil- lips decided to work with us and start to get progressive reforms around the campus. For exam- ple, up until then students that stay at campus were not allowed to rent rooms in the hotel, but Phillips said, “No. This hotel and everything on this campus belongs to these students.” We were not allowed to go on other parts of the campus without sometimes harassment by the campus police, but he said, “No. This entire 5,200 acres is open to all students. They can go where they want and have a picnic or have a rally, whatever they want to do.” 

 
We worked around certain campus reforms. We were definitely ratcheting up the anti-war, anti-draft movement. I led demonstrations there against the ROTC and against the draft, because it was a pipeline into the military. At that point, we were definitely anti-war, for the simple reason that African-Americans represented from ‘65 to about … the Tet Offensive, African-Americans represented 25% of the combat fatalities in Vietnam, and Latinos represented another 25% of the combat fatalities. We had racially-based reasons for being opposed to that war, and we were joining in with movements internationally to oppose it. 

 
That’s what went on pretty much, I think, from September through December, even January of ’68. I don’t remember other things at the moment, but I do know that in that highly-charged at- mosphere we were trying to get more black studies … people will commonly call it black studies classes, get legitimization for a campus chapter and whatnot. Then, in February of ’68, black students at South Carolina State in Orangeburg protested a segregated bowling alley in that town. By ’68 anything that was segregated was fair game. We couldn’t wait to find something segregated to desegregate it. Sometimes there were confrontations. I was in them many times. People, they’d call the police in. They’d try to pull us out of the establishments. 

 
Anyway, these people in South Carolina marched, they went back to their campus and had a rally on the campus. The governor of South Carolina has a bodyguard, 500 armed, white … what do you call them? Death squads, bas- ically, called the Special Law Enforcement Division, SLED. The SLED contingent of what amounts to what they call like SWAT teams now, they showed up and they shot 28 students in one night on a hillside. They killed four, and the four that they killed were all tall African-American young men, trying to kill Cleve Sellers, who was tall, and organized there. He was SNCC’s National Project Director and he was an organizer of the movement at South Carolina State. They were trying to kill him, but they didn’t know who he was, so they kil- led all the tall black men they could find. 

 
Of course, we hit the ceiling with that, so I got a guy, went in his car, and I took four people with me over there to try to lend some support to the student at South Carolina State, to investigate what happened, so on and so forth. It took us a day and a half to get there. I mean, to get the car and then end up getting over there, by which point the place was like a ghost town. We stayed at … Cleve Sellers’ parents own a motel in a nearby town and we stayed there overnight, froze to death. Can you imagine five guys trying to sleep in one bed to keep warm? (laughter) It was so cold in that damn place. They gave us a room, but there was no heat to go with it.

 
Brian:
Right. Were you the only students to show up to help out, or did people come from other campuses as well?

 
Michael:
As far as we know. I mean, we’re SNCC. We’re going to be there. So we were there, like I said, inside of 36 hours.

 
Brian:
Wow. Oh, so the students coming from Tuskegee were the SNCC delegation?

 
Michael:
We all worked … I actually was probably the only one that could legitimately be called a SNCC worker per se, okay? Because at one point I had actually been paid by SNCC as a staff person for a brief period of time, but my identification was working with SNCC pretty much full time for about three years. The other four were people that were sort of my cronies. Whenever SNCC did anything, they did it. They were students who were SNCC sympathizers. I guess that’s the word I’m looking for.

 
Brian:
They were from Tuskegee?

 
Michael:
They were Tuskegee students. [Exact names omitted] They were from different places, but they were basically Tuskegee students. I was kind of the leader of this and I organized and went up there, went to the funeral home to talk to the funeral directors. Well, at least two of the bod- ies were there and who was trying to approach them to try to encourage the families to organ- ize an inquest and whatnot and to comfort them … I remember meeting one of the fam- ilies of one of the young men who was being… well, they were preparing his body for the funeral. 

 
Anyway, so we stayed there for a couple of days, then we came back. There’s nothing we could do. The place was a ghost town. At the motel, not Cleve Sellers’ family’s motel but at the How- ard Johnson’s or whatever they had in that town, the official big motel, I tell you the truth, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. We went there and every car in the parking lot, this huge parking lot, every car was a state police car, except for two which were big, black limousines. I said, “Well, there you go. There’s the South Carolina es- tablishment. It’s alright here.” That SLED organization is a death squad. They’re still in existence. Matter of fact, when who’s this guy, Roof, who shot nine black churchgoers two weeks ago?

 
Brian:
Yeah, Dylann Roof.

 
Michael:
Yeah. They were talking about assigning the investigation of that to whom? SLED, of all organiz- ations! Anyway, that is what happened. We came back. Oh, we were angry as we could be and we carried out a demonstration at Tuskegee. We stopped all the traffic on the highway to pass out literature to explain what happened with these students in Alabama. We were explaining that this could happen here. The state highway ran right through the middle of Tuskegee. Then that caused another confrontation between me and the sheriff, because he wanted to clear the highway and I wouldn’t let him do it, basically. Again, just one more antagonism in a growing list. When we were finishing the demonstration, the traffic started again, but we had made our point. 

 
At that point, we decided that we had to create an atmosphere at Tuskegee, an education op- portunity that would support African-American identity. We were using the term black so, ul- timately, we demanded “a black university”, meaning that we wanted courses that related to the history of African-Americans. We wanted social courses which are an incisive and correct anal- ysis of American society will be taught. We wanted things that will be of interest to African-American students, whether they were politicized or not. For example, we wanted a school of Fine Arts. 

 
We had none at Tuskegee. We had a little, I would say, a music department that basically had a few classes … Can you imagine a black university that practically had no music department. The engineers had demands, we include them in our coalition. The athletes had demands, we includ- ed their demands in our coalition. We wanted Tuskegee to go on record as certain policy posit- ions on matters of social interest at that time, political interests. 

 
So we were formulating this reformation of the college, and we were modest. We weren’t trying to in any way destroy the college. They could have avoided the entire problem they had with me and us if they had simply opened up, turned over one of the buildings and called it an experim- ental college. “You guys could teach whatever you want to teach and we’ll give you one college unit credit for any experimental class you want,” we basically would have been happy.

 
Brian:
Right.

 
Michael:
The consciousness development that we wanted would have been legitimized. We were not trying to destroy Tuskegee or stop 3,000 people from completing their college degree and going on with their lives. What’s the point of that? If they didn’t have included in the curriculum com- ponents that we were talking about to them, we were willing to raise protest hell for them to add them.

 

[Clarification: This is as good a place as any to mention what were the kinds and categories of reforms that we demanded: (1) A requirement that where plausible, faculty publish res- earch papers, (2) Educational program reforms like the creation of an “Experimental Col- lege” students could offer 1 o r 2 unit innovative classes and establish a “Black Studies Un- iversity” (or something like that)  (3) Demands by Athletes for fair treatment, (4) Demands by Engineering student for program reforms, (5) A Fine Arts and Music Department, (6) End- ing compulsory R.O.T.C. service, (7) Giving names to dormitories that did not have names, (8) Reforms to the modus operandi of the campus hospital, (9) Permitting withdrawals, without prejudice, from certain classes, (10) A Speech and Drama department within the Fine Arts school, (11)  Fiscal Reforms, and others.—MFW]

 
Brian:
Let me ask you a question. Is that coalition that you referred to, like the ac- tivists, the athletes, the engineers, is that what unity was, the unity move- ment?

 
Michael:
That was our version of unity. Now, a lot of people use the term unity. There were some milit- ants from Ohio State that came down and they … In the end they didn’t really contribute any- thing, but just solidarity. They were called Unity, too, so when you read Jim Forman’s book there’s a reference to "Unity," but that’s their organization. I think we got that idea of just cal- ling our Tuskegee Institute organization Unity, and we meant it. I mean, even our tactics, if we couldn’t get a building to hold a rally, we didn’t need a building to hold a … We would find the biggest assemblage of Tuskegee students and we would go there and we declared that to be the meeting. That’s how we had meetings all over the place. 

 
We never had a meeting that had fewer than 100 people, because we would just find out where it was. (laughter) I mean, they could have been having a concert, after the concert, we declared it a meeting. Or certain people would open the churches and whatnot and we would have rallies and meetings. Tuskegee, by the way, was busy doing its thing. They invited people from the State Department down there to justify the war in Vietnam, because we had created a lot of heat, anti-war heat. Tuskegee was very sensitive to that bec- ause Tuskegee has a very cozy rel- ationship with the State Department and Department of Defense, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and in- deed it’s a CIA front and like that. Tuskegee had that relationship, and not to mention the ROTC. They were providing these black officers for the Air Force and the Army.

 
Brian:
Let me just ask you one question, where do we see evidence of that relation- ship besides ROTC and the Veterans Hospital? Were there other departments that were getting a lot of funding from the DoD or from …?

 
Michael:
Uh-huh (affirmative), very good question. I am not sure. I’m not sure what the profile of grant should look like, to be honest with you, so I can’t answer that factually. I can say that it would not surprise me one little bit that the board of trustees of Tuskegee was involved in making deals like that, meaning that if you support the war, you go on record as supporting the Johnson administration’s political line, keep these militants in check, will be happy with you and some Department of Health, Education and Welfare, somebody’s going to find a way to get a grant to modernize this building or that building or …

 
Brian:
Right. Got you.

 
Michael:
… dormitories. That’s the way that the board of trustees have operated, which is why they ultim- ately became a target for us because we were not going to have any real lasting social change with the curriculum or Tuskegee’s policy platform until we dealt with the board of trustees, which we’ll talk about I guess in a little while, but …

 
Brian:
Sure. You were talking about the State Department coming on campus.

 
Michael:
Yeah. They came down to justify the war. Well, listen, that was a mistake. We cooked up a real greeting for them. Me and basically the guys I took to South Carolina, we not only had demon- strations about that, but when the State Department came in fact a few days after that, we had three or four dozens eggs at the big meeting that they were having in a big forum. I made a speech about supporting our brothers and sisters in Vietnam and we didn’t like these policies, this draft and this war, and we resented them being down here to justify it, so we started throw- ing all kinds of eggs at them and disrupted the whole thing. It was complete mayhem, and that was the end of that convention. 

 
Again, I was charged, they wanted to throw us out of school and whatnot, but we were able to intervene in that little campus judicial policy in such a way… so that if they, to play me out and get that as a persona non grata against me, an injunction, they would have had to expose that judicial process they had, to the light they didn’t want, and so I managed to stay formally enrol- led, even after that.

 
Brian:
Did you enroll that fall, or did you enroll that winter?

 
Michael:
Okay, I definitely was enrolled that fall, and I think that I enrolled that winter as well. Of the six semesters that I could have enrolled, I was enrolled in three of them, again, as a formal active enrollment. Actually, I took classes and was a pretty good student. When, finally, I got kicked out, actually I believe I had a 4.0, but that’s because my history teacher paid me to stay away. (laughter) He said, “I’ll give you an A if you didn’t come to class.” I said, That’s the deal. (laughter) 

 
Anyway, I was in class just a little bit, but mainly we were organizing, still going … Don’t forget all this time we’re doing SNCC work off campus, but on campus we were basically formulating what would become this unity platform. It took March and April, March mainly, to do that. Okay, March, but we were meeting in the little theater there, which was, what do you call it? Forensic club had the little theater and we were meeting there maybe three, four nights a week, planning how to greet the board of trustees, when they came down, found us, which was the first week of April. It was really me, I think, who came up with the idea, but it was easily endorsed by my coh- orts. That was that we were go- ing to demand meetings with them. 

 
We were not going to tolerate a faulty administration telling us everything of importance that we were concerned about was something they couldn’t do anything about because the board of trustees had to agree to it and so forth. We said, “Well, that’s fine and good.” But when they come here, we were coming to meet with them. We’re going to give them a program of demands and we were going to impress upon them that we really mean business and there won’t be any business as usual at Tuskegee anymore until they make these concessions. 

 
They were concessions that we knew they could make without harming any of the operations. It would just harm the reputation of the place of Tuskegee’s elite with the political class that runs this country and the economic ruling class. They would be uncomfortable with it, but that’s their problem. Anyway, we used the month of March really to plan it, and when they came to Tusk- egee, my guess is that it was about April 1st or something. [PHONE RINGS] Could you hold one second?

 
Brian:
Sure.

 
Michael:
Just a second. Hello?

 

[BREAK]

 
Michael:
I’m sorry. You’ll have to edit that out, okay?

 
Brian:
Okay, yeah. No problem.

 
Michael:
All right.

 
Brian:
So, can I just ask, how many people were involved in the planning?

 
Michael:
I’d say about 20. Yeah, I organized the unity organization. I made sure it was 10 young women, 10 young men. We were, looking back on it, quite progress- sive in that sense. I didn’t indulge in the kind of a, for lack of a better term, kind of machismo stuff and all of that. I had too much respect for our sisters to tolerate that type of stuff. I had been around so many militant and capable women in SNCC.

 

[CLARIFICATION: We had our own issues; as we inherited gender relations such as were cus- tomary in those days. But we were, at least, increasingly conscious and trying to address our male-centered perspectives because, again, we had so many women in SNCC that were both bright and brave leaders. So, in regard to our campus “Unity” leadership group, one of the ways that I addressed this was to mandate that half of the leadership com- mittee had to be female. And it was thus so--MFW]. 

 
I did not win every vote in things that we did. We actually debated things, but we were unified on the fact that something very militant had to happen in or- der to get the attention of the Tuskegee establishment. We planned it, and then probably in the week and a half or so before the trustees arrived, we had to come up with a plan. It was very secretive. I’m amazed that we were able to keep it secret, but its success, from our point of view, depended on secrecy. 

 
They (the trustees) showed up on the campus in their Cadillacs and their limos or whatever they came in the town in on Wednesday. They got their rooms in the guest hotel on the campus. It turns out that the telephone exchange system for Tuskegee and a part of the county lines ac- tually ran through the telephone exchange at Tuskegee, which was in that hotel. That’s impor-tant, because when we ended up detaining them in the hotel, we took over the telephone sys- tem and that got the attention of … that was another reason to get the attention of the federal authorities. The FBI was in there in a heartbeat, I was told. I mean, they couldn’t do anything, even if they were there. They couldn’t come in, but they were on the case, I suppose, in terms of investigating what was going on as the reports went. 

 
In the meantime, we had planned it and we knew how the place operated, so it’s pretty easy to fool them. We did not do anything around the hotel. We wanted them to feel quite comfortable and safe there. The night before their first meeting, which we intended to attend, even if we weren’t invited, we created diversions on the campus. I had certain girls going to the girls’ dor- mitories, as far away from that hotel as we could, and raise an alarm about men being on the hall and whatever. We knew these country bumpkin ass police they had there, they couldn’t wait to go rescue girls in the dormitory. We had them come over and we get them nonexistent near the hotels. 

 
On Tuesday night, the 2nd, while that was going on, we were busy going around the campus, taking all the official vehicles in the campus motor pool and we opened them up, took the rotors out of all of the distributors so that none of the Tuskegee vehicles would work that we knew would be used by their buildings and grounds people to try to reopen the campus. None of the cars would work. Then, at about 4:00 a.m. in the morning, we went around and we put chains on all the doors of all classrooms, all buildings, all admin- istration. Everything was chained, except the campus hotel, dormitories, the cafeteria and the recreation room. They wouldn’t discover that until about 7 or 8 in the morning. 

 
Some of the locks we put liquid solder in so that even if they took the locks out, they couldn’t open the doors. The engineering building, the engineers wired their doors with 220 volts, bec- ause these were engineers. They knew how to do that. Anybody that touched the door at the engineering building would get knocked back about 20, 30 feet. The engineering students, two weeks earlier, acted-out by locking up their building as their own protest about conditions in their program. Their lock-out continued right into the protest that we started on Wednesday, the 3rd of April.  (That’s where we got the idea of locking people out of certain buildings) What else did we do? Oh, yeah. We, again, left the cafeteria open, obviously, and we left the recreation room untouched, obviously, because we did not want to alienate the base. (laughter) We left the hotel, Dorothy Hall, unlocked too. 

 
They showed up, president and all, and about an hour after they went to their meeting, we showed up and said, “We have some demands. We need you to change the agenda to include us to discuss these demands.” They were shock- ed, but they weren’t fully shocked because we said, “By the way, this hotel is locked and this campus is shut down.”Well, the president was so embar- rassed. I mean, they were ready to castigate him. That is, he was lucky they (the trustees) didn’t lynch him when the deal was over. And they were really upset with him because they saw him as incompetent for not being aware of the impending rebellion on the campus. And they were scared to death because, as you’ll see, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated right then; in the mid- dle of our protest with them. And all hell had broke-loose nationwide. I mean that we had, ultimately, by the end, 150 to 300 people inside the building and, at one point, probably 1,500 students, at times and community residents outside the building protesting the death of MLK Jr. as well as joining in with sol- idarity to us students in the building once they learned of the nat- ure of our reform demands on the Board.

 

[Clarification:  Their (the trustees’) fear was not so much from us--though we were initially disruptive of their plans—as we never threatened them nor harmed them in any way. Frankly, we were all scared to death because the whole country was on fire…and getting more so, hour-by-hour. That is, what we thought of as simple act of civil disobedience drama on our parts, got somewhat beyond our control; as it became immediately ensconced in a national and internat- ional civil chaos in the week following the assassination of Dr. King.

 

That we managed to conduct a three-day political confrontation like that without ever threatening, harming nor allowing anyone to get hurt was Amazing. But credit also goes to some of the trustees also, being level-headed (and actually becoming sympathetic to us in some cases. See, e.g., “Potential Violence and Tragedy Averted in 1968 at Tuskegee…” by William “Billy” Gridley, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/potential-violence-tragedy-averted -1968-tuskegee-we-2020-gridley-cfa. Billy Gridley is the son of one of the late Tuskegee Board of Trustees members who negotiate with me and the other student leaders. I also remain very proud that I was able to give the kind of leadership that, with the tempest of radical politics notwithstanding, no one was hurt in the least.--MFW]. 

 
We had prepared the literature and there were leaflets, there were teach ins, and all the stud- ents, they … I mean, not all of them, obviously. There were many individuals that were trying to undermine us, but the masses were dir- ectly on our side. They created a human shield. I mean, that building was not that big to have 1,500 people surrounding it at every entrance meant that the sheriff couldn’t get in there and police couldn’t get in there, and so on and so forth.

 
Brian:
This is Dorothy Hall?

 
Michael:
Huh?
 
 
Brian: 
 
Yeah, Dorothy Hall (now called the Kellogg Center), and that was the hotel and the trustees couldn't get out of on the full first day of our protest. We went into a back and forth with them all day long. Finally, at a certain point, they agreed that on the next day (Friday morning, the 5th) they would put us on the top of the agenda, they would go over our list of demands and would dis- cuss the feasibility of these things and so on and so forth. We said… "Okay... (actually, in good faith) we left and about 4:00 p.m. we unlocked the building. They were free to go if they wanted to go. And most of them did. The reality was that they were free to go and they went out to eat. And so did most students.

 

[Clarification: The act of unlocking doors at the end of the first full day had good conseq- uences—short and long-term. The trustees met with us the next day on the various grievan- ces. But they also stayed, in part, because (1)they fully intended to finish their annual meet- ing’s agenda and (2) objectively-speaking, there was nowhere else for them to go on short notice (most buildings had been shut down) and there no other hotels within 50 miles). But, (3) most of all, there was very high pressure on everyone because of the unfold ding chaos in the nation that was being televised—showing the impact of the assassination of MLK Jr. on the nation and world. Most of them probably, and quite reasonably, felt safer inside the hotel with us (with our focus on the extended discussions of our 20 reform demands for the college) rather than wade through 1,500 people highly angered and distressed by King’s murder. This was a wholly unforeseen juxtaposition of events and issues--MFW]. 

 

Michael: 

Now, I went to one of my friend’s house because she was having a birthday party. She and I were very close I’ll put it that way. She was a teacher there, and she had a teacher who was a friend of hers, and her teacher’s boyfriend and me, the four of us went out to a little birthday party for her. In other words, I’d taken about an hour or hour and a half out of the revolution to go to her place and have a little party. Now, the party was gingersnaps, apple sauce and ginger ale, okay? We went, turned on the radio and listened to some Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, this is gonna be our party (laughter). I said, “Well, listen. I got to get back by 6:00 because we just left them out there and I got to monitor and kind of make decisions and be in charge of what’s going on here because we’re going to meet them the next morning.” 

 
Well, at about five minutes after 6:00 p.m., while we were listening to the rad- io, I had put on one of those good old Southern soul stations, an announcement came across the radio that Mar- tin Luther King had just been shot. We were in shock. My girl friend, who was a teacher there at Tuskegee, she loved Martin Luther King beyond any level of love, and honestly, I mean love. People loved Martin Luther King, but I mean that was her ultimate hero. For him to be shot, with all of this going on, she was not only fearful that we were all going to get killed, but she was in shock because of his death and it was her birthday. This was … She had an existential meltdown … as we thought of this. 

 
I said, “Oh, my God. Well, I’ve got to book. I got to get out of here right now and get back to my people and what we want to do about this,” because here we’ve got this little revolution going on in the campus, but now there’s a hell of an event that just went down. Each hour that went by, more cities were… with riots and fires and protests, and white people were … black people getting armed. All of the southern towns, I mean, everywhere, every town you drove through, and two days, three days later I do have the occasion to drive though some of them, I never saw so many armed people in my life. We went back and we had a meeting and we have to decide whether or not to continue with our movement. We decided to do it because we were past the point of no return and we would never be able to get that board’s compromises like that again.

 
Brian:
Is this the 20 that met, or is this a bigger meeting?

 
Michael:
This was probably not even all 20. I’m meeting with maybe seven or eight … I mean, it’s a prac- tical matter. I think any given time I had seven or eight lieut- enants keeping everybody else informed or polling people for what they thought or this, that and the other.

 
Brian:
Right.

                         

Michael:
It wasn’t all 20, but it was who we could get together probably 7:00 or 8:00 that evening. The next morning, we went back and we were in the meeting with them at 9 and we told them, “Well, we’re here to negotiate on this stuff. By the way, we’ve locked the doors again and this time we’re not going to be opening them until our negotiations are concluded, no matter how long that takes. That could take all day, that could take a few days, but none of us are leaving here.” They got upset about that, too. I think some were saying, “We’ll never negotiate under coercion.” “Okay, fine. We’ll sit and talk to each other and look at each other, but …” We mean it, “Y’all not leaving.”

 

[Clarification: In reality, the door chains were taken off of at least half of the doors, and people went in and out intermittently on Friday scrutinized by fellow sympathetic stud- ents--MFW].

 
They were getting scared because there were many televisions in there and they were looking at the news. And, at that point Washington, D.C. was burning up. Riots, rebellions are going on in hundreds of cities in the country and they were beginning to fear for their lives [though they could, by then, tell that we had no violent nor personally threatening intentions toward them. But they were not sure what was going on outside of the hotel. Now, we were also worried. I know I had the sheriff gunning for us. But the local Tuskegee City Police, they were not a prob- lem to us. They’re actually more sympathetic to us than anything else, but I knew I was going to have a problem with the sheriff and the sheriff’s deputies. He tried to get in at one point and I told him no. This was on a Friday afternoon. There was no lock on the door at the rear or parking lot side of the lobby area most of the time, but many students stood there to bar his entry.

 
Brian:
Was this Amerson?

 
Michael:
Amerson, yeah. I confronted him at the door. I got a bunch of people behind me and he had three to four deputies with him. Well, there was no contest. He wasn’t coming in and nobody with us was coming out. He got … again, he was just pissed off. Basically, his will was not acced- ed to and therefore his hatred was growing by the hour. What he did was he left and went to call Lurleen Wallace on the telephone. She was acting governor of Alabama. She was very sickly at the time as she was dying with cancer that very night. But before she died, she (or her assistant, Tom Brewer) had been gotten on the phone.Amerson asked her for a state of emergency declar- ation, and he asked her to activate the National Guard to come in and free these trustees. 

 
When you consider who we had locked up in there, it was a pretty impressive list. We had a state representative from Ohio. We had the president of Alab- ama Power and Light Company. We had the president of Phelps Stokes Fund and March of Dimes and the vice president of General Mot- ors, a vice president of United Auto Workers. We had a vice president of Chase National Bank and we had a retired general, Liucius D. Clay, and about, I don’t know, maybe 15  others, I don’t remember exactly. 

 
Anyway, they were all worried, okay? But we were all worried about an es- calating confronta- tion. We had no intention of hurting anybody, no desire to hurt anybody whatsoever, but we were not going to just get shot down like the students at South Carolina or the ones who’d got- ten killed earlier in January in Texas. Some of the people that I had earlier been associated with who were outside the hotel, were reputedly armed (I don’t know) and they weren’t going to lay down and get shot (if I correctly knew who they were). If anyone had a gun or knife on them- selves, no one brandished anything like that inside the hotel; that’s for sure. Anyway, yeah, you have a comment or question? I’m sorry.

 
Brian:
Oh, yeah. I wanted to ask, do you know how you learned that it was Amerson who called Lurleen Wallace?

 
Michael:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That came out within minutes. I mean, because we had informants all over the place.

 
Brian:
Oh, I see.

 
Michael:
Yeah. I mean, we knew and when they were … it took them 24 hours to mob- ilize the National Guard. We knew from Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Birmingham, ham, we had people all over State of Alabama calling us. Matter of fact, that’s one of the roles one of my friends played. When he heard about the rebellion … remember this thing went over for three days, it wasn’t just one day. When he’d heard about it, he got on a plane and flew back into the middle of it and I asked him to handle that part for me. 

 
That was, to setup a little ad hoc intelligence network to find out about the National Guard, have people go by the armory [near Montgomery], see if they were mobilizing, what was going on and when they would arrive and whatnot. He did that. Every hour or so I pretty much knew where the state police were mobilizing. The National Guard was bivouacking in various National Guard centers, so we pretty much knew where they were. Once they got in convoy, we would have a pretty good idea how much transit was involved between where they were and us.

 
Brian:
Did your friends call you or did they come and tell you these things in person?

 
Michael:
They didn’t have cellphones in those days. One probably was on the phone in some adjoining house, which I don’t know how he was doing it. He would come and let me know from time to time what was going on. It was getting dark. It was getting dangerous. Anyway, Lurleen Wallace issued the Executive Order that Amerson asked for, and she was sick and she was dying. As far as I know, her last act on earth was to bring the National Guard. You’ve got to understand, we’re not talking about a handful of people. She had over several hundred state police...

 

[CLARIFICATION: In my recollections, I forgot to describe what happened on Saturday the 6th. Basically, everything had quieted down, but we still expected to meet with the trustees for at least one negotiating session that day. But that day, the administration (including the president) decided to have a second one-hour memorial service for Lurleen Wallace, the acting governor and wife of a notorious racist demagogue, the infamous George Wallace, in the same Logan Hall that they held a 10 minute memorial service for MLK Jr., Friday, the day before.  This really pissed off everybody on the campus and the locals from the town. A cou- ple of the trustees went to that Friday service for MLK Jr., I was told. (That was possible because some doors  were not keeping them in at that time. Most of the time the trustees stayed on the second floor of the hotel, but some had rooms on the first floor as well. To my recollection, there were—probably—six doors from which to leave the place as well as fire escapes, first floor room windows, etc. So, I think that at no time were all exits simul- taneously locked nor closed even if everyone was not aware of that.--MFW).

 

Many students inside the hotel, along with me, did go to the ever-so-brief memorial service for MLK Jr. that day (10-15 minutes). A couple of them may well have briefly left for the service (though I know that President Foster was not there) and then returned to the hotel to continue with the small group caucusing they were doing to negotiate the demands with us, to end the protest, and to finish their annual business meeting. But by Saturday afternoon, I do not think they wanted to meet with us anymore; but we were hopeful--MFW].

 

Michael: (Con’/…) 

That Saturday night: Well, the first contingent to be brought in is the National Guard. There were about 4,000 National Guardsmen, okay? They came into the area, to the ultimately … I’ll explain that later, what happened when they got there, but they were on their way. We knew they were on their way and we had to make decisions as to whether or not to capitulate and end the prot- est; hopefully to minimize the risk of bloodshed that looked like it could ensue, or to keep them as a bargaining chip so that in fact we would have them to bargain with so that we could end the occupation of that building without people getting shot. Because that was one of the debates and, as a matter of fact, personally I was, at first, in favor of keeping them because I thought that we might be better for them and for us to have a formal safe conduct escort for them once we were assured we had somebody that can negotiate with the National Guard’s leadership. Later, toward, 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, I also wanted to see them leave the area safely. About 2 or 3 hours later, that was arranged. 

 
So, something like that ultimately did happen. They eventually got out of there maybe 11:00 at night or midnight on Saturday night. Bert Phillips and a couple of other faculty members ran out to the gate and got on their knees and … I mean, listen, they showed up. I’m telling you, there were 4,000 National Guardsmen. Well, they lined all of Montgomery Highway, as far as the eye could see. They had tanks. Tanks! That’s why it took them so long to get there. They had half-tracks, APCs, bazookas, APC's (armored personnel carriers). I’ve never seen a bazooka in my life. They had bazookas. They came there ready to annihilate the place and to free the trustees and to arrest or kill us. 

 
We sent out some of our people, to all the dormitories to get the young ladies and the young men to get out of their dorms, to get into the hallways, get away from the windows. When the guard arrived, we knew they were there. Bert Phillips ran out. Like I said, he got on his knees, literally on his knees in front of a tank and begged them not to come on the campus, informed them that about half hour ago the trustees had been allowed to go, which was true. It was a very emotional situation. Also, discipline was breaking down inside the building. None of us had had sleep for about three days. 

 
A few of us acquitted ourselves, I think, fairly well. It was very, very difficult, but many others were becoming undisciplined. They all ate the food up in the hotel. I think someone found some wine or something. I don’t remember alcohol being too much of a problem. To carry out a con- sensus meeting was becoming more and more difficult. Anyway, they voted to let the trus- tees go past us unopposed by challenging them. But they—the students--demanded that the presid- ent Foster go to the 2nd floor balcony to address the large crowd outside urging them to set aside their grief and anger at King’s death, and let the trustees (who were all white people, save one) safely walk by them to board their bus or vans. It worked. Then the president left.  But, soon after that, the National Guard showed up but there were no trustees, including the pres -ident, left in the place… we evacuated the building; except for me and one other student. I was the last person to leave the building, and that’s because the Dean Phillips and an athletic coach whose name I’ve forgotten. They begged me to leave the building. 

 
Again, they didn’t want me to get killed. That’s what I’m trying to say because, you understand, we had a lot of sympathy. Not only did I have 1,500 students outside the building, we had a few hundred residents of poor Tuskegee, you understand what I’m saying? Poor folks who had never set foot on that campus. They were never considered to be a part of that campus, like they were poor working class of folks. They were working in garages or cotton fields or wherever, whatever work they were doing. They were poor, and that’s the true Black Belt of Tuskegee and they weren’t far away. I mean, we’re just talk- ing about East Tuskegee and as far away as northern Tuskegee. By that time, they knew about it and they came in to support us as well. 

 
Again, Bert was able to get there and slow the National Guard down and con- vince them not to go, because they wanted to search all the dormitories. They wanted to find me. They wanted to find certain other leaders and they deter- mined that they weren’t going to leave until they had captured and killed us.

[Clarification: After the trustees had left the campus, then some of the people that I had earlier worked on our side, went to another empty part of the campus—on the “Ag" (agric- ulture) side of the campus—about a mile away and started shooting some rounds off into the air (from what I understand). Though, of course, I never asked anybody to do any thing like that. But that distraction was probably why the National Guard didn’t go in the direc- tion of the dormitories, as they were drawn away in another direction. In the meantime, we’re able to get people more secured in their dormitories--MFW]. 

 
Then maybe 3, 4, 5 in the morning, I can’t probably remember at this point, they decided to dem- obilize and they stayed in the area for a while. I know they were there because at that time I could see, because I was leaving the area, what kind of armaments they came there with. Any- way, yeah, the three guys and one young lady, we got a car. We decided to leave to avoid arrest and we went and headed out to Milledge- ville, Georgia for about three or four days. 

 
We showed up there. We found a lot of sympathy for us in Milledgeville. The young lady we took with us, her mother and father, were from there. They were teachers and principals and they ad- opted us as sort of their kids, along with her. They could see that, again, it was important that we were principled in the way we were dealing with the women, because that mattered, ultimate- ly. They could see that she was perfectly comfortable with us. Nobody was exploiting her, ab- using her or anything. They adopted us, like they had five kids instead of one and they protected us for these four days.

  
Then I was in contact with lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild and we got a couple of guild lawyers in. They went to Tuskegee and found out that the sheriff was claiming only to want to serve us with injunctions. We said, “Okay, well it’s better to go back.” I’ve now gotten 1,500 people kicked out of college. We don’t know how many charges there are, who’s going to jail and who ain’t, and if anybody was harmed or killed. We didn’t know what the fate of certain people was. 

 
I decided to go back with the four people that I had. They did serve us with injunctions, but when I went to get served an injunction at the police station they did pull out, what down South they call hip warrants, which meant the sheriff of the county can carry a stale warrant in his hip for years and arrest you on it at any time.

 

[CLARIFICATION: They arrested us and temporarily charged us with, I think, disorderly con- duct, disturbing the peace, or trespass; fairly minor misdemeanors. Later, we found out that there were no bases for any more serious charges—for multiple reasons—even though trespass and the misdemeanors mentioned above were more chargeable because the actual things we actually did not involve assaults, threats, batteries nor injuries. And all of this occurred within the first three following the supervening assassination of MLK Jr. What most folk recollecting this event, do not have the bigger view. The emotionality and spec- tacle of it all was because of its juxtaposition in time with the murder of Dr. King.

 

Two weeks later our lawyers got a favorable ruling on reciprocal injunctions from the Fed- eral District Court in Montgomery enshrining a settlement that (1) precluded criminal charges, that (2) scheduled scores of campus “due process hearings” to weigh if we should be kicked out of school, and (3) that forbade some of us from going on to the campus ex- cept to attend our “trials”; which took a month. Each “hearing” had about 10 students ac- cused of breaking campus rules of decorum. About 300 students, instead of the 1,500 they had originally contemplated, were expelled from school for a year. But, as a result of my “trial,” I was made persona non-grata for the next three years. --MFW ]

 
Brian:
Can I ask you a question? I just want to get right the timing of … You’re saying you released the trustees before the National Guard arrived or you released them as the National Guard was ar- riving?

 
Michael:
They were released about 15 minutes before the Guard showed up at the front gates of the institution.

 

[Clarification: “Released” meant that they physically walked out of the hotel as a group. There had been no chains on the front door for quite a while anyway, as I recall so, as a group, they could have all physically walked out beforehand if they’d pressed the issue physically. Around 9:00 p.m. Saturday night, or so, someone tried to group them and walk them out, but the assembled students objected for another two hours or so. And another thing: the trustees didn’t leave immediately around 9:00 p.m. because, for them, that meant that they would have walked into a pretty angry crowd of 1,500 people outside, at night, within 36 hours of MLK JR.’s killing. Given that there were TV’s were everywhere, I imagine that they thought the better of that idea and mounted no other exit attempts on their own.--MFW].

 
Brian:
Got you. Chester Higgins told me he thought the reason that there wasn’t an Orangeburg-style massacre is because of that major general, that the major general told them not to fire.

 
Michael:
Well yeah, but the major general could have said as well, “Shoot them.” No. The reason was that Bert Phillips convinced the major general not to give that order. All I’m saying is, I’m serious, they had a back and forth that must have lasted 45 minutes out at the front of that school’s gate.

 
Brian:
Right.

 
Michael:
Yeah. I mean, Chester’s right, in a way, you know what I mean, in terms of who gave the formal order, but it wasn’t the beneficence of the general.

 
Brian:
Right.

 
Michael:
You must understand, it wasn’t just the National Guard. It was the state police. They were just as dangerous and … but it was the context, and the point was that by that point 150 cities were blowing up, were going up in flames. Martin Luther King, hadn’t even been buried. Then to add, to make it really surreal, the next morning Lurleen Wallace died. What I’m saying is that the Tuskegee establishment, after the trustees were let go and Martin Luther King is dead, he had not been buried. Lurleen Wallace was dead. Her body wasn’t even cold. They called a five-minute memorial. Can you imagine inviting people to a five-minute memorial service for Martin Luther King, Jr.? All right, and they kept to it. I mean, it might have gone for 10 minutes, but they kept people at it and they were so shook up. 

 
The Tuskegee, the board of trustees, didn’t none of them come because they were figuring out how to carry out probably a castration of Luther Foster, they were that angry with him for bring- ing them into that … for allowing them to come into a situation where he was so embar rassed because he had no clue that anything like that elaborate could be organized to detain that many prominent people, and so he didn’t even come out, I don't think. They had five minutes. Do you know, the next day they had a half hour memorial service for Lurleen Wallace? This is the white ultra-racist wife of George Wallace. She was only a placeholder for him because he couldn’t run for governor three times in a row, so he ran her for governor while she was dying, poor thing, and she was dying of cancer. She died that morning.

 
Anyway, back to your point about the … I mean, the trustees left. They went to Montgomery. I think they got a hotel in Montgomery to continue their business meeting because it was, after all, a formal, legal annual business meeting.They read Foster the riot act over there and they planned to deal with us. Because they kicked 1,500 students out, we then had the ability to go to court and initiate legal action ourselves with our lawyers to at- tempt to get an injunction, an injunction to require Tuskegee’s administration to readmit all of the students and then set up judicial procedures to … if they want to kick anybody out, they have to go through a due proc- ess. They couldn’t just send people letters and tell them to go the hell home, and they did that to 1,500 people. 

 
We were able during June to create a system where they had to have trials and of course the star trial, the star chamber trial was mine. I had been study- ing a correspondence law course that semester that we’re talking about. A matter of fact, going back to September ‘67, I enrolled in some correspondence. I didn’t get very far in the course, but it made … I like to think legal- ly, and I’ve been to jail enough to understand the role of law enforcement in political action activ- ity. 

 
I ended up being the student defender, like someone like a public defender, for all the kids that were getting kicked out of Tuskegee to their judicial coun- cil, the disciplinary board. I was the “public defender” for them all through September of ’68 through January ’69, well February of ’69, including even after that, because that same counsel was trying to kick me out. We made a mockery of that procedure and made them set up a procedure and they did. They eventually reduced the number of students that were kicked out from 1,500 to about 300, including me.

  
Then, of course, I got to my hearing. It was a big deal. The place was filled. My lawyer said it’s better if I act as my own defense attorney because I could do things that he couldn’t do, and the fact I was getting kicked out and probably go to jail a minute thereafter was a foregone conclus- ion, so he was really prepared for the criminal defense. I used that as a forum to make our case about why we were doing what we were doing. It was sort of when there was history will ab- solve me speech moment, that Castro was famous for…

 
Brian:
Is that speech anywhere, do you think?

 
Michael:
Well, not … Oh, you know what? Probably so, because it was a formal legal history. There was a transcript and there was a stenographer there. I don’t know if Danny was able to ever, the ar- chivist, was ever able to get that, but there was. We also had a hearing in federal court before Federal Judge Johnson, who made us … he set up a reasonably formal procedure, but the trans- cripts were there, I know. Anyway, the Tuskegee lawyers were the prosecutors, that is, Fred Gray’s associates in his law firm. 

 
It was an interesting thing. Again, I’m going to comment on the South. I had been a thorn in their side off and on for three years. They kicked me out two or three times, but this last time they really meant it. There was legal persona non grata orders and all kinds of stuff, injunctions. Yet, even though I was working as the student defender and later defended myself in this show trial, the lawyers working for Tuskegee, Fred Gray’s associates who were prosecuting me, every day at 5:00 me and my attorney and those two lawyers would go to … We had a big old room in Dor- othy Hall. 

 
We’d go up there and the five of us drank a fifth of Haig & Haig everyday after the trial, because it was a foregone conclusion what was going to happen with the trial. (laughter) There was no point in not socializing because what was going to happen was known. The interesting thing was, you know something, those lawyers said, “Michael, after …” In effect, “After we kick you out of school and if you get out of jail [jokingly], we will send you to law school our- selves. We will pay for your legal education if you will only promise to practice in Alabama for five years.” Ain’t that something?

 

[Clarification: To sum it up, as stated above, the school and the sheriff elected to disregard any putative misdemeanor (not to mention impossible felony) charges as our behavior had a civil disobedience aspect to it, but also because there was great inconsistency when doors were locked or not, and which ones. And it was also known that some trustees did leave and return to the place. But most importantly, though chaotic, we managed to assure that no trustee was threatened, harmed, personally argued with, nor touched. They also ate quite well and caucused among themselves a good deal.--MFW]

 

What people do not know is that we had many personal conversations with individual trustees--some of whom became very sympathetic to us as we went through the 20 demands that we and why. That was how they learned how corrupt and incompetent the President’s local campus administration was! So, they were not interested in pressing any charges against us either. The only official that was interested in misdemeanor charges, was the unbelievably embarrassed sheriff Amerson. But judge Johnson put an end to that with by accepting settlement I just des- cribed on the petitions for the reciprocal injunction orders that he issued about 10 days after the event.

 

You see, because the only offenses that could be lodged against us were misdemeanors but those, being criminal in nature, meant that no students could be ‘due processed’ in the multiple campus hearings—which were official un- der the court’s order because of self-incrimination issues. So, the trustees,  speaking for the college, could have cared less about misdemeanors because they wanted to kick us all out as quickly as possible and move everyone away from the town of Tuskegee; given that the school year was going to end in about a month and the stud- ents would be gone anyway.

 

This was great. That is, the settlement in Montgomery’s Federal District court (judge Frank Johnson’s court) less than two weeks after the rebellion resulted (1) them waiving any criminal infraction claims, (2) required the college to set up on-campus “trials” to afford due process protections to students whom they wanted to (and did) kick out college (300 of us), and (3) enjoined some of us from entering the campus areas—on pain of trespass charges—except for showing up to our various campus group trials.  In my case, they made me persona non-grata for three years before inviting me back to finish my degree starting in June, 1971. I did go back to Alabama for a few months that year as a labor organizer in Birmingham, Alabama, but I did not try to re-enroll as a student down in Tuskegee].

 
Brian:
This is like their private initiative, as individuals?

 
Michael:
This is the way… the back-channel stuff works, especially in the South. They were very proud of me, in a way. Do you follow what I’m saying?

 
Brian:
Yeah.

 
Michael:
Because we have brought the Tuskegee petit- bourgeoisie, even though that was their client, to their knees. They had never seen anything like this, okay? You must understand, there were a lot of people in Tuskegee who did not like their Negro 1%. Behind the scene, they would do things to support us, but they were also impressed that we can organize stuff and that it was as prin- cipled as it was. I mean, we did not do unprincipled things, and it was in the middle of a hellac- ious, tumultuous time and they recognized that they saw some talent here.

 
 They knew that I was acting like a lawyer,[saying to themselves, I suppose] “maybe this young Negro wants to be a lawyer.” They actually said that after my three years of being kicked off the campus, if I agreed to go to come back to Tuskegee to finish my B.A. degree, they’d send me to the University of Alabama law school, I think it was in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa, and that they would pay for it, so long as I agreed to practice in Alabama for five years thereafter! I’m still tel- ling you … The next day, of course, they carried on with the hearings for that day on campus. But, behind the scenes, that’s what they offered.  I was amazed at their offer.

 
Brian:
Wow.

 
Michael:
I was really humbled by that. I mean, I was flattered by it, but I was also hum- bled by it. Again, I just tried it, in my current level of wisdom, whatever that level is, I tried to paint a full picture of the subtleties and the nuances of black resistance in this country. Naturally, they were … Well, my lawyer [George Dean] was right. He was a guy from National Lawyers Guild, two of them, a matter of fact. These black lawyers who were officially giving me grief were the ones actually who are willing to pay for my legal education. 

 
Later, I declined that opportunity because in the meantime another faction was paying a con- tract, $5,000 to have me killed. That took precedence over screwing around talking about going to law school in Alabama. Anyway, I left Alabama in June. Last I had, I had worked to get every- body back to school that I could. I had communicated with other kids who couldn’t be reinstated to make sure that they got letters of reference or whatever support they needed. I was raising money for some of the people that got kicked out because they had no place to go back to and they couldn’t go on the campus dorm rooms and whatnot. 

 
I was getting sick. I was getting a bile burn. Later I found … I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t go to the hospital on the campus because there was order for me not to go anywhere near that campus. I couldn’t go to any of the black doctors at Tuskegee because the few that were there was associated with the campus and, besides, I was persona non grata. One day in June, the guys I was telling you about, Mr. Woodson and Stanley, Dr. Stanley Smith, they kept hearing me com- plain about my stomach. They said, “Well, go down to the white doctor down there. He’ll exam- ine you.” 

 
I went to the town one afternoon and a guy opened the office up and he examined me, saying, “Well son, you don’t have an ulcer but you do have a bile burn. If you don’t treat this, it will bec- ome an ulcer,” from accumulated stress in more ways what it was. He asked me my name and I told him, I said, “Well, I’m Michael Wright.” He said, “Michael? Are you the Michael Wright?” I said, “Well, yes.” “Oh, boy.” Well, I’m paraphrasing now, but, “That’s sort of a horse of a different col- or. I’m going to give you a prescription. You do this stuff and you go on an ulcer diet and I recom- mend that you leave here.” 

 
I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Just a word. It’s not going to be very safe for you here for very long.” I asked him a few more things, like how soon. “I don’t… how soon?” He said, “How about suddenly.” I said, “Damn. It’s that bad?” He said, “Yes. It was that bad. You probably, you’re not going to make it.” They have a thing in the South they call a Bourbon Street lynching. Have you ever heard of that term before?

 
Brian:
No. I haven’t.

 
Michael:
It comes from Louisiana or New Orleans. That’s when all the male town elders and their little smokers, a subcommittee of them will get together and start ponying up the money for a con- tract to kill you. Then, when the deal goes down, nobody knows what happened and nobody’s talking and three days later the dialog becomes like, “What incident?” Okay? (laughter) They have a way of carrying out,… getting rid of people that they want to get rid of. That’s what it was. He didn’t know what was coming down. 

 
Three or four years later, some people got hold of records. Actually, what they told me, it was in the president’s office in Tuskegee, that implicated them in that contract and some of the details that I’m telling you about, I told you about earlier, were told to me at that point. The actual one who really let me know how imminent my demise was was this white doctor. I knew that this had a ring of truth because he had some details, but also I had noticed that in about the week and a half, maybe it was two weeks, that I was in Tuskegee, it was hard for me to get anybody to let me stay with them. I did have a little place to crash here in the area, but it was very undesirable plac- es. 

 
I used to be able to hitchhike, because back in those days people in this country hitchhiked. Two weeks before this occurred, nobody would pick me up. I only ended up with two or three sup- porters and they … because all my base, they had left the area. It was going into June and there weren’t going to be students there anyway. I was getting more and more isolated and I could feel that the beast breathing down, the hot breath on the back of my neck, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what was coming down until I was informed, so I left. 

 
About a week after I got to California, the new governor of Alabama who replaced Lurleen Wal- lace, whose name was Brewer, he got on television. He had him a news conference. That gover- nor said that me and Scott B. Smith and other “communist agitators,” we done run them out of the state. (laughter) You could call the White Citizen’s Council in Mobile, Alabama, they had tapes on … they’d play the tape on the phone for you about them trouble- makers up in Tusk- egee and we’re going to get them and they all need to run. 

 
I ended up leaving Alabama that way, and I stayed away for about two years. When I got back, like I said, I stayed at Tuskegee just a month or so, but I main- ly moved up to Birmingham too, because I was with the Black Labor, organiz- ing  at that point and so I did a little organizing in Birmingham, Alabama. I think it was 1971, or something like that. That’s the story.

 
Brian:
Wow. What an amazing story. What’s the name of the labor organizing group?

 
Michael:
Yeah. It’s called the Black Workers Congress.

 
Brian:
Oh, yeah. Okay. You did end up going to law school, correct?

 
Michael:
Well, yeah. Before we get into contemporary time, there’s two things I want to mention because it’s important for your knowledge and if someone listens to these ancedotes or read about it. To understand the importance of that order that Lurleen Wallace signed for the National Guard to come in and shoot us, because not only was it a massive mobilization but there was a contingent of the National Guard group that wasn’t with them. Instead, there was a small squad, I think it was as many as twelve Alabama National Guards and Army National Guard based in Tuscaloosa that was actually sent to Memphis, Tennessee. Got it? They were sent to Memphis, Tennessee before we ever took over to Tuskegee at all. Their job was to supervise the assassination of Mar- tin Luther King. 

 
Now, here is … There’s proof of this. There’s irrefutable proof because an American jury in Mem- phis, Tennessee found it to be the truth. Well, here’s what happened. The FBI under Hoover, Defense Department generals, also right wing generals, the mafia, the Marcello mob family in New Orleans, and St. Louis financiers, all in a disjointed or multilayered conspiracy, the same conspiracy that killed both of the Kennedys, the same grouping of people, killed Martin Luther King Jr. They planned it for several weeks and they had a group of green berets who were in the military. They resigned their commis- sions in the military. They de-enlisted from the regular Army and reenlisted in the Alabama National Guard as a group. 

 
That group that resigned go to Memphis, Tennessee to supervise the Memphis Police and the Memphis Police hierarchy, not all the cops, obviously, but those that were involved in the con- spiracy. Their job was to actually be the shooters. Martin Luther King was shot by a Memphis Pol- ice lieutenant, and his spotter was a sergeant in the Memphis Police. They ran a target practice range for the Memphis Police. They took the normal Memphis Police that would normally guard Martin Luther King when he came there, they took them off duty. They carried out the assass- ination with these members of the Alabama National Guard… I’m sure that they came out of uniform, but they were supervising the shooting of King. 

 
Now, this is all documented. It’s irrefutable that this was the way it went down, because if you read the second version of William Pepper’s book An Act of State. See, William Pepper was the family lawyer for Martin Luther King’s family and they for years, along with James Bevel and some others, we’re trying to get James Earl Ray a trial. He never really ever had a trial, on the claim that he was the sole assassin of King. They knew that wasn’t true and they were trying to get a new trial for him. He ended up succumbing to cancer, probably an assassination. They had certain viruses, monkey viruses that would give anybody cancer. They killed Jack Ruby this way. They tried to kill Castro this way, by trying to give him an injection of that and two weeks later they form an aggressive form of cancer. 

 
Anyway, he was dying of cancer and they never got him a trial. They were able to interview a lot of witnesses and they began to get this background. What William Pepper and the Martin Luther King family did ultimately, because the family was not in favor of this at first, but eventually they agreed. They sued the United States government in State Court in Tennessee, charging United States government with the wrongful death of Martin Luther King and com- plicity in his assas- sination with the multilayered component that I told you about, in my view probably going up to Lyndon Johnson. No one got to the top of the FBI and the top of the military establishment, and they probably would never have dared doing a thing like this without Johnson’s approval. 

 
Anyway, that they carried out the assassination. Pepper, the attorney, sued the government. They had a civil trial, and this is in the early ‘90s, okay? In the early ‘90s. They have a civil trial and a civil jury found the United States government was guilty of the assassination of Martin Luther King and complicity in all of its parts. Now, I remember when that verdict came down. Do you know, there were only three national networks at that time: ABC, NBC and CBS. They all had evening news. Do you know that neither NBC nor CBS even covered the verdict in that trial? Only Peter Jennings, who was with ABC News, discussed it on the Evening News that night, less than five minutes. This is an American jury that rendered a verdict in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Their verdict is officially a public record.

 
Brian:
Wow.

 
Michael:
The entire story is well documented in An Act of State. That’s the book. Had to go to England twice to get it published. No American publisher would touch it. This book was updated within the last 10 years and given the title “The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr." ,by Wm. Pep- per, Esq. (a British barrister licensed to also practice in the USA; the family lawyer for the King family for 30 years).

 

If you go to a show on the Internet called Guns and Butter, okay, with Bonnie Faulkner, she’s one of the great conspiracy investigators in the country, a bril- liant, brilliant woman. If you go in their archives around December of 2014 and January of 2015, they have two broadcasts in their archives on William Pepper actually speaking about the assassination of Martin Luther King. It gives you bone-chilling details of how it was organized and how it was put up and what its con- nection to Kennedy’s killings were. All I’m saying is that the irony, even George Bush Jr. who bec- ame the president of United States... George Bush Jr!... he was an Alabama National Guard at the same time, but he was in the Air Nat- ional Guard. I’m thinking of King. I’m speaking as he show- ed up here.

 
Brian:
George Bush, Jr. wasn’t at Tuskegee that day?

 
Michael:
No. If he had joined the Alabama Army National Guard, he would have been, but he joined the Army … I mean, the Air Force National Guard as a way to avoid the draft, okay?

 
Brian:
Right. Let me ask you, looking back at all of this, what do you feel like is the significance of that series of protests in ’67 and ’68 in Tuskegee?

 
Michael:
I’m not sure how to generalize about that. We were part of a nationwide, ac- tually worldwide movement of rebellions. Lots of people get [into] all kinds of [radical things. It certainly had all kinds of significance for Tuskegee, I’ll tell you that, because 25 years later, my name was not- orious at that place. (laughter) They definitely didn’t see anything like that before or since, I’ll tell you that. What it meant was that African-American students were dead serious about chal- lenging the dominant narrative of white cultural supremacy in this country. It was the highlight of black power, black consciousness. 

 
After that, somebody as backward and conservative as a Southern, you know, James Brown, as backward as you can get somebody … I mean, politically-speaking. He’s a fantastic cultural icon, but he was simply stupid. Even he came out, “Well, I’m black and I’m proud.” You know what I mean? Then he came out with “only in America” or “I’m in love with America” – something to off- set that. 

 
You had all kinds of people that were getting on the black power bandwagon and legitimizing it. The student movement was critical with that because it was an area where you could have a microcosm of what was going on in the cities, in the city government and the lack of black pol- itical representation in the cities and in the school boards for urban America. These black college areas were, especially in the Black South, I mean, here’s the idea. We’re in big trouble if we can’t get a Negro history class at a premier black college at that time in the United States. 

 
That shows you how backward it was, and it wasn’t anything radical or revolutionary. You know, John Hope Franklin, whatever the book was on Negro slavery. I mean, that’s how backward and scared the black petit- bourgeoisie was, in order to maintain their living standards and their base of operation. So it had great implications for them, but our movement as a whole was just one contribution to … 

 
The ‘60s was the last best thing to happen to the United States. Everything after that was down- hill. It took me into the end of the ‘70s to realize the ‘60s was over. It took a while but I officially figured it out after we had enough at- tacks on racial affirmative action that I realized, “Oh, man. Yeah, the law and order, no crime in the streets rhetoric, backtracking on school bussing,” all of that stuff. By the time we got to Ronald Reagan’s election, the die was cast, the movement, that period was over. 

 
We set an example and now you see young black folks taking up the mantle. They’ve got their lessons to learn and they can only be so sophisticated when they’re 20 years old or 21. Besides, they’re less sophisticated because the whole country after Reagan has been dumbed down, folks getting stupid. They had no sense of history in the United States. The American, average American can’t remember what happened last week, let alone any historical information. 

 
All digital and cyber communications has made organizing and communicating I think more dif- ficult, not less. Even to mobilize, if your organization is based on Twitter flash mobs, but yeah, you can get a bunch of people to some place, but you’re not going to have any Twitter revolution or an email revolution. Anarchistic revolution, a lot of the young African-Americans now kind of toying with this idea that you can have some leaderless leadership and that way the police won’t know who you are, another hope at denying stuff. 

 
They’re doing, I guess, the best that they can do. The reaction in every period, going from ’85 to 2005, that 20-year period is the worst period I think in the United States have been since Recon- struction as far as the interest of African-Americans go. It’s a terrible period and that continuity was broken. A lot of the young black militants now, they’re trying to make up from some lost ground because their political education went to zero with the advent of the digital world, with the establishment-promoted gangsta rap. 

 
I mean, prior to gangsta rap and other dumb shit coming out of Los Angeles, of course it would obviously come out of Los Angeles because that’s where they get stuck with stupid [in confusing

reality with drama].They got bought off and so they come up with niggers with attitudes and all the gangsta rap progeny and all the misogyny. That whole industry, one, by people who were not black, who make $100 for every dollar some rap icon makes, and they set black folk back so damn far. We’re barely able to get out of that now. That’s how stupid Black Americans were made because we’re so media-depen- dent and so easily manipulated by the media. 

 
Our young folks now with Black Lives Matter, who are Color of Change and whatnot, I think that they’re doing a fairly admirable job at what they’re trying to do. They’ve got new elements. Their continuity has been broken. They’re naïve and they have a new hope, clear leadership within some of that, which is new and would have got a thought with … as the saying goes, water seeks its own level. They’ve got to experiment and do what they can do to crystallize issues even though a lot of what they’re doing is naïve and they’re subseq- quently getting bought off with coopted without even knowing it … I mean, George Soros gave them $23 million. 

 
Anyway, all I can say was I was a soldier in the Army and I was not a general. Probably I might qualify as a first lieutenant. (laughter) That’s about as far as it went with me. I’m proud that, like I said, the contributions we made, a few of us are still conscious and still trying to actually be active and relevant, because I had a background as a revolutionary, as a Marxist and as a liber- ation theologist. I’m quite a religious person. My religion is an African traditional religion. I practice Yoruba religion and even the Santeria-Lucumi version of that. I believe that our liber- ation is quite consistent with religious precepts, and so I do consider myself a liberation theol- ogist. Not a Catholic Christian version of one, but I am an advocate of a traditional religious version of one.

 
Brian:
Cool. Well, we are creeping up on the three-hour mark here, so …

 
Michael:
Yeah.

 
Brian:
I don’t want to take up any more of your time in this particular phone call, but I hope we can leave it open-ended, maybe as further questions arise in my research I can call you back and maybe we could talk again.

 
Michael:
Well, I would certainly encourage it. I’m flattered that you sought me out, and honestly kudos for the work that you’re doing. You and people like you will be the ones to come up with the final opinion on how valuable those are from the standpoint of posterity. I give you all kinds of salutations for taking interest. Nobody else has done that.

 
Brian:
Cool. Well, thank you, Michael.

 
Michael:
All right. You’re …

 
Brian:
Go ahead.

 
Michael:
In the agreement … Now where did I …? I notice, I got this address. Oh, you were going to send me an email?

 
Brian:
Yeah.

 
Michael:
All right. You said that you would make available a copy of the tape or the transcript or what- ever. I would love to have that. When you edit it, I’m sure you’ll do an appropriate job of editing or whatever you need to do. I mean, that’s one thing. I would love to have a literal transcript or a recording of these three hours. What you do with your thesis, that’s totally all up to you.

 
Brian:
Right, right.

 
Michael:
I’m just saying that I totally expect that you’ll edit from the material I’ve given you, then come up with a good product.

 
Brian:
That’s what I’m …

 
Michael:
I want to see it.

 
Brian:
Yeah. That’s what I’m going to try to do. I’ll definitely stay in touch with you and especially make sure you get a copy of the final thing.

 
Michael:
True. What is your field in graduate school?

 
Brian:
I’m in a Ph.D. program in the field of Urban Education in the City University of New York. They’ve given me the leeway to do historical research, given that Tuskegee and Booker T. Washington are so foundational in the field of education, especially black education. This protest and the way that it raises issues about the politics of education, about who learns what and why, and the historic role of students in advocating in changing the nature of education in this country, and especially black students, I think comes to the fore in the story.

 
Michael:
Right, right. Well, I could not agree more. When you do have the transcript, I know I went on at length in many answers, so you might drop in focal ques- tions and say even in the middle of my monologue so that it gets broken up.

 
Brian:
Oh, I see.

 
Michael:
You know what I’m saying? Like hey, this is something.

 
Brian:
Sure, sure. I’m happy also to send you just the unvarnished transcript if I got one typed up.

 
Michael:
Well, that’s good.

 
Brian:
Yeah.

 
Michael:
All right-y. Well, God bless and you take it easy, okay?

 
Brian:
Have a good night. Thank you so much.

 
Michael:
Okay. Bye-bye.

 
Brian:
Bye-bye.