THE BLACK HAND ON THE BIG TRIGGER
The man in the manacles is H. Rap Brown, who’s scaring hell out of white America by suggesting that when black people get shot at, they should shoot back. This is the first full-scale interview he has given to a white reporter. Read on, honkey
THE BLACK FACE is tight, hard. The dark glasses hide the expression of the eyes. The voice is angry, just this side of control. The tone of contempt is hypnotic. Flat articulate statements are punched out, one after another: “Black people are not an aggressor. We in America are fighting a defensive action. The casualties on our side are unnecessary, and will stop if the aggressor will stop his war. Lyndon Johnson is the aggressor. Lyndon Johnson is an inhuman animal. The white populace of America is racist. Now, for the first time we arc taking some of them with us and they’re saying that’s criminal. The alternatives for black people who have dissented have been death, imprisonment, and exile. I’m no exception.”
The black man talking is H. Rap Brown. Last May he was just another 23-year-old black man. Then Stokely Carmichael stepped down as chairman of the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee. Brown was appointed his successor. In his parting speech Carmichael uttered a wry and enigmatic hint of SNCC’s new role: “You'll be happy to have me back when you hear from him,” he said of Brown. “He’s a bad man.” In a matter of weeks almost everybody had heard from H.
Rap Brown. And today, moving from black ghetto to black ghetto across the United States, he projects the violent, bitter charisma of Black Power. When he leans into a microphone and yells, “We built America up and we'll burn it down,” it brings exultant cheers from the crowds of black people who throng to him wherever he goes. The same statement makes congressmen and senators squirm. And reporters of U. S. wire services begin their stories with the lead: “Today, H. Rap Brown threatened to destroy America ...”
But the incredible truth is that nobody from the U.S. press has sat down to interview Brown, to try to find out what he is all about, or seriously listen to what he is saying.
Admittedly, it isn't easy to get to him. Not so much because you're white, but because his immediate concern is obviously for his black brothers. Besides, as he puts it: “For over 400 years we’ve been trying to talk to the white society and they haven't bothered to listen. Now when they say they want to listen, it’s not enough. My price for friendship is high, it's gone up.”
It LxA me four weeks of long-distance telephone calls and numerous noncommittal conversations with various SNCC representatives,
before I finally caught up with Brown. A time would be set, then he would have to fly to Jacksonville, Florida. Another time was set for a meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. But Brown ended up in a New York jail, charged with carrying a firearm across a state border while under indictment. He was arrested early Saturday morning, and spent the next three days in jail. The New York Times reported it was because SNCC couldn't raise the bail. That wasn't true. The organization had raised most of the $25,000 bail money by Sunday, but Brown’s lawyer couldn’t get a bail hearing until Tuesday — despite New York’s reformed bail laws that are supposed to grant a bail hearing 24 hours after a charge is laid. On Tuesday the $25,000 bail was lowered when Brown's lawyer pointed out that the maximum fine for the offense Brown was charged with was two thousand dollars.
The same day, I flew to New York from Toronto to talk with Brown about doing a halfhour filmed interview for CBC-TV's Public Eye.
On Thursday morning I was waiting for him to show up in the shabby SNCC offices in downtown Manhattan. Also waiting was a 14-year-old girl in a / continued on page 72
RAP BROWN continued from page 33
“Violence,” says Brown, “is the only value America respects”
flowing, blue, African mumu. Her hair was long, in the popular “African style.” She kept pestering the SNCC workers for jobs to do around the place. They just gently kidded her along. The only other person in the waiting room was a teenage boy with the longest legs I've ever seen. They were encased in bright-orange pants. There were no white faces here. The white workers in SNCC had dropped out a long time ago. Both Carmichael and Brown had told them, “Go and talk to your own white society.
Civilize them. If you can’t, we will.”
Brown came in alone, carrying a briefcase. The first impression was one of casual nonchalance.
He wears dark glasses which he never removes.
He is six-foot-three and about 190 pounds. He carries himself with the loose gait of a basketball player, which he is. He wore a suede coat, blue crew-neck T-shirt, jeans, heavy grey workman's socks with red trim and sneakers with the backs cut out so they slipped on like slippers.
The girl in the mumu hurried over to him. In a rush of words, she told him how great she thought he was and demanded that he give her some work:
“I’ll even wax the floors here, so you can walk on them.” Brown seemed embarrassed by the adulation and tried to contain it by glancing at a clipping she was showing him. It was a picture that had been taken of him on the courthouse steps just after he had got out of jail. And there was the little girl in the mumu, right behind him in the picture. Was that all right, she wanted to know? Sure, Brown smiled.
“Hey, I bet your mother, she's great?” asked the girl.
“She’s right,” answered Brown.
“But I heard your dad doesn’t like the way that you talk about President Johnson?” the little girl asked.
“Yeah, I was talking to him last night,” said Brown. “And I told him, he may be your president but he’s not mine. I wouldn’t vote for a dawg like that,” he drawled. It got a big laugh out of the girl and the SNCC workers who were standing around.
Brown comes from what he calls “a working black American family” in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And it is true that he gets some static from his parents about what he says and does. “But,” he says, “it comes from fear — fear for my safety and theirs. But
I’ve gone on notice to America that if anything happens to them, I have no objection to going down to Louisiana and wantonly killing as many white people as I can get. “Violence,” as he is never tired of reiterating, “is the only value America respects.”
A few minutes later I was in his office. I told him I wanted to avoid an across-the-dcsk interview, but to
shoot film of him in the street and perhaps walking through the streets.
“Groovy,” he said. “But we can’t do it down here, man, or the honkeys will get me for sure. We have to do it up in Harlem.”
Brown’s predilection for hip talk is probably one of the few areas where the 23-year-old still comes through. Another is that he unwinds playing basketball until he is exhausted. The rest of the time he is unsmiling, deadly serious, his lucid mind marshaling the arguments for violent rebellion by the
black people of America. His training in thinking probably came from the three years he spent at Southern University, Louisiana, where he majored in political science and sociology. His philosophy undoubtedly comes from his bitter experiences with, first, the Mississippi Summer Project, drumming up voter registration for southern black people, then with SNCC
in its nonviolent era and, finally, as a worker for the War on Poverty Program—he dismisses it as a “nickel revolution.” Along the way he has been in jail 30 times. So far the cops haven’t been able to intimidate him— even now, when he is immediately and obviously watched the minute he steps out of a house.
They were there, two days later, when Brown, a friend of his, the cameraman and I stepped out of a Greenwich Village apartment. I had been questioned on my way in about
an hour earlier by the same two black detectives. Now Brown walked up to their unmarked car: “We’re going up to Harlem, 135th Street.”
His tone was, Just go on up there and don’t bother us. But the police just waited for us to get a cab, and then followed right behind us all the way up to Harlem. At 135th we went into a restaurant to eat. There were no white faces here, except the cameraman and myself. Everybody in the place knew Brown. There were greetings of, “How’s it going. Rap ... Hi.
Rap . . . Hey there. Rap,” as we walked past the booths.
As we were eating, a middle-aged b!a:k man dressed in a dark suit, white shirt unbu’toned at the collar, no tie, squatted down beside Brown and asked him some questions. It turned out that he was a newspaperman who wanted to know how Brown rationalized the violence he preached. Brown answered him quietly and at considerable length: “We are at war with a violent aggressor, the white racist society of America. When you are at war you have to counter violence with violence. Violence won the American Revolution and any other revolution that was successful. In America, violence is given more respect than the civil - rights movement. And, as Chairman Mao says, respect comes from the barrel of a gun.” After the newspaperman had left, we talked about the civil-rights movement in the U.S. and its waning influence.
“It’s dead,” replied Brown, “and thank God it’s dead. The whole idea of unearned suffering being redemptive is ridiculous. It was only a preparation for the genocide that America is now executing against black people.”
I asked him what he meant by genocide.
“Over 500 black children die each year in Alabama because of improper nourishment,” replied Brown. “That’s genocide in a country that has money to shoot to the moon. Thirty percent of the casualties in Vietnam are black — that’s no accident. Twenty-two percent of the combat troops are black — that’s no accident, either. The whole birth-control program as it is preached to the black people in America is an attempt at genocide. The ghettos and conditions in which black people have to live is an application of genocide.” He returned to his chicken, then a few seconds later he asked if I had heard about the concentration camps. I told him that I had heard something about them from draft-dodgers who had made their way up to Canada.
“Sure, man, it’s true,” he said. “America has built 13 concentration camps and is now renovating 17 more. They were used in World War II for the Japanese, only now they are calling them “redistribution centres.” They are located right across the country. Now I contend the only reason a person builds a concentration camp is for the same reason Hitler built concentration camps. But we put America on notice that if America chooses to play Nazis, we ain't gonna play Jews!”
Outside, the rain began to fall on the black ghetto of the world’s biggest city. We decided to forget about the street-interview idea and return to the apartment in the Village to shoot the film. While I was paying my bill I overheard three middle-aged black men talking. They were dressed in business suits and standing by the restaurant window, looking at the rain. Brown was standing outside the entrance, talking to someone.
“Hey. ain't that Rap Brown?” asked one.
"Don’t he care? Don’t he care about dying?”
“Oh yeah, he cares, but he knows they gonna get him. Just like they got Malcolm, and then Stokely. They’ll get him.”
The apartment in the Village belonged to Brown’s friend. Allen, a social worker. It was quite a place. There were bedrooms and a living room on one level. The decor was tasteful, relaxing. From the living room you could sec down into the dining room, which opened onto a rear patio where there were two little metal tree fountains. Someone turned them on and they made a gentle trickling noise. Brown smilingly referred to his friend as a capitalist. Ami Allen jokingly complained he was getting a bad name as a capitalist for housing a revolutionary. We sat down around the dining-room table. The cameras were set up. I asked Brown about his chances for survival.
“They might get me as an individual,” he answered. “But before me there was Stokely Carmichael, before him there was Malcolm X, before him there was Marcus Garvey. They will never destroy the black-man’s implacable will to be free. For the same reason that black men fought for America, they will fight against America, if not in 1967, then in 1968. Look at the rebellions. People who did not fight in 1964 fought in 1967. And you wait until the brothers get home from Vietnam with their skills of killing and destruction. Then, when they see their mothers and their kids being shot down by the white racist cops — then you gonna see some fighting.
“The white people have got their guns, we know that. But that doesn’t lessen our wish to be free. And you are gonna have to let us exercise that right to be free, or we are gonna destroy the country. Like the song says: Before I be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free.’’ There was a sudden silence, then he murmured, “Yeah!” He beat time twice with his foot, then shot out, “Next question?”
I began to ask him about gains made in the south, when he cut in sharply, “There were no gains. Getting
voter registration for the black people in the south was only a political move by Lyndon Johnson. He saw a vast reservoir of untapped votes down there and he said, ‘Go and register me some Democrats.’ It’s just the way Camus says, ‘What better way to enslave a man than by giving him the vote and telling him he is free.’
"Because black people with the vote are still slaves. We cannot vote for whom we choose. A good example of this is in Gary, Indiana, where a black
man won the Democratic primary for mayor. But the Democratic Party refuses to support him. It refuses to endorse him. Because he is a black man. And they are willing to go with the white Republican candidate, and there hasn’t been a Republican in Gary, Indiana, for over 30 years. But white people are willing to back him because he is white. The population is 60 percent black. We cannot vote for the Republican or the Democratic Party. The similarities are greater than
the differences. How can I choose between Lyndon Johnson and Goldwater? There is no such thing as the lesser of two evils. Evil is evil.” “How does shooting the white man solve that problem?”
“We have never talked aggression,” Brown replied. “But it is proven now that we need arms to protect our communities. When the white man comes into our communities to do us harm, he is going to be met with violence.”
RAP BROWN continued
“White people can’t help us, except by sending guns”
“Then peaceful co-existence is out?”
“That is not determined by me. It's out when I am attacked by violence.”
“Then who is it determined by?"
“By Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. They have the power now to render impotent the white racism, the oppression and exploitation of the
black people. If they did that there would be no need for the black people to address themselves to a violent counterforce.”
“Well, arc you suggesting a form of apartheid, where the whites will control their community and the black people theirs, with no communication between the two?”
“That’s a ridiculous theory. The Italians have their own community and control it, so do the Jews. The Chinese have their own community and control it. They are all still Americans. That is all we are asking for, the same thing. We have never said the white man cannot come into our community. But we are going on
record that if he comes to do us harm, he is going to get shot.”
As we talked, Brown said he wanted it made clear that he did not regard himself as a leader of the black people. He said that he spoke only for his organization. “I am not a spokesman for the black people addressing myself to the white power structure. I am speaking only to the black people. The leaders are the little brothers who throw the most molotovs and bricks the hardest and the farthest.”
“Why are you always singled out as a leader, then?”
“Because America is looking for a scapegoat to blame her troubles on. And it is because the news media arc one of the greatest enemies the black people have. They are owned by the very people we are fighting. The news media are a vile organism of America, an arm of the government. The white press never calls for an answering of the grievances of the black people. But what they call for is a guillotining of whoever happens to be in the area. If Mr. Carmichael is there, they call for his head. If I’m there, they call for my head. But we do not make revolutions. It is conditions that make a revolution. People make a revolution.”
“Is there still any way white people who want to help can help?”
“You can’t help us at all, except send us some guns,” said Brown.
“But there are a lot of white people who have a thing about guns, they don’t like to sec them used.”
“Well, send us the money then and we’ll buy the guns, because we don’t have a thing about using guns. We just been using them for the wrong thing.”
The interview was over. We packed lip the equipment and, just as we were leaving, Brown asked, “Can they extradite me from Canada?” I said, “Yes, they probably could.” He nodded and closed the door after saying good-by.
Out on the street, we were immediately confronted by a black policeman who flashed a badge and started asking us who we were and where we were going. We told him.
“Was Donald Washington up there?” he asked. I told him 1 didn’t know, which was true. He asked me some other names which I didn’t know either. He turned away and walked quickly to a telephone booth. And that is the last image I have of H. Rap Brown's life in America, a cop phoning from a dingy telephone booth. ★