Reverend Coles, Mrs. Hamer, honored guests, brothers and sisters, friends and enemies; also ABC and CBS and FBI and CIA.
I couldn’t help but be very impressed at the outstart when the Freedom Singers were singing the song “Oginga Odinga” because Oginga Odinga is one of the foremost freedom fighters on the African continent. At the time he visited in Atlanta, Georgia, I think he was then the minister of home affairs in Kenya. But since Kenya became a republic last week, and Jomo Kenyatta ceased being the prime minister and became the president, the same person you are singing about, Oginga Odinga, is now Kenyatta’s vice president. He’s the number-two man in the Kenya government.
The fact that you would be singing about him, to me is quite significant. Two or three years ago, this wouldn’t have been done. Two or three years ago, most of our people would choose to sing about someone who was, you know, passive and meek and humble and forgiving. Oginga Odinga is not passive. He’s not meek. He’s not humble. He’s not nonviolent. But he’s free.
Oginga Odinga is vice president under Jomo Kenyatta, and Jomo Kenyatta was considered to be the organizer of the Mau Mau; I think you mentioned the Mau Mau in that song. And if you analyze closely those words, I think you’ll have the key to how to straighten the situation out in Mississippi. When the nations of Africa are truly independent—and they will be truly independent because they’re going about it in the right way—the historians will give Prime Minister, or rather, President Kenyatta and the Mau Mau their rightful role in African history. They’ll go down as the greatest African patriots and freedom fighters that that continent ever knew, and they will be given credit for bringing about the independence of many of the existing independent states on that continent right now. There was a time when their image was negative, but today they’re looked upon with respect and their chief is the president and their next chief is the vice president.
I have to take time to mention that because, in my opinion, not only in Mississippi and Alabama, but right here in New York City, you and I can best learn how to get real freedom by studying how Kenyatta brought it to his people in Kenya, and how Odinga helped him, and the excellent job that was done by the Mau Mau freedom fighters. In fact, that’s what we need in Mississippi. In Mississippi we need a Mau Mau. In Alabama we need a Mau Mau. In Georgia we need a Mau Mau. Right here in Harlem, in New York City, we need a Mau Mau.
I say it with no anger; I say it with very careful forethought. The language that you and I have been speaking to this man in the past hasn’t reached him. And you can never really get your point across to a person until you learn how to communicate with him. If he speaks French, you can’t speak German. You have to know what language he speaks and then speak to him in that language.
When I listen to Mrs. Hamer, a black woman—could be my mother, my sister, my daughter—describe what they had done to her in Mississippi, I ask myself how in the world can we ever expect to be respected as men when we will allow something like that to be done to our women, and we do nothing about it? How can you and I be looked upon as men with black women being beaten and nothing being done about it, black children and black babies being beaten and nothing being done about it? No, we don’t deserve to be recognized and respected as men as long as our women can be brutalized in the manner that this woman described, and nothing being done about it, but we sit around singing “We Shall Overcome.” We need a Mau Mau. If they don’t want to deal with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, then we’ll give them something else to deal with. If they don’t want to deal with the Student Nonviolent Committee, then we have to give them an alternative. Never stick someone out there without an alternative or we waste our time. Give them this or give them that. Give them the choice between this or that.
When I was in Africa, I noticed some of the Africans got their freedom faster than others. Some areas of the African continent became independent faster than other areas. I noticed that in the areas where independence had been gotten, someone got angry. And in the areas where independence had not been achieved yet, no one was angry. They were sad—they’d sit around and talk about their plight, but they weren’t mad. And usually, when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition.
But when they get angry, they bring about a change. When they get angry, they aren’t interested in logic, they aren’t interested in odds, they aren’t interested in consequences. When they get angry, they realize the condition that they’re in—that their suffering is unjust, immoral, illegal, and that anything they do to correct it or eliminate it, they’re justified. When you and I develop that type of anger and speak in that voice, then we’ll get some kind of respect and recognition, and some changes from these people who have been promising us falsely already for far too long.
So you have to speak their language. The language that they were speaking to Mrs. Hamer was the language of brutality. Beasts, they were, beating her—the two Negroes, they weren’t at fault. They were just puppets. You don’t blame the puppet, you blame the puppeteer. They were just carrying out someone else’s orders. They were under someone else’s jurisdiction. They weren’t at fault; in a way they were, but I still won’t blame them. I put the blame on that man who gave the orders. And when you and I begin to look at him and see the language he speaks, the language of a brute, the language of someone who has no sense of morality, who absolutely ignores law—when you and I learn how to speak his language, then we can communicate. But we will never communicate talking one language while he’s talking another language. He’s talking the language of violence while you and I are running around with this little chicken-picking type of language—and think that he’s going to understand. Let’s learn his language. If his language is with a shotgun, get a shotgun. Yes, I said if he only understands the language of a rifle, get a rifle. If he only understands the language of a rope, get a rope. But don’t waste time talking the wrong language to a man if you want to really communicate with him. Speak his language—there’s nothing wrong with that. If something was wrong with that language, the federal government would have stopped the cracker from speaking it to you and me.
I might say, secondly, some people wonder, well, what has Mississippi got to do with Harlem? It isn’t actually Mississippi; it’s America. America is Mississippi. There’s no such thing as a Mason-Dixon Line—it’s America. There’s no such thing as the South—it’s America. If one room in your house is dirty, you’ve got a dirty house. If the closet is dirty, you’ve got a dirty house. Don’t say that that room is dirty but the rest of my house is clean. You’re over the whole house. You have authority over the whole house; the entire house is under your jurisdiction. And the mistake that you and I make is letting these Northern crackers shift the weight to the Southern crackers.
The senator from Mississippi is over the Judiciary Committee. He’s in Washington, D.C., as Mrs. Hamer has pointed out, illegally. Every senator from a state where our people are deprived of the right to vote—they’re in Washington, D.C., illegally. This country is a country whose governmental system is run by committees— House committees and Senate committees. The committee chairman occupies that position by dint of his seniority. Eastland is over the Judiciary Committee because he has more seniority than any other senator after the same post or on that committee; he’s the chairman. Fulbright, another cracker, from Arkansas, is over the Foreign Relations Committee. Ellender, of Louisiana, is over the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. Russell, of Georgia, is over the Armed Services Committee.
And it goes right on down the line. Out of sixteen committees, ten of them are in the hands of Southern racists. Out of twenty congressional committees, thirteen are in the hands, or at least they were before the recent elections, in the hands of Southern racists. Out of forty-six committees that govern the foreign and domestic direction of this country, twenty-three are in the hands of Southern racists. And the reason they’re in the hands of Southern racists is because in the areas from which they come, the black man is deprived of his right to vote.
If we had the ballot in that area, those racists would not be in Washington, D. C. There’d be some black faces there, there’d be some brown and some yellow and some red faces there. There’d be some faces other than those cracker faces that are there right now.
So, what happens in Mississippi and the South has a direct bearing on what happens to you and me here in Harlem. Likewise, the Democratic Party, which black people supported recently, I think, something like 97 per cent. All of these crackers—and that’s what they are, crackers—they belong to the Democratic Party. That’s the party they belong to—the same one you belong to, the same one you support, the same one you say is going to get you this and get you that. Why, the base of the Democratic Party is in the South. The foundation of its authority is in the South. The head of the Democratic Party is sitting in the White House. He could have gotten Mrs. Hamer into Atlantic City. He could have opened up his mouth and had her seated. Hubert Humphrey could have opened his mouth and had her seated. Wagner, the mayor right here, could have opened up his mouth and used his weight and had her seated. Don’t be talking about some crackers down in Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia—all of them are playing the same game. Lyndon B. Johnson is the head of the Cracker Party.
Now, I don’t want to be stepping on toes or saying things that you didn’t think I was going to say, but don’t ever, ever, ever call me up here to talk about Mississippi. It’s controlled right up here from the North. Mississippi is controlled from the North. Alabama is controlled from the North. These Northern crackers are in cahoots with the Southern crackers, only these Northern crackers smile in your face and show you their teeth and they stick the knife in your back when you turn around. You at least know what that man down there is doing and you know how to deal with him.
So all I say is this, this is all I say: when you start talking about one, talk about the others. When you start worrying about the part or the piece, worry about the whole. And if this piece is no good, the entire pie is no good, because it all comes out of the same plate. It’s made up out of the same ingredients. Wagner is a Democrat. He belongs to the same party as Eastland. Johnson is a Democrat. He belongs to the same party as Eastland. Wagner was in Atlantic City, Ray Jones was in Atlantic City, Lyndon B. Johnson was in Atlantic City, Hubert Humphrey was in Atlantic City—the crackers that you voted for were in Atlantic City. What did they do for you when you wanted to sit down? They were quiet. They were silent. They said, “Don’t rock the boat, you might get Goldwater elected… .”
I have this bit of suggestion. Find out what Wagner is going to do in behalf of this resolution, that you’re trying to get through, before January 4. Find out in advance where does he stand on these Mississippi congressmen who are illegally coming up from the South to represent Democrats. Find out where the mayor of this city stands and make him come out on the record without dilly-dallying and without compromise. Find out where his friends stand on seating the Mississippians who are coming forth illegally. Find out where Ray Jones, who is one of the most powerful black Democrats in this city—find out where he stands. Before January 4. You can’t talk about Rockefeller because he’s a Republican. Although he’s in the same boat right along with the rest of them.
So I say, in my conclusion, as Mrs. Hamer pointed out, the brothers and sisters in Mississippi are being beaten and killed for no reason other than they want to be treated as first-class citizens. There’s only one way to be a first-class citizen. There’s only one way to be independent. There’s only one way to be free. It’s not something that someone gives to you. It’s something that you take. Nobody can give you independence. Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it. If you can’t take it, you don’t deserve it. Nobody can give it to you. So if you and I want freedom, if we want independence, if we want respect, if we want recognition, we obey the law, we are peaceful—but at the same time, at any moment that you and I are involved in any kind of action that is legal, that is in accord with our civil rights, in accord with the courts of this land, in accord with the Constitution—when all of these things are on our side, and we still can’t get it, it’s because we aren’t on our own side.
We don’t yet realize the real price necessary to pay to see that these things are enforced where we’re concerned. And until we realize this, they won’t be enforced where we’re concerned. We have to let the people in Mississippi as well as in Mississippi, New York, and elsewhere know that freedom comes to us either by ballots or by bullets. That’s the only way freedom is gotten. Freedom is gotten by ballots or bullets. These are the only two avenues, the only two roads, the only two methods, the only two means—either ballots or bullets. And when you know that, then you are careful how you use the word freedom. As long as you think we are going to sing up on some, you come in and sing. I watch you, those of you who are singing—are you also willing to do some swinging?
They’ve always said that I’m anti-white. I’m for anybody who’s for freedom. I’m for anybody who’s for justice. I’m for anybody who’s for equality. I’m not for anybody who tells me to sit around and wait for mine. I’m not for anybody who tells me to turn the other cheek when a cracker is busting up my jaw. I’m not for anybody who tells black people to be nonviolent while nobody is telling white people to be nonviolent. I know I’m in the church, I probably shouldn’t be talking like this—but Jesus himself was ready to turn the synagogue inside out and upside down when things weren’t going right. In fact, in the Book of Revelations, they’ve got Jesus sitting on a horse with a sword in his hand, getting ready to go into action. But they don’t tell you or me about that Jesus. They only tell you and me about that peaceful Jesus. They never let you get down to the end of the book. They keep you up there where everything is, you know, nonviolent. No, go and read the whole book, and when you get to Revelations, you’ll find that even Jesus’ patience ran out. And when his patience ran out, he got the whole situation straightened out. He picked up the sword.
I believe that there are some white people who might be sincere. But I think they should prove it. And you can’t prove it to me by singing with me. You can’t prove it to me by being nonviolent. No, you can prove it by recognizing the law of justice. And the law of justice is “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The law of justice is “he who kills by the sword shall be killed by the sword.” This is justice. Now if you are with us, all I say is, make the same kind of contribution with us in our struggle for freedom that all white people have always made when they were struggling for their own freedom. You were struggling for your freedom in the Revolutionary War. Your own Patrick Henry said “liberty or death,” and George Washington got the cannons out, and all the rest of them that you taught me to worship as my heroes, they were fighters, they were warriors.
But now when the time comes for our freedom, you want to reach back in the bag and grab somebody who’s nonviolent and peaceful and forgiving and long-suffering. I don’t go for that—no. I say that a black man’s freedom is as valuable as a white man’s freedom. And I say that a black man has the right to do whatever is necessary to get his freedom that other human beings have done to get their freedom. I say that you and I will never get our freedom nonviolently and patiently and lovingly. We will never get it until we let the world know that as other human beings have laid down their lives for freedom—and also taken life for freedom—that you and I are ready and willing and equipped and qualified to do the same thing.
It’s a shame that Mrs. Hamer came out here this afternoon where there are so few people. It’s a shame. All of our people in Harlem should have heard her describe what they did to her down there. Because I think the people in Harlem are more capable of evening the score than people are anywhere else in this country. Yes, they are, and they need to hear her story. They need to know more, first hand, about what’s happening down there, especially to our women. And then they need some lessons in tactics and strategy on how to get even. I, for one, will make the first contribution to any fund that’s raised for the purpose of evening the score. Whenever someone commits murder, what do you do? You put out a “reward, wanted—dead or alive” for the murderer. Yes, learn how to do it. We’ve had three people murdered. No reward has been put on the head of the murderer. Don’t just put a reward—put “dead or alive, dead or alive.” And let that Klan know that we can do it tit for tat, tit for tat. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
And if you all don’t want to do it, we’ll do it. We’ll do it. We have brothers who are equipped, and who are qualified, and who are willing to—As Jesus said, “Little children, go thee where I send thee.” We have brothers who can do that, and who will do that, and who are ready to do that. And I say that if the government of the United States cannot bring to justice people who murder Negroes, or people who murder those who are at the forefront fighting in behalf of Negroes, then it’s time for you and me to retire quietly to our closets and devise means and methods of seeing that justice is executed against murderers where justice has not been forthcoming in the past.
I say in my conclusion that if you and I here in Harlem, who form the habit ofttimes of fighting each other, who sneak around trying to wait for an opportunity to throw some acid or some lye on each other, or sprinkle dust on each other’s doorsteps—if you and I were really and truly for the freedom of our people, we wouldn’t waste all of that energy thinking how to do harm to each other. Since you have that ingenuity, if you know how to do it, let me know; I’ll give you some money and show you where to go, and show you who to do it to. And then you’ll go down in history as having done an honorable thing.
So, Mrs. Hamer, we have another rally up at the Audubon tonight, at eight o’clock, where there’ll be a lot of black people. I myself would like to have you tell them what you told us here this afternoon, so you are welcome to be my guest tonight if you will, at the Audubon. And those singers who sing about Oginga Odinga, if you haven’t got anything else to do, you need to come up in Harlem and let some people hear you singing about Oginga Odinga and Kenyatta and Lumumba, and the next time you come to Harlem, you’ll have a crowd out here. Thank you.