Since 1968: The Drum & Spear Bookstore
Since 1968: The Drum & Spear Bookstore

>>Guha Shankar: Thank you all
very much for coming to part two for this lovely symposium. It’s a terrific morning. And we’re going to move
right into panel two. It’s called Culture Production,
Activism and a Creative Hub: The Drum and Spear Bookstore. Since we are talking about
cultural politics, region, geography, democracy
and all those things, we wanted to bring it
all the way home here at the Library of Congress. And we’re going to
start by saying that there were some bios. I believe they’re out there. If not, you can actually dial
them up on your cell phones, iPhones, smartphones,
tablets, what have you. And we’re going to start
with our panel here. Distinguished panel of folks, many of whom have
been interviewed here for the Civil Rights History
Project, a joint initiative of the Library of Congress
and National Museum of African American
History and Culture. And to my right, your left,
that’s for the camera as well, Judy Richardson, activist, media
producer, longtime stalwart of many artistic
productions here at DC and across the country. Next to her, Tony Gittens,
well-known to some of you as the director of DC’s
Premier Film Festival. To my left, Jennifer Lawson, another media producer,
activist. To her left is Josh Davis. And we sort of inverted the
order because our final guest, Josh Davis, professor at
the University of Baltimore, author of aforementioned book
which I’ve held up for you — and he is available
for signatures and what not later on. And all the way to his left
is Courtland Cox, activist, organizer, political worker,
member of the DC government in many capacities over
the course of time. And we are very, very
thrilled to have them all here. I’m going to stop talking
at this moment and sit and do what John Fend did, which was to kind of
mediate everybody. And I’m going to begin by also
starting off with a film loop which will play in the
background as we’re talking, and it gives you some sense
of what the cultural milieu and the social structure and
all those things of 1968 and so on Washington DC
was as they speak. There are no particular — I think there will be some
references made to some of these photographs, but they’ll not be
speaking directly with them. So Judy, if you would start. Thank you.>>Judy Richardson: Okie-dokie. Well, thank you,
everybody, and thank you, Guha, for introing us. Let me just say that for me, Drum and Spear bookstore was
a continuity of the work, a continuation of the
work that we did in SNCC. Expanding the awareness
of ourselves and of our power to
change the world. And Drum and Spear becomes
the largest African American bookstore in the country. Now when I first see the store, I had to go through
tear gas to get to it. It was May 1968. It was on 14th and
Fairmont Streets, and the street had just
recently been tear gassed after the rebellions that followed the
assassination of Dr. King. So I meet Tony Gittens,
this person here, who is the manager of the store. And we go through the tear
gas and he opens the door. And what I see is a
space with maybe three or four recently stained
bookcases and no books. So I had arrived in DC
just a few days before because my SNCC buddies had
asked me to come run the office for the parent company,
African American Resources, Inc. So I’d left DC where I’d been
attending Columbia University since returning to school
after three years on SNCC staff in Mississippi, Alabama,
Southwest Georgia. And I headed to DC with
my mattress on the roof of a car driven by Curtis
Hayes, another SNCC person who was involved in
setting up the store. Tony outlined to me
what needed to be done and the process for
getting there. He was the first person I saw. I knew that Courtland and
Charlie Cobb and a number of other people,
Jennifer, were involved. But Tony as the first person
that I see in the store through this tear gas, right? And so he outlines what has
to be done and the target date for the opening of the store,
which is just a month away. And I’m sitting there
looking, there are no books. So at some point we set up
an account with Bookazine which was book distributor. I actually remember
this, in New York City. And the bookstore had purchased
a VW van which I drove. So Tony and I drive
up to New York City. We get to Bookazine and there
is this incredible black salesperson at Bookazine. So we tell him about the
store and that you know, it’s a black bookstore,
that it’s going to be right in the heart of the
community in DC. And he gets so excited, right? We give him a list of books
that we were interested in. Books about the African Diaspora
here in the US, in Africa, in the Caribbean, wherever. And books about history,
politics, culture, intellectual discourse,
whatever. So he pulled the
titles as we requested, but then he pulled a lot more. He also showed us a
few black kids books, mainly African folktales and
a few others, but just a few. Because this is 1968. So we didn’t yet have the
federal mandate that required that children’s books used
in schools reflect the makeup of the children in the
communities that they served. That had not happened yet. So we got more books, we
stained the bookshelves and we opened the store. Purposely, we wanted it on
14th Street, but I’m going to let Tony and Jennifer and
Courtland talk about that, about the politics
of the location, why they decided
to start the store. I will say what I did understand
even first coming in was that Charlie Cobb had
initially had the idea from going through Vietnam. And that’s a whole other
story which I won’t take up my seven minutes
to tell you about. But he sees this idea,
he comes through Paris. He sees it in Paris,
sees the café, sees books and people having
coffee and discoursing. And he thinks, “Oh,
I can do that in DC.” Now it helps him that his
father was the founder and then 15 years into
being the executive director of the United Church of Christ
Commission for Racial Justice. So he had money. So he gives us the
first $10,000. Hey. So we are set at least
for the first $10,000. We also have the Episcopal
church at 815 Second Avenue. They used to give
us money as well. Okay, so the basic point is that
we sited the store deliberately at 14th and Fairmont
because it was in the heart of the black community. And understanding to that this
was an economically depressed section of DC. This was not the
Gold Coast, right? But it was a section of
high energy and culture. There was a jazz place that I can’t remember the
name of up the street. There was just lots going on. And it was just such high
cultural and political energy in DC at that time, it
really was chocolate city. So we are able to
bounce off of all of that energy in
doing our store. Now I was going to
ask Tony to do this, but he doesn’t really
remember it, so I’m going to tell the story anyway, okay? So we were selling not
only to individuals in DC, but also institutionally to the
new black studies departments that had been fueled by the Toward the Black
University Conference that comes out of the takeover
that Tony was one of the two main leaders for. So that had just
happened in 1968, take over the administration
building at Howard, right? I see Tony at the bookstore. I don’t even know that
he’s just come off that. What I do know is that in ’69, because of the Toward the
Black University Conference that gets fueled
by the takeover — because that’s one
of the demands and they get a Toward the
Black University Conference — you get black studies
departments. No, programs. They rarely become departments. Black studies programs at San
Francisco State, at Cornell, at a lot of these universities. So they’re institutionally
buying books from Drum and Spear Bookstore. That’s really helpful. I should also say that what
the Bookazine staffer started in terms of children’s
books we ran with. So we built what
became a wonderful and extensive children’s
section of black books. Picture books, young adult
books, comic books, et cetera. And we were able to
include Eloise Greenfield, Sharon Bell Mathis, DC authors,
as well as Lucille Clifton from Baltimore and
so many others. In fact, we became a magnet
for some black teachers who normally did
not come up into that portion of 14th Street. And they would often
be amazed to find all of the children’s books that had
black and Latino children in it. Because they had not
formerly been exposed to that. And that has to do with
who wrote the books and whom they were sold to. And we can go into that
at some other point. At that point you
had Brent Hanos and that was then
the chain down town. But it really wasn’t
carrying black books, adult or children’s. And in fact, our
experience starting Drum and Spear Bookstore seemed to really surprise both
the mainstream bookstores and the publishers to find out that black people
really read books. What a concept, right? And they started doing
books at a lower price but never the extensive
stock that we had in both children’s books
and adult books and — oh gosh, African
literary services. We had so much from the African
diaspora around the world. Now we also ended up —
and in fact, by the way, the children’s section
with history and literature for all ages becomes one of the most popular
sections of the store. And I know Debra Mancart who was
head of Teaching for Change — and everybody should go
grab her at the end of this. She had the bookstore
at Busboy’s and Towitz. Not Towitz. Busboys and Poets at
14th Street, initially. And is still so active
and has what, 84,000 teachers nationwide
on their list. This is the lady, okay? So in a lot of ways, what we
were learning is the importance of children’s books
to bring in people. And that’s something
we knew in SNCC. This is obscure. Something we knew in SNCC, because one of the ways
we organized SNCC is that you started freedom schools
and you did things with children because it brought
the parents in. And then they would
get registered to vote. We understood the
importance of children. Okay, so we ended up doing a
number of teachers conferences and exhibits in DC
and out of town. And we often made more
in a one-day exhibit than we sometimes made
in a week in the store. So Drum and Spear Press, brings me to how we
published the first book of now-famous children’s book
author Eloise Greenfield, Bubbles. She’s a DC native. She still lives and
writes here in DC. Oh, they want me to slow down. Oh no, he’s telling me
I’ve got tow minutes. That’s why I’m talking
so quickly. [ Laughter ] Okay, so we had formed
Drum and Spear Press. We had our office in the
Roundstone and Amos Morgan at 18th and Belmont,
all three floors. And only one other black
publisher then existed, and that was of nonfiction
books, and that was Dudley
Randal who had Broadside. But he mainly did poetry. So Eloise Greenfield
hadn’t yet published. And she sent us her manuscript, what becomes her
first book, Bubbles. I was the children’s
book editor. I remember now these
folks, Charlie and Courtland and Jennifer were away
in Tanzania doing Drum and Spear Press East Africa. So I’m up there. We had no money. So we had no fuel. So I was freezing. I remember being in a coat. Jimmy the rat had the kitchen
and I had a sign that said, Jimmy the rat has the
kitchen; go in at your peril. And I’m reading these
manuscripts. And I find this one from
Eloise Greenfield and it is such a wonderful story. I call her that night and I
said, “I’m calling from Drum and Spear Press and we
want to do your book.” Now this is the book
that we did. It was called Bubbles. Oh, it was so wonderful. It had all these illustrations. Okay. So natural extension, I’m
going quickly, natural extension from our interest in
children’s literature is to our radio program,
Sia Watoto. So Dewey Hughes was the program
director at WOL here in DC. And he offered us time for
a weekly children’s program. I became BB Amina and
I was the host, right? So I opened it saying, “Jumbo,
my young brothers and sisters. This is BB Amina
bringing you Sia Watoto, which is The Children’s Hour in the African language
of Swahili.” I knew no Swahili. I learned how to say Sia
Watoto from Jennifer. Okay, and so all these
children would plug in and their parents would plug in. So Mimi Hayes and I,
another SNCC person, developed the scripts
from African folktales. Jennifer, Tony, Courtland,
others, all became characters in our taping of
these folktales. So they were Mr. Rabbit
and Miss Elephant. And drumming was provided by
Topper Carew’s New Thing Art and Architecture Center
which was down 18th street. And this was a black-oriented
arts organization. And so one of their
guys would drum and he would provide the
music while we did Sia Watoto. I also did visits as BB Amina
in African dress and the gala and I’m reading from
the children’s book. Then, and this is the end,
we had Malazo Bookstore. So black employees of what
was then the HEW building that becomes HHS, they
wanted a satellite. They were offered a store
in the HEW building. Elliot Richardson, then the
director of HEW, said, “Oh, they’ll probably want
a clothing store.” No, they wanted a satellite
of Drum and Spear Bookstore. So we then — I organized
this new bookstore, again going to Jennifer. “What is a name for a
store that has books?” So we came up with Malazo, which
of course nobody could find because you know,
this is before Google, and how would you
remember Malazo? Anyway, so we started the store and it became really a
wonderful area where a lot of the black employees and
white employees could find out about all this
literature about black people. Now, last story is I’m
sitting there and somebody, a salesperson from
Scholastic Books comes in. Now Scholastic was then and is
still now the largest publisher of children’s books, right? Oh, okay, I thought
— okay, fine. [ Laughter ] This is my last story. So he comes in, Scholastic
books, and he opens his — now by the way, there are
African masks all over. I’m in a gala, okay? And he opens his catalog,
you know, his book, and it’s all white books. And so I said, “But
what about” — it was one of my
favorite children’s books, Sunflowers for Tina. And I said, “Oh, but what
about Sunflowers for Tina?” And he says, “Oh, I didn’t know
this was a black bookstore.” Now, what that meant is like — okay, you’re only going to
sell these black-oriented books to the black bookstores. And so the white
folks and Latino folks and anybody else is not
going to have the benefit of these wonderful stories,
not to mention the fact that black kids will not be able to see themselves
in these stories. So luckily, some of
that has changed, but Debra knows how
difficult the road still is. And so I’m going to stop there
and that goes over to you, Tony.>>Guha Shenkar:
Thank you, thank you. Tony?>>Tony Gittens: When we were
doing all this, and Judy, I forgot half of this
stuff and how we met. But when we were doing all this,
you’ve got to think we were like 25, 26, you know, we
thought we could do anything. We thought we could do anything. And when I met Charlie,
Courtland and some other folks from SNCC and Judy, back in ’68, as Judy mentioned I had
just come out of Howard with no real plan to do
anything else after that. What to do, I don’t know. I just knew I wasn’t
going into the army. We took care of that. But then I remember being
up at Charlie’s apartment and Charlie talking
about the bookstore. And saying, “You know,
we really need a manager for the bookstore.” So I said, “You know,
I’ll do it.” And I remember Charlie
throwing me the keys — throwing me the keys and sort
of leaving me to figure out what to do next with a lot of help. So that’s how I got
involved with Drum and Spear. I was the first manager. I think I did it
for about a year until Ralph Featherstone
took over. But when folks asked that
we talk about the past, I try to do my best to be as
honest about is as possible. Why? Because they’re young
people who are involved in organizing, setting
up institutions and such. And sometimes folks can get
taken away by the romance of what happened
in ’68 and earlier. And so I’m here to break up all
that romance to give them — I mean really to
give folks some sense of when things don’t go the
way you want them to go. That you’re not doing
anything wrong. It’s the nature of it. You’re pushing against
the culture. You’re pushing against in
our case a lot of folks who have were so much more
powerful than we were. And sometimes things
didn’t work out. So I really appreciate so
much of what Judy had to say because I just really
didn’t recall it. My recollection of drum
and spear was hard work. My recollection was
sometimes, most of the time, seven days a week, long hours. Not only me, but the other
folks who were working on it, Jennifer, Courtland, Judy, that
it was long, it was hard work. And that’s my recollection
of it. There were high points [laughs], but somehow they don’t
come immediately to mind, at least they’re not visceral. [Laughs] You know,
the other folks on the panel I’m sure
will talk about them. So I was trying to think
about a way to sort of present at least my point of view on it. And I think the best way for me to do it is like,
“What did we learn? What have we learned from
going through that experience?” And so I think one
thing we learned — we sort of knew this going
in — is that racism lives in and is maintained
by institutions. That can only be combated by
building counter institutions. And the folks at African
American Resources, Courtland can talk I’m sure more about this, and I
was part of it. I was on the board,
had some say, even though I just
got out of school. The idea was to build
an institution that would counteract
the racist information. And we wanted to build
educational institutions that were communication
institutions. And so we had the bookstores. We had two bookstores to present that information
in written form. We also had the press
which Judy mentioned, and folks down the way will
talk about that a bit more. And we had the children’s
show which I had forgotten. The other person
who was a character on that show was Kojo Nnambi.>>Judy Richardson: Yes.>>Tony Gittens: We would gather
up in that studio once a week. Who wrote the script? Mimi wrote the script.>>Judy Richardson:
Yeah, that’s right.>>Tony Gittens: Mimi
wrote the scripts and we would read these things
cold and sort of make it up almost as we were
going along. It was great fun. I remember that as a highlight. And we had a school. And we had all of
these satellite things around African American
resources that were attempts to build an institution to counteract all the other
information, negative, racist information that
was being put forth by the larger society. And so that was very
intentional, very purposeful. That’s why we did it. What we learned is you’ve got
to have that kind of focus or you’re just going to
be floating out there. Any old idea that would pop up,
you would be attracted to it, but it wasn’t in keeping, it
wasn’t viable in some way. It was passed on. We learned that there are
unavoidable contradictions in conducting a capitalist
enterprise like Drum and Spear while we practice
progressive politics that oppose capitalist
enterprises. In other words, we were — and Josh does a great job in
his book which I would refer to anybody who’s
here and interested in this subject at all. He does a great job
about describing not only in our case — get out of here. [ Laughter ] I’m only up to two. [Laughs] Okay, I’ll speak more
quickly and more concisely. So Josh does a great description and real hard-hitting
description about not only in our case and in the case
of other black bookstores, but other what he calls
activist enterprises that went through the same thing. So I’m just going to
read one quote from him. Josh puts it in his excellent
book, “Activist entrepreneurs who criticize capitalism could
not totally ignore economic realities if they
wanted their enterprise to survive in the long-term. Indeed, the greatest threat to activist entrepreneurs
was not being co-opted, but simply going
out of business. Many activist enterprises
stayed in business for only a few years, and
most of those that emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s did
not make it into the ’80’s.” One other point about that,
that when I became manager of the bookstore,
I went to New York. I went to Michaux’s bookstore
which was the iconic, the granddaddy of all the black
bookstores in the country. And I had an opportunity
to talk to its owner and founder Lewis Michaux. And when I talked to him, what
we talked about, I said, “Look, man, I’m trying to figure
out how to do this.” And he gave me some advice. And he said, “Always
remember that you’ve got to pay the sales
tax every quarter. Never overbuy, overstock
the bookstore. Don’t take on too much credit.” We didn’t talk about
one of the books that he had on his shelves. The intellectual discourse
was somebody else’s concern. But he knew, and
I learned a lot, I mean just in the time
I was speaking with him, about what to do
and what to avoid. And so that was my
approach to it. Number three, I’ll be quick. From the very beginning, we
learned that Drum and Spear was about more than selling books. That my job was not just
making the trains run on time, but the store had become this
community gathering place that folks would come
in to talk, to meet. A lot of the things that the
programs that Judy had done, and then Courtland and Jennifer
had done others and other people in our staff had done — you
know, all of that was expected to happen in the bookstore. So we had a responsibility
to not only sell books, but also to serve the
community in other ways. We learned that building
an enterprise like Drum and Spear is continuous
hard work, as I mentioned. It requires long hours
and often days and weeks. It also included cantankerous
disagreements among ourselves. Good intentions for the struggle
do not eliminate hard-headed human nature. We had arguments among ourselves and pretty much we
kept it to ourselves. That just comes with it,
you guys who are planning to do a similar kind of project. You’re not doing anything wrong. And finally we learned that
our success would help lead to our own demise,
as Judy pointed out. Drum and Spear showed that there
was a market for black books. And the bigger bookstores like
Brintano’s and Barnes and Noble, they also saw that and they
began to take our customers. They might have been
limited, as Judy pointed out, to just a section
in their bookstore. But they were selling books that they never would have
touched before we showed that it was possible. They did book parties and book
signings for black authors that they never would have
bothered with until we showed that we had a line
around the corner coming in to see Eloise Greenfield
and people like that. Julius Lester. That we showed that
that was possible. And like all good capitalists,
they took from us and went on. And then that as true. I mean, if we were running a
pure capitalist enterprise, what capitalists do is they
take, or so I understand, they take that money and they
put it back into the business. Any profits we had,
any excess cash we put into our activist activities. And then towards
the end, you know, it wasn’t possible
for us to do both. We couldn’t do both. You know, it was too
late to be practical because we found ourselves in a
financial hole and other things. Josh talks about what happened. When you relate it to a
movement, then that interest in the movement will
help people come and help fund your enterprise. When the movement becomes not as
prominent, then people go away or move on to something else,
then you don’t have those people who will come, and over time
you begin to fall apart, which is what happened to us. So I can go more into it,
but I’ve got to move on. Thank you.>>Guha Shenkar: So Courtland
is going to be up next. Thank you.>>Courtland Cox: All right,
well Tony and Judy talked about what we did
and how we did it. I’d like to spend a few minutes
talking about why we did it. The reason we did it was that
it was important to be able to have the power to define. When we were coming along in
the ’60’s, one of the things that we faced was a
narrative that said that Africans contributed
nothing to civilization, they have never done anything
and they will never do anything. And the sense of the
narrative of superiority and inferiority was built
on a whole discussion about our lack of contribution. And that existed you know,
both in Ivy League colleges and existed in a
number of institutions. But unfortunately, it also
existed in our communities. And that one of the things that
was particularly important was to be able to create a
definition of ourselves that we could control and
that we would be proud of. And I remember — and it’s
just a very simple thing — if you call somebody black in
1960, it was a high insult. If you call them a negro
today, it’s an insult. So the ability to define
was particularly important. I think that probably when we
looked at it, there were two or three lonely souls,
Carnegie Woodson, J. A. Rogers and a couple of others,
who tried to talk about the contributions
of black people and the African people
to civilization. But I think that we were very
lucky because two years earlier, on June 16th 1966, our good
friend Stokely Carmichael Aquame Toure put out the
slogan of black power. And it spread like wildfire in
terms of the black community. And basically at least
at the cultural level and at the intellectual
level, black people began to define themselves as not only
beautiful in a physical sense, but beautiful in every sense of
people who made contributions. So that when Drum and
Spear Press and Drum and Spear Bookstore and the
Center for Black Education and other entities that we
created came into being, we brought it into
an environment that black people were hungry
to be able to assert themselves as people who made
contributions to civilizations. I think that the purpose of Drum
and Spear and all its aspects, which is the power to
define, is still the situation that we have to deal with. I listened to the previous
panel on Appalachia and one of the comments that was
made about Appalachia, about black people — I mean,
and I look at what’s going on and the discussion today
about the Supreme Court and the question of
sexual abuse of women. That if you don’t have the power
to define whether you’re worthy in Appalachia or whether
you should be listed to about sexual assault, or whether you’ve made
contributions to civilization, you don’t have the
power to define that. And you’re always trying
to defend yourself. You will always be in a hole. So one of the things that’s
important that we tried to do at Drum and Spear then and
we’re trying to do now is trying to assert the power to define
who we are, what’s important and how we should move
forward to make progress.>>Guha Shenkar:
Thank you, Courtland.>>Jennifer Lawson: These issues
for us were, as you can see, not purely about
what we were doing in the sense of books or radio. But it was fueled by
this why we’re doing it. And in that sense I think
we thought of ourselves as educators with a little
e, that we saw ourselves as really being in the
business of education. And it was no mistake that
we were affiliated then with the Center for Black
Education in that respect. And there were other places as
well that we were connected to. And that it was no mistake
that books would be sort of the focus of this initially. Courtland and Charlie and I had
worked together in the movement with the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee or SNCC in Mississippi and Alabama. And particularly in
Alabama we had found that it was really helpful
to this defining oneself, defining what you wanted
to do, was really helpful. And that we started
creating our own books there. We created comic books as a way of educating the
would-be black voters and would-be politicians there about why complain
about the sheriff? Why not be the sheriff? And then people would say,
“But what’s the sheriff’s job? We don’t know what
the sheriff does.” So we would then take the
information and make it into a comic book about,
here’s the role of the sheriff. Here’s the role of
the tax assessor. And then over time, people
ran for those positions and became the tax assessor
and became the sheriff. So these rudimentary comics
were very, very beneficial, and that that was sort of
the beginning of our sort of working collaboration
in that way. And I was an amateur artist. I never had any formal training. But one of the other things that
I think was really so defining about all of us is a
kind of can-do spirit. It wasn’t a question of, “Well,
I don’t know how to do this.” I mean, you’ve heard that all
down the line, of Judy saying, “Well, I’ve never
done this before.” Tony, the same. The same was true of me. And then even after we
had established Drum and Spear bookstore, the
question was, what’s missing? We need books. We need our own books,
not just the books that are being sold
by other publishers. We need our own books. And so we started creating them. And we had the good fortune
to have CLR James around, and so we then published
CLR James’, A History of Pan-Africa Revolt. We said, “We need new
children’s books.” So Courtland and a teacher, a
DC school teacher, Daphne Mews, a group of us got together
and started brainstorming about what is it that
we would tell kids? And we created then
the book, all right? We’d illustrate and we would
write the text together. We did the same thing
with our folk tales. And the people in
Tanzania were visiting and found it quite impressive. And we found ourselves
invited to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to help establish
a publishing company there. And the publishing venture
continues to this day. Our invitation to Tanzania
came also in association with the Sixth Pan-African
Congress which Courtland and several other people
helped to establish. So it was this, the work
that we were doing both in creating a publishing company
or in creating the bookstore, were things that then continued
to inspire other people. And it was wonderful to see
them move on to do these things. Somebody sort of said, “Well,
what would it look like today?” And one of the things that
we are very clear about is that again, it’s the
why, not the what. And we all have been very
active in the last few years in creating what is called
the SNCC digital gateway, which is a website that
tells then the story of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee. And goes on to talk about what
young activists are doing today. So that’s the story of Drum and
Spear Press, and I look forward to after Josh, to hearing
questions from others too.>>Joshua Davis: Okay. Yeah, I wanted to just
thank Guha and thank John and thank Thea and
everyone at the AFC for putting this together. Really great event. And I want to talk about Drum
and Spear, but just emphasize that of course what we’ve
been talking about grew out of the Civil
Rights Movement. It grew out of organizations
like SNCC and also was very much a part
of the Black Power Movement. And I think especially
in years ’66, ’67, ’68, there wasn’t always
necessarily a clear line between the two there,
overlapping. And kind of the big point
I wanted to make today — and I wonder, do you think we
could switch to the PowerPoint? Yeah. The point I was going to
make is that I think there’s as lot of discussion
in recent years about how skewed
Americans’ understanding of the Civil Rights Movement is. And how the public’s
understanding has really lagged behind the participants’
understanding. And I would say the scholarship
has gotten much, much better. But most Americans,
if they know anything about the Civil Rights Movement,
they think of it as a movement for political change,
for social change. But what I was going
to say is one of the real neglected
legacies is that Civil Rights and Black Power were movements
for intellectual change. And I think Drum and Spear
really epitomizes that. And so I wanted to start
with a brief quote. It’s from the New York Amsterdam
News which most people will know as kind of one of the premier
black newspapers in the country. The quote’s from 1972. “Anyone who walks
along 100 25th Street in Harlem today may be
impressed by the market changes from the Harlem Street
of yesterday. There are black-owned
clothing stores, record shops, bookstores, African bazaars
and other cultural happenings that now indicate a new
pride and self-determination in the black community. These changes in
the face of Harlem and other similar communities
are largely the result of a black revolution
of the mind, begun less than a decade ago.” I think that’s a quote
that I think really — this idea of the black
revolution of the mind. I think that’s a large part of
what Drum and Spear was doing. And you know, I think a
lot of different parts of the Black Freedom
Struggle are doing this, the black arts movement
for example. In SNCC for example, I’m sure
a lot of people have heard of the Mississippi
Freedom Summer, and one of the large
parts of that effort in 1964 were the
Freedom Schools. And the Freedom Schools
which a lot of SNCC people were
involved with, and Charlie Cobb was
very involved with, I think there are seeds of Drum
and Spear in the Freedom School. And so Drum and Spear, like I
was saying, was not only part of the Civil Rights Movement,
the Black Power Movement, but also two movements that I
talk about in my book called From Head Shops to Whole
Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs. Actually, let me see if — okay,
so here’s a picture from 1968 of two of our esteemed
panelists. And this is a wonderful photo. It was in the previous
photo stream, but this was in the Washington Post. So the Post was covering it. Washington Afro-American
was covering it, which was the sister paper
of Baltimore Afro-American. Washington Star, you know, which was a major
newspaper, was covering it. And here, actually
this is a picture from the Washington Star. The Washington Star
photo morgues are at the DCPL, the main branch. And so I was going through
there and saw all of these. And this is just a day in
the life of Drum and Spear. And then here is a neat picture
of just one little corner in Drum and Spear Bookstore. And the posters, the drawings,
I’m sure you can identify a lot of the people there, kind of
the wall of fame, so to speak. So here’s this really
outstanding cover of one of the Drum and Spear catalogs, and we saw that in the
previous slideshow too. But just the artwork
to me is so powerful. And we were talking about it —
what was his first name again? Was it Robert cheeks?>>Bruce.>>Joshua Davis: Bruce
Cheeks, okay, yeah. And it actually took
a long time. I had a conversation with
a lot of people about, “Who is this Cheeks
person who did this work?” And Bruce Cheeks, it sounds
like he’s still around. Yeah, I’d like to maybe
talk to him at some point. But here’s two pages
from the catalog. And I just wanted to — so
here’s an amazing illustration. And then the catalog, you know, the categories were not typical
bookstore’s categories, right? Like there’s a whole page
on African Nationalism. There’s a whole bunch
of different categories. So Drum and Spear was
part of what I would call that activist business movement
which is businesses growing out of not only the Black Power
Movement, but feminist movement, antiwar movement, even
the hippie movement, environmental movement. Activists who were
starting businesses. They’re thinking of businesses
less as moneymaking ventures and more as organizing tools. They are interested in
keeping the lights on, but that’s what my
book is about. And yeah, if anyone
wants to check it out, I’ve got copies back there. But getting back to this idea of also I would say a
black bookstore movement. So obviously there were black
authors going back centuries. But in the United States, the kind of mainstream literary
marketplace, other than people like Ralph Ellison, Langston
Hughes, the real heavyweights — they were just a
few marquee authors who were getting any attention from the white-dominated
literary marketplace in the early-’60’s. And in the early-’60s, I think
I found there was maybe a dozen what we could call black-owned
and black-oriented bookstores in the whole United States. Roughly a dozen. But those numbers began
booming in the middle and especially late-’60’s. Really they’re inseparable
from the Black Power era. So what was a dozen stores in say the early-’60’s
became something like 75 stores ten years later. And it’s a big jump
from 12 to 75. In 1969, New York Times
— am I getting a warning? Two minutes, okay. 1969, New York Times
did a story. This kind of goes to the point
Judy was making, just the fact that the New York Times would
do a story on the novelty of black people selling
books to black people. That was a novel going-on. And the Times said, “A surge
of book-buying is sweeping through black communities
across the country.” And the whole piece was
about black-owned bookstores. And there were these
old stalwarts like Lewis Michaux’s Books
in Harlem, his store. But there are stores
popping up all over the countries
in DC, in Atlanta. More in Harlem and Brooklyn. And there’s a few that
still even exist today. Marcus Books comes
out of San Francisco and they still have a
store in Oakland today. Vaughn’s bookstore in Detroit. Okay, so black-owned bookstores
are promoting self-education. They are promoting
self-definition. They are in a sense
information centers for the Black Power Movement. And they are, like I
mentioned, part of a movement for intellectual change. If you just look at the books on
this one page of this catalog, it’s some of those
exact same people. So I don’t think J. A.
Rogers is on this page. But I came across this
document recently. I’m about to click
to — here we go. I’d never seen this
until recently. It’s a reading list from SNCC. And I think I estimated,
looking at some of the titles I think
it’s from 1968. I think there’s at least a
Julius Wester title on here that is published
in ’68 I think. But I mean, it’s
DuBois, it’s St. Clair, Drake, E. Franklin Fraser. Howard Zin is on there, right? Howard Zin having been the
first person to write a book about SNCC I think, and had
himself been involved in SNCC. And maybe Julius Wester is
not on this page actually. But this is the dimension
of the Civil Rights Movement that I think most Americans
are not aware of, this movement for intellectual change. And it’s been something
that’s been occurring to me. I’m just wrapping up very
belatedly a Taylor Branch trilogy on MLK which if
you put the books together and the type is tiny. But just really drove home
for me also like Dr. King, remembered as a Civil Rights
leader, as a master orator, as a minister, as a moral
force, as a nonviolent force. But he really was
an intellectual also and I think that’s
just been forgotten. But he was an intellectual. That was such a big
part of who he was. And so I’ll just end
it on that, yeah.>>Guha Shenkar: Thank
you all very much. A hand for the panel, please. [ Applause ] So everybody here was
handed a list of questions that they were going
to talk about. But I want to pick
up this and sort of go off script a little bit. Not only because Courtland
is getting ready to leave, but I wanted to ask
about this notion of intellectual production and
representation which has come up again as you mentioned
already between the previous
panel and this one. And what does the future hold
if you want to be a futurist in terms of how you
control that? And you touched upon
that briefly, but what are some
logical outcomes perhaps that you might look towards?>>Courtland Cox: I mean, I think the previous panel
could have been this panel. Because I think one of
the things that was said and I got was that the
energy and the solutions come from the people who
have the problem. That’s where you have to look. And so you know, my sense is
— and I’m talking about King. And I agree King
was an intellectual. You know, and when I first
heard this, thought it was, “Well, this is not serious.” But King used to say the arc
of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. And I thought, “Well,
that’s not serious.” I mean, it does seem to me
what you have to look for. Because I mean, as you look
at history, if you focus on what you’re for, and that’s I
think the real critical piece — not what you’re against,
but what you’re for — and organize that, that will
get you to where you need to be across the board. And let me just say the
reason I do have to go, and I have to excuse myself, is
that I am working on a project which says that in six states
that exist — Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan,
Pennsylvania and Ohio — in 2018 we want to get the
black vote to either equal or exceed the white vote. And people are on the
ground organizing that. So we meet every Monday at
4:00 to have that discussion. So I mean, basically it’s not — I mean, I do have to think that
being conscious of what you have to do, where you have
to go and work on it on a daily basis is
where you have to go. Sorry.>>Guha Shenkar:
Thank you, Courtland. [ Applause ] I actually wanted to
pick up on something that Courtland touched on. Yes?>>Judy Richardson: I
wanted to mention something. Keep going. Don’t worry. You’ve got work to do. But it relates to something
that we’ve been doing. And I just want to hold this up
because this is — I’m sorry — an ad for our SNCC
digital gateway. Yeah. And part of what
we’ve been all talking about I think is how do you
control how people portray you, how you see yourself, how the
rest of the world sees you, so how your work is known. And luckily for us,
we were younger then. Well, we were obviously
younger then. But we were the youngest. SNCC was the only
youth-led Civil Rights organization nationally. And so we were 15,
16, 17, 18 years old, which means that now we are
more or less walking and talking and not just sitting and
knitting baby booties. What that means is that for
the last four years we’ve been working with Duke University. Thank you, Melon Foundation. And we have done an
amazing SNCC website. And it’s called SNCC
digital, It is incredible. It has profiles not just of
SNCC people but also of a lot of the people that we worked with because we wanted
them to be known. So you don’t only
know Mrs. Hammer. You also know Mrs. Devine
and you know M. C. Moore and you know all of the folks
who grounded us, who taught us when we were working in
those local communities. But you also have
all these links. So for example, we
linked to Debra. Debra links to us on
Teaching for Change. We have CRMVet, Civil
Rights Movement Vet. And that’s another
website that is incredible because it has primary
documents. So when Debra and I did a
three-week teacher institute for NEH in July, we used
both SNCC Digital — and it was 30 teachers grade
7-12 from around the country. And for three weeks they
used SNCC Digital and CRMVet as primary documents
where they could go and share with their students. I’m saying that to
say we are using — and I have books so that you can
see the actual copies of some of the books that
you’ve been seeing. We have tried to frame ourselves
so that others do not frame us. So that’s it.>>Guha Shenkar: Thank you.>>Judy Richardson: And I have
cards if people want them.>>Guha Shenkar: There’s
something else which I wanted to talk about, the resonance between the previous
panel and this one. I hope you all can address
it in your own ways. As Josh touched upon, when you
were at the Freedom Schools on the front lines of the
Civil Rights Movement back in Mississippi and
places and back home here, you fought with the
weapons in hand. There was something about
strategy and tactics which is involved in this, which
is replete with the language of SNCC and other
Civil Rights activists. And so it seems to me today
then that direct sort of action on the ground has shifted
to another strategy which is take control
of media representation, media ties representation,
in film and books and radio programs and so on. Is that another — where do
you stand with that right now in this particular instance? Is that the way to go
going forward in terms of advancing the cause of social
justice and social movements?>>Jennifer Lawson: I think that
if we had had the resources — I mean, for example, all of the
things that we’re talking about, Drum and Spear and then also
doing Drum and Spear in Tanzania at the same time we were doing
Drum and Spear in Washington, we were doing this pre-internet. So this was pre-internet. This was even pre-fax machine. So that I have letters where
Judy is asking me about a cover for one of the publications
here in Washington, and sort of saying, “How soon
will it be before we get it?” And it’s a question not just
of when it will be created, but how long it takes
to ship it, how long it takes to go by mail. So we are talking about this
work taking place at a time that was pre-internet
and when we talk about media, this was it. And radio was accessible to us. I think there is no question that we would have
been dealing now — if we were doing the
same kind of thing now, we would be dealing with
film and television. It’s no mistake I think or
no accident that three of us up here right now have had
careers in media, that we moved from this work into
film and television. And that public media
was also very important because that again
was the notion that these are our tax dollars. And that the kind of public
forum, the sense of community that we’ve been talking
about creating, that Apple Shop was doing, that
the center was doing in New York with culture, that these
places should exist and that they should exist
for the benefit of us all. And that to me is one of
the values of public media. And why it becomes so
important to not only keep it in existence, but
to keep it ours too, to keep it as a real benefit to
the communities that it serves.>>Tony Gittens: Yeah, I think
that now folks are still trying to figure out what to do against
the oppressive forces now. That there’s a lot of opinion,
there’s a lot of analysis. There are marches
and demonstrations, all of which are good
and strong and such. There’s a lot of opinion. But what to do, what do you do
when you get up in the morning to combat this insanity that we’re facing I think
is still being developed. That there is the
vote, you know. Folks can vote and
put Republicans out and the Democrats in
and that’s all good. But there’s a personal
frustration that I have about what is there — eventually you get tired
of hearing people talk. You know, I get tired
of hearing people talk. I get tired of hearing
myself talk, you know, much less others. And there’s a difference
between talking and doing. What happened around Drum
and Spear was a lot of doing. There was a lot of doing. I mean, what it took to build and maintain back then
was constant work. And I don’t know
of a place now — I don’t know of every
place, obviously. There might be. I’m sure they’re out there. Young people are doing
all kinds of things. But it’s what to do
to make the difference that at least to
me is not clear.>>Judy Richardson: See, it’s
interesting when Jennifer talks about how three of us
have gone into media. I mean, Jennifer really was
really major in PBS and CBB and some of the funding
that Apple Shop talked about that was coming
through Jennifer’s shop. Tony all these years has
been doing DC film festivals. And you know, when
I worked on Eyes on the Prize, it
was all 14 hours. And one of the things I wanted
to do in that second series of eight hours — because
the first series is six hours and the second is eight hours
— we had a chance of doing — we all talked as a team about
what college takeover do you do. We could have done
San Francisco State. We could have done Cornell. And I said to Henry Hampton,
the head of Blackside which was the production
company that did it — I said, “You know,
sometimes we’re not talking to white folks. We’re talking to each other.” And so for me it was we need to
do Howard University takeover. And that’s why that Howard
University takeover story is in Eyes on the Prize. By the way, all 14 hours of
Eyes on the Prize is on YouTube. I have to just mention that. And I think part
of the — say what? You got it. I mean, given that PBS doesn’t
do diddly-squat with it, it’s good that it’s on YouTube. But I think that the other part of it though is how
you organize. And I think we always understood that nothing replaces
the door-to-door. Nothing replaces going
to everybody so that — I mean, one of the
things that Beto O’Rourke in Texas understands is that
he’s gone through every one of those counties in Texas. That social media can be really
helpful if you use it as a tool, but if you don’t understand
that people are going to put their lives on the line
for you, or their economics or whatever it is, that
they’ve got to know who you are. And they cannot know that
through Twitter or whoever. They’ve got to see you and they’ve got to
see you in action. And social media is not
going to do that part of it for you I think.>>Guha Shenkar: And I
was struck by something on Josh’s reading list that’s
there, and then looking at what you have in the
table in front of you. Obviously these books are sort
of for a high political theory, CLR James and Herbert
Afthaker and so on, so there’s that reaching
people who have been educated to some extent or who have
the capacity and the interest in hearing about these kinds
of intellectual perspectives and rather high theoretical
positions. But then the Watoto Africa
and the children’s books, you seem to be getting them
from the sort of cradle to — not quite grave, if
you know what I mean. [ Laughter ] You know, sort of my age. Not sure if it’s the grave
or not, but can you speak about that just a little bit?>>Jennifer Lawson: Well, it’s
interesting, one of the things that we at SNCC were known for
was sort of telling our history from the inside out
and from the bottom up. And so that in part relates
to the notion that we believe that everybody that we
work with was important, and that we didn’t
make distinctions between the sharecroppers
or the people who were the school principals in the areas that
we worked with. And in some cases, like
with the Freedom Schools that were mentioned,
and some of the work that we subsequently did,
we put a lot of emphasis on adult education and on
literacy, because that was part of the legacy of the
segregation and the horrors that people had lived through. And that it was the
thirst for knowledge, the thirst for information. It’s just incredible. And so the kinds of discussions
that we would have in SNCC and with people with
whom we were working in these rural areas
was quite astonishing. Because people really
wanted to learn. They wanted to talk about ideas. They wanted to talk
about a range of things. And so that was what these works in part we were creating
them for.>>Tony Gittens: I’d like
to step back a little bit from what I just
said, that the folks who I think are really doing
something are the teens from the high school where –>>Judy Richardson:
Yes, Parkland.>>Tony Gittens: Parkland.>>Judy Richardson: Yeah, honey.>>Tony Gittens: Yes. That when we were watching
them, they did remind us, the did remind me of some of the activity we’ve been
talking about here today. That those kids are smart and
they work hard and they’re out there and they put
their heart and their soul into doing something to
change, to make that shift about defining that
Courtland was talking about. The question with
them is, do they — and I’m sure they — all right. Do they know — and this
is something we learned, it’s a long-term struggle. That the enemy is dug in. The NRA in their case is dug in. Those guys and girls
fight for every inch of holding onto those guns. And it’s going to take a while
to beat those folks back. But I would say that
they’re doing something, that those young kids
are doing something.>>Guha Shenkar: I want
to shift gears slightly. Josh, did you have
something to add to that?>>Joshua Davis:
Yeah, just briefly, I was going to say we just kind
of can’t overemphasize the point about this being pre-internet. I think we are all
aware of that. But I always have
to really emphasize that with students,
what that meant. I mean, if you wanted to learn
about political movements, you’ve basically learned
about it either through books or more likely through people
and the people around you, people you went to school with,
people you went to church with. And these activist
businesses, and Drum and Spear really epitomize this. They were focused
on the three P’s. First of all they wanted
to put new products out. They wanted to put
political products out there. Books by black authors
that are almost unavailable in American society. Then they wanted to
focus on the processes. So this wasn’t just a
book store, but Drum and Spear had a radio show,
and the publishing press, and they’re linking up with
publishers in Tanzania, right? So they’re reinventing
processes. But place, place was
really, really important and I think place is
still very important, but I think especially then
without people being able to connect through a thing like
the internet, through a thing like Twitter, you
needed to meet in person. And it was very hard
to find a gateway into movements, into literature. And I remember Judy saying
this before: the bookstore was for the community, and you
know, DC was chocolate city. But there’s still
class segregation even within black DC. And so a place like Howard which
is like the shining institution on the hill was very, very
distant from a lot of people in the Columbia Heights
neighborhood. You had people coming into
the store who had never been to a bookstore before. And to have a public
facing political institution that sold some of these books
like these but had it kind of mediated through people
who could connect people on the ground to some of these
books, that was hugely important in a way that is
even more important than I think it would be today. Because people can
self-educate online.>>Guha Shenkar: Right. So we were talking
about the space of intellectual production. And I want to make
sure that those of you who don’t already know this
story, even for those of us who do know the story, that intellectual
production is dangerous. It brings about certain
kinds of reprisals. It brings about certain
kinds of attention. And I think the point that Tony
is making about what the forces that are impinging upon you in
the first place and keep coming down on you are very real. And maybe I’ll get
Josh to kick this off, because there’s a really
intricate part of this book, From Head Shops to Whole
Foods, which is also excerpted in the Atlantic Magazine which I
wanted all of you to talk about. But can you talk a little
bit about exactly who it was and what were the kinds of
outcomes and effects from people in positions of power against
Drum and Spear and other kinds of entrepreneurs like that?>>Joshua Davis: All right. So I think again to go back to
this idea of these businesses, especially Drum and Spear
being the public face of a movement, as
Courtland said. Stokely was a dear
friend and people like the FBI were very
keenly interested in Stokely. I mean, they were
deeply interested in SNCC and the movement and
Dr. King and everyone. But in 1968, I think Stokely
was really one of the people that they were almost
obsessed with. And the dangers of him — if
you’ve ever heard of this memo that J. Edgar Hoover
wrote about we’ve got to stop the possibility of
a rise of a black messiah. And what I kind of came up
with through my research was that as part of [inaudible],
part of the FBI really focusing on trying to disrupt
movements and especially trying to destroy Civil Rights
and Black Power Movements, they became very,
very interested in black-owned bookstores. And Hoover even issued a memo
to every local field office in the country and it said, watch out for what he called
African-type bookstores. “They’re extremists, they’re
hateful, they’re anti-white. And if there’s one
in your jurisdiction, you need to open a file
on them immediately.” And that’s maybe six months after the black messiah
memo of March 1968. But as it would just happen, Drum and Spear was conveniently
located not even five miles from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s
national headquarters.>>Guha Shenkar:
Strategy or tactics?>>Joshua Davis: Yeah. And you can imagine the FBI
agents were like, “Well, I guess we’re the ones who only
have to drive three miles.” And so they had all
kinds of interactions. And I think I found
probably FBI agents in at least half a dozen cities
doing surveillance and informing and spying on black-owned
bookstores. But there’s probably
many more than that. [ Inaudible ]>>Guha Shenkar: Do you want to
talk about that a little bit?>>Judy Richardson: Okay, yeah. Okay.>>Tony Gittens: Okay, so they
used to come into the store. We found this out —
actually Josh dug this out. Josh is so talented. The man is a good man. Thank you, Josh, for
all you do, really. Really.>>Judy Richardson: Yes.>>Tony Gittens: So
Josh got the FBI records about their surveillance
of us at Drum and Sphere, which is fascinating reading. I read it twice late
one night when — I forgot, I think Josh
or Judy sent it to me. And it’s just fascinating,
but they would come in in plain clothes and
engage us and buy books. And I think they had bought — I think Josh, you said they
had bought a whole bunch of — we were selling Mao’s Little Red
Book and they bought them all and sat in the car
outside and read them. [ Laughter ] It got to the point
of being silly. But there are files on everybody
you see sitting up here, and many more, about
our comings and goings. I was surprised what they
knew about where I lived, who my social friends were. But they had a file on us. I mean, they were about to
bring us down if they could.>>Jennifer Lawson: At
an earlier point too, when I was working
with SNCC in Atlanta and we had some financial
problems, I and a group of others — SNCC people
had opened a little store, a little boutique near the
Atlanta University complex. And there are FBI
records too that show — in the records they talk
about then people coming into the store, their
agents coming into the store and overhearing things in
the store about you know, whether Stokely or
someone was coming to town. And it’s really interesting
because then you know, the conversations that they
overheard helped us identify who then the agent was
in that particular case. But it was fascinating
to see this sort of trail of surveillance wherever
we were in that respect. It used to take a lot
of time to get back into the country
when we traveled. [ Laughter ]>>Judy Richardson:
Can I also say, I don’t know why they thought
that they could be undercover. At this point, you know,
we were not gentrified. I mean, only black people
came into Drum and Spear. And there were only white
agents at this point, and they always looked
like they used to in Greenwood, Mississippi. They had the funny little shoes and they always wore a
button down, and they walk in and they think that
we’re not going to know that they’re FBI agents. And you know, then they
pull stuff off the shelves that they clearly don’t
even know what it is. You know, and then
they pile it up. Now most people used to
come into Drum and Spear and you’d have one or two books. They had piles of books that they’re buying,
and they’re white. So you know, we kind
of knew, yeah. [ Laughter ]>>Guha Shenkar:
So I like the fact that your sustainability model
is predicated on surveillance. [ Laughter ] Maybe the library’s missing
a few on our circulation. I’m not quite sure.>>Tony Gittens: Bring them on. They also got into
our bank accounts. They went to the bank
where we did our banking and there were reports. There was some guy there who
sent them everything we did, all of our statements,
all of our activities, companies we were dealing with. I mean, all that’s
just recorded. They were after us. They were after us hard.>>Guha Shenkar: So
I think we’re coming to unfortunately the
end of the discussion. But I want to open it
up to folks out there. I mean, I have tons
more questions. I’m happy to keep talking
up here, but I’d really like to make sure that we
have this as a dialogue. And again we have the mics. So please, yes, Barry
is right here in front.>>I just had a question. In I guess ’69 or ’70 I
drove out here from Missouri to attend the DC Blues Festival. You mentioned Topper
Carew was the first person who put that together. It was one of maybe the first and only blues festival
put together by an African American
organization at that time. It seemed to me. Anyway, was that
connected in any way to Drum and Spear or to your work?>>Jennifer Lawson: No. I was not formally connected.>>Yeah.>>Jennifer Lawson: But
there were some wonderful organizations in
Washington DC at the time. And Karen Spellman and a group of other people are
developing a collection of materials online
that’s called the Black Power Chronicles. And it’s about some of
the cultural activities that were taking
place in Washington DC from like 1966 on
up to present day. And that Topper Carew,
and I’ve forgotten who else he was working
with, had the new thing.>>Judy Richardson:
Alice Carew later.>>Jennifer Lawson: Alice. Then they had the New Thing. And also he had a background in
architecture as well as in art. And there was Lou Stovall and
Die Stovall and Lloyd O’Neal who had been the workshop
which focused on printmaking and also graphic
design and the arts. And Lou did the typography
for it. He did the fonts and
everything for this book, the coloring book called
Children of Africa. But there were other — the
Center for Black Education, Gaston Neal was an
incredible force. And Gaston considered
himself the spy of Brintano’s and places. He would go down and then
come back to Drum and Spear and report what Brintano’s
was selling and what they were
selling at 4:00.>>Tony Gittens: He
actually stole the books.>>Judy Richardson:
Yes, thank you. Thank you, I was about to say.>>Tony Gittens: We’re
here to tell the truth.>>Judy Richardson: Yes.>>Tony Gittens: Gaston
had skills and he would — [ Laughter ] And all of the sudden he’d show
up and he’d have all these, the newest books that we
could never afford to put. And he would make them available
to us at real discount prices, and we’d put them
on our shelves.>>Judy Richardson: However,
we got caught, let us remember.>>TG: Yes, oh.>>Judy Richardson: Remember
when the woman came up? The woman from Brintano’s. Now this is before we get to
the story that you’re saying. So we’re still a small
store right on 14th Street. And she walks in and she
has a couple of the books. And she says — oh, no, no. I’m sorry. She takes them off our
shelves and she shows it to us and she says, “No,
you’ll see Brintano’s” — because they had
Brintano’s in them. [ Laughter ] And so she says, “Now,
we will not prosecute.” Because she knew who he was. She said, “We will not
prosecute him, but you are not to buy any more books from him.” And we didn’t. But yeah, we called
him Sticky Fingers. Yeah.>>Didn’t Topper Carew — he
was involved in media later. He went to LA, didn’t he?>>Judy Richardson: Yeah,
because I worked with him.>>Yeah.>>Judy Richardson: Topper Carew
also started the New Thing.>>Rainbow Media.>>Judy Richardson: Media Works.>>Tony Gittens: Yeah.>>Judy Richardson: So I went out after we started
the first series of what became the 14
hours of Eyes on the Prize. And then I go out and
I work with him in LA. And did you all at
PBS, did you fund him?>>Jennifer Lawson: Yes. Yes, we funded him.>>Judy Richardson:
That’s right. Yeah.>>Jennifer Lawson:
We funded him. He did a series of
children’s programs, and he also did a series of other television
programs and films. His best-known film
was probably Car Wash.>>Judy Richardson:
No, no, DC Cabs.>>Jennifer Lawson: DC Cabs.>>Judy Richardson: Oh,
it was a horrible film.>>Jennifer Lawson: DC Cabs. And he then was the person who
discovered Martin Lawrence.>>Yeah.>>Jennifer Lawson: And later
became Martin’s talent agent and then went on to become
the agent for a number of sort of high-profile comedians in LA. And he is now at MIT.>>Guha Shenkar: I just
wanted to point out, just had to make sure that
from the Library’s perspective, stealing books is
not a good thing. Sorry. [ Laughter ] We need to make sure
that’s on the record. [ Laughter ] Any other questions?>>I just wondered about your
relationship with libraries and outreach to libraries. I worked very briefly in
the beginning of my career and they didn’t know
what to do with me because I was the new kid. And they put me in the library
in the black neighborhood. It was an incredible lesson
in the power of books. And we were like a place where the kids would
come after school. And they’d all stream in and
they were just so excited. And so I wondered how your
interaction went with libraries.>>Judy Richardson: I
can say that there was at that point a black
caucus of the ALA, the American Librarians
Association. And so we would do
conferences with them and we would present a display. As I said, we would take the
exhibits other places outside the store. And so we would bring some
of the children’s books that we had, and they were
very supportive of us. I don’t know of any
— maybe you all do. I don’t know of any
direct relationship we had between the store and the
librarians except to say that they would often come
into the store and check out some of the titles. Because of course, they’re
not being shown the titles by the publishers. And we were. I mean, yeah.>>Jennifer Lawson: But
it’s interesting too in our later lives. I think that our appreciation
for education and you know, big E, small e, is just
so profound that then that continues our
relationship with organizations like Debra Mincart’s
Teaching for Change. And also with work that
goes into the library. For example, whether it’s
Eyes on the Prize or some of the other documentary
or other films that we did, we’d always make provisions that there would be what we call
outreach or other extensions of this work so that it would
go then either on the internet or it would have materials
that would go for use by community groups
and for kids.>>Guha Shenkar:
Other questions?>>Judy Richardson: But we love
librarians, let me just say. We do.>>Jennifer Lawson: Yes,
librarians are very special.>>Guha Shenkar: And librarians
love you, thank you very much. Yes, sir?>>Thank you for this panel. I don’t necessarily know if I
have a question or a comment. I’m sure it’s going to morph
into wanting, begging an answer. My father’s from
Greenwood, Mississippi.>>Judy Richardson: Oh, okay.>>And my name is
Julius Rosenwald. And I just wonder — I didn’t
know who Julius Rosenwald was until I became in my 30’s. And so when I read about
this symposium, I said, “Oh, well let me get down there.” Because I just saw
Fahrenheit 11/9.>>Judy Richardson: How is it?>>It was wonderful.>>Judy Richardson: Okay.>>And I want to
say you were in it, but you were speaking
about the kids.>>Judy Richardson: Yes.>>And that’s my question. There are a lot of
organizations. For years I was involved
with AFL, CIO, NAACP. And so there are a lot
of organizations now that have not usurped you but are doing pieces
of what you’re doing. Or pieces of what
NAACP is doing. And some people would argue that they’re doing
it more efficiently. But I think that they’re
not doing everything that you’re doing. See, you had to do everything. Now you have organizations
that are just going to do a little bit of
it, a little bit of it. So they can specialize. But I think one of the concerns
is that students, when they want to get involved, and
I see that you all — I was reading your bios. And you know, you had successful
careers, so how do students now that they want to get
involved and they still have to be concerned about their
livelihoods, how do they make that transition to
that capitalism? How do they — you
know, you can’t go through your life
being an activist without being able
to sustain yourself.>>Judy Richardson: But
I think there are times when we can do both.>>But how do you do that?>>Judy Richardson: Okay,
let me just say that all of us have figured
out ways to do both.>>Tony Gittens: That’s correct.>>Right.>>Judy Richardson: So I’m
going to answer your question. One of the things that has
been very helpful to me is that I knew nothing
about filmmaking, right? Nothing. Diddly-squat. I go in and Henry says, “Okay,
I’m starting what is going to be a one-hour documentary
on the Civil Rights Movement.” It becomes 14. Who knew? But I brought the skills
of the movement with me. That’s what got me in the door. Because I knew nothing
about filmmaking, right? I knew how to interview, because
I had operated the 800 line for SNCC. So when people are calling
in about church burnings or killings, I knew how to take
the information and then give it to an FBI that did not care. The bottom line was
though that the skills that you get you can
take other places. The problem is you
really have to be grounded in knowing why you’re
where you are. So I always — even when I went
into — Blackside was easier. Even Northern Life
Productions, I go into that, we do the Orangeburg
Massacre and other films. I’m working now for the
National Park Service. I and the team had done the
Little Rock Nine Orientation films for Little Rock
Central High School. Now we’re doing summer, right? But it’s the skills
of the movement that are bringing me in there. I think there are enough
ways that you can do — and sometimes it’s not
going into capitalism. I never think of myself
as figuring out a way to become a capitalist, okay? It is how do I bring my values
into whatever situation I’m in? And how am I able
to pay the rent? And maybe that’s something
that others can talk about.>>Tony Gittens: When
we’re born, we grow up, we’re told that there
are certain rules, that there’s a certain track. That if you behave, you play
by the rules, you don’t bump into the walls too much,
that you’re going to be okay. And you find out — we found
out that those rules are made up by other people just like us. And we can therefore
— once you know that, you can pretty much do whatever. You know, there’s no —
there aren’t any rules. So you make up your own. I mean, at least
it’s my approach. I don’t know about
the folks down there. But I don’t know anything
about making movies. And I’ve spent a good part of my professional life
putting on film festivals. You know? I don’t know
how to do any of that. I mean, Judy just talked
about what she knows. The lady over there, I know she’s bright
as can be, you know. But you sort of —
once you sort of — we spent a lot of the time
with things we were talking about up here pushing
against the rules, somebody else’s rules. They said, “Look, don’t do that. If you just go to school
and get the master’s degree and da-da-da-da-da, you know”
[laughs], if you just do that, it’s going to be okay.>>Judy Richardson: And she’s
from Greenwood, by the way.>>Tony Gittens: And
she’s from Greenwood.>>Judy Richardson: Strong movement family
in Greenwood, yes.>>Tony Gittens: You know? And then you find out
it’s just somebody else who made the rules up. Well, if they make them up, we
can make up our own rules too. We’re going to start
a bookstore. Hey, and then we’re going
to start a press over here. You know? What do we know
about doing that stuff? What we knew is you know,
we knew that we didn’t like the things — we
didn’t like the way that they’re treating not
only us, but other people, and we were going to do
something about that. It bothered us to our core the
way they would oppress people and us and our friends and
people that we didn’t even know. That we didn’t even know. And that pissed us
off, for sure. It pissed us off. And we said, “We’re going
to do something about that.” That’s what we knew. That’s what we knew. I’m only saying that
because all of us, we get young people
coming to us. When they come to me, they ask
advice, “Well, how do I do it?” And I have no answers for them. I don’t know what to tell them.>>The reason I asked
that question is because now I’m a
member of 100 Black Men of Prince George County. And we have all these
brown kids. And so we want — I want to
be able to have them know who you are, and to know — I don’t know if they should
know that they’ll be okay. But I do want them to have
tools in their toolkit so that they can
make that transition, so that they are not
afraid to be true to who they are and
be activists. In the 9/11 movie, most of the
kids, those were white kids. And I’m not saying that —
well, they are privileged. And our kids are
brown and black. And the target population
may or may not go to college. And so I don’t know if they’re
going to have those skills, but I want them to
have those skills.>>Judy Richardson: But
there are other films about young people like
them that you can show them.>>Tony Gittens: Right.>>Judy Richardson:
And I don’t know — Debra, Jennifer,
some suggestions? [ Inaudible ] I mean, part of the problem is that we only see
the Parkland kids. There were kids organizing
before them, there’s kids organizing now.>>Right.>>Judy Richardson: Thankfully,
they’ve often allied with and made sure those other — there’s the Dream
Defenders which you can learn about them at the SNCC Gateway. There’s the film
Precious Knowledge about the young people
in Tucson. There’s other documentaries.>>Jennifer Lawson: Yes.>>Guha Shenkar: All right. We’re just now going
to wrap it up. But I want to get maybe the
historian’s perspective on this, not because it’s the last one, but because it’s the stepping
back and looking at things from a broader perspective. These questions have all
raised some interesting things. We could probably do
another two panels on this. But what is your
takeaway as a historian that might be interesting for
all of us to share with us?>>Joshua Davis: Maybe to
connect it to the last question, to me what’s really amazing is to see what all the people
coming out of SNCC did in the rest of their lives. And I think that is
really amazing to see that so many people coming
out of SNCC, very creative and finding different ways
to continue their work through different agencies,
vehicles, organizations. I mean, it’s really profound. If we just looked at
these three people here, but then if you throw John
Lewis in and [inaudible]. I mean, it’s just endless. The list is just endless. You see what all the
people did, yeah.>>Tony Gittens: Stokely.>>Joshua Davis: And I think
that’s part of the answer to your question, is looking
at someone like Bob Moses who did Radical Equations.>>Judy Richardson: Yes.>>Joshua Davis:
There are things that maybe our society
doesn’t think of as part of the Civil Rights Movement,
a book about bringing math to underprivileged students.>>Judy Richardson: And who
has the Algebra Project.>>Joshua Davis: Yeah.>>Judy Richardson: Which is
coming to DC public schools.>>Joshua Davis: Yeah. That would be my main
kind of answer to that, is that things take
different forms. But the creativity is what
allowed so many people coming out of SNCC and just
the movement in general to continue doing
what they’re doing. Not necessarily get rich,
but to survive and sustain and even prosper in the
fullest sense of that word.>>Guha Shenkar: And as long
as we’re talking about it, there are three other veterans of the Civil Rights
Movement here with us. Charlene Kranz, [inaudible]
right back there, all of whom have been introduced for the Civil Rights
History Project. So if you’re looking for models,
that’s one place to look. The SNCC Digital Gateway at
Duke University is another place to look.>>Judy Richardson: I have
fliers for those who want them.>>Guha Shenkar: And so
if you’re taking cards, you might as well take a copy of Josh Clark Davis’s
book with you. It’s right out there
in the lobby. It’s actually in the
gift shop now, sorry. So that’s quite all right. [ Inaudible ] And I’m going to bring it to a
close because I have the card which says two minutes and I’ve
just given myself 30 seconds to say — [ Laughter ]>>Jennifer Lawson:
Thank you, Guha.>>Judy Richardson: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Guha Shenkar: It’s our
privilege here at the Library of Congress American
Folklife Center to have hosted this panel. So thank all of you, and
thank all of you for coming. We’ll see you the
next time around.>>Judy Richardson:
Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *