About Jamil Al-Amin
with Wendell Paris
Heather Gray - Interviewer
'Just Peace' - WRFG-Atlanta (89.3 FM)
July 1, 2018
Jamil Al-Amin was
'Advancing participatory democracy
and protecting/empowering the people'
Heather Gray: My name is Heather Gray and the program is Just Peace. As many of you know, who listen to my program on a consistent basis, I've been covering the Al-Amin case quite a bit and we'll be continuing with that. We don't know how long this process will be going on but as many of you probably know the jury is being selected for Al-Amin and we expect the trial to begin sometime in February.
Tonight I'm going to be talking with Wendell Paris from Mississippi who spent quite a bit of time with Al-Amin in his early organizing work in Alabama.
It's a pleasure to have you on my program again, Wendell.
Wendell Paris: Well, thank you so much for allowing me to come on.
Heather: I need to tell my listeners out there - this is the 'great' Wendell Paris. He's been an activist in so many areas. And Wendell, I don't know all of your history, but I know some of it, and you were the first director at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund's Training Center in Alabama in the early 1970s and prior to that you were doing a lot of organizing work in Alabama when you spent quite a bit of time with Al-Amin and we're going to talk about that, of course. Then you went on to become the field director of the NAACP in Mississippi.
You just have a long incredible history of working for justice and so I compliment you for that.
Wendell: Oh well, no thanks is necessary. I don't know where you got all this greatness.
I've been in the movement since the mid-1960s largely because of the work that brother Jamil Al-Amin and I were involved with early on while students with the
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
When in the 1960s ?
Jamil - or at that time - H. Rap Brown - was involved probably back in '61 or '62 or soon after SNCC was organized. But I really came on in the latter part of 1964 and the early parts of '65 and that's where I met him on the 'Selma to Montgomery March' when we were trying to get voting rights for Black folks, not only in the Alabama Black Belt, but across the country.
Wendell: I wasn't there at Bloody Sunday. We had been there and had gone back and doing some other organizing, but a lot of my 'ace boon coons' were there.
So, I wasn't there for Bloody Sunday but I was there prior to Bloody Sunday and was with the (
1965 Selma to Montgomery
) march as it came into Montgomery.
Heather: What kind of work were you all doing?
Wendell: We were doing some revolutionary stuff. We were saying to folks that they ought to get registered to vote.
I say that's revolutionary because that's how the white community, the community of folks in power, kind of viewed what we were doing.
All we thought we were doing was asking folks to participate in a democracy.
The United States government says it wants people to participate and that it is a participatory democracy.
But here we were in a lot of instances in the county where we were involved in the Alabama Black Belt, and in the Mississippi Delta and across the south, SNCC had identified these areas that someone later called 'pockets of power'. But we saw them as areas where if you're in politics and have a large area of people in the area then you ought to be involved in making constructive change.
We took it to another point later, that if you are in the majority, then you need to control.
And I think that's where that type of thinking really got Jamil Al-Amin in trouble with the government.
He was assigned first by SNCC to Greene County in Alabama, and Greene County at that time probably had about a 84% Black population. And probably had less than 20 people registered to vote. So when Al-Amin asked folks to get ready to vote and to start participating in the process, it was not only to get registered to vote... but to control your own resources, your own community...to be frugal in your spending...to be not so concerned about consumerism...but to be productive...be a part of the productive economy of the local area. And that's where we ran into a lot of trouble with the local powers that be.
Heather: And you're talking right now primarily about Greene County?
Wendell: Well, we're talking about the whole Alabama Black Belt. See, basically what had happened...you understand that the movement had made some progressive changes along the way.
In Mississippi in 1963 and '64 you had the
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
. And that is the Party that challenged the seating of the regular Democratic delegation, which was an all white, all male delegation that participated in the Democratic National Convention in 1964. They were challenged in Mississippi.
The challenging agent was the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was comprised of an unholy alliance of students, sharecroppers, small farmers, college professors, and Black domestic workers. You just had a cross section of all types of people that made up the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
And clearly some of the followers were of
Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer
...Mrs. Hamer was the one who really challenged Hubert Humphrey in 1964 to say that, "
Mr. Humphrey, you ought to be pushing to have all of Mississippians involved in this process".
And it really did change the political landscape of the whole United States because of that challenge in 1964. But that's a whole other story.
But I just want to say that following that challenge in 1964 in Mississippi that Al-Amin was very much involved in, we came into Alabama to begin to look at independent political processes that we could get involved in in Alabama.
And we did.
Heather: Yes, I did.
Wendell: And as folks were looking around to determine...every political party in Alabama had to have its own symbol.
And it would be interesting to note that the Democratic Party in Alabama to this day has used the donkey that I think you use there in Georgia, do you not?
Heather: Oh, yeah.
Wendell: You see (until 1966) the symbol for the Democratic Party in Alabama is the white rooster. And at the time we were there in 1965 the slogan was, 'White Supremacy for the right'. So everyone that was voting for the Democratic Party prior to 1967 in Alabama was voting under a white supremacy banner.
So we weren't about to accept that. Right?
So we set up our own organization.
One of the organizations that came forth in Lowndes County was the 'Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights' and when we set up the 'Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights' the people said, "
Well, what symbol will we use?"
And there happened to be some students there from the
Atlanta University complex
. And there was a school over there named
and they had a yearbook. And there was a symbol of this panther on this yearbook...the Clark College panthers. So folks say we can't draw any symbol, let's just trace this panther. So we traced that panther on there and then we started getting all of these threats.
What kind of threats? Well they were burning churches. They were threatening to kill any civil rights worker.
We'd go to Washington and pressed the United States Congress to pass a law that would protect civil rights workers in the South. But needless to say the United States Congress was not about to pass that.
So not only were they threatening to kill, but they actually started to kill people. You got to understand that this is what H. Rap Brown stepped in to.
Here was the State of Alabama...we used to say that George Wallace had given the State Troopers a license to kill Black people. Okay?
We know that is what happened with Jimmy Lee Jackson in Perry County who was the first Black person who was killed to kick off the 'Selma to Montgomery March'. It really didn't start in Selma - it started in Perry County or Perry County to Selma. That would have been the 'Marion, Alabama to Selma, Alabama March'.
And then in route, people would say, not only do we need to blame the State of Alabama but we also need to blame the United States government. Because Perry County had at that time a special law passed for voter registration for Black folks dating back to 1963. But they still couldn't get the local officers of the board to get people registered to vote. So here was all of this confusion...here was all of this activity taking place in these communities. And the only way the State of Alabama saw to stop Al-Amin and other leaders of the movement was to kill folk.
I'm talking about killing people. The federal government killed people, Heather. The FBI killed
Mrs. Violo Luizo
in Lowndes County where H. Rap Brown - or now Jamil Al-Amin - was located. He was there when
, a seminary student out of Massachusetts, was killed.
And what happened was...we were saying Black people were getting killed every week in Alabama. So since the federal government wouldn't protect us, we said well "
boom, it is necessary for us to protect ourselves". But at the same time that you register people to vote in a Lowndes County, or a Wilcox County, or a Greene County or other counties of Alabama - that are now all under Black democratic control, by the way - we would say to folk, "
Go and vote, and then you go home." In fact, the slogan in Lowndes County was, "
Vote under the Black Panther and go home."
who was heading up the National SNCC at that time had done this recruiting all over the country. And lo and behold some folks from California came to Lowndes County to help to defend people who were being shot because they were registering to vote.
And when these folks came and saw the level of organization that was taking place and was on-going in Lowndes County they went back to California and set up what later became the '
Black Panther Party'
. So it actually started in Lowndes County, Alabama. But it started as part of the 'Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights'.
But because the federal government wouldn't protect people, then H. Rap Brown said "
Well, we need to be prepared to protect ourselves and defend ourselves." And we thought we had a constitutional right to defend ourselves, especially from cowardly people like the Ku Klux Klan, and especially from the little boy dressed in blue that we called the Alabama State Trooper. So there was this on-going battle that started there.
Jamil Al-Amin started a press conference on the state capitol steps because you couldn't get a press conference in Lowndes County. And he said, in essence, "
Black people are being attacked in the State of Alabama, and as a result of that, we need to be able to defend ourselves." And he said, "
George Wallace is the one who is calling to put these people on attack and give them license to kill us." Jamil essentially said we need to protect ourselves from Wallace and all others who are wanting to and are killing us.
And when he said that George Wallace went crazy. He say,
"Hey, Hey...." Because George Wallace recognized that he wasn't going to be able to just kill us without having to feel some repercussions himself.
So we had those killings in 1965. And in 1966, the first SNCC staff member got killed in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Heather: Who was that?
His name was
Sammy L. Young, Jr.
He was as student at Tuskegee University, but he was also a SNCC staff member.
And that was why Julian Bond really lost his seat when he was first elected there at the Georgia Legislature. Julian had issued a statement to the effect that Sammy Young was a veteran, and he had fought down in that Bay of Pigs invasion thing down there in Cuba. And when he got out he came down and joined the movement.
And Julian was saying that
"here is the federal government asking Black people, or asking people to go to fight to give other people freedom that they really don't enjoy themselves."
Rap Brown put it this way, he said
"When you get back from fighting in Vietnam defending the Mother Country, you better come back to Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia and across the South and across this nation and defend your own mother."
Well, that kind of angered the United States government.
So that's kind of what it was, but here we were saying,
"we will not sit by and let folks pick us off like what happened to the three civil rights workers in Mississippi - I mean
Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner
So, H. Rap Brown, when he took over as chair of the Alabama movement said,
"listen, we're talking about really defending ourselves. That means we must prepare to defend ourselves".
In fact, the UAW (United Auto Workers) had sent down cars for us to use across the South.
And we had one of those cars in Lowndes County. So we had to retrofit that car. We took that 6-cylinder engine out and put a police interceptor in it. Because we had to be just as prepared as the enemy. Cause they were driving all over with these fast police interceptor cars. So our Lowndes County movement car was named 'May Lucy'. And May Lucy was terrible. She would run with anything you put out there on that highway. It was just that bad.
H. Rap Brown said he knew two speeds at the time - standing still and wide open. We weren't about to get killed - or to let a little State Trooper to shoot us like they had done to Mrs. Viola Luizo or the people in Mississippi that killed Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.
The word went out by H. Rap Brown
"Be prepared to defend yourself." I went and stole my daddy's shotgun.
Every time we would go to a meeting...We'd go into a church and H. Rap Brown would put his sawed off shotgun in one corner and I would put Long Tom in the other corner. And then we'd say,
"come on ya'll, let's pray." Cause it was just that serious. They were trying to kill us, Heather.
And when folks are trying to kill you, the law says, what? 'You kill or be killed'. We had to defend ourselves. We had every right, we thought, to defend ourselves. And that's what we were pushing across the South. Defend yourself.
That's why SNCC moved from being pacifist, or non-violent passive resistance, to a movement where we would be selectively non-violent depending on what the situation was. What the Black Power Movement said in essence was
, 'I will do the same thing to you that you are prepared to do to me." And what's wrong with that?
Are we supposed to sit around for 3 or 4 hundred years and let people kill us? No! That wasn't the thinking of SNCC at that time. And it wasn't the thinking of Jamil Al-Amin. And I think that's what brought him to the trouble that he's in today.
Heather: Wendell, how long did Al-Amin stay in Alabama? He ended up in New York.
Wendell: Okay, well, he stayed in Alabama from around 1965 until the last part of 1967 or early part of 1968. I can't remember exactly.
Heather: And during that time you were continuing to do organizing work and encouraging folks to register to vote. And other activities as well?
Wendell: Yeah, we were. We elected the first Black Sheriff since Reconstruction in Macon County, Alabama. We worked in those places where we could get Black people on the ballot. You see, in Lowndes County they refused to put Black people on the ballot. We couldn't even get on the Republican Party ticket.
Heather: I want to stop just a minute here and talk about Lowndes County because Lowndes County keeps cropping up from the work that was done in the 60s and just recently I've been talking to people with land problems in Lowndes County. What is it about Lowndes County, Alabama?
Wendell: It is no different than other counties around it in terms of the treatment of the Black/white relations. They are virtually the same. The difference in Lowndes County and the other counties of the Alabama Black Belt, and in most counties where Black people have some modicum of political control, is the willingness of the people to stand and fight back. There were a number of Black people being killed in the area at the time. But only in those areas where you had a political reaction to the deaths did it make a difference and it was where people really stood up.
One of the reasons that Selma was so slow to come around - Selma being Dallas County... you know they (Blacks) just took over Selma last year...but one of the reasons was that there was never a political reaction to the deaths that occurred in Selma. See, when in Greene County you had a political reaction - they elected Black folks to office. When Sammy Young was killed in Macon County - there was a political reaction. They elected Black folks to the office of Sheriff. In Greene County they elected Black folks to the office of County Commission or Board of Supervisors - the government body of the County.
So in those communities where you have a political reaction to the death that had occurred or to the killings that were taking place, that's what made them unique.
Not that those killings were not taking place in Montgomery County next door, which is still one of the most segregated counties of the South. As I've already mentioned about Selma, folks were being mistreated there, too. But you did not have the same kind of reaction that you had, say, from Lowndes.
Heather: I think one of the things you are referring to is that, in the movement, there was such a struggle where you all were working for justice for folks and providing opportunities for people to practice their democratic rights; and that because of this there was considerable reaction from the powers that be in the South; and so many people were getting killed, that you and Al-Amin and others were saying,
"we have to be able to protect our people." And what you were saying is that it was likely this attitude that got him into trouble with the US authorities.
Wendell: Exactly. Now here again you are not expecting the line that's coming from the United States government. You are saying,
'we will defend our own selves, since you won't defend us'. And any time you start talking about defending yourself then you really make yourself more vulnerable, I mean, all the ire from the US government comes down on you.
You understand that we were placed on what was called the HUAC committee - we underwent a HUAC investigation.
Heather: That's the 'House on Un-American Activities'?
Wendell: We were placed on the HUAC committee because we had registered people to vote. That's all we were doing. Just registering people to vote. That's un-American?
Heather: Wendell, I just want to step back here and place it in some other kind of context because, you all were not engaged in armed struggle you were just protecting yourselves.
Wendell: We weren't engaged in armed struggle at all. Carmichael said it best,
"If you take a shot at me, you won't miss anything but the powder because you're going to get the lead right back".
Well, you know it's interesting that in the Southern Africa context, just a few years prior to your 1960s Alabama organizing, that the
African National Congress
changed its strategy. it was in 1960 that the
took place. This is when the South African authorities killed 69 anti-pass law protestors including women and children. It was at that time that the
African National Congress
'we will no longer let our women and children be slaughtered by South African security like this anymore".
So that's when they changed their strategy and began their armed struggle.But again you were not engaged in armed struggle but in a profound effort to protect the people.
Wendell: We started out just like they did - non-violent. We started out saying,
'look we're trying to bring the conscience of the nation to the point where the nation would deal with it'. But then we realized that in a lot of instances that was just a clear waste of time. We would never be able to change the consciousness of the nation. You understand, when you're dealing with a war-monger nation, the only language that they respect is when you will do the same thing to folks that they will do to you - unfortunately, Heather. But that is what we had to deal with. That's how we had to live.
I mean we rode the streets every day prepared to have somebody shoot at us and then we had to shoot back. You know the night of the elections in Lowndes County, when we were saying to people,
'vote under the Black Panther and go home'. They were shooting at people that night.
We had gone down the street in Fort Deposit, Alabama, and we were parked there waiting on three old ladies to come from a poll checking there. And it got dark and here we were out there with two car loads of us waiting on three ladies to come out ...and the white people started gathering, calling their wives and stuff, telling them to bring them their guns.
They were jumping up and down just like they were children.
'Here comes my wife, I got my gun.' 'I got my gun.' One boy put his foot on top of our car and screwed his billy club together.
And then about five minutes later a little girl ran down the street and said
'ya'll come down her quick, they're down here beating my Dad.' So C.J. Jones of the SNCC staff took out and ran down the street. We backed the car out and I wish you could have heard the shots and the bricks and the bottles and everything that they were shooting at that car.
And we said, '
We had to pick up Mr. Jones. And take a diversionary way and get out of there. When we gathered back at the headquarters, Rap Brown said, '
We've got to back and check and see what the deal is. Who's goin' with me?
" So he called on
- Featherstone got killed when they were trying to kill Rap in Maryland - and he called on the local leader of the Lowndes County movement,
. He said,
'I want Featherstone, Bob Mants'
and he was looking around and I said to him,
"Rap, let me go.'
And he said '
Okay Wendy, come on."
'Listen, I want ya'll to know right now before you get in this car, I'm not driving up and down the road at no 90 and 100 miles an hour. I don't drive but 45 miles an hour. And if somebody stops us and we're law biding, they better get ready to shoot because we're going to shoot right back'.
And I'm standing there shaking like a leaf on a tree and Rap said,
"Get in and let's go." So, that's what we did. Cause he had come to the point where he didn't have that fear.
Clearly he was still cautious, now. But he didn't have that fear of authority like that has poisoned so many people down through the ages. That's the other thing that the government knew about him. He didn't fear them. He knew that he was superior to them in his thinking.
You know how he got the name "Rap" right? That comes all the way back to the griot on Africa, where he could stand there and give the history of a community from the first person that was born in that tribe, or that community, all the way to the last person born. I don't care if it was 2 or 3 hundred generations or a thousand generations, a griot could tell you everybody who was born.
You remember from "Roots" how Haley went back over there and found a griot and found the name Kunta Kinte? Well, the same thing. Rap Brown has that as a part of him. God has given him a superior intellect. In fact, that's how he would organize the people. He had the gift not only to communicate to those in upper echelons of society, in the educational community, among the political bigwigs in this country, but he could communicate with the people at the local level - which is why he's seen as such a threat to the United States government.
We were in Newark for the Black Power convention. And they were saying
'Rap Brown is coming and he's going to cause this riot.' That's not what happened. The police killed some people to start the riot. That's what happened. Okay. And that was happening all around the country. So the same thing was happening in Maryland.
So Rap Brown had been charged in Maryland in violation of the
Rap Brown Act
. Cause now by this time, he had moved to be the chair of SNCC. And he said,
'Well, I need to prepare myself or protect myself wherever I go".
So he got on an airplane with that riot gun that he carried. So they made a law that you couldn't carry a gun across state lines. I don't know what foolishness it was but anyway they said that he violated the law by putting the gun on the airplane with him, so they were going to arrest him in Maryland for that.
And the day before he went to trial was the night when the police officials placed the bombs (in 1970) in the car to kill
Featherstone and Che Payne
but they missed H. Rap Brown. Featherstone and Che Payne were killed. Featherstone was a Kappa - he came out of the Howard University movement.
These were just regular people, Heather. The picture that was painted of us was as raving radicals. We weren't the raving radicals but we were doing what we had to do to protect our people.
So then when they found out that the FBI and the Maryland State Police were trying to kill him, he (Rap) went underground. And he stayed here for two or three years - I can't remember how long.
But during that interim, what happened was that we saw this serious infiltration of these provocateurs into the movement at that time to really destroy it. And the weapon that they were introducing was the thing called "dope". So when they started introducing the dope into the community, then H. Rap Brown said,
' I will come out from hiding and we're going to challenge these folks that are putting dope in our communities - head on'.
Now that's the reason he went to New York. He went to this dope house in New York, and said to them
'I have evidence that you are selling dope in our communities. This dope is killing people. You must stop. If you don't stop what you're doing in a week, then I'm coming back and close this place down.'
And he was serious, and they knew it.
But Heather, guess who met him when he came back to close the place down. Guess who was there waiting on him - the Police. And the police shot him. They tried to kill him. If they had shot him an inch higher, it would have killed him. He was shot one time in the leg and one time in the stomach. But it didn't kill him. He got over that. And then he went into prison.
And when they put him in prison, they found out they didn't know what to do with him. Cause this brother was organizing in the prison. The same thing right there in Georgia right now. They don't know what floor to put him on. Cause they don't know if they leave him on a floor a week or two, he's going to organize the prison.
Heather: What I'm hearing is that when people spend time with Jamil it is profound - his influence is having a profound and positive effect on people.
Wendell: It can't help but happen because that's his gift from God. He said to me one time - he said,
'Wendy, why don't you become a member of the Islamic community. You ought to come and be a part of our mosque.'
'Man, you know, I'm a Christian. And I'm going to be a Christian.'
He said to me,
'You and the Ku Klux Klan - all of you are Christians." That's a profound statement.
Here you are saying that you're a Christian and knowing that the Ku Klux Klan is an outgrowth of the Christian church. And that the Christian church has condoned the actions of the Ku Klux Klan and condoned the organization ever since its beginning.
In fact, so he is saying, and he had the gumption to say, '
I'm not going to be a part of that." So what happens is he is not a person that straddles the fence - he's not a fence straddler. He said
'I'll drop the hatchet and who ever is on the wrong side get cut off". Just that simple. That's the kind of person he is. He did not play. What I mean is he'll laugh and joke but he does not play.
That's what makes him such a dangerous person in the eyes of the people around him. I mean, me and him we get down just we always did. He'll come to Alabama and coon hunt or deer hunt - go and play basketball - the same type of stuff.
People wanted to say that when he got in prison he wasn't that same 'ole person. That's not the truth.
He cut back on all those people he didn't think were serious anymore.
So that's where we were with that. That he had gone to New York because he dared the dope pushers - I guess Dick Gregory put it best. At the Black Power Convention in 1967 he said,
' I can go to any community in America and an hour after I hit the street, I can buy dope in that community. I don't care what community it is. Or what city it is. Any place in the country you want to buy some dope, you can go buy some dope. It's the police's job to police these streets 24/7. If I can come to a community in one hour and figure out who's selling the dope, don't you know the people who are policing the community 24/7 know who's selling the dope? Or are involved in who's selling the dope?
And that's what Rap is saying here. We know that this is part of a federal conspiracy - this is a part of the government of the United States to allow all this dope to come into our communities. And especially to invade those folks who are involved in the civil rights community.
Cause what they did, they came at our little brothers and sisters. They came at the folks who were going to follow us into the movement and got them involved in dope. They were either out there selling dope or they were out there using dope - they will never get their head back.
You know, Heather, my young brother right now suffers from that stuff because they put that dope in that community and he got in there and it messed up his mind and his mind will be messed up forever.
So Rap Brown said,
'Listen, we're going to stop this stuff. I'm going to lead the fight to stop dope in the Black community.'
And the same thing was happening over there in the West End (in Atlanta). He would not allow people to sell dope in his community. The police knew that. He was saying to the police, '
look, ya'll, let's work together. I'm out here working with you. I'm trying to do the same thing ya'll are trying to do. You say you are trying to stop dope from being sold in these communities. I'm going to stop dope from being sold in these communities in the West End. You don't have to worry about that. You can go and police somewhere else. Cause ain't no dope going to be sold over here.'
And so not only the people in the Islamic community were involved, they protected the whole community from dope over there.
Heather, I dare you in Atlanta there to look at the records of arrests that have been made for folks that were involved in selling dope in Atlanta and see where they occurred. I bet if you looked at the West End community where Jamil Al-Amin was located, you won't find too many arrests that were made during the time that he was there.
They might be coming in there now, but I guarantee that was not the case because he had said
"we're not going to have this bastardization of our community. We will not allow people to tear our community down".
Most of us are afraid to take that stand, especially with the United State government and especially with the police, but not Jamil Al-Amin. He's not afraid to take that stand. They had to stifle that. As long as he had stayed underground after that New York thing it would have been okay, but he chose not to stay underground.
And Heather, let your listening audience know. He did not rob a bank in New York. That is a lie. Go up there and check the record.
He went there to close that dope house down and that's when the police shot him in New York. That's the truth of the matter.
Heather: Just getting back to Atlanta and the work that Jamil and the Mosque have been doing in the West End - it has been quite profound - and I understand that there are some folks who say that just because of this great work they've been doing in the community that the dope dealers have not felt welcome there.
Wendell: We need to ask ourselves the question,
"Why would the police bother anybody who's stopping people from selling dope?" When you consider that 25% of the budget of Florida is tied to dope trafficking, it's some indication of how evasive this problem is and, more than that, you get an indication of who's in charge of that stuff.
Heather: Thank you so much Wendell.