The actor, activist and co-producer of the documentary The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 discusses the impact of violence and non-violence on the African American struggle.
Actor-producer-activist Danny Glover
Tavis: Always pleased to welcome Danny Glover to this program. He serves as one of the producers of an acclaimed new documentary about the Black Power movement. It’s called “The Black Power Mixtape, 1967 to 1975.” The film made its debut in New York earlier this month and opens here in L.A. this Friday. Here now, a scene from “The Black Power Mixtape.”
Tavis: You and I were just talking while that clip was playing about the first time you met Stokely when you were a student at San Francisco State?
Danny Glover: San Francisco State, yeah.
Tavis: What do you recall about meeting him?
Glover: I’m sorry?
Tavis: What do you recall about meeting him?
Glover: Well, certainly I knew who – all of us knew who Stokely if you were a kid growing up in the civil rights, during that period of time. But I just recall just the sense of self-confidence, him, Rap Brown, Ralph Featherstone. I remember those three, meeting them at the same time. Of course, members of the Black student union had come back to San Francisco and settled in San Francisco and went back to school in San Francisco, members of the SNCC, SNCC (unintelligible) Black students, SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Some of them arranged this meeting with a lot of us young students, 20, 21 years old, and these were guys who were seasoned organizers who’d been there in the most horrific kind of violence in the South, and they’re experiencing terrorism and everything at that particular point in time just simply organizing people to vote in Mississippi and in Alabama and all over the South.
Tavis: There are so many things that struck me about the film. Let me just start by saying, and not because Danny Glover’s a friend of mine, but this is the best piece of work, the best piece of documentary work I have seen in a very, very, very long time, and I see a lot of stuff, and I don’t say it that often.
I should tell you, and I’m not saying this to name-drop, I’m just trying to tell you the impact it had, I was in New York a week or so ago and I was having lunch with my friend Cornel West and our good friend Wynton Marsalis. Three of us finished having lunch, walking down the street, and we bump into, literally, the great opera diva Kathleen Battle.
So it’s Wynton Marsalis, Cornel West, Kathleen Battle and me standing on the street corner, talking. So a crowd gathers and we start talking, taking pictures and whatever.
Then I looked up across the street and I saw the Lowe’s movie theater, and I had the movie on my list to go see anyway before you came on the show. So I said, “Why don’t we go see this movie?” And Wynton Marsalis’s young son was there. So we all walked across the street and went to see the movie. (Laughter) We bought some popcorn, walked in and saw this movie.
I came out of that thing levitating. It was the most uplifting, the most inspiring, the most educational thing I’ve seen, again, in a very long time, and I was sitting next to Wynton’s son in the movie theater. So he’s a teenager, and his eyes, Danny, were just wide open, watching and learning and taking all this in.
I wanted to say to you that I thought I loved, I thought I respected Stokely Carmichael until I saw this project. My esteem for Stokely is off the charts now.
Glover: Yeah, oh, yeah.
Tavis: And what killed me was he was so young.
Glover: They were kids.
Tavis: They were kids, early twenties.
Glover: That’s how Wynton’s son was able to relate to this. These were young people. Remember, these guys, when they went to the South they were 18, 17, 18, 19 years old when they went south and became involved.
Very interesting, because when people talk about the movie and you mention the Black Power movement, you talk about the movement from the sense of the publicity around the violence around it.
But when you think of it as a reimagining of the process of democracy, then you have it from a better vantage point. What the Black Panther Party was talking about, what Stokely was talking about, the issues around healthcare, free clinics, school, education. Freedom Summer, that’s about education.
Tavis: The free lunch program.
Glover: Free lunch programs. The whole idea is the idea of community control of police. That’s self-defense. Simply self-defense. There was a whole wave in the ’70s, early mid-’70s where citizens were getting together, trying to have some sort of form in which they can address the police violence that’s happening in the community.
Remember this, we’re talking about 1967 – 1965, Watts, urban, 1967, Detroit, 1967, Newark, all this (unintelligible). The civil rights movement that these guys were involved in was in the South. Now the northern cities began to explode and explode for righteous reasons, because those opportunities, those laws passed and everything else, they didn’t really manifest themselves in changing people’s lives in the northern cities.
Tavis: Speaking of these northern cities and all the way out to California, Stokely was moving and powerful, but I was riveted when I sat back and I watched that interview with Angela Davis while she was on trial.
Glover: While she was on trial. Yeah.
Tavis: It’s an interviewer’s dream. He was talking – and Angela opened up.
Glover: She opened up. You talk about violence.
Tavis: Yeah, you’re going to ask me about violence?
Glover: – me about violence? You know what I’m saying?
Tavis: And she goes into her whole back story about growing up in Birmingham and seeing what – it was – that Angela Davis moment was a powerful moment.
Glover: It’s one of the most powerful. It’s a reconfiguration, a recalculus, now, of the movement itself, and the whole history of the African American struggle. The African American struggle is a struggle that immersed in violence against African Americans.
One of the interesting – I was in Mississippi, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, just a couple months ago for –
Tavis: Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney.
Glover: Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Glover: One of the guides, a park guide, now, takes me to the site and he tells me what happens, that these guys, where they were shot. It seems that when they uncovered the body of Goodman he had exactly escaped and they shot him in the back and dragged him back. You see where they buried him basically alive.
But what struck me, Tavis, was that when they dredged the streams and the rivers they found 39 bodies of Black men. That’s the story. That’s the other story –
Tavis: That doesn’t get told.
Glover: – that’s the other side. That’s the story that doesn’t get shown in the headlines.
Tavis: Right, right.
Glover: That’s the stuff that’s lost in the whole calculus of the systemic violence that Black people reeked with, that was reeked in the Black community at this time. So those are the kind of things that in a sense if you understand what is happening in Oakland when Bobby Seale and Huey Newton and all the others come together and form the Black Panther Party, it’s about really – it’s just as powerful, I believe, in the sense – and I (unintelligible) equate this – just as powerful as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Powerful in the sense that anything, if we understand anything about the contradictions, the contradictions and finding some way of understanding the contradictions that you live in and dialectically approaching an analysis of that and some addressing those contradictions, the contradictions in Montgomery brought people to another level, and they raised it. The contradictions in urban areas brought people to another consciousness.
But it was most dangerous, because it’s right after that there was King, who in 1967, remember, talked about “Beyond Vietnam,” talked about a moral revolution, talked about violence, militarism, racism and materialism, talked about all those things and got attacked viciously when he talked about those issues right there.
That was the – what he felt, as you read in his latest book, where do we go from here? Community of chaos. You look at his last book and you understand where he saw, how he saw, the evolution, what is happening here.
Tavis: To your point about that King speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” of course, as you know, given at Riverside Church – this is just to add some more irony to this about why this thing blew me away. So we go see this movie a week or so ago on a Saturday. The night before, I had been with Dr. West inside of Riverside for the 40th anniversary program celebrating the uprising in Attica.
Glover: That’s right.
Tavis: Attica is in the film.
Tavis: What these brothers were fighting for during that same era.
Tavis: For respect and for dignity and for – so I’m in the movie theater, like, we were just at a program last night celebrating the 40th anniversary of Attica, and here’s Attica in this film as well, and these Swedish journalists did a great job of documenting all this footage.
Glover: They found the material because Sweden was pretty neutral and receptive in some sort, at least in some ways to what is happening. (Unintelligible) more about understanding what was happening as opposed to demonizing it and criminalizing it. As it was, there was a tendency to criminalize this righteous uprising.
So they came and they talked to people. They talked to people when they came over to Europe, and remember, as you saw there was a moment where Dr. King and Harry Belafonte are with the Swedish king.
Tavis: That’s right.
Glover: With the Swedish king, raising money. It was King who had brought – it was Harry who’d brought King to Europe, saying, “We could raise money for the movement here.” The king of Sweden was very generous in raising money and everything else, and the spirit of what was happening there from a Swedish standpoint was a step extraordinary.
So you take this kind of understanding of the movement so you get another picture of what is happening in the movement. This was in the archives, in the archives. It’d been shown one time. Some of this had been shown one time on television in Sweden.
Tavis: I got just a minute to go, and I could do this for hours because I love this project so much. This stuff had been buried in a basement for years.
Glover: It’d been buried in a basement.
Tavis: How did it get to you? How did you end up being a producer?
Glover: Well, what happened was that they came to us. Goran Olsson, the director, came to us and approached us with it at a moment – Joslyn – I can’t give enough to Joslyn Barnes, my co-producer/partner.
Tavis: Your partner, yeah, yeah.
Glover: Joslyn said, “Danny, you’ve got to see this stuff.” So I saw this stuff and met Goran in Sweden in June of 2009. I was shooting a movie, a Swedish movie there. So we sat down for hours and talked about this material, and the first thing I said, “You’ve got to put this in some sort of context, because you’re talking about my life, my maturation as a young man.”
That’s the movement itself, as a student of San Francisco State and involved in a strike at San Francisco State that lasted five months, resulting in an ethnic studies program. And the influence that voices like Stokely and voices like Angela and voices like the Black Panthers actually had on us.
Look here, I worked in a breakfast for children program at Sacred Heart Church in San Francisco, on Fillmore there. So all these things were important as we talked about how we contextualize the film.
Tavis: Whatever – speaking of contextualizing the film – whatever it is that you have ever thought about the Black Power movement, throw it all out of your head. Throw it all out and go see this project. You have to see this. It will fundamentally, as Danny said, I think change your mind about what role they were attempting to play with regard to democracy in America.
Nothing less than that. I highly, highly recommend it.
Glover: Thank you.
Tavis: Danny’s done a lot of good work over the years, and I must tell you that of all the good work you’ve done I can’t imagine, I can’t even find a language to thank you for bringing this to our attention. So thank you, Danny.
Glover: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Tavis: I appreciate you, man.
Glover: All right, brother, thank you.
Tavis: “The Black Power Mixtape.” You’ve got to go check it out.
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