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Oral History Interview with Nelson Johnson by William Chafe


Date: October 24, 1978

Interviewee: Nelson Johnson

Biographical abstract: Nelson Johnson (1943-), a longtime activist in Greensboro, was a student leader at A&T during the 1969 Dudley High School protest and a leader in the Communist Workers Party during the November 3, 1979 "Death to the Klan" rally at which five CWP members were killed. Johnson later became minister at Faith Community Church and helped initiate the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This October 24, 1978, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with Nelson Johnson primarily documents Johnson’s community activism with YES (Youth Educational Services), FCD (Foundation for Community Development), GUTS (Greensboro United Tutorial Services), and GAS (Grassroots Association of Students), GAPP (Greensboro Association of Poor People) while at North Carolina A&T in the late sixties.

Johnson discusses his early influences and civil rights activity; attending NC A&T; his various roles in and later dissatisfaction with YES; challenging George Dorsett and the Ku Klux Klan; the relationship between YES and FCD; meeting with Howard Fuller; Anne Graves Kornegay’s influence; becoming involved with GUTS and GAS; organizing at Bennett College; forming a multiclass movement with GAPP; running for student body vice president; and the cafeteria workers' strike.

Johnson also describes the growing spirit of Black Power in Greensboro. Topics include A&T administrator’s efforts to remove activist students; criticism from community leaders like Hal Sieber; organizing a successful protest march in Greensboro following the Orangeburg Massacre; the militancy of the Black Liberation Front (BLF); Stokely Carmichael’s visit to A&T; supposed FBI/SBI informants and Black Panther infiltrators; and Harold "Nunding" Avent.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.654

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Civil Rights Greensboro and the appropriate repository.



Oral History Interview with Nelson Johnson by William Chafe

William Chafe:

I'm talking to Nelson Johnson who was very active in the Greensboro movement during the late sixties. When did you—you didn't grow up in Greensboro, did you?

Nelson Johnson:

No, I grew up in Halifax County.

WC:

Halifax. So when did you come to Greensboro?

NJ:

In the fall of '65. [I was] getting ready to go to school at A&T [now North Carolina A&T State University]. Do you want to turn this off?

WC:

Yeah, I was just thinking—

[Recording paused]

WC:

So you came in '65 and President [Lewis C.] Dowdy—Dowdy was president at that point right? I think.

NJ:

At A&T, yeah. I think he came in '63 or sometime in there.

WC:

Right. So had you been active in the movement before that in Halifax as a high school student?

NJ:

Minimally, just a few things. I tried to ride the front seat of the bus when I was going to a student council convention in Gastonia [North Carolina]. I think I was fifteen or sixteen, and I got hit in the head. But there hadn't been that much of a movement in Halifax County. A couple of us went to a drug store to sit down to try to get served, and we got a little scared before they came around so we left, so no confrontation ever really occurred. So there hadn't been that much involvement in the movement.

WC:

Is Halifax—Halifax is where Warrenton is, or is that Warren County?

NJ:

It's adjacent to Warren County. They connect each other.

WC:

Right. It was pretty tough in terms of its racial politics, wasn't it?

NJ:

Oh, yes. Halifax County, that whole region of eastern North Carolina, is a very, very racist orientation in that section of the state. And I guess it has to be characterized as more blatant, more open—

WC:

Yeah, yeah, than around here.

NJ:

—as compared to relative sophistication as you move west.

WC:

Yeah, yeah. So at what point—and I'm not totally sure on my chronology here, but you get involved in both the Youth Educational Services and the GUTS program, Greensboro United Tutorial Services. Is that—which comes first? I—

NJ:

Well, it was the Youth Educational Services, and I wasn't particularly trying to get involved in the movement. I wasn't exactly clear what YES was. That's what it was called. I did have some interest in, you know, trying to—I guess I had gone along with the thinking in the society that you try to do good and you try to uphold principles and stuff like that.

And it was the period I spent in the air force, I think, that a lot of questions about basic assumptions about the society began to come up. I know I had argued very hard when I was in Europe with this kind of group of African Americans for Dr. [Martin Luther] King's position or line, and I really found myself unable to defend it. It was the period that Malcolm X got shot, and there was a lot of discussion among us about it. And I wasn't—I liked Malcolm X, but King was kind of the person that I was more leaning toward. And as we talked about it, it really got be clear that the methodology, you know, or philosophy of turning the other cheek and trying to convince the enemy through moral persuasion that he needed to change didn't really accord to what he was about. He was about doing something else. So that really began to raise questions, you know, about religion, about different things.

So when I came out of the air force I was very up in the air. I was very unsettled about what was what and really didn't have the stronger sense of movement here. I had been out of the country for two and a half years, I think. And you know, came back, worked in Harlem for a summer, came to school at A&T, and just kind of walked into some activity, you know, picked up things from there.

WC:

What made you decide to come to A&T particularly, any special reason?

NJ:

That's the school that my family is hooked to, to an extent. Neither my father or mother completed college, but A&T used to be a high school, and my father left Warren County where he was born, where he couldn't go to high school, to come to high school at A&T. And so A&T was the only place they ever talked about.

WC:

Yeah. So you came here. Were there—and you were probably older than most students, right, since you had been in the army?

NJ:

Three or four years older.

WC:

Yeah. Were there teachers that were particularly important to you?

NJ:

Not really. I had a—in fact, no. [chuckles] I mean I really can't think of any teachers early on that propelled me in the direction that I was going. It was to a large degree in spite of a number of teachers. And a good deal of the movement at A&T grew up—

WC:

In opposition to teachers.

NJ:

—rebelling, in opposition to the teachers.

WC:

Yeah, yeah. I didn't know whether someone like [John Marshall] Stevenson [now Kilimanjaro] might have been a positive influence at some point.

NJ:

No, I came upon Stevenson a little later and once I was pretty active. I met him and got to know him in that context.

WC:

Now, was YES a program that had a community—it had a community base, right, rather than a university base, or did it? I'm—

NJ:

It was a combination. It drew on students to go to the community to tutor, and it wanted to build up community organizations. I got a little clearer later on on the competition between YES and the Foundation for Community Development [FCD] that Owusu [Sadaukai, also known as] Howard Fuller was beginning to take leadership in. So they were kind of like parallel attempts at that time.

WC:

Now what kind—you say you didn't see that competition at first.

NJ:

No, because I didn't really know what was going on in the state at all.

WC:

Yeah. Maybe we should wait until we come to the point where you do see the competition to talk about it, but it's something that I'd like to talk about more. So would you—you were basically organizing with YES and working with housing and school issues, is that—?

NJ:

Tutoring mainly for the summer. I was assigned to be in charge of recreation and sports for the tutoring staff, I think, of nine people, you know, in the city. And it was in the context of just generally going around tutoring. And really YES didn't have very much direction to it.

WC:

Who was running it?

NJ:

Mike [Lawler?]. He was a former student of UNC [University of North Carolina], former student government president there, but very—I would call him a very good bourgeois politician, very slick, smooth, you know. He was young and good looking, he made the women like him and stuff like that. He kind of operated that way, you know, and he ran the program.

WC:

Yeah. Did it have funding from OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity] or from the state or was it locally funded?

NJ:

It was funded primarily through the North Carolina Fund. You're probably familiar with that, their main source of the money being the Ford Foundation.

WC:

Yeah. What made you decide that that was not the place where you wanted to be?

NJ:

Well, that was—it wasn't so much that that wasn't the place I wanted to be. I—about mid-summer, you know, that program was kind of a combination of just trying to get some work done to make some money, which I wasn't doing. I was spending all I made because I hadn't really cultivated habits of saving anything. And increasingly, a lot of the children I worked with had asked for white tutors, which bothered me, frankly. And the whole question of like asking for white tutors was at a period at which the social consciousness of our own history as a nation, as a people, was rapidly on the rise. And it really became clear that what was going on, to a large degree, is that this kind of desire of the black kids to act like white people, you know, to imitate them, that type of thing. And it was a certain kind of social status that they attached to being with them. That was bothering me to a certain degree.

And secondly, this was developed in some degree by YES itself. The question of like why we had the tutor in the first place was linked to what the school wasn't doing or what the society wasn't doing. And, you know, a lot of—I know we used to use an example like, “How could a kid read if the lighting in his house is not proper? And how can a light get proper if his father isn't making enough money?” and on and on it went, into the social fabric of the society. So that's actually the path that I traveled, and the more you raise those questions, the more the hypocrisy of the society starts to come out.

WC:

So let me just see if I can pin down—this is happening in the summer. Is this the summer of '65 or the summer of '66? You come back—

NJ:

Sixty-six.

WC:

Sixty-six, okay. So there are a lot of things going on outside of Greensboro as well that are feeding into this kind of new consciousness.

NJ:

The atmosphere. SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] was leading the movement in the South. Stokely [Carmichael] had raised Black Power, so all of that was going on.

WC:

Yeah. So that—was this something—was this a kind of disaffection within YES that involved a lot of you in YES, or were you kind of—?

NJ:

Well, there wasn't a whole lot of black people in YES. And I don't know how this occurred, but there was some element of selection in terms of the kinds of people who ended up in YES. They tended to go along with the program, you know. So there was a small number of us who talked together, you know, a lot.

WC:

Who were some of the others? Who were some of those other—

NJ:

In the main—Rufus Newlin[?], who headed the project here. He was a native of High Point and went to school in West Virginia. He was much more bitter than I was, and was downright rude in terms of the way he carried on.

WC:

Is that N-e-w-l-a-n-d or?

NJ:

N-e-w-l-i-n.

WC:

-l-i-n, yeah.

NJ:

In fact, he was the main person in this city that I talked to. And another person that I had a lot of involvement with was [Reverend] Franklin Williams who was out of Durham, went to North Carolina Central [University].

WC:

And was it through Williams that you got directly involved with FCD, or was that another process?

NJ:

Well, Williams had more contact with FCD because he was from Durham and FCD was Durham based. We took on some work here that some of—that challenged the [Ku Klux] Klan, [George] Dorsett and his group, and it was basically because we were an integrated that they really hit out at us. And again I wasn't exactly clear what was going on. We—that interracial couple thing, you know, apparently bothered them a whole lot, so we had gone out to Apple Cellar to have dinner, and this Klan leader came in and sat down and turned beer over in my lap, you know. And later they got their whole Klan group and lined the streets and stuff like that.

So we came out, I think rather naively, which expressed too much confidence in the state at that point, you know, just kind of came right out in front of them and walked down the street, and there were policemen around and stuff like that. So that went on for a couple of days, and subsequently the owner of the place called the police to arrest the white males in the group.

WC:

In your group?

NJ:

Yeah. It was a rather sophisticated move at the time, and to leave the white women and the black males, you know, in there. So Rufus and I came out, you know. We felt it was our duty to do something, so we protested and sat on the hood of the police car and subsequently ourselves got arrested, you know, and that was very spontaneous. So it was activity like that that brought our work—and my name was used quite a bit, you know—into contact with the FCD people, with Howard Fuller in particular. You know, I later on—we later worked very closely together.

WC:

Right, but this is still the summer of '66 now?

NJ:

Summer of '66.

WC:

Was Jackson involved in the arrest? William, Captain Jackson?

NJ:

Oh, yeah, Jackson was—I don't know how involved he was in the arrest. I talked with Jackson. We went by to complain to the police—this is part of the illusion that I talked about—that we were being harassed, and Jackson was the person I talked to, Rufus and I. He didn't remember. I later reminded him. He remembered it then, under some different circumstances.

WC:

So this has all taken place at the end of your first year at A&T? Now, is the year after that—I know that the summer of '67 is the summer when you get most involved in the FCD organizing effort in the area. But is the year, like the academic year '66-'67, do you leave YES at that point? Are you still involved with YES during that year?

NJ:

I'm still involved with it as a student, you know, back at A&T. The whole idea of the YES program was for students to go back and to recruit more students and to set up tutorial programs and operate them, going out into the community. By the end of the summer I wanted to stay on with YES to work fulltime, but the director Mike Lawler, he wouldn't keep me.

WC:

Was he a white guy or a black guy?

NJ:

Yeah, he was white. It took me a long time to figure it out, because he wouldn't be forward with the—it was always he was checking and stuff like that. And it subsequently became clear that my social relationship, you know, with white women, which I think terminated, you know, philosophically terminated it about six months after that, in terms of having taken up Black Power. That was the main part of it, and the word had gotten out that I was just like a social—that's what I was in the thing for.

So like he wouldn't hire me, and so I went back to A&T. I had become interested in it, you know, really interested in trying to do the work, and I ran into the one teacher that probably influenced me early on—it's rather ironic because she's very conservative—Ms. Anne Graves [Kornegay], who is in charge of education over there. I used to come by and talk with her two or three times a week. I never took any classes under her. I just went by her office. And she was very co-opting, in the sense that she's a mother-type and she would just talk to you and stuff like that.

WC:

And didn't she head a tutorial program?

NJ:

She had the GUTS [Greensboro United Tutorial Service] program, and I became the student director of it under her, so I ran around and tried to get students involved in it. We used to have meetings, and with her assistance we were able to get a bus from Hayes-Taylor Y[MCA] to take the students to the community.

And she kind of pushed you out. I had forgotten about that. She made it possible for me to speak representing the group at little Y functions, you know, to explain the program to them. So I kind of got around the town, with her help initially, kind of explaining this program. Later a decision was made to combine the tutorial programs of the various colleges and universities in the city, and I became the head of that partly on the strength of the work at A&T, which to a large degree was her helping to push it up.

WC:

And did that keep the name GUTS, the acronym?

NJ:

Yeah, they kept the name GUTS. And she was very proud of it, because at that time the first black thing was in vogue, you know, to have a citywide thing, so she would put little articles in the paper and stuff like that, you know. And that's when—so for that whole year, that was the basic character, you know. The work was basically tutoring.

WC:

And were you still a full-time student or you were—

NJ:

Yes, fulltime.

WC:

—carrying both that job and being a full-time student?

NJ:

Right.

WC:

Yeah. At what point does FCD become a major presence in your life, in terms of its affects on your ideas and then your activities and your whole approach to organizing?

NJ:

It was the summer of '68 really. The summer of '67 I worked with Youth Educational Services in Fayetteville. And you know tactics were becoming more militant. We were more straightforward doing community organizing. We had hearings and stuff around struggling with the housing director to paint houses and to clean them up and stuff like that. Sarah somebody was head of the housing authority in Fayetteville at that time. We worked in Cross Creek Court.

So through that whole summer, FCD during that summer ran the first year of its intern program, and it had the most active-oriented approach. At that point the Youth Educational Services [and] FCD styles were being developed in the state, you know, parallel to each other. And I went to the FCD training meeting that summer, and there were—there was a white person with me and Frank. Frank Williams, who was with FCD, an older man, Afro-American, and a white student from UNC named Bob somebody—I've forgotten his name—went down to the FCD camp. And the orientation there, you know—like Black Power had really been digested, you know, consolidated, so there was a lot of criticism of why we were running around with this white boy talking about organizing the black community. And that just began to have an increasing effect, you know.

WC:

So you went to this—you went to this—was it camp?

NJ:

It was a training camp.

WC:

Training camp. Even while you were still with YES?

NJ:

Yeah. And I didn't go there for the whole week of training. We went there because there would be some people from FCD who may have been working in Fayetteville that we wanted to talk to, and Howard said it would be good to talk to them. But he wasn't there. Fuller wasn't there. And while Fuller was like very, very strong, he was also diplomatic like. So in his absence, the other people there who grasped—you know, they were more militant and less diplomatic, so they didn't know what we were there for.

WC:

Right. So you were seen as kind of encroaching, as a threat—

NJ:

Yeah.

WC:

—to their belief by coming in that.

NJ:

Yeah, and when I talked to Mike Lawler about this—who directed the program—that's when I was beginning to get some sense of knowing what was going on, because he was very slyly critical of Fuller. He wasn't out strong like, but he was saying the militant approach now is getting money, but he wasn't convinced that it was the best approach—that I could help build the program there, you know. It was almost like promising you could be a leader in this program, and it was like—it was really subtle competition.

WC:

So he had basically changed his attitudes toward you over the previous year when he had kind of opposed your working full-time.

NJ:

Oh, yeah, right. He had subsequently—he or somebody told me that—I mean the whole thing came out, you know, about women and all that. So when I went back to A&T, and without any association with white folk per se, we organized A&T independently to do the work. So then he started coming over to some of the meetings that we were having on campus, and he thought what we were doing was good, so he offered me a job the next summer, and so that's how that came about.

WC:

When he came over to A&T during that year, '67—'66-'67, I guess, would he have—would there already have been significant attention about a white guy coming onto A&T's campus going to those meetings?

NJ:

Not in those meetings because, you see, Ms. Graves, she had a certain amount of influence still in that setting. And she never went for Black Power, you know, all the way through the whole thing. In fact, we parted ways around that whole question.

WC:

Yeah, yeah. So in then, that—when you're working in Fayetteville, FCD has internships going all over the state, at that point, right? And does YES have internships of the same kind of thing all over the state or is there—or there is more-less diverse?

NJ:

They were all over the state, but it wasn't as broad as FCD, and they didn't have the caliber of organizers that FCD had. FCD had recruited, I think, some of the most committed and militant young students on the campuses. YES still had like, I think, well over 50 percent white. And just—it's clear now just a class outlook that a lot of those [had] could only take them so far. They couldn't absorb the radical views that were coming out of SNCC, so they were just being snapped up by FCD and by us as well, because we began to develop a kind of caucus. It never was that formalized inside of YES, but clearly, I mean, we became like the black people's side of YES, and we started going to meetings with FCD, you know, talking to Owusu and stuff like that. That's when, you know, he agreed that we should come and work with him.

WC:

Now is that happening at the end of the summer of '67, or is that happening already during '67-'68? I'm just trying to—in terms of Greensboro, I guess, one of the things that seems most noticeable about '67 is that the whole housing issue becomes—seems to be a major point around which YES is organizing in Greensboro, and the whole issue of—the whole Reverend Williams episode, the violence up there, the Klan, and then the demonstration surrounding that whole issue. Now I guess you were in Fayetteville during a lot of that probably, because that was—a lot of that was in the summer of '67, but—

NJ:

I was in and out of here, you know, but I wasn't planning any major role in organizing here; that was, you know, Alan [Toothaker?] who was a pretty dedicated white student from Guilford College who played the leading role in organizing a hearing here on public housing.

We had laid the basis for that that summer before when we built something called UNIT, United Neighborhood Improvement Team. And that whole year my relationship with the lady who was the leading force in that, Mrs. Mobley[?], was really groomed, because between her and Ms. Graves, I spent more time with them than I did anybody else; Graves on the campus, her in the community. So every time I would come up here, I would spend a lot of time with her in the group and stuff like that, so I was really clear on what was going on. Although the kind of research and technical work and stuff like that, Alan really played the leading role in pulling all that stuff together.

WC:

And his last name is?

NJ:

Toothaker.

WC:

Toothaker. How do you spell that?

NJ:

I think it's spelled just like it sounds.

WC:

Yeah, okay. So, in terms of the Human Relations Commissions here, has he organized all that kind of thing? And then you had—there were also hearings on the community, right?

NJ:

Right.

WC:

So there were two things going on together at that point.

NJ:

Right, right. I came to them and spoke. It was just a couple of minutes, and it got quoted. I can't remember what I said. It was kind of like—I tend to think the press had picked us up from the Apple Cellar thing and that little confrontation with the Klan more than anything else.

WC:

Right, yeah. So you come back. Are you still going to school in '67-'68?

NJ:

No, I take a year out of school.

WC:

Okay, that's the year you take out of school. Okay. And what are you doing during that year?

NJ:

Well, the title was—I was in charge of community organizations statewide for Youth Educational Services. What I'm doing, in fact, mostly, is we began to build a student movement in the state at that time called the Grassroots Association of Students [GAS], which is mainly the black people inside of Youth Educational Services and the interns in FCD, you know, began to put that together. And we'd hold various rallies and functions and stuff on the different campuses. So a large part of that year was spent doing that. So essentially I was doing a little community organizing, but it began to shift toward student work.

WC:

And it would be student work not just in Greensboro, not just at A&T or other schools in Greensboro, but—

NJ:

Around the state.

WC:

—around the state, yeah. Is there any point during this whole period that you see a shift happening in terms of either the readiness of students to respond or in terms of your own sense of something really starting to move? Have you ever thought about when things started to come together, or is it more like a flow, as you think back on it?

NJ:

It's more like a flow. There is one particular incident in there that—

[Phone rings—recording paused]

WC:

Although the whole thing was like a flow, there was one incident that—one thing that stood out in your mind?

NJ:

It was the Orangeburg massacre [killing of three students at South Carolina State University in 1968]. The date of the Orangeburg massacre I'm not exactly sure of. But anyway, a few days after that, a number of us who had actually been—that was working with the student group GAS had kind of forged a working relationship with each other. We came together over in Durham and Howard Fuller was there. It was a real—I mean there was just a real heavy feeling being up there about people just having come and shot students up like that. So we decided that we needed to do something, and we all agreed that we were going to go back on our campus and on the same day, you know, pull off basically a demonstration.

I came back here, and my network of people at A&T wasn't that strong because really I hadn't really gotten hooked up with the most [unclear] people because of the character of that program, but I mean we did a few things, and it just turned the whole campus on. We asked a funeral home director to give us a coffin to carry, and we went to the cemetery and took some flowers from some of the graves out there and we put them on the thing. We made an effigy of the governor—and this was about five of us—and just came to the student union and started asking people to go. And without any permit or anything like that, we just lined up and started walking. And actually literally thousands of people just fell into line, and they just started chanting. And when I looked back, I couldn't see the end of the line. I could hardly believe it. It was just like that going downtown. So that really—I didn't sum it up that sharply then. It was—it really reflected that the mood of action was really honest.

WC:

Now I'm trying to think whether that was before or after Dr. King's assassination?

NJ:

Oh, that was before.

WC:

That was before.

NJ:

Yeah, that was definitely before.

WC:

But it was after that summer, I think, that'd you'd been—

NJ:

Yeah.

WC:

—in Fayetteville, so it must have been—

NJ:

Yeah, I think it was in the fall.

WC:

Fall of '67, I think.

NJ:

Fall of '67, right, or the very, very early winter. It was in that period. It was preceding Dr. King.

WC:

So that kind of would have re-crystallized a kind of mass movement at A&T?

NJ:

Yeah, that was a massive activity. It was one of the biggest activities, and it was the most spontaneous. It just happened. It was a whole discussion then, you know. We came back on the campus, and what happened was we hung the governor in effigy and somebody threw gas on it and burned it up and it caught the tree on fire. So all the police started coming, fire cars started coming, and we had to leave the casket and stuff down there and run. So there were thousands of people really making their way back to the campus. So obviously the campus was abuzz when we got back of what was going on. And I later met Jackson again trying to get the coffin back; he was trying to find out who was leading it. But I think that was, in terms of how I see it, a key point in terms of crystallizing massive action back at the campus.

WC:

Now, isn't it true that also during this year on campus there was—the Black Liberation Front [BLF] was to some extent active?

NJ:

Yeah. There were several groups like the Black Liberation Front that sprang up and put out some stuff and held some meetings. A group called BOSS[?], you know, came about. And I remember the Black Liberation Front because I worked with them some, but it wasn't like in the leadership of it. The program was very eclectic, but the main thing about it was the militant.

WC:

I guess I've heard that it wasn't all that—it didn't have all that big a following. Would that be—?

NJ:

No, it didn't, because tactically, Herb Flamer[?] and those who were leading it tended to alienate other people. You know, at that point a whole kind of “blacker than thou” kind of thing was developing. And also there was not a particular program. There was not a particular thing around which people could come together, so people came together around frustration and hatred for what was going on. There was no way to give real expression to that in terms of what had to be done. So those kinds of—that invariably turns inward and becomes a smaller, more cliquish-oriented type of thing—which is not to say that those brothers weren't pushing out. It was just like an immaturity of the movement at a particular point in time.

WC:

So those groups might have joined you in that demonstration about the Orangeburg massacre but would not have, on an ongoing basis, been part of your activities. Would that be fair to say?

NJ:

Well, I'm sure they joined us in the Orangeburg activity because I don't think very many people were left, and nobody knew who was organizing the Orangeburg thing because I was nobody. I was just somebody. I wasn't even helping carrying the casket. I had helped pull it all together and thought of that particular tactic, but it wasn't like anybody knew me. The one thing that I remember the Black Liberation Front started to do—and this was like the preceding year—was to take up the protest against the presence of the ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] on campus, which I joined. I was also like with GUTS then, and I got criticism from Ms. Graves and people like that, which began to really raise questions.

WC:

And I guess I also heard that the administration took steps to get rid of most of those people, the Black Liberation Front people, after—well, by the fall of '68 after, the demonstra[tion]—after the King assassination and the—I don't know, I guess—I guess I don't really know what happens, but what I heard was that there was a lot of concern about some of the tactics of the Black Liberation Front, and some of those leaders were sort of moved out of the university one way or another by the administration, so that the BLF was not as strong the next year as it had been the year of Dr. King's assassination. Does that seem to ring true to you or is that—?

NJ:

It probably is true. I know that they constantly were trying to get rid of people, and a lot of times they were able to use the academic thing. That's the main way to do it, because people would just get angry and upset with the whole damn thing, and studying just couldn't be a real high priority. So that begins to be a weak area and they punch it or come in through there. And also the question of tactics again was not that mature, so they could catch you up on different kinds of, you know, breaking school rules and policies and stuff like that and make a whole lot to do of it.

Probably more of that was happening than I was aware of at that point in time. Like one of the things I think I brought to the thing was a stronger tactical orientation, in terms of trying to figure out how to get the stuff done in such a way that we could neutralize those forces—we were kind of die-hards against it—and bring the people who were on the fence over our way. That way we were able to like put the administration in a position where they couldn't just do their pleasure in terms of throwing people out of school and stuff like that. So then we could take initiative on pushing out militant action. So that was beginning to occur. I know that the assassination of King, some of that was beginning to occur. I was not at A&T at that time.

WC:

Right, but you were active. I mean, you did make one of the commemoration addresses—

NJ:

Oh, yeah. We organized—

WC:

—on the march.

NJ:

—a group from Bennett. I used to—our office was right close to Bennett, and we then marched that group through A&T where we had like a few people from A&T and we went downtown.

WC:

And you had practically the entire Bennett student body right?

NJ:

Yeah, we did, right.

WC:

And then picked up additional recruits from A&T as you went downtown.

NJ:

Right.

WC:

But of course at that point, the academic year is almost over also. I mean—well, I guess it's not. Those years—

NJ:

Yeah, were a little longer.

WC:

Little longer.

NJ:

That was April 4.

WC:

So the academic year wouldn't have been over probably until the end of May. Was there a lot of organizing that went on on campus after that or was it mostly the next fall that things got really started?

NJ:

There was a lot of spontaneous activity going on. The next fall is clear to me because I reenrolled as a student. I went back. And I had brought—I had accumulated a good deal of experience and sitting down and talking through scrimmages that people were carrying on in different parts of the state, out in eastern North Carolina, the Fayetteville stuff. We had done quite a few things in the community, you know, here in Greensboro ourselves. So when I came back to school, I had pretty good ties in the community and not so good ties on campus, which later developed, you know, over there.

WC:

When does GAPP [Greensboro Association of Poor People] start? Doesn't GAPP start that summer?

NJ:

GAPP starts in the summer of '68, so when I go back to school in the fall of '68 we actually have a very viable, fighting community organization. It has a combination of poor, you know, and the most oppressed blacks, Afro-Americans, and a large number of militant students who identified with it, so that was kind of the combination that really made it possible for us like to hold something like redevelopment periods and bring both community and students.

WC:

Right and this was kind of the dream, the idea, wasn't it, to weld a kind of an alliance of the campus and community?

NJ:

Yeah, and it was happening more spontaneous and then it made a lot of sense. And we really consciously went at it, particularly in the spring of '69, but we worked on it that whole year. We tried to put together a coalition of Bennett, A&T, Dudley [High School] and the community base to go against the city.

WC:

And the community base was not just a class base, or was it? I mean, I guess one of the senses I've gotten—

NJ:

It was a multi-class movement. The most steady force in it was clearly working-class elements. But one of the things that I think that we—

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

NJ:

—were able to like pull the petty-bourgeois elements, in particular the people who work in the American Federal [Savings & Loan] bank.

WC:

Right, B. J. Battle and—

NJ:

—Mr. [A. S.] Webb.

WC:

—Webb, yeah.

NJ:

—who had very genuine sentiments. And there were several ministers and, you know, people of that type. And we had worked with Mr. Battle in particular, you know, on voter registration, trying to get [Henry] Frye elected and stuff like that. And it was just clear and simple a natural movement where the oppression of all of the classes had taken place, and we were responding to that, kind of instinctively. But it was always different from say the way they were doing it, because we spent more time trying to go out, building groups in poor communities, you know, where we would sit down with ten or twelve people in houses and talk through what to do. So we stayed close to the salts of the earth in that regard, and I think that was really the real distinction in terms of like why, because who was it going to be this militant? Who was going to take a stand and say they weren't going to turn around? It really in the last analysis wasn't going to be the petty bourgeois. They would support it if somebody else did it.

WC:

But they had to be brought along rather than lead it, yeah.

NJ:

So that's the only way it could move ahead.

WC:

Now at what point—what point are you elected—was it vice president of the student body? Is that the spring that that election takes place?

NJ:

It was in the spring of '69.

WC:

But so that—but would that—I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but would that campaign for student office have been going on for awhile or did that just—?

NJ:

No, it hadn't been going on for awhile. The emergence of myself as a person to run for that was something that had not been consciously worked for, you know. And I didn't have those strong of ties. And actually the people who elected me was a group of students over there who dug what we were doing in the community and they worked for—it was a fellow named Drake.

WC:

Calvin Drake?

NJ:

Willie Drake in the main who organized that whole thing. And we agreed—because I didn't know Vincent McCullough at all. I'd never met him. So Vince was his man, right, and he had had difficulties with Calvin Matthews and had resigned from the student government. So we met and we explained, you know, like the need to really build a community, student thing, and talked it through. We reached some agreement and then we went at it from there.

WC:

So that would have been the fall of '68 that you had that conversation leading into the spring?

NJ:

Yeah, it was either the late fall or early winter.

WC:

Okay, when would the election have taken place? I guess the election takes place before the Dudley/A&T [protest]?

NJ:

Let me see. It was just before if it was. It was—I know we had had a big cafeteria workers strike.

WC:

Right, yeah.

NJ:

And I think that's what was used a lot in the campaign to try to discredit us. I know Hal Sieber and the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce had a lot to do with it, because [Bowling?] Sound Company, they were telling us about the conversations and stuff, so the city had taken an interest in—

WC:

And the cafeteria workers' strike was in March.

NJ:

Yeah.

WC:

So it would have been between March and May probably that the election took place.

NJ:

Yes, some time like that, because we had just been elected.

WC:

Okay, yeah. It's very confusing because at one point there seems to be two sets of officers, you know. I mean it's like McCullough and you, and Matthews. There's almost—I guess what I figured was that you had been elected but you weren't supposed to take office until maybe the next fall or something like that, and that there was a kind of overlap of—I don't know whether that was true or not, but I was just trying to figure out the chronology.

NJ:

Right. I think we got elected on a pretty militant platform. In other words, we took to the students as straightforward and honestly as we could, like what we felt was going on in the society and the whole question of Black Power. It was uncompromising in the sense of—like the main consideration [of] how you get elected would have led us not to do that. So once we were elected, and because of the way that we were elected, we were the leadership, because we had ran essentially against the platform of those in office and had won the majority too.

WC:

So that over the year, '68-'69, there is kind of a meshing together of GAPP on the one hand, and its activities and student activities.

NJ:

Right, right. Walter Brame is the official director of GAPP during that time. I think that throughout the period I was more like recognized as a link between the whole thing. And Walter was basically doing the youth work with students from Dudley. There was some difficulty in their ability to like pull together community groups, so I continued to do a lot of that and to work at A&T.

WC:

And in terms of the community, was housing still the primary organizing issue, or were there others as well?

NJ:

Housing was the primary issue, you know, particularly during the fall because what was happening was this Washington II Project, which was a redevelopment project, was moving people out of the very area that we were physically in over on Gorrell Street. We had been in there. We came in there. That's how GAPP—that's where it had most of its base in the beginning. So that was the more or less main staple issue.

In the meantime, we did a lot of fighting for individuals' welfare money and fighting against a particular abuse here and there, you know, that occurred to people. So one of the things that was starting to happen is we were beginning to get the reputation that we wouldn't turn anybody's thing down. So if anybody came and said that they wanted to try and get something done, we would try to figure out how to help them do it. And that was really different from NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] which said, “We deal with this, and we don't deal with that.”

And so we didn't know all the time what we were doing, but mainly at that time we would just get a group of people and go to the welfare department and demand money. I mean we didn't try to figure out all the rules and all that, so we figured that they would figure out something, otherwise we would start picketing or something to try and put pressure on them. It was just crude pressure tactics that were being used. It won the hearts of the people in terms of people really seeing it as an organization that to a large degree they were a part of, because there was democracy in there, although it wasn't like as tight as it should be. And it did put the interest of the people first, I think. So in that way I think it won the respect of people in spite of, I think, some fairly severe criticism on the part of the white establishment.

WC:

Who would that have been—I mean who would have—?

NJ:

Well, the person that I remember that most articulated it was Hal Sieber, you know, [who] represented the chamber of commerce. He was a sly one, too. He would play it both ways. And a little later on Jack Elam, you know the mayor, that would have basically bad things to say about us.

WC:

Would they have had black allies who would have been sort of representing their point of view?

NJ:

Yeah. See, one of the things that—the criticism from the black community didn't come out that publicly, because I think we had too much respect in the community for the people to just come out. But people were bothered by the way we approached things, our tactics. So we'd be kind of within the community and people would come and tell you, you know, “You shouldn't do this. You shouldn't do that.”

WC:

I can remember one thing in the [Carolina] Peacemaker where somebody is criticizing the tactics, but you're right, it was an exception rather than—and it was really a question of tone rather than substance. I forget who that was, but you're saying that reminds me of that.

NJ:

Yeah, this is—I would think the person who was most connected to the city that did it was Herman Gist. That's a whole other story.

WC:

Right, which I want to get into at some point, but I guess I'm getting ahead of myself, or we're getting ahead of ourselves. One of the things that really puzzled me—[pause]. It seems as though, at least in terms of overt events that begin to build, that December and [Stokely] Carmichael's appearance is important. Maybe that's not true. And I guess I should ask you first of all whether you think Carmichael's importance was—appearance was important.

NJ:

Well, it gave a little push to what was happening. See if Carmichael hadn't have come, it would have happened anyway. I think what happened was that the interpretation of Carmichael's presence in the various reports that I have read from bourgeois sources, that's the way they see it, but that's not real. I mean like Carmichael coming—because see, that gets them off the hook. You know, this whole outsider thing was always the way they dealt with things: that our people are basically all right. For the longest time I was an outsider. For that matter, I might be now. I don't know. When I came in, like, it was outsiders. FCD was outsiders. Students at A&T were outsiders. So that's the way Carmichael was talked about. And given his name and personality, they were able to use it in tremendous excess than what it actually represented. It did push it. He did crystallize some points.

WC:

I guess the thing that puzzled me was why, after his appearance, the focus of action is, it seems for the most part, on issues that are non-political in terms of the community. I mean the boycott of classes seems to involve very vague issues of certain faculty behavior toward students—at least the published issues. The issues that—the demands that are made seem to be almost very narrowly academic questions, as opposed to more broadly political questions.

NJ:

That represented a period at which the actual student leadership—this was Drake. These are more of his demands that we were agreeing with and that Matthews was forced to go along with. But in terms of like who had initiative, in terms of the fund and the student stuff, it was more Drake. And Drake's scope was like students. He didn't really have a whole broad community thing. And I—and when I say I, I mean me and some, a few more people—had not built up a student movement per se. But what was happening was that we were linked to Carmichael. We had helped get Carmichael here in discussion with them, because at that time Carmichael had taken an interest in the work in North Carolina. Not that all that developed at that point, but we had gone to [Washington] D.C. and met with him and talked with him and stuff like that, you know, helped get him in here. So at that point, the character of the issues—I know that stuff that Matthews announced that day on the stage was stuff that—that was Drake's tactic, which was fine with me. And Matthews, I think, would have rather not have done it, but he was kind of forced to kind of go along with it, because the whole mood there demanded that you go along with it. But tactically I wasn't all that clear on exactly what it was.

WC:

I guess the only explanation that I could come up with, at least given the gap between the demands that were being made and the broader concerns that seemed to be, you know, afloat, was that this was the best way of mobilizing the largest number of students who could then be moved into a larger concern later on with community-wide issues.

NJ:

I think objectively that's the way that it developed, but in terms of like a united—I don't think that's what Drake was trying to—I think he was trying to organize the largest number of students. I think we didn't know how, right. And they would come together a little later on because we worked together that way, but it was like his thinking that was really coming through, in terms of like those tactics over on campus. We were later to have more influence on it as we began to link it up to the Dudley stuff.

WC:

It sounds as though, once you get into the second semester, that there is a whole bunch of—that when you begin to link campus issues—I mean it struck me that the cafeteria workers issue was the one that forced the clearest lines between the campus and community issues, because that obviously involved workers from the community in campus issues in a very direct way.

NJ:

Right, yeah. And I think that was one of the more successful things that I ever helped organize at A&T. And it was a real struggle. I mean that's where the whole struggle about like how to see workers and stuff on the campus and all that began to get crystallized a little more.

WC:

You say it's a struggle, for the students or for whom?

NJ:

It was a struggle to some degree with the student leadership, with Drake. I did meet McCullough there in the beginning [unclear]. Because see, our orientation was like we knew how to work with the cafeteria workers and they didn't. And so it was really a lot of like the different laws that govern kind of the rate at which people move, because you're not going to come in there and whip people up, you know, because they are tied to the world a little different from students. For people who have just been organizing students, they miss that. They missed those factors.

So the thing was that the folk were moving too slow for a long time, and that, you know, actually when it looked to us that it was going real good and it was going to get there. It was just a question of like staying in there and building the support for it, which we were able to struggle with them on how to do that. And, you know, it developed very solidly. And I thought that given where we were then, the respect among the cafeteria workers was genuine for the work that we were doing, and we were able to bring up the students at the correct time to really support it. And as I think back on it, it's really phenomenal that people wouldn't eat. I mean the people didn't go in there.

WC:

Yeah, right. I guess I want to ask a couple of questions about that. I guess the obvious question which people have probably asked you many times before is how—are there any great connections between—I mean one of the things that goes on that spring is there are cafeteria workers strikes all over the state. Is there any kind of—I mean was the fact that Chapel Hill was organizing around that issue at all significant to the fact that you were organizing around that issue?

NJ:

It wasn't like primary, alright. There were—we knew the people in Chapel Hill, and we met and talked a lot, so we had like a network to talk about what different people around the state were doing. But there [was an? wasn't?] agreement that cafeteria workers was going to be the main strategy. I tell you, it just developed, you know, that this was the area in which—see the link, I think, that ties it up is that part of the whole struggle within the Black Power movement at that time was the relevancy of education, and that education that didn't speak to liberation and didn't speak to the oppression of Afro-Americans was useless. And so like the whole orientation was to go outward, you know, to figure out how to plug whatever we were doing—and like this is an immediate group. You know, “This right there, that's got a lot of problems. That's been complaining.” So it falls in that they are really the closest, you know, poor and oppressed people. So at that point, the attitude toward kind of speaking down to them and getting mad because the food wasn't shit, you know, stuff like that, began to change and to see them catching hell. So like the unity would grow between the students and the workers.

WC:

It was a more natural evolution than something which was imposed. What was your sense of [Lewis] Dowdy during most of this?

NJ:

I think I've been pretty clear on Dowdy, you know, through that whole period, and that we dealt with Dowdy from a perspective of power. That—Dowdy has a way of—one of Dowdy's great weaknesses is that he vacillates and he won't take a strong stand, and we were able to make use of that because he would never come down on us, you know, just thoroughly and resolutely. What he would do is try to impress us by agreeing with most of what we were saying, and then trying to have influence on the tactics. And I was pretty clear on that, you know. When we would talk to Dowdy, he would talk a lot about, you know, what the crackers had done to us and stuff like that, and we were coming straight from a nationalist line at that time.

And I also thought that he would shift a lot of the blame to other faculty members and stuff like that, and the sell just tactically, you know—I think like when we first started interacting with Dowdy, that I had a fairly sober sense of what he was doing. And I had some respect for a certain degree of national sentiment, you know, that he had, because he wouldn't come out like a lot of these out-and-out [Uncle] Toms on these—who were head of black campuses and just run the most backward reactionary stuff. He wouldn't do that. So like to that degree, I could really respect him. His other weakness though is that he wouldn't take a stand. He'd try to find the middle road, and the middle road was getting real narrow.

WC:

Right. [chuckles] How about Marshall. Marshall seems to be an important character in this whole scenario.

NJ:

What are you going to do with this? I mean—

WC:

Well, if you what put something off the record, just say, “Off the record,” and I won't use it.

NJ:

Put this off the record.

[Off-the-record comments redacted.]

WC:

Okay, at some point—maybe we should just do it now—I do want to get into that whole question of—I mean I have a list of about four people who I think probably were informers or who were, you know, working for either the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] or the SBI [North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation]. And I don't know whether we can put the whole thing off the record and just get into that now or we come back to that later on, whatever.

NJ:

I'd like to know who you think they are.

WC:

Well, okay. I mean my list is, I guess, Marshall, [Herman] Gist, [Cecil] Rouson, and I'm not sure who the fourth one is. I didn't—but that's my—those are at least three that were on my list.

NJ:

Right. Two of those I question in my mind: Marshall and Gist. Rousen I'm not clear on; that's a real possibility. There's a pretty weird story about him and Malcolm, the whole thing through there. But I got to know Rouson a little better. He has a real strong ego, so that makes you vulnerable [unclear], but it also makes you act like it, even when you're not, so it's not clear to me what he was doing. You might have more information.

WC:

The other—I guess the other thing I was thinking of was some of the Peacemaker people, but I'm not sure about that. Do you have any suspicions along those lines yourself?

NJ:

There were a lot of people through there that could have been at any moment. But they never got all of that close to us, so they wouldn't have been able to give the state exactly what they were looking for. I know that there were hundreds of students that the state recruited.

WC:

Let's just stay with this for a second. Let me ask you whether in this period of February through June, are there many women active in the inner group?

NJ:

Oh, yeah.

WC:

There are.

NJ:

Right. Secondary roles, though. But a lot of strong women in the group, and primary leadership at Bennett in particular, where they organized that campus.

WC:

Who were some of those people?

NJ:

Well, Elsie Perry.

WC:

Would Linda Bragg have been at all involved in that?

NJ:

I didn't know her, who she was. What's that other sister that worked with FCD? Peggy—she's Hopkins now, Peggy Hopkins. A couple other stronger ones, then there was Wilson, Nancy Wilson, I think her name was. She was a native of here. It was just a nice little group of women and they worked hard. They were incredible.

WC:

And would they have been involved in the small group meetings where you would be making your basic kinds of tactical decisions or would that have been a primarily a male group?

NJ:

It was primarily a male group. It was primarily a male group. Actually there were two groups. Drake had a group—it was very close knit—that I was not in.

WC:

You were not in there?

NJ:

No, because it developed independent of our [unclear]. I was—that's who organized the campaign, the election campaign at A&T and all of that. What did they call themselves? But it was like we met and worked stuff out, but I didn't develop as a part of the group.

WC:

Yeah. Is it your sense at all that Nunding [alias] or [Harold] Avent was an informer?

NJ:

Yes, Nunding was another person. I've had access to some of the FBI documents in which it becomes even clearer that Nunding was a functionary.

WC:

How does that become clear? Because I've seen some of that stuff, too, and I haven't been able to figure that out. I've been trying to figure out how—

NJ:

First, Nunding didn't know nothing about nothing that he said he knew about. I mean he came with—his physical appearance was, you know, it put people in awe. He was big, bearded, very dark complexion, dashiki, and looked like what people thought Black Panthers should look like, so he could just walk in and he would cover the room and draw people to him and stuff like that. But inside he was really timid, you know, and not very strong, so he could carry on this air for a while, and then Nunding would start just telling kind of fantasies of various things, and people were very open to believe in almost anything at that point in time. But Nunding almost got us into a lot of trouble, some of which I'm not going to go into. Only a complete idiot or an agent would do some of this stuff that Nunding had said, which is on the verge of getting us all long sentences or killed, blown up and shit like that.

WC:

All right. I've seen one FBI—what I've seen of the FBI—

NJ:

Some of this the FBI never got—I mean it's not in their documents. I have that. I have that.

WC:

Yeah, we've probably seen the same stuff. But there is one point where, you know, there is a bureau bulletin to somebody or other about the plan to—

NJ:

We drop all this stuff in New York in an airport? Is that what you're talking about?

WC:

No, it's the ambush thing of having some kind of eruption take place, starting a fire in which would bring more police cars into the area, and then have open fire on the police cars.

NJ:

Was this at A&T?

WC:

No, this supposedly comes out of a meeting of Panthers in which this plan is broached in early January or February of '69.

NJ:

See, Nunding had several meetings that—there were meetings that I wasn't in. Nunding tried to recruit us into the Panthers. And I never really developed that much respect for Nunding because most of the time he tried, it didn't work out. I'll just give you one example, which is not that severe. He would bill himself as an expert on everything, you know, demolition, this, that, and the other. So one day he's going out to show the brothers how to take care of this little house, right. They came back, and I mean he had singed his beard and shit like that, and left a five gallon gas can burning in the street and no house was burning. I mean like it was downright incompetence, or I mean like bringing all of this attention this way. So it is that kind of stuff that Nunding consistently did that is surprisingly not in there.

WC:

What's this about dumping stuff in New York? I mean is that a story that's—?

NJ:

That's another thing. See that's not in there either, but this came out in the paper. He'd type up a lot of stuff and was supposedly sending plans into the party about his work, I guess reports, right. And they would tell exaggerations of like what he was doing with us, you know, winning brothers to the party and stuff like that. Anyway, supposedly somebody was arrested in the airport in New York, and they dropped it or the police got it, so there was a whole report about North Carolina Panther work and stuff that showed up in the paper. So again, the question is, “Nunding, how does your shit always end up like this?” It's a thin line between incompetency and—

WC:

Provocation. [laughs]

NJ:

And provocation.

WC:

Lewis Brandon told me that he also used to try to get people to do dope and stuff like that and put people therefore in a situation where they could get busted for that.

NJ:

Probably. See, we struggled with him like around that. See one of the things that was never a part of our circle was any drugs at all, which is—for me it was partly—I was like tried to be very religious. That was the first thing in my life when I went into the air force and stuff like that. Didn't drink, didn't smoke in high school, and that was part of the angle on it. Then the other thing, it got to be tactically clear that that was the angle that the state would come at the quickest. So we just never got into it, and we struggled against it, and I think developed almost a puritanical line. We made a principle out of it. Probably went too far with it. But we struggled with him, and wouldn't let him do it in the house. So he developed a whole other thing with other people.

WC:

See the thing is, those documents don't—half the time those documents suggest that he in fact is an actual organizer for the Party because they don't—in other words—

NJ:

I think those documents cover them. The greatest suspicion I have about those documents is what they don't say. Some of it they've got to know.

WC:

Right, and you wonder at what level who knows what even within the Bureau, in terms of what's being sent around.

NJ:

And they say a lot about him, but they don't say the stuff about him that most sharply implicated him.

WC:

Like the burning—like that house episode.

NJ:

Yeah, and see, Nunding lived with us for most of the time he was in Greensboro, so he was right there in the house. We were just really naïve. I mean we took everybody for—and first of all, the whole understanding of the state just had not developed, and there was some evil people here and there, but in terms of more of the systematic espionage activities of the state, the complete lack of belief in any of the stuff that they were saying—in other words, if you wouldn't discredit yourself, and they needed you discredited, they would do it. We just weren't that strong on that, even though it would come out in rhetoric sometimes. It wasn't internalized that these people were up to the stuff that they were.

WC:

But he's never been publicly identified, has he, as an agent?

NJ:

Nunding?

WC:

I mean I haven't been able to find it, if he has.

NJ:

No, he hasn't.

WC:

And what I'm going to do actually is to—I mean there is a guy on [Senator Robert B.] Morgan's staff in Washington—you may know Walter Ricks. Walter Ricks is an interesting guy. He's probably the only black guy on Morgan's staff, but he's also the guy who has been the staff guy for the Intelligence Committee. He knows all this stuff because he's seen the original documents. And he won't tell you anything directly, but if you ask him enough indirect questions, you can—

NJ:

Get to it.

WC:

—and what I'm going to do is go back up there when I'm going to be in Washington and try to pin that down a little more. Just because I'm—

NJ:

I'd be interested to know.

WC:

I just need—it's obviously very—I want to say as strongly as I can that Nunding probably was an agent, but I need to have something which I can fall back on in case someone says—

NJ:

There is a lot of stuff with Nunding that I wouldn't even say now, because—. We finally just had to just pull away from Nunding. He was too dangerous.

WC:

Well, how do you figure—I mean how does it—what does that say about Eric Brown? If he brings Nunding back, what does that mean?

NJ:

I think Eric Brown was genuine. Eric, in my opinion, represented a slightly different cut from the average students at A&T in terms of inner-city and a kind of quiet strength and a real burning hatred for the class [enemy?] that was real. That didn't actually come out in Nunding that strong. Nunding was more into blowing up stories about himself.

WC:

Yeah. But yet wasn't it Brown that brought Nunding back, right, from New York? They came together?

NJ:

Yeah. I'm not sure what the play was in terms of—I know Eric and Nunding came, hooked up down here, and Eric was getting messed up about Marshall and Cal Ervin[?] who was the basketball coach, and we started a whole campaign around them. Nunding worked mostly with Eric to develop—to try to develop a Black Panther chapter here. And that we were able to maintain a good relationship throughout the whole thing, so I just don't think that that says that Eric was cooperating with the FBI.

WC:

Right. I just was—it raises the question of how Nunding was able to create those credentials or at least convince—

NJ:

Nunding impressed people who—Nunding would impress people who were mad and wanted to fight because of his physical image and his hero stories, and he would impress youth and stuff like that. And a lot of times like the serious tactics, you know, wasn't—people didn't have the basis to appreciate what was good tactics and what was bad.

WC:

Right. He could just get away with it by making him sound good.

NJ:

He could get away with it. It seemed that it had to be real because he came from all of this stuff that he would talk about, you know, what he did before and stuff like that. And he had just enough contact it seemed to be able to like do enough of the stuff to give you [unclear]. So for example, if you said you knew demolition and you had contact with explosives that you could show somebody that's real, then it suggests that maybe you knew something. So like, I don't know, where did you get it from? You know all this strange shit that's showing up. So that kind of stuff, and he would throw it out front. It's the kind of stuff that if that's what you're about, you wouldn't say it. [chuckles]

WC:

Yeah, right. But you wouldn't necessarily think of that until later maybe.

NJ:

So like it wasn't that clear. Yeah. A lot of times when you were thinking about maybe you shouldn't say it, you began to question yourself as to whether like this represents your—in other words, you just haven't thought it all out. And then it becomes, in retrospect, that's a bunch of shit, you know, altogether.

WC:

He also traveled a lot it seems. He traveled around the country for about two months in that spring. I couldn't—you know, someone is paying for those plane trips around the country, and it struck me that that was one of the clearest examples of the fact that this was one of the only pieces of circumstantial evidence in the FBI files to suggest that he was moving around as an agent.

NJ:

See, they needed somebody like Nunding. Nunding is a prototype. If you wanted to scare—see, the whole tactic of the state, as I understand it at that time—that was really picked up by the media and stuff like that, it was kind of wooed in that direction—was to paint the Panthers in the most hellacious colors that you could paint them in and to really provoke the Panthers into doing what they said they would do, whether they had planned to do it or not, by saying this is what the Panthers do, and then begin to move a lot of young kids into leadership that were taken in that direction and set them up for it. The kind of image that Nunding represented was what would help them in being able to do that.

We represented—I know I used to deliberately—I'd be thinking all the time about where do these people want you to go, right? Because see, the main thing they had to do was not convince the white community of all these bad things; they would accept it pretty—they'd accept it fairly readily. They had to convince black people around you that that's what you were about. And I would try to turn it back. I used to go to meetings where there were all whites, like to their church, and I would be as militant as I could. I would mean it, right? When I would come to meet with a black group, right, then I would be really low key, you know, and get down and try to talk about it. So people got their readings, right, from the white group, that this is some kind of wild maniac here. And like when we'd get with them, it completely contradicted them, so it implicates them instead of us. And they would then be a little surprised, because people would say like, “Y'all are not exactly like I thought you were,” or something like that, you know. There was a little tactical consideration in there. So we were able to pull the community a little closer to us and try to—because we—

[End of Interview]