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Part 2: Danny Glover & Kathleen Cleaver on “The Black Power Mixtape”

Web ExclusiveMay 06, 2014
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Watch part 2 of our conversation with the renowned American actor, film director and political activist Danny Glover, and Kathleen Cleaver, professor at Emory Law School, who is featured in the film, The Black Power Mixtape, during her stint as communications secretary of the Black Panther Party. Glover is the co-producer of the film and wrote the preface to the book. Cleaver is featured in the film and book. Click here to watch Part 1.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté. Our guests are former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver, a now law professor at Emory Law School. She was a member—before being a communications secretary of the Black Panther Party, she was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Danny Glover is with us, esteemed, renowned American actor, both on stage and on the silver screen, but he is also a director and a producer, and he co-produced the film, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 with Joslyn Barnes.

And we welcome you back to Democracy Now! Kathleen Cleaver, your assessment of where we are today and what you say to your law students, to other people at gatherings—you were in the Black Panther Party; now you’re a law professor—what road people should take?

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: What I would like to say about where we are today is we have gone consistently backwards. It’s distressing and also somewhat perplexing that during the era of the Vietnam War, the conditions of most black families were a little better than they are now. We’ve declined educationally. We’ve declined economically. And it almost seems that the ways in which—we were in a movement that viscerally challenged, vigorously challenged racism, imperialism, capitalism, sexism. We were against all of it. But it just seems that he level of racial antagonism—well, it rises and falls, but that it is in a retaliation mode, and that there is no real focused struggle right this second against issues of racial discrimination, racial hatred and racial violence.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip from Black Power Mixtape. Here, renowned Harlem bookseller and civil rights activist Lewis Michaux talks about why knowledge is power. But first we hear from hip-hop artist Talib Kweli.

TALIB KWELI: Everything about who I am comes from growing up in Brooklyn and comes from my parents. They laid the foundation. But a big part of why I’ve been able to touch the world through my music and express myself has to do with the years I spent in the black bookstore. I mean, this store looks, in Harlem, identical to Nkiru Books, that I worked at. The book titles, I know all those books. I read all those books. And it’s interesting that that stuff was still relevant to me when I was working there in the ’90s, as relevant as it was in the ’70s, because the issues are still the same.

LEWIS MICHAUX: Malcolm X was the smartest uneducated. You see, Malcolm X, they could find nobody with no degree, a Ph.D., could debate him on truth. And naturally, this country can’t stand truth. Now, I was lecturing the other day down in this same cellar, and a gang of little black boys came in, and they held up their fists, talking about black power. I said, “Look, son.” I let these children know. I said, “Black is beautiful, but black isn’t power. Knowledge is power, for you can be black as a crow, you can be white as snow, and if you don’t know and ain’t got no dough, you can’t go, and that’s fo’ sho’.”

AMY GOODMAN: Harlem bookseller Lewis Michaux, and before that was hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. Your response to that, Danny? And talk about the effect of Malcolm X on your life.

DANNY GLOVER: I mean, I—Malcolm’s—Malcolm was assassinated in 1965, and so the year after I graduated from high school. But his impact certainly was a cornerstone, I think, of the emergence of the black power movement. In fact—

AMY GOODMAN: Had you been hearing about him in high school?

DANNY GLOVER: I had heard about him in high school. In fact, after his assassination, I got into a real kind of—one of the many kind of—few, not many—few kind of, you know, misunderstandings with my parents, when I started going to the mosques in 1955—in 1965, excuse me, 1965. And I think an emerging—that was a part of this, for me, being a child of the civil rights movement, watching my parents come of age, and to come of age themselves during the civil rights movements in various ways, through their union, etc., etc. Now, when I began to see young people begin to articulate my own rebeliousness, including Malcolm, I think was the beginning of a new—of a kind of shift in my own thoughts at that particular point in time. And certainly, when he says knowledge, knowledge is important, I remember Panthers—we all read everything. We read everything from The Red Book. We read Julius Nyerere, African socialism. We read Nkrumah’s the question of the Congo. We read—we read, of course, Frantz Fanon, as well. And The Wretched of the Earth, the first thing, was almost like a Bible. We’d often have our study groups based around Wretched of the Earth.

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: And don’t forget The Red Book.

DANNY GLOVER: And The Read Book, Mao’s Red Book, as well. And so, it was—knowledge was important. Information was important, because at the rate—at the same time, we were searching for ideas, that the party had stepped out there, we had stepped up out there, and in the midst of all that, we were still trying to articulate our vision. And the basic ideas around the black power movements of black—I mean, we use black power in different ways. The South Africans used black power in black empowerment. But we’re talking about radical transformation. And that was the center of it, radical transformation in all the institutions which reflect our lives and deal with our lives. And that was the most important aspect of it. When I talked about this whole thing about the marginalization of black radical political thought, which has gone on, and throughout now, even today, even though we have organizations, there is this kind of marginalization, or we step away from that. And we found that in the kind of—find absent within this kind of neoliberal bridge—and when I say “neoliberal bridge,” of whether we elect a woman, particularly, or whether we elect a black man, particularly, to a particular office and expect some sort of miraculous outcome because they’re elected, you know, we have to begin to—what we’ve done is it’s undermined our capacity to build the kind of movements and sustainable movements that are necessary. We don’t have the organs like the—I mean, you know, right here, Democracy Now! and Pacifica exist in a vacuum around the other kind of organs that we used to have—you know, labor unions, the radicalization of the labor unions, deradicalization of the labor unions. All these played a role in a particular. And the Black Panther Party and the black power movement was the first significant voice to come after that period, after the civil rights. It brought in the Latinos in it, Asian Americans in, and everyone else in that process.

AARON MATÉ: Kathleen, I wanted to ask you about the climate of state repression that this activism engendered back then. You had the killing of Dr. King, of Malcolm X, and of course not necessarily by the state, but there was this climate of fear created around the black movement—the killing of Fred Hampton in his home by Chicago police. What was it like to live in this time when all of the leaders were being killed?

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: It was very agitating. I mean, we were angry. We were organizing. We never took a break. It was exciting, but also dangerous, in the sense that there were a lot of romantic poems and discussions, like, “I don’t know if I’ll see you next,” you know, “This may be our last time together.” There was this war sense. We were in a war. We knew we were in a war. The Vietnam War was going on. People were getting killed. Panthers were getting killed. You just didn’t know. But it was: “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to change things, or we’re going to die trying.”

AMY GOODMAN: What about the law? I mean, here you are, now a law professor.


AMY GOODMAN: Course, in the 1960s, in the 1970s, and even today, people say you have to go to the streets to make change. So where do you see those two coming together?

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Well, you have to go to the streets, but once you get to the streets, you definitely need lawyers, once you need to get out of jail. And so, I was drawn to law because of what I saw Charles Garry do in the trial of Huey Newton. I was so impressed.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Huey Newton was the leader of the Black Panther Party who was charged with murdering a policeman and wounding another. Charles Garry was the defense attorney who represented him. He was brilliant. He did all kinds of extraordinary new things with jury polls and changing the way a case was tried. And this black man, the leader of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, charged with murder, facing the gas chamber, ended up being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, so he didn’t get to go to the gas chamber, as his state intended. And he eventually got out on bail. And so, Charles Garry is extraordinary. And I wanted to know how he became a lawyer. And months after Watergate, I saw all the people working for Nixon were lawyers. I said, “Well, there’s something very important here about law.” That’s what made me want to go to law school. After I came out of law school, it was practically the '90s. And so, what I ended up becoming was a professor, not a practicing attorney. And what I do is teach. I teach about legal history, race, citizenship and things like that. So I'm in the process of molding minds and, hopefully, changing minds and encouraging people to rethink and participate. And I also write, and I also am involved in movements and spend a considerable amount of time working around cases of various political prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are the political prisoners you’re working on?

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Some of them have passed away. I successfully worked on—for 25 years, on the case of Geronimo Pratt.

AMY GOODMAN: Who finally did get out of jail. His—

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Yeah, finally. I was on the case with Johnnie Cochran when he was released. And I worked around the case for Mumia Abu-Jamal and some other political prisoners—one, in particular, Marilyn Buck, who’s passed away.


KATHLEEN CLEAVER: So, that’s been very, very much a part of my life.

DANNY GLOVER: You know, I was saying—

AMY GOODMAN: Danny Glover.

DANNY GLOVER: Just when we think about this incident that happened with the L.A. Clippers, you know, and we think about the moment of a courageous athlete, probably the greatest athlete of the 20th century, Muhammad Ali, standing up and saying, “Ain’t no Viet Cong ever call me a nigger,” and how that mobilized community. It was—the extent it mobilized, and it articulated our own rebeliousness in that, and emboldened the work that the black power movement was doing. That statement right there. And the athletes who came to his—on his behalf, some of the greatest athletes of all time, from Bill Russell to Jim Brown to Lew Alcindor, you know, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And he’s still paying the price for that. He’s still paying the price. I first met—


DANNY GLOVER: He’s still paying the price, because he deserves to be a head coach somewhere. He has been on that list, even though he gets a job occasionally as a tutor for an upcoming center or some basketball player. He’s still paying the price for that. But I met him—

AMY GOODMAN: Paying the price for what?

DANNY GLOVER: For his actions and his radicalism as a basketball player in the ’60s.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what he did, because I think for people who are watching him now responding to Donald Sterling’s racist comments, they have no idea his history.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, you know, I first met Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at a black student conference in November in L.A., in November 1967. And I was saying, right here, he doesn’t have to be here. He’s already designated that he’s going to be one of the great players to ever play the game of basketball. He doesn’t have to be here, but he’s here with this, with us. So he’s the same person who steps out in support of Muhammad Ali when he refuses to enter the draft, you know. He, Jim Brown, and look at the faces of—the faces of those athletes. Those athletes weren’t concerned about their endorsements or their position. Those athletes had found themselves, just as those athletes who stood up at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico had stood up in defense of what was happening with black people. And it radicalized, radicalized not only athletes, other athletes, but also radicalized us or supported the efforts of what was happening in the black power movement.

AARON MATÉ: With the Sterling case, we saw a hint of that activism when players were prepared to not show up for the games if Sterling was not banned.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, of course. I mean, there’s—here you are in a position, and what are you going—what else are you going to do? I mean, they’ve had information on who Sterling was long before this incident happened. But what else are you going to do? You’re in the most exciting moment in the NBA season right now, at one of its most exciting years. And you have this—

AMY GOODMAN: And the Clippers never place before like this.

DANNY GLOVER: The Clippers never place anything like this. The Clippers never got past the first round, really. But now you have this, this now as a blotch against what is happening. It’s something that could turn people’s—it’s the money train there. It’s that. And so, these athletes, we may want to say that they gave up their endorsements or they may be endangered, but I don’t think they are. But I don’t think they are, in a sense. But it’s the kind of—the athletes now, they’re willing to kind of establish their own charity to help a few boys to get—in the blighted neighborhoods, or able to buy—get computers at a certain time. But they don’t take action. They don’t take—they don’t stand up and deal with the conditions that are happening every day. What Donald Sterling represents is representative of what happens and the attitudes of what happens to everyday working poor people, black people, Hispanic people, people of color in this country every day. The athletes and most of us who are actors are shielded from that in some way. They may—we may, all of a sudden, “That’s Danny Glover walking there. That’s Danny Glover. We’re not going to affront, you know, cause any kind of trouble with him,” but every day it happens. Every day you hear it. Every day the policy or the attitudes reflect what he expressed.

AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us back to Black Power Mixtape. I want to go to Angela Davis in the film and get your comments. Angela Davis speaking, not now, but I think this was the jailhouse interview with her—is that right, Danny?

DANNY GLOVER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the footage from when she was in jail.

SWEDISH TV: Yeah, but the question is, how do you get there? Do you get there by confrontation, violence?

ANGELA DAVIS: Oh, was that the question you were asking?


ANGELA DAVIS: You asked me, you know, whether I approve of violence—I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all—whether I approve of guns. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. I remember—from the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that, at any moment, someone—we might expect to be attacked. The man who was at that time in complete control of the city government—his name was Bull Connor—would often get on the radio and make statements like “Niggers have moved into a white neighborhood; we better expect some bloodshed tonight.” And sure enough, there would be bloodshed.

After the four young girls who were—who lived very—one of them lived next door to me. I was very good friends with the sister of another one. My sister was very good friends with all three of them. My mother taught one of them in her class. My mother—in fact, when the bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church to pick up Carole? You know, we heard about the bombing, and I don’t have my car.” And they went down, and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then, after that, in my neighborhood, all the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night, because they did not want that to happen again. I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just—I just find it incredible, because what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country, since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Angela Davis in Black Power Mixtape.

DANNY GLOVER: What brilliant articulation.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain. There she was in prison. You see the cinder block behind her.


AMY GOODMAN: Kathleen Cleaver, law professor, but also fellow Black Panther activist, why was she in prison, and what happened?

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: She was arrested—she was charged with felony assault and murder, which in California means you face the same penalty as—which was the death penalty—as a person who committed a murder. Angela Davis had a lot of death threats against her when she was a professor and when she got involved with the case of the Soledad Brothers, who were three prisoners in California who were framed for murdering a guard. She was on their defense committee. And Jonathan Jackson, who was the brother of George Jackson, one of these Soledad Brothers whose case she was supporting, became a bodyguard of Angela Davis. And she had purchased two weapons. Jonathan Jackson had access to at least one of them.

And Jonathan was part of a plot, you might say, to break some prisoners out of San Quentin. The organization of that escape or attack was called off. But Jonathan didn’t get the message, or he just refused to accept the fact that it wasn’t happening, and he went into a courtroom in Marin, California, courthouse and pulled out his weapon and said, “Gentlemen, I’m taking over now,” threw weapons to Ruchell Magee and another, Willie Christmas, prisoners in trial. They kidnapped the judge, the jury, etc., and took them outside to a waiting van. And they were going to make an exchange for the prisoners for a flight to Algeria. However, the sharpshooters from San Quentin and some members of the LAPD happened to be there when they came out, and everyone was killed except for maybe a prosecutor and one of the—the survivors were one of the prisoners and, I think, the attorney.


KATHLEEN CLEAVER: And so, Angela, because guns were listed in her name, registered in her name that Jonathan used, was charged with what Jonathan did. And that’s why she’s in prison facing murder charges.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did she get off?

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: She had excellent attorneys. Howard Moore was one of her attorneys. And—

DANNY GLOVER: Dennis Roberts was one of those.

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: And the other attorney, the famous black attorney from Arkansas—there were two of them, brilliant attorneys. Tremendously supportive organizing internationally by Communist Party and all kinds of other. “Free Angela and all political prisoners” became a call of that era. She was also not guilty. I mean, the state had no case, actually, but they were able to impose imprisonment on her. When the death penalty was eliminated in California, she was on trial. And she was able, very, very quickly, to get out on bail, because within a week of the elimination, it was—meant that she couldn’t get out on bail, but she was able to get out before that. So, her case was a worldwide mobilization around Angela, but it focused also on the conditions of the movement and the conditions of black people that she was involved with.

AMY GOODMAN: And what difference did this film make to you, Black Power Mixtape? Were you astounded when you saw it, 1967 to ’75?


AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember the filming of it?

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: I was in Algeria. I saw the footage that they have in the film, but I don’t specifically remember those exact people who came. But what I was going to say is, I was approached by Joslyn Barnes. As soon as she saw the footage, she called me and said, “I have this most amazing footage. It’s beautiful. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, but I want to send the filmmakers, this Swedish couple in their thirties”—they’re younger than my children—”and I want you to talk to them and help them get a context on what it is that they have.” So they came down to my house, and we spent three or four hours talking about this, and they asked me all kinds of questions, and contextualizing for them what it was they had.

AMY GOODMAN: And the making of this film, for you, Danny? You’re the co-producer with Joslyn Barnes of this film. I mean, you lived it, and you’re—did this footage surprise you?

DANNY GLOVER: Yeah. I had never seen any of it before. You know, I—

AMY GOODMAN: This is from like way across the pond. This is from Sweden.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, well, the thing is about it is that—

AMY GOODMAN: They’ve got what the U.S. doesn’t have?

DANNY GLOVER: You know, I knew—


DANNY GLOVER: You know, I was at—you know, I was at the Bobby Hutton funeral, as his—as part—as a student. I remember George Murray was the minister of education and a student at San Francisco State.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Bobby Hutton was.

DANNY GLOVER: Bobby Hutton was the young boy that was murdered in 1967, and also it led to the charging of murder on Huey P. Newton, as well. So it was a part of that whole case. When was that? November—

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Let me—let me get that very clear. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. On April 6, 1968, there was a gun battle in Oakland in which Bobby Hutton was killed, in which Eldridge Cleaver and seven other Panthers were arrested.

DANNY GLOVER: Yeah, yeah.

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: That’s who Bobby Hutton was.

DANNY GLOVER: That’s it.

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: He was the first young person to join the Black Panther Party after it was started in October of 1967.


KATHLEEN CLEAVER: So when he was murdered, and that—the country was in a huge turmoil over the war, and then the assassination of King, and there were rebellions and riots and demonstrations all over. And it’s in that context that—

DANNY GLOVER: And so, what happened was that I saw that—I saw that footage. They came to both—to the office with that footage. We got this footage. And then I met with them. I was doing a movie in Sweden, and I met with them and talked with them extensively. And we made a commitment to be a part of—in the film. But it was like seeing my own history, my own story, in front of me, those images, you know. And I had—I mean, we had all met from 1967 and on. Because of the situation in the BSU, we had met people like—

AMY GOODMAN: The Black Students’ Union.

DANNY GLOVER: The Black Student Union. We had met people like, you know, Huey P. Newton, who I first saw read poetry at the Black House, where Eldridge was living, in San Francisco, or people like Bobby Seale or Stokely or Ralph Featherstone or H. Rap Brown. They always were coming and spent a great of time in the Bay Area. So to see these images now, to see these images right here, images that—that it’s also important to understand how we look at what we see. It’s archival footage, but it has another kind of pitch to it, another kind of relationship that we have to it.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Kathleen, you nodded your head vigorously when I said, “And this is from Sweden.”

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Yes, because you don’t understand, the Swedish position on media during the era of the Vietnam War was very different to most countries. Many countries would say, “Oh, we’ll just copy America, and whatever they say, that’s what we’ll say.” The Swedes said, “We’re completely independent.” The news of Sweden, the Swedish news cameramen could go anywhere and film anything. They were on their own. And the ones who came to the United States—and this is over a period of years, and there’s lots of different cameramen—they shot all sorts of things. It’s unbelievable. And they had an attitude. I don’t think an American TV journalist could have done that interview with Angela, or wouldn’t have been able to get it out, because of the FBI, etc., etc., in the case. So the Swedish television is much more open, much more intriguing, and no one here has ever seen it. But their policies on the media of that era were completely different to the ones in the United States, which is why you don’t have this footage in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank Danny Glover, renowned actor, activist, director, producer, and Kathleen Cleaver, former Black Panther, member, before that, of SNCC, now law professor at Emory Law School. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

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