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H.K. Matthews: An Exclusive Interview03/14/2019

H.K. Matthews: An Exclusive Interview

Growing up in the small community of Snow Hill, Ala., Hawthorne Konrad Matthews wasn’t blind to the injustices happening around him, but he also never imagined he would grow up to be the Reverend H.K. Matthews—an agitator, an activist and eventually, an icon of the civil rights movement.

After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Reverend Matthews relocated to Pensacola where he worked as a day laborer. A self-described heavy drinker in his youth, those early years in Pensacola were spent chasing the next bottle. In 1959, Matthews gave up drinking for good and found a home in the church community where he was mentored by Reverend W.C. Dobbins and ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1961.

Reverend Matthews, along with many other civil rights activists both locally and nationally, was instrumental in the ultimately successful efforts to integrate the Palafox Street lunch counters, to get more black people hired at local institutions and to remove the rebel mascot and other confederate symbols from Escambia High School’s athletics department. Additionally, Matthews played a big role in the protests over the 1974 shooting death of a black motorist by a white sheriff’s deputy—a role that sent him to the state penitentiary and got him blacklisted from Pensacola. Reverend Matthews also took part in the Bloody Sunday march in Selma where he was beaten and gassed and witnessed a multitude of atrocities that bring tears to his eyes to this day.

While Matthews was persona non grata in Pensacola for many years, the arc of history eventually bent toward justice, with Matthews receiving a full pardon in 1979, a Pensacola park named in his honor in 2006 and a variety of awards and accolades for his work in the civil rights movement.

Coming of Age had the distinct honor and pleasure of speaking with Reverend Matthews about his upbringing, his activism, his faith and his 2007 autobiography, Victory after the Fall.

COA: Tell me a little bit about your upbringing. What was your childhood like?

HKM: I was born and reared in a little place called Snow Hill, Alabama. That's in Wilcox County. I was reared by my grandmother because my mother died when I was six weeks old. My grandmother reared me as her own child. She was a country school teacher. We would walk to school because we had to bypass schools that we could not attend because of our color—because of our race—so we would have to walk miles and miles and miles. There were times we used to walk 13 miles to one school that she taught at. We had to walk 13 miles a day one way to go to school and then when we got to the school, we had to go out and cut wood to build a fire in a potbelly stove. About time the building got warm, it was time to go back home again. We had a pretty interesting life. I didn't do a lot because our houses were kind of scattered about in the community. But I had some cousins who lived down the road from us and we would go down there and play. We played ball and we shot horseshoes. There was no such thing as television or telephones. My grand uncle who founded Snow Hill Institute—and who was a friend of Booker T. Washington—had an old T Model Ford. We were not allowed to do anything on Sunday, so we'd pack in that old T Model Fordand pretend we were going someplace. My cousins in that area–the whole family of them were musicians. They all played musical instruments. My aunt was the mother, she was the piano player. The father played trumpet. There were seven children—five boys, two girls—and both girls played piano. The boys played everything—saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone. Spike Lee's daddy, Willie, was the drummer.

COA: What did you imagine you would grow up to be or to do when you were a little boy?

HKM: I had no idea. I graduated high school in 1947 and went off to Alabama State in Montgomery. I had relatives there—my aunt and uncle ran the dining hall. After a semester at Alabama State, I left because I was doing my own thing. I was pretty wild. I told my grandmother I was leaving because the kids were picking on me. I think I just kind of had her wrapped around my finger. She agreed with me and I transferred to Alabama A&M. I stayed there for three and a half years. Then I enlisted in the Army during the Korean War.

COA: What made you decide to enlist?

HKM: I was rebellious. I didn't have enough sense to know that I was going into a really, really stringent environment by enlisting in the Army.

COA: Did the Army tame you?

HKM: It domesticated me to a point. I did rise to the rank of Sergeant. I also became a military police officer. I was in for six and a half years. I didn't see too much combat. I saw a little, but not a lot.

COA: When you came back from the Korean War and you came out of the army, that's when you moved to Pensacola, right?

HKM: All of my mother's brothers and one of her sisters lived here. One of my uncles was a Church of Christ preacher, which was really not a good fit. But he took care of me and so I moved in with him. It was 1955 and I was 27 years old.

COA: What were your thoughts on Pensacola in the late 1950s and early 1960s?

HKM: I really didn't have any thoughts. I was working day jobs—I was a day laborer. We would go down in the morning and just stand around and see if anybody would hire us. My main objective at that time was to just make enough money to buy the next bottle. I was a really, really heavy drinker. I guess I loved it—up until I quit drinking in 1959.

COA: What was the impetus to quit?

HKM: Nothing made me sick or anything like that, but I was living on North Haynes Street at the time and I was going to school under the GI Bill. We were getting $80 a month for the GI Bill. I had gotten a room added on to my house up on Haynes Street. I was paying $50 a month mortgage on the room that I had added on. I was working at Baldwin Dairy at that time, which was on the corner of A and Gregory Streets. I would use that $80 to pay the $50 mortgage. In November of 1959, I had gotten ahead. I'd already paid my mortgage, I guess because I'd worked a little more regularly at Baldwin Dairy. We got our checks on the 18th, which was on Friday. That $80 check was all mine because like I said, I'd paid the  mortgage and everything. So, I started drinking that Friday and Sunday morning I woke up and I had $17 left. I had drank up $63 worth of liquor. That morning, I bought a bottle of Spearmen beer. I went home that night and I didn't say anything to my wife. I got in the bed and I pulled up a glass of Spearmen beer. I held it up and I looked at it and I said to myself, “When I drink this, I'm not drinking anything else.” And that was it. It was the end of it. To this date I have not had a drink so, you know, come November of 2019 it will have been 60 years ago.

COA: It was here in Pensacola that you really started to get involved in civil rights activism. What led you to that role and how much of that had you been involved in as a young man prior to moving here?

HKM: I’ll answer the last question first—none at all, but being born and reared in Snow Hill and having to bypass white schools to go to an inferior school and use inferior books had an effect on me. The teaching was not inferior because my grandmother was a stickler for learning. But, watching white people call my grandmother ‘auntie’ and ‘girl’ and referring to me as ‘boy’ and ‘preacher,’ you know, I was just a young boy and it stuck with me.

My father lived in Camden, Alabama, which was 17 miles from Snow Hill. My grandmother and I used to catch the Greyhound bus on the weekend and go down and visit my father who was a farmer. We loved to go—especially during watermelon season. During that time they had the rails on the bus with the strap hanging down. My grandmother would be standing in the middle of the bus holding onto me with one hand and holding onto the strap with the other hand. That bus would bob and weave around those clay roads dirt roads. We weren't standing there because there were no seats available. There were seats all over the bus—all in the front, but we couldn't sit down in those seats because we were the wrong color. I can remember as a child looking up at my grandmother with tears in my eyes and saying, “Why is it that they treat us like they do?” She said, “That's all right, baby. Life is like a revolving wheel—those who are on top today will be on the bottom tomorrow.” That's all she would say, but I knew even as a child that this was not the way human beings were supposed to be treated.

I came to Pensacola and like I say, all I was looking for then was the next bottle. I quit drinking in 1959 and in 1960 a call went out from on high and I yielded to that call. But prior to my yielding to that call, a young United Methodist preacher came to town by the name of Reverend W.C. Dobbins. He came to be the pastor at St. Paul Methodist Church over on Gadsden Street and he just wasn't used to this atmosphere or environment. He went down to one of the five and dime stores—there were four of them at that time—Walgreens, Woolworth, Kress and Newberry. He went to buy some thread and material for his wife who did a lot of sewing. After purchasing the material, he went to the lunch counter to order some food and he was told, “We don't serve your kind in here.” That didn't sit too well with him, so he came back and he called all of the ministers in the community together. During that time I was not preaching, but I was involved in it. There’s a chapter in my book called “Awakening a Sleeping Giant” because I knew that was not how we were supposed to live. Reverend Dobbins formed the Pensacola Council of Ministers and asked me to work with them.

We met with the stores that had lunch counters. They refused to accommodate us. They refused to hire any—at that time they called us Negroes—in their establishments other than as janitors. We started having mass meetings and we started a selective buying campaign. We took out a full-page ad that said we will not shop in any of the stores downtown until we are able to eat at the lunch counters. That went on for a year or so. We boycotted, but we were not allowed to use the word boycott because we were doing it under the banner of the NAACP. That’s why we called it a selective buying campaign—in other words, we selected where we spent our money.

We had students sitting in and those of us who were adults and ministers would be walking the picket line outside of the stores that were being targeted for sit-ins. We were doing it for the protection of the students and to protect the students from themselves—to keep them from doing anything that could have caused them hurt, harm, danger or arrest. But, the arrest part didn't work because there were policemen in this town who were spraying the kids with acid and burning them with cigarette butts. Some of the policemen were taking flashlight batteries off of the racks and sticking them in the kids’ pockets and then arresting them for shoplifting.

Finally, the Merchant Association held meetings and they decided that they could not continue to absorb the losses they were letting due to the withholding of funds. Because not only were we selectively buying in terms of the five and dime stores, but it was broad range as well. We asked black people not to shop at any of the stores downtown until the merchants decided that they were going to do what was right. If we could spend our money, we ought to be able to spend it in all areas of the store. Consequently, the merchants started acquiescing to our demands and they told the ministers that they would allow black people to eat at the counters.

This is how I got involved. Later, we started doing other things. We went to Birmingham after the 16th Street bombing that killed the four little girls. It was during the time that Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman—the three young men who went down to Mississippi—were killed and buried in an earthen dam. The day that that bodies were discovered, we were sitting in front of the black and white television in the Gaston Motel in Birmingham, which was the only place that black people could stay. From that point on, it ignited us. I got involved, deeply involved. Reverend Dobbins subsequently got transferred and when he got transferred nobody wanted to take up the mantle. I had the reputation of at least seeking answers and so the Baptist ministers went on television and declared me as the leader of the movement. So, this mantle of leadership just kind of fell on my shoulders. It was nothing that I looked for—nothing that I thought as a boy in the back woods of Snow Hill that I would ever be involved in.

After that I started leading movements and we started going all over the state with school problems and the integration problems.

COA: Let’s talk about Selma. Tell me about that experience.

HKM: Well, during that time the movement was hot and heavy. I was working at a building over on the corner of Jordan and Palafox Street as a janitor when the call went out from Dr. King for people to gather in Selma for rallies and eventually a march from Selma to Montgomery. They were having nightly mass meetings. I got in my little pink and white 1957 Fairlane Ford and I made my way to Selma. I attended the mass meeting on Saturday night preparing for the march on Sunday morning, March 7, 1965. Dr. King was not there, contrary to a lot of reports that say I marched with Dr. King on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That is not true because Dr. King was not in the first march. He was in the march on the 14th of March—on the following Sunday where they were successful in going across the bridge. But, during the time that I was in Selma there was a white minister—and it's kind of haunting—by the name of Reverend James Reeb who was clubbed to death outside of a cafe there in Selma. I saw that happen and it's not a pleasant memory.

COA: Why was he clubbed to death?

HKM: Because he was working with us. He was clubbed to death by a mob of white men.

COA: You’ve mentioned in other interviews how surprised you were by the violence of that day.

HKM: I was. I expected them to try and stop us. As a matter of fact, I expected them to stop us. I think everybody did, but I think we were all going on a premise of something like what my grandmother used to always tell me—nothing makes a failure but a trial and if you don't try, you don’t know. I guess the following Sunday they subscribed to the idea that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I expected them to try and stop us or to stop us. Even when they made the announcement, “Take your people back to the church. This march will not be allowed to continue,” I never in my wildest dreams thought that we would be confronted like we were. They didn't give us much time because we continued to march when they said it would not be allowed. They waded in to us with billy clubs, riding their horses, spraying their tear gas. White people were living underneath the bridge and they were cheering—all that was a beautiful sight to them. I'll tell you like I told Bill Clinton when he was here campaigning, I said, “Yeah, I was there. I got beaten, but I was in the middle of the march. If I had been towards the front maybe I would have gotten beaten worse.”

It's even hard to fathom now. Well, with the new administration it’s not, but it has been in the past hard to fathom how human beings could do other human beings like they did us. When I think about how they did us, I think about Heather Heyer. I think about how they did her and how the silence coming from the top is so loud until it's deafening.

George Wallace had ordered that and those troopers along with local law enforcement made sure that we were beaten. People were beaten to a bloody pulp. They talk about John Lewis and I tell him now whenever I see him, “Man, if you hadn't had hair, they’d have killed you.” They just really beat him to a bloody pulp, but there was another lady by the name of Mrs. Amelia Boyington. They beat her down. I mean she was just lying there on the ground and we were falling like dominoes, just to be honest. Thank God, like I say, for my being in the middle of the march. That's the reason that I try to go back each year. I try to go back because I like how it feels to be able to walk across that bridge uninhibited and to see African-American law enforcement people helping to guide the march. It's a good feeling.

COA: Do you find yourself traumatized at all by what happened that day and the things that you experienced and witnessed?

HKM: Sometimes, I guess. You know when I think about it—and you can't help but think about it. Every time my knee hurts, it makes me think about it. I don't know about traumatized. That might be a proper word for it, I'm not sure. But it bothers me. I'm bothered by it. I was telling you about Reverend James Reebs—we had so many white people who were with us. I learned that all white people are not bad and all black people are not good. We had so many white people who were with us. I mean not in the shadows, not behind the scenes supporting— and we appreciated those too—but we had people who were on the front lines and that was a healthy feeling.

COA: After Selma you came back to Pensacola and this is when you led some of the efforts with the local schools in terms of the use of the rebel mascot and the confederate flag. Tell me about that.

HKM: Well, it was because of the integration—I call it assimilation at that time, but integration of the schools. Escambia High was the main culprit—the people at that time at Escambia High. I've always contended that it was not the use of the rebel mascot and rebel flag, but it was the misuse because they flaunted those symbols in the faces of the students. As they flaunted them, they sang, “N***** go home” and “You don’t belong here.” W.D. Childers and Smokey Peaden were two state representatives who were on the side of those who were flaunting it. So, we started having nightly mass meetings again and nightly demonstrations to protest the use of those symbols. They used them the more. We protested the more. Finally, after many, many months of that and many arrests and many riots, we went to court over on Palafox Street. Judge Arnow ruled that those symbols were racial irritants and he issued an order for them to remove those symbols.

But still the kids were being misused and mistreated. So we pulled the black kids out of school across the county and we established Freedom Schools in different churches and we used retired teachers to teach them. That lasted for several months. Finally, they agreed to change the name, too.

COA: Do you think they agreed because they were not getting the federal funding for those kids who were pulled out?

HKM: That was the point. It was at a point that they were losing money. So, they weren't going to be able to sustain themselves for too long with the black kids being out of school, so they acquiesced.

I was arrested out there at Escambia High. I was arrested a total of 35 times plus the two trips to the state penitentiary. They sent for me to come out there because they knew that I had my hand on the pulse of the young people. They sent for me to come out there because they were having a riot. I was up in the principal's office. I believe Sydney Nelson was the principal at that time. There were white parents trying to break the door down to the office to get in to get to me. They weren't successful, but not because they didn’t try. Finally the parents dispersed and we went down in the courtyard where the fighting was taking place. When the black kids saw me coming with the principal, they all started running toward me and saying, “Reverend Matthews, they're going to take us to jail.” The principal leaned over and said to me, “None of them are going to jail. We're taking them home.” So, on the strength of what he said, I got the bullhorn from a deputy. I stood on the steps of the bus and made this one pronouncement—“Nobody is going to jail.” With that, the deputies moved in and arrested me for inciting a riot. Well, I didn't know what it was for until after we'd been locked in the jail courtyard for about an hour while they were trying to figure out what they were going to charge us with. It was a quite a few students. Sue Straughn, who is an anchor with WEAR Channel 3, was one of the main students. There were many other students who were arrested. They charged me with inciting a riot, which was a felony. And then they allowed me to sign the bond of all of the kids and myself. Now, how do you arrest the person on a felony charge and allow the felon to sign his own bond and sign the bond of all those kids? When we went to trial, they had lied so much that they couldn't get their lies straight. The deputies were out in a hallway arguing amongst themselves. But anyway, the jury—and they were all white—found us not guilty. That restored my faith—to a degree—in the justice system.

COA: Another big moment in your activist life was when a black motorist named Wendell Blackwell was killed by a white sheriff’s deputy in 1974. That story really struck me because this is still happening. Tell me about Mr. Blackwell.

HKM: Okay, and during that time, you know, they were a little cryptic with killing us. But that's over and done with. They're not trying to hide it anymore. But anyway, Wendell Blackwell was my cousin also. He had been to Club 400 out in the Olive area and he was coming back with a young lady by the name of Deborah Jones, which is another unsolved murder. We found out that the sheriff’s deputy, Doug Raines, was dating Deborah Jones, who was black. From what we know, Doug Raines tried to stop the automobile to get her out of the car. I guess Wendell tried to outrun him, but you don't outrun fast police cars. When Raines did finally stop him, he ordered Blackwell out of the car and ordered him to put his hands on the car or something. But anyway, Blackwell cupped his hands behind his head like this. Doug Raines, from a distance of three feet, blew Wendell Blackwell's brains out with a 357 Magnum. Their contention, their lie, was that Blackwell fell and when he fell they reached under his head and he had a 22 caliber pistol in his hand. We knew that was not true. We knew it was a drop gun, so we started having nightly demonstrations because we wanted Doug Raines to be prosecuted. And Sheriff Untreiner refused to prosecute him at that time. But before that, we learned about Deborah Jones being in the car with Blackwell. Reverend B.J. Brooks (who was president of the NAACP at the time) and I went to see Deborah Jones. She lived over by L Street in a mobile home and she was a part-time employee at the Pensacola News Journal. We went to see her and she had a meeting or something she had to go to, so we only talked to her for a little while. She told us that the mobile home she was living in was the property of Doug Raines. And she said that if we could come back tomorrow, she would finish talking to us about it. Well, this is one of the times that we actually talked too much. We had a press conference that afternoon and we said that we had spoken with Deborah Jones and that we were going back the following day to complete our interview with her. Well that night, they found her body thrown off of the viaduct up by the old Washington High where the J.E. Hall Center is. They spotted a camper that was registered to Doug Raines. We reported all of this to the sheriff's department to no avail. No arrests were made and to this day, no arrest has been made. I called a deputy about 10 years ago. I brought the articles and showed them to him—as a matter of fact, I left them with him. About two months after that, he sent those articles back to me with no return address on it and no comment. Three or four years ago, they had a big billboard over on the west side with Deborah Jone's picture on it as an unsolved murder. I called Crimestoppers and left a message on the voice mail that I had some information about Deborah Jones. I guess they just haven't had time to get back to me. It's only been four or five years ago.

COA: Are you involved in the Black Lives Matter movement?

HKM: I am, but you know, my contention on that is that all lives matter. I don't like to see anybody slaughtered. I'm also against these people who are out there killing policemen because all policemen, all people who put on a blue uniform or brown uniform and wear a badge and have a gun are not evil. There are some policemen out there who will do all they can to uphold the law. I'm involved in Black Lives Matter specifically, but in all lives matter generally.

COA: What advice do you have for young people growing up today who some feel may be a little bit more complacent than your generation in terms of getting out there and creating change?

HKM: First of all, they are not all that complacent, but they are active in the wrong way. My advice to them is to try to get your head screwed on straight. Get your education. Try to stop turning on each other and start turning to each other. Try to be constructive. Stop the useless killing of each other. I mean that not just for young black people, but for young people period. Learn who you are. Know that you’ve got worth and just like you've got worth, understand that your fellow man has worth also. What's the old saying? “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree for poems were made by fools like me but only God can make a tree.” So, I say to them, only God has the ability to create a human being. You don't have the right to take that God has made or to destroy what God has made. Get yourself some education. Get yourself ready for the world. Stay in school. When you get it here (points to head), nobody can take it. If you got it here (points to hands) that's good—it's good to have, but they can rob and steal it and you no longer have it.

COA: You mentioned that you were arrested 35 times and sent to the state penitentiary twice. What was your jail experience like?

HKM: My stretches in jail were not long—they were all in and out basically except for the trip to the state penitentiary. It was more about harassment because they wanted to shut me up. Their purpose was to get me out of circulation. Leading up to getting to the state penitentiary, the judge revoked my bond. I was out on bond and I had a press conference and said that we were getting ready to give the biggest demonstration Pensacola had ever seen. I was getting ready to go to the mass meeting the same night that I had that press conference and two deputies showed up at my door to arrest me because my bond had been revoked. The judge said that any judge would be a damn fool to let a man run free who is threatening to do the same thing that he was arrested for in the first place. So the deputies were a little dumb, you know, not too smart. One of them told some of the black people at the jail that they wish I had run so that they could have shot me. They woke me up at about 2 am the following morning to transport me to the state penitentiary. We got to Chattahoochee about 3:30 in the morning and the deputies got out of the cruiser to go into one of those all night cafes. They came around and opened the back door of the cruiser. I was handcuffed to a young white fella who said to me, “Come on, HK. Let's run.” You'll have to excuse my language, but I said, “If you go, you’re going to catch hell trying to carry me. I'm not going anywhere.” When they got back to the car, they found us still intact—still sitting there like two little mummies. When they deposited me at the state penitentiary and got ready to come back the Pensacola, the young white fellow I had been handcuffed to cornered me and said, “I want you to know that I'm not an inmate at all. They had me handcuffed to you in order for them to shoot you and say that you were trying to escape.” I had eight contracts out on my life. My house was shot into numerous times and rocks were thrown through the window. But, to answer your question when I got to the state penitentiary, I was scared. I might as well be honest. I’d heard too much about state penitentiaries and what they do to you in there. But once I was in, almost every inmate there already knew who I was. They had followed me on television and followed me in whatever printed media they could get. They knew who I was and they formed a protective wedge around me in that prison and they didn't allow anybody, including the correctional officers, to get close to me.

COA: Why were you sent there and how long were you there?

HKM: A chant is what got us, you see. At one of the Wendel Blackwell demonstrations, we sang a chant—“two, four, six, eight. Who shall we incarcerate?” They said we were chanting,—“two, four, six, eight. Who shall we assassinate?” So the crime was extortion by threat in that we were trying to force the sheriff to do something against his will and that was to get rid of Doug Raines.

The first-time I went to the state penitentiary for 30 days. I got out on an appeal bond and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld my conviction, so I was sent back for 33 days. Then, I got an appeal bond to the Florida Supreme Court. They were going to send me back to the state penitentiary, so I called Rueben Askew, who was a dear friend. I was the first one to encourage him to run for governor, you know. But anyway, I called him and said, “They're getting ready to send me back.” He said, “Go home and go to sleep. You will not go back to the state penitentiary.” So, he moved to commute my sentence to time served, which was 63 days. Of course there was some strong opposition to that. Ultimately, Askew commuted my sentence to time served. He publicly said, “I do not want to give you a pardon.” He could have, he said, “but this taints free speech and I want your case to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” It did, but based on some technicality and I've never known what the technicality was, they refused to hear it. When Bob Graham got elected, I made an appeal to him for a pardon. Bob Graham graciously and immediately issued a pardon and restored all of my rights because they all know that everything was political— the arrest, the trial, the sentence and the release were all political.

COA: Thinking about that that era, do you feel like the Civil Rights Movement achieved the goals that you hoped it would?

HKM: I do, but I also feel that we are regressing and I attribute that to the leadership at the top in this country. I put it at the doorstep of number 45. I can't in good conscience put everything at the doorstep, but I can put the encouraging of violence against people of different backgrounds—racial backgrounds, ethnicity, religious backgrounds. When I think about how he did with the Central Park Five after they were acquitted. I think about the birther movement. I think about so many things—even this morning when I heard Michael Cohen say, “Donald Trump is a racist.” I mean, he said those words. So, I think we have retrogressed and I think a part of that retrogression is our fault as a people. You mentioned the word complacent early on. We became so complacent, so satisfied with what we supposedly had gained, which was really what already belonged to us, so we really didn't gain anything. We just wrestled from the lion’s jaw those rights that he was chewing on that belonged to us. We just pried his mouth open and took them out. But now the lion has reappeared and he's grappling at every bit of civility and rights that we've enjoyed. We just can't allow that to happen. We cannot allow that to happen.

COA: What do you tell people, particularly white people, who believe that racism doesn't exist in America in the same damaging ways it once did?

HKM: Get your head out of the hole. Get your head out of the sand. Anybody with any sense at all who can see the everyday workings around them and say that racism has abated, is gone, no longer exists—they don’t have any common sense. There was a time when it was, as I said early on, cryptic. It was hidden. It was not so brazen. But now they think they have a license. I think about nine people in Mother Emmanuel Church up in Carolina. Nine people who only wanted to worship God. Dylann Roof didn't migrate. He was homegrown. The quietness is deafening when it comes to that.

COA: Who, in terms of civil rights activists, has had the biggest influence on you?

HKM: Dr. King because of all of the things that they've tried to drag him into—the scandals and stuff—he was still a man who stood up. He always said, “Never let a man drag you so low as to make you hate him.” When I was in the State Penitentiary and the Lord just would not cooperate with me for nothing I did my best to hate. I just I haven't been able to do it. I always say hatred is like acid—it eats up the container. So I can't hate.

COA: Tell me a little bit about your book Victory After The Fall. What inspired you to write it?

HKM: All of those experiences, which did not scratch the surface. I experienced a fall. I mean, I was at my lowest ebb. I was almost at the point I had to throw bricks in the garbage can to make biscuits rise, you know, I was really down. Then came the commutation, the pardon, the numerous recognitions for the work that I had been involved in. I try to hasten to tell people that I get all of the accolades because I'm the only one who had the privilege of going to jail and prison, but I'm by no means the only one who worked in the vineyard of civil rights. There were plenty of people right here in this city who did, too—people like Reverend B.J. Brooks, Reverend Nathaniel Smith, Reverend James Young. Reverend K.C. Bass, Reverend J.H. Kendricks, Mrs. Kendricks. There were just tons of people who were my supporting cast. The inspiration came from those experiences.

COA: What role did your faith play in your activism?

HKM: 99.9 percent because without faith I wouldn't be sitting here today with you. Faith made me maintain my sanity. The stuff that I was going through, I could have easily cracked. But because of my faith in God, he didn't let that happen. I believed, believe and will forever believe that if God can bring you to it, he can bring you through it.

I do believe the Bible—and so from one blood he created all of us. I deal with people based on how they treat me. I don't care if they are black or white because like I told you I had eight contracts out on my life and three of them would have been carried out by black people. People are people. There's so much good in the best of us. There's so much bad in the worst of us. So, I'm a proponent of human rights. Civil rights, yes. Human rights, yes.


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