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African-American Oral Histories

Akwasi Evans
Clip 2: Transcript

Early Activism

Running Time: 6 min 33 sec

AE: In 1963, when we first integrated, that was in September. The following month Dr. Martin Luther King came to Kentucky to lead a march on the capital, and fifteen of us students decided we would go. And we did go march with him in Frankfurt, Kentucky.   

JR: You were there.

AE: Yeah, I was there. And, I’ll never forget, we returned that following Monday, it was on a Friday. And we got back and went to school Monday morning. The principle called us all to our, to his office and told us that we were suspended, for an unexcused absence. Marching for civil rights was inexcusable.

I got suspended several times at the white high school. I got suspended the following year. As I told you, I was the only African American in the Speech Club. After about three speech meets, I asked the teacher if I could participate. And she finally let me go participate in a speech meet in Cynthiana, Kentucky. I did extemporaneous speaking. I was in two different meets. I placed a very good four points at each meet for a total of eight points. If I had been allowed to be in a second speech meet, and only got a fair, I would have been a thespian. So I asked the teacher if I could go to another speech meet so I could join the Thespian Club. A young lady, a young blonde haired girl, rose up from the back of the room and said the N-word, said, “We let you in the Speech Club, you want to take over every damn thing?” And I got up and said the B-word, I said “I want every damn opportunity you get.” The principle called me to his office, said, “You’re suspended” [laughing]. He said, “It’s inexcusable to use the B-word in this school.” I said, “What about the N-word?” He said, “That’s different.”

JR: She wasn’t punished?

AE: No, of course not. The N-word was okay, but the B-word wasn’t. So that was my initiation to the civil rights movement, where I’ve spent my entire life ever since then.

I went to Kentucky State College, in Frankfurt, and in 1968, Dr. King was assassinated on April the fourth. And we rioted. We threw rocks at cars going up and down the highway. We cordoned the campus off, we did not let anybody white on campus. We looted the campus. We didn’t riot over King’s assassination. We rioted because we had assembled over King’s assassination to discuss what we were going to do. And while we were assembled, some young man came back to campus, rushing, and said that up the street a young Black girl had just been hit upside the head with a tire iron by a white guy at a filling station who had tried to rape her. We went berserk. And we just shut--we didn’t let anyone back on campus, if they had a white car they had to leave the car off campus. Nobody white, finally they called in the state troopers. Troopers came in, fired live ammunition at us, tear Gas. They tear gassed our dorms so bad we had to crawl around the floor with wet towels on our face from, I’d say, two feet up, to the ceiling, was nothing but tear gas. We went till four o’clock in the morning, we literally crawled around, and if we raised up they’d shoot at us. They shot at the girls’ dormitory, the freshman girls’ dormitory. And that went on for two days, and then, the president suspended school. Sent us all home. And while we were home, some of us who the president decided were ringleaders, got letters saying, “Don’t come back.” I was one of those who was asked not to come back.

So, I applied for University of Kentucky, which was a white school, and there were very few African Americans there. And to my surprise I was accepted. So I went to UK, and I spent one year there. We were less than one tenth, one percent of the population, we were worse than UT is in terms of population. And, the positive side of that was, we were really tight-knit. All of us were really close, and we fought for what we thought was just and right. We had no budget, and we knew that to be respected on campus as a viable organization, we had to have a budget. So three of our guys decided that they would do a formal protest. They went and got themselves arrested for trying to burn a building down. And they were caught red-handed with newspaper in their hand, that they had lit, matches in their hand, standing in front of a brick building.

JR: What building?

AE: It was one of the classroom buildings, but it was totally brick and glass, no wood anywhere to be seen [laughing]. They were arrested for trying to burn that building down. But that got us fifteen thousand dollars in funding, the following year, because they were on the front page of the newspaper. It got publicity, it brought light to the fact that here we were, a campus organization, the only African American organization on campus, and the only acknowledged organization that wasn’t funded. That allowed us to bring in speakers like Angela Davis. Allowed us to travel, to go to conferences. [We] went to Indiana to deal with the problem of apartheid in South Africa. Went to Chicago to form the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression. And that was another turning point was once I joined the National Alliance, Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, were some of the founding members, our co-chairs. They gave me an assignment of going throughout the South, every state, working on human rights cases, particularly death row issues. I started to--I went to Charlotte, North Carolina, worked on the Wilmington Ten case, Ben Chavis, the Charlotte Three. I worked on the {George Merrick} case. I worked on the {Johnny Moniharris} case in [phone rings] Florida. And was instrumental in helping win all of their freedoms.

“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”

Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.

Akwasi Evans

Jodi Relyea

Date of Interview: 
April 23, 2004

Mr. Evan’s office at NOKOA, the Observer, Austin, Texas

Recording Format: 
MiniDisc Recorder

Jodi Relyea