Transcript

Charlie Cobb: The problem isn’t so much that a story that you read in a newspaper or that a news story that you see on television or hear on the radio is inaccurate on its face. It will tell you some little bit of who, what, when, where, and how. The problem is all the things that are left out. 

Eddie Conway: Welcome to this episode of Rattling the Bars. 40 years ago, I had the pleasure and the honor of meeting Charlie Cobb, who is a longtime activist in the civil rights movement and a worldwide journalist. 40 years ago, he came into the Maryland Penitentiary and he lectured 100 prisoners and interacted and talked to them. This is a followup interview 40 years later. Charlie Cobb, thank you for joining me. 

Charlie Cobb: I’m glad to be here and good to see you again. 

Eddie Conway: Okay. Now, Charlie, I just recently looked at the profound stuff you were saying and that can be found in connection to this interview. You had just come back from Rhodesia, and the world was changing, and basically, you were sharing with 100 prisoners that was giving you some pushback, too, what was going on around the world and why we didn’t know it. You want to talk about that experience, one, being in there, and two, how the world has changed since then?

Charlie Cobb: Well, two things still remain with me. One is I wasn’t certain, since I think was aside from having been in jail myself as a part of the movement, this was kind of my first visit to a prison that was not associated really with civil rights struggle or freedom struggle. So I wasn’t certain what the exchange might be like. Then when I left, I remember telling myself that I think unexpectedly, quite frankly, that the discovery that it was possible to have frank and open and real discussion with people who were incarcerated stayed with me. 

The second thing I remember about that visit 40 years ago was that since I was really in a prison, you’re going down these corridors, you’re getting checked, I had the real sense I’m going to meet men who are not just in prison, but in prison for a long time, and I was not going to a community center or a church or a school or something like that. But these were men whose whole life is defined by their imprisonment. Again, that’s different than my experience in the movement. Even if I was in jail for a month, my whole life was not defined by being in jail in Greenwood or Greenville, Mississippi, or Sunflower County, Mississippi. This was different. This was prison. 

Eddie Conway: Charlie, well, one of the things is you talked about the world and its involvement and how things were going in Rhodesia, Mozambique, Iran, et cetera. How do you see the world today in reference to what you were saying 40 years ago?

Charlie Cobb: We have a different, though related, set of problems today as compared to those years we’re talking about when I was visiting the prison. One, 40 years have passed. Nations are independent now that weren’t when I went to … I forget what year it was. I made three trips to Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe, as a journalist, and my first experience in that country, they were still fighting for liberation and freedom. It was not an independent nation. So I’m looking at a nation that’s struggling to be free and trying to figure out what they’re doing to gain that freedom. The second trip was … And this describes the passage of time. Second trip was immediately after Rhodesian independence, and Rhodesia now becomes Zimbabwe. So I’m looking at, “Well, what does it mean to be a brand new nation?” At that time, Zimbabwe was the newest nation on the African continent. So what does that mean? How do you … I have friends from Eritrea when they talked about gaining independence from Ethiopia said, “We’re starting from below zero.” 

That’s sort of how it was. Well, what do you do? You’ve got all these guys, for instance, who fought as guerrillas for one of two organizations, ZAPU, Zimbabwe African People’s Union, or ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Union. You had thousands of these guys that had been out in the bush, in many instances for years. So now they’re all coming back at the end of the war. They obviously all can’t be absorbed into a new national army. So what happens to them, and how do you grapple with that if you’re a brand new government, and, in a sense, learning how to be a government? That was my third trip to Zimbabwe, was that. 

That’s been my experience. And I’ve been since then in other African nations. Eritrea, for instance, just won its independence from Ethiopia when I first went there. When I first went to Mozambique, it hadn’t been that long ago that they had gained their independence from Portugal. When I went to Angola, they had gained their independence, but South Africa had mounted an armed aggressive attack on this brand new … So I’m looking at these kinds of things, and they belong to a particular time period. 

Now, today, if you go back to any of these places, it’s possible to measure where they’ve been successful and where they’ve failed. You’re really looking at countries, almost without exception, I will say, struggling under neocolonial pressures. In other words, their own governments are often being manipulated through outside forces, and they’re being forced to march in a particular independence. What I’ve learned in what might be called this post-independence period where I’ve been trying to keep up with African affairs, that just getting the flag of the colonialists lowered and raising your own flag of independence doesn’t solve a lot of problems, and even more complicated than fighting the Portuguese or the South Africans is now that we’ve raised our own flag, what do we do and how do we do it?

I think we’re in some sort of era of transition as countries that are relatively new learn how to take control of their countries and of the industries and of the agriculture. I think we’re in some kind of transitional period, and they’re doing it under a great deal of pressure from forces outside of these countries. There have been, quite frankly, any number of natives of these countries who’ve betrayed their own country and facilitate what these outside forces are doing. That’s what I observe as I observe the places I went to before. New tyrannies grow up. 

Eddie Conway: Charlie, one of the things that you talked about 40 years ago was the lack of awareness on the part of the American population because of the multinational media, the corporations. We don’t today hear about what’s going on in-

Charlie Cobb: Yeah. 

Eddie Conway: … the rest of the world, and it seems to be now that maybe six multinational corporations are controlling 85% of the major media outlets. Talk a little bit about the impact that today’s, and I’m not even thinking about Trump, but today’s news media is having on the American population and their consciousness. 

Charlie Cobb: It’s interesting. I mean one, first, Americans still don’t have much interest in the rest of the world. They consider what the rest of the world needs as being an inconvenience to the life they want to live. Media doesn’t help with this. We still don’t get much when we talk about Africa, Asia, Latin America. We still don’t get much insight from media in the dynamic of the world. Media is about money, and that’s all you need to understand about media. It’s about what works in the way of making money. Media is also ideological, I think. It’s funny. The way … People don’t understand this about media. It’s really what’s left out that defines news media and not so much any bias by news media. 

Here’s a story, for instance. This is from way back, and it’s not international. The New York Times travel section did a story many years ago. It was a travel piece, and it was a travel piece about Atlanta, Georgia. The writer goes as a part of doing this piece and he writes about going to Lester … Oh, what is his last name now? Former governor. 

Eddie Conway: Maddox?

Charlie Cobb: Yes. He goes … At that point, he’s not governor. He’s running a souvenir shop in Atlanta, right, not very far from the University of Georgia. What the writer finds enchanting and writes about it glowingly is that this guy, a notorious racist who beat up students in Atlanta who were trying to desegregate his restaurant with ax handles, and that he’s selling in his souvenir shop ax handles with no reference to how he used those ax handles in the 60s against Black students protesting. If you didn’t know that, you’d have no idea about what the truth really is. I mean, it’s what left out. You have to know, and I happened to have been in Atlanta when this was happening. You had to know that here was a racist guy, former governor now, who campaigned on a racist platform, now running a souvenir shop in which he’s selling replicas of ax handles that he used to beat up Black students. 

That’s where your problem with media is, whether it’s that situation in Atlanta or whether it’s someplace in Africa. What’s left out determines how the story is perceived by the public. What’s left out of a lot of media is Africa. So Africa is not very important to the public. It’s not … If you see something that’s really biased, you can recognize it and respond to it. That’s your basic problem with news media. 

The other problem with news media is it’s driven by entertainment values. Does anybody really think that somebody who reads the news every night as the anchors on television networks do is worth millions of dollars of pay? A half an hour news show is 23 minutes. I think news anchors get anywhere from $2-3 million a year in salaries. Why? What’s at play is entertainment value. It’s just the same way a Hollywood star or actor gets all those big bucks. So entertainment values drive news media. I live in Jacksonville, Florida, where news reporting is awful down here, and what drives it on television is the entertainment value of what they show, the pictures. Sometimes they’ll give two or three minutes to something that you think might be worth 30 seconds. 

So this is a huge problem. And I used to say one way around it is let’s make Black newspapers really relevant to generating the news. I never had much success with that, and it’s another kind of problem, because all students in journalism schools for the most part want to be in network news, because that’s where the money is. I understand. I understand that, but the public doesn’t really have a sense of what’s happening with the news. The founder, the producer, the original producer of 60 Minutes, said in an interview once the secret to the success of 60 Minutes was that show’s ability to combine entertainment with newsgathering, and that what was really driving 60 Minutes was entertainment values. 

I mean, you think about it. It was 60 Minutes that pioneered the ambush interview, for instance. You show up with a camera crew and you knock on the door and somebody you want to charge with something as a reporter. The real reason for doing that is not to find out any information, but it’s entertaining to see these cameras stalking somebody up the street or hiding in their house and whatnot. We see this all over the place. 

Eddie Conway: Charlie, let’s change tacks for one minute. You mentioned the civil rights movement and nonviolence. And even then, the prisoners had an interest in that. Some years later, a few years ago, you wrote a book, “This Nonviolent Stuff Will Get You Killed.” Can you talk a little bit about that book and why you wrote it?

Charlie Cobb: Yeah. For years, I’ve always tried to push the idea that what really drove the movement was grassroots community organizing in the rural South. That’s what I think, as opposed to mass protests in public spaces led by charismatic leaders. Martin Luther King is a great example of the charismatic leader. I think it was the work at the grassroots, and that’s what we did in SNCC. We dug in to these rural communities to organize, to get people to see their own potential, to get people to take control of their own lives or at least fight to take control of their own lives. That’s what we were about. 

Now, if you worked in the rural South, certainly in the 60s, and I think it would be true today, one, it was very violent, and two, guns were everywhere. Black people had guns. White people had guns. Self-defense was routine. I’ve been in a room … I’m thinking of some old men I was in a room with and they were all cleaning their rifles and talking about how they were part of the nonviolent movement. I’ve had guys tell me, they would say something like, “You may be nonviolent, Charlie, but I’m not going to let these white people kill you.” So there’s that whole layer of [inaudible 00:20:05] that has to do with self-defense and the possession of arms. A lot of the reason for that is because a lot of the guys, older men who supported us and gave us support, and older women for that matter, but older men, a lot of them were World War II veterans and Korean War veterans. They had been trained to shoot and didn’t hesitate to shoot back. 

There’s a whole story I was trying to tell. It was really two stories. One was the story of organizing at the grassroots. Secondly, it was the story of guns in the South, which I simply felt was an under-told story, the storyteller in me found that. The very title of the book, which is “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible” is taken from a Black farmer in Mississippi, Hartman Turnbow, legendary figure in Mississippi, but omitted from the history. When the Night Riders attacked his home because of his support for the movement, he drove them away with his Winchester rifle. When we showed up the next morning, the first thing out of his mouth when he saw us was, “I wasn’t being non-nonviolent. I was just protecting my family.” 

He met Martin Luther King once, ’64. He was introduced to Martin Luther King. And Mr. Turnbow, who was 60-something, Mr. Turnbow never shy to speak his mind after the formalities of introduction, looked at Reverend King and said, “Reverend King, this nonviolent stuff ain’t no good. It’s going to get you killed one day.” Tragically, that’s exactly what happened, but that was too long a quote for a book title. So I just shrank it down to “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed.” But the point … But it’s taken from the words and wisdom of a much older man than I was. Again, the book I did about guns tries to project the voices of the people we work with as organizers at the grassroots. 

I think although it’s beginning to change a little bit, I think the movement story, the real movement story, is poorly told. I think part of that has to do with the nature of academia and part of that has to do with who’s permitted to speak, who’s permitted to publish. There’s a whole … It’s limited if you want to get real voices. 

Eddie Conway: Charlie, that brings me to the next question, then, because I understand you’re working on a book now. What is this book addressing?

Charlie Cobb: This book is called, the title is called “Get in the Way: Protests, Politics, and the Movement for Black Lives.” You probably won’t be surprised that when those of us who are veterans of the movement, particularly grassroots organizers, look at today’s young activists, we see a lot of ourselves in them and we try and give them support. We make statements in support of them. We have a SNCC legacy project, and we have a lot of meetings, and we always involve today’s young activists. Before this COVID-19 virus, or what I call the Trump virus, hit this country, we were planning for commemorating the 60th anniversary of the formation of SNCC, and it was going to be an intergenerational conference so that it wouldn’t just say, “This is what we did in 1961 or ’62, or whatnot.” It was going to be a real conversation and interaction between this millennial generation and us who are war babies and baby boomer generation 50 years ago.

Almost all of us that were involved, we just finished celebrating the 80th birthday of a friend of ours in SNCC. We’re going to try and do it virtually now, but it’s a different dynamic when you talk about a virtual conference. I think projecting … You can see what we do if you look at the SNCC digital gateway which we organized. That’s snccdigital.org. We collaborated with Duke University to generate this digital gateway. When we had, not a draft, but whatever the equivalent of a draft is virtually, we asked a number of young activists to comment on it. We wanted to know whether they thought it was helpful for what they were trying to do. We wanted to know what they thought of it as storytelling about this period of time that we were involved in. Without exception, they all said, “Well, we just don’t hear our voices in this. We don’t hear … This site doesn’t tell what we think of people like Fannie Lou Hamer or Ella Baker.” 

So this being the age of technology, we asked them. And this is how our relationship goes with these young activists. This being the age of technology, we asked them to use their cell phone and record a video of themselves talking about what the site helped them with or didn’t help them with. So now if you click onto the site, you’ll find a whole section devoted to the voices of the young activists today. Things aren’t the same now as they were back in 1961 when I came to Mississippi, but they find they want to know, “Well what was Mrs. Hamer really like, Charlie? Tell us about Ella Baker,” that sort of thing. We think this is one of the most important developments that has emerged in this early part of the 21st century and go out of our way to include them in our conversations and go out of our way to try and … 

And we don’t always agree on everything. They resisted the idea … This was early on in our relationship. They thought campaigning in elections, for instance, or choosing candidate support was selling out to the establishment. We said we had the same arguments and it took us a while to see. And what turned around our thinking, we had long conversations with them about that. So we don’t always agree on everything they say, but it’s their movement, and we make it clear we’re always open to telling you—we’ll never not tell you what we think about anything you’re doing, but it’s your movement. We’re around to support it, to lend you whatever you need from our experience, and to make sure the public knows that we think that what you’re doing is valuable. 

Eddie Conway: Well, Charlie, tell me this then. Right now today, post-Trump, whatever, the virus here, the George Floyd—the movement itself, where do you think we are today, and how do you think we’re going to go forward? I know you say it’s their movement, but if you look at it now from 10,000 feet, what do you see?

Charlie Cobb: Well it depends on what day you catch me on. 

Eddie Conway: Okay. Let’s try today. 

Charlie Cobb: I mean I go back and forth on that. I worry a lot- 

Eddie Conway: Okay. 

Charlie Cobb: … about the direction the country’s going on. See, I think it’s a mistake to use Donald Trump as the signpost for where the country is going. I think this goes … What’s unfolding runs deeper than Donald Trump. This whole trend toward authoritarian rule, this whole trend towards disenfranchising Black and Brown people, began before Trump, and not much of it has stopped since he lost the election. What Trump was able to do was provide fascist forces a way to coalesce in and around being against immigrants, being against Black people, being against Brown people, and he did facilitate that. I tell people it’s as if the head of the White Citizens’ Council became the President of the United States. If you remove the head of the White Citizens’ Council, it doesn’t mean all the themes that the Citizens’ Council was about have vanished. 

So I don’t know what that’s going to mean. I mean, certainly when I look at the political scene today, say at the White House or Washington, I can already see what these extreme right-wing forces are throwing up to prevent Biden from being able to do very much. I listen to the apologies, not the apologies but the excuses, being made for all these people who stormed the White House, stormed the Capitol, flying Confederate flags and all of this. What does that mean for the long term? Yeah. What does that represent? Remember, Trump, he lost the election, but he also gained 70 million votes. What will that mean for my grandkids? I have five grandkids. What will that mean for those kids down the road? It’s not at all clear. 

If anything, what has really been striking is the cowardice of the political leadership of this country and the media. It took the media over two years just to call Trump a liar. I remember those arguments that they were having. “Well, should we call the president a liar?” The cowardice in the political establishment to me is striking. What does that mean when you get right down to it? Does it take men in jackboots kicking in your door before you realize you’ve got a problem? So I’m ambivalent in the sense of not being able to speak precisely on what it means. I think when you catch me on a real bad day, the trend is toward totalitarianism and authoritarianism. That’s what I really see on my worst days. On a good day, I look at the Movement for Black Lives, say, “Well, how will they come out on this? Will this continue the fight? Are they able to sustain the fight?”

As I told you, I come out of an organizing tradition. And one of the conversations I and others at SNCC in particular have with today’s young activists is about protest is necessary, we say, but it’s not sufficient. You have to sustain a movement. You have to figure out how best to organize for change, how to speak to communities, how to speak to neighborhoods, how to put neighborhoods in the trenches with you. It’s sort of in some ways seems to me to be a new idea to them, and I understand it, because we had the same problem with our own evolution. All of us, myself, Stokely, all of us, came out of the sit-in movement, the nonviolent protest movement which we challenged segregation and white supremacy. Ms. Baker was encouraging us to think about organizing at the grassroots, but it was slow for us to come to that kind of understanding of the necessity. 

Ironically, because I was 19 years old when I went to Mississippi, for our age group, it was the older people who took us by the hand and said, “Let us show you what we really need and let us introduce you to the people,” all of them older than we were, “who will help you fight with us to get what we really need.” 

Eddie Conway: Charlie, not to cut you off, but that brings me to a point, because after the civil rights movement, obviously there was the Black Power movement that grew out of the civil rights movement, in fact, and then the Black Liberation movement, and now we have massive incarceration of millions of people, Black, Brown bodies, et cetera. Are we any better off now we went through all those processes-

Charlie Cobb: Yeah. 

Eddie Conway: … than we were then and why?

Charlie Cobb: I think, one, I think I don’t … See, I see Black struggle as a continuous struggle with ups and downs since slavery, since the enslavement of Black people. So it takes on various qualities and characteristics over time, but it’s a mistake to talk about the civil rights era and the Black Power era and the whatever, because it’s not that. Black struggle in this country goes … And I tell people all the time, “Look, enslaved Africans were not marching in nonviolent protests on auction blocks. Enslaved Africans were not having sit-ins in plantation manor dining rooms.” What were they doing? Well, they were doing the best they could to fight to make life better. Sometimes that involved escape. Sometimes that involved rebellion. Sometimes that involved secret schools. Sometimes that included assassination. It included sabotage. It included …

I mean, people pick the tactics and strategies they want to use in terms of the time period that they’re in. Slavery was abolished in 1863, so we don’t have slave rebellions anymore, but just because slavery was abolished through the Emancipation Proclamation, at least in the Confederate states, just because slavery didn’t mean that white supremacy and racism was eliminated. And Black people knew that, even if white people didn’t. They picked the weapons they felt necessary to fight it. So like I say, what we were doing in the 60s was using the weapons we thought best to fight white supremacy. The Movement for Black Lives will pick—not all their weapons are going to be the same as ours, and that’s okay. It’s all … 

[inaudible 00:38:29] Mozambique [foreign language 00:38:30], the struggle continues. You make incremental progress. I don’t have a vision of a grand revolutionary change that emancipates everybody. I think it’s just a fact of life. You make evolutionary progress. Sometimes that’s a setback. For instance, take the Supreme Court. You could say, and I know people who have said this, older, you could say that Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court justice represents progress. Not something I would say, but I know people who would say that. So sometimes what you think of progress turns out not to be progress. Sometimes what you hadn’t thought of as being particularly significant turns out to be significant. 

In the framework of Black struggle, people like me try and commit younger people to what I think is progressive struggle, but be clear, it’s what I think, and I’m not the gospel. I’m one guy living in this world, and I will tell you what I think is progressive, I will tell you what I think is reactionary, I’ll tell you why I think that or why I don’t think that, but the struggle continues. This current surge of youthful activism proves that, it seems to me, makes it inarguable that struggle continues. I’m 77, and I got off the phone yesterday with a guy just turned 22. I remember telling him, “You mean you’re old enough now for me to take you out for a drink or beer or something?” But he’s very active in North Carolina in struggle. I’m sure you’ve seen that in Baltimore and other places, because I imagine you had conversations with some of these young activists. I consider that progress, even if all the questions that need to be answered haven’t been answered. It’s progress that we have yet another generation that’s continuing to struggle.

Then I realize … Of course, I’m writing about the Movement for Black Lives, now. The title, by the way, came from John Lewis, “Get in the Way.” It was one of his standard lines speaking to college students. “You see something wrong or you see something unfair, et cetera, et cetera, don’t be afraid. Get in the way. Stand up.” I took the line from John. So I realize because I just typed that John Lewis quote that there’s an even younger generation behind the millennials who are becoming active in the movement. These are the kids who are high school students, freshmen in college if they’re going to college, but they are 17, 18. Alicia Garza, whom I like a lot, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, is almost 40. While she’s young to me because I’m 77, even Derrick Johnson, the head of the NAACP, is 51. And I told him, because I know Derrick from when he was at [inaudible 00:42:44], “You’re young to me.” He wanted to know why I was interviewing him if I was doing a book about young activists. I said, “Aside from your role as head of the NAACP,” he was 50 when I interviewed him, “you just told me you turned 50. That makes you young to me.” 

So there’s some flexibility in what we mean when we say young activists, but I don’t worry so much as long as I see young people in motion for change. I’m less worried about the future than when I see the kind of cowardice I see in newsrooms and the national legislature, the Congress or the White House. As long as I see meaningful young activism, it sort of renews my hope and it renews my faith in what’s possible in the way of change. The country has changed in some ways. I mean, one of the striking things about the round of demonstrations that began with the acquittal of George Zimmerman of the murder of Trayvon Martin, one of the things that striking to me, as somebody who remembers the 50s and 60s, is how diverse the protesters are, and also that these protests are international. 

That’s really different than my experience in the 60s, and I find that a progressive change. I mean, you can go … I live in Jacksonville, Florida, north Florida, perhaps where the Ku Klux Klan is strongest, but you can go into white neighborhoods and see Black Lives Matter signs. That just didn’t happen, at least in my day. It just didn’t happen. Whatever comes of that, I say it reflects a kind of progress in the consciousness of the country, although there are powerful forces, and I don’t think people understand how powerful these forces are, working against this kind of change. When I say … I don’t mean by that saying Kamala Harris represents progressive change. I don’t know. I don’t know the lady. I really don’t know much about her politics, but I do know what I see on the street in the sense of the kind of activism that’s been unfolding for a decade now. I’ve had the opportunity, happily, to talk to them, because they’re interested in the experiences of people like me. 

They might not know very much about SNCC, or CORE, or Ella Baker, or Fannie Lou Hamer, or Stokely Carmichael, but they’re interested in that. And they’re interested because they’re looking for things that they can use. When I was their age, civil rights struggle, until we sort of fell into it, was considered something grownups did. I never saw myself until the sit-ins happened in 1960, and then I’m looking at people like me, Diane Nash, and John Lewis, and a whole bunch of people, Julian Bond. They looked like me, and they were my age, and whatnot. So I consider this progress, all of this, and to the extent that it’s possible to retain some belief that the country will pull out of this stuff that Donald Trump and others have led … Although it goes back, much further back. And people forget the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which was formed in the 1930s, was destroyed by the McCarthy era tyrannies in the 1950s. 

So this is not new, this stuff that Donald Trump is putting forth, and he plays to the lowest common denominators. So when you think of it that way, you think of this long struggle that’s both ahead of you and that has flourished behind you, and just being able to survive is hopeful. 

Eddie Conway: So we’re going to end this on do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with older activists, as well as younger activists in terms of working together or-

Charlie Cobb: Well, I think that-

Eddie Conway: … moving forward?

Charlie Cobb: I think the most important thing we older activists can do is to interact with today’s young activists. It doesn’t mean we have to be out on the street with them. That’ll depend on a lot of stuff, including health, but I think that experience that all of us have had, whether it’s SNCC, CORE, the Black Panther Party, all that stuff that we’ve experienced, we ought to share it, consciously share it, and consciously figure out ways to pass it on. It doesn’t mean they’re going to accept everything we say, but if you work hard to develop the right relationship with these young activists, they will not simply listen, but they’ll think about what you’re sharing with it and they’ll discard what they don’t need and they will use what they need. That’s a valuable thing if you’re to do … I’ve been a little disturbed at the distance so-called Black leaders take with regard to these young activists. 

I can remember—this was some years back on one of the anniversaries of the March on Washington—when young activists were denied access to the stage by the civil rights establishment. That’s some wrong approach. I think Andy Young once called something they were doing stupid. You may disagree with some of the things that today’s young activists do, but stupid they’re not, and stupid shuts the door in their face. That’s stupid. We ought to give them a lot more support than they get. Here, I’m talking about the older people who reflect the leadership establishment in the Black community. It’s really important to do that and to demonstrate that, insofar as you’re concerned, what they’re doing is legitimate and necessary. 

Eddie Conway: Okay, Charlie. Thank you. Thank you for that insight. 

Charlie Cobb: Thank you.

Eddie Conway: Thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.

In 1980, Eddie Conway participated in and helped organize a prisoners’ educational outreach program called “To Say Their Own Words,” where thinkers and scholars came to Maryland Penitentiary and spoke about topics like impending U.S. fascism, the prison-industrial complex, capitalism, increased surveillance, and many other issues that have become even more pressing today. These speakers included Amiri Baraka, Askia Muhammad, Bruce Franklin, Nijole Benokraitis, and Charlie Cobb.

As part of an ongoing series for TRNN’s Rattling the Bars, Eddie Conway speaks with these individuals about their predictions in 1980 and how they resonate today. This interview is with longtime civil rights activist, journalist, and author of “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed,” Charlie Cobb.


In this speech, delivered to Maryland Penitentiary prisoners in 1980, journalist and civil rights activist Charlie Cobb discusses his experiences reporting in Rhodesia and the U.S., and explains how the news industry’s interests influence people’s understanding of themselves and the world.

Eddie Conway

Executive Producer

Eddie Conway is an Executive Producer of The Real News Network. He is the host of the TRNN show Rattling the Bars. He is Chairman of the Board of Ida B's Restaurant, and the author of two books: Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther and The Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO. A former member of the Black Panther Party, Eddie Conway is an internationally known political prisoner for over 43 years, a long time prisoners' rights organizer in Maryland, the co-founder of the Friend of a Friend mentoring program, and the President of Tubman House Inc. of Baltimore. He is a national and international speaker and has several degrees.