Would you say a
little bit about how you got involved with CRS?
I was a part of the group that conceptualized CRS before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I
was director of the Arkansas Council on Human Relations and we were trying to get the Civil
Rights Act structured and passed going all the way back to 1962. A group was meeting in
Washington to conceptualize how we could get an act passed, given what it contained. I was
assigned to two workshop groups. One was the Community Relations Service, although we
didn't call it that at the time. We simply called it Civil Rights, or we would call it the Human
Relations Groups, or that kind of thing. I was also assigned to the EO [Equal Opportunity]
workshop group that finally came forth with EEOC, which is Title VII. So we picked our
brains for two days, deciding if we could get that passed. And then, the March on Washington
forced Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (As you remember, the March on
Washington was in 1963, and it forced Congress to pass the act.) Before then, various bills
had been presented and there were various notions on what the act ought to look like. Lyndon
Johnson had an idea of something like the Community Relations Service long before he was
President. And now, he was President and he was pushing for it to happen.
When it was finally passed, that's Title X of the Civil Rights Act, it didn't quite look like what
we had envisioned. We had envisioned it having subpoena power, cease and desist power, and
mediation and conciliation, but it didn't pass Congress that way.
Now, about how I got involved in the profession and all that. After the Civil Rights Act was
passed, they used the Commission on Civil Rights to present a series of hearings on the Civil
Rights Act to make officials aware of what was contained in the Civil Rights Act. Civil rights
activists, school board members, and members of city councils in Arkansas, mayors, and these
kind of people were invited to come hear what the act meant. For the opening session, they
found out at the last minute, though I knew all the time, there was not a single black on the
The guy who used to be with the Civil Rights Commission, who later went to HUD, by the
name of Sam Simmons called me and said, "Ozell?" I said, "Yes?" He said, "You know that
we're opening this big conference in Little Rock tomorrow?" I said, "Yes, I know." And he
said, "There's not a single black in the opening session." I said, "I know that, too. I don't
know what you all were thinking, but there's not a single black on the program." He said,
"You've got to speak." I said, "I've got to speak? About what?" And Sam said, "I really don't
give a damn. Just speak." I said, "Sam, it's unfair that you've been planning this for six weeks
and you've got all of the speakers. The governors' going to be there, and he's going to speak,
and the congressman's going to speak and one of the senators is speaking. Now, you call me at
the last minute and tell me that I must join in, now that's not equal opportunity." He said, "Oh
hell, Ozell. Number one, you know you can do it, and I know you can do it. And number two,
you know if I'd have told you six weeks ago that you still would have spoken
extemporaneously. Now don't tell me that, I know you can, and I want you to speak." I said,
"Okay." He said, "Fifteen minutes." So I spoke. There was a guy there from CRS, it was just
getting started and after I had spoken, they invited me to join the staff of CRS.
Was this Ben Holman?
No, Ben Holman was not director at the time. See, when Ben Holman came, he came as
head of media for CRS, and not director of the agency. The director of the agency, I've
forgotten his name now, but I came in under Roger Wilkins. But it was not even Roger then,
Roger was with the agency, but he was not director. When I was asked to join I said, "Alright,
I'll take a look." And I told them that I needed a fourteen to come aboard. They didn't have a
fourteen to give me, so I didn't come. Just that simple.
A year later, I was called by a guy named George Cobos. George was deputy director then and
in charge of the field staff, and he was in charge of recruiting and staffing up. He called and he
said, "Ozell, you don't know me, I don't know you, I only know who you are, but we're trying
to staff CRS and I see that you don't have an application in here, but I see where they talked
with you last year about coming aboard, so I'm checking. We need people to come aboard who
are already seasoned and experienced. You headed our council on Human Relations and you're
just the kind of person we need to come aboard. So, how about it?"
I said, "Can you give me a fourteen?" He said, "No, I can't give you a fourteen. We don't have
a fourteen." I said, "Well, that is my condition." And we talked for awhile and he said, "Are
you coming up to the white House conference on Civil Rights?" I said, "Yes, I'm coming up.
Now I don't work for one of these agencies that's going to pay my way," I said. That's the way
we were in those days, we had to pay our own way, but I did that. "I might be having donuts
and coffee for breakfast, and stew for dinner, but I'll be there." He said, "Well, let's get
together." He described himself to me so I would know him and I described myself to him.
Sure enough, we got together and he offered the job again and I said, "You got a fourteen?"
He said, "No, but I have another proposition I'd like to offer you. Would you come for a
thirteen if I open you an office there in Little Rock?" I said, "Well, if I don't have to move, I'll
come for a thirteen." He said, "Now you're going to travel like hell. You're not going to be
working in Little Rock, but home will still be in Little Rock." And my wife's a teacher there,
so she could keep on teaching. He said, "But you will leave home on Mondays and come back
on Thursdays. Now can you handle that?" I said, "As long as I don't have to move, I'll come
for a thirteen." So they opened an office in the area and I got the thirteen, and that's how I
came to CRS. But I was assigned in New Orleans. And I was in New Orleans every Monday
So Little Rock was a field office? Is that what they called it?
Yes, it was a field office.
Did you come on as a conciliator? The agency had not done
mediation by that point, is that right?
So what sort of title did they hire you as?
They hired me as a field representative. And later changed from field representative to
state supervisor and then regional director, but we were first field reps. I worked in New
Orleans and Shreveport from June or July 1966 until January 1968 and after the sanitation
workers protest in Memphis in January, I was transferred from New Orleans to Memphis.
So you've seen the agency and the nation in lots of different circumstances.
Well I have. I've been a field rep, I've been a state supervisor, and I've been regional
director, so I did it all.
And you've been regional director for how long?
Since 1972. I haven't had a promotion since then, isn't that a shame? (laughter) Promoted
to where? I had the opportunity to be director when Jimmy Carter was President. I didn't
choose to go to Washington. It was my own choice. But, I didn't choose Washington. I like to
stay where the action is and the action's definitely here, most especially in this region.
Alright. Let's talk about a case. Would you maybe think about a case that typifies your
work and that you think would be particularly good at illustrating for people that are trying to
get into the field, the principles, or what's involved.
There are so many kinds of cases. In some of them, you have
dramatic confrontation, like we had in Memphis, for example. I was the field rep in charge of
Memphis when Martin was killed. That whole crisis had evolved from January to April. I
think Martin was killed on April 4th.
April 4th, yes. 1968. Let's take that case and would you walk us through that? How did
you get in, what did you do? Everything.
Right. When the sanitation workers started that protest, I was
called by George Pembleton and he said, "Ozell, we want you to get to Memphis." I had read
something about the conflict, and teasingly I said, "And do what?" He said, "You're the one
person I'm sparing who will know what to do once you're there. So just get there." So I went
to Memphis. Now this is the way you do it-- CRS first does an alert of a case. An alert simply
calls attention to the fact that the problem exists. We don't even know whether it's our
jurisdiction or not, but it sounds like it. And then there's some preliminary information I
gather so I can alert those involved, find out where and all of this. And then there's what we call an on-site assessment. Where you go on-site and you
determine surely, who the parties are in the conflict, what are the demands, what parties are
blocking or refusing to yield to the demands, and as a result of that, what the problem is.
Okay, that's what I want you to walk us through. How do you
know who the conflict is with? Who are the parties? What are the demands? Exactly what
Well, I knew that it was the sanitation workers. It was just a matter of finding out
particularly who was leading the sanitation workers and where their leadership was coming
from, who was making the decisions. I knew it was against the city, so it was just a matter of
finding out what powers in the city were pulling the strings. The mayor, the city council, what
part everybody was playing. You do that by just simply conferring with people.
I went to the sanitation workers' leadership to
find out exactly what their demands were. By this time they'd been circulated everywhere,
anyway, in the newspaper and in leaflets. And I sat down with the parties to see where it is
that they were.
And you get some idea, in the back of your mind, what it would take to resolve the problem.
Of course, they will tell you in no uncertain words. And then you go to the other
side and say, "Mr. Mayor, these are demands being made by the sanitation workers. Now what
is it that keeps you from agreeing to their demands? Why is it that you refuse to do this?" All
of these questions are focused towards why and what your position is.
The sanitation workers position was not only that they were very low paid, but they contended
that they were not treated as human beings ought to be treated, and that they wanted their dues
write-off. Now do you understand what I mean by dues write-off?
No, I don't.
Well there's a union. They don't collect the money from the union members. Rather the
city, or whatever they're working for, pays the union, and the city collects the money and gives
it to the union, right? Or the company they're working for does this--that's what you call dues
write-off. That's a withdrawal from your paycheck of the dues which is turned over to the
union. The city refused to give a dues write-off because they refused to recognize the union.
Well, that was just their attitude, to not recognize a union. They didn't want any unions
there in city government.
You think it didn't have anything to do with the fact that the sanitation workers were
almost exclusively black?
Of course it did. But see, when you've got a union, one that's recognized, that caused a
problem. When the company has a recognized the union, that within itself gives the members
power. That gives the union bargaining rights with you, that you freely granted, right? And
the relationship between you and the union becomes a bargaining thing. Well the city wasn't
about to give that up, most especially to a group of black men.
So the unions stepped up their protest and they moved to more than just rioting and picketing,
they moved to mass demonstrations, as you remember. And the city, being opposed, and back
in those days, chose to interfere with the demonstrations to just simply give the marchers pure
hell. That was that kind of climate that was going on by the time we got into late February and
And Martin, the union and the black leadership in Memphis, by this time, had joined the union
in protest. The black ministers, the NAACP, and the organizations like that, had come in on
the union side, so that's going on. And in order to step it up another notch, they invited Dr.
King in. Just about everywhere Dr. King ever went, he was invited in. He didn't particularly
start the movement. So when he came to Memphis, naturally, this further highlighted the
movement. Every night they'd have this big mass meeting with eight or ten thousand people
and they'd have marches every Saturday. So Dr. King would come in for that and that lifted
the protest to another level. You have nine or ten thousand people in mass meetings at night,
and you're having big marches on the weekend.
Now, what's our role? Our role is to try to keep the situation as
peaceful as possible by trying to persuade the city not to do anything that inflames the
situation. And most of these things, back in those days, and still today, were inflamed by
police action. Some of it happened out of ignorance and others deliberately. Back in those
days, it was deliberate. For example, the city parents insisted that the marchers could only
occupy half of the street. And the police would take the attitude that if anybody steps across
that centerline, they would arrest them. Sometimes they were arrested when they really didn't
step across the line. The police were harassing them all of the time, about any little thing that
they could come up with.
I had three people assigned to me from CRS. One was Jim Laue. He was with George Mason
University until he died, with the Conflict Resolution program they have there. Jim Laue, and
Fred Miller, a man who has now left from this area, came into help me. We divided the
chores. Jim, who was white, was assigned to SCLC, and his job was to know at all times what
they were going to do. To try to persuade them not to do anything that inflamed this situation
by trying to get them not to protest violently, but to conduct protests in a way that would not
heighten tension or cause conflict. And so Jim was assigned to Martin, I was assigned to the
police and the courts.
Now it sounds just like the assignment was backwards, right? But is really wasn't. Jim Laue
knew Martin's co-workers well. He had done some research for them, he had actually done
consulting with them, so he knew them very well. I knew them, but not in the same kind of
detail that he did, having worked with him before.
So I was assigned to the police. I was supposed to make sure that their commanders and police
forces knew exactly who I was and why I was there, and what it was I was trying to do. And I
was supposed to know at all times, as far as you could know, how the police were going to
respond to every single thing. And I was also reporting to the commanders when I saw police
were out of line in those marches. I said, "they just simply harass the marchers all of the time,
trying to provoke something out of innocence," and that was my job.
I was also liaison with the court, talking to the judge about his orders, whether they were
effective in doing what he set out to do, or whether the orders ever started more problems than
anything else. So that's the way that we went about it.
Plus I was the only person among us who could go down in the middle of the housing project
workers, invade that group of young black militants that I knew of before, and talk with them.
Everybody else was very reluctant to do that. And probably everybody else was scared to do
that. But I come from that old school, "fools rush in, but angels dare to try," you've heard it.
I've always found that I could talk to the militants. Very, very well. Without any fear, because
most of the fear about what's going to happen with them, to me, or to anybody like me, was up
here [in my head] not actual and I knew that. They weren't going to harm me. I wasn't their
I got with them and they just cut me off and said that what I was talking about was damn
stupid, but that didn't bother me. All of a sudden you come for them, you know how those
guys are, you look better than they are, but that's your people. That kind of thing.
What was your goal in working with the Invaders?
The Invaders were opposed to non-violent techniques, absolutely. Absolutely, they
advocated violence, and they provoked violence. When that last march that Martin led broke
up in disarray, it was because the Invaders started breaking out plate glass windows. It was not
the marchers that started to break those plate glass windows. It was the Invaders, and their
followers that did, which provoked the police to attack the marchers. The police fell right into
the trap. The seven or eight thousand marchers were doing nothing.
The deputy chief of police, was commanding the street. He came up to me and as I said, I
knew him. I went down to the police station everyday, so I knew him. I always marched in
that gray area between the marchers and where the press was backing up, you know, taking
pictures. I was always in that area, in front of the marchers, but between them and the cameras.
And so the deputy police chief came up to me and said, "Mr. Sutton, we got to do something
about this march, I may have to stop it." I said, "Chief, you can't stop this march, it stretches
out for miles back there. If you stop the people in front, the others are going to keep coming,
they don't even know the march is stopped in that sense. Then you've got chaos." And then he
said, "Where is Dr. King?" I said, "Dr. King is over in that line, about three or four lines back.
He usually started up front, but folk got in front of him in these marches. You'll find him." He
said, "No, I'm not going in there. Would you go in there and tell Dr. King to come out?"
So I went in there like a fool and got Dr. King to come out. And while I'm in there, all hell
breaks loose, police start shooting their tear gas, swinging them billy sticks, and using their
water hoses, and so all hell breaks loose. One of the things I give CRS credit for is that they
got Dr. King out of there fast. I do mean fast. A car rolled up and they shoved Dr. King in the
car and the car got out of there.
So the sheriff, it sounds like, viewed you as an ally in some way.
Oh, okay. Say some more about that.
It wasn't the sheriff, it was the city police. But they knew me and I was the one person
they could talk to, because I was the one person they knew. I was always down at the city hall
talking to the chief about how y'all conduct things and trying to tell them what to do, none of
which they did. There was some interaction between us in that sense. But when all hell broke loose, and they started driving the
blacks back toward the church, this police officer runs up to me with that long riot stick and he
punches me in the stomach with that stick and he told me to "get." And I'm crying out like a
crazy somebody. I wouldn't run, and I couldn't fight. I couldn't fight because I didn't have
anything to fight with. He's got a stick and a gun, right? I have nothing. So he starts wailing
on me with that stick and tells me to "get." Now, if I'd have had some sense, I guess I would
have run. That's what he wanted me to do. But I wouldn't do that. And I was wheeling, and
then he got mad because he couldn't hit my head, because as big as my head is, I can get it way
down in my shoulders, at least in those days I could. He beat up my shoulders and arms pretty
good, but he never hit my head a single time. I tell everybody, if you think that Muhammad
Ali could do the ropedy-dope you should have seen me. You should have seen my weaving
and bobbing and I think golly, I would have made Muhammad Ali look like a neophyte. But
he never hit my head a single time. The only thing that saved me was a young white man.
Stanfield was his name. I knew him from the days I was director of the Arkansas Council on
Human Relations. When I was director of the Arkansas Council on Human Relations, he was
director of the Virginia Council on Human Relations. And I had gone on to work for CRS and
he'd come down here to work with the Southern Regional Council. He was a field rep for the
Southern Regional Council. Back in those days, it was a small world -- we all, just about, knew
each other. So, Stanfield stepped down off the sidewalk, now they weren't bothering Stanfield,
and he grabbed me by my arm and stashed me up there where he was.
That must have been terrifying.
It was and it hurt a whole lot. I'm with the Justice Department, and they know
that, but you see when the confrontation started, the police all pulled their badges off so their
names couldn't be identified. When that ruckus was over I went tearing down to the
police department. I went to see the deputy police chief to tell him what happened to me. He
said, "Do you know who hit you?" "Of course I don't know who hit me." He said, "Well, if I
knew who hit you I could deal with it but there's nothing I can do." I said, "Chief, you knew
the men didn't have on badges or their nameplate, so how could I tell you who hit me?" He
said, "Well, all I can say is I'm sorry." And that's what went on.
That evening when that march was broken up, they had the mass meeting that night, and large
numbers of people came and they talked about that. But, the next
Saturday, Martin was to come back into Memphis, because he wanted to truly demonstrate that
he could lead a non-violent march in Memphis. So he came back to lead a non-violent march
and that's when he was killed. He came back and he had a series of meetings with the black
leadership in Memphis. He even met with the Invaders, trying to persuade them all that the
best possible way was the non-violent way. Martin was at first staying at a Holiday Inn down
on the river, the Holiday Inn Riverfront. Then he moved to the Lorraine because of the
complaints of the Invaders, that he was staying down there in this white hotel, you know the
story, they said he didn't have any business staying down there. He ought to move from down
there and move to the Lorraine hotel where black folk come. And he did. And when Martin
was shot, he was in 306 of the Lorraine Hotel and I was in 308. Well when Martin went to the
Lorraine we had to go there. Because I was staying in the Holiday Inn, too. No I wasn't, I was
staying in the Peabody. But we moved into the Lorraine. Now I kept my room in the
Peabody too, because that was the only way to get some rest. You couldn't get any rest down at
the Lorraine, although I would stay in the Lorraine until after the mass meeting, and then I
would go on to the Peabody because we couldn't get messages in the Lorraine Hotel. It might
be tomorrow when they give you messages-- there was somebody who called yesterday, but
there'd be nobody on the switchboard-- you know how those kinds of things go. So, since I
was with the Department of Justice, I really did have to be reachable. So I would always call
back to the Peabody and see if I had some messages and that's the way my staff in Washington
kept up with me.
Anyway, Martin had spent that day meeting with everybody, including the Invaders. He really
had a rigorous day that day, but he was getting ready to go to dinner with a local minister just a
few minutes before 6 o'clock. About that time, I went and got both papers -- they have two
papers in Memphis, so I went and got both of those papers, went into my room and turned on
the TV. I kicked off my shoes and planned to get some rest between 6:00pm and 7:30pm, when
the mass meeting was to start. And of course it's been a tiring day for me as well.
So I got in there and just about the time I got my shoes off and turned the TV on and got
comfortable. I heard the shot ring out. I was not particularly upset by the shot because there
was a lot of shooting and fighting between the Invaders and the Police, so it was nothing
unusual. But then I heard people clapping down in the courtyard, which was gravel at the time,
so I could hear people running through the courtyard. I said, "let me get up here and see what
in the world is going on." So I got up and came out of my room onto the balcony there and I
thought what had occurred was down in the courtyard, because that's where the people were
running. But they were running to get up here where I was already. Just about that time I
peeked over the rail, they started to come up by the rail, up these steps, and then I realized
whatever had occurred had occurred up here. And then I looked around and about 3 or 4 paces
from me was Martin's body. He was slumped back against the wall. One of the first people to
get to him was my co-worker Jim Laue. Jim ran to get a towel to try to stop his bleeding and
by that time Jesse was there and I don't know who all was there, but a whole host of people. I
didn't go over because there's no purpose I could serve but to block off access for the
ambulance. The ambulance came fast and they picked him up and carried him to the hospital
and I got in my car and went to the hospital too.
I went directly to the night administrator and told them who I was. I identified myself and
showed my credentials and told him that I needed to find out how Dr. King was because I had
to report to my agency. I knew that other people in the Department of Justice and most
especially CRS were looking to hear from me. So he took me down to the emergency room
and he didn't carry me in there, but he took me to an outer room and asked a group of doctors if
somebody would come out and brief me as to Dr. King's condition. One doctor came out,
looked me straight in the eye and said, "He's dead, Mr. Sutton."
That was an awful night. I ran and jumped on the phone right quickly, because I knew the
lines were going to get tied up. But I was able to get through to Roger Wilkins, our director at
that time. I got through to Roger, and Roger quickly got the Attorney General, who was
Ramsey Clark at that time. So that's what occurred that night. The Martin Luther King
entourage acted just like the disciples did when Christ went to the cross. Andy and Jesse and
Jose and Russ David Abenar and I-- the whole gang-- they were just walking around in a daze,
not quite knowing what about to do, as if there was anything to do.
I went over to the hall in the Mason Temple, which is a big temple owned by the Sanctified
Church that would seat 12 or 15 thousand people. I went over there, even though that was not
my prerogative to do that. The hall was full. Everyone there knew that King had been shot,
and by now they just learned that he was dead. But they were just sitting there. Just sitting--
you could hear a pin fall with all them people just sitting there. I went to the microphone and
announced that I knew they knew that Dr. King had been shot and is now dead, but I advised
them to go straight home. "There's nothing you can do tonight, and I'm sure that your
leadership will be getting together tomorrow to decide whatever's to be done. And that will be
announced, so I would suggest that you go straight home. And they did. Who was I to go over
there and dismiss them? The King entourage was nowhere around, so they got up and filed out
just as quietly and got in their cars and went home.
That was an awful night. My wife found me about 2 o'clock in the morning. Of
course, she had been on pins and needles about my welfare, because she knew wherever the
accident was, I was. I had friends calling from all over the country that night trying to find me.
A lady from a little town called Jonesborough, AK that I'd known when I directed the
Arkansas Council. She was a member of my board, and she was frantically trying to find me.
She finally found me later that night at about 4 o'clock in the morning in the Peabody hotel,
and she said "Ozell?" I said, "yes." "Are you alright?" I said, "I am fine, thank you." She said,
"Well I've called every place I know in Memphis--I bet you I've made 20 calls to Memphis,
trying to find you." I said, "it sure is nice to have friends like you." And she said "Well, you
know, when it comes to you, I was concerned, and I just knew you were somewhere close,
because that's just like you." And I said, "Yeah, I was too close." And I talked to my wife too.
My wife would always accuse me of not telling her a lot of things
when danger was involved. I just didn't want to tell her, because I didn't want her to worry.
When you're way over there, you worry more than the person who is present and facing
danger, because you don't know what's going on there. Quite often, I didn't tell my wife and
my children what things were really like. It was only later when they found out what things
were really like that night and other times during the Memphis crisis. I just didn't talk about it
too much, because I knew if every time I left home to go there, then I'd have to go through all
this stuff. And I'd rather not do that. I was a different kind of
person, even before I was with this agency. Even before, when I was dealing with civil right
issues, unlike most people, I never carried my children with me, I never carried my wife with
me. It's hard for me to be non-violent when you twisted my child's arm, but you can twist
So that was how you managed your emotions?
That's how I managed my emotions, by not having them around. You see, if my wife's
there, I've got to act manly. You get what I mean -- I got to protect her with my life.
Did you have people that you'd talk to about the things you were feeling? How did you deal
People in the movement talk. I remember talking about Martin's last speech when
he told how he had "been to the mountaintop..." I am fortunate to have heard both of Martin's
great speeches I was in the March on Washington when he did the "I Have a Dream" speech
and I was in Memphis sitting on the 5th row in seat number 12 in
Mason Temple when he did the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. The next morning at
breakfast some of us were sitting around the table in the Peabody, and my friend asked me,
"Ozell, didn't Martin seem very strange to you last night in his speech?" I said, "no, you know
Martin knows how to reach his audience." But my friend said, "I know, but his whole
language was different." I said, "come to think about it, that's the first time I ever heard him
chronicle this whole involvement in the civil rights movement," as if he wanted to make sure it
was on record. He developed it all the way from Montgomery to the time he got stabbed in
Chicago, you remember, and led all the way through Birmingham and up from Selma. He
chronicled all these things, but then he said, "but I'm not worried now." It was a resignation, it
was that strange. We concluded after that Martin had a premonition of his death. Well, he just
knew at some time or another he was going to be killed. They killed Aganda, they killed
Kennedy, and he had to know that they were going to kill him. He knew it, yet he had no
choice but to do what he was doing. I talk to young people about that. Martin used to say that
the man who has not found something for which he's willing to die is yet to find something
worth living for. So he was killed.
Before we leave this story, tell me, what was the original goal of
your involvement in Memphis? You were working with the sanitation workers to do what?
To help them to pursue their protest without police molestation or beatings. To even assist
them to achieve their goals I met with the mayor, I met with the city council, I met with
everybody informed, asking them what's so dastardly about what they [the sanitation workers]
are asking for. The mayor would tell me that he didn't believe in unions and that no union in
his city was going to get any kind of a dues write off and nobody's going to push him around
and you know how the story goes. I guess I met with the mayor a half dozen times, and I met
with police, trying to get them to move police with the march, rather than trying to stop the
march. I met with the marchers and that's when we started the whole process of self
marshaling and disciplining your group. I explained that this court order says that you only
have half of the street and it's your job to see that nobody steps across that.
So you had different goals for each group?
You see, it's their goals. You try to assist them and facilitate in their
goals without being harassed, beaten or these kinds of things. So you try to get police to
conduct themselves in a way that will not interfere with the people's right to address their
issues and to redress those issues. You go around with an all-American notion that a person
has a right to redress and protest if he or she decides to do so, and you don't have a right to go
around preventing them from doing that, as long as they're doing it legally. But the
establishment made it impossible to do it legally by restricting the streets and not letting them
march when they wanted to march. So I'll provoke them and I'll just stand there when you get
in a major march. The core of the marchers are committed people, but not everybody there is
particularly committed to non-violence. Don't fool yourself about that. Most of them would
commit to non-violence as long as there's not too much provocation. Then, when too much
provocation comes, one man said to somebody "hit me now." We'll see how non-violent he is.
So someone starts and then the fight's on.
Well how did you get the police to change their ways?
Well, sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. It's a gradual
process. You go way out of your way. For example, I'm as much responsible for the
establishment of NOBPE -- the National Organization of Black Police Executives -- as anyone.
is big now, and a powerful force. I came up with the notion that if we were going to change
the police actions, we needed to get more blacks in police forces across the South. I can come
up with more notions than anybody else. I'm the kind of person who moves to act on my
notions, too. So I got with Lee Brown, who is now a mayor, but when I first met him, he was
head of the Department of Criminology at Howard University. He wasn't even in policing, but
he was the first black to receive a doctorate in Criminology. Dr. Lee Brown, I've forgotten
where he came from--University of Chicago maybe? Anyway, he was head of the Department
of Criminology at Howard. He came down here and I said "Lee, we have got to find a way to
get more blacks into high rank in the Police Department where the decisions are made. Not
where they are carried out, but where they are made." So we got together, and we decided to
invite the few high-ranking blacks there to Atlanta to have this discussion. We wanted to
figure out what could be done, just like we did with the Civil Rights Act way back in '62 and
'63. We came here to just sort of run through our minds what could be done. We brought
them here on a citizen letter from me. See, I already have that power. I can invite a non-
employee to come to a certain place to perform a government function at this agency. So we
invited twenty-five of them from across the country, all whom were paid by me. I was bold
and audacious and got away with a lot of things. I am the kind of person who believes that if
you ask you permission to do something, you invite a turn down right? If you go ahead and do
it, then the worst thing that happens to you is a slap on the hand. So I take a slap on the hand I
just go ahead and do it. Then you tell me, as my boss, I should not have done that, and I just
smile and say, "Yeah, you're right." But it's done. But I knew if I'd asked you would've said
"no." So anyway, they were brought here and we discussed what could be done, and that was
the beginning of NOBPE. They weren't organized at that time, but the seed was planted.
How did you establish trust between the two parties? Or between the
parties and yourself?
What they have, and this is what they have in the mediation all the
time, is fear and knowledge. They knew what has happened here, and what has happened
there. They knew what had happened across the country. Knowledge is a powerful thing.
Then you can persuade by simple knowledge that you don't want this to happen here. Look
what happened in L.A. Look what happened in here. This is why it happened. We talk about
how to prevent this kind of thing.
I was in Los Angeles during the riot. I was in charge of operation in L.A. during the Rodney
King crisis. I was right there the same night that the crisis occurred. When I start to sit down
with police, I have credibility. I feel that a couple of us were responsible for the
federal government bringing civil rights charges against the officer in L.A. who beat Rodney
King. If you remember correctly in L.A., they were exonerated on state charges and freed
and that's when the blacks went wild. They didn't go wild when Rodney was beaten. They
went wild when the courts freed the police officer. I'll talk about that. I said when the courts
refuse to function and when the court order of justice broke down and they didn't receive
justice, that's when they went wild. They waited after Rodney King was beaten to see what the
justice system would do. When it did nothing, they decided to take it in their own hands. So
that's what occurred and we talked about that. I convinced the feds that the only way that
you're going to stop such rioting is to give black folks some hope that something's going to be
Now the state authority failed to act, and so they can't go back and try them again. We must
claim there was a civil rights violation. The U. S. Attorney didn't want that. The FBI didn't
want to do that. But I insisted, and argued and jumped up and beat my chest. You get what I
mean now-- every once in a while, you have to act insane, you're so intense. The U. S.
Attorney said, "Well Mr. Sutton, it's so hard to prove a civil rights violation." I said, "I know it
but we've got to bring them anyway." I said, "We did that down in Miami." Then I'll talk
about Miami and the things that stopped the rioting in Miami. The Attorney General came
down there and all of the Justice Department Agency people were in the media. I convinced
the Attorney General to go on the radio and TV in a press conference and announce that the
federal government, and the U. S. Department of Justice, was going to bring violation of civil
rights charges. His whole staff was saying the Attorney General can't do that. I said, "why
can't you do that? Mr. Attorney General, that's the only thing that's going to bring any peace
to this area. The next thing that I want you to do, I want you to meet with all the black leaders
that have gathered here from across the country."
This is what you said?
To the Attorney General?
Yes, I talked to the Attorney General. My problem is I'm not scared of anybody, most
especially when it comes to things like this. I know more than they do, and I don't have any
problems saying so. I said, "Jesse Jackson and Ben Hooks are here."
At that time, our friend Jordan was in the arena too. I would suggest that you convene, or let
me convene them all, so you can talk with them. So he gave me permission to do that. At first
Jesse refused to come because he was hoping to have a private meeting with the Attorney
General. I said, "take it from me Jesse, because of the Attorney General's schedule, that's not
possible. That's not going to happen." Well if it doesn't happen, then it doesn't happen. Good
man, tremendous man, but Jesse likes to make decisions alone instead of making decisions
with a group. He raises issues that nobody else raised, but I know him, and I said, "Well Jesse,
we're going to have this meeting with the Attorney General at 10:00." I said to him that I
hoped that he would come. "Come for me," I asked.
What year are we talking about?
We are talking about the 1970's sometime. It had to be three or four years before the
Rodney King incident. I'd have to go back and look in the records to see. I lose track of time.
So Jesse came.
We set up a meeting with the local leadership, the grassroots
leadership, at a breakfast at 8:00 and we got all of the leaders from out of town together to
come and meet with the Attorney General. I have sinister designs sometime. The local
leadership was not invited to meet with the Attorney General. But I knew if they came to that
breakfast, when we got ready to go meet with the Attorney General, they were going to. The
Attorney General had staff. "Who's that?" they asked. They can't come in here. I said "if you
want to have another riot, you try to get them out of here. Let me know before you start so I
can leave, because I don't plan to tell them they aren't coming in here." "What do we say to the
Attorney General?" (He was still up in his room.) I said, "Let me talk to the Attorney
General." I went up, I said, "Mr. Attorney General, the grassroots folk are here, and they're not
going to be polite like Jesse and Ben. They're going to crush you out, now, if you can take it
for fifteen or twenty minutes then we can get somewhere. Just listen, some of them are going
to be blowing off steam. Some of them are just glad to be able to tick you off, and they're
going to do that, can you take it?" He said, "yeah, I can take it." I said, "well just take it, and
then we can get onto the nitty-gritty. Just let them sound off for about fifteen or twenty
minutes." And they did.
What did the Attorney General do?
He stood there and he turned red, but he took it. They talked about the United States
Department of Justice, and all of the injustices that ever occurred to black folk going back to
1400's. I said, "They know their history." The chronicle of the black struggle going all the
way back to those days.
How did you identify which of the
people to invite to the meeting?
You just sought out the leadership. The leadership comes to the surface. It may not be of
the same class as middle class blacks, but it shows itself.
Again, how did you know that? How did you find those resources?
Well, I've been around for a thousand years. I used to be a community leader, myself. I was
with Central High 9 when they entered Center High School; I was a young NAACP worker in
those days. So I know it when I see it, because I used to be a part of that too. Some of the
greatest things I ever dealt with was grassroots community leadership. I could persuade
people. It's a culmination of a life of involvement in that. Every aspect you see, you've done
it-"been there, done that." And I tell whites now, and I tell blacks, don't try to squash
leadership, because it does not lead as you would lead as a middle-class black. Let it go, try to
direct it, but be proud of that fire that sends them forth.
So just by way of closing, I'm hearing in addition to your knowledge
of the situation, because you had an eye and an ear for what was going on in the community,
you also had some pretty top-notch persuasive skills?
I'm pretty good. I really am. Most especially when I get fired up. You've talked to me way
back yonder, you have to bring fever, I'm like an old preacher. Didn't have much knowledge,
what he had was fervor, and he couldn't lead because of knowledge, he led because there are
two things you have to do. In the first place, you have to impact knowledge, and the other one
is to impart a sense of who you are. So I come from a combination of inspiration and
information that Martin brought so beautifully. He could inspire us to keep on keeping on. He
did that on Sunday and I learned how to do it. I learned. I said, "People wouldn't march in
Birmingham because of knowledge." They had inspiration. That's why you didn't find any
college professors out there. You didn't see any academicians out there because they had
information. They knew that, with that information, they'd get hell beat out of them out there.
But inspiration would drive you despite that. You knew you were going to get the hell beat out
of you, and that's what comes. I talk all the time about the difference between inspiration and
information, and when you combine the two what a mighty thing you have.
Mr. Sutton, since we've got just an hour, I'd like to focus on some really specific things, if
we may. We were talking yesterday about the Memphis case, and there are a couple of pieces
I need to clarify. But I would also like to ask you if you would help us
understand the difference between functioning as a regional director and as a field worker. So
we'll start there and we'll move back to Memphis.
There's a world of difference, of course. A regional director supervises the way a person
performs. There are occasions when a regional director performs, but that's not too often.
Even when he goes out in the field, the field has a tendency to defer to him or to her. In most
situations. That's the basic difference, a regional director assigns and supervises, while a field
Ok. So going to Memphis, when you first went into Memphis,
you invited by the community, or did you invite yourself?
No, CRS responds in several ways. It responds by invitation from officials; it responds on
invitation of those who raise an issue- protestors; it responds to knowledge of facts that come
from news. It has the responsibility, if it knows about it, to respond. So after the situation in
Memphis was created, CRS jumped ahead and dispatched somebody there, according to its
So your regional director would've dispatched you, or did dispatch you, to Memphis?
We didn't have any regional directors at that time. We were not so organized. I was a field
representative throughout the South, and that's the way it started. When I came aboard there
were four of us in the South, three white and one black. I was the next half of all teams, so we
were not so structured as we are now.
So you dispatched yourself to Memphis?
No. George Copelson did.
You said that, that's right.
George Copelson called...
...who was the deputy director. Okay, I get it.
Which meant that he was in charge of the field staff. Called me and told me to leave New
Orleans, and go to Memphis.
Could you talk a little bit about how you
prepared for your on-site intervention when you first got to town.
You work on the basic knowledge you have as to what you do when conflict is ongoing. It
is pretty given, for experienced people, as to what you do when you go into a city that's already
in conflict. The first thing to do is to try to get a handle on the nature of
the conflict, who's causing the conflict, who could bring resolution to the conflict and then you
start there. You start with the people who are raising the issues, at least I do. Some people
start by going to officials. I never do that, because I want to know, in the eyes of those who
are raising the issue, what they consider the problems to be. So when I go to the mayor, when
I go to the chief of police, I have a fix on what the problem is, as seen by those who are raising
So, speaking specifically about Memphis, who were those people? Walk us through, step-
by-step, what you did.
By the time I went into Memphis there was a well-organized protest group. It was in about
three parts, a loosely organized coalition. The most powerful part of it was a group of black
preachers- they were primarily the spokespersons for the coalition.
But the coalition was built around the sanitation workers problems?
Ok, how did the sanitation workers get the coalition happening with the pastors?
How did they get them involved?
Well it's no different from any other problem of that nature. When
you have a problem and you come from a powerless group, you start to ask people in the
powerful group to give leadership and status to it. So that was the NAACP and its leadership,
the Urban League and its leadership, and then there was the Black Ministers Alliance.
So you went to the ministers first?
I 'm not sure, but they all were done. It all depends on who's available to see me first. I
made contact, because I already knew most of them. You can't go too many places in this
region that I don't know somebody.
Did you let them know beforehand that you were coming?
You just showed up.
I just showed up on their doorstep. You have a powerful group, AME United Methodist
Preachers as well as the Church of God and Christ. That was Bishop Gengel, for the Church of
God and Christ, the bishop was big in our area; his son was Patterson, that was his name. His
son was a member of the city council, so the bishop had influence in the area. You had a
couple of AME preachers, you had three or four big Baptist preachers or bishops, in the sense
that they all made decisions in that church; you didn't have to wait for anybody. You have
three or four outstanding Baptist ministers. They're some strong ministers in Memphis, as it is
in all places, and it was this group that was giving primary articulation to the leadership.
Did you see at any time conflict between the organizations?
How did you address that conflict?
There was conflict between the ministers and the labor union, which represented the
sanitation workers. They had authority going beyond them. All the way up to the top of the
labor, ASME -- that's the union to which they belonged, and that was the union that was waging
the battle. Then there were the preachers, there was the NAACP with its leadership, and the
Urban League with its leadership. The NAACP was very strong and had some powerful
leadership that was not ministerial. Maxine Smith, who was the executive director of the
NAACP and a member of the national board of the NAACP; there was a guy named Jesse
Turner, the national treasurer of the NAACP, who was a CPA, but a member of the board, the
Tri-State Bank in Memphis, and the insurance company in Memphis, Universal Life, and that
was the money. Universal Life and the Tri-state Bank. That's where the movement would put
their finances. Then you had the Invaders.
Yeah. The group of young militants. They always carried crazy names, one name was
Cabbagehead, one name was Sweet Willy Wines, and these names. Cabbagehead was the
overall leader, Sweet Willy Wines was less of a leader but a leader nonetheless.
They were young people?
Yes, young black men. All 18, 19, 22. All very young.
So was the conflict between the styles and how they communicated? One group was more
militant than the other group? What was the actual conflict?
When you came to the Invaders, that was the problem. They didn't believe in non-violence;
everybody else believed in non-violence, but the Invaders wanted to use whatever
means were necessary to make their point. That was the attitude of the Invaders. The rest of
them were where Martin was, in terms of non-violence. But petty jealousies occurred. For
instance, the ministers always had lime-light because they were always the ones speaking at
the mass meetings at night. Several thousand people were present. "Who's speaking? The
preachers are speaking."
Were you asked to mediate that tension between the two groups, or did it just exist?
It just existed, and I was able to move around it. I didn't have time to be trying to heal
things between them, because it didn't cause that much of a problem. Most of it was sort of
petty jealousies that always exist in conflict situations. I'm used to it, and I expect it. As long
as it doesn't last to the point of great division, then you just go ahead and do something else.
Anytime three black folk get together, one is contrary, sometimes two.
Would you say what you did to help it not get to a point?
I really didn't have to deal with that very much. You see, it all depends, in these situations,
on how present the enemy is. If the enemy is so strong that you don't have time to differ with
one another, you have to keep your eyes on the prize and they did that. They knew where the
enemy was. They may have different techniques, or differences "Whether we ought to
accept this, or not do this, or not do that," but the enemy, in their mind, is so strong and so
eager they didn't have time for that sort of thing. I didn't have time for it either.
What process did you use to identify the underlying issues in the
The funniest thing about working in this sphere: You really don't take a lot of steps, you just
know. You make judgments based upon what you know to be so, and then you go around
meeting with people. They tell you, "Oh, so-and-so over there is out for personal
aggrandizement." He may be, he may not be, that doesn't really matter now. What matters is
the position of the city, and how I would want to address that. You see them, you identify
them in your mind, as long as they're not causing that much of a problem, you go ahead and do
something about it.
As long as the underlying issues are not causing a problem. We're speaking about
Memphis. The issues that you found very prevalent and important were they the same issues
that groups considered important?
Quite often they were. For example, after
Martin was killed, Baird Rustin....do you know who I'm talking
about? Baird Rustin came down to organize that peaceful march that Martin had come back to
Memphis to do, but was killed before he could. Baird was a great master of demonstrations.
He's the person who organized the march on Washington. He was a great tactician, so Baird
Rustin came down and took charge of organizing the next march. When Baird walked the
route of the march, he said, "Oh no, we can't march that way." Number one: They had a court
order to deal with, because the city went into court and tried to get an injunction against him in
They didn't get the injunction, but they got a bunch of restrictions on the march. One is they
could only use one half of the street; another one was that the march had to take place between
ten and two; another one was the route of the march. When Baird had walked the route, he
was that much of a tactician. Most folk would mark from here to here; he would walk it and
see what the hindrances and encumbering things would be and he said, "Going that way, we
have to pass two buildings in demolition and one building in construction. We don't want
young people to be tempted to pick up rocks and bricks to throw. We don't even want to go
that way, we want to go another way." But the court order was to go that way.
And then the other was a problem too. Do you know how long it would take to process ten
thousand people, marching four or five abreast? We couldn't even go downtown and get back
within the four-hour span of the court order. So the court order needed to be changed. So then
they turned to me as the mediator, and Baird said, "Mr. Sutton, somebody's got to go before the
judge, and tell him what the encumbering things are as they relate to a peaceful march."
Under usual circumstances, an attorney would go down and make that appeal, but that takes
too long. The attorney would have to make a brief, and the judge would have to study the
brief, and then come up with an answer. He said, "That would take three or four days, and we
don't have that. Would you go down and just talk to the judge, man-to-man about this
situation?" I agreed to do it, so the next morning, when the Justice Department agencies got
together, as we did everyday, CRS, CRD (Civil Rights Division), U.S. Attorney, and F.B.I., all
got together the next morning. I reported this to them. So the guy from the Civil Rights
Division jumped up and said, "You can't do that!" I said, "What do you mean I can't do that?"
He said, "The Justice Department can't be in the position of asking a judge to change his
order." I said, "With the exception of the F.B.I., the rest of you are attorneys and I can
understand your great fear of the judge. But a mediator does not have that kind of fear, at least
this one does not, and I shall go." He said, "I'm the highest ranking member of the Department
of Justice here, and I direct you not to go." I said, "You're getting things mixed up." He said,
"What's that?" "You are the highest ranking person from the Civil Rights Division, I'm the
highest ranking person from the Community Relations Service, and I promise you that the
Community Relations Service would not tell the Civil Rights Division what to do, and the
Civil Rights Division will not tell the Community Relations Service what to do. There are
only two people telling me what to do and that's Roger Wilkins, Director of the agency, and
the Attorney General himself. He said, "I shall call the attorney general." I said, "Call
whoever you want to call."
I left the meeting to go to meet with the judge, but on the way to meet with the judge, I called
Roger. I said, "Roger" and he said, "Hey, Ozell, how's it going?" I said, "I say to you," and
I'm always doing this, "you remember the scripture about how the lady said, I will go and see
the king and if I perish, I perish?" I told Roger what I was about to do. I told him I was
greatly upset at the Civil Rights Division, that he would probably hear about that, but that, "the
only thing I need to know, is whether that disturbs you or not, Roger." Roger said, "Ozell, if
you think that's what ought to be done, then you do that." That's the way Roger was. "You are
a seasoned mediator, one of the best we have, so you go ahead and see the judge." I went to
see the judge, and the judge received me, very politely, and I explained to him, I said, "Judge,
marching four or five abreast, it would take more than five hours to process ten thousand
people. Had you considered that?" He said, "The city does not want them to take the whole
street." I said, "Judge, you know what that is. When the American Legion comes here, it takes
the whole street. When the Shriners come here, they take the whole street. And they don't
even get a permit. They just go out there and start marching. I used to be a commander of a
protest group and when we came into town, we just went out there and start marching. We took
the whole street and nobody said a word to us. This is selective law enforcement, which we
cannot do in this situation. The city would not drive for three hours and they're going to need
the whole street to do that, even for the city's sake they need the whole street." The judge
Then I told him about the difficulty that they didn't want to march down that street, unlike it
was in the other march. "Even the signs are not going to be on sticks; they're going to be on
strings hanging on their necks, they're trying hard. We've got to help them." He agreed. He
agreed to all that I asked him to do.
When I came back and told Baird and the ministers and all the leadership, (they met every
morning), that the route had been changed and that the judge had agreed, they were satisfied. I
met with the Justice Department officials. This guy who was daring me to do something, he
said, "You know, Ozell, you are a peculiar guy." I said, "There's nothing peculiar about me." I
did that as a fun thing. He said, "You have a lot of audacity." I said, "I'm audacious. I'm more
than audacious, I am bodacious." Bodacious is being brave and audacious.
I've been out here a long time, and sometimes you have to take a risk, even with yourself. If the
issue's big enough, you even risk your own self and your own career. I'm not out here playing,
and what they said made sense to me. And I didn't have any reason to fear the judge. I'm just
a laborer, I'm not a member of the court system. Judges are human beings, and I wanted to talk
to the judge not in legal terms, but in practical terms.
It sounded like you took the interest of the parties.
And the interest of the city, which is what a mediator would do?
You mesh them. Even thought that wasn't what the city wanted done, as soon as I had done
that and left the judge's office, I went over and met with the mayor and his chief of police and
I said, "This is what it's going to be like. As negotiated by me. I would hope that it would
meet with your understanding and your will, but this is the way it is. Everybody wants to
know why they need a position like mine to go ahead and do something, and I did it." And the
mayor looked up and said, "Well, Mr. Sutton, we have been accustomed to your moving on
what you think ought to be done. Whether we like it or not, that's the way it is."
Did you always meet separately with the
groups or did you ever run them together at the same location?
No. This was not table mediation, this was street mediation. Street mediation is when you
move between the parties, because to bring them together would reap no benefits at all. Their
situation was too volatile, they were too far apart. There were times when the ministers did
meet with the mayor; after all, he couldn't refuse to meet with them. They're great citizens of
the city, right? I didn't bring them there, but if they had something they wanted to say to the
mayor, they'd call down there and tell the mayor's executive that they wanted to see the mayor
and they'd see the mayor. And I'd go, but I never arranged a meeting between them and the
So what did you see your role as, while you were participating in
At first I didn't see a role of readiness for the resolution of the problem. I saw my role as
"preventing violence and major conflict between the parties, until you can move through that
stage to a stage where resolution can be made". I wasn't trying, at first, to solve the problem of
the city refusing to give to the sanitation workers check off -that was the problem. I didn't see
that as my role at first. My role was to prevent violence. As I was continuing to
work, by this time, of course, there are two other men from CRS there: a guy named Jim Laue
he's the one academician that I respect in this sphere. He was a combination of academician
and activist. I had the greatest respect for James Laue until his death. He was a tower as an
academician in this field, a person to whom I referred a lot for consultation. There was also a
guy from here, from Jackson, Georgia, named Fred Miller. We had the greatest respect for
"Big Fred", as we called him. He was a big 240-pound man, former football coach. He looked
like a redneck. He was a purely beautiful man, who I worked all across the South with-- me
and Big Fred.
As a side note, one time we were in a little town in Mississippi. We had come there to work on
a problem. I was the first black to stay in a hotel up there, the Holiday Inn. It was the first
major chain to open to blacks across the South. We went to the Holiday Inn. I came in from
Arkansas, and he came from Atlanta and he beat me there. When I arrived, the hotel insisted
we were to be there five days, and they insisted that I pay the five days' cash up-front.
Couldn't use a credit card, couldn't use a check, cash money up-front, right now. While I was
standing there discussing that with them, Fred came down into the lobby, because he was
looking for me. He overheard the conversation. Number one: Fred was not poor. Fred had a
big plantation kind of thing in Jackson, Georgia, where they grow peaches. They still do, they
still send me peaches from that farm. Fred always had $900 to $1000 in his pocket all of the
time. While they were arguing, Fred reached down into his pocket and got a roll of money this
big, and said, "Excuse me, ladies." He said, ???? That's exactly what he said -- only he didn't
use abbreviations for it. He said, "You know, Ozell, they didn't ask me to pay ahead." He
said, "I haven't paid a nickel; they're just doing that to you." He rolled off just a couple of One
Hundred Dollar bills and said, "I'll pay for Ozell's room," and that's how I got in.
Later on, the Klan surrounded the hotel room, but that's another story. The Klan
surrounded the place, and we were in the room, and we moved in the room together. Fred said,
"What do we do now, Ozell?" I said, "Well, I don't know Fred, we gotta do something." He
said, "Well, we could call the police." I said, "Oh no, they're Klan too." You're just opening
the door to the Klan by calling the police. He says, "We could call the F.B.I." I says, "They're
Klan sympathizers down here, so they may not come and get us. The trouble is, anybody we
call we got to go through switchboard, and that gives us another problem." I came up with an
idea: I called the Department of Justice and I got our secretary. There were no high ranking
blacks in the Department of Justice at that time. I said, "Lady, what I need to talk about, I'm
not ready to talk about it to you. Furthermore, you can't help me. I want you to look outside
the window somewhere, and find a black janitor or a handyman somewhere, preferably
middle-aged. Don't ask me to explain all of this, just do it for me." And she did, she found a
janitor, he was forty or fifty years old. When he came and said, "Hello," I said, "Ooday ooyay
eekspay iglatinpay?" He answered me in pig-Latin! I told him in pig-Latin where I was. I
said, "I want you to leave this phone and get on a private phone. I want you to call Roger
Wilkins, and I want you to tell him what our situation is. Make sure that nobody hears you
when you make the call and just leave it there. He'll take care of it." So he did. He went and
he called Roger, and in about thirty minutes, U.S. Marshals came over and escorted us out of
the hotel. So don't tell me I don't speak a foreign language, I speak the ghetto language. I
want you to know I spoke some beautiful pig-Latin that day.
Before you were telling us about your role as in this particular
conflict, initially starting off as preventing violence. What did you do specifically to prevent
the violence, and when were you able to assume it was okay to change your role?
For example, specifically when I met the city judge, I'm preventing violence.
Did they tell you, "If you don't meet with the judge, then we are
going to do something"?
No they didn't tell me that. They were counting on me to be able to persuade the judge of
the wisdom of making the change. Then they would deal with whatever it was. But they didn't
offer any threats. They didn't say, "We will march anyway; we're going to change the route
anyway." They didn't do that. Usually, at first, protestors try their best to exert their protest
without confrontation. They have nothing to gain from confrontation and they don't want to be
beaten. They don't want to take anybody who faces imminent danger who's not afraid, who's a
fool. He may go ahead and do it, it may be that important, but there isn't anybody who tells
you when he faces imminent danger if he's not afraid of it, then he's a fool. I know I am, I
might do it, and did do it, but I was scared as hell sometimes. They didn't make any threats;
they were counting on me to be able to work it out. I had successfully worked between parties
before. I was pretty well known at this time by all parties involved -- by the police, by the
mayor, by the leaders of the movement, by the labor leaders -- everybody knew who Ozell
was. He walked that line between them. They talk about that down in Memphis now. When
we say they had an anniversary, when I showed up they thought a long-lost relative had shown
up. "There's Ozell." One guy said, "You saved us from getting beaten many times."
Just by your willingness to go to the mayor, go to the city, speak on behalf of the sanitation
Not only that. I had another way, too. I was from the Department
of Justice. Quite often you got two things. Blacks trusted the Community Relations Service
more than they do the Department of Justice. But the weighted thing with whites is the
Department of Justice. I think you can understand that. Even with the mayor and the chief of
police, the Department of Justice carried much more weight. The Native Americans used to
say, "The white man speaks with forked tongue." Well, I spoke with forked tongue. If I was
in one place where it was more important that I be a field rep with Community Relations, that's
all I say: "I'm with Community Relations." But when I was down at city hall, "I'm with
Justice". That's the way I carried myself. Then you'd go between people. "I'm CRS." I was
sort of responsible for initiating the whole idea of demonstrations. Marshaling themselves and
controlling their people. At first it was just a group of people out there, but they got very
sophisticated with that.
Okay, I would like to start with trust, the role of trust in being a mediator. Do you think of
yourself as a mediator? Actually, let's focus back on the Memphis
situation. Did you think of yourself as a mediator, or how would you describe your role if you
had to come up with a title?
You know, we used to try. And in recent years, we have combined the two, but in the early
years, they were not combined. A mediator, in the early years, was a table condition.
Conciliation was to move between the parties.
Okay, so what you called "street mediator" before would be a conciliator?
Okay. Actually, before we move to trust, would you speak a little bit about the difference
between street mediator/conciliator and table mediator?
Well, table mediation is when you bring the two parties to the table, sort of like labor
mediation. Street mediation is when you move in between the parties, rather then bring the
two parties together. Quite often, you don't have enough consensus to bring the two parties
together. If you did it would be much more explosive.
So consensus, you think, is necessary for table mediation?
At least enough consensus that they both would come to the table. That's a big step.
Let me tell you, I can get into more things than anybody else. There is
a national group that I chair. I serve on the board for the National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children. They book me all the time, the best organization and centers for children.
Way back 15 years ago, when we had the missing and murdered children conflict here, I
became extremely alarmed by what was happening to the children. So I convened a group of
child experts, in Louisville, Kentucky, along with a friend of mine. 125 of them, to take a look
at what it was that we could do for them, what I needed to be doing. We first -- this friend of
mine -- first tried to get the white House to convene a white House conference on children,
and the white House wouldn't do that. Then we tried to get the Attorney General to do it and
the Attorney General wouldn't do it. So where fools rush in... I said, "I will convene it," and
who am I to talk about convening child experts from across the country, and who's going to
come at my beck and call? But I was counting on one thing, the issue, not me, you know what
I mean. That the issue was strong enough to attract them, that all they needed was facilitation.
I sat down and I did that. I got the money to do that in three or four different places. Now this
agency couldn't go and put a pile of money into the conference, so what I did, I brought all of
the speakers in on citizen letters. Dick Salem knows what that is. So they just spent about 12
or 14 thousand dollars on citizen letters to bring in many of the people. Then I got the $25,000
of AFLA's money. My brother's still wanting to know where I got the money from charity. Or
who gave the authority to do it. It's just the way I do things.
This reminds me of Jesse Jackson meeting with Milosovich, and helping these young kids
to be released. I heard some students say to him, by who's authority do you go to these places
and do the things that you do? So I'm going to ask you that same question: By what authority
By the authority of your own conscience and your own commitment, your conscious will to
That really helps to explain when you have discussed the various roles and the perspectives
you've taken in the cases, and your colleagues say, "Well, you can't do that, you can't do that."
So I'm hearing the authority of your own conscience. So let's go back to street vs.
table mediation. You were saying you do table mediation when there's at least enough
consensus to bring people to the table. What I'm hearing you also say about street mediation,
or conciliation -- which means going to the different parties and finding out what their
concerns are, shuttling back and forth between the parties -- is that you are the vessel in that
sense. But that requires a level of trust that all of the people have for you. Would you talk specifically about how you gain the trust of the parties?
Well, part of it's trust, and the other part of it is that when they start to make choices, the
choice that you are from is the most applicable to the situation. You come as all wisdom, if I
might say that. Knowing everything that's to be known about it. Know about where this kind
of situation in the country has occurred before. You are intimately knowledgeable about it.
When you start going down the list of situations where you've seen it before, I think, "Been
there, done that." So your trust comes from relating knowledge that nobody else has.
And how do you, Ozell Sutton, get this body of knowledge?
Through having been involved for 30 years, and having been all over.
As a part of CRS?
Not all the time. At first I was a civil rights leader working for a lot
of people in need. That I did long before I came to CRS. I was on the other side-- I lived to
protest. So I know how protesters think and how they develop, and how they move forward on
what it is they do. So I know the other side, I know both sides of the question very well, and I
know what goes on in the minds on both sides of the question. So, it gives me a slight
advantage over most folk.
Well, in addition to experience, what can mediators do to build trust between themselves
and the parties?
A mediator must gain trust. Now, sometimes, to do that he has to do
many things. Number one: he has to let the protesters vent. You see the difference between
mediating a racial conflict and mediating a labor conflict, is that both sides come to the table in
labor conflicts. It's not so in racial conflicts. With labor, both people know how to mediate.
When you get a racial conflict, that's not
necessarily so. It may be or it may not be. Now how do you bring this group of protestors to
the table with city manager, chief of police and people at that level, when they are totally
unequal? That's not so on labor, totally unequal. How do you protect their rights and their
interests without showing a preference for them? I do it from the very beginning, I said, "I am
not neutral. If I am neutral I can umpire this, like a game. I am not preferring sides, but I am
forced to officiate evenly, even if the other side does not know what the rule is."
So you see trust and fairness being linked.
Oh yeah, they are linked. And then much of the trust comes from how you demonstrate and
conduct yourself. It's the perception of you, really. One way is to know, and know you know
what you're talking about. Then the other part is, you have to convince
both sides that at the rate they're going, they're going to do greater damage to each other. I
convinced the city that, "You may have some powers, but when you have a segment of your
city who perceive you as something less than fair and honest, you've got a problem. You may
be able to enforce your will for a time, but," and I use this point often, "power is like a can of
coffee; every time you dip into it, you've got less. Every time I take a sip out of that cup I've
got less, right? Every time you have to use power to enforce, you've got less power left. If
you keep dipping into it, it becomes powerless. When it comes to people you're enforcing
against, you have to understand," and I say this quite frequently, "that in a democracy, you
manage people with their own will. Without that will, you cannot. 10,000 police could not
enforce the law in this city unless the will of the people is that they do. You can have all of the
guns that you want, but you can't shoot a million folk. If a million folks rebel, even if 10,000
of those folk rebel, you are in big, big trouble. So you manage and you rule by that concept,"
and I keep emphasizing that all of the time. I use this with police officers. You couldn't take
10,000 Einsteins and rule this diverse city. So white folk alone can't rule this city. You
couldn't take 10,000 W.B. DuBois and rule this city because black folk alone can't rule this
city. There must be balance between the various groups, some sense of community that's
inclusive enough to get the rule of the people to rule this city.
Is a sense of community also related to trust?
Well. Trust is in you, you convey the sense of community. That's what you use to
try to get people to come to some kind of consensus. I talk about also mediation being
preferable to litigation. First place it's shorter, more lasting, and in mediation, nobody loses.
With litigation there's a winner and a loser, and the winner is for every man who wins. And it's
not over just because you have won the court battle. Because you have lost a person right.
Mediation, I like that.
And that raises another interesting question, that Harvard negotiation, win-win model, vs.
what I'm thinking when you talk about street mediation, conciliation, that there are different
ways that people resolve conflict in the University and on the street, at the labor table and in
the backyard, I wonder if you could just for a minute speak about some of those differences
that you've observed.
Number one is
with street mediation, you're fighting and giving forth to prevent violence, reduce tension to
the point where you can do the other. Hopefully, either you can come up with terms that are
acceptable to both sides that will ultimately resolve the problem, or you can get them to
become sane enough to stop the violence. So that's what you're trying to do. Ultimately, you
want to get them to the point where they can sit down.
As a mediator, even when it comes to table mediation, the
beginning climate is so hostile that you're not going to get anything done the first few times,
and you know that. I remember right here in this room, I was mediating a situation where the
black police were charging discrimination in hiring, assignment, promotion, the whole bag.
After Jackson was elected, he started to try to correct some of this and the white police filed a
reverse discrimination suit and it had gone on for four or five years. Within the courts, the
whole promotion process was tied down, the employment process was tied down, they were
not hiring new police officers because they didn't have a system in place except through the
courts. It had gone on for four or five years. The judge called me and said, "Mr. Sutton, this is
Judge Moyer. We don't know each other." I said, "That's not quite so. You don't know me, but
I know you. I've been in your court many times, and been in for the case you're talking about."
He said, "I called to assign this case to you. For mediation." He didn't call to ask me to do it,
he called to assign the case to me. "I want you to mediate this case and I shall tell the
attorneys on both sides that I'm assigning this case to mediation. I'm assigning you to
mediate." So I did.
One team was represented by the black officers and their attorneys, and
the other team was represented by white officers and their attorneys. We were right here in
this room and that conference room over there. Things were so hot in
the mediation and so volatile, that I decided to call a caucus right there. That's one of the
techniques, caucus. I brought the black police officers here, and whites in the conference
room. I assigned two staff members to the conference room and I took the black officers,
because that's where the interest comes from and they were threatening to walk out. I walked
up to the door and blocked the door. If anybody goes out of this room, he'll have to go over
me. I know you're police officers and you really can go over me, but I don't think you want to
do that. And that's what you're going to have to do. Nobody's going out of this room until we
have at least agreed that you should go out. He said, "I've never seen a more
determined person than you were. You stopped smiling, and that's the capacity that you have,
you smile a lot. But boy, you stopped smiling so fast it got me sweating." Nobody's going out
of this door unless they go over me.
So you gave them an opportunity for them to vent in a caucus or in the actual mediation?
I wanted to clear up some issues in here before I went back in there. I wanted the
opportunity to convince them that they were saying things that I would clear and that I
personally would assure them. Now you're getting away from the processes and talking about
'I'. I said, "I don't think there's a man in this room that does not know that Ozell does not sell
the interests of black folk short." I would not sell them short, and their interests short.
This is in caucus?
This is in caucus. Now the only thing I'm talking about here is I will pursue those interests.
In other words, your cause.
Did you feel that it was necessary to say that explicitly?
It felt especially necessary to say that explicitly. To let them know that I knew. I even did
something that a mediator does not do very often. I went back into my own personal
credentials, personal identification and personal credentials, been there. So not only am I not
going to sell you short, I'm not going to let that happen in mediation. That way I got them
back in the room.
So there are two things I'm hearing. One is that in this instance,
your own race and history was a significant trust building opportunity for them.
Absolutely, and we say that in CRS. Sometimes, color itself is one of the greatest
credentials to be in a room. Had nothing to do with exceptional ability, it has to do with our
dignity. My identity with the struggle, not just my color, was the thing that nobody in the
room could deny, and they knew that, and being black, I pursued the black struggle. It was
long and every once in a while successful. I was able to convey that to them, and I do a lot of
Would you have said that to the white
I made a demonstration with them when I got over there. I said I've been with the Justice
Department a long time. I believe like Langston Hughes: "Justice delayed is justice denied."
I'm here from a different angle, but you're talking about the same subject. I don't wish that you
sacrifice your rights, I don't want anybody to sacrifice their rights. But let's get onto it. Here I
go on another sermon, but from a different angle.
So you reframed the issue for them in the caucus?
In words that they could connect to.
That's an important piece, the use of language as a trust building tool.
One of the things that we like to ask about is neutrality and
fairness and impartiality.
I think I touched on that didn't I? The difference is, I am not neutral to injustice. No, I'm
not that. I'm neutral to taking sides, and I make that point often. I'm like an umpire. An
umpire does not take sides, he enforces the rules.
Did you ever at any time, either at Memphis, or the police case, feel that you absolutely had
to take a side?
Yeah. There have been times when I felt even after we did not get an agreement, that I
should have taken sides. But then I know that's not the thing to do. I really try not to do that.
But I say about mediation, like I used to say about newspaper, I can look at any story a reporter
writes, and tell you what he felt. I don't care how hard he tried to be neutral, right? His own
inner feelings get into the story, and he can't do anything about that. Down, deep down,
QUESTION ABOUT CONFIDENTIALITY
They would be identified in terms of their actions, that's a different
thing. To make things confidential is absolutely essential.
Can you think about any times when assurances of confidentiality
might have gotten you
into trouble, or weren't honored?
Yes, I have had situations where people complain to Congress about my presence. I've had
lots of those where they call their congressman. This is a small agency, it has a hard time
surviving with strong congressmen. So I'm ever mindful of that, their position. But
nevertheless, I take risks there too, if I decide that the risk is worth it. I do it, and I take
whatever consequences it brings sometimes. I've been in those situations.
Can you give us an example, a confidentiality-violating example, without violating
How do you give a confidentiality example without violating confidentiality? Just let me
say it this way: what's most important is, the people with whom you're dealing know that what
they say to you is not in danger. Under the confidentiality clause, we don't do a lot of
publicizing. That way, if you don't make known to the public what you're doing, then nobody
comes up and you don't have any support. It's like being in school. I had this problem one
time. I thought the teacher had not given me the grade I was due. So when I went out to
question that, she looked at me, and said, "now who are you?" How am I going to get the
grade I'm due if she doesn't know me from Adam? I promised myself from that point on that
would never happen to me again. I would never be so anonymous again, I guess that's the
word. My teacher could look at me and immediately know who I was. From then on, I said,
get attention, even if it's bad attention, it's better than no attention.
How does that work in terms of the media? How did you use or not
use the media for your work?
For example, I was down in a town about two months ago, a little town. There was a black
group in that little town that was really prejudiced.. They have five hundred acres in that little
town and, of course, they have all kinds of trouble out there. Because people are suspicious of
what they are doing out there they call it a compound. They talk about it as another Waco.
I went down, I had staff up and down two or three times, I went down. I first went to see the
sheriff, as I usually do, and I went to see the mayor of the town, because I understand how
powerful a sheriff is. Most especially in a rural town, the sheriff is the whole of constitutional
law in the county. The mayor's not a constitutional authority, but the sheriff is. The major law
enforcement responsibilities in the county are prescribed by the sheriff. So he is a power like
nobody's business, and most especially in the rural county.
So he is there, and they were complaining about harassment from the sheriff. So when I went
out to that five hundred acre plot to meet with them, they were holding a press conference to
complain about the sheriff. They immediately zeroed in on me. Number one, they knew me,
and number two, I was from the Department of Justice. So they wanted to know what the
Justice Department was going to do about this situation. Why was I there and who invited me
there, and all of this. So I spoke to the media for about five minutes as the center of all the
questions. It's better to say something than to say nothing in those kinds of situations, yet you
try to say nothing but say something, I know that's hard to explain. What I did was to simply
review and reiterate the CRS mandate. We were established by the Civil Rights Act in 1964,
and that mandates us to assist communities resolve conflict. "Who invited you here?"
According to our mandate, we don't need an invitation. At the moment we know that a conflict
exists, we have a responsibility to get involved. "Did you come on your own notion, or did
you come because somebody asked you to come?" I said I came of my own notion. When I
said, "I came" I was highly indirect because CRS had been there already. What had occurred,
then, that caused a big man to come down? The reporters said, "Mr. Sutton, we know who you
are, we have seen you in many other places, so that's what we mean by "the big man." You
don't go everywhere, you only come on certain conditions, so what's the conditions?"
And you weren't trying to help them, were you?
No, and yet they did so. My staff had convinced me that I needed to come down here. They
call me "boss". I won't even tell you why they call me boss all of the time. They said, "Boss,
you need to come down." So I was explaining to them what the conditions were. "We're not
talking about CRS" they said, "but we've got you here. You bring another level to it. What is
occurring that raised the problem to the level where you would come?" That caused another
whole discussion, right? The next day when the U.S. attorney for that district saw the front
page of the paper with me standing in the middle of this group of reporters, in her district, she
called Washington. Called our boss, said that I had gone down there and called a press
conference, and boom, boom, boom. So my boss calls me at midnight. She said, "Ozell " I
said "Yes? I know you didn't call at midnight just to say hello." "No, were you down there at
the compound, weren't you?" I said, "Of course I was." When we travel, we do our travel
authorization. Anytime anybody travels, I have to do the travel logs. "So don't ask me what
you already know, you know I was there." She said, "The U.S. Attorney was very disturbed
that you went down to the compound and called a press conference." I said, "I didn't call a
press conference." She said, " but the U.S. Attorney said you did." I said, "I don't care what
the U.S. Attorney is saying. You know that I don't lie." The head of investigation was waiting
for me when I arrived, because they could not get into the area. The sheriff couldn't get into
the area, because everyone was waiting for me to enable them to get into the compound. She
said, "What's so special about you that you could get into the area?" I said, "When I arrived
even those people knew who I was, and they wanted to tell me their story. It's just that simple.
They want to tell me a story." I called from that little town and told them I was coming. They
said, "Oh, you are Mr. Sutton." I said, "Yes, I am." "Staff members mentioned your name a
dozen times. One of the things that he wanted to do was to get you down here, so we are so
glad you're here." I said, "Thank you very much. I am thirty minutes from you, so I'll be out
there." They met me at the gate. They wouldn't let the sheriff in, but not only did they let me
in, but they welcomed me, right? Then when the press conference was occurring, I'll be the
first to admit, I walked into it before I even noticed what it was. It was no big deal, so I told
them some stuff. That's what occurred. I told them why we were there, they wanted to know
what we were going to do, I said, "I don't know." But now I'm doing an assessment process, I
don't know what we're going to do because we always follow an assessment and that's what
we're doing and that's all I said. The media asked a lot of questions, but they all boiled down
to the fact the CRS staff has been in, "What's brought you here?" I said I wanted to do a
further assessment for myself. Because I'm the person who has to make the judgment as to
what's going to be done. So this is the kind of thing that developed, and my boss calmed
Is that something akin to saving face?
Oh yes, you have to allow folks to save face.
Talk some more about that.
I will remind her that change is what she wants, so let's not spend all our time talking about
the injustices of the past. Although we know that, that can resolve nothing. So let the party
save face because that is the only way you can get something done because when you don't,
you can forget it. It's about to be a standoff.
Even at your own expense? What are some things that you did in
Memphis or in any of the other cases that we talked about to diminish the tension between the
The main thing is that you get the parties to formally set up rules of conduct that diminish
the tension. During a march in Memphis I persuaded the city to pull the police back. I wanted
them to pull the police back completely out of sight. "Because your very presence generates
hostility and most especially your highly armed presence," I told them.
Did you just tell them flat out that they needed to move back?
Yes, you tell them that, but you do it strategically. You explain to the chief that the
marchers are policing themselves. They've got marshals to police themselves. They don't
need you to police them, yet you are close enough, if something occurs, that you can get there
in seconds. Your purpose would be better served if you were back out of sight. That's the way
that you reduce tension.
The police, they had a
curfew and the police have a way of enforcing curfews among black folk. white folk can go
on about their business uninterrupted, right? And yet the police run around, and every time
they see a black, a car with a lot of blacks in it, they are running up there questioning that.
Sticking their shot guns in the window and these kinds of things that provoke not only
mistrust, but great anger. So I had to tell the governor, Rockefeller, at the time, and I said,
"Governor, tonight I want you to go out in the black area with me." Naturally the rest of the
staff hit the ceiling. "The governor go out there?" I say, "yeah, I'm out there and I don't know
anyone more important than me." I said, "I want the governor to see how the police are
conducting themselves." I said, "no mind can tell him, can describe what he's got to see. I'm
not asking him to go out unprotected, his cars going to be, I'm sure, packed up with police in
there. There's going to be a police car in front of him, unmarked I hope and one behind him.
The governor just must see what's going on." And sure enough, he came out that night and I
got in the car with him. And right in front of us was a group of blacks, five of them, who were
hospital workers, right? They had a need to be coming through there. They lived in there and
they got off at the hospital at 11:30 that night. So, the police immediately acted like they were
criminals and violators after the curfew. The police stopped the car and, in a storm trooper
kind of way, made them get out of the car, and you could hear the language, which was foul.
They were called n*****s and all of that. I said, "Do you hear that governor? Do you see what
I'm talking about?" He was so incensed the next morning he called together the chief of police,
the head of the national guard unit, and all of those. He said, "Ozell persuaded me to get out,"
you see they didn't know, until then, that the governor was out in the field. Said, "Ozell
persuaded me to go with him last night and I was so incensed! I just want you to know that
your conduct out of there is just wild, and uncontrolled, and unnecessary." The mayor was
there and he said, "Mr. Mayor, let me tell you one thing. I will take over this city. Ozell now
told me there was a curfew and telling you and seeing it is a different matter. I will take over
this city so quickly it will get you swimming in your head. Now I don't want any more
conduct in that manner. I'm going to have the state police all out there where you are.
Everybody is going to be reporting to me every 15 minutes, every time you stop a car I want to
know what happened." And he talked about it, said, "Well, that group was one man and three
women coming from the hospital," and they ran over there and stuck their guns in the window
and made them get out of the car and were treated in such a way that nobody would want his
wife treated. I am incensed by the whole thing." And the whole police methods changed after
that. So I just go around describing it.
Was that a long lasting kind of change?
Yes, because after the crisis was over the governor was insisting upon it.
I had a whole criteria for police conduct and the police had to be
trained, including shoot and don't shoot training. See when you get into this, you've got to
know what you are doing, and you've got to know what can be done to treat it.
The governor said, "also Mr. Mayor, the one other thing, I saw no
black commanding officers. Now how do you account for all black flatfoots in the police
department? Did you deliberately not assign them? Now, Mr. Mayor, I want from you, by the
time we meet tomorrow, how many blacks are on your force and what level they are, and how
they are assigned and what have you." We got more black police promotions out of that
situation. Got the police a body of training at which I was the
When you were providing this technical assistance, did you use
community resources, other consultants? How did you know who you should include in your
Well, you gotta know that. That's the part of your body of knowledge in a sense. I pulled
together the black leadership that was concerned about this issue and we drafted. I already had
the plan ready when the crisis developed. I had already pulled a body together of black
leaders and we had to come up with who could assist us, and who did we need to bring in. We
brought in two people from this agency and one person from the F.B.I. We didn't want any
local F.B.I. And we brought in five people who helped us design that plan and then helped us
in the training process.
I think that's interesting because you say that you already had that developed. That's either
very good foresight, a lot of confidence, or did you just see this as your next step as your role
as a mediator? Was there a combination of all of those things?
Well, at that time I was not a mediator. I was taking a leave from the CRS to be on the
governor's staff. But because I had "been there, done that" with CRS, I knew what the next
step needed to be. I also knew how to take advantage of a crisis to
move things along.
How do you? Tell us the steps to take advantage of a crisis.
Well, I do it all the time. Not only are you interested in resolving
that particular crisis, you are interested in setting forth mechanisms to keep that crisis from re-
occurring. And the next thing you are interested
in establishing among people who before then had no power, you are interested in establishing
in them a sense of power is the wrong word, but a sense of ways that they can protect
themselves. In other words, you are empowering them. That's what I'm trying to say. And
every time you ought to leave them empowered.
Yes, so you are strengthening their capacity.
Oh yes. To deal with that problem, should it occur next week, or next year, or next ten
years, that they aren't totally dependent on you, because you may not be in place. That they
too can deal with it.
Hold that place and lets back up to empowerment. What are some techniques that you use
to empower community members?
Knowledge and know-how-- the ability to assess.
You taught them that? What did you teach them and how?
You teach them how to locate resources. As I say, there are three levels of illiteracy, and
only one of them is academic. Another one is systemic. How they use the system. Poor
people and unempowered people are unempowered because they don't know how to use the
system to their advantage. So they just go back and get mad about that. I have an old saying:
Don't get mad, get even. Don't get mad is the same thing a preacher would say, don't curse the
darkness, light a candle. And I call myself lighting a candle, teaching them how to utilize the
The third area for illiteracy is that of race and ethnicity. We are so ignorant as it relates to race
and other people beside ourselves. So I call that cultural illiteracy. We are culturally illiterate,
we are academically illiterate, we are systematically illiterate, and when you put the three
together, you can empower people. Blacks must learn how to solicit
others in their fight.
See, the question in America now is not just black and white, like it used to be. The
Hispanics are coming in large numbers, as are Asians in this region. There is a greatly
increased number of Asians in this region. From Cambodia, from Vietnam, and from other
parts of the southeast Asia. I work with them and say, you know, "That's the Jewish community
in there." The Hispanic community and you should get together. Go call on a leader with the
Hispanic community. They have a natural kinship with you and so now they might not be
willing to go as far as you are willing to go, because no one is willing to go as far as you're
willing to go if it is your problem. So how to mobilize? I deal with black students on college
campuses like that. How to be effective when you are a minority. Don't just sit back and say
that white folk do this and white folk do that. They impose their decisions on us, get
strategically into decision making bodies. Make sure someone from your group is on these
bodies. You complain about spending all of the student activity fee and they won't bring
anyone in that you want to come in and speak. Don't just sit back and complain, strategically
get some of your people on the committee that disperses the money.
So knowledge of, as well as involvement in the system is important.
That's true. It's important to know how to use it. Until you benefit like everyone else.
Otherwise the majority uses it to its benefit.
Just in terms of the criminal justice system and taking this model of
empowerment, what thoughts might you have about black people, particularly young black
people, specifically black males in the criminal justice system?
In my speaking, I say that I would offer you the three B's for empowerment. The book,
(education), the ballot, (political action), and the book. You can remember the book, (the
Bible). The book, the ballot, and the book. Black folk are not poor. There are a lot of poor
among us, but as a people, we ain't poor. We have lots of money. My black folk now. We'll
be thirty-five million strong. That's larger than 90% of the nations in the world. We've got
something going for us, and we are going to hook it up right? So, we are thirty-five million
strong, we are the best educated in the world. I'm talking about black Americans now.
Looking at my sister now, working to get her doctorate. That isn't easy. You know, it really
isn't. The number of blacks working on their doctorates are increasing every year. So we've
got something going for us. We would be a 5 hundred billion dollar market, just black folk
alone, which is bigger than the gross national product of 90% of the nations in the world. If we
were a nation just to ourselves, we would be the 4th largest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
North and South America. We would be exceeded only by the United States, by Mexico and
Brazil. I want a gross national product as big as all but the United States. Even with Canada.
No other nation in North or South America has the buying power that we have. So, we should
stop going around, I guess you noticed that I'm always making biblical references, because we
ain't no grasshoppers.
Why do you think we are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system?
Because we allow it to occur.
Speak some more about that.
The ballot, is one of the greatest tools that we've disposed of. We have suffered for it, we
have died for it, but we have not used it.
So we are systematically illiterate.
I was speaking to a black man the other day and I said, "if anybody would have told me,
when I was running through Mississippi and Louisiana, running from the Klan, so I could get
the right to vote for black folk, that we weren't going to vote anyway." It is so disheartening.
I said if white folk had known that we weren't going to vote anyway, they wouldn't have been
running after me. This is the way I speak, when I look at our level of participation in the
system that we could use to solve many of our problems. I said, "did you know that many of
our judges are elected, not appointed? I was working in a little town in Georgia not long ago,
and black folk were complaining about police brutality and all of that, and when I looked, they
were sixty-five percent of the population." I said, "white folk ought to be complaining about
police brutality." Not that I think that black folk ought to be brutal, that's not what I'm talking
about. You got sixty-five percent of the population, they only got thirty-five, and you don't
have a single person on the Police Commission.
By extension, if we are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, the
answer is, we need to be in the decision making aspect of the criminal justice system. That's
what we got to do.
That's the next question I was going to ask. It seems that we allow ourselves to be put in
that situation, but there has to be some precipitating factors that get a person to that state of
mind. They must feel either it's not going to do any good anyway, or I don't know the proper
channels, or something.
Most of it is simple history and custom. Never thought you could get there, that kind of
thinking is what's so damaging to us. Never been able to get aroused and move in and know
that we can make a difference. We really don't believe that we can. Getting back to that same
grasshopper position, you remember when the Israelites got into Egypt and when the leader
sent out a scouting party to scout out the land? There were twelve of them, and they came
back, ten of them said that there are giants over there. We can't possess the land, there are
giants and we are but grasshoppers in their sight. They weren't only grasshoppers, and two of
them knew that. They said, "not only can we possess the land, we must possess the land."
They were so fortunate that they had leadership that didn't take the ten's view of their situation,
but the two. That's strictly our mentality, we see ourselves as grasshoppers. The problems are
so vast out there, there's nothing that I can do about it. As an individual, no, but as a part of a
group, yes. We have never been able to develop that sense of unity, sense of purpose, sense of
direction that it takes to succeed. Even now, with all that we've been through, less than fifty
percent of us are registered to vote. And less of fifty percent of those who are registered do
vote. So that means that only about twenty-five percent of us do vote. And most especially
among, excuse the expression, your generation. I'm so disheartened by our youth, and maybe
that's my fault, I don't know, but...
I was going to say, there's a definite connection between some of the unanticipated
consequences and the criminal justice system, when you think about how many African-
American young males, are incarcerated. That's a large percentage of the population behind
bars right there.
You are so right about that. Once you get caught up in the justice system, you cannot vote.
And most of them behind bars are not supposed to be behind them in the first place. We don't
seem to understand. We go around blaming the youth for what they have done, but they have
not particularly done any more than any other youth. I don't mean that they have clean hands,
but they haven't done any more than white youth. That causes us to pile up in prisons, a whole
bunch of things, but one is, that we are arrested and incarcerated for things that whites are not
arrested and incarcerated for. Let us take crack cocaine. The difference between crack and
cocaine, and the way the law treats the difference between them. Black folk use crack, and
white folk use cocaine. Now what makes cocaine any less damaging than crack? Is it? But
the amount of time one gets for crack is much more, and we sit around patiently and let it
happen. So we are as responsible for those young people being in jail as anybody else, because
we have not vigorously supported them.
Now the next thing, we call it profiling. I have a grandson that's nineteen and I know what he's
going to go through. I know it's hard for a black to move from nineteen to twenty-one without
getting arrested. He can be a good child, but some kind of way, somewhere, police are going to
pick him up, if only to profile him. How do you teach a young black man, to stand up and be a
man, and then tell him how to act when he's being arrested, which is to be less than a man,
keep your mouth shut, don't say nothing, don't care how you're being abused and accused, and
all that. That's not in the interest of being a good solid man. When we go to jail, we will get
twice as much time as a white does for a similar kind of arrest. In prison, we stand less of a
chance of getting out, even if we got the same sentence. He got five years, I got five years, I
would end up serving seven and he might be out in less than a year. It's that kind of thing.
And black folk either don't know, or they don't care. We let these kinds of things happen to
our youth. Yet we go around saying how our youth is going to the dogs. We're feeding them
to the dogs. I didn't mean to get off on that, but that's an area for which I have great
I led you over there, so I'll take responsibility. It does bring us back to strength and capacity issue. Did you find, let's say in the
Memphis situation that you were able to do technical assistance for both sides, or many of the
You raise another important part of mediation. Technical assistance. Coming out of Memphis, we had Lee Brown, who was a
consultant for us, and a gentleman from the University of New York in Buffalo, come to
Memphis to do a finding on the relationship between the black community and the police.
Their job was to document exactly what occurs and what happens to complaints -- when they
were made, everything that followed. Then I took that report, and conducted a two-day
symposium on the findings of the report and what needed to be done. The
mayor attended, the chief of police attended, the high-ranking police officers attended. We had
a hundred people. And the Memphis leadership, the president of the NAACP, and we went
through that report. Even those whites who expressed no concern, who saw all of this protest
as unfounded, when they started to go through that report, they were astounded at the level of
disrespect blacks had experienced. Just the whole body of action that occurred against blacks,
or the lack of consideration they got, even when they filed a complaint. We had cases where
people testified that they filed a complaint of police brutality, and that's when things really
started. "Every time I pulled out of my driveway," they'd say, "I was stopped for something,
and then I was verbally abused even if I was not physically abused." We just ran into all kinds
And so the recommendations of the report were implemented?
It moved things further along. But as long as there are races and attitudes, you have
problems. You can come up with so many ways to curtail those attitudes, but the attitudes
don't change. Christ has been trying to get us to love one another for two thousand years, but
we still don't. When the police officer, every time there is a striking, knows there will be a full
report and full investigation of that. I'm just talking about black citizens, anytime police find
it necessary to strike a person, a citizen, then there ought to be a unit that does not want to be
doing that. Quite often you cannot expect police to police themselves.
You mentioned attitudes. I'm wondering, when you encountered an
impasse, let's say in Memphis, or any of the other cases you mentioned, how did you break that
Well what you do is, you deal with realities. The realities are power.
So part of it is to provide some factual information, is that what you're saying?
Factual information in the right setting. If I'd gone down and reported that [police
harassment] to some of the chamber of commerce type people, I would have been just another
disgruntled black person. But in that setting, it had an impact that I alone could have never
created. I must know how to create those kinds of settings where the information is not all that
I'm not sure there's an answer to this, but I'll ask it anyway. In the
past 2 days you've mentioned a number of situations where you said, "well you have to know
how to do this, you have to know how to read a situation or you have to know how to present
information or you have to know how to do whatever." My question is, is how does one learn
Number 1 is I'm not looking for a brilliant person, I'm looking for a person who has a view
of people, who has been where they are at. You can have that and still not respect people
from all walks of life.
So it's a mind-set you're saying?
It is, yes.
Switching gears, did you ever, how did you deal with issues of
confidentiality in your practice?
That's one of the things that is CRS's power. I am careful with confidentiality. If somebody
tells me that someone is hooded in the Asian community, it is not to be discussed outside of
that. One of the things is that I found that we had to do at CRS, back in the old days, even in
our old reports, we didn't use any names. Because once I put your name in my report, I've lost
all control of what is going to happen to that information. So, I talked about situations and not
So, Mr. Sutton, when we left yesterday you
were talking about dealing with the media. My question is, did you generally find
the newspaper and television media to be an asset or a liability?
Very definitely an asset. And the reason I say that, because when we came to the point of
how our demonstrations were effective, it was the media that carried our story across the
country. Had we sought to make the American public aware of the brutal and suppressive
things that were happening to blacks, they were demonstrated beautifully in the media. They'd
catch it and carry it all across the country. Now when the media, most especially the broadcast
media, but the print media as well, would carry the stories all across the country and the
minute the public would see it, they would say, "wait a minute now." You know, this kind of
repressive action is not in accordance with Christian principles or the principles of democracy.
I'm proud of the struggle to demonstrate to the people of America how repressive, how cruel,
and how brutal the actions had been to blacks.
Ok, in addition to regular coverage of events did you ever
intentionally use the media to your advantage?
Yes, all the time,
Ok, say some more about that.
I had the ability to do that back when I was leading Civil Rights Actions. For example,
was leading the Citians in Little Rock, the officials of Little Rock tried their best to paint me as
some wide eyed, militant young man who was not in touch with reality. This kind of thing.
But they couldn't do that to me, because for 7 years I was a part of the media. The media knew
me and they knew that I was not a reckless, wide-eyed whatever-they-wanted-to-call-me.
They knew I had deep commitment and convictions, but being contrary and arbitrary and that
kind of thing was not the nature of Ozell Sutton. The media knew that because I had been a
part of it for 7 years, in that sense. So they couldn't even paint me in that corner as somebody
who was just going out trying to stir up trouble for the sake of trouble.
How did you feel that your own media training or experience helped you in your CRS
work, either specifically at Memphis, or in other cases?
I knew exactly what to say to get my story told. That comes from my experience in media,
I know the tricky words, I know what they want to hear, I know where they're going from the
Can I ask you what are those trigger words are?
Well, it all depends on what the situation is. When you start to explain what the situation is,
you explain it in a way that the media will pick it up. You will say something like, "this is a
blatant instance of discrimination," or "this is a blatant instance of police brutality." Or you
will say that "black perception is that they are being repressed, and not allowed full
participation." You use those kinds of words. Then they come out saying that Sutton said this
or that. You learn the language of the media. Now understand when a reporter
comes, he needs a story. If you're going to deny him the opportunity to have a story, you are
making an enemy, because his newspaper sent him there to get a story. He or she has a
responsibility to come back, so you need to say something that gives him or her the outlet they
need to report on. Otherwise, they will concoct it and the story might be on your arbitrariness
or your contrariness. I remember when I was a newspaper reporter and I went over to a little
college across the river where the president of the college was having a great difficulty from
the bishop. People were trying to fire him when I showed up. They put me out, right? I just
went around to the window, it was in the summer like this, and it didn't have air conditioning
like we do now, and the headline of my story was from the window. You see what I mean? I
had the story, but from the window. It degraded everybody. Not that I said anything
degrading, but the fact that I had to do the story from the window was not complimentary. I'm
trying to say that reporters can do that to you if you don't know how to deal with the situation.
Do you have any experience with a time when the needs of the
media perhaps interfered with your goals in a particular case? Lets talk about Memphis in fact,
let's focus on that.
Well, in Memphis, there was no question about how conservative the media was in its
writing and its editorials. The newspapers all were on the side of the city. One of the
unfortunate things about the media, let us say the reporter in city hall quite often does not fully
investigate a story. He takes from the police report the information for his story, so if the
police said that they had to strike a man in order to subdue him, they'd write it that way, and
say the police had subdued a man because he was resisting arrest. The reporter won't check
that out--whether or not he was really resisting arrest. So you have to know that too. You
have to consider where the reporter gets his information.
In general do you think as an agency, CRS is media savvy?
No, no. Most agencies are big enough to have a media relations person aboard. We used
to have one aboard when we were bigger, who took the opportunity to project the agency at all
times. For example, a good PR person will not just wait until the media catches something,
they will write it and take it to the media. Then if it's good enough, the media will take it from
there, since the story's well written, well documented, and so you get favorable coverage.
That's why big corporations have media specialists that project them positively at all times.
We are too small to have media specialists, and thus we don't get that projection at all
Thinking first about Memphis specifically, and talking more
generally, how did you determine when to end your involvement in that particular conflict?
Several things do that. Depends on what else is on the plate, how critical other things are in
relationship to that. Whether you have the resources or have done all that you can do in
relationship to it. But most of the times it's priorities. When this particular case reaches the
stage where it is no longer the major priority. There's one that is more volatile and more
demanding that you must turn your meager resources to, then you politely and respectfully
begin to ease out of the first case. Sometimes you've done all that you can do, sometimes you
have not, but there's still other things you need to do. One of the things
we like to do, and I think I've mentioned this elsewhere, is to establish mechanisms to address
future kinds of situations. I establish relationships that address that. Sometimes that requires
time and sometimes we don't have the time to do all of that. We have to move onto something
In Memphis you mentioned that you went to work for Governor Rockefeller. So how
would you ease out of your involvement in that particular conflict?
The agency assigned other staff people, Fred Miller and Jim Laue, who were still available.
Laue was never signed to Memphis as a field rep, his job with the agency, I've forgotten what
we called him nationally. He was in the national office, but he was available to new staff that
went in there along with Fred Miller to do what I had been doing.
So you just shared your information? How did you say goodbye to
the parties, or how did you pull away from the situation?
Well, that's difficult and you never, really never quite do that. The parties continue to call
upon you whether you go there or whether you offer advice. The parties in Memphis still call
on me. The guy who was, he's no longer chief of police, but who got to be chief of police last
year called me and he said, "Mr. Sutton, you don't remember me," and I said, "Yes, I do.
You're Chief so-and-so." He said, "Well, that's not what I'm talking about. I was in your
Institute. You remember when you did a symposium on the relationship between the blacks in
the police department and you brought in Lee Brown?" I said, "yes I do." He said, "I was a
young Lieutenant attending that, so I know you, Sir." I said, "Well thank you, Sir." So people
still call on you years later for what they consider to be a body of knowledge that they may
need. All of the time I was in the Governor's office I would still hear from Memphis, most
especially Jim Lawson who was the United Methodist Preacher who led that group of
preachers in that effort and the young man who was on the balcony with Martin, and Martin
was about to go to his house for dinner when he was shot. He's still there and he's still pastor
at the same church. When I went over there to the 35th anniversary of that occasion, you
would've thought that a long lost brother was present. When he presided over that big
celebration, he got up and he said, "I noticed that Mr. Sutton is here. I believe he's sitting in
exactly the same seat he sat in, the night Martin did his Assent to the Mountaintop speech." He
looked out and said, "Ozell, is that the same seat, just about where you were?" I said it's
exactly the same seat that I sat in. Everybody just laughed. I said, "I claim that seat for me
tonight." They said, "we're glad to have you here, Ozell. One of these days I will tell the
people all of the things that you did when you were here." Then he went on with the program.
When Dr. Gordan, the tailor who spoke that night, got up to speak, he said, "Well, I wasn't
here with Ozell," and when Jesse got up to speak -- Jesse Jackson -- he said, "Yep everybody
knows that Ozell was here." So a few times that night the name "Ozell" was invoked as it
relates to that crisis. People always remember, and most of them find me.
But the bottom line is that you when you went in, you established relationships that lasted
longer than your direct involvement in Memphis.
One of the things that you will find as you go further in the whole field of conflict
resolution, people will remember you forever. Everywhere you will go, you will find people
who remember that you helped this lack of resources in their city. People give me credit for
the rise of blacks in power in the city police of Atlanta. They say it all started with Ozell.
Now we have a black woman as chief of police here. Yeah, a black woman chief of police.
We have a black woman sheriff too. But when you get in discussions, they will say it all
started with Ozell. And the guys who work for SCLC, which is right up the street there, will
say quite often that our heads would've been beaten many times if Ozell hadn't been present.
It's quite a humbling kind of experience, to have people say that with you sitting out in the
audience at their convention, and they are testifying that on so many occasions you have been
the difference in their struggle. I made sure that the police and
everybody knew that the Justice Department was present, and it forces a different kind of
conduct on the police that had nothing to do with whether they liked me or not. The very fact
that I was there and that the Justice Department was there.
You mentioned your setting priorities for involvement or
can you speak for a minute in general about how you set your priorities?
Number one is it's very difficult, because you've got a lot of things that weigh upon you.
But the ones that generate direct confrontation get the greatest priority, to be frank with you.
Not unlike "the squeaking wheel gets all the oil", you can say what you want about that, but
the squeaking wheel gets the oil if you don't have enough to oil all four wheels, then the one
that's squeaking gets the oil. But mostly on the basis of the level of conflict being generated.
Or to some extent, the amount of repression and suppression and brutality that people are
facing. You sort of back up in your own corner of concern and commitment, and then you
move on it. If a situation comes in that really depresses you and that you think you could do
something, then you move to try to do it, although you don't have any authority or "cease and
desist" power. Again, there are so many situations where, if I just show up, it forces a different
kind of approach to the whole situation. You have people across the country, across your
region, telling you that. "If you would just come."
Your presence, that's very helpful.
But sometimes you get weary about that, because you can't be everywhere. Sometimes you
feel like staying home and doing nothing, which I have not gotten the opportunity to do this
summer. I said this more and more. I just want some time where I can get up when I get
ready, go out and get the paper, make a pot of coffee, scramble me an egg, and just sit there
and do nothing until noon. I keep waiting to get enough time to do that. Each year, this is so
stupid, each year I lose 8 or 10 vacation days in the "use or lose" kind of category because I
didn't take them. Now I know that part of it's my own stupid sense of needing to be there, but
nevertheless. Every person ought to take vacation. I was going to when I went to the Alpha
convention, I was going to take two weeks, spend five days at the Alpha convention, then
another whole week on vacation. But it didn't happen because there were some things that I
needed to do. The inadequateness of staff is a big, big part of that. You
go because there's nobody else to be there.
And along with this idea of needing to be there, how do you prioritize when you personally
need to be involved?
Well you got two things, it's your own experience and body of knowledge about situations
We're talking you as Regional Director?
That's what I mean, your own body of knowledge about situations like that, and what you
bring to the situation that staff cannot bring. It is not the ability to do a better job, it's simply
rank. Rank counts so much in this country. When the Regional Director shows up, then it's
different with the sheriff and the chief of police. It implies a high level of concern, so when I
went down to Nubian case, one of the first things that the mayor said to Ensley was, "So,
you went back and got the big gun?" Now I'm not a big gun, but that's what I mean.
What are the circumstances when you think that rank is important?
The circumstances -- how crucial the situation is, how other agencies are treating it. If
there's a situation where the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation came in, then I
would come too. We want to match that with our Regional Director coming in, you get what I
mean? Ensley would say, "Boss, all of these high-level people are coming in." When the issue
is a church burning, the instant Ensley would say, "the Governor is coming," and that "the
Attorney General is coming," I would feel so much better that the Regional Director was here.
So I would go to credential him, and to credential the agency in that situation, because if
the big boys are there then the CRS ought to send a big boy.
How did you measure success in an intervention? Let's talk
specifically about Memphis and then we can talk in general.
Well, success is an ever-evasive thing. Success for the day does not mean success for next
week. If you're able on this day to prevent the level of brutality, the problem hasn't been
solved. Or anyway enabled that group of people or empowered that group of people that had
been without power. You have gained a level of success that will continue into infinity really,
anytime you're in power, a people or a group of people, they become the empowered forever.
Anytime you teach them that they have power, and how to use it, it
becomes an ongoing thing. So, you measure your success by the level of concern and
involvement that you can create in people in resolving their own problems. And you try to
convey to them that they don't want to rely on others in the long run, that they are the
responsible ones for the answers to these things, not me.
When you say, "measuring the level of concern," are you looking at numbers? How
specifically would you measure the level of involvement?
I have a saying that works for me: "Leadership is prerequisite to progress." If blacks accept
what's going on, then you have no problem. Even though they are discriminated against, and
they are brutalized. But if they take it, then you don't have the kind of conflict you have if they
say "Hell no, I'm not going to take it anymore." Then you have conflict. So when you have to
come to that point, somebody or some group of bodies must begin to articulate the minority
dissatisfaction, before these problems can be addressed, let alone resolved. Somebody has to
articulate a level of dissatisfaction. When you begin to develop, in a community, a group or a
person who does that, then you know that ultimately, you're moving a people, or empowering a
people to address their own problems. You see it happening all the time.
So the emergence of grass roots leadership to take over is key?
That's terribly important. I can't always be there. I will be there 2 or 3 days, then I will be
gone. But the well-being of the people is dependent upon the people themselves, and not me.
I might be able to nudge, I might be able to instruct, I may even be able to inspire. But the job
of doing it is theirs and once they grasp that, then you have enabled a people to address their
Let's back up a little bit. In order to help that leadership emerge, what things would you
have done? What techniques, which strategies would you have employed?
Well, you see, you've got to do two things. One is to help the leadership emerge, and the
other is to help the power structure during that time to resolve some of these problems. It is
important to the welfare of this city. All of the sudden, now, people want to be heard who
have not been heard before. You didn't have to deal with it, because they didn't raise the
question before. But they do now, and they are seeking inclusion. So you must come forth
with mechanisms to include them in the decision making process.
When you say "You must come forth," who must?
I'm talking about, the chamber of commerce, the chief of police, the city hall, the power
structure as it is callously used across this country. You must understand now that you've got
a new body of people knocking on your door, and you must make room for them. The more
you can get that done, the more you have enabled a people who were denied.
Can we stay with that a little bit? Tell me some more specific techniques that you might
have used, let's say, in Memphis. What techniques did you employ in Memphis to assist that
leadership in the community to attain recognition in the power structure?
You do it in many ways.
First, you must move among the power structure informing them of the need to make more
room, and of all the consequences of not making more room. They have a need -- this city, for
example, has a need -- as it pictures itself as the leading city in the South. Right? That's what
Atlanta likes to think. That of all of the cities of the South, this is the premier city. Atlanta
sells that all across the country. And that sales job brings jobs, brings corporations, I mean it's
the strengthening of the city. Too much disruption discourages corporations, discourages jobs,
and those who are in the business of promoting this city know that better than anybody in the
world. So they have a vast interest in having a city that is fairly amiable as far as race relations
is concerned. Fairly open to progress. Atlanta likes to brag about its actions and civil rights.
Every time Atlanta had to move and address civil rights, it did it. It was not locked, as they
say, in Birmingham, or other places. Every time it had to make more room, it had the good
sense to do that. That really is one of the keys to progress occurring. When Atlanta had to
give, it gave. Didn't take an arbitrary or contrary position that wouldn't stand up ultimately.
So, it becomes your job to one-by-one, group-by-group, find that nucleus of people who can
get things done, and convince them that they need to exert their influence and efforts to getting
things done. That's a great part of it.
Say, for example, there was a little town in Mississippi where blacks
were boycotting. They had a school boycott that included practically every black student in
the school system. They had an economic boycott that was running people out of business
everyday in that town for the lack of customers. Because, not only were blacks not shopping
because of commitment, whites weren't coming downtown because they didn't want to come
where the trouble was. Now the issue was that the school system was overwhelmingly black
and the blacks were demanding that when the current superintendent (who had been
superintendent for a number of years) retired, they insisted that the next superintendent be
black. The school board hired a white superintendent and the blacks went berserk. They said
that they were 75% of the school population and that they should have a black superintendent.
Then they went on down the line, saying that despite of the fact that 75% of the students were
black, 75% of the teachers were white... you know the whole story. They were able to
organize a very tight boycott around that situation.
Ensley was our staff person in charge of that. Again, he called me and he said, "Boss, you
need to come down here." So, I went there and when I looked at the situation I decided what
our prescription would be. I went to the white businessmen and said, "You're the one losing
money because this boycott is tight. You've got people going out of business everyday.
You've got to do something." "Well, what can we do? We are not the chair of the board of
education, we didn't select a white person." I said, "I know all of that, but I know that you are
(and I know you won't admit it) but you're the power in this town, and the board's got to listen
to you." He said, "But what can we do? They've selected a superintendent now." I said, "I'll
tell you what you need to do, you need to come up with the funds to buy out the new
superintendent's contract. Now I've been to see the new superintendent."
You had already?
Yeah, I went to see the superintendent. And I said to him, "As you know, blacks are
demanding a black superintendent. It's going to be a very difficult superintendency for you
to administer in this school system, because 75% of your students are black and they are going
to continue to stay out of school. Even if they came to school you would have a hard time
running the schools. He had to admit I was right. So, I asked him, "Are you open to a
buy-out?" He was making about $65,000 a year. I said, "Golly, you've got a two year contract.
You could take $130,000 and go stash it in the bank and go get you another job." I said,
"What mistake would that be?" That got his attention.
You could see the wheels turning?
Yeah, so I went to the downtown businessmen and persuaded them to raise money among
the businessmen, the banker, and the rest of the business people of major interest. I said, "It's
to your advantage to buy his contract." I said, "Now, the school board is not going to do that;
they couldn't if they wanted to." I said, "They can't save face that way, but if you bought the
contract, and the man decides to leave, then they would be freed to select a black
superintendent," and that's exactly what occurred.
That's a really good example. How did you come up with the "buy-out plan?" How did you
develop that idea, or maybe I should say, where did that idea come from?
Somewhere up here. [His head]
Ok, so it was your idea?
Yeah, a mediator must have alternatives and you are continually throwing out
... the alternatives, but in this case . . .
The mediator has the role of planting the seed of alternatives because he or she knows more
than anybody at that table about what has occurred at other places. That's not the first time I'd
ever done that. So, I am relying on a body of experiences that was proven to resolve a problem
like this, and so I plant these things. I tell them, "In such and such a place, this is what they
did," and I was not reluctant to do that in this case.
Does this fall under table mediation, street mediation/conciliation, this particular case?
You know, I don't separate them. It was done at the table, but that which I brought to the
table came from street mediation.
A theme that I'm hearing consistently is that you bring with you a body of information and
knowledge and experience about the situation, so as you say, you know the things that have
been done in other places. How do you suggest that someone who's new to the field get that
level of knowledge? Or even if we go back to when you first started?
It takes three things: training, experience, and contact.
Okay, training to do what?
As to how to resolve problems that you get academically.
Experience in the field.
Okay, school of hard knocks?
Yeah, and contact.
And by contact you mean?
As I say, nobody says things like I do, don't go around with your nose all snotty, if you
don't know somebody. You get what I mean? There are always those of us available, who've
"been there, done that", so get it. It's not hard to do as you get around to meetings and
workshops and you learn things and people come in who you don't know. They are flattered
when you pick up the phone and call them and say, "I got this situation. How would you
handle that? What do you suggest I do?" When you do that to a person like me, they are
absolutely flattered that you did that, and so you're not insulting me.
Well, you may get a flood of calls as a result of this website. So I'm also hearing you say
some of the contacts have to be cultivated. With people in the areas, in the communities where
Well, this is like it is with anything else. There's no substitute for experience. There's
absolutely not. I tell teachers that all of the time, who teach, how to deal with a disruptive
child, there is no substitute for experience. My wife brags about the fact that she never
suspended a child. She says, "Suspension does no good. The child comes back two weeks later
in worse shape than he left, now he's behind in his lessons, and you've got all kinds of
problems with him now." She took the attitude that having received a body of training, all the
way up to the doctorate degree, that she had been working in the school system for twenty-five
years or more, that she just didn't plan to let an eighteen-year-old outwit her. That she ought to
be able to deal with an eighteen-year-old. Now that was her whole attitude. Every time I
considered it a personal failure, that I couldn't deal with an eighteen-year-old child. So I
started to go back into my bag of experiences and I say, "You've seen this before, it's nothing
new, people don't act differently." So I go back then and take it piece by piece. That's enough
of that, but that's how you do it in mediation. Just take a look back at the conflict that you've
seen and been involved in, and grab your pieces. I always say, "One of the greatest things to
know is what you did wrong. As much as your successes, what you did wrong in your
How did CRS measure your success, or how do they?
Well, I'm not sure that agencies are in the position to do that well. They measure success in
a way that sometimes I wouldn't. They measure your success based upon what they perceive
to be your level of response and cooperation with national headquarters. Sometimes, and I'm
not joking about this, sometimes it's when they tell you to jump, it's how high you jump that
measures your success. And sometimes I have not fared well because it's hard to get me to
jump unless you can inspire me to jump, not order me to jump. But sometimes I have been
what they have considered to be one of the most experienced and most successful regional
directors, and among others I have not fared as well, but with me it doesn't change anything. I
remain constantly, knowing that with some people I am top notch, and with others I am not
part of their circle. I am not particularly discouraged about that. I don't go around blaming
folk. I said Ozell, there are some people you don't come over well to. Or some people you
come over to so well that they find a problem with that. So be it, and that's what I say. Don't
care where you go, Lady, some people are going to like you and some people are not. And that
goes for supervisors. Some don't care how good you are, even the very fact that you're good
becomes a problem sometimes. Just count on it, and just move on, and that's what I
How do you think the changing nature of the civil rights movement
and protest activity shaped the challenges you faced as a civil rights mediator?
First place, I must recognize the changing nature of the animal. There once was a time
when the whole issue was just black and white. The issue is no longer black and white, it's
brown, it's red, it's yellow, in other words, Hispanics, Native Americans. There are more
people in the pool now. They've always been there, they just haven't been raising issues
among themselves. Like I said earlier, there's no issue unless somebody raises it. That doesn't
mean that there's no discrimination, no repression, but until somebody says, "I want this
stopped," it isn't a conflict. Other ethnic groups are now demanding that they too must be
Now you must understand that, and you have to understand the cultural background out of
which they come. So it becomes more demanding, now that I need to know more than just
black and white culture, I've got to know Asian culture, or Hispanic culture. And even within
those cultures, I've got to know there's a world of difference between Japanese and Chinese.
And there's a world of difference between Cuban Americans who are Hispanic, and Puerto
Rican Americans who are also Hispanic. And that they dislike each other with passion. The
Cuban Americans don't like Mexican Americans, because they think Mexican Americans are
submissive. Well I won't get into all that. Even within the so-called culture itself. And to say
Browns are Hispanic does not define the culture at all. Sometimes the only thing they have in
common is language. Even Spanish is spoken differently from one culture to another. So the
mediator must understand the dynamic, they must also understand the dynamic of the change
of approaches. We are no longer fighting to enter a restaurant and be served, we are fighting to
have the money with which to buy food. It doesn't do any good to get the ability to go into the
restaurant if you don't have any money. There's a shift from blatant and overt discrimination,
to the presence of blacks in certain jobs, upward mobility, and hiring practices, and
promotional opportunities and these kinds of things. A mediator now has to be able to grasp
all of these things. It's a great shift.
In addition to specific knowledge of individual cultural differences, the civil rights mediator
also need to understand the social context in which these cultures developed?
A good mediator has to be broad and extensive in his/her
knowledge base and experience base and that must be replenished. You don't ever know
enough, and don't ever think you do. I never make the assumption that I'm so good, as to have
obtained enough experience or enough knowledge to do my work, I must forever be reaching
for it. So I expose myself extensively to the black culture, to the Hispanic culture, to the
Native American culture, and to the Asian culture. So I have spread my level of contacts
extensively. For example, for a long time, I was co-chair of the black-Jewish coalition in this
town. Expansion of both contacts and knowledge. Blacks contend that if there's one person in
this town who knows the Jews and where they're coming from, it's Ozell. I said, "I don't claim
to be another authority, but I do claim to be a student." Just that simple. I know the
American-Jewish committee, I know the NCCAJ, I associate with them. I make it my business
to be at their functions and among them and I just restrict myself among black people. I say I
don't need to go among black people all the time, I am black and I know black folk, and I've
been black for all of these years. I need to be among people who have problems just like we
do, and I need to know the nature of their problems and how we can best deal with that
problem. That's comes from the standpoint of a mediator, and it also comes from the
standpoint of a personal need to know other cultures and respect other people for what they
What then, based on your experience, your work, are the qualities, the most important skills
and attributes of a civil rights mediator? Can I tell you what I've already heard you say?
Yeah, because I'll probably say the same thing.
That's okay, you can expand on it. I heard you say the ability to learn from experience, to
analyze and review that experience. Training, perceptiveness about situations, bodacity,
knowledge, inspiration, creativity, persuasive skills or ability, the ability to use language,
confidence in what you do and what you know.
You know, and I tell people how important that is. I am not cocky, but I believe in me.
Because if I don't know, I will surely find out. And I never come to a situation a second time.
It may hit me and I don't know this time, but next time I'll know. And I know I'm like that.
One of the most important things in addition to that, is a genuine love and respect for all
people. I don't mean some false love, but a genuine respect for all people. Culture is but a
way certain people have learned to address a given subject over a period of time to their
benefit, that's all it is. You learn to do it this way, and it served you well. I learned to do it this
way because I come from a different circumstance from you and it served me well. Neither is
superior to the other.
Typically of me, I tell the story of the pig and the giraffe, a little story I
learned when I was in third grade. They were strolling down the road one day, and the old
giraffe was telling the pig how much better it was to be tall than short. And they came to this
place of this beautiful garden, but it had this high fence and the food was hanging all over the
fence. Pig couldn't touch it. And old giraffe stuck his long neck over there and feasted
beautifully. "Now brother pig, I told you it was better to be tall than short." They kept going
along that road and they came to another garden, where the food was not hanging over the
fence. The fence was too tall for the fruit and the trees were set too far back that he couldn't
stick his head over there. But the pig keeps running around until he finds a little hole under the
fence. And old pig scooted in under the fence and went in and fed himself beautifully. And
then he came out and said, "Now Brother Giraffe, I told you it was better to be short than tall."
Well, the fact of the matter was, two facts of the matter. One was, sometimes it's better to be
tall than short, but sometimes it's better to be short than tall. But the great fact of the matter is
that together, they were awesome. When it was better to be tall, then the giraffe came into
play. When it was better to be short, the pig came into play. And I tell that kind of story in
talking to blacks all of the time. I said, "You know, when I was leading in civil rights, there
are four levels of black leadership," and I talk about these and I draw circles. I said, "Number
one is the so-called Uncle Tom." I said, "Don't ever sell the so-called Uncle Tom short. He
can do some things that nobody else can do. And don't ever say he's not interested in the way
of fellow black folk, because they accept all kinds of situations and dehumanization to
perform his task, right?" He accepts being reduced to less than a human being in order to
make his point. But all of the time, he's trying to get a better deal for his people and he
subjugates himself to do that, so don't ever sell him short in that sense. Tom is the pleader. He
pleads for the best deal he can get for black folk. He doesn't challenge the system, he doesn't
do that. He just pleads for a better deal and more for his people. And he's to be commended
The next level is the moral persuader. That's what Martin was. Called on white folk to live up
to their own definition of "We hold these truths to be self-evident." And I tell white folk all of
the time, "I didn't say all men are created equal, you said that. And you made me believe it.
And I sincerely believe it. But you taught me that. Now you're trying to tell me that's not so.
It's too late now. The more the sweeter."
The third one is the militant. That's what was going on in Memphis. Now, the good thing in
America, all three of those seek in, and not out.
The fourth one is the alienated radical. He doesn't seek in. He seeks the destruction of what he
is, and the institution of another thing. But the blessed thing in America is that 99% of blacks
are in one of those three categories, and don't ever, ever get in the business of trying to destroy
Sometimes it's better to be short, sometimes it's better to be tall.
I organized a group in Little Rock and they're still a primary
organization among blacks in Little Rock, the Leadership Round Table. Now, why you
remember the story of the round table and going back to King Arthur, and nobody gets into all
this crazy stuff but Ozell. But again, that King Arthur had, you remember, he had a kingdom,
a fictitious kingdom, of course, in literature and history, called Camelot. And King Arthur was
a just and righteous man and presided over his kingdom with those attributes. And he put
around himself a group of stout young warriors, whose job it was to execute justice and
righteousness within the kingdom, and they were called the Round Table. They were called
The Round Table because there were no superior and inferior, the table was round in that sense
and they called themselves the Round Table and they were King Arthur's. And I used the term,
and the table round, and sat down. And so the organization I have organized in Little Rock,
the Leadership Round Table, would be totally inclusive of all black Leadership. And not to
get into the business of pulling people down, because maybe they didn't have the skills to
address the situation on a moral basis and they were pleaders. Or, if they were more militant
than I was, I said, because there's a time when you need militancy. So, what you do is, you
take these groups and you let them perform their function that needs to be done at that time. I
sat down with the executive director of the Urban League. He couldn't be a militant, because
half of his staff and half of his board are white. That's his trend. The interracial nature of the
league. Now that, so you can't take the league and make a NAACP out of it. So I called in the
NAACP, the war department, and the Urban League, the state department, negotiators. I said,
now there's a place for all of them and that time that we have to go to war, we turn to the
NAACP for war.
And how would you teach a group like that to appreciate the strengths of the others?
It's not easy. And even within the group, it rises up sometimes. I remember a couple years
ago, they invited me back to speak for their annual meeting and I relayed the times when each
one of the units, like the pig and the giraffe played the major role. I said, when George Henry,
who was from the Urban League, and I was director of the Arkansas Council on Human
Relations at that time, and when we were leaving the sit-ins, we deliberately took two different
roles. I was the militant. And sometimes, my only words were, "no". No, no, no, no, no.
Sometimes I'd say it ten times. I remember when the whites finally decided to desegregate,
but they wanted to do it in stages, right? I jumped up and acted like a cheetah. Beat my
breasts and said, "What do you think I am? I do not have the right to tell black folks to
postpone their exercise of their legitimate rights. I will not stand for him to go that way." So
George Henry came right behind me and we had agreed on this. He said, "Nobody
understands Ozell any better than I do. We were in college together, you remember Ozell?
We worked at night and I was working at this paper company and you were cooking downtown
about three blocks from me," and he goes back into our history. And I said, "Do you
remember how we used to catch the bus together and do this together?" So he made this
identification. But then he said, "But, it may be that we can do it in stages. Everybody in this
room knows that it is quite something for me to differ with Ozell. That's not our character."
He said, "But let's do it in stages, Ozell. On Monday, let's desegregate the restaurants. On
Wednesday, let's do the hotels. On Friday, let's do the movie theater." Now they were talking
about months apart, right? He comes forward with this plan to do it all in one week, but in
stages. And they couldn't help but buy it, because this stage business was what they had
recommended. But to do it all in one week? So they bought it, because George was so much
more conciliatory than I was in that sense. I said, "Well George, I am agreeing to this only
because of our personal relationship and because of my love and respect for you. I still don't
believe it ought to be done that way." We were so glad to get that deal, right, it wasn't even
funny, and we went out of there just laughing.
So I would have to add to the list of skills and attributes, a sense of
Oh yeah. Yeah. Sometime you are really dramatic. Sometimes really subdued, but not
always. That time when I said, I stood and blocked that door, that was theatrical, you know.
I'm no longer subdued. I said, "Nobody's going to get out of here until we have arrived at
something unless they go out over me." And I said, "Now, I recognize the fact that as police
officers, you really can go over me, but I don't believe you want to do that, and I don't believe
you will do that.
So what would you say is your greatest strength as a mediator?
My greatest strength, I believe, is my own flexibility to move from one point to another
with great ease. My ability to become incensed, and then on the other hand be cooperative and
contributive. But the best ability I have is a good knowledge of what can be done and where it
has been done, and how it has been done. And an ability to move between those points. I'm
the kind of person you cannot insult. If people want to vent on me, then that's better than
venting on one another. So I sometimes not only let you vent on me, but I generate a venting
on me. You see what I mean?
So a successful mediator has to be able to be used?
That's what he or she is there for, to be used. You are a tool, you're the hoe. Now who
would use that kind of terminology but me?
Not at the university level.
Not in Denver. But if you're building a building, you're the hammer. How about that? If
you're in the area of communications, you're the computer. I tell everybody, all the time, if
Christ had come along now, he would not have used the mustard seed as an example. But you
use the example that people can identify with, and in that day, they were agrarian and they
could identify with the mustard seed. Now you'd use an example of a computer.
One final question. If you think back on your career, do you find that you did essentially
the same kinds of things, used in the same kinds of techniques or strategies, at the beginning
and now? Now I understand that they would change as your skill level increased from the
beginning to the end. Were you a very different kind of person, way back when you started,
than you are now, in terms of your approach, your skills, your philosophy?
and even my wife says this, "One of the troubles with Ozell is he never changes."
Even your wife says that?
Yeah. She claims that basically, I am the same person I was when we married. My
thought processes, naturally, I change according to a greater body of knowledge, but the
common principles stay with me. She said, "My husband, when I first met him, he was very
serious, he was never fun and frolic, so if you're looking for a fun and frolic person even now,
you better look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a husband who is serious about his work,
who was dependable as a husband, then that's a different matter." I said, "Well let me tell you,
with my experience, too many times, women get excited because a man's a lot of fun, he's a lot
of fun to be around. Of course he won't pay the bills. You're looking for a man who, let us
say, when you were courting, was forever entertaining you, and I would advise you to look
more deeply than that. He can entertain you, because he doesn't have to pay your house note.
He doesn't pay your car note. All he has to do is take you out and have a good time. Now
when you get married and he's got a house note to pay, if he is a serious man, then the attention
goes to paying the house note and he will not be taking you to the fanciest clubs all of the time,
because he has to take his job seriously. Give me a responsible person any day. Even if he or
she is not that much 'fun.' I'll take him any day in that sense. And to that extent, I was serious
about this when we got married, way back in college. I was a youth council at NAACP. I was
a collegiate chapter president, and I've always been involved in these issues. And that's what
she married and she knows that. And ever since we married, and I have to give her credit, I
don't know why I'm talking about this, but I have to give her credit. She never infringed upon,
or required anything that lessened my involvement in these issues. Because she knows that's
me, and if she dismissed that, she would have dismissed me. And to try to make me something
else would not even serve you well at all. Because that's what Ozell is, serious about the
struggle. He's been involved in it all of his life. All of his sense of direction and purpose come
out of it and that's where you'll find him. She didn't ever have to worry about whether I was
somewhere gambling, or whether I was sitting at the bar until two or three o'clock in the
morning, or that kind of thing. But Ozell would be somewhere in some meeting, in some
discussion, every night, every day, and so she said, the one thing about my husband, around
10:30, 11:00, he'll be home. And then he'll want to know what's for dinner. Isn't that crazy?
What would you have done differently in terms of approaching the case then as opposed to
For the most part, nothing. There are times when I could have been a little more
resourceful than I was. When I could have applied a little more resourceful techniques, and I
look back at cases and I say, "You know, I could have done this."
Like what kind of techniques?
Well. Like not so much techniques, but resourcefulness. I'm like my wife was about those
students. I always look back when I did not succeed and I take it as a personal failure rather
than the old arbitrariness. I should have been able to reach some kind of way to make both
parties understand that it was to both of their benefit to come to some kind of compromise.
Life itself, and let nobody fool you, all of life is to compromise. Sometimes you get much less
than you had originally hoped to have obtained. You probably hoped to have gotten your
doctorate by the time you were thirty. I know that' s the kind of the way that I used to think,
right? I had it all worked out. And when it didn't happen that way, as I said, in my mind, I
was supposed to be the next Thurgood Marshall. I had not thought about being derailed by not
being able to go to law school. Now, I was married, and suddenly, they didn't have great
fellowships and financial aid to blacks at that time, I couldn't go away to law school. But
Joanna knew when we decided to get married, that I had planned then to go the University of
California at Berkeley. I was stationed at Treasure Island in the Marines, across the bay, and I
went over to Berkeley for a seminar and I've always been a person who hung around colleges
and Universities, even when I was working at CRS in New Orleans, you'd find me over at
Dillard, you'd find me at SUNO, at the University at New Orleans, and you would find me at
Xavier. That's the way I was. And I still am. You can find me over at Emory, you can find
me over at Clark Atlanta U. I just like trying to tell you academia types what to do. I'll tell
you that you need more than knowledge and I'll tell you that it's very empty to walk around
calling yourself doctor, and that's all you got going for you. And I love the kind of
conversation that it generates.
I said, "Alright doctor!" Aren't I crazy? I don't have a bit of sense. And I know that too. I
find that to be an asset. I don't get into the business of thinking too seriously about how much
I know. When I was in college I was very, very cocky about what I thought I knew. And then,
ten years later, I wasn't so sure. Now the thing that I come back to report to you now, is after
all these years, one of the things I know is that I don't. Now that's been my progress. Because
that's the way knowledge is.
Here in Mississippi, the Attorney General has just designated to
you that she wants you to look into this situation...
So I went down, and I first met with the group of women, and there were a group of them
back there, some five or six of them.
The people from the farm?
Yeah. And they were having some kind of school, some seminar, symposium or
something. One of the interesting things you find when you go, is that somebody knows you.
One of them said, "when I heard the name Sutton, I kept trying to figure out if it rang a bell."
She said, "You're from Arkansas." I said, "Yes I am." She said, "I'm from Arkansas. You
used to do Civil Rights work in Arkansas."
One of the women that were there. I said, "Yes I did." She said, "I know." And then she
went on to tell me some of the things in which I was involved. She said, "I remember when
you were involved in the sit-ins in Little Rock." Anyway, we laughed about that. And I
listened to their story that people were trying to run them out of the area, they found dead dogs
on the property, they found a dead one at the mailbox and other acts like this. There's been
intimidation, there's been shots fired over the farm, and over the house, and these kinds of
things. And I was just sitting back, kind of in the woods. I was concerned about their welfare,
really, because these acts were so anti people, they went so much further than just disliking
you. They go around trying to destroy you. Anyway, I met with them, and listened to their
stories, or the kind of intimidation and insults that they were experiencing.
Then next I met with a group of towns people lead by a Baptist preacher, and he got off on this
thing about homosexuality was a sin against God, and all of this, and God was going to do this
and do that.
How did you choose the townspeople to meet with?
I knew who was raising the issue.
Okay. And how did you know that?
Well, when I was tasked to go down there, it's an area that Sue Brown worked in. She
knew who was involved. Again, this is a situation where we needed a Regional Director to
make a presence greater than staff member could make, right? When the Attorney General got
involved in that place, she wasn't particularly talking about me, not necessarily talking about
me. She meant the CRS staff. But if it was that critical, then, I thought I'd better go and I did.
So when I sat down with the preacher and about four other people he had with him, and he was
ranting and raving about God was displeased and I said to him, "you're a Baptist and I'm a
Baptist. So we worship the same God. And you say the wrath of God is going to be upon
them, so I'll ask you one question." He said, "What's that?" I said, "Isn't that sufficient? If the
wrath of God is going to be upon them, why don't you let God's wrath deal with it? I don't
know where, in the Bible it says, your wrath. I'm a fairly decent Bible student, there's nowhere
in the Bible, it says God needed your wrath to deal with a problem, so why don't you, since
you're so sure God's going to take care of it, just leave it to God and you all get out of the
way." Even they had to laugh about that, but it still didn't stop.
They filed suit against us, against the CRS involvement. They had an attorney who knew
exactly what our mandate was. They didn't really file suit against us, they filed suit against the
Attorney General for using CRS in that situation. When we got down there in court, I had to
testify and they had to testify. A funny thing though, even in court they were never angry with
me, I have a way of doing that, and they said, "Sutton's one of the finest men that I've met,"
and he brought the CRS technique and concern, as a gentleman and as a technician. He was
never abusive and never used or misused the power of justice. Another person involved was
the sheriff of the county. And the sheriff claimed that he was neutral, right? But his evidence
had been just the opposite. One time when they were raising money to fight the case, the
person who was passing the tray was the sheriff. These kinds of things that was going on in
the area. We finally came out of there with nothing resolved in that situation.
Did you bring the parties together in that instance?
No. No, I didn't bring the parties together. The preacher didn't want to be seen with them.
They hated them more than they do black folk. There was no resolution brought to the
problem. However, there was a great easing of the threats.
So you think that's essentially what the conflict boiled down to, just religious perspective
Religious and general. People are suspicious of people who are different, sometimes it's
religious, and sometimes it's not. On other words, it's not hard to get a community excited and
over react to a group of lesbians, it's really not. As if they're going to turn the whole
community into lesbians, which is not so. But, that was the kind of thing that was faced.