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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Malik Rahim, May 23, 2006. Interview U-0252. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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Oral History Interview with Malik Rahim, May 23, 2006. Interview U-0252. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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PAMELA HAMILTON:
This is Pamela Hamilton. It's May 23, 2006.
MALIK RAHIM:
Oh, so you did know the date! [Laughter] "I don't know. . ." [Laughter]
PAMELA HAMILTON:
And I'm here with - if you could just say your name?
MALIK RAHIM:
Malik Rahim.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
All right - maybe you can tell me a little bit about how long you've been here in New Orleans.
MALIK RAHIM:
I'm fifty-eight and I been here just about all my life. I've lived in other cities but New Orleans has always been my home.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
And you've always lived here in Algiers?
MALIK RAHIM:
Yes. I've only lived on the east bank of New Orleans twice. One was when in the 1970s as a member of the Black Panther Party, and the second time as a candidate for the city council, under the Green Party. So those was the only time I ever lived on the east bank. And I've never lived outside of a four-mile radius of where my first conceptions of life, you know, was established. So I've never lived outside of a four-mile radius of what we call the Oakdale , which is now called Fisher Project.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
And what part of the city is that in?
MALIK RAHIM:
The west bank, Algiers community.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Okay. So who were your parents?
MALIK RAHIM:
My father was, to me, one of the greatest men that I knew. My mother was, hmmm, she was the essence of love. You know? I was blessed with two great parents. My mother supported me in my activism all the way until the day she passed. My father afforded me a life without worries. Whether or not I'm a-eat - the basics, for the first twelve years of my life. And so I was blessed. Both of my parents are now deceased. You know, my stepfather was a very remarkable man, because he married my mother with five children, and none of 'em was his. And five children with three of 'em not known for good qualities. And he accepted us and raised us, was there to make sure there was a roof over our head, you know, so I've seen, I will say the most positive force of parenting. Not all of it was happy days but that's part of life, you know, you can never appreciate a sunny day until you're a have some rain to fall. So, you know, again, I've been truly blessed.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
So, were you one of the three with not good qualities? You said there were three of 'em with not good qualities.
MALIK RAHIM:
Three of who?
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Three of the five children.
MALIK RAHIM:
Oh, yes, I was one of those three.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
And what wasn't the good qualities?
MALIK RAHIM:
Like many young African-American males, we was caught up in the streets. Drugs, violence, you know, with the three of us, myself and my two older brothers, we was all around the same age, all of us wind up going to prison. We led our younger brother in a direction that wind up costing his life. So, you know, I've suffered all the ills that too many parents, too many families have to endure. So, yes, I was one of those, I was a knucklehead.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
[Laughter]
MALIK RAHIM:
I brought a lot of grief instead of pleasure to my parents.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Well, when did you become an activist?
MALIK RAHIM:
Probably when I was about fourteen. Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown came here to Algiers. Rudy Lumbard had brought 'em here, and I was able to meet with them, Aretha Castlehaley who is deceased, and I was able to see the essence. By then, I was acutely aware of the ugliness of racism, and I was seeing individuals courageous, individuals that was willing to make a change. Aretha and Rudy and them was going and doing the sit-ins at lunch counters here in New Orleans with Reverend Avery Alexander. I watched him being dragged up and down the stairs of City Hall, simply because he dared to sit at a lunch counter in City Hall. It was just seeing a community ask for, not to be integrated, just to be offered the same opportunities. In Gretna, a city that's profound for its racism, we went before the city government and just asked for a swimming pool. I was about fourteen then, and they built us a swimming pool, a big, beautiful swimming pool, one with a nice garden area, but they built it on the city dump. Nothing else showed me, up until Katrina, just how racist one individual could be toward another, simply because of the color of their skin. I mean, when you just make a blanket definition of human character by saying "None of these people is worth living, none of these people is worth having or enjoying the life that we enjoy." Simply because they are all niggers. And that was my first example of seeing this, when they built that swimming pool and built it on the city dump. You know, I can remember my father told me that he would rather see me swim in a lake of fire before he would allow me to go in that damn pool. I couldn't understand it. A couple of days after he sit down and talk to me about dignity, that I understood when I went to that pool and I seen that when the wind shift, the soot that was form on top of it, because it was on a city dump. And when I seen picnic tables and picnic areas that no one would wanna eat at, simply because not only the flies, but the odor. It showed me, you know, it made me wanna leave. I was told then that the only way, the fastest way of getting out of New Orleans, of getting out of Gretna, cause that's where I was raised at, was to join the service. My mother lived in Orleans parish, but I basically was raised by, to me, the greatest example of sacrifice that I have ever experienced: my grandmother. Cause I seen her sacrifice everything to make sure that we had a roof over our head, that we had food, that we had clothing, and many times we watched her do without. We was raised in an area, the street was Van Trump. They had an elementary school right next to us, one block from our house, with everything that you could want in a school, in that elementary school, and I couldn't even enter the yard, cause it was for white-only. So we had to walk something like about three miles, or two and a half miles, to go to school. That lasted, the impact of that experience, when I finally came to the realization that the only reason why I can not go to that school, because I'm black. The only reason why I can not play in that playground was because they classified me as a nigger, and it was no niggers or dogs allowed. And it also put a resentment in me to date, cause I've never been in that school. If you asked me the name of the school - and it's right on Jefferson, I mean, Frankline and Van Trump - I never been in that schoolyard.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Is that in the Ninth Ward?
MALIK RAHIM:
No, that's right over here in Gretna. And that's basically [the] concept of my early years. This made me want to act, it made me want to get involved. Then when I saw Rudy and them, I figured that that was my way, when I heard Fanny Lou Hamer speak.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Did she come here?
MALIK RAHIM:
No, it was on an old reel to reel.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Ah, okay.
MALIK RAHIM:
And I heard about how she was beaten, how she was savagely beaten, because of the fact that she didn't want to live in the environment or world that says that she wasn't equal to another human being simply because of the color of her skin. When I read about the death of Medgar Evers, it had an impact, but again, people was telling me, "Well, hey, you know." When I start seeing this happening, how can we get away from this, and people telling me, "Well, join the service," and there I went. The next thing I know I'm in Vietnam, and I'm seeing there new types of racism, but this time as not a victim of it, but a participant. And then I swore that I would never do anything like this again. Cause I watch individuals demonize a people. When I realized what they was doing, sitting up there listening to them calling the Vietnamese "gooks," you know, "that gook," "this gook," and I asked somebody "What's a damn gook?" and a brother told me that had been over there, that's their way of calling Vietnamese niggers. So every time I heard it, it just angered me. And then I'm hearing of those kids that was killed in Birmingham in 1963. I remember my father and 'em and how my grandmother, God bless her, always made me realize what had happened to Emmett Till. You know, so it was these things that sparked my interest into doing something. I was in the service, in Vietnam. I was in Great Lakes, Illinois, in boot camp, when Malcolm X was assassinated. I didn't know who Malcolm was. I was on guard duty when a guy tried to come in and tell people, but I didn't even know who Malcolm was, and he couldn't understand - "You mean to say, you don't know what's going on?" I was there when US Organization was formed, when Ron Karenga, who established Kwanzaa, and I was blessed to be in Los Angeles at Fremont High School. That's where my first wife was going, to Fremont High School. I was in the service so I was able to be there when Ron Karenga was just teaching Swahili there, so I had a chance to sit and listen to him. Then I was there during the Watts Riot. And watched brothers doing something that had really angered me about being in New Orleans, cause I said, "Here I am, I'm raised with cowards, here was the essence of blackness standing up for what is right." And seeing this and then seeing what happened in Vietnam, to come back. In Vietnam, I was literally kicked out of the service, simply because I had a picture of Malcolm X and Ron Karenga in my locker. One of those old Uncle Toms went and told some white boy, [unclear] that I had Malcolm X in my locker. I come back and I see they done took the pictures out of my locker, and then from then on I couldn't do nothing right in the service, and didn't want to do anything. I was given an honorable discharge.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
What year was that?
MALIK RAHIM:
That was in 1967. I was given my discharge, an honorable separation, but with a 4-F status. You know, 4-F means that you're not fit for military enlistment. So with that done, that barred me, cause after I got out of the service, like most of us at that time, they was just then opening up governmental jobs to us, like at the Post Office, firemens and police, and I tried to get a job first at the Post Office. Now, looking back with hindsight, I'm glad I didn't get it! [Laughter] But like most guys fresh out of the service, now, everybody was hired but me, and I didn't understand why they didn't hire me. So they told me that somebody made a mistake in my discharge papers, and I have to get that corrected, and it stopped me from becoming a fireman, which is what I really wanted to do at that time, cause when I was in the service, my battle station was fighting fires. On the ship I was on we had a explosion and we had to fight a fire, a tremendous fire, and so I gained experience and this was something I wanted to do. But I couldn't get employed. I tried being a merchant seaman. That didn't work even though I loved it, cause I was away from America, but I was away from my family. Then I tried welding. At least I was hired at this dock, at H.C. Price, which had the most profound effect upon me because the racism in the class was so brutally enforced, you know. The blacks was the last hired and the first to be laid off. The only job that we was capable of doing was the most physical, you know. You couldn't be a crane operator. The most advancement you could do is to become a truck driver, a welder's helper. I got into it and was fired for simply asking how to become a welder. I was told, "Why you wanting to know how to become a welder? We don't hire niggers as welders." And I'm looking at this white boy, who's telling me this, just a little bit older than me, never been to the service, never done anything other than came straight out of high school and became a welder, didn't feel no kind of compassion about calling me a nigger, cause that's the way, I guess, he was raised. He didn't know nothing about Negroes, or blacks. These are niggers, you know, and you don't get too close or too friendly with niggers, and that's the way he treated me. And when he called it to me, I exploded, we wind up getting in an argument, and then that argument ensued into a, not even a good fight, but a scuffle. They immediately came in, fired me, right on the spot. They didn't ask who started it or nothin': "You - get out."
PAMELA HAMILTON:
And this was also in Branton?
MALIK RAHIM:
No, this was down Peter's Road, in Harvey. And I left from there full of rage, full of rage against all whites. . .
PAMELA HAMILTON:
How did you get involved in founding the Black Panther Party here in New Orleans?
MALIK RAHIM:
Soon after that happened, a couple of friends of mine, we went out and beat up a couple of white guys, and I knew that wasn't the answer but just a way of relieving that stress, that rage. Went home and one evening after seeing Miriam Makeba, I believe I'm pronouncing that name right, Miriam Makeba, she had just put out an album called Pata Pata, she was a South African. She was married to Nelson, I mean to Hugh Masakela and she had put out this song, again this album "Pata Pata." On that album they had this song, "Our Own Piece of Ground," and I sit and I listened to that song, over and over, me and a couple of my friends. We was over by his house, smoking weed, just drinking and talking and listening to that song, over and over, over and over, cause I said, "Well, shucks, you know we can't find no justice here in America. Let's leave." Cause I had spoken with some old Garveyites, cause New Orleans had [the] second largest chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. I said "We should leave." We didn't have no money, so we was talking about, "Well, let's, I don't know, let's arm ourselves and raise some money and leave." So that was our inspiration, talking about this. Then one of the guys came up to us Monday evening and told us that cause I had spoken to my wife and she said we need to go, let's go. So we were starting to make those kind of moves, where we was gonna go at in Africa, and an individual came in and told me, "Man, looky here. The Black Panther Party is here in New Orleans. There's a guy on Canal Street selling Panther papers." And [he] brought and showed me that paper, and I said "What?! The Panthers is here?" cause I had met a lot of the brothers in the Panther Party in Los Angeles. So we sit down, we read that paper and read those articles and seeing brothers sitting up there talking about power to the people, dig, and I'm telling them about how the Panther office was in Los Angeles. I said, "Man, listen," but when I went out on Canal Street they wasn't out there. Then the next thing I know, I'm in Fisher Project, and Ed Alternevilles was his name, he came in the project with some papers. When I saw him I just hurried up and embraced him, walking him around, showing him around the project.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
All set.
MALIK RAHIM:
Yeah, well, again, I showed Ed around the project. He gave me the address of the house that they had right off of St. Thomas in Jackson, and that next day I was over there. I spent about a week over there, you know, just going there every day, meeting with these young people, you know I met all of them. I was one of the older ones, I was twenty-two. These young people was talking about how can we save our community, and I went back the next meeting. For the political education meeting, I brought my family. I was married and I had two kids, and we attended that meeting, and we went home and discussed and the next day I went there and told them that we gonna join. The guy who was over the Party at that time, Steve Green, he [said], "Man, listen, you got two small kids, bro. Instead of joining whyn't you just work on the side with us?" I said, "No, brother, I wanna join." And he tried his best to convince me not to join, man, cause "Listen, bro, I know there have been so many Panther murders, so many brothers is in jail, you don't want this for your kids." I told him, "I don't want my kids to live in a society like this." And so once he realized he wasn't gonna convince me, they allowed us to join. We was the first family to join the Party here. I quickly rose within the Party to be over security, and that's the position I held all the way until I finally left the Party. I was in the Party from 1970 until the end of '72. I left at the beginning of '73.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Why'd you leave?
MALIK RAHIM:
There's a very thin line between a revolutionary ideology and a gangster mentality. And I seen too much of that gangsterism on a national level and I didn't want to get involved in that. So that's when I basically left the most glorious time of my existence. Up until now. It was when I was in the Panther party. Cause I seen us going to which was classified as the most dangerous housing development in the country: a Desire housing project. It was in the Ninth Ward. And within a month, we had made it one of the safest communities in New Orleans. And it's not because of the fact we was no bad dudes or nothing like that, cause I was one of the biggest members, and I was only weighing about 150 pounds. So it wasn't that we was no big guys, and with no black berets and all this, but what we did do, we went in to the community and cleaned it up. We made sure that people understood the importance of establishing a drug-free zone for our kids and our elders. We stopped the black-on-black violence by creating alternatives. We was feeding children. We was cleaning up these. Our pest control program was a total success where people just call and we would go and spray their homes for roaches, cause at that time it was inundated with roaches. And papers, garbage, sewage everywhere. We started dealing with that. You know, and then the crime. By letting people know that, "Hey, we will not tolerate nobody breaking in to anybody homes here. Break in to someone's home, and we find out, you have to leave this development, or you's have to deal with us." And most people understood it, because we protected their homes and their parents' homes just like we protected anybody else home. You know? So with the drugs, we had came to the decision after the New York Panther 21, I can't remember the exact party member, wrote that piece on "Dope + Capitalism = Genocide." It had a profound effect upon my life. All the way up until today when I see so many young men losing their lives. Like yesterday, these young men shot a police. That was probably drug-related and I thought about that "Dope + Capitalism," it still equals genocide. So we started dealing with those things. Our free breakfast program at one time was feeding as many as up to four hundred kids a morning. My wife was in charge of the breakfast program, and I used to take great pride in that. By the fact that I was over security, most of my days I wasn't out above ground. I spent most of my time what we used to call underground. I wasn't the person that was in front of the camera, you know, but I was the person watching the person with the camera. I gave lessons on firearm safety, self-defense. These are the things that I did and again, within one month, within that same little month, we did so many great things. I mean to walk around the community that was full of crime, and then to come back and see that same community, you know. You could start seeing the elders, you know, out at night, sitting outside, not tied up in the house, seeing the kids walking around, playing. I mean it was a great feeling. Start hearing from everyone, you know, "Power to the people!" "Power to the people!" That was our way of just greeting each other, you know, and seeing what we did. And then when the shoot-out came, [I was] blessed to be around the greatest inspiration in my life, [my] young brother. He was younger than me, he was nineteen, I was twenty-two. Charles Scott, from outta New York, came down. Steve Green was out of town, and the police waiting until he left to wanna raid our office, because if he would have been here, I believe it would have been dealt with in a different way. But Charles was such a remarkable young man. Cause once we knew that it was going to be a shoot-out, we got all the women and children out. Like I said, I had two. My oldest son and daughter. We got them out of the house, and all the women with children. And we had a meeting and told people that probably many of us will be dead, you know, by the end of the next day, and those who are wanting to leave had the option of leaving, and seeing eleven people, three of 'em women, saying "Well, hey, we are not leaving. We gonna stay here. Whatever happen, we gonna live together, we gonna die together." By the fact that, again, I was over security, they asked me to leave, but I said it wasn't my place to leave because I was sworn to protect Charles. So whatever happened to Charles, had to happen to me. So we went through the shoot-out. Next morning [there] was eleven of us in a two story wooden structure. We had a chance to sandbag one side of the house, cause we had literally turned the office into a bunker. Everybody knew that a shoot-out was gonna happen. And Brokie, Leroy, Clarence and I, we was all Vietnam Veterans, so [Phone ringing] we was get the sand and just put up the bunkers, I mean we was just sandbag one side of the office. But we hadn't gotten to the other side before the shoot-out happened. Then, again with hindsight, I'm glad we didn't get that opportunity because they probably would have killed all of us. But we had sandbagged one side of the building. Our front door must've weighed about three or four hundred pounds, cause we had took a drainage cover and put it in between two project doors, and put it on rollers. Then we watched the police take a 12-gauge, 3-inch Magnum shotguns, and literally they couldn't knock the door down. They couldn't just shoot through the door, they literally knocked it down. And if we wouldn't have had the sandbags we had put around the door, they would've had an open way of just coming in, just shooting within there, probably would've killed everybody in those first few rooms.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
So, when was this, what year was this?
MALIK RAHIM:
It was September the 15th, 1970.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
And where was the office located?
MALIK RAHIM:
In Desire, on Piety. That night, before the shoot-out, we knew, cause it was sporadic shooting between us and the police all night. I was always trained that a guerilla will never allow himself to be conned, you know, that a Panther never allow himself to be conned. So I was out in the community, and with many of us, we had dug bunkers under the project. We felt like this is what we is gonna fight. We had devised mechanism[s] of getting out, and my contention was let's fight a good battle and then hijack one of these tugs and go to Kielb, you know, get out of New Orleans. But Charles in his wisdom said, "No, uh-uh." He said, "If you fight up in the community, [you] destroy the people that we saying we here to protect. You know, we have a constitutional right to organize, to assembly. We have done nothing wrong. We gonna be here in our office, the weapons we have is legal weapons that we purchased and we have a right to defend ourselves. That we are not - we will not start it, but we will defend ourselves." And I told him, I say "Charles, that might be cool in New York, but in Louisiana, any time a black pick up a gun against whites, they'll die. You know. And I ain't gonna let 'em take me out of this house and then hang me. If they gonna kill me, they gonna kill me right here in this house." But with his wisdom, you know, it didn't happen. The shoot-out lasted about twenty or thirty minutes. Seemed like it was all day. But the night before, a lady in the community came and put a prayer cloth on the wall, and said, "If anybody in here praying, nothing gonna happen to y'all." And you know, we was all drunk, half-tooled up on weed, we's been smoking weed, drinking that old Thunderbird wine, so [unclear] said, "Yeah, all right, maybe, thank ya," cause we all knew that we was gonna probably die that next morning. And after the shoot-out, after the twenty minutes of actual gunfire, the police had an armored car that they would pull up in front of our office with a 50-caliber machine gun, and just fire. And it was literally set the walls on fire. Then all of a sudden was a quiet. And I guess they figured that by then they had killed all of us. The place was full of tear gas, you know, and they was pumping [it] in. As fast as they shoot a canister in, we'd throw it out, but it was coming in so fast that you just couldn't throw them out fast enough. And there was eleven of us in the house with a hundred police shooting at us. When it stopped, Charles asked me, he said, "Go to the rooms, find out how many people is injured, and how many people is dead." So I was in the second room, the second, the third window, and I crawled to the first two and I asked how many is injured, how many is dead. And they said, "Nobody's injured, nobody's dead." So then I crawled to the back, and at each room I would ask them same thing: How many is injured, how many is dead? Nobody's injured, nobody's dead. We had made two bunkers up in our attic, one in the front of the building, one in the rear of the building, and I went in the closet that we had put the ladder to go up and down in, and we had two individuals up there. Ike and Leroy. And I hollered up to them, and they both stuck their head [Laughter] down to me and I said, "Brother, y'all all right?" "Yeah, yeah, man, we all right!" And so I crawled back and I told Charles, I said, "Man," I said, "Bro, you ain't gonna believe this." He said, "What? How many of them is dead, bro?" I said, "Bro, nobody is dead." He said, "How many of 'em is shot?" I said, "Nobody is shot." He said "What??" I said, "Man, nobody is shot." He said, "Man, you mean these motherfuckers have been shooting at us" —excuse my expression, but that's what he said—"You mean to say these motherfuckers been shooting at us for this long and they ain't shot nobody?" I said, "Bro, nobody is shot." And he said, "Well, then, brother, listen, we done did what we can in here. Now we gonna take it to the courts." That's when I told him again, "Hold up, brother, you know, this is Louisiana. They don't take blacks to court. They ain't gonna do nothing but kill us, bro. If we gonna die, let's die in this house." He told me, he said, "Well, I'm gonna tell you, if they gonna kill us, they gonna have to kill us but we gonna walk out of this house as black men and women, and as members of the Black Panther party. We gonna come out of this house and we gonna come out of here with our heads held high, and we gonna come out here letting the community know that we are here and that we gonna take it to that next level, we gonna take it to the court. Whatever happens, gonna happen." So I went and got everyone, told Leroy and them to jump down from up in the attic, come on down, and all of 'em was saying the same thing: "Man, Charles, the law sits by, we gonna walk outta here, these people [Laughter] once they see that we ain't got no guns, they gonna kill us." So Charles gave one of the most inspiring speeches that I had ever heard. He said, "Well, if they gonna kill 'em, let 'em begin by killing me cause I'm walking out here," and he walked to the door and raised up his hands, [and] hollered, "All power to the people!" and came on out. I was the last one to come out, and after we came out, the people in the community wouldn't leave, that's the reason why they wouldn't kill us. And a couple of 'em was asking me to, cause we had to come out some winding stairs, and some of them was keeping the police attention, a couple of them was telling me to run under the house. And I think I could've made it if I would have went under the house but I didn't. Many times where I was sitting in jail I thought about what I shoulda did, but I didn't. Cause I couldn't abandon my comrades, and we went on, we left from there. They brought Ryan and I, we was the biggest members of the party, made us go back in the house, and that's when we really saw just how blessed we was, and what we had survived. Then they took us from there straight to court. We was all charged with five counts of attempt murder, and I don't know why, to this day, why we was just charged with five counts. But we was all charged with five counts for murder on police officers, and after that arraignment, we was taken straight from there to Death Row. And we stayed up on Death Row until after the second shoot-out. The second time, when they went to shoot out, it [was] probably cause as soon as they took us to jail they re-opened the office. Out there, Francois, my wife at that time Barbara, Carol, these sisters, and Crack, Noels, Head , these was the brothers from out of the Calliope project. Cause most of us had hung them projects. We had the only chapter of the Black Panther Party that was basically made of ninety percent people from out of public housing. They re-opened the office. Now, Head and 'em, they was from out of the Calliope. Shelly Baptiste, one of the most courageous black men I ever had the privilege to be around, he was from out of the Magnolia. So we had St. Bernard, Magnolia, the Desire, and we did things that never happened before in the history of New Orleans, cause never before had you ever had people from public housing going to another housing development and do anything. Or even be accepted, but we was embraced. And protected by residents from the Desire housing project, when we only had two members then, and both of them joined while we was in Desire—Brokie, he's deceased now, who was a cook, and was able to cook his way into the party, because we had our bunch of women, but none of 'em could cook. My ex-wife left much to be desired at that time. But Brokie came in and he cooked, and next thing you know he cooked his way into becoming a member. We was all up on Death Row that night, and that was my first time I met Moonlandrew cause that night, while we was all on Death Row, he came around just to tour us. I can remember Ed telling him, "Man," cause he wanted to say something to Ed, and Ed told him, "Man, this ain't no damn zoo." You know? And that was my first time ever seeing him. By that time, right before the second shootout, we had told Crack and 'em what they could expect, but Bread was with 'em and Bread was the true essence of a guerilla. He was with the Black Liberation Army. He was in there with 'em for the second shoot-out. That's only time I remember the Panther Party here in New Orleans was shot, a sister by the name of Betty Toussaint, the second time. When they first tried to raid our office they came with a battle tank. The city had bought a battle tank. So I said, "Now, boy, here they bought a tank and there's nothing but about, I mean, it was never over forty of us." When they came to raid the second time, the community surrounded the office. That's a picture of it, right there, and I always keep that to remind me, you know? And they wouldn't allow 'em to raid the office. Cause they refused to move. And the police was steady trying to force 'em to move, and that was in the act of non-violence defiance, because we was hopin' that all those young guys was gonna pick up guns, you know, but they didn't. And they stood there, without guns, and stood before the police, and said, "No, you ain't raiding our office, you ain't going in there and destroy our community, and if you going do it, first you gonna have to kill us." I could remember sitting in my cells. "Man, what in the world is wrong with those guys?" Boy, you know the police don't kill 'em. But it forced them to wait through. Now they came in and raided the office, but they came in dressed as priests. They had some priests from Loyola that had been working with us off our free breakfast program. They was coming around, cooking food with us and all this, and then [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
MALIK RAHIM:
They gave their uniforms to the police, told us that they was coming back to bring us some breakfast supplies. And this was right before Thanksgiving. And they came in under the guise of the mans of the cloths, and raided our office. Betty opened the door, because when she looked through the peephole and seen it was priests she opened the door, and when she opened the door, she seen the barrel of a shotgun coming out of the bottom of his trench coat. And she hollered, "Pigs!" and tried to slam the door. And they shot her in the chest. And that's what happened to cause the second shoot-out. By then it was too many of us to keep on Death Row and that's when they sent us down in the hole. C-1 was the hole there, and that's when we met, that's when we did most of our organizing in prison. We organized first a hunger strike, that involve not only the black prisoners, but white prisoners, we got them involved. Because we showed them that we was all being oppressed. Through this they send down what they call "black gangsters" in the hope that those black gangsters and those black militants was gonna kill each others off. Told us that they was gonna come and rape us and make bitches out of all of us. So we told 'em, "Well, just send 'em on down, you know, they can make whatever they want outta us," because I knew they wouldn't. I don't care how many people they send down, they wasn't organized, but we was organized. So they sent down about 30 of us and they sent down about forty or fifty of these so-called black gangsters, and it was one of the most tensest moments I have ever experienced. But when they sent them down, Albert, cause Albert was the first one to come on the till with us, came on and hollered, "Power to the people!" And we hollered that and it kinda broke their spirits, you know, saying, "What! Power to the people?" The next thing you know the majority of the brothers that they did send down as black gangsters, they joined the Party, because of that collective spirit that we had developed, that way of life. That's the only time I seen black men that wasn't motivated by greed. You know, where brothers were looking out for each other, as being brothers. We moved to Ward 10. Many of 'em had nothing to lose, cause many of these guys had, uh, I know Herman had two hundred years, Gilbert Montague had twenty-five years, Albert Witfox had about fifty years. Angola was already becoming a death camp, so most of 'em knew that they was gonna die there. And they joined the Party, and chose our way of life, and it was the best time I had. I mean, I hate to say it, but the best time that I ever had as a black man was when I was on C-1. Cause that's when I saw the greatness. I seen where they shot so much tear gas down there on us and made us live in it and they had steel plates on the windows. It still wasn't no compromise, you know, and we stayed there. We used to laugh at the guards when they come through trying to do the count, and they'd be crying, or with gas masks on. We called 'em all kind of names, because we didn't have 'em, and then, "Take that gas mask off! Punk!" [Laughter] So it was just a glorious time, and we took it to the court, and we was found not guilty. And I never forget the foreman of the jury was a white guy, and his statement when they asked have they came to the decision. He said, "In the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, we find these defendants not guilty." How the city erupted, how our community erupted. And I guess one of the saddest times was when I was leaving, cause I was leaving some people that I truly grew to love. Albert, Herman, some of the others, who was the essence of black manhood. And Ryan did something that I had never heard of being done before, and never since. Ryan went to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, and allowed the dentist to pull his tooth without any anesthesia—that what they call it? Malcolm used to talk about it in his speech, the stuff they inject into your mouth, to deaden the. . . Novocaine. And Ryan just had them to pull the tooth without novocaine. I mean, these was real essence of black men. Then they made me feel good as an Algerian, cause a person that was a little bit older than me, Robert King Wilkerson, he had joined the Party while we was in jail, and was standing tall. You know, we did so many great—we stopped raping, you know, stopped all the rapes that was going, that was known for Louisiana. All these brothers exploiting other brothers, they couldn't do it on what they used to call "Panther Terr," you know, and anyone that [was] caught even trying to talk about takin' advantage of another black man, they was forced out. And these guys took those same principles and went to Angola with 'em and transformed Angola. They formed the only prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. I was out of jail then, and Albert, he was one of the first people to join the Party out of the so-called prisoners, and he was on his way to Angola when we talked and he said what he was going there to do. So I went to California and met with David Hillard, who was at that time the Chief of Staff for the Black Panther Party. And asked David, "What do you want 'em to do?" Because they hadn't joined the Party on the street, and many of 'em was in there for heinous crimes against other blacks. But I told 'em that these guys, they adhere to the principles of the Black Panther Party, and I just wanted 'em to accept 'em as political prisoners and as part of the Louisiana chapter. After we sit and talked, David and his brother, June Hillard, and Big Man , those three, they said, "Well, if these brothers feel that way, then maybe they need to form their own chapter, because there's nothing that we can do on the street that's gonna relate to people that's gonna live and die in prison." So I went back and I told 'em and they formed the only prison chapter. And they have lived under those principles. Now, Albert and Herman is entering their thirty-fourth year of solitary confinement. And they have been through some of the most brutal things that one man can inflict upon another. They have survived living not only in solitary, but within the hole within the hole. Can't say about how many times they been beaten. And their spirit is still just as strong today as it was then. My brother used to say they was the only [Laughter] Panthers that's left! Because he wound up going to prison, and they tried to use them as example, where, you know, "You think you're bad, nigger? This is what we'll do to ya. If you even get caught talking to one of 'em, well you wanna talk to them? Put 'em in there with 'em." And they have survived this. Herman is now, what? Sixty-four or sixty-five years old? And just coming out of the hole from in CCR Camp J, where he did two years there, and Camp J is where they send you to drive you crazy. There two years and came out just as strong as he was when he went in. Same thing about Albert. I guess one of the proudest moments is when I finally made contact with him, after almost twenty-five, twenty-six years. When I became an advocate for the abolition for the death penalty, working with Helen Prejean, we was all part of, founded this group called "Pilgrimage for Life." I went to Angola because of a clemency hearing for a person who they was about to execute. I was able to ask about, and I asked this one guy, I won't say his name, I just asked him how he was doing. And he told me straight blank, he said, "Listen, brother, don't you never ask me any questions about that. I don't know you and you don't know [me], don't ask me any questions about that." I said, "Damn, brother, you feel this way about this," and then I seen all the other inmates. "Listen, can you get a message—" "I can't get no message to him." And this was in the eighties, he had been in solitary then about ten, twelve years, and there still was that kinda impact. And '98, I was able to slip into Angola to visit him for one time.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
What do you mean, "slip in"?
MALIK RAHIM:
I had changed my name. See, all my records here was under "Donald Guyton" but I had embraced Islam and had changed to Malik Rahim. So I was able to slip in for that one-time visit as Malik Rahim, dig, so that was the time I was able to see the three of 'em. King, Albert and Herman at one time. Only other time I was able to embrace him and talk to him, I seen Albert in court, when we was going to court, and I saw King when King came to testify on Albert's behalf, and I never forget the stare that he had, cause that was his first time coming out of solitary, I believe he told me in about twelve or thirteen years. So it was his first time ever being in the area, being in the open room. I can remember seeing him while he was on the stand, and how he would just look past us, out of that window. And Bryce, a white guy who became a very dear friend of mine, who's going to court with us, Bryce would ask, "Man, what is he looking at?" And I say, "Bro, he trying to absorb all the scenery that he could, cause he gonna take that back to his cell with him." And that's what he was doing. We joked about it when he got out, cause he did twenty-nine years. And that was just under investigation for a murder that they knew he couldn't have committed, because when the murder happened, he was in New Orleans. But they still made him do twenty-nine years, and that's one of the greatest fears that I have for so many of these young men now. Cause usually, when we really find ourselves, we are caught up in those type of situations of being locked up, especially all the young men now. One young guy had been given a life for looting during this hurricane, and how many more of 'em gonna be railroaded into prison for the rest of their lives. To see that, and to see the essence of it, was such a great thing. I know one thing it always showed me, that I don't care what kind of condition you are under or forced to live under, but as a black you have that collective spirit. No one can crush it or nothing they can do can crush it, and why I could say that, cause I seen it, that's it, I seen that with them. And if you have the opportunity, cause I believe King supposed to be coming here to do an interview, you'd be interviewing one of the greatest individuals that I had the opportunity to be blessed with knowing. But that was a part of my Panther experience. Most of the things that I do now is based upon those experiences.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
How is it the same, the organizing and the everything?
MALIK RAHIM:
Well, to start a health clinic or a first aid station wasn't nothing, because this is things that we did in the Panther Party. So I knew that after seeing that this city was without health care, that it was something that had to be developed, so it wasn't nothing. I knew that it could be done cause we had health program[s], so it wasn't nothing for me to make a call for health care professionals because I knew that they was out here. I knew the doctor that had been in the Party, working with us in Oakland. I made a call out to her, she called other health care professionals, told me she couldn't come right then but she was gonna make sure that others came. So it wasn't nothing to start the health care program and health clinic that eventually became a health clinic, the first aid station. There's talk about doing mold remediation, there's nothing but a continuation when I sit down with Brandon to start this, of our pest control program. Everything that we did was based upon self-sufficiency, so it wasn't nothing to start or to re-establish, because I knew that it was workable. I could've been in the Ninth Ward doing all kind of things because of the fact that most of the residents, the young adults in the Ninth Ward today, I fed their parents. You know, they came to our breakfast program. They had their first taste of political education through us. Even though they might not remember me by name, "Oh, he was one of them Panthers? Oh yeah, man." All my life I've ran across brothers who come up and tell me, "Man, I was one of those that's right up here, you know, we was there, bro." Cause it was 2,000 of 'em that surrounded our office. I mean on any given moment at any given morning we was feeding four hundred kids. Every evening when we come in from doing the community education, everybody used to meet at the beginning of the project and we would march through the project singing Panther songs, [singing] "Hold your head up high, Panthers passing by! We don't take no jive, got red book by our side! Am I right or wrong? Right on! Am I right or wrong? Right on! Sound off! One—free Huey! Sound off! Free Barbie! Bring it on down: free Huey, free Barbie, free Huey." I mean these was the things, and the kids used to just gravitate to us. So by the time we would leave the beginning of the Desire project and march back to our office, sometime it might be about three, four hundred kids marching behind us. Seeing the people used to just pass by and seeing the discipline. They used to love to watch my son do push-ups—he was just two years old, but some of the first words that he was learning was "Power to the people." And he used to love to see things like this and seeing the community coming out, embracing it. And that's something that people tell me to this day. The first Tenants' Association, and Black Tenants' Association in New Orleans, we helped create. You know [the] sickle cell program, we the one who brought that here. Our breakfast program, cause before then they wasn't no feeding program or no free lunch program in the school. You went to school hungry, you went hungry. Until we started making sure that kids going to school went in there with a full belly. I mean, just to seeing that we can live together. You know, again, I talk to many of 'em today that have experienced this. I talked to many of 'em that is still fearful. We still under the guise that we better not. . . We kill each other, but, you know, don't mess with them white folks. That's still the deep feeling that others have, that some have. But the overall response has always been real good, especially when I seen individuals that is making it now, that I know wouldn't have made it if it wasn't for us. Marshall Fawke, a football player now, I can remember feeding his parents. Master P, you know, I can remember personally. He wasn't in the Party, but he was Knows, and Crack, and Head's partner, up in the Calliope project. I can remember, remember them, remember him, and seeing now with his child became cash money, coming out of the Magnolia project. I can remember talking to some of these individuals up in there, even though I didn't agree with that movie they'd done, cause I believe they misrepresented the true essence of [Phone ringing] a guerilla. But you know, they didn't know any better, but I could still remember all this. Digital Underground, you know, I can remember that group was Panther babies. Tupac, I can remember the first time I met him, he was just a little scrawny kid that was going to San Quentin to visit Geronimo. His mother and I was real good friends. So I could remember this, I could remember seeing the essence and the greatness of being around individuals. I could remember us going to Central Staff meeting, where you meeting individuals from all over the country, and then being embraced by 'em. Where a brother tell ya, "Man, listen, this is a friend of mine." Yeah, right, then another one say, "But this is my comrade," you know, "Power to the people." Seeing this and seeing the impact that it had. So you know that's the part that really showed me the essence and the greatness and what we can endure. But again like I said it's a very thin line between a revolutionary ideology or a revolutionary conscious and a gangster mentality. And most of us don't know how to distinguish those two. So I seen too many times individuals start organizations under the pretense of doing good, but later just become a[n] exploiting force within that community. I really lived a blessed life, cause I have lived around giants. I've seen individuals, how they grow and how they lived. [Phone ringing] Tookie Williams, from right here, his daddy, right here in Algiers, I can remember him when he was first forming the Crips. Geronimo, right here, Morgan City, seeing him come here. H. Rapp Brown, Baton Rouge. Huey Newton, born right here in New Orleans. Charity Hospital. And I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing, understand, the brother Avery Alexander. Jim Singleton. Dirk Taylor . And I can remember, because Dirk's stand on integrating these Mardi Gras crews and on investigating prison reform. I could remember that the whole House of Representatives put out a petition against us to the Governor to declare that she was insane. And I can remember the great work that she had done. Of Lois Eli. I mean, these are giants! You know, and the great things that they are doing. I guess it was a greater honor when a couple of months ago, we gave our health clinic that we started, cause right now, no longer is Algiers without a community health clinic. We established the first common ground, and we gave a celebration about it. I was always told by this doctor that we had volunteering with us, a black doctor that come every Monday and volunteer with us, and never did I knew until that day for that event, that that was Lois Eli's daughter that was volunteering, and it really made my heart feel good [Phone ringing] to see this, being around such great people. Some of 'em individuals I never know about. Like Charles Scott. From the time I left him in jail, I had never seen him again. Until he was about to die from cancer. But we had that opportunity, and because of Geronimo. Geronimo got out of jail, he's the one who put me at that meeting that we wound up organizing the Angola Three support committee. I was going to New York and he gave me a list of persons to contact that took care of me when I went to New York. This is thirty years later. I was doing an interview with a guy about the Panther Party, and I mentioned Charles Scott name, and he asked me and the sister that was sitting there, "You know Chuckie?" And I almost collapsed. Say, "Yeah, do I know him?!" And she says, "Yeah, well, you know Charles is right here in New York!" I say, "You know where he's at?" She say, "No, I don't know, but I know somebody who do know." And next thing you know, we at Bullwhip house. I never met him before in my life. I'm sitting up in his house with him while he is talking to me, listening to some Coltrane and smoking some weed while he's getting on the phone and just standing, talking, you know, making calls, "Hey, brother, listen, I'm trying to get in touch with Charles. Hey brother, listen, I'm trying to get in touch with Chuckie," until finally he said, "Bro, here's an address for him." And I go over and see him, and God gave me the opportunity of meeting him and the opportunity of coming back and passing that information on that before he died he was able to see many of his comrades. Leeane Hodges, she's spearheaded an organization for the evacuees that was left on the I-10. She was with him until he died. But many of the old comrades went to there to see him. All of us would meet once a year, all the comrades, and we would all come together and we would have our gathering at my house or at Deer's house, somebody house we would always go and meet at. That year we was meeting at Algiers, and we invited Charles' son so he could understand how well he was loved, and what he meant to us and what he meant to this community. So that's about it on my Panther experience. And I know we been at this way too long! [Laughter] .
PAMELA HAMILTON:
[Laughter] [unclear]
MALIK RAHIM:
Uh, no, uh-uh, but I'll tell you what we need to do.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Tell me—okay.
MALIK RAHIM:
We need to [unclear] .
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Alright, [unclear] . Can you tell me about how Common Ground got started?
MALIK RAHIM:
Right after the hurricane, we came to the realization that the city wasn't going to provide any services. The first couple of days we was doing rescues, then we moved into doing relief work, cooking food for the people that was coming across, trying to feed them, giving them water, I'm talking about those that was escaping the flooding. Once they walked across the bridge, Gretna, and the Jefferson Police, and the Jefferson Parish police, would turn blacks around. If you was white, you was able to find refuge in Gretna, but if you was black, you wasn't able [to] even enter, you couldn't pass through it. They were literally quarantining, and they would literally tell you, "Take your black ass back to the Ninth Ward."
PAMELA HAMILTON:
I've heard people say that what the police were trying to do was just keep order on the other side of the West Bank. Do you think that's what they were trying to do?
MALIK RAHIM:
No. No. But it's under the chaos that we founded Common Ground. We knew that we had to develop some type of lasting mechanism to assure that everyone that is in need of aid would receive that aid and that we could learn and develop a mechanism to make sure that this never happened again. We was under dusk-to-dawn curfew that only applied to blacks. Raspis, the white guy that was staying here from Denmark, he left today, we had to use him to go get supplies, and he is from Denmark, not even an American citizen. But he came here and had more rights than I had as not only a citizen, but a veteran. He had more rights than I had. He was able to go through Jefferson Parish when I couldn't. He was able to go and buy supplies and bring 'em back to me, that couldn't go and buy myself.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Do you think that would have happened in any other city in America?
MALIK RAHIM:
Not would, I believe it could. It could still happen. One, cause we as African-Americans, we ain't learn. Here in New Orleans most people done forgot about that, most blacks. And there's all that "Let bygones be bygones!" but they never let bygones be bygones with Nagin and talking about a chocolate city. Let me tell you, if Nagin would have denied access to the whites leaving, Nagin'd probably be in prison, or dead. So under that environment of blatant racism and total abandonment by the federal government, we founded Common Ground, Scott Crow and I. Sharon Johnson, she put up $30, I put up $20. Scott and I basically with Sharon and Ferris Bowles, no longer active in Common Ground, we sit and we organized our organization. Did we have the foresight to see that Common Ground would being done all that it had done in a short amount of time? No. But it's ours, we made a goal to make sure that a mechanism was in place. The first thing we did, we made a call. Because by then, some black doctors that we had called, and had asked them to call for health care professionals, they was on their way here with supplies, [and] was turned around and sent back because they was black doctors. That's when I realized how dangerous the situation we was in. Because there was no medical entity even operating in Algiers, and it wasn't operating especially for black folks. When we see that, when those guys called me and said they was turned around, I said to myself, "My God, these people just mean for us to die." That's when I told everybody that was still here that would meet with us, "Man, it's time for you to do whatever you got to do to survive." We made a decision that we wasn't gonna allow the buses that could have removed everybody out of New Orleans, that they allowed to be flooded across the river, that we wasn't going to allow that to happen here. And guys went over there and started commandeering buses to make sure that they could park 'em in front of the community. And that was some of the proudest times that I seen, cause I seen young black men that really wasn't organized, cause see if they would had been organized? Right now, they'd be still writing stories. But they did some remarkable things. They got those buses parked in there, made sure, cause most people around the country don't realize that most of the people was abandoned. And the reason why I'm saying abandoned is cause if you tell me to leave, and I have no way to leave, and you don't help me leave, then you have just abandoned me! And that's what happened. And most of 'em was women, single women with children, and the elderly. Cause as for the young black men that they was demonizing, most of them had stole cars and left, just left or was out there doing rescues. That was the saddest part, you see some of them that was out there doing rescues [and] next thing you know, you hear that they charged with looting. Little guy came to tell me one day, "Man, you remember them little brothers that was using refrigerators to rescue people? Man, they in jail charged with looting." I couldn't believe that. Again, it was under this that we founded Common Ground. After seeing this first four days, when it was basically hunting season on black men. Seeing black bodies laying here in the sun till they literally explode, that any person of conscience would have picked up and removed. And seeing this happening in a city that was predominantly black. Seeing white vigilantes riding with car blunts through the streets of New Orleans, challenging and shooting at any black that they feel fit to shoot at. One of my neighbor's grandson, they had marked him [to] kill him whenever you see him. And nobody doing nothing. Seeing the black police chief sitting up there lying and crying about how they killing babies and raping women in the Super Dome. And knowing that he made people stand out in the rain for five hours to get in to the Super Dome. Cause they was checking everybody for three things: drugs, alcohol or weapons. They even checked the babies. Now he's talking about they doing all this killing. Where they get the weapons? You checked 'em. How could they be using drugs in the Super Dome when you checked for it? How could they take control of a police force that's known, world-renowned, in crowd control? How could they take advantage of those police, to do all these dastardly deeds? What happened to the National Guard? The Ohio National Guard was right there. How could they do all this?
PAMELA HAMILTON:
So you don't think that there were any rapes or other criminal acts?
MALIK RAHIM:
Yes! I'm not saying that, but not to the degree that he's stating it. There's been a rape at Common Ground! Alright? So things like that gonna happen. But not to the degree that you gonna demonize all the males there. And that's what they done. "They shooting at helicopters." People shooting up in the air to let individuals know where they's at. They killed some young men, just slaughtered them on I-10. Nobody saying a word about it. I bet you this: most men that died between the ages of, I'm gonna go as low as fourteen, from fourteen to probably forty-five, most of 'em that died during Katrina probably died from gunshot wounds.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Most men that died during Katrina.
MALIK RAHIM:
During that time, probably died from gunshot wounds. I bet you that was probably, if not the first, the second leading cause of death.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Why do you think that black men were being targeted? Was that something, is that a New Orleans phenomenon?
MALIK RAHIM:
I believe that's an American [phenomenon]. In this country before we destroy anything, first we demonize it. And that was their intent.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Who was demonizing? [unclear]
MALIK RAHIM:
Basically the social plantations that run this state, this plantation syndicate, these racists.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
And who are these people?
MALIK RAHIM:
Well, you can look at it, I mean, go on the web site and see where most of your white supremacists, your hate groups, [are] and look at the address. It's in Metternich. Where's Metternich? Jefferson Parish. Look at when David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, when he ran for office, look at where he got the majority of his white votes from, and see where Jefferson Parish stand. See how good Etwood did, another white guy running against David Duke, in Jefferson Parish. These are the groups that I'm talking about. The same ones that [unclear] , in not being prepared for this hurricane, which I hope he'll never do again. You know, that allowed this to happen. And we as a people, everyone of us, is guilty of it, allowing this to happen without us being outraged. And that's the part that gets me - we went on back to life. Something happens to us that was far more barbaric and far more shameful for a nation than even our capture and taking into captivity and becoming slaves here in America. We talking about women and children and elderly fleeing for their lives. If Gretna would've said "Only women and children is allowed," you know, I could halfway understand that. Cause as for men, we shouldn't have been over there, we should've been right here, making sure that our community is safe, doing what we can to save our community. But they said none of us. See what kind of impact that had on one of those mothers that was turned around. See what kind of impact they had on her. And some of them lived in Gretna.
PAMELA HAMILTON:
Where are these men now, the men who were helping with the rescues and all? Are they back now, helping—?
MALIK RAHIM:
Some of 'em are, some of 'em is still away, some of 'em is in jail. But they are definitely around. Dietrich, how many of the brothers that had them buses parked in front of, in the Criss , how many of them are still around?
DIETRICH:
I don't know, not all of 'em.