Reconciliation on the Back Burner

Charles Marsh: Mrs. Hamer had this wonderful way of combining 'Go Down Moses' with 'Go Tell It on the Mountain.' You knew Mrs. Hamer?

Cleveland Sellers: I knew her very well. She came to the SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] conference that we held at Howard University in 1963; just after the Winona beating. It was like a family; and she was like the matriarch; but she wasn't the only matriarch. We had Ela Baker and Annie Devine...

CM: Back to Mrs. Hamer's song? The Christian story was about liberation and reconciliation. Those two themes are woven around together in her life. But those are two themes that are hard to balance aren't they?

CS: That's right, It's not easy to do that. Because there is a certain amount of frustration that comes from how the political system operates and the economic system; if there were justice permeating the world, then we would have something to work with. But there are some people who are not going to follow those principles of justice and equality.

CM: At one point, did you just give up on reconciliation?

CS: I think there were points where you were terribly frustrated, but I don't think you ever give up on it. Not on reconciliation, because we live in a world and there is certain amount of idealism that must remain in order for us to survive in it.

The latter 60's was a tough time for me.

CM: Back to Mrs. Hamer's emphasis on liberation and reconciliation; now in 1967, you're not talking about reconciliation, but about liberation?

CS: That's right.

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CM: How do you as a Christian; what do you do with reconciliation? do you give up on it?

CS: You have to put in on the back burner; you change your priorities. Many of the people in movement activities are in front of all the leaders. So now you're just trying to get there in front of the crowd. Like when Jesus says that if the people don't listen, you just shake the dust off your sandals and head on the another town?

CM: You just head on to another town.

CS: Black Power was trying to shake up things; to create another level of commitment on the part of African Americans.

CM: There is a prophetic element in black power to those who want to make it purely political.

CS: We wanted black power to be all things to all people; to the black community, we wanted it to be being beautiful; being angry, being African, etc. Having a legitimacy for being angry, And then having something that would fight back for you. So we wanted it to be all things, which is virtually impossible in movements. Another part that is missed a lot of times is that SNCC was still groping for ideology. Ideologically the organization changed and wasn't able to catch up and have people grounded in ideology.