Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Historic Events: RFK/MLK Assassinations

BOND: You were talking about the effect of the assassination of President Kennedy. What about the almost connected in time Robert Kennedy/Martin Luther King assassinations? What effect did they have on you?

DAVIS: Okay, in my life, these assassinations came much later even though they were only a few years, because by that time, I had finished — I had graduated from Brandeis, I had spent two years in Germany being extremely active with the socialist student group there, and I had decided to return to the U.S. to study with Herbert Marcuse. So I was a graduate student but I was also almost a full-time activist by that time. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, I was living in Los Angeles and as a matter of fact, some of my comrades were directly investigated because Sirhan Sirhan’s car was once outside of a meeting where that was called by communists or something like that, so it was a very strange connection. When Dr. King was assassinated, I was working with an organization which we called Los Angeles SNCC, of course, and we immediately — I mean, I can remember exactly where I was, I was mimeographing leaflets for another —

BOND: I’ll have to tell my students what a mimeograph machine is.

DAVIS: I know, exactly. You see, I'm doing this [gestures] — And we realized, being in L.A., that if we did not move quickly, that the Los Angeles Police Department would use that as an occasion for a massacre. And we knew that because immediately after the assassination, they set up machine guns on top of the roof of the downtown police station —

BOND: The Parker Center.

DAVIS: The Parker Center, absolutely, and so we decided that what we would do was we would organize a campaign to ask all of the merchants in South Central to close in deference to the memory of Dr. King and then we put up picket lines at all of the stores that didn’t, including some of the large stores at the malls like the May Company. And the — we were actually trying to prevent a riot, prevent the outbreak of violence, but the Los Angeles Police Department obviously wanted violence. We didn’t know then, but we learned later that they had developed new technologies and they had new weapons and they wanted probably to try them out and so they actually dropped off a young black man whom they had severely beaten, in front of our offices and, you know, we had to get him to the hospital and so forth, but we realized that it was provocative. They wanted us to riot and we were doing everything we could to involve people in an organized, non-violent protest.