Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Judgement

GIOVANNI: But I was working on Black Judgment. So if I knew --I knew if I could get my $10,000 from them, I could publish a really pretty book, and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to let them help me. So I had this book and I had a publisher. I had a printer down in the Village, and we did -- Black Judgment is a really pretty book. My friend Bill Taylor did the cover for me. We did like a brown paper with a dark brown ink. If you see a first edition of that book, it's beautiful, and I have --

BOND: And valuable, too, I'd imagine.

GIOVANNI: Pretty much so. I was surprised because I only have about two first editions myself. But my next door neighbor at that point was guy named Morgan Freeman. His good friend was a guy named Clifton Davis. My neighbor downstairs was a guy named Cornell Dupree. My neighbor across the street was a guy named Gregory Hines, and down the street from that was Gene McDaniels, and we all sort of hanged -- we would hang together. Right up the street was Barbara McTier, right. So it's like -- I've got these neighbors, and if you don't use your friends, who do you ask? Because I've been a good friend and I would remain so. I've been a good friend and so I asked them all, "Would you read for me?" and they said, "Sure," and what? And the answer is like, "Sure," because we all supported each other, "Sure."

I said read for Black Judgment. I went, and this was like -- this was when Nikki was crazy -- my mother is a jazz fan, and I love my mother very much and I wanted to do something for Mommy. I wanted to -- because maybe this is the only book I'm going to do, right? So I went to Birdland because I thought I'll have a book party at Birdland because it's closed on Sunday. It's a great day to do that. There's a guy there, Harold Logan, who is the partner of Lloyd -- Mr. Price. Lloyd Price.

So I'm meeting Mr. Logan. I made the appointment with Mr. Logan. "Hello, Mr. Logan." "Miss Giovanni, sit down." "Yeah, you're that poet." You know because Logan kept his-- I said, "I'd like to have book party in Birdland." He said, "How much you pay, ma'am?" 'Cause he's a gangster. I said, "Mr. Logan I don't have any money. I'm a poet. Where would I get money? But you're closed on Sunday. So if you open, it's just your lights and your air, right? And I can bring you people." He thought about it, he said, "Well, I'll tell you what, Giovanni." Said "Bring me a hundred people and you can have the club. Ninety-nine people and you pay me $500." So I was like, "Yeah, hey, that's a good deal." I'm glad because Birdland at that point was on Broadway and it's down -- I walked up the steps and it hit me. I just told a gangster that I would bring him a hundred people, which if I don't --

BOND: And he was a gangster too --

GIOVANNI: Oh, Lloyd was murdered in the middle of street, which was a shame because I always liked Harold -- but nonetheless it dawned on me my legs are going to get broken or -- you know? So I started doing late night radio. WWRL was one of the first -- and I was saying "Black Judgment, Black Judgment is coming. Come on down to Broadway, to Birdland." Sent out invitations, went to churches. It was fantastic because we had about five hundred people. Sunday.

And you know, Birdland's at 48th. The New York Times's at 42nd. So we had a line that did that -- so the New York Times is thinking the Negroes are rioting, right? So they sent a reporter down to say, "What is it?" and everybody in line. Said, "Why are you in line? What are you waiting for?" and they said, "Black Judgment." So all of a sudden it was like -- so they started out by saying, "Nikki Giovanni." So the reporter comes up to me. It was amazing. And he says, "I'm looking for Nikki Giovanni." and I said "Yeah, I'm Nikki Giovanni." He said, "Well, where is he?" Because he's not listening. I said, "I'm Nikki Giovanni." "So what is this?" I said, "It's Black Judgment." He said, "What is it doing?" I said, "It's coming."

So I made the second news front in the New York Times. If you want to say what took it to the next spot -- I think the faith of the community in me. I still feel really reciprocal about that, of course, and the fact that that book party, which I did from my heart. But I couldn't let Harold down. I liked Harold. I mean, I know he probably did ugly things to other people, but he wasn't a bad man. And that I was able to make the second news front on the New York Times that was -- there was a picture of me -- that was invaluable.