Transcript of “What Can You Do?”
A speech by Lillian D. Anthony
Identifier: SC 05.1.4.2013.01.0255a
Description: Lillian Anthony, Director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department,
delivered the address in the morning of May 15, 1968 as part of “One Day in May” at
Aug... Show more
Transcript of “What Can You Do?”
A speech by Lillian D. Anthony
Identifier: SC 05.1.4.2013.01.0255a
Description: Lillian Anthony, Director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department,
delivered the address in the morning of May 15, 1968 as part of “One Day in May” at
Augsburg College (now Augsburg University). Students, faculty, and administration
canceled class to invite leaders of Minneapolis’ Black community to speak about system
racism and related issues.
Collection: 13 “One Day in May” sessions were recorded and have been digitized.
They are available on YouTube:
[Augsburg President Oscar Anderson]: I'd like to have you know a little bit
about our guest this morning, the one person that all of us wanted to be
here to begin our “Day in May.” She was born in Indianapolis and received
a Bachelor of Science degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City,
Missouri and holds a master's degree in religious education from the
Pittsburgh Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
She has traveled extensively in Europe and in the Middle East, has
conducted leadership training classes for the Commission on Ecumenical
Missions and Relations in India, Pakistan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the
Philippines. She has been a director of the Bureau of Work programs for
the Department of Labor and has done volunteer work with disadvantaged
youth in Indianapolis, Chicago, and Minneapolis. She has served on the
Governor's Human Rights Commission, she's on the board of Directors of
Volunteers Unlimited and is a member of the Urban Coalition, as well as of
the Minnesota Council for Civil and Human Rights.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 1
She presently serves with distinction as the Director of the Minneapolis
Department of Civil Rights and I'm very happy to present to this audience,
to the Augsburg community, to begin our “One Day in May,” in order that
we might indeed be sensitized to the problems which confront us: Miss
Lillian D. Anthony. Miss Anthony. [applause]
[President Anderson says something inaudible to Anthony, and she
responds by chuckling,]
[Lillian Anthony]:Thank you very much.
I'm particularly very pleased that you can still give me such a warm
welcome after I have kind of goofed up your program! But I really kind of
goofed it up because I got up this morning at 6:30 [she laughs] going to be
on time. You know, we Black people have something called “CP Time,”
and they, that's called “Colored People Time,” [she and the audience
laugh], but I'm trying to get rid of all those stereotypes you understand.
So I would not have been here late had I not really read. I thought that I
was supposed to be here at 9:15, and so I would like to start right away,
and I hope that I can have my extra 15 minutes because now, as I'm
speaking to audiences around the country, I am convinced that talking is
of little value. You know everybody has said everything, every book has
been written in terms of racism, race relations, civil rights and human
rights. There is nothing new under the sun! [she laughs] But I think I have
something new to tell you. [she and the audience laugh] Oh! Yes.
I would like to make it very clear that I speak from many points of view
today. I speak certainly as the director of the Civil Rights Department, but I
also speak as a Black woman, I also speak as an Afro-American. And I'm
sure there's some of you who will then get in that bag and say “well we
don't understand what Black people want to be called. Some say Black,
some say Afro-American, some say colored, some say Negro.” You know,
“What do you really want to be called?” You know that's one of those
changes you're gonna have to go through with us cause we haven't
decided yet. [she and the audience laugh]
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 2
Ossie Davis said very recently, in Washington DC--in a conference on the
treatment of minorities in the textbooks--Ossie Davis said “we fought for
100 years to get them to spell N with the capital N, and now we want them
to stop using Negro all together.” And I'm very serious about this one, and
I would like to start off by reading a poem by a young 17-year old
Afro-American young woman. It's called "Black."1
“I am a Negro--and I am ashamed.
Chemicals in my hair to make it other than what it is,
Bleaches on my skin to make it more . . . non-black.
Cosmetics on my face to be like the ‘other’.
Why must I try to be other than what I am?
“The French say that they are French from France,
The Irish say they are Irish from Ireland,
The Italians say they are Italians from Italy,
And I say I am a Negro--from where?
Is there a Negro land?
“The French, Irish, Italians all have a culture and heritage.
What is My land? Where are my people? My culture? My heritage?
I am a Negro--and I am ashamed.
Who GAVE me this name?
Slaves and dogs are named by their masters . . . Free men named themselves.
Must I be other than what I am?
“I am Black. This is a source of pride.
My hair is short and finely curled.
My skin is deep-hued, from brown to black.
My eyes are large, open to the world.
My lips are thick, giving resonance to my words.
“My nose is broad to breathe freely the air.
My heritage is my experience in America . . . although not of it;
Free from pretense; open to truth.
Seeking freedom that all life may be free.
I am Black. America has cause to be proud.
The author of “Black” is Barbara Wright. U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Equal Educational
Opportunity. Quality and Control of Urban Schools: Hearings before the Select Committee on Equal
Educational Opportunity. 92nd Cong., 1st sess., July 27; 29; August 5, 1971. Prepared Statement of
Arthur E. Thomas (5937).
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 3
I'd like to read one more. This one has been written by an Indian recently:
“All the wars since the Indians fell.
I think the country is going to hell!
They talk of giving it back to us.
If they do, we'll raise a fuss.
Politics, wars, racial riots!
Sorry, white brother, we wouldn't buy it.
[audience laughs] It’s a pretty terrible indictment on the condition in the
United States of America, but I have found that this condition is not
peculiar to the United States of America. I found wherever there were
colored people or Black peoples in the world that this condition then was
I found after working in Egypt for three years that an Egyptian could have
a child and if that child was ugly, in terms of the physical features, that that
child was called beautiful if it had fair and light skin. It could be very
beautiful in terms of physical features and if it was Black then it was ugly. I
found the same thing was true in Japan where they like to be called those
who are fairer in complexion were the ones who were called beautiful. I
found the same thing in China, which was Hong Kong. And so I'm
convinced that there is something wrong with our psyche in the United
States for America. There is something that it's perpetuating us to look at
one another in terms of color.
So I have designed a little piece, and this piece is called, "Take a Look in
the Mirror". How many of you know Aretha Franklin? Yeah. Well Aretha
Franklin has a record called "Take a Look in the Mirror," and it says:
"Take a look at yourself,
But don't look too close,
‘Cause you just might see
The person that you hate the most.
Lord what's happening
To this human race?
I can't even see
One friendly face.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 4
Brothers fight brothers,
And sisters wink their eyes,
While silver tongues
Bear fruits of poison lies.
Take a look
At your children, born innocent every day.
Every boy and every girl
Denying themselves a real chance
To build a better world.
Dear lord, dear Lord
To your precious dream?
it's washing away
On a bloody, bloody stream.
Take a look at your children
Before it's too late
And tell them nobody wins
When the price is hate."
And I think throughout the history of the United States, where the Black
man and the Indian and other minorities have come into this country, we
have all been taught that we must get rid of Blackness, and all of us who
were then Black and had some pigmentation regardless of the degree
were taught that all you white folks were nice and good. [audience laughs]
And I would like to say this to you: Racism is something which is very real,
and many people have said "I'm not a racist. I've never discriminated. I've
never segregated, don't put me in that bag!” You know, “No, I don’t want to
hear about all those things that happened years and years ago, I wasn't
even here!" I'm sure that's what you'd say. You know, “I don't even know
that some of my ancestors had anything to do with this mess.”
All right this color here for you way back there in the back, this is yellow,
this color here is it's really more pink but it's supposed to be red. The next
color is black, the next color is white. Now those of you who are up here
real close, did you notice something that began to happen? There are
some words written on each of these colors. Yeah, alright. Some of you
got that 20/20 vision can even see.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 5
It's a word on each one of these pages. Notice the space that those words
take up on those pages. Alright now let me read to you what these words
say. These words are from the 1967 Webster's Dictionary, and young
bright college students I know that you're gonna check me out so you just
go right on. I'm going to read to you what it says here.
[presumably holding a yellow paper] "Having a yellow like pigmentation of
the skin is that characteristic of Mongolians or Asians. Jealous or
melancholic, cowardly or untrustworthy. Cheaply sensational to an
offensive degree. Set of certain newspapers. Any of several fungus or
viruses. Diseases of plants causing yellowing on the leaves, stunting of
growth. Jaundice, especially for farm animals. Bad humour, jealousy. to
make or to become, yellow."
Red. I'm not reading all of it, just the parts that are really important for us.
"North American Indian. A red object. A red space in various chess
games. Having or being of the color red or any of its hues. Having red
hair. Having or considered to have a reddish or coppery skin as the North
American Indian. Politically radical, revolutionary, especially Communist of
the Soviet Union. In the red: losing money as a business, in debt. Paint
the town red: to have a noisy good time, that’s by visiting bars and
nightclubs, see red; become or be angry."
Black: “Opposite of white.” [Audience laughs] “Dark complexion. Negro.
Totally without lights. All dirty. Wearing Black clothing. Evil. Wicked.
Harmful. Disgraceful. Sad, dismal, gloomy, sullen." Now you can see why
we never want to be called Black!” [Audience laughs] "Dark clothing as for
mourning. Black villain."
Now, white: [adjusts microphone] "having the color of pure snow or milk".
[audience laughs] Couldn't be plain old snow or milk [laughter] gotta be
"pure snow or milk". [audience laughs] Unbelievable! wait you're gonna
get sick. [laughter] "Free from evil intent. Harmless as white magic. A
white lie. Happy. Fortunate. Auspicious set of times and season. Having
light-colored skin, Caucasian. Of or controlled by the white race, as white
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 6
Right after this, listen to the next thing: “Honest, honorable, fair,
dependable.” [she and the audience laugh] Unbelievable! [laughter]
"Purity, innocence, white or light-colored, specifically the [inaudible].
Something white, nearly white in color." Goes on, "White wine. White
pigment." Goes on, "White bread. Fine flour. A person with a light-colored
skin. Member of the Caucasian division of mankind."
Did it say that the Negroes were a division of mankind? Did you say the
North American Indian was a division of mankind? [Inaudible] yellow one
was a division of mankind? It's a kind of insidious subtle kind of teaching
of racism. Now, children first learn color, then children learn how to spell
those words, and then if it's a good teacher, you know, she's trying to
involve the class and so she sends him to the dictionary to look it up, then
she goes into those little things like you know we want you to share with
And so now here we have an Asian in the class, and have a Black person
in the class, we have an Indian in the class, we have Caucasians in the
class [inaudible]. Then it says "Share your, you know, the definition of
you." What do you think would happen? And I'm gonna get up and tell all
these things? Am I gonna feel proud about it? Am I gonna feel good about
it? So now we got a job to do with the dictionaries and the encyclopedias,
just in the basis of color. For instance, people have said to me time and
time again, "Why do you have this hang up on color?" I said, "Because it's
your hang-up, you know,life to hate what I am."
In my family, the worst profane word you could say was Black. We never
heard any profanity anyway. If you slammed the door mama had a fit, but
you call somebody Black somebody or described him as Black somebody,
that was the most profane thing you could say, to the point that daddy
would come home and daddy was mad at somebody. He's saying, "He
was the color of that stovepipe!" [audience laughs] Wasn’t going to call
him black. So this is the kind of hang-up we have.
Or secondly, I will make a presentation and after I get through with the
white audience somebody invariably says, "But Lillian! or “Miss Anthony
you are different.” That's one insult. The worst one comes when it says,
"But I didn't even see your color! I didn't see you as a Negro!" and that's
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 7
really bad news because what are they saying to me when they say that?
They saw me only in their image, only in their image.
And this is what Kenneth Clark did with these young children--four years
old when he first got them--gave them all dolls, Black dolls and white dolls,
and says you know, "Pick any doll you want." All Black children, every one
of them, picked a white doll. A year later Kenneth Clark took that same
group of children and he said, "Who are you?" and they grinned and they
beamed, and he said, "Are you colored?" and they said no. "Are you
Negro?" No. Are you a n*****?" No. "What are you? Black and beautiful!"
and they picked Black dolls.
What we're trying to say is that the whole business of racism is very
complex and Kenneth Clark said something else and I would like to read it
verbatim from his book on the "Dark Ghetto". I don't know how many of
you might have read it I'm reading from the introduction now to the
epilogue, and he says here:
"For many years before I became an involved observer, Harlem had been my
home. My family moved from house to house and from neighborhood to
neighborhood within the walls of the ghetto in a desperate attempt to escape its
creeping blight. In a real sense, therefore, “Dark Ghetto” is a summation of my
personal and lifelong experiences and observations as a prisoner within the
ghetto long before I was aware that I was really a prisoner. To my knowledge...*"
And this is important for those of you who raised many questions, it's very
important for you who are in social sciences.
"... To my knowledge, there is at present nothing in the vast literature of social
sciences and textbooks, and nothing in the practical or field training of graduate
students in social science to prepare them for the realities and the complexities of
this type of involvement in a real, dynamic, turbulent, and at times seemingly
chaotic community, and what is more, nothing anywhere in the training of social
scientists, teachers, or social workers now prepares them to understand or to
cope with the changes that are going on. These are grave lacks which must be
It's a terrible indictment again in our total educational system in terms of
our colleges and our universities because I'm convinced now, that one of
the reasons that we do, that he can make such an indictment, and I have
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 8
made the same; is that you and I have not been taught to be human
beings. We have every possible course in the university, but we are really
taught how to be non-human beings and one of the major hang-ups we
have is being taught to become technicians, to develop a technician
mentality. And I call that one of my first “Middle-Class Hangups”.
Leading the list of the middle-class hang-up is the technician mind. This is
the belief that everything can be solved if we have the right people with
the right skills. Technology has the answer to everything, people and time
are not given space in the problem, and right skills mean the same thing
as insight. And those of us who are of the minority races have found out
that this is all a lie.
Example: 1965, when I came to this city, I was attempting to find housing,
and could not find housing because of discrimination, finally was able to
get an apartment but it was only because the Department of Labor, federal
government, had made it very clear to the management of this particular
building that I would get an apartment or that there would be some
consequences. So I got the appointment with some persuasion, but I had
had a white minister who went around with me for two days. He would go
and he would be told that the building, or the room, or the apartment, was
available, and I would go and it was not available, or we would both go
and they would say well I must call the owner, I'm only the manager.
So finally, I got this apartment and then a young man came to the city, and
the Urban League called me and said, "Lillian you were able to find a nice
apartment, and we would like for you to help this young man." Now this
man had all of the credentials, this is my point, had all of the credentials,
responsible citizen, had an education. His education went beyond even a
PhD. He had a post doctorate degree from Carnegie, and was--how many
of you know what Corningware is? He helped invent it.
Black man. Came to this city and I said alright, and I tried to help him find
an apartment. He had two children. I ended up, by saying to him, "Well,
I'm living in the YWCA, my furniture isn't to come for another week, that's
alright. I will cancel it.” You take this apartment." It was two bedrooms and
a bath and a half and with two children this would've been fine.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 9
Called up this agency and the agency said, "We're sorry Miss Anthony, we
were perfectly willing to let you have it, but we're very sorry we cannot let
him have it," on the basis that he had two children. And I did interrupt him
to say “But you did have children there. The lady who opened the door, we
knocked on the wrong door, had a baby in her arms and he said, "Oh yes,
but we can't do anything--we don't put people out when they have babies."
But he interrupted me too soon. What he didn't know was the lady also
had a three-year-old child on the tricycle. The building was one year old.
[audience murmurs] This is very disappointing, and so what we're saying
is: color is important, and you must understand that. You must begin to
Another thing, and since we are in a … [long pause] This is a church
school isn't it? [she and the audience laugh] [she clears her throat]
Theologically, the middle class person [she and the audience laugh] is
conservative and he believes that all social ills can be solved by the
church through preaching and praying, and he uses theological jargon that
is well known and continues to use well use platitudes, and I feel that the
church has failed more than any other institution in this country next to the
educational institution, because the church has said that we you know
profess and hold all these things to be true from a higher intelligence and
a greater power, and we rely on this power to give us humanity and to give
us the guts and the courage to do what we have to do.
And I think we profane and blaspheme in religion and Christianity. I say
religion and Christianity remembering that there are Jews, and there are
Muhammadans, and there are others who do not believe in the saving
grace of Jesus Christ. This I believe in, and I have seen miracles happen.
I've seen them happen since I've been in this job. Mike Gaines, who is a
Jewish man who is the deputy in our department, said to me the other
day, "You know it was almost like it came out of Acts. He said, ""Almost
you persuadeth me." [she and the audience laugh]
So many good things have happened to us that was just unbelievable!
With the City Council and other things has just been unbelievable. And
one of the good things is that, since our department has been in business
since December the first, we have some 50 cases of allegations of
discrimination and segregation in this city. About half of them we have
been able to conciliate.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 10
Example: I don't know how many of you saw the Saturday paper. On
Friday, we had gone to review a film, and this film was an ad for an
insurance company. The insurance company had an Indian shooting a
bow and arrow with some fire on the end of it into a house. There was
another one at the same time, taking clothes from the lines, stealing
clothes from the line. And so, an Indian had come to us and said that they
found this very offensive and "why, they don't want to use you people
throwing Molotov bombs at houses and things, so why should they use us
using bow and arrows? Showing arson and theft and there were some
other things.” [Inaudible] we said to them you know, "We would like to
have that film to show today at three o'clock to the Human Relations
We wrote them a letter to this effect. On Saturday, I picked up the paper
and it said that "This film has been taken, this advertisement for this
insurance company had been taken off the air!” Now they hoped, you see,
that this was going to keep us from showing it to the Human Relations
Commission today--and it didn't. [audience laughs] We're going to show it
and then bring about establishing probable cause, because unless we
continue to let people know how offensive these things are to another
human being--how this demeans, and how this thing takes away one's
human dignity. You know, we're not getting anywhere.
Also you might have read in the paper also on Friday or Saturday, that we
have a case against the City Attorney's office. This is a real bad one. It's
bad because if we really get up against the wall I'm supposed to be able to
go to City Attorney's office but hell [she stammers in exhasperation]. [the
audience laughs] These are the kinds of complexities that we were
beginning to deal with [inaudible] very exciting and some of them are very
We have a young Indian man, a young boy 14 years old, who was brought
in by his mother, severely beaten, and he alleges that a policeman did this
to him between elevators. We're trying to establish probable cause here,
but this is very difficult, because we cannot investigate--the only case that
we cannot investigate is the police. And we're trying to do something today
to begin to find a way to have the right to investigate allegations in terms
of police brutality. At this point, whenever we get a complaint against the
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 11
police department we must give it to Chief Hawkinson and he investigates
I would like to say that in terms of the civil disobedience--notice I did not
say riot--that has occurred across the United States is a revolution, and I
would appeal to you not to condone it but to understand it.
When Watts, when the riot, or the civil disobedience occurred in Watts, I
happened to be flying in that very evening. These are one of the things I
don't call these miracles. I really give God a hard time about this. I don't
know why he puts me in all these peculiar situations which make people
say, Oh Lilian you exaggerating and you are lying," but I arrived in Watts
the night it hit. I arrived in Harlem the day after. I was working in
Wisconsin out of Chicago and arrived in Chicago when it hit. That begins a
smack of something doesn't it? [the audience laughs] I didn't have
anything to do with it.
But I was sitting on this plane feeling much annoyed at having to sit next
to this white man. The reason I was feeling much annoyed was because I
had been working with a group of Presbyterian white people, about 500 of
them, for a week and they had given me a nervous rash. And I got on that
plane and I thought “God I just cannot go through this one more time! I
know this man is gonna start looking at me and smiling and he's gonna
want to be cordial. He's gonna want to be friendly. He's gonna ask me,
gonna introduce himself, he's gonna ask me who I am, then he's gonna
get into the whole business about the problem. Now I cannot take it.” And
so I was just kind of shriveling up over here in my little seat, [audience
laughs] like, just don't say anything to me.
Well luckily, it was the one of the first times I'd been on the plane where
they showed the movies, and they showed a movie that I hadn't seen.
Started looking at that movie the next thing I knew--I'm a terrible person
going to movies with--I was beating him! [she and the audience laugh] I
was having a good time in that movie and he was laughing and we were
talking. [the audience laughs] So in spite of myself, here I am getting all
involved, and then the pilot said, "Ladies and gentlemen we would like to
say to you: if you would look on the left-hand side of the plane, you will
see fires, you will see smok--they are not the usual kind of California forest
fires. It's a riot."
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 12
Well, have you ever been aware of some--for instance, we've been told if
we go to a theater and there is a fire: don't stampede, don't mob, you
know we've been taught that, but when it happens that's what you do?
When this man said “riot,” I just sat there, I thought, you know, “...riot...” It
didn't even--I didn't understand! I thought, “riot?!” Didn't make sense.
People fighting people or what. Then I heard a man, the whole plane
begin the buzz is one of these planes where everybody, there's no first
and second class. I heard all just buzzing buzzing I heard somebody said,
"Well what do they want next? We've given them everything!"
I thought, "Oh... oh! [the audience laughs] Ah-ha-ha! They're talking about
us!" [she and the audience laugh] I thought, “well, well, well.” I
thought...riot? I remembered that there had been a riot in Detroit, and
some years ago they'd been a riot in Chicago, and I thought “Mmm!” So
then they kept this up. You know the seats are so tall, you just can't turn
around and see who's doing what and so I just got up on my knees and I
said, "We want everything that you have and evidently they intend to get
it." And I sat down and the plane went [she makes a hush noise and the
And believe it or not, as I grew up as a child and as a young adult,
youth--I'm still young though--I was shy! Didn't talk, and here I had the
nerve to get up and tell those people--and they didn't even know me--what
I thought. So when the plane landed, it was almost like a parting of the
waves when I came in here but it's kind of letting me on through. And then
I became alarmed because I hadn't seen my brother for some years and I
was anxious to see him. They had a new baby I had never seen, and they
were not there. That was unusual for my brother.
So I went to the phone and I called just knowing that they were a part of
this whole business, and my sister-in-law answered the telephone. She
said, "He's on the way back, but we were at the airport and they
announced that everybody should leave, and so we've come home and
he's on his way back to you," and I said, "Where is daddy?" and she said
"Marshall is on his way after you, you better look for him, he's right--he's
probably there now," which meant then that my father was in the area,
when the riot was. So then my brother came and he could not talk, and as
we drove all the way to his house, tears were just rolling down his face.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 13
Finally, he said [...] with a horrible, broken voice, he said, "This is gonna
set us back fifty years!" Man, you'd have to know my brother he's really a
miniature Dick Gregory--he's a beautiful Black man. And when he said it
like that you know, it's a lot of feeling and a lot of hurt. For him, my brother
was the kind of an individual who graduated from high school a D-plus
student. Never felt he could go to college and I persuaded him to come to
school with me, and he did on one condition, that I wouldn't tell anybody
here my brother. [she and the audience laugh] We found out throughout
high school the teachers were always saying to him, "Well you certainly
don't act like you are a brother to Lillian Anthony or Amanda Anthony, you
don't you know perform the same way."
That hurt but he came on that campus and that's what he did, he
graduated cum laude. He graduated University of Lincoln. He then went
on and got his master's from UCLA. And so he's made it, and
suddenly--he's the kind of man who lived, he and his wife, in an apartment
for three years with only a bed, a bureau, a stove, a table, and two chairs.
He said, "I will not be in debt the whole business of the stereotypes of the
Black man being in debt. I will not have a child until I can buy my own
home". And so for eight years, they did not have a child. "I will not buy a
car until I can pay cash for it, and he wanted a Cadillac, and he bought it,
and he paid cash for it. And so suddenly all of this is going on around him
and he is sick at heart.
He is saying, now what is going to happen, man--all the Black people have
to do is work and save and get educated, mmm! And so he sat up all
night, and I was going to do some work in the Pacific Palisades--again,
with white people. Now I really am torn up about going to them in the
midst of this riot, so that my brother took me the next day. We could not
get to my father. We could not get to the telephones. They would not let us
through the barricades, which I went on to the Pacific Palisades and my
brother drove me in his brand-new Cadillac car.
We were stopped five times with policemen with helmets and not only a
gun but the bayoneted gun, "What are you doing in this area?" And each
time I had to show them the correspondence of my invitation to teach at
the Pacific Palisades. And finally, we got there my brother by now is really
upset. So he left me, and the next Sunday, I was looking for a church to
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 14
go to, and I went to a church because the bulletin board said “Playboy
Revisited.” [she laughs] I wanted to see what they gonna preach about, in
terms of the Playboy. [the audience laughs]
But when the man got up, he looked out at the congregation and how I just
looked at him, and he had the same it seemed to me, look that my brother
had and he said, "You are responsible for the civil disobedience! You are
responsible for the riot!” And he told them, one after the other, the things
that they had done historically and the things they've done in that city
recently. He says, “you, in this congregation will not be off the hook. Either
you, as members of this congregation, leave this place, this day, going
into Watts to take food, to help, to clean up, to administer to the needs of
the people, or you need not come back to this church. This is what this
church is all about."
I-I couldn't believe it! That's what I mean by miracles. I needed something
to give me hope again. And as we went out of the church, people were
beginning to form car cavalcades, caravans, and people are coming with
food, and so then I went back and I asked the group that I was working
with if they would take up some money and they took up immediately
something like one hundred fifty dollars. Now how am I gonna get it into
the area? So I called up my brother and I asked him if he would come and
get it, and he said, “you must be out of your mind. I'm not going any place
to do anything about for those people,” I said, "Daddy's in there!" He said,
"But daddy isn't a part of that riot. It's a bunch of hoodlums and young
punks that I create all that trouble.”
So I said "You come get this money right now, because this is to help
Black people and you're Black," and I hung up. This time, my brother
came in his old, raggedy [...] 1954 Volvo! [she and the audience laugh]
Took the money, didn't say anything to me, and just dashed on off. To
make a long story short, my brother is deeply involved in the whole
redevelopment of the Watts area as a result of going in there that day,
going in there with anger, going in with fear, and going in with tears. He
now is helping to redevelop the area.
My father was safe. He said he just said on his porch and watched them
go in there and loot and carry on, and I said “daddy you didn't take any of
that stuff, did you?” And my daddy is not beyond that. [the audience
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 15
laughs] And I think all of the things that have happened in terms of: Watts,
Chicago, Harlem, Chicago, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, Newark, New
Jersey. It's important for you to understand it was never in a retaliation or
a vindictive mood. It was the same kind of hate being turned in on oneself.
And I say this from the historical perspective that the Black people in the
colored peoples of this world do not have the murderous criminal records
of white people in this country. And that's why you will hear Black people
and other minority groups saying that the white society is sick. And that's
why you hear Black separatists saying that we want our children apart and
out of that sick society. And that is why you hear the nationalists say the
That is why I will say to you that if this world and if this nation is to be
saved--I'm totally convinced it will be saved by Black people and colored
people. And I say that because we have not taken on that mentality. We
have not taken on the mentality that human life is not worth anything. We
have not taken on the mentality that the almighty dollar means that
anything is expedient and you can do anything with anybody. And I'm
saying the whole business of property and ownership, it's basically the
sickness that’s in this country, and we have not been able to get over it.
Since the Portuguese in 1442, brought out the first slave from Africa into
Portugal and on into Spain, we have had troubles. And since it was the
papal bulls of the church which said “it's fine for you to go in there and
take other human beings and make them property.” The church has been
and has endorsed this activity. Was only some of the few abolitionists in
our period, in our time, who began to say this is not right.
And I would then like to quickly turn you--and I'm not going to be able to
use but a few because so many of you are standing up you won't be able
to see it anyway--but I will show you two pictures of two Black scientists
that I think are important. I had fourteen. [there are sounds of her
arranging items] Let me just use one. You and your school, and your,
whether it's University training, college training, or elementary training,
have not really been taught the history of people in this country who were
different from yourselves. And very few of you, if I named these names
can tell me who they are. But I want to tell you when people have spoken
of getting an education, becoming a responsible citizen, forgetting slavery.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 16
You can't do that because then you're denying the whole total historical
This This man's name is Lewis Latimer. Let me just read what it says
about Lewis Latimer, "Lewis Latimer was an associate of Thomas Edison
and experimental work in the field of electricity. To him goes the honor of
having solved the problem of transforming the electric current into light to
the invention of incandescent light. He's superintendent the installation of
electric lights in New York City, Philadelphia, London, and many of the
large cities. He was also chief draftsman of the General Electric and
Westinghouse Companies. He also drafted plans for Alexander Graham
Bell. He drafted the plans for the first telephone.”
How many of you know who Charles Drew was? [...] Oh. How many of you
had a blood transfusion in here? Here's one, any others? You're a healthy
group! Charles Drew is the inventor of the conservative for blood plasma.
And Charles Drew died in Atlanta. [she is arranging items] I’m going to put
it on this side maybe it'd be better, I just put them on the floor. Charles
Drew had an accident in Tuskegee, Alabama. Here it is. Then 1950. He
had this accident and as a result of it he should have received medical
help at a hospital and they refused to give him medical help. The man who
is responsible for setting up banks throughout the country, he set up the
first blood bank in 1942, was called by the United States government to
take charge of the blood conservation by setting up these banks. As a
result of his work many millions of lives throughout the world have been
saved. Here this man, just because he was Black could not receive
medical attention and he died.
These are the kinds of terrible things that have happened. Did you know
that it was a Black man, every time you've been on a train... How many of
you have been on a train? You know, you've got to ask those kind of
stupid questions these days? You got airplanes and you fly everywhere?
How many of you been on a train? Woo! Very good, very good. [the
audience laughs] But every time that train knocked itself together, that was
invented by Black man, Beard, called the coupling device. He saw men
jumping over things and losing arms, and hands, and feet, and he said,
"Look somebody ought to be able to design something to prevent that,"
and so he designed something that when the train hit, it locked, called a
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 17
How many of you know about the drip cup, most of you young men should
know about that. Elijah McCoy, have you heard somebody say if that's the
“Real McCoy?” This man invented, Elijah McCoy invented something
called the drip cup every time you go 60 miles an hour and over, you're
able to do that because of this lubricating device that Elijah McCoy, a
Black man, invented.
These the kinds of things that have not been a part of the history, and had
you been taught these things you could not then think that a Black man or
anyone else was less than you. When we have used this in a class, Black
children just sit there in their eyes sparkling they just stick out their chests
and white kids look a little bewildered. [the audience laughs] [she laughs]
It's great! [they laugh]
I think we have something very precious and very fine which I hope we
don't lose, and which is called “soul.” You've heard a lot about soul. It's
very hard for us to define, but it's the ability to feel. It's the ability to be
emotional, and we've always taken this as a criticism. And young women
when young men say to you you know, "She's emotional," Then say,
“thank God I am!” That means that you still can feel things, and we're
taught in this society not to really show feeling.
I sat with three groups yesterday in training sessions. I sat with a group at
Beth-El Synagogue. I sat with a group at Munsingwear. I sat with a group
from General Mills. I'll use the last group, General Mills. I asked them
when I came in. I said, I couldn't do it with you because you're too many, I
said, "You will know who I am. You know something about me. Tell me
who you are." Well, they went around and told me, there were eighteen,
what their names were. Then I said, "Okay, tell me just a little bit about
yourself." One man said, "Will you tell us about yourself?" All these people
are white, sat one Black brother, and I said, "No, he's going to introduce
me. Tell me about yourself."
We sat there. They sipped on their cocktails. They ate their salad. One
man began to talk about... "Well I have... this is off the subject but, would
you tell me is the Poor People's March a Poor People's March for Black
people or all people or is it really a civil rights march?" I looked at the man
next to me and I said, "I wonder how long it's gonna take him to tell me
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 18
who he is or something about himself." You know, we timed it. For thirty
minutes, thirty minutes! Not one human being around that table except
finally the Black cat said to me, "I don't think maybe you knew, I went to
Lincoln University the same school you went to. So we talked about that a
Finally the man next to me on this side said, you know, "I came from a
farm background and I have a brother who has a turkey farm and he's
very poor. So we know what poverty is." Another man, two men over from
him said well, he said, you know, "I used to work for a Black man and we
called them “N***** Man,” and we all perked*" up. He said, "I work for him
for $2 an hour every night. He bootleg whiskey and a man was supposed
to come in that had three fingers on it, and if any other hand reaching in
there, I was supposed to come down with a knife." He said, "Because
those three fingers belong to n***** man who was bootlegging it."
So somebody said to him, "Where was that?!" And he got very red and he
said, "Come on, tell us, where was it?!" He wouldn't tell. Only three people
around that table was willing to give me a little bit of themselves, and yet
they wanted me to come in and do all that I'm doing here with you. Hm?
Didn't want to give up anything! The night before, with the other group I
had asked them to tell me where they lived. One man said, "I live in
Homewood, one said Edina, once at Golden Valley." I said, Where do you
live? Each question I asked three to four times. Finally one man said,
"Well I really don't want to tell you where I live. Fine brother, at least you're
What I'm saying is: you've got to learn to give, and you've got to learn to
give up, and one of the things you've got to give up--and it's gonna be
hard. You have got to learn to give up your decision-making for another
human being. You've got to permit the Black man, the Indian, the Puerto
Rican, and others, and Africans to determine their destiny. You've got to
permit us to make whatever mistakes we're gonna have to make. You're
gonna have to go through this total catharsis with us of getting ourselves
together, and secondly, you have got to, as white people, get yourself
together and research yourself, and study yourself, and understand that
you are the problem.
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 19
The problem is not the Black man, the Indian Puerto Rican, and others. All
of the oppressive things that are happening in this country were not done
to other people by Indians, Black people, et cetra. "Et cetra," that what my
teacher would say. It's by the white system.
Don't get hung up on being an individual in this system, it's the white
system and every white man, woman, and child is a part of it, and so you
need to study yourself and work on yourself--without Black people, and
this is gonna be hard. As long as we're there that you cannot cast your
own shadow. I have been working with twenty white people to go out and
do this very thing and they're not coming back saying they don't want to go
out anymore. Mr. Faulk at the University of Minnesota said, "Lilian I had
never felt the hostility and the anger as I have felt from groups as I had
been attempting to do this."
They're using this instrument called, “Take a Look in the Mirror,” and
others. Another one called from the Presbyterian church and said, “you
know, I've never been so ill and so sick as I was when I left that group up it
Clearwater." He said, "The people were just sick I've never felt such
hatred in my life."
What they said to them was, "How can you talk to us this way? You are
white like the rest of us.” And I'm saying if you begin to take a stand, and
you begin to point out that this is a racist society, and if you say “I am a
white racist,” then you're in trouble. Then you just are going to begin to
feel what Black people in minorities have felt in this country ever since we
put our foot on that first gangplank [she thumps the podium] unwillingly.
It's another thing people don't understand. That we’d rather, some of us
rather, would rather than to be going to slavery, threw ourselves
overboard and killed ourselves.There was one Black strong man who was
able to get just a hammer off of a ship and he made them turn that ship
around and take them back and many of you don't know the strength and
the beauty that came out of Africa.
You've never been taught about the great empires of Sanga which is
Ghana. You haven't taught about the great empires of Ethiopia, which was
then called Abyssinia. You haven't been taught that the greatest library in
the world was out of Timbuktu.You haven't been taught that there were
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 20
great medical men who left Africa to go and to take care of people in
Europe. You haven't been taught that we were a part of the beginning of
the invention of glass, and in Egypt, paper. The [inaudible], the first
machine in the world. We've been only taught about the dark continent,
and so I'm saying learn about white racism in the United States.
I would recommend one book in particular, “A Sign for Cain" by Dr.
Wertham, a white psychiatrist who talks about how white people act out
their violence on other people. I would like to close quickly with a piece
called, "A Parable from Another Country."
"A monkey heard this while going to visit python one Christmas Day.
When he arrived, python called aloud to his mother like this, ‘mama,
mama, bring us some food my friend the monkey has arrived,' and
monkey was tired and he was hungry and he thought I am so lucky. I will
eat myself to death and so he rushed to the floor where the well-cooked
meal was placed and monkey said, 'Python,' monkey said, 'Python, go
wash your hands nobody eats with dirty hands," and so he went and
washed his hands and he hurried to where the food was. 'Do you call
those hands washed?" was what python said, 'Have some sense. Use
soap and warm water."
Monkey went and did so and he returned with clean hands and palms up.
‘Now monkey, where were you raised? You come to the table so dirty, and
so smelly, and so black. Get that blackness off of your hands.' So monkey
took a butcher knife and he skinned away the Black skin on his palms.
The palms turned red, red with blood, and tears dropped from his eyes as
the blood dropped from his hands. He was still hungry. He had come to
eat. 'How can you be so uncultured, so unintelligent? Don't touch my food
with your blood. I'm no cannibal.'
Those were pythons words. And monkey started for home, and he heard a
dove singing: ‘Accept him as he is, accept him as he is.” Another
Christmas Day came, and python was going to visit monkey and he too
heard the dove singing, 'Accept him as he is, accept him as he is.'
‘Countryman,’ said monkey to python, 'you are most welcome.' Python
spread his 20 foot length on the floor filling almost every space. 'Mama
monkey,’ her son called, 'bring us the feast,' and food was brought and
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 21
placed on the floor and monkey said on his hunches and he laid his hands
on his knees.
‘Now python, my countryman, get seated.’ Python coiled himself into a
heap like tires of different sizes, 'Mister we don't call that sitting,' said
monkey, 'Now get seated like other folks see what I mean,' and so python
uncoiled himself and he pushed the greater part of his twenty feet outside
the hut. His head was near the pot of food. 'I didn't tell you to lie on your
belly you must sit and to sit properly inside the house,' said monkey like
So python assembled all of himself inside the hut. He started to sit on his
tail and his hand went up, up, up till he pierced through the roof and
monkey ate the food. He took a cutlass and he chopped off python's tail,
and python hurried with the bulk of his length and they both heard the
dove singing, 'Accept him as he is, accept him as he is.' The dove will
sing, 'Accept him as he is, as he is.'"
Many of us have become like the monkey and the python and few of us
sing like the dove. Accept him as he is. Thank you very much.
[the audience applauds]
Lillian Anthony, “What Can You Do?” (transcript), page 22