Carmichael to RPW Letter 8/20/65
Explaining events that included his arrest following a demonstration in which he did not participate, Stokely Carmichael describes his experience of reading Warren's book while in jail in Lowndes County, Alabama.
Carmichael to RPW Letter 8/20/65 Searchable TextCollapse
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Silas Norman,
311/2 Franklin St. Selma, Alabama State Project Director
Phone: 872-1426 872-4801
August 20, 1965
Dear Mr. Warren,
I hope you are fine. Please excuse this note. I just
got out of jail in Fort Deposit a little town in Lowndes County, Alabama,
this is the county where Mrs. Luizzo was shot.
I would like to describe some of the scenery. The entire white populace
(at least it appeared that way) was armed as students began to picket.
When a group was arrested they would surround the group holding loaded
shot-guns in their stomachs, yelling and screaming.
I did not demonstrate. The “officials” of the county know who I am.
Since they could not arrest me for demonstrating they arrested me for
reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. I wasn’t driving.
I have been arrested about 25 times. Jails are bad places. You may get
along better in some. Sometimes you can read most of the time you can’t.
They won’t let you read. There were about thirty of us in jail. Someone
smuggled in two paperbacks.
Whenever I can afford the luxury of reading while in jail, I always think
about the author. Most of the time I say if I knew him I would write and
say I read your book while in jail. You read books very slowly in jail
because there are never enough and when you finish a book there is nothing
to do. So you are like a kid with an ice-cream cone, you don’t want to
finish your cone. Since there were only two books and thirty people, after
you read five pages you tore them from the book and passed it on to the next person.
The book is usually torn to pieces.
One of the books was Black Boy, I have already read that, so I was out of
the fight for that one. The other book was Wilderness, I was in the fight
for that one.
Books become more real in jail. Characters become cell-mates, and the
novel takes place within the confines of the steel bars.
I just wanted to say I read your book while I was in jail.
Yours for Freedom,
Carmichael [Postmark: Selma Ala. Aug 20 1965 PM] [Postage: 5 cents]
31 3/1 Franklin Street
Mr. Robert Penn Warren
2495 Reeding Road