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MFP 028 Interviewee: Allen Cooper Interviewer: Dr. Paul Ortiz Date: August 6, 2004 O: So Allen, can you tell me about your early life growing up and something abo ut you rself before the Movement years? C: Okay I was born in 1938 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was just a n ordinary little white guy in Albuqu e rque [Laughter] w how detailed you want me to get. I graduated from high school in 1957 pretty unremarkable. I was a little overweight, you know kid; a little white guy O: W ell, anything that, I gue ss, since we were talking today, since you talked abou t the Civil Rights Movement are there any incidents in your early life that you can think of that may have pointed you towards that? C: Well, I was at one point I was a real serious Christian, an Epis copalian. I took literally what everybody said about justice, and freedom, and human rights and equality and all t hat stuff And then when I started trying to put it into practice as a kid I got put dow n for it. S o I realized there was a lot of hypocris y in the institutions where I wa had I know that had a big effect on me and I was pretty disgusted. I went in the military in 1957, right out of high school and I met the first black peopl ever known in my life, first Indi an people. And where b ut at that time it was pretty segregated. And I discovered a world out there, you know? B eyond Albuquerque and New Mexico. And I discovered other cultures and I befriended I had so me pretty tight friendships in the Navy with
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 2 Comanche Indians from Oklahoma and African Americans from New York City. And it had a big effect on me, a nd a real big effect because I started snapping to racism and discriminatio n and issues like that. And th ey befriended me because I treated them with respect W e go t into a few altercations together and we were fought back to back. O: What kind of altercations? C: Against racist Navy personnel and in California and elsewhere. We went overseas together and w e came back. I came out of the Navy and I went to my church and I resigned. I said, d O: The church? C: do with it anymore C ause, w you about this, but as a kid I was ince sted by some of the clergy w hen I was just pre teen. O: So this was r if you mentioned this earlier C: later because I me hear it. O: What denomination was the ? C: Epis copalian. O: O h, o kay Episcopalian. O kay C: Yeah. Real upper c lass kind of church. O: So you had when you came back out of the Navy you wen t back and o ne of the first things you did was, you went to the church and you said ?
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 3 C: Ye ah I resign from the church. And I started going to school at U N M University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. And I went there on and off, and I got very involved right away in all kinds of political stuff. Norman Thomas came, we brought him. And h e staye d at my house and spent all night in heavy duty philosophical discussion about socialism so it was I was looking for stuff, I was looking for things I was looking for some answers. O: So this would have been in the late 1950 s when you got out of the Navy ? C:  50,  59,  62. O: Okay When you were in the Navy this is kind of, I guess a different kind of question C: No, go ahead O: Y ou mentioned earlier that it was really important for you to have these relationships with Native Ameri cans, African Americans and i t was the first time. At the same time, did you start seeing things happening around you, like say in the press for example ? Did that have an impact on you? C: tell you w hat did have a big impact on me: i t was because of my religious beliefs It just happens when it happens, I guess. I was walking down a hangar bay I remember the day I remember, we were in a hang ar bay of an aircraft carrier i bay where all the planes are held underneath the flight deck. And I remember stopping, stunned, with the thought of, how in the hell can you have a chaplain in the military? Just a simple
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 4 question. But, the question took I took all these rules and values o f the Christian church literally. And when I start, what I did was I started thinking for myself T happened is I started thinking for myself. O: The contradiction between this military hardware and religion which teaches C: Yeah, right. A nd w hen I was in the military I thought, d amn, you know, they put me on a landing party off the coast of Formos a. We were going to occupy the Quemoy and Matsu Islands off the coast, off the coast of Formosa against the Chinese. I was pretty ignoran t about the world. I was very ignorant about the world, b u t I would say, n ow wait a call into question, I said, w hom am I sho oting and why? And I started talking to Carl Atavich the Apache Ind ian and Tony Grey who was the African American from Ne w York. Said, y ou know, actually and I felt safe talking to them about it. And they talk ed and they took me, they treated me with respect and took me seriously. And I felt safe talking to them and I di feel safe talking to any of the a lmost none of the white O: White guys. C: I just intuitively knew that there was something wrong there. That it was safe to talk to them, but not the others, because they would unders tand or they would respect my thoughts. O: Your thoughts, yeah.
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 5 C: A nd they did. O: C: Yeah, we start ed doing all kinds of stuff. My dad had bought r ent houses that were segregated in Albuquerque. I tried to desegregate them. We or ganized a F reedom R ide through s outheastern New Mexico which is, we call Little Texas. O: Now, when you say we, who is we? C: Pe ople I started associating with, a little socialist student organization We started, just, it was ten people. But O: On campus? C: Yeah, yeah. And started, we found out that the motels and restaurants in s outheastern New Mexico were segregated. I mean they had signs up like, no niggers or dogs, and pretty blatant shit. So, is it al l right i f I say shit? O: Oh, yeah C: [Laughter] Al l right. A nyway. S o we organized a Freedom R ide. I went to a local sporting goods store and they were, it was owned by three Jewish men and I told them what I wanted to do and they said, right on an d they gave me the tape recording and the wire and we wired ourselves with mikes down our sleeves and stuff A nd black and white men and women, we got in my car and we did a F reedom R ide through southeastern New Mexico, trying to get accommodations and re cording their responses. And then we took the tapes and played them for the state legislature and they
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 6 passed the first public accommodation s laws in the country against discrimination i n public places. O: Wow. C: [Laughter] As stupid and ignorant and nave as we were, we did do something. O: do you r emember what year, was that in  59 or ? C:  61 I think it was. O:  61, okay. C:  60,  61 right in there. O: So t his was really around the same time or maybe a little before the Freedom well before the C: It was before the Woolworth sit ins. O: Okay. A nd then it was before the Freedom R ides in the S outh? C: Uh huh, we had our own F reedom R ide I n a s fa r as I can O: These were local, from your group ? C: Oh yeah. Y eah. W e said, l And it was scary, man. W e got real close to getting in some very tight cracks. I mean, I you know bu t we ran into some heavy duty racism and organized O: So, so me of the business owner s must have been pre tty angry?
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 7 C: Oh yeah. Y ou know, all we were trying to do was walk in and get served. O: Right. So Alle and this is all a gain, your involvement with the socialist student organization? C: Yeah, the name of it now. It was Student S ocialist O rganizing C ommittee or, you know it was just real small. Thi s is early, early birds. [Laughter] I way early. O: So when did you first get in w hen did you first start hearing about things that were happen ing in the S outheast? C: O kay the Woolworth sit ins were happened remember exactly the time, because my head, my memory I got badly injured in  but I remember joini ng and helping to organize a sympathy demonstration in front of the head by a store owner downtown. [Laughter] Lady was the name of the store and she was a S outhern you know, a S outherner. And when we were demonstrating, she came up to me with her purse and bap, hit me over the head. [Laughter] it was just it was portended other things to come. O: So by that time your group had had some contact with had you been contac ted directly or were you just following the news? C: no, yeah, I think we were getting the feeds and we were saying, hey man you know ?
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 8 O: L C: Yeah, yeah. O: Okay so how did you end up coming all the way from New Mexico to Mississippi ? C: [Laughter] Okay I went in  62, I went in the Peace C orps in Venezuela. And then I came back from Venezuela. When I came back from Venezuela in  63, inste ad of flying home from Caracas, I flew into Washington, D C where an old friend of mine was that I had at that time a good buddy, who was going to law school. And we talked and I decided to stay around there because ther e was a lot of stuff going on I met Julius Ho bson, who was a fanta stic man. He was the leader, you know who he is? O: C: Julius Ho bson was one of my first mentors. Great man. Great man of great courage, political and moral courag e and imaginative and intellect ual i ntelligent, every, all of the goodies man, h e had them. I was in DuPont Circle a fter or e ven less and I was sitting around talking with some people about the Civil Rights B ill, j ust sitting on the grass. Cops came up and they just stood there and listened to us, and then after a while they grabbed us and started beating cops and we were talking about issues around racism. I mean, primiti ve
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 9 they centered on me, but they did. And make a long story short, I went to jail. I went to jail several times in D C. And I joined CORE. Somebody invited me to come to a CORE meeti Ho bson Ended up becoming the C hairman of the P olice B rutality C ommittee and doing a murder investigation in a jail, where they j ust absolutely beat a black man to death. And I got it to a grand jury and they refused and my consciousness got notched up really fast, cause I started getting surveil l ed by a F eds. It was the first federal surveillance I ever experienced and it was because I was investigating this murder of a cop. And there were like it, the political fall out from you know, they called me in privately and said, Alle n, you got a great case here y ou d one an excellent job, and you proved your point, but going to indict. And I said, w hy? And t hey said, b ecause there just too handle it politically. That was a boy that was a, oh I was pissed, man, I was pi [Laughter] Anyway, it was an old, an elderly black man, who was a painter, and they just they were just doing therapy on him and they overdid it and they murdered him. In his jail cell O: In jail? C: Yeah, i n the cell. And I mean h and they said,
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 10 ing cracker mentality works. whit I Germans, the Germans build w alls, man. Subdivide the mother fucker politically anything, anymore. Anyway. S o Bob Moses came up, Bob Paris And I met him through CORE and he lped him with doing hearings, Civil Rights hearings in Washington, D C., a nd I got to know him D uring that w ork, he said, Cooper, he said, go south. Go on down to SNCC, go down to the SNC C office in Atlanta: Eight and a Half Hunter Street in Atlanta, Geo rgia, and tell them I sent you. So I did. I hitchhiked down to the white South. Fuck. [Laughter] And I went there and I walked in and said, m Alle n Cooper, Bob Moses sent me from D C. And they just put me to wor k. And so I started working SNC C office in t see, JFK was murde red, while I was working the SNC C office. O:  63? C: Yeah. And then, t know if you ever heard about CNVA? Committee for Non Violent Action. In Quebec, Washington Guantanamo Walk for Peace, it was called, a nd it was an integrated walk for peace with Cuba So I joined it and went through S outhwes t Georgia and into Florida and N orthern Florida. We got jailed, and the shit kicked out of us, fingers broken and O: Ho w many people were on the march?
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 11 C: There was probably about twen ty five, thirty people. And we literally know, a place to stay the next night. And it was organized by Quakers. And it w as but it was a militant group of people, in cluding a lot of local people. Including African Americans from Georgia. And I made some really solid friends there. And one of them actually was murdered later by d to talk about thi s stuff, you know? a nd wen t to jail in Florida and Georgia O: Where were you in Florida? C: Well we went through, we went down the east coast of Florida, whatever that highway is. Down to Miami and then there was this long hiatus where they were trying to get permission to go across in a boat. And the court challenge wa s called United States of America versus Peace and Freedom. That was the name of [Laughter] I thou ght it was k ind of good. Anyway. So, I ended up I but I ended up in Mississippi, I was I asked SNCC, I said, you know, where do they need help? So I went I went to Indianola. I was sent to Indianola. I showed up and I started goi ng to work here. I was gett ing forty dollars a month from a support group in Albuquerque a nd I went to work with COFO, the Counci l of Federated Organizations. I think it was late  64. Now, now the dates are a little shaky, okay ? And I lived with the Tub bs, their children were here. Really neat people. I saw
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 12 lots of really neat people. And I worked here for, until I got hurt. I got hurt pretty bad so. O: When you first came here to Indianola, what kind of activities were you do ing? C: K nocking on doors. I teamed up right away with Otis and Otis and I started trucking together. And we did a lot of wild ass work [Laughter] I mean talking to people an d dodging cops and dodging the K lan and stuff. But I learned a lot here; I lear ned, found a community of really courageous people. People that stand out in my mind were Mr. and Mrs. Tubbs, Ollie Bowie Ollie Bo wie was fantastic. I just loved her, I just loved her! And a whole lot of other people that you know, that supported us and took care of us, looked out for us, fed us l et us sleep in their homes, which put them in danger of their lives. Just white people living in their homes. A nd one of the mo re dramatic moments for me was t wo that stand out big time, well two, but was when Otis and I got ambushed in Indianola, I think in Inverness. I told you about that, yeah, cause it affected my health for the rest of permanently mean negatively, but, I mean it altered my ability to remember things and st uff like that. I got a fractured skull and I lost the function in my kidney. O: So when you were that was when you were trying to do voter registration? C: Yeah, we were doing voter registration. I was doing a lot of fundraising. I was getting money into the project and the K lan found out about who was
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 13 bringing the money into the project. At least even remember who told me that. But I was bringing resources and cars and books. I was an EMT I am an EMT so I started kind of a little clinic, ause kids would come out of, off of plantations the slightest little scratch would become a giant ulcerated bleeding pus filled sore. And I would, all I was doing was cleaning them and bandaging them to end the infection. U sed a lot of cotton, a lot of alcohol. And four by four s practicing medicine without a license But after we did that, we did everyt hing, man. We tried, literacy classes door to do or knocking, just organizing for voter registration. In 1965, there was a 99 year old grandmother who lived in Inverness. Her name was Grandma Iser. I s e r. And we, Otis and I took on Inverness. We decided we were going to bust Inverness. We were going t o get the people over there to come down and register to vote, or try to. And nobody would go. Not one, w one. It was a small, small community very day and s years old, she was born a year after Abraham Lincoln was shot. And, one day when we walked, when we drove up and walked up and knocked on her porch, and she but still knock ing, treated her with a great deal of respect. And I had huge respect S he was just like Encyclopedia Britannica sitting there And she said,
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 14 ready to go down and register to vote [ Crying] The whole town, the w hole were going to try. They did. like much now, but boy, wh ew O: No, it is, what an amazing C: It was fucking breathtaking, man. It was so powerful. It was so s such an honor, the people courageous, teachers man here beating and then I lost my nerve after that. I was pissing blood and so I the M edical Committee for Human Rights took over my case and I was up in D C for a while. And then my bleeding stopped. But I was emotionally in pretty bad shape, so I ended up going back to Albuquerque eventually and went out to the West C oast and started organizing again with the Black Panth er Party in 66. From 66 to probably about  75, 66 to  73, I was o h by the way I learned about the M y Lai massacre in Mississippi. As I was reading these left wing newspapers, they would ship bundles of them down to us. T he Guardian. Gua rdian was a great paper, man. O: Okay out of London?
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 15 C: No, no, this was the Guardian the Marxist paper out of New York. Damn good paper, man. And I started reading about these massacres in Southeast Asia. I said, where the hell is Southeast Asia? I di know where. But I learned about what was going on in Vietnam while I was in Indianola Yep. And w hen I had to leave here, I just and I left in pretty lost my nerve. When you lose you You gotta be able to just get it on. You just get out there and you do the corner and, do it. A m kind of proud of is when the Black P ower movement came into swept into Mississippi I was the only white that they voted to keep The Sunflower County Improvement Association took a vote and I was voted to keep let s see, it was 22 to 1, 22 for and 1 abstention. [Laughter] O: So they voted individually on white members? Okay. Robert Moses was at the SNCC reunion in Raleigh, North Carolina, a couple of months ago C: A SNCC reunion? O: Yeah they had a C: Well god damn it! O: But i publicized because the group that was doing it was very small and it was kind of focused on North Carolina. C: Oh.
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 16 O: A nd it was focused on Ella Baker, people were trying to kind of come together and kind of honor her for t he role she played in C: Yeah, Yeah. Oh man, she was like pivotal O: d though that the publicity probably gotten out past like the S outh east It was for the Northeast. Because it seems C: Yeah, I mean happened. Or until it was like happening. Shit if I had known about it I would have come down, you know. O: Yeah, a lot of these are locally organized by people and have the resources, or whatever. C: Yeah O: Yeah I remember getting, I remember seeing an interview or reading an interview where he during Freedom S ummer he was asked to give a talk, and he men tioned during his talk, he brought up Vietnam W ar and he said something like, h ow in the world is the U S going to say fighting for democracy in S enforce democratic rules in it s own C: Oh yeah. The contradictions were just screaming by that time for me, you know. I mean, I started picking up a gu n, here, to defend people. And you peopl e from getting
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 17 burned, getting hurt, and getting killed. Because people, there were some oh, security was like all over the place at night, you know. All the houses that were vulnerable and everything that was vulnerable was being guarded at night. O: Wh o would guard it? C: We would. Oh, yeah, with whatever we had. If we had an old, you know, double barrel ed shotgun or a 22 or whatever. And the Klan would just, oh but fucking fear ba sed, chicken shit pigs. And un less they got you out numbered 10 to 1, and you go t nothing and they got all got arms or You shoot a windshield out Cause their co urage is a bully cour age, is a fear based courage with that. O: So people here locally had that idea though of self defense. C: quick, you know. I ca n tell you a lot of little, you know, in vignette stories, O: Oh yeah. C: Just a lot of stuff. Not Otis and I were, we were trying to crack Inverness up. He said, okay well, on the side of the road here. Right in the middle of the community. Oh man, that just drove them nuts. T hat lasted one
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 18 night. And we were putting it, we were tightening the screws you know. We had to get them to break ou t of their fear. And kind of outrageo us in a way, saying, h ey, mother fucker, open your doors and let us in. But we but I mean, we were saying that in e ffect. Because we knew that they had to step they had to carry themselves and they had to break through that fear, and they did after st died that first night. We we re hiding in a field. There was a s I recall, and it may not be, I may be garnishing the story but, as I recall it was an open sewer. And we were laying in that open sewer with our faces you know, there were there was the water it was before they had regular sewage and we were laying in the sewage. And the people were driving all aroun d Inverness looking for us. But th because it was full of shit. And they would do search lights across, but the hedgerow or not the hedgerows, but the banks the light, were lying flat down. And then when they left and went away, we crawled through some tarpaper shack, knocked on the back door and the old man, never seen him before in my life, he knew who we were and he knew wh at was going on. The whole fucking community knew what was going on. ll the lights were out in the black community and there was probably a lot of guns behind those doors. And he opened the door a crack and saw who we were. Opened the door and we c rawled in, just
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 19 stinking shit and went to sleep on the floor. Slept there that night. T hen of course, everything kind of changed in the daytime. There was this air of respectability. Invern ess, you should know, that was  63, [19 6 ] 4,  64,  6. Inve rness in 1959 lynched a black man, in daylight, broad daylight on the go ddamn main street of Indianola I mean, of Inverness Nazis, mean, and something else you should know I mean, maybe you already they were looking for, when they were looking for Chaney, S chwern er and Goodman, they found the bodies of six other, six black men, who had been tortured and killed. By acc ident they found them with grappling hooks. Just checking swamps, rivers, lakes, streams, whatever they they were, how they died, no investigation. The only one they investigated was Chaney, S c hwer ner and Good man because Schwern er and Good man were white. You already know all that shit. O: though. It means a lot more coming out C: Tell you another story I used to know the names of the people and ban a whole family disappeared. A whole goddamn family. Th ey had food on table. They had cars in the front. The y had neighbors and family, a nd the wh ole
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 20 family was involved in the M ovement. The whole goddamn family disappeared. N ever turned up again. Food was on the stove, Paul, on the goddamn stove. And the who l e goddamn family disappeared. [ Crying] know how many hundreds of thousands of people died, but there was a lot of people, man. People disappeared. I heard story after story. Who, what happened to so and so? they were just gone. O: Right. It would make sense with all of that happening, that people would start to think about defending themselves and C: O h, it wo uld be a crime not to. You know? To defend yourself from attack, from your family being attacked. Course you have the right to do that. I violent and you choose not to, I totally respect that. Non violence is the moral superior and all t the goddamn nitty e ked about them all my life. But when absolutely, absolutely. a conservative position. T ha a radical position not to me. Now, this city, six and I went on a sweat
MFP 028; Cooper; Page 21 lodge road after I went to Wounded Knee in  73. And so kind I? O: Oh no. A t hanks so much Allen for taking the time out and m ake sure I have the correct everything. C: You bet. [End of interview] Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski July 17, 2013 an d September 13, 2013