Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search This Transcript

Amber Duke: This is Amber Duke, interviewing Thomas Pearce on Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at the Carl Braden Memorial Center on Broadway [Louisville, KY]. Thomas thank you for joining me today.

Thomas Pearce: You're welcome.

AD: Just so that we have it on the recording, I just want to note that I did give you a consent form and you did sign it.

TP: I did.

AD: Great. To start out, can you say and spell your name for me?

TP: Thomas Pearce. T-h-o-m-a-s P-e-a-r-c-e.

AD: Alright, can you tell me when and where you were born?

TP: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky on March 9, 1961.

AD: Has your family always been in Louisville?

TP: Since then? Or before then?

AD: Uh huh.

TP: My mother's family was in Louisville. They originally came from Sebree, 1:00Kentucky in Western Kentucky, far Western Kentucky. My father's family was from North Carolina. I guess for a couple hundred years.

AD: Ok. Can you describe your educational background?

TP: I have a BA from the University of Louisville.

AD: In which area? Or areas?

TP: I have a major in theater and a minor in political science. Then of course as an organizer I've gone through years and years of training that you don't get degrees for. I actually now lecture at universities from time to time and stuff like that.

AD: Do you want to talk about what you do professionally right now?

TP: I am a community organizer for the Sierra Club-the Western Kentucky region 2:00of the Sierra Club. I work to combat the economic and environmental effects of the coal industry on the state of Kentucky.

AD: How would you describe your racial and ethnic background?

TP: I'm American Indian and Irish.

AD: How did you first learn about race and racism?

TP: Whew! Ok, so my parents were progressives from years and years ago. Even in the early early [19]60's my parents were ministers, and they were both missionaries at an Indian mission in New Mexico. They were idealist visionaries. 3:00That's the background of what I was born in to.

I became really aware of race and racism, my parents decided to move us to Columbus, Georgia in the very late [19]60's. My parents were de-segregationists. They were ministers, but back then you were a minister and an organizer. So my father took a pastorship at Waldrop Memorial Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia. We came down from Louisville to Waldrop.

The first month he was the pastor there, he invited a minister from the largest African American church in Columbus to do a pastor swap. To understand the 4:00magnitude of that situation was that Earl Davis, who was the administrative assistant to the famous racist Lester Maddox was on the Deacon's [Board]. Melvin Hargett, I think he was the owner of Thrifty Foods, they sold a lot of canned vegetables and stuff like that. He was also a staunch segregationist were on the Deacon's [Board]. At the ripe old age of ten, I was immersed into a world that I never really knew--you know you are nine, ten years old. You don't really understand what's going on. I know the Deacons were mad. That was the first 5:00thing he did when he got to Columbus. It was like my dad has sort of bit off the situation immediately. I don't know what my dad expected. I know that, he just passed away in August, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, thank God, did an article about how my dad marched with Martin Luther King, you know about the situation. I have a hard time talking about this sometimes because I get a little choked up because it was a very, very violent time to be a young man in South Georgia. I know if it was hard for me, it must have been 20,000 times harder for an African American. I am American Indian, but as far as Columbus goes, I enjoyed white skin privilege.

They [the Deacons] began a campaign to get rid of my dad from the very 6:00beginning. So I became really, really aware of race very quickly at the bus stop because back then children became politicized at a very young age. If your dad was the de-segregationist minister and you were heading to the bus stop, it became the running the gauntlet to get to school every day. So for five years I was a target of brutal violence every day of my life-on the way to school, after school. I couldn't go out and play without [drops thought]. I think I would have been safer had my parents chose to live in an African American neighborhood. I 7:00think we would have been much safer. In fact, the only (laughs) kids that liked me and didn't bother me in school were the African American kids. It was brutal. I could go into more detail if you wanted me to; it was very brutal. I live with the emotional scars of that situation to this day [begins to cry, pauses]. It's something that I don't talk about often, but I figured if you asked I would talk about it in your interview. I was tortured-literally tortured in and around the age of 13. It never got better. It never got better.

Oftentimes I would leave the house in the afternoon, look both ways to see where 8:00the other kids in the neighborhood were and I would--there were some woods at the end of the street and I would head for the woods and hope nobody saw me. On occasions, a lot of occasions, they would catch me, and then when they did they would do just horrible things-just horrible things. [Pauses] Do you want me to move on?

AD: I'm wondering--so your parents came back?

TP: No, we didn't come back here.

AD: Were your parents aware of the intensity of the things that you were facing?

TP: You know in 1970, I guess we're getting into the [19]70's. We didn't have the Internet. Maury Povich wasn't going to come down and do an interview in 9:00Columbus, Georgia. Nobody cared. This is actually a really great story if I can give you my whole odyssey with Columbus. It continues.

There was one kid who was like the ring leader; he's in jail right now for beating somebody half to death. I've followed--I've gone back. I mean you know if you are raped you keep track of where your rapist is you know. So over the years, I've sort of kept tabs on what's going on with this guy. This one kid, his name was Tommy George, and he was the state junior champion black belt in the state of Georgia. He had arms as I remember it, the size of most people's legs. He was just the biggest redneck you've ever seen in your life. I hated him 10:00for years. I started coming home--these were not school yard beatings; these were really, really brutal attacks. To the point where four people would hold me down and he would just [drops thought]. I would come home with my eyes shut and my mouth bleeding. My father also, it's rather interesting, was a Southern man and his son wasn't going to get beat up. So my father used to punish me for getting beat up. I think at first he figured these are school yard fights and you are just going to have to toughen up and live with it.

My mom finally figured out--I came home one day, and my eye was like, I absolutely could not open it. My mom decided to go to the school, to the high 11:00school, and confront the principal about doing something about this guy Tommy George. We went to the school and the Coach, the principal there was called Coach Bunton-he was a famous football coach at the high school. Back then you had corporal punishment in schools then still. He was famous for throwing an African American student out of the third story window of his office when he was angry. I'm not joking! You can go back and--it is like something out of a movie--like Mississippi Burning it's crazy. I remember there used to be annual riots between the white students and the black students when they started making everybody watch the Martin Luther King movie every year. They would bring us all into a gymnasium and the white students would all march to the football 12:00field to protest, and the black students would all go out there and meet them to protest the white students, and the police wouldn't show. Nobody was going to do anything and it was insanity-absolute insanity.

Anyway, my mom goes to the school and she confronts the principal and the principal, we get there, and I'm like, "Mom, I don't want to do this." She says, "Why." I said, "Mom, this guy that you are about to make this complaint to is like part of the problem. He's just this" I'm not going to use the expletives, "he's just a racist punk." We get in to that office. We walk in; we close the door. Tommy George is sitting in the room and he [the principal] goes, "I figured he had a right to confront his accuser." I was just like, "Mom, let's go. Let's go. You do not know what's going to happen to me as a result of this. 13:00It's going to end up worse not better." At that time our situation wasn't high profile enough to warrant the Justice Department. This was a minister trying to bring a new way of looking at things to a wealthy, white church that doesn't want anything to do with it.

If you look up Lester Maddox--have you ever heard of Lester Maddox? [AD shakes head no]. Lester Maddox was--in Georgia back then you ran for governor and whoever came in second place--the runner up always became the lieutenant governor. So when Jimmy Carter was governor, Lester Maddox ran against Jimmy Carter for governor. Jimmy won, and so Lester, who basically did TV ads saying we're going to take Georgia back to the good ole days, and was famous for having 14:00a restaurant outside of Atlanta where he would be seen with an ax handle standing outside of his restaurant. Inside the restaurant in the winter, there are pictures out there and you can go on the Internet and see them, white customers sitting inside the restaurant in the middle of winter, and there were stools on the outside of the restaurant where African Americans were sitting on the stools. The chairman of the Deacons was his legislative aide; if you can picture that. Here's my dad trying to bring desegregation to this congregation and so anyway, it was pretty much awful.

I think one of two times my dad caught kids in the process of chasing me and he would come out and get involved. But for the most part I just had to [drops 15:00thought]. I can tell you this, I left Columbus, Georgia knowing how to fight and I left Columbus, Georgia knowing that I was going to be involved in this, what we're about to talk about, for the rest of my life. They created in me somebody that was just going to be continually working for social justice for the rest of my life. What they did to me--one beating in particular [drops thought].

When I was 12, I fell off a car going 55mph and landed on my head. You can see the scar right here [gestures toward head]. Four months after that I was on pain killers. It was a brutal injury. I lost five layers of skin on both my forearms. What does that have to do with this? I was on pain killers and one night Tommy 16:00George got my best friend Mike Dehner and threatened to beat the hell out of him if he didn't trick me into going camping. That night I thought I was going out to the woods with my best friend and we were going to go camping like kids, overnight in the woods. I get out to those woods and there's Tommy George, Mark Sergeant, Allen Coker--.his little gang of thugs. I get out there. I don't know if you can imagine--this is going to be--and this is after the incident with my mom going up to the school.

I think I was 13. I'd just taken my painkillers, and they had a lot of whiskey. 17:00The first thing that they did was make me drink a full bottle of whiskey, a fifth of whiskey. They said, "Here boy! Take a drink boy!" I'm like, "No, that's ok." [They said,] "Aw come on Pearce! Drink some. Drink some whiskey." I said, "No, I'm fine guys. I'm fine." Of course he backhanded me and said, "I SAID drink some whiskey." [I said,] "Well if you insist." I'm probably crying at this point, realizing that I've been lead like a lamb to the slaughter. My best friend Mike Dehner, he's crying. He is scared to death. All these kids were like three times our size, it seemed like in your head. I started to swig the whiskey 18:00and he walks up and grabs the bottle and holds it up and says, "Here Sergeant, grab him." They basically forced me to drink an entire fifth of whiskey at the age of 13, forced me to drink an entire fifth of whiskey. I'm already taking pain killers from this injury I told you about. I'm not even healed. To give you an idea of how brutal this was. My face was like, half my face got ripped off and they're children I guess, but brutal.

[Pauses] So they force me to take my clothes off. I started throwing up. The liquor, to be honest, half of it ran down my chin. I think I'd be dead if I'd 19:00drank that much whiskey. If you can picture that, they're pouring it down your throat. Then they had beer. It was like, here have a beer. They were really going to hurt me. They forced me to take all my clothes off; they put me in a circle and they just started beaten the living crap out of me. In Georgia there are a lot of pine trees. There were these pine cones that were this long [gestures length of 3-4 inches with hands] and were really, really hard--feel like they're rocks. They are sharp, really sharp edges. They started just throwing these pine cones at me while I'm naked. It was really brutal. They also did some other things with the pine cones that I won't say on tape. It was a 20:00sexual assault. It was a violent assault. It was a hate crime that's for sure.

I just started getting worse and worse and finally I just decided to make a run for it, naked in the middle of the night, through the woods. They were all chasing me down toward a place called Flat Rock. We called it Little Sliding Rock because there's a place in North Carolina a lot of kids in the south like to go to, it's a long sliding rock that goes down to some falls, and all of us kids had been there at some point. We called it Little Sliding Rock because it was a stream you could slide down into like a pool. I ran and I was running towards that pool. When we got to that pool, they knocked me in the water [pauses] and every time I tried to get out of the water Tommy would just smash 21:00me. Like I said, junior black belt--when this kid hit you it was a brutal blow. In this watering hole, we'd always see water moccasins, so I was scared to death! We'd caught water moccasins out in those woods and they were around that creek all the time. So my mind is just--I'm just scared to death.

Every time I tried to get out of that water he'd be like, 'Get back down boy!" and he'd just knock the crap out of me. I tried to get out on the other side, but the kids surrounded it. It was like a little pool. Maybe a little bit smaller than this room. So every time I tried to climb out, they'd throw me back 22:00in the water. I'm on the verge of drowning. I'm so drunk, and beat up I'm on the verge of drowning. Finally, I just collapsed. Then they were like, "Alright boys, that's enough. He's had enough." Then they all urinated on me.

I figured if you'd ask I was going to tell this story. I've never really told this story in any kind of recording. I want people to know what my parents did and what we did [crying] because it's important. It was important what my parents did and why we did it. Today I understand. It took me a long time to understand. So you were about to ask me something?

AD: I was going to say [stammers] it's unbelievable what you survived. To come 23:00out of that with the determination to say, "I want to be involved with social justice work. That's what I want to do." What was the first action that you took out of that?

TP: Ok. Let me round out that story because it kind of has a happy ending. The story does. When I was 14, 15--14, during the middle of the night tornadoes were ripping across Georgia on a Wednesday night. You know Baptist always have Wednesday night supper. The Deacons of the Church can call an emergency business meeting. This was probably the best night of my life. My dad wasn't real happy. Nobody showed up to the meeting. The racist Deacons called an emergency meeting 24:00in the middle of this tornado; they called an emergency meeting of the chairmen of the Deacons. I'd had, had enough of South Georgia. They voted my dad out of the church that night. Then my dad got the Associate Pastorship of a progressive Baptist Church in Atlanta where Jimmy Carter went to church while he was governor. My life--I went to a youth performing arts school; it was just like night and day; it was just like night and day. We moved to Atlanta.

The day that we left the church, the one they kicked my dad out of. I stood in the middle of church and cussed them. I yelled. Earl Davis came up and said, 'It was nice to meet you." I just said, "F you, you piece of racist garbage." I was 25:00just like, "I hate all you people. I finally get to say it out loud in the middle of church." I just burst out. I think that was probably my first political act. I just said, "You bunch of bastards. Just go to hell." I said a little bit more than that. Then my dad came and grabbed me and said, "We don't talk that way in church." They dragged me out. That was my goodbye to Columbus.

The coolest part of that story is that facebook. Two years ago, I'm sitting around and in the middle of the night, I get a friend request from Michael Dehner. If you go to my facebook page, I've got an album from last year. I went to Columbus and spent the week with Mike. We went to Flat Rock and he showed me how it's now the back of a Walmart parking lot. I pulled down the street that he 26:00lived in; it was our neighborhood. African American kids were playing in the front yard of the house next door to his. [Crying]. We did something you know. Muscogee County is now 52% African American. The Muscogee County sheriff is African American. The balance of power in the Columbus City Commission is either 50/50 or right at that. African Americans have power in Columbus, Georgia. They have the power in Columbus, Georgia. The racist white folks moved to outlying counties. You know, like in Louisville, it would be like moving out to Shelbyville and all these other places.


Mike hugged me. You should go to my page. In fact if you use any pictures for a website, you should use those pictures of me and him standing in front of that. It's on my facebook page. We saw each other, we just started crying you know and holding each other. He just said, "Man I am so sorry. I am so sorry for what we did to you." I said, "Mike, you didn't do it. You didn't do it. You didn't it anymore than I did. You were scared to death. I never blamed you Mike." It was a really beautiful moment between two men. Now we're best friends again, 32 years later. The last time I saw him, he'd come to Atlanta to visit me when I was 28:00around 17. He came to Atlanta and visited me there. That was the last time that I'd seen him. It had been like 33 years.

He said, "What do you want to do today." I said, "Well I was thinking I wanted to visit all these places where I got brutalized." He said, "Is that really how you want to spend your day?" I said, "I want to know, where's Mark Sergeant?" You know, one of the kids. He said, "If you really want to go over and see him we can go to his house." We went over and sat in front of it and, you don't know this about me, but I can take care of myself today (laughs). I've been through quite a few battles. I was sitting there--in my vision I was going to go back to Columbus and I was going to find these guys (laughs) I'm a 50 year old man. I was going to find these people and confront them. He [Mike] said, "Mark Sergeant is a pathetic human being." I said, "Really? Tell me about him." We're sitting 29:00in front of his house talking. He told me he just got out of state prison for stealing his own father's construction equipment from his dad's construction company. He's been addicted to methamphetamine. He's married to an Elvis impersonator's daughter. He's like something out of--list out every stereotype. [Mike said,] "He's a pathetic human being Tom and he's lived a life of misery. All of those guys are the most pathetic people in this community now." I said, "You know what I want to do. You know Pine Mountain in Warm Springs where Roosevelt did his treatments." When we were kids we used to go with our parents up to Pine Mountain on Sundays. It's the only mountain in all of South Georgia. [I said,] "Let's go up to Pine Mountain and look at what's beautiful in South 30:00Georgia." So we drove to Pine Mountain, visited Warm Springs and we had a good ole' time. That night he invited a couple of the other kids whose parents weren't racist over to his house, and we all play guitar. So we all sat and played guitar until three in the morning and now we're best friends.

AD: You said this reunion was just a couple of years ago?

TP: Yeah, this was just last year. Well I'm thinking it was May [20]09. May or June of [20]09. It was probably the most healing moment of my life--one of the most healing moments of my life.

My first overt political activity, besides yelling in the church [drops 31:00thought]. When we moved to Atlanta in 1979, well we moved to Atlanta in [19]75, but in [19]79 the police used to use random searches to try to keep African American kids from hanging out in parks that were in predominately white neighborhoods. There's a park called Chastain Park in Atlanta. The police were going around using random road blocks and things like that to try to get kids on any kind of minor infraction they could. They were doing that to keep African American kids out of the park. I woke up one morning and decided that I would put posters all over the park saying, "Are you mad about illegal search and 32:00seizure?" I put my parent's phone number on it. At this point my dad and mom had split. My grandparents were in Atlanta helping my mom out with my brother and sister and I guess me, but I was a pretty wild kid at this point. I was probably the wildest kid. I did become a problem kid after all that stuff. I became a problem kid. It's amazing that I'm alive. I would do things like go and put posters up all over Chastain Park with my mom's phone number on it (laughs).

48 hours later my grandmother, who is from Louisville and had come down to Georgia to be with my mom, is sitting in the Fulton County jail. The police are telling her they have no record of me being in the jail. The police had arrested me for an antiquated law that said you could not climb or lie on any city structure. It's really good that this was my first political activity because I 33:00had my first victory as well. It said you cannot climb or lie on any city structure, and there was this rock I used to sit on in the park. It said within the law that this rock was a city structure. When the police came up to me, they had horseback, like 20 of them converged on me. I'll admit; I was sitting there smoking some weed (laughs). They didn't catch me with it. That's what I thought this was about. They converged on me and they had the ordinance in their hand when they came. I said, "What am I being arrested for?" They're like, "Boy don't you know it's illegal to climb on any city structure, including a rock." I'm like, "What?!" and then he showed it to me, and I said, "That's absurd." He said, "Yep! You are going to jail." So they took me down to jail for what would have normally been a release on your own recognizance. They didn't have computers back then, and they lost my paperwork. Which I'm sure happens to 34:00African Americans and other people all the time, and that's what happened to me. So my poor grandmother--I think she's like 80, no she's like 75--.she's sitting down in the Atlanta jail. My mother is out of town looking for a new house in Louisville because we're about to move back to Louisville. My poor grandmother is sitting in that jail, "I know my grandson is in here. He called me, and I know he's in here." She sat in that jail until they finally let me out.

That was my first political activity. It went to court. My lawyer went to court and called the police up, and luckily my parents 'cause they were activists, knew a lawyer that actually made a case of it. They went to court and the policemen were asked for an account of why they arrested me for climbing on a rock, in a park (laughs). The police said if we have to arrest people sitting on 35:00rocks to clean up these parks, then that's what we'll do. I'll never forget the judge said, "Well, sir the parks are for people, not policeman." The cops that had sort of led this whole thing were demoted from their horse duty. They were--and I don't know if this was a good thing--they were redeployed in a working class African American neighborhood on the other side of town. I know they were really angry about it. I feel for the people whoever--anyway, that's what's ended up happening with that. That was my first overt political activity.

AD: Wow (laughs) That's quite a [drops thought]. Moving forward a little bit when and how did you first hear about the Kentucky Alliance?

TP: Ok. [Loud paper shuffling] As I told you, my mom right when that happened 36:00was getting ready to move back to Louisville. I didn't want to come here. I'll be honest. I liked Atlanta quite a bit. It was a fun place to be a kid. I started missing my mom, so she came back and then I came up here and decided I was going to go to the University of Louisville.

AD: Can I stop you? The mic is picking up the paper--

TP: The shaking?

AD: Just the--

TP: Oh! I'm sorry! Did I just start doing that?

AD: Yeah, when you just started. It's fine.

TP: Oh, I hope I didn't ruin everything.

AD: No, you're good.

TP: I went to the University of Louisville. The first year I was there I didn't like it. I ended up going down to EKU [Eastern Kentucky University] and then I came back. When I came back, I think it was like [19]83 there was a radical student group at the University of Louisville called the Progressive Student 37:00League (PSL) that had been formed. The main reason for their forming was to get the University of Louisville to divest from South Africa. I think at that time people like Carla Wallace, cause we were all kids, Deborah Romero and Dave Anderson--do you know Dave?

AD: Um hmm--

TP: David Anderson, Kurt Metzmeier, Me. Reginald Meeks was already an up and comer, but he was supportive of what we were doing. There was the Black Student Association--for me it was a magical time to be a college student. We had a real movement going on which culminated in the taking over of the University information building for 24 hours. We subsequently won that. I have the 38:00plaque--the Alliance gave the PSL an award (laughs)--that was one of the biggest moments of my life. I gotta say that plaque isn't mine, its Dave and Carla and all the students who fought for that. I happened to be the chair of the PSL whenever they gave the award. I feel like I should donate it back to the Alliance. I've been thinking about it lately. I've got like six awards from the Alliance, and I feel like I should donate them all back to the Alliance. Eventually I'm going to pass away. They should be sitting on a wall where other people can know about things that happened. We won that, so in 1986 the Kentucky Alliance gave us that award.

The Alliance was working with the students and supporting us from right early on. That's when I first came in contact with Anne who I thought was God on 39:00roller skates, and Mattie Jones. The two of them were a huge part of my development into what I am now. I knew I wanted to be an organizer. I knew I was going to be an organizer. I just didn't know when and how and what. I think that campaign really. I like to win. I haven't been involved in many campaigns that we've lost.

The other big event that cemented my relationship with the Alliance was in January 1987. Hosea William had a protest in Forsyth County Georgia where they still had a sign up at the police station that said if you're black you better be out of town by dark. They had about 100 people protesting in Forsyth County 40:00Georgia. This was a big deal for me going back to Georgia. I remember Mattie Jones called us students and said we're organizing to go down to Forsyth County, Georgia and I'm like been there done that. I'm like, "For what?" They said well the Ku Klux Klan just beat up Hosea William in Forsyth, and I said, "Let's go!" I started recruiting students to go on the bus to go down there.

20,000 people marched on that little town. At first when we were going down there I was a little--you know my memory of Georgia is powerlessness and despair. We are riding down the interstate on that bus and seeing Klansmen with rebel flags on the overpasses with rifles as we're coming in. Once we got into 41:00the town and realized we were triple the size of the entire Forsyth County population. We're like we're not powerless, we could take this whole place over. They had to bring in so many Georgia state police in and deputize them to line the march, and the Klan still got away with throwing rocks at people and the police not doing anything. I remember as we were driving down the interstate coming in to Forsyth, this car pulled up next to the bus and this guy hung a gun out the window and Mattie went in her purse and she pulled something out, and I ain't gonna say what it was. She looked at me and said, "Don't worry honey, we gonna take care of ya." I thought she was all that. I thought this is cool. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. That really kind of cemented, this 42:00is what I want to do with the rest of my life.

AD: Eventually you became a paid organizer with the Alliance. About what year did that happen?

TP: [19]91. Right after I got out of college, couldn't find work. I wanted to find work as an organizer. I started driving a taxi cab. I was coming to board meetings of the Alliance on a regular basis. I was very involved still. I was still doing student organizing, helping the new wave of students, trying to do leadership development with them. Anne Braden--well someone from the Board called me--I'm sure it was Anne like Anne said, "Call Tom Pearce." They brought me in and they said that we've decided we are going to pick a new community coordinator for the Kentucky Alliance and we've decided to invite you to be the 43:00coordinator. For me, that was such a big deal. If I'd gotten a job making a real salary with one of these nonprofits that really weren't really cutting edge that would have been nice. But coming to work for Anne, coming to work for the Alliance, coming to work for Mattie--that was just my dream come true.

I got up every morning and it was like, 'I want you to help Louis Coleman. We're trying to force the construction company that's building the new Brandeis School on 28th. We're going to try to force them to hire people from the neighborhood that are unemployed." Me and Louis got up every morning at the crack of dawn, we're out there. Those construction workers are coming on the site to work and we're just--it was just me and Louis. It started out just me and Louis, just handing out flyers to people in the neighborhood. It started--I thought man this 44:00is boring. Slowly, but surely it started building. Then there were three of us, then four of us and Tom Moffett was out there to, and more Alliance folks. We ended up getting them to open an employment office to take applications from people to come to work. That was one of the biggest projects we worked on then.

Fran was angry at drugstores that kept the African American cosmetic products behind the counter and wanted us to work on that a little bit. I don't think we changed that policy. We continued to support the student movement at UofL. I think one of the reasons why I was hired was because I had a great relationship with them. At that point the PSL and more radical students from the BSA [Black Student Association] had formed what was then called SCAR--Student Coalition 45:00Against Racism. That was Kenneth Bryant from Lexington. I wish I could find him. I haven't been able to find him to save my life. That's somebody I want to reconnect with. He was a student from Lexington. He was sharp. We had started working on [pauses] hang on I want to get the whole sequence right. We started working on saving Ibrahim Imam's job. I wasn't a student then, but my wife, well she was my girlfriend at that point. My wife, Christine Jones, who is probably someone else you should interview at some point. She's an organizer. We're good buddies. We're about to split up, but we're still buddies. She was the chair of 46:00the PSL at that point. I was sort of helping them. They were working for Ibrahim--do you know Ibrahim?

AD: No.

TP: Oh. He is on the board of the Alliance. He was being denied tenure because he was Palestinian. So we started this huge movement around no, hell no, you are not going to deny this man tenure. He was on track for tenure; he'd done everything that he was supposed to do and they were going to deny him. I think it was a very important moment when Christine and Kenneth and a group of White, Black and Middle Eastern students sat down in the middle of a board meeting of the trustees and said we're willing to get arrested if you're not going to give this man tenure. Ibrahim has tenure today. That was huge. To me, that is what 47:00organizing is all about. It's not just about big lofty things; it's about winning for the individual that has been harmed. From my story, that's a big deal for me. So that was a big deal that we won Ibrahim's struggle.

The other thing that was going on when I started working for the Alliance was the Gulf War. My wife, the radicals decided we were going to disrupt the Kentucky Derby parade because Norman Schwarzkopf was going to be in the Derby parade. I'm trying to remember the woman's name who got arrested with Christine. Anyway, I was on an overpass over Broadway and I had a box full of pink flyers that basically said Stormin' Norman was a Nazi and all this stuff. I was dumping the flyers off the overpass onto the soldiers. I don't think you could get away 48:00with this after September 11th, but (laughs) back then you could still do stuff like this. So I'm on the overpass and Christine and some others are in the grandstands of the parade, when Schwarzkopf came by she was booing and chanting, "Go home!" and all this stuff. A policeman arrested her for booing. That went all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court. I'm not joking. She ended up losing because the policeman changed his story at the last minute in front of the Supreme Court and said that the reason he'd arrested her, it had nothing to do with her speech, it was because she was standing in a restricted area. Up until that point it had actually been overturned in her favor, but then it went to the Supreme Court and the cop changed his story. That was another thing the Alliance was supporting folks on repression around the war. So I thought I should mention that.

That was my tenure with the Alliance. Of course, like any young coordinator with 49:00the Kentucky Alliance they want to get somebody else new in and they want you to serve on the board for the rest of your life. (Laughs) so I shifted, it was either late [19]92 or [19]93, I shifted to--you know around here you never really know when you shifted from coordinator to board member (laughs). I don't know if you've heard that from other people. It ended up you were a board member. Anne had this way of, she'd get at least 30 hours of week out of every board member to. So yeah, I became a board member. You want me to go on?

AD: Go ahead.

TP: I became a board member. I was rather passionate. Rewinding a little bit, in 50:001988, a group of grave almost every state in the United States in 1987 it was a misdemeanor to rob Indian graves in the United States. Over a period of time in the early [19]80's as I become an activist, I become more and more aware of my Indian heritage. I wanted to know more about that. There is no Native American neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. There's no Native American neighborhood in Columbus, Georgia. As I started in the social justice movement, I started to meet other American Indians. That became another trajectory of my 51:00life. When the Alliance made me a board member they said I would be the representative from the Native American community (laughs).

AD: Oh wow! (Laughs)

TP: (Laughs) Yeah. Well, why not? In 1988 we started this movement in Uniontown, Kentucky. 1,500 Native American graves in Uniontown, KY got dug up by grave robbers. That was in National Geographic. So the American Indian movement [gestures to American Indian movement t-shirt he's wearing] we started a big movement to raise awareness about that across the country, and to get it made a felony in Kentucky to rob Indian graves. So that was my first lobbying experience and we were successful in getting Kentucky to be the first state in the United States to make it a felony to rob Indian graves. The 1,500 remains was such a stark--the pictures in National Geographic, I think it's the May 52:00issue of 1988 of National Geographic. They are pictures of skeletal remains all over the ground and these guys digging up our people and just dumping them out on the ground. I got very involved with that.

During that time Dennis Banks the founder of the American Indian movement came to Kentucky and had an organizing meeting at a martial arts studio across the street from my apartment. He called me on the phone and he said, "Is this Tom 53:00Pearce?" It's kind of like being called by Malcolm X. This guy had just had a huge documentary done on him. He is like 80 something. To me it was just like getting a phone call from Malcolm X. He was a fugitive from the American government for 15 years within its borders. He's one of the few that lived to tell about it. He was the leader of the Wounded Knee Uprising in [19]73. I pick up the phone and he's like, "Is this Tom Pearce?" and I say "Yes." [He says,] "Tom Pearce, I understand you are American Indian." At this point I'm like, [stammers] I'm like a punk rocker with a Mohawk, just a radical, wild kid. And he said, "We need you. Your people need you." I didn't even know I had a people (laughs). I'm joking I did know. In my family, my uncle was kind of the person, 54:00my Uncle Phil in my mom's family, was the person that kept that heritage alive for us. [Returning to phone conversation] "What do you want me to do?" "There's going to be a meeting tonight at 15-something Bardstown Road at this martial arts studio." I'm looking out my window and he asked, "Do you know where that is?" I'm like, "Yeah. I know where it is." I don't really have many excuses not to come to this meeting. It was scary. It was really weird.

I go to this meeting and walked in and he looked right at me. It was almost like he could tell who I was, he said, "Are you Tom Pearce?" (Laughs). "That's good. That's good. You are a strong warrior." They had this big meeting and most of the people that were there were not Indian, just well wishers and supporters. 55:00Who is going to lead this thing? Who is going to be accountable for the money? People all got together, and the Indian women were talking to Dennis and he said, "Tom Pearce, come over here. We want you to be the Executive Director of the Kentuckiana Native American support group. It's going to be the reburial committee. We need a bank account. From what I understand you have a history of organizing from the student movement. People trust you. You are well respected in the Indian community."

The next thing I know, I'm on this 10 year odyssey which ended up taking me to every state in the lower 48. Simultaneously as I was beginning to work for the 56:00Alliance, I was became an organizer for the American Indian movement and the Kentuckiana Native American support group. As I became a board member of the Alliance, sorry I'd left some stuff out--

AD: No, go ahead.

TP: [Several false starts] Don't get me wrong. I was obviously committed to fighting racism against all people. At that point, I really did want my community to be--all of a sudden I did realize that I had a community, it was small. We did deserve to be represented in the civil rights community, and by God I was going to do that. So I did it well. So I was Executive Director of the Kentuckiana Native American support group from 1988-2003. During that time we 57:00did some great work. It wasn't all about reburial--it was about treaty rights, it was about hate crimes in Lawrence, Kansas where 20 Indians were it by hit and run [drivers] and killed. I was sent into Lawrence, Kansas to organize. There is an Indian junior college there Haskell Indian Junior College where any Indian can go to school for free. It turned out when they figured out who did it was the son of a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after he hit one of the Indians, he stupidly said on the CB radio, "I just hit me an Indian." He was charged with the same offense as if he'd left the scene of hitting a dog. This is in the [19]90's. I was sent to Lawrence, Kansas to organize. We brought 200 Indians, 58:00militant Indians from all over the country to Lawrence, Kansas and organized around that and tried to get the charges increased.

I was doing stuff like that. I was taking my community organizing skills and going into White Earth, Minnesota and organizing a takeover of the tribal government. Really things went into high gear for me. I really hit my stride as an organizer. I was in White Earth, Minnesota which is the home of most of the Anishinabe people that I know. It was a big deal because it's like going back to 59:00the motherland. We're raising money and supplies in Louisville for a takeover of the government building in White Earth. We're taking these supplies up there in the middle of the night and dropping them off. The warriors have taken over the tribal government building. We'd make it in, make our drop and get pulled over by the police on our way out and searched. It was like, "You missed it." It was an exciting time that we were doing that.

Chip Wadena was the head of tribal government, and he'd made a deal with the white community, with a white casino operator-White Earth was just getting their first casino. He made a deal basically where the tribe borrowed the money for 60:00the casino at such a high rate, that they would never be able to pay it back. We proved that he'd done voter fraud, intimidation-people were killed. For four years--it was called Camp Justice...for two years--if you can imagine doing an occupation of a government building in winter in Minnesota it's a pretty tall order. To the point that the guys dragged an old trailer out in front of the tribal government building, like we're here to stay, and basically pulled a trailer like a mobile home into the tribal government yard and were bunkered down. I began learning how to organize in rural communities.

I think through my skills of learning to organize through Anne and Dennis and 61:00Vernon Bellecourt who was probably the biggest influence in my life at that point. I really feel blessed because it's like having the three greatest--between Anne, Mattie, Dennis, Louis, Vernon Bellecourt, I had Einstein. You know what I mean? I just feel really blessed. I can pretty much feel comfortable knowing how to go into a community and step back and letting the people lead. It was what Anne focused on a lot. She used to talk about, "I'm not the organizer. Carl was the organizer." I was like, "Yes you are Anne." She 62:00was always putting other people forward, and making it be about empowering the directly affected people.

As I became an organizer over the years, and as a board member of the Alliance I have coined my own philosophy of organizer that's sort of adds to [drops thought]. People ask me what is community organizing? I have one sentence, you can put it on my gravestone. It's building politically conscious power in directly affected communities. It shouldn't be any more complicated than that. It kind of takes a little bit of what I've learned from each person. "It's about building power!" No, cause you can go and build power temporarily, but if the organizers are from out of town and they leave town, then you haven't built any 63:00real power. "It's about building community power." Ok, but if they're not politically conscious what kind of power have you built? You've built a powerbase that can go either way. If you build politically conscious power in directly affected communities you build something that will last the test of time.

As I developed my organizing, I'm really pretty happy that almost every organization I've been a party to--being like there at the birth of a new community organization--there's only a couple--and at this point I could go on and on and on about all the different organizing things that me and Christine, 64:00we were kind of a team. For 23 years we traveled all over the country. She's just a good an organizer in her own right. We both went to Florida, ACORN in Florida for five years, registered 20,000 voters, built the first multiracial coalition of folks working for immigrant rights in Palm Beach County, Florida. 40 organizations Haitians, Mexicans, Cubans, Nicaraguans all working together with African Americans--it was the first time that had ever been done. In fact in [20]06 when the immigration push happened, Palm Beach's rally in Lake Worth was 12,000 people in a town of 35,000 people-outnumbered the number of people that marched in Miami.

Me and Christine both got hired to be organizers for ACORN. I was focused on the community organizing side. She was focused on the voter registration. We also 65:00worked to raise the minimum wage in Florida, which we succeeded in doing. We both quit ACORN. She got hired to be the South Florida coordinator for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. I want to give her props. I wouldn't want anyone to ever say she was my sidekick. I might have gotten involved earlier, but she is one of the best organizers I'll ever work with. We're still best friends. We just can't live together anymore. So anyways we went to Florida and did that.

The tools that we learn, right here in this little building changed so many people's lives. If you really look at the trajectory of divestment at UofL, then 66:00we had SCAR created to work originally on demanding African American student retention at UofL and about 400 students marched on the administration building for that. Then we picked up the Ibrahim Imam issue and were also working on the war in Central America and all this stuff. Any issue that came up we built the capacity to work on it. I'm just giving you the highlights. Ibrahim Imam and then you start looking at [drops thought].

Then the most important chapter comes in, I think it was like [19]94--for me it was the most important work I ever did for the Kentucky Alliance. [19]94 when 67:00Anne asked me if I would sit on a committee with Everett Hoffman, and Tom Moffett and I think Fran Thomas dropped in and out of it. Starting off, it was four or five people, and she wanted us to craft an ordinance for civilian review [of the police department]. You know a lot of people thing the success of CAPA [Citizens Against Police Abuse] is the result of some people got shot-that it all happened in [19]98, [19]99. Anne was very, very astute. Mattie was very astute. We would be building, we would build around issues that needing 68:00addressing, then we would start organizing on them when they weren't hot.

AD: Ahead of the curve--.

TP: Ahead of the curve, uh huh. We had this committee that nobody cared about. It was the committee that no one wanted to be on. It was boring and nobody cared about it. But I cared about it because obviously with my history, I have a problem with authority (laughs) and the police. I was sitting on that committee and then I think we were going along and then Kirk joined it. It started picking up a little bit more steam--and then (pauses), I'm going to get embarrassed.

I'm sure other people they would know exactly when the first shooting happened. For me, we used to have the committee, and I don't know if the Alliance still 69:00does this now, but people would come to this committee and they would tell us their stories. We had lawyers who would sit there and listen to them. Everett was a lawyer, the head of the ACLU then, so he was a good person to have on this committee. To me, the earliest beating was just as important as the first shooting. Do you understand what I'm getting at?

AD: Um hmm--

TP: So Kirk joined and other people joined. I was still with the American Indian Movement, and I founded the [drops thought] I was still driving a cab during all of this because the Alliance didn't pay worth a crap. I'm still driving a cap. I'm still organizing for the American Indian Movement. I'm at the Alliance. I'm doing all this stuff. I got hired by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) in 70:001999. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is a grassroots organization that works for economic and social justice in the state of Kentucky. I was just the organizer to take that vehicle and do something nobody had ever done with it before because no organizer from KFTC, I think they were focused on some utility issues-which that was the second bill I ever got through the state legislature, working for them as a lobbyist was the low-income heating assistance fund. At that point that was the kind of thing that they would do. They weren't really working a building a community base with African Americans in poor neighborhoods. They were more focused on trying to get folks to fight mining issues, to support tax reform that was fair to poor people like low-income 71:00heating assistance.

I started working for the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and of course immediately I started doing community organizing. I recruited a bunch of new members. In the first year, I recruited 150 new, active members to KFTC, and most of them were African American and students. They wanted to work on police brutality. That's what they wanted to work on, and far be it for me to tell them otherwise. The other issue they wanted to work on was at UofK (University of Kentucky) they had started working on the sweatshop made apparel issue. Students at UofL wanted to join in that so I organized the students. I was the Jefferson County and the Fayette County organizer for KFTC so I was working with students 72:00that built a statewide network of students fighting to get rid of sweatshop made athletic apparel. That ended up with the students at UK taking over the administration building. They didn't win. But when UofL saw what happened at UK they decided they'd rather cave and they signed the worker's rights consortium agreement to do away with sweatshop made athletic apparel just out of fear that what happened at UK [drops thought]. I was talking to one of the students that was involved in that the other day and I said, "Luke you ought to stay involved with organizing." He said, "Well, we never won nothing." I said, "Luke you started a statewide movement and out of that four campuses signed an agreement that got rid of the athletic..." He said, "Not at UK." You know it's not about--it's about what we win. You don't think the reason UofL caved in was 73:00because they didn't want the students at UofL to take over the administration building. He was like, "Uh, you're probably right. It just would have been nice if we won at UK too." You know it's all about building a movement, right?

The Alliance supported that by the way. The Alliance supports anything that's about social justice. We're doing the CAPA stuff. By the way, I don't know if you've seen the CAPA t-shirt?

AD: I have seen the CAPA logo on the website.

TP: Ok. Well that was designed by Christine Jones. Obviously have you heard the history of CAPA from Kirk and other people?

AD: Uh huh, yes.

TP: That was a hugely successful effort, and probably one of the things I'm most proud of in my whole career as an organizer because we really won stuff. We won 74:00the civilian police review board, we got Chief [Robert] White in, and we got the street crimes unit disbanded which was running around jumping out on people. We just won a lot of stuff. You know personally, what I think we have to do now [looking out window] there's Bob Cunningham. Isn't that Bob? Is that Bob?

AD: I can't see anyone. [Pauses] Yep! Sure is.

TP: That's another one of my biggest influences, Bob. Where I think things are right now, just personally, let me get refocused for a second. We won a lot of things during that time. We won the living wage ordinance. We won [the] fairness 75:00[ordinance]. When I say we--from the Alliance and that apartheid struggle, right. Fairness, Carla Wallace. The low-income heating assistance and the police brutality, Tom Pearce, Christine Jones, Kirk Owens, Bob Cunningham, Dave Anderson. Think all of that came out of this nucleus of folks that Reginald Meeks, you should interview him at some point. He's no flaming radical now, but he owes a lot of where he is today to that progressive bunch of folks that--do you see what I'm getting at? Look at where these young people, we're all 50 now, 76:00look at where these young, idealistic kids started out. If you look at Carla her main, I would say her main achievement-I don't want to speak for her, I would say Fairness is a big deal for her. For me, I would say the American Indian Movement and CAPA. Those are my two biggest passionate things.

Me and Christine we're down in Florida--if you want to hear more about that. We did amazing things in Florida. The thing that is so amazing about that, when we left Palm Beach County, Florida there were four, new immigration resource centers in Palm Beach County, Florida when me and Christine left. They were not 77:00there when we got there. [Resource Centers were places] where people get free legal assistance on their immigration papers. We got the city of Lakeworth to become a sanctuary city so that ICE couldn't come in the city and take [drops thought]. We the community.

One of the most powerful things we did in Riviera Beach, Florida--Riviera Beach is the last predominately African American city that has a beach in Florida. It's in Palm Beach. It's about 35,000 people. It's about 65% African American. Almost all the whites live on the beach and all the African Americans live off the beach. The predominately African American city council passed an ordinance 78:00where they were going to use imminent domain to remove 5,000 families from their homes to build luxury condominiums. We were there, and people were like, "What are you going to do?" I'm like, "You mean what are we going to do? What do you want to do?" "We don't want to move." We started working on that. It was a $2.9 Billion development. It was going to be the largest use of imminent domain in the United States in 50 years. It's a big deal. When we started those folks were like, "You don't understand. You are going to get yourself killed son." I was like, "What do you mean by that? This is Florida, this ain't Louisville, Kentucky man."

AD: (Laughs)

TP: "It looks to me like you have control. It's predominately African American." 79:00"Yeah, but you don't understand all our leaders are bought off. That's the way that its always been." We went in and we said ok, let's see what we can do about that. We put out flyers that just said the paragraph from the development plan: The City of Riviera Beach intends to use imminent domain to take the houses in this area, and if you're concerned about this, come to this meeting. Riviera Beach, Florida if 100 people come to a meeting, you might as well said it was a riot. Most of the folks that are homeowners are senior citizens. We had this meeting and 125 people came to this first organizing meeting. The city immediately went crazy. "Who are these people coming in to our community?" We were like, "Well, they are the Riviera Beach chapter of ACORN." The rules when 80:00I'm a community organizer, the organizer doesn't speak, period. People are like, how did you do all this in a black town. I didn't do shi--

AD: The people did it.

TP: The people did it. I'm not an organizer if it's about me. I'm not on the news. It got the city council so mad that Liz Wade got up in a city council meeting and said, "Where's that ACORN man? That man! That man is a dangerous--" This happened to me in three cities in south Florida. "That man is the most dangerous man in this community. He is scaring all the old people." I said from then on I was not going to anymore city council meetings because I'm not going 81:00to be a focal point of this movement. Andrew Bird who is a wonderful guy, he stood up and said, "Liz, I'm the leader of ACORN in Riviera Beach. Tom Pearce ain't got nothing to do with us being mad at you for voting to take our houses away."

Long story short, we got together a ballot initiative. They were also going to sell the public beaches to the Marriott Corporation. They were just going to sell the whole city to developers. We got a ballot initiative going, which helped us use a vehicle for voter turnout. That ballot initiative would make it so they could not give the beach to the Marriott. That way we got white folks to join with the African Americans on the mainland. It's always gotta be, you gotta come with that strategy. Not always, but it's a good strategy that has worked everywhere I've gone and used it. We got that on the ballot. Everybody turned 82:00out to vote. We ran five progressive candidates for city council.

I knew we'd done something amazing when the night, me and Christine were sitting at home, and Keith Olberman was on and he said "Tonight's worse person in the world is Michael Brown. I'm not talking about Michael Brown of FEMA. I'm talking about the mayor of Riviera Beach, Florida who is using imminent domain to take 5,000 people's homes to build luxury condominiums." I looked at Christine and said, "Holy crap. We just took a little community struggle and we got it to Keith Olberman. Whoah!" I started getting phone calls from people in Riviera saying, "Tom! Did you see that guy?" Then we were on Fox, then we were on CNN; 83:00we were in the LA Times because it was such a stark issue to say we are going to take 5,000 people's homes and build luxury condominiums.

Then I quit ACORN, for personal reasons. Me and Christine realized we didn't need to be working in the same office every day. This was completely outside of the movement. I decided I was going to start running campaigns for a living and ballot initiatives. She can just continue to do the organizing, and I'm going to try my hand at running campaigns. This was before the economy fell apart (laughs). I'll try my hand at running campaigns. I went to Riviera and there's a civil rights minister there named Bishop Thomas Masters and he reminds me so much of Louis. I said, "How would you like to be mayor of Riviera Beach?" "What?" He said, "I've run twice and Tom I just run to get issues. I'm not going 84:00to win." I said, "Bishop you are going to win." He was like, "Well, ok." I ran his, well what was I, his field coordinator because I think he had five campaign managers. That way everyone feels important. I was the field coordinator. We ran his campaign.

The strategy if you run in Florida was if you run against people who have more money they have a runoff election law in every municipality. So if you can get it into a runoff the candidate with the most passionate supporters is going to win because it's all turnout in that second wave. We won the mayor's race outright, and the other four candidates got in a runoff. I shifted from the mayor's race to the other four. We swept the entire city council out. They call 85:00it the Riviera Revolution now.

AD: (Laughs)

TP: Yeah. Bishop Masters is still the mayor of Riviera Beach, Florida today. His slogan when he was running: The city is not for sale. The beach is not for sale, and I am not for sale. (Laughs)

AD: (Laughs)

TP: I look back on all that. So what does the Kentucky Alliance have to do with all that? It was everything to do with the Kentucky Alliance, all that stuff that we won through CAPA, the living wage--all of those things were laboratories that I've been able to take in my organizing throughout the country and replicate. To the point that it's almost crazy sick. I just do things that I've been doing so long, it's like automatic pilot.

We just beat the coal industry in McCraken County, Kentucky May 23rd. They were 86:00going to rezone a residential neighborhood to build a coal terminal and a coal to liquid gas plant. In Western Kentucky anytime the coal industry wants anything they get it. We turned out 200 people to five public hearings and we beat them on May 23rd. I'm so proud of this. I didn't get interviewed by the press at one time. The only picture of me during the whole thing was in paper was Theresa Cash throwing her arms around me after they won. It says Theresa Cash hugs organizer Tom Pearce, but that's it. I never said a word, I never was quoted.

For me Anne, Mattie, Bob Cunningham, Ira Grupper, Beverley Marmion--have you 87:00interviewed those folks?

AD: Ira yesterday. Not Bob yet. I have a call into Beverley.

TP: Cause I wanted to say to you, if you're not interviewing those people, you're not--because those people even today when I need advice when I got a real tough issue, I'll go sit on Ira's porch. It hasn't happened in a couple years. Ira will say, "Let's get lunch. So what's going on you damn anarchist?" Because for years, when everyone else was a Communist back in the old days, I was Louisville's only anarchist and I wore that with pride. Now I'm a card carrying socialist. For years I was an anarchist because I believed in decentralization of power. Me and Anne used to argue about that a lot. I think she'd be proud of me now that I'm a card carrying socialist. I'm not sure, but anyway I think she would.


Another interesting you might want to know. My grandmother and Anne died four hours apart on the same night.

AD: Wow. Wow.

TP: My grandmother died two hours after her 95th birthday and they both passed on the same night. It was a big day for me because my grandmother she's Indian. I saw Anne as equal to my grandmother, and I just couldn't believe it. I was sitting in the hospital with my grandmother before she passed and Kirk called me and said, "Tom I know you are in town for your grandma." I said, "Yeah, she just passed." And he said, "Anne just passed." Wow. Since then Vernon Bellecourt has 89:00passed, Michael Haynie passed, Louis has passed. So many people passed, and Dennis Banks and Mattie are the only two who are still--and Bob! No, I shouldn't say--and Ira! Anne and Dennis are those folks are really who took a day-to-day interest in my development as an organizer. You know what I'm trying to say?

AD: Um hmm--

TP: Other people, they didn't live here. Bob Cunningham, in my opinion, is one of the most, finest men I've ever known in my life. I love his speeches. He has always been an amazing person.

Let's see, what else do I want to be sure to mention to you before we go, because I'm sure you need to wrap it up? I think I was one of only three Native 90:00Americans at the Million Man March (laughs). We were at the Lyle[s] Shopping Center, and the bus was overfilled and Howard Owens said, "Tom, you still got that van? We got too many people to take on the bus." I said, "Yeah." He said, "You want to go to the Million Man March?" I said, 'If I'm welcome." "Of course you are welcome man." Next thing I know me and my wife me and Christine are at the Million Man March and that was interesting.

I've had a lot of unique experiences in this building and with the Kentucky Alliance. Now I'm an organizer with the Sierra Club and I volunteer for organizations. I still volunteer with the Alliance. I'm still a representative of the American Indian movement. If you've got anymore questions, I'll answer them.


AD: I think you know, you are a very great interview. I'm surprised you haven't done this before, because you've pretty much covered every other question that I had. We can end with one, how would you summarize the overall mission and goals of the Kentucky Alliance?

TP: Umm. Well I have been interviewed before, but no one has ever asked me to start at the very beginning.

AD: (Laughs) ok.

TP: So people always want to know, so tell me about White Earth [AD: Right, right right.], tell me about the American Indian Movement. It's never tell me about Tom Pearce. So it's-- In my view?

AD: Yeah. In your view.

TP: Can you just go and get the mission statement and let me read it? I don't know. Has it changed lately? To me, there's the mission on paper and there's the 92:00mission as I always saw it which is to build politically conscious power in directly affected communities (laughs). [False starts] I think to me the mission of the Kentucky Alliance--should be and when it works the best--is when we are all working together under the realization that race and class, economic position are used to divide people. That if we can work together, that is the only way we can ever win against the wealthy. Anne used to say it. Bob says it. My guy Willie Gray. Has anyone ever talked to you about Willie Gray, ever?


AD: No

TP: Can I talk about Willie Gray first because if no one ever mentioned his name, it would be a crime. Willie Gray was a board member of the Kentucky Alliance for many years. There's pictures around here somewhere. Willie was a Korean War Veteran that had been captured behind enemy lines in Korea. In his younger days, when he was still real solid, he was just the most riveting speaker. He could really piss off some rich people. Willie was a POW and he used to say, "You know they sent me over to hurt a bunch of people that ain't done 94:00nothin' to me. I'll be honest with you, it ain't nothing but racism." Every time you asked Willie to speak, it didn't matter if it was, if it was about low-income heating assistance or tax reform, Willie would be, "See it all comes down to racism. We attack North Korea because we didn't want yellow people in charge of their own affairs. So they sent a bunch of black boys and poor white boys over there to make it happen. And I got thrown into a cage, and at first they were real mean to me because I was over there with a gun trying to kill them. But I have to be honest, they treated me just fine. I got a political education in that cage. They taught me that this government was a racist 95:00government that was against all the poor people in the world, and mainly against black people, yellow people, red people."

Willie would travel--if you asked him to go to Paducah and talk about a coal plant, Willie would go, "See what this is all about, it's about racism. And how it's about racism is see these poor white people are trying to rise up against this coal plant. If we could get the white people and the black people to stand up for each other's issue, but see they use racism to divide us, right? And that's how they win." No matter what you said to Willie, Willie had a tape loop going. That man traveled with me all over hell's creation. I can't believe I didn't mention him earlier.

When I think about Willie, I really get sad. Willie was a tank trainer at Ft. Knox. Willie was passed up for promotion his entire career. Every time he was 96:00passed up for promotion it was by a younger, white cadet that had way less experience than he did. His time as a POW, really started to do a number--just like Columbus, Georgia has done a number on me. That did a number on Willie. The last time I saw Willie I was a cab driver and I was going to the VA hospital to pick up a customer. No! To see my uncle who was dying. I'm sorry. My uncle was dying. Willie was there and he was in the mental area so every day I would go to 97:00visit my uncle before he passed, I would go visit Willie too. I walked in there, and he was telling one of his, "It ain't nothing but racism." [AD and TP laugh].

He was an amazing man. I could probably sit here for four hours telling you about my time with Alice Wade. Uh, Grace [Lewis]. Beverley Marmion, Fred Hicks. Fred Hicks wife whose passed. There are so many people who have come through 98:00here. And many of them are in other cities now organizing, just like I did. Young people, Nick Reese. It's just an amazing--when you think about how small this place is and how small a budget. How most of the operating funds are raised at that damn banquet that is so long and takes up so much time. But every year to have an organization this small, with a base of operations this small, with never really had really [drops thought].

One of the funniest things about the Alliance was that Ira, Anne and Mattie used to talk about, "I don't know what's wrong with you kids these days. All you want 99:00to do is write grants. White people aren't going to pay you to start a revolution." That was one of the first things I learned. If we are ever going to have a true revolution in this country--I want to state this for the record. I want to have a revolution. I'm all about it, have been all about it. I'm not ashamed of it. The FBI knows it, and that's all there is too it. So I don't care. A lot of people would be hemming and hawing--I'm an anti-capitalist. I'm a socialist and an anarchist and I want to have a revolution in this country. I've watched too many people live lives of sorrow and disempowerment and I'm done with it.

When I think about what they taught me is that we have to have a movement that's not dependent on grants. They would talk about, "When we were young you went to 100:00a meeting, everybody pulled out their wallet, we passed the hat and that's how we built a movement." That's not the way young people are anymore. Everyone wants to have a nonprofit organization that is funded by the Ford Foundation--this is important in understanding what's important about the Alliance that's being lost in most of the social justice movement. All of these organizations--I fought for years. I'd say Anne, "Just imagine what we could do in a year if we had just one grant." It was a battle to get the Alliance. I'll admit I was part of that battle. I was tired of watching us struggle. I said what we need to do is keep one part of the Alliance the way it is, but we need to have a foundation so then we can do a two-pronged deal like some other organizations do.

They finally filed for their 501c3 tax exempt status. I don't know what they are 101:00doing about grants right now. That was the last thing, I was working on when I was leaving to help the Alliance start writing grants, getting funding and I know they started the foundation for the Braden Center as well. Anne was right it would be insane for the Alliance to give up that autonomy that it had to do this. It would be better for some folks in the Alliance to start a 501c3, but keep that other thing because that other thing in the long run is so much more powerful.

Personally, one thing I'll agree with Anne about after all these years, I don't think that young people should be given jobs as organizers right off the bat. A lot of these organizations are snatching the first young person they see off the street, and they are giving them a job as an organizer and then they are just 102:00sort of going on and lackadaisically doing it. What I mean by that is Anne used to say that we should give these jobs to the people that are already out there passionately doing them. Just give them a little bit of money so that way they really set off like a rocket. If we go out and give money--the job is to hire the organizer to out and get kids interested in organizing, not let's hire some kids to be organizers. I haven't seen it work yet. [Several false starts] This is my opinion let's empower the folks that are doing something. These jobs are privileges. Do you understand what I'm getting at?

Anne used to say that all the time. These jobs are privileges in the social 103:00justice movement and they should be treated as sacred. If you are making a living, this is stuff that people used to die for, for free. You are getting paid to do this. To me that's just like a very sacred calling that should be honored. It shouldn't be like oh yeah I'm going to do this because I'm trying to get a grant. Or oh, I'm going to work on this because there is grant money there. This is what I'm working on because this is what's needed in my community. If we get grant money great, but not we aren't going to start working for what's needed if we don't get grant money.

That's what Anne gave to me. That's what I've carried all over the country. Everywhere I've gone there's a bunch of radicals, you know when I leave, there are a bunch of radicals that were disconnected and I helped them connect to each 104:00other. Or people who had never done [drops thought].

I remember when I got to Fort Lauderdale, Florida I was walking up this guy's driveway. It was my first day there in Sunland, which is like the 5th poorest community in America. I walked up and said, "Hello, sir. My name is Tom and I'm from ACORN." He's looking at me like, "What are you doing in my neighborhood?" "Well we just want to talk to you about what's going on in your neighborhood. What kind of problems you have going on." "What are you going to do about it? Son, this is Lauderdale, have you ever heard of Rosewood? You are going to get killed." I said, "You know, I think that maybe it's ok if I get killed. I think 105:00we're going to be alright. What kind of problems do you have in the neighborhood, let's talk about it. Let's do something together. Is there anything I can do to help?" He says, "Well, ok that damn parks been closed down for five years. The city took the grant money that was supposed to be used to renovate the park and used it in the white neighborhood and the kids are playing in the street. Ok, that's our problem. What are you going to do?" "Well I think we should go down to city hall, and we should all wear red t-shirts and we should all have signs. We should demand that they give that money back." "You are going to get killed."

Three months later, we had a protest with 10 people. Just the thought of a 106:00protest happening in Fort Lauderdale at all--no one had, had one in such a long time, they were like uh oh what 10 people gathered on a street corner outside a park with signs--lets set up a meeting and we negotiated and we got that park set up with state of the art soccer fields, basketball courts, Olympic swimming pool. If you ever go to Ft. Lauderdale, ask someone to take you to Joseph E. Carter Park and you'll be like man this is nice. That park had razor wire around it when we came to Ft. Lauderdale and people thought it was going to stay a weed--it was the biggest open air drug market in Florida. It's now a state of the art, beautiful park. When we got there the kids were playing basketball in the car lights.

After that someone was telling me. "You know, since ya'll saved Joseph Carter 107:00park, you've really put the fear of God down here in the people in power." I'm like, "What do you mean?" People saw that you could do something. That one little moment where the people are feeling like they have some power. Once they have the power they're never going to, they are always going to want that power, and they are never going to get tired of it, and they are always going to keep fighting.

I went to a city commission night meeting when I was about to move out of Broward County. I know this is a little far afield. It was really funny as hell. I'm trying to remember the guy's name he was an African American city commissioner--Carlton Moore. He still hates me. We exposed the fact that they 108:00had built several government buildings on what they knew were toxic waste sites in the black community, and he knew it. They'd taken Lincoln Park and put an all-purpose government building on top of it and half the neighborhood had cancer as a result of the toxics that were under that. The first thing, they put a park on it. After that they put a building on it. He didn't like me because obviously [drops thought]. I went to his meeting with the city commissioner and I was sitting there and Carlton, this was the first time this ever happened to me in Florida. For some reason they passed a script around, you see this man. It was like I was Scarface. This man here, this is the most sinister, dangerous man 109:00in South Florida. The only thing that had happened at this point was that we'd got those 10 people to stand at that park and we'd gotten the press to cover the fact there were this toxics under the park.

In Florida, the people were so powerless for so long, that's all it's going to take. When you asked me the mission of the Alliance, that's to me that's the mission of the Alliance. That's that I learned here is when we can bring people together across race and class, we can abolish the class lines, we can help poor white people see they are probably a little better off than poor African 110:00Americans, but they are under an illusion that they are much better off. The fact of the matter is until we all get together we're powerless. That's just what I carry with me everywhere I go. I feel like I owe it to, I never met Carl Braden--but I guess I owe it to Carl Braden and Anne Braden and Joe Hill and Roberson and Douglas (laughs). No I mean, Mattie and Bob, Willie Gray, Ira Grupper, Beverley Marmion, Fred Hicks, Alice Wade, Grace--all of them. That's what I got here. Probably if the government could ever figure out that all the revolutionaries in the United States probably came out of here--

AD: (laughs)

TP: No, I'm joking, but it feels like that sometimes. We've all gone so many 111:00places, and taken this stuff so many places. It feels like the Alliance was an advance school of organizing at one point. Seems like they've sort of scaled back lately.

I'd like to end with this. I think the Alliance, what our task is in Louisville right now, merger destroyed the living wage ordinance, destroyed the civilian police review board, taken away the black community's power. Well, reduced it by 10%. It was 33% of the council, now it's 23% of the council. That was the last thing I fought against before I left for Florida. Our task now for the Alliance, or the Justice Resource Center or KFTC, or anybody else--our task right now is that we've now got to organize the whole county. We have to stop avoiding the 112:00fact that this is no longer the city of Louisville, before the West End looks like East downtown.

I'm rather pissed off that I came back from Florida and found...what in the hell is NULU ("New Louisville"-East Market District)? Where are the people? Who cares about what happened to the people of Clarksdale? What happened to the people that lived in East Louisville. To be honest with you, it's really like the trendy Liberal place to hang out--just don't be surprised. I'm on the verge of having a big protest down in the middle of NULU on one of their trolly hop nights or something. You know that Gill Holland guy, he's going around trying to say he's an environmentalist. You know they pushed Wayside Christian Mission out of their building. Forced them to go to 2nd Steet. Now everyone is mad that they went over to 2nd Street and bought that hotel. You shouldn't have pushed them 113:00out of their home in the first place! They used historic regulations. You can expect me to pitch a battle with those folks at some point. If we don't pitch a battle, the point needs to be made in the press at sometime in the near future that there is ethnic cleansing, an ethnic cleansing going on in Louisville. If it continues our democratic power, our liberal powerbase is going to be gone in this community forever. Sheppard Square is next. Iroquois..

AD: It's being razed--or it's in some kind of process.

TP: Right. I'm not going to sit here and say those are wonderful places to live. All I'm saying is people should fight to get better housing for the people who live there, better conditions for the people who live there. Get rid of the zero tolerance police--the idea that convicted felons can't get out and live in 114:00public housing--why? I've watched grandmothers get kicked out of their houses because their grandson was a convicted felon and came by the house. I've seen it. West Louisville will be gentrified. Everybody in the East End will move to West Louisville. Look at East Louisville, why wouldn't they? It's happening, Cabrini Green in Chicago. It's happening all over the country and Louisville has the remnants of a black middle class along Algonquin Parkway. The big parks, we have something worth fighting for in West Louisville.

I know you are like, "We?" I've lived West of I-65 most of my life. Everywhere I 115:00go--I say we because this is where I work. If the people that people believe in the spirit of the Alliance, and Anne had the energy, and if she was still here she would say, "We've got to go out and organize Fairdale. We've got to organize Valley Station. We've got to go out and organize the unorganized because if we don't, this county is going to shift further and further to the right and this council and this mayor will never feel accountable to the citizens. That's what I've got to say. I hope it was a good interview.

AD: You were an excellent interview. Thank you so much.

TP: Thank you. [End Interview].