SPEECH TO SNCC WORKERS, SELMA, ALABAMA
To understand this, you have to go back to what [the] young brother here referred to as the house Negro and the field Negro — back during slavery. There was two kinds of slaves. There was the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes – they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good ’cause they ate his food — what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved their master more than the master loved himself. They would give their life to save the master’s house quicker than the master would. The house Negro, if the master said, “We got a good house here,” the house Negro would say, “Yeah, we got a good house here.” Whenever the master said “we,” he said “we.” That’s how you can tell a house Negro.
If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, “What’s the matter, boss, we sick?” We sick! He identified himself with his master more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s run away, let’s escape, let’s separate,” the house Negro would look at you and say, “Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?” That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a “house nigger.” And that’s what we call him today, because we’ve still got some house niggers running around here.
This modern house Negro loves his master. He wants to live near him. He’ll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live near his master, and then brag about “I’m the only Negro out here.” “I’m the only one on my job.” “I’m the only one in this school.” You’re nothing but a house Negro. And if someone comes to you right now and says, “Let’s separate,” you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation. “What you mean, separate? From America? This good white man? Where you going to get a better job than you get here?” I mean, this is what you say. “I ain’t left nothing in Africa,” that’s what you say. Why, you left your mind in Africa.
On that same plantation, there was the field Negro. The field Negro — those were the masses. There were always more Negroes in the field than there was Negroes in the house. The Negro in the field caught hell. He ate leftovers. In the house they ate high up on the hog. The Negro in the field didn’t get nothing but what was left of the insides of the hog. They call ‘em “chitt’lin’” nowadays. In those days they called them what they were: guts. That’s what you were — a gut-eater. And some of you all still gut-eaters.
The field Negro was beaten from morning to night. He lived in a shack, in a hut; He wore old, castoff clothes. And he hated his master. I say he hated his master. He was intelligent. That house Negro loved his master. But that field Negro — remember, they were in the majority, and they hated the master. When the house caught on fire, he didn’t try and put it out; that field Negro prayed for a wind, for a breeze. When the master got sick, the field Negro prayed that he’d die. If someone come [sic] to the field Negro and said, “Let’s separate, let’s run,” he didn’t say “Where we going?” He’d say, “Any place is better than here.” You’ve got field Negroes in America today. I’m a field Negro. The masses are the field Negroes. When they see this man’s house on fire, you don’t hear these little Negroes talking about “our government is in trouble.” They say, “The government is in trouble.” Imagine a Negro: “Our government”! I even heard one say “our astronauts.” They won’t even let him near the plant — and “our astronauts”! “Our Navy” — that’s a Negro that’s out of his mind. That’s a Negro that’s out of his mind.
Just as the slavemaster of that day used Tom, the house Negro, to keep the field Negroes in check, the same old slavemaster today has Negroes who are nothing but modern Uncle Toms, 20th century Uncle Toms, to keep you and me in check, keep us under control, keep us passive and peaceful and nonviolent. That’s Tom making you nonviolent. It’s like when you go to the dentist, and the man’s going to take your tooth. You’re going to fight him when he starts pulling. So he squirts some stuff in your jaw called novocaine, to make you think they’re not doing anything to you. So you sit there and ’cause you’ve got all of that novocaine in your jaw, you suffer peacefully. Blood running all down your jaw, and you don’t know what’s happening. ‘Cause someone has taught you to suffer — peacefully.
There’s nothing in our book, the Quran, as you call it, Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful. Be courteuos. Obey the law. Respect everyone. But if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery! That’s a good religion. In fact, that’s that old-time religion. That’s the one that ma and pa used to talk about. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a head for a head and a life for a life. That’s a good religion. And doesn’t anybody, no one resist that kind of religion being taught but a wolf who intends to make you his meal. This is the way it is with the white man in America. He’s a wolf and you’re his sheep. Anytime a shepherd, a pastor, teach you and me not to run from the white man, and at the same time teach us don’t fight the white man, he’s a traitor, to you and me. Don’t lay down our life all by itself, no, preserve your life. It’s the best thing you got. And if you got to give it up, let it be Even Steven.