Oral History Transcript Excerpt with MLK Collaborator Angeline Butler

By Brandon Perdomo | news@queensledger.com

“Angeline Butler” by Brandon Perdomo, Studio Birdhaus, 2023

The following excerpt is from a previously unpublished Oral History interview with Professor Angline Butler, an educator, musical performer, actor, playwright, and Civil Rights activist. Butler was an original organizer for the Nashville Sit-Ins, the Freedom Rides, and the March on Washington. Angeline was also a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC), and currently teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Brandon Perdomo, Interviewer [Brooklyn]

Angeline Butler, Narrator [Manhattan]

Transcription by Mx. Sugar Mamasota

Produced by Studio Birdhaus

Interview conducted via ZOOM

November 20, 2020

“Jackie Robinson was my mentor, when I first went to New York. Because of what I had done in Miami — I had gone to jail—back in the—summer of 1960, in ‘round July, 1960. And Jackie Robinson came down there and he—more or less, was responsible for the verdict that they gave us, which was “ejection of undesirable guests”, which was a mandatory sentence of six months in jail, for 13 of us, who had gotten arrested at Shell’s City in Miami. But we went down there to desegregate Miami, through the Congress on Racial Equality and James Farmer was the person who was head of—CORE at that time and he was the one that was sponsoring—the CORE Summer Institute. And he invited John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and me—we were the representatives from Nashville, student movement—Priscilla Stephens and Patricia Stephens, and a number of other students from Florida, were the people from Tallahassee, movement—that was a very prominent movement as well—I think it was Florida A&M University.

And so, basically 13 of us got arrested, sitting in a Shell’s City, on the second day that we sat in, and now they charged us with the ejection of undesirable guests, then they put us in the 23rd floor of the Dade County Jail! [laughs] In Miami!

Dade County jail that had a premium view of the oceans, [laughs] and Miami Beach—the whole number. And we’re sleeping in bunk beds up there. And, one day, while we’re waiting, our trial, about 20 days, or so—Jackie Robinson comes to see how we’re doing. And he can’t come into the cell. But we meet him through an octagonal window. And I can’t believe that Jackie Robinson, the person who my father, Reverend Butler, always idolized and we always listened to those Dodger games, is there, coming to see about me. So my friendship with Jackie Robinson begins there.

And after—we’re tried, and Jackie Robinson brought diplomats from different African—consulates, from the UN—the Ghana consulate, the Nigerian consulate. And they sat in our courtroom in African paramount chiefs’ ropes, and they embarrass the hell out of that old judge. And so what they gave us was, one year non-reporting probation, with no adjudication, provided we didn’t get arrested again [laughs], in Florida!

Now, that was okay for Angeline Butler, — Lowery, and for Dorothy Miller [Zellner], who were going to go back to—Nashville, or John Lewis, and— Bernard Lafayette—I’m gonna go back to Nashville and go back to New York and go back from wherever, because we were from all over the country. And wasn’t all right for Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, who were going to go back in the fall and lead the movement, you understand [laughs]—and get arrested again. They had already been in jail. They were in jail for like, I think—49 days, and eventually, they had a fast going on for 30 days. And they finally let ‘em out of jail because they didn’t want the students to starve to death! You know! But that was a sit-ins, you know, in 1960.

But anyway, so, I’m meeting all these prominent people, you know, as a result of me having been a part of that movement. And so, soon as we get out of jail, we didn’t go home! We went to New York, because Jackie had organized a fundraiser. And the fundraiser was to help, you know, legal funding of students who were arrested in the south. And he started by, him and Marian [Bruce] Logan—they were in each other’s house with a group of people. And they started giving $10 each, to a fund—and so now Jackie decided to have a concert, where he—organized it on his lawn, which overlooked the river, there. And it was the first concert that they gave, and his wife, Rachel, made these little red aprons that we had to walk around in—those of us who came up from—Miami CORE—that was Priscilla, Patricia, and myself. And, of course, there were a number of other white students that were there with us. And—we drove up, you know, from the South in cars, which also meant that we had a problem going to the bathroom and this kind of stuff [laughs] you know what I’m saying! Needed places to go on the way up to New York! That’s another story. Anyway [laughs] but the point is, we got to New York, and then Jackie found us a place to stay, through friends. And Priscilla got an apartment in Greenwich Village. And we all stayed in her place. And then—so we up at—his house on the lawn, fundraising with these little red aprons on. And now the artists that are there that day are Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Williams is there. We meet all these—top jazz people that day. You know, we have Paul Desmond up there. Of course, I knew Paul Desmond before, you know, that was one of my mentors too—okay. Through the Civil Rights Movement.”

Read the full interview at www.studiobirdhaus.org on February 1, 2024.

Brandon Perdomo is an artist from Great Kills, Staten Island. His work in public & oral history interviewing as a social practice provokes a reclamation of narrative power, featuring narratives concerning “/testimonyofthebody” through interdisciplinary storytelling, with focus towards interrogations of race, place, and history, and sexuality and gender. Studio Birdhaus is the creative studio of Brandon Perdomo. Contact Perdomo at b@studiobirdhaus.org for more info.

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