Listen to AFRICA SPEAKS by Bo Diddley.
Did you encounter much racism in the early days?
In the Fifties, you ran into some ignorant people down South — down behind the ignorant curtain, I call it. You was a sad son of a bitch if you couldn't fix you own car then, 'cause if it broke down, you'd be sittin' off in the bushes, and the service-station cat would just be sittin' up there lookin' at you. The crap that we went through to try to bring rock & roll to people. And all these dudes that's running around now tryin' to claim the shit — they ain't got no business claimin' nothin',' cause they didn't do it. We were the pioneers, and we went through hell and high water to make this shit happen. We went through some heavy changes. I had guns put up to my head, man; run out of town, and I still don't know why.
Where was that?
Right goin' into Arkansas, the day after President Kennedy got shot. We were runnin' out of gas, so we parked at this gas station at night and we were waitin' for it to open up in the mornin'. So by 7:30 or 8:00 there were four or five white guys standin' on the corner, like they were waitin' on somebody to pick 'em up, and we were sittin' there in this big, long, stretched-out Chevrolet with eight doors on it. They ain't botherin' us, and we ain't botherin' them. The gas station still ain't open yet, so me and the driver decided to mosey across the street to look at this thrift shop over there. Just about the time we got to the middle of the street, I heard this guy hollerin', "Hey, you! Whatta you lookin' at?" I looked around and didn't see nobody, so we went on across the street. Then we walked back, and just as we got maybe ten feet away from the car, we could see this old man run-nin' out across this field and down this hill, hollerin', "Hey, you all, what choo doin' there? What're you lookin' for?" So I stopped and looked at him, and I pointed — "Me?" He said, "Yeah, you. Wait a minute."
And when he got there, this old man pulled out this great big old gun and stuck it up to my head. Now, if you've ever had a gun put up to your head, the barrel of a .38 looks like a wind tunnel or somethin' when somebody stick it in your face — it gets real big, you understand? And this old man told me, "I want you to get out of town. Ain't none of y'all around here, and y'all get a-movin'."
See, again, that was a time when God carried my booty on his back. Because this was the most horrible experience a man could ever have, for no particular reason. Nothin' should have been that bad. But, see, people back then, this is what they thought — they were taught this. They were raised that way. They didn't know. They thought they were right. It's different now. The people down here in the South now is got their shit together. Everybody's fine; everybody gets along beautiful, and I'm so happy that that's what's happened. But you can always find a fool — you can find a fool in church, you understand? And there's some running' around right now, man, that's still fucked up, and it shouldn't be. I don't see color, you know? But that was the thing we had to go through. And not just black people; white people, too, if they let their hair grow long or something.
I don't understand why Americans do this — they love to pick at one another, you know? I think we'd be better off if we exercised the idea that that man's a free man, just like I am, and if he want to wear his hair down to his asshole, that's his business. It ain't botherin' me — I ain't gotta sleep with him, you dig? Leave him alone. And if you don't want him in your house, just say, "Hey, you can come in, but the hair gotta stay out."
Photo: Trip to Upper Manhattan (3).