C. L. Bryant is a descendent of Choctaw Indians and American slaves. He lives in Grand Cane, Louisiana, on a 64-acre parcel of land he inherited from his great-grandfather, an emancipated slave. Formerly a pastor and self-professed "Democratic radical" who "would have thrown any conservative under the bus," Bryant served as an NAACP chapter president until a conflict between NAACP politics and his Christian faith sparked an ideological awakening. When he began advocating conservative positions, he lost his pastorate, because "a conservative viewpoint wasn't the right message that they wanted to come from their pastor."
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Bryant acknowledges that the founders of America owned slaves and that it was sinful and wrong, but he also unabashedly says that God has worked it out for good. He calls on American blacks to embrace their God-given freedom, to forgive the whites of history, and to stop buying into the meme of racism. Today, he is a fellow with FreedomWorks in Washington, D.C., and is involved in the Tea Party movement throughout America. Salvo spoke with Bryant about his new film, Runaway Slave.
From Democratic radical to Tea Party leader—how did that come about?
Back in the late 1980s, I was asked by the NAACP to speak at a pro-choice rally. I refused. Then I noticed that the agenda that I had set forth was not being relished as it once was. I realized that they didn't just want to control the agenda. They wanted to control me. Further examination led me to understand that I was being used as a tool to indoctrinate and control a block of people. The growing venom toward me caused me to leave there after my second term.
Was there a bit of an identity crisis for you?
There was. You see, my blackness, for lack of a better description, doesn't make a lot of sense if I continue to vote the same way after hearing the gospel of Christ. How can I, at my religious core, be conservative—in other words, I'm against the murder of the unborn; I am against same-sex unions or marriage, although I am not against the persons for their behavior, I am against the behavior—how can I then leave that church on Sunday and go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for an administration that is diametrically opposed to what I believe as far as my Christian faith is concerned? How can I put my blackness in front of my spirituality? Is my blackness my spirituality? Or is it simply a product of being a human being? Am I a black man first? Am I a Christian first? Am I an American first? I came to the conclusion, I'm a free man first. Regardless of my color. I'm a free man first. My grandparents paid the price for that, so that's what I have to be first.
Where did the name Runaway Slave come from?
The foundational scripture for the film is, "You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from a master . . . he shall live with you in your midst in a place he shall choose . . . he shall not be mistreated" (Deut. 23:15–16). My grandfather made a statement that will be with me the rest of my life. He said that his father, my great-grandfather, realized that there was freedom all around him. And there had been some from the plantations who had the courage to run away and become free men. Some of them would return from the north and tell those who were still in bondage that they could get away.
And I thought about the idea that, regardless of whether you were fleeing the tyranny of the plantation or fleeing the tyranny of King George, there were no guarantees for freedom unless you actually secured it. There's a tyrannical type of plan in play here to enslave all of us—the children of the Mayflower and the children of emancipated people—if we don't have the courage to run away from what's happening.
You suggest that Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program singlehandedly destroyed the black family.
In modern times, that is true. The Great Society, what it did was say to the black family: We will now be your Daddies, since the opportunities do not present themselves to the black male as they do to the white male. We will now be your husband. We will now be your children's Daddy. And the "hook" in that was: We will provide as long as there is no man in the house.
There was a society on the plantation, and the master had overseers in that society. There came a phrase out of the 1960s from the black community that said that those of us who made it needed to give back to the community. They didn't tell you to give back to your family. They didn't tell you to put aside for yourself. Lyndon Johnson put into effect that master-slave mentality by [in essence] saying this: Master doesn't want you to love your wife or your children. No, Master wants you to love him. That is why the Great Society has been such a detriment to the black family, because it put firmly back into place the idea of the slave-master mentality.
You say that socialist policies are another form of enslavement.
Sure. Socialism, on paper, looks great! Share and share alike; I am my brother's keeper, and all this kind of stuff . . . which is a distortion of Scripture. This is a phrase that our first recorded murderer was using sarcastically toward his Creator about a brother that he had murdered.
I am my brother's keeper in the sense that I don't want any harm to come to him, and I'm not going to cause it myself. But as far as being responsible for my brother's welfare, I am not. And I don't want my brother to be responsible for my welfare or my family's welfare. That takes away the onus and the responsibility for me to do that.
Another lie: It takes a village to raise a child. No, it takes parents to raise children. There are people in the village who I don't want anywhere near my children. There are pimps in the village. There are prostitutes in the village. There are robbers and thieves in the village that I don't need near my child, period. It takes parents to raise a child. But these little adages . . . a people that fails to examine the truth for themselves will take an adage and just run with it.
Well, white people are susceptible to that, too.
Sure! Why? Because they have been given stuff, too. This is socialist poison that's being shot into the veins of America overall. You got folks who received 99 weeks of unemployment. Now, how in the world are you going to wean somebody off of having those checks? It's incredibly degrading. And the evil in it is this: Once you have given them that for so long, you can't hardly take it away. It becomes an opiate. This is what happened to two generations of black people who were on welfare. It had become an opiate. And that's the socialist agenda, to make them look to the government as Daddy.
In Runaway Slave, you asked some New Black Panthers, "Why are black folks still mad?" One woman said she had a right to be angry and that the "United Snakes of America" was built on white supremacy. Are some people living in a racist America that no longer exists?
That's exactly right. Take the woman that made the statement about the "United Snakes of America." She was not as old as I am. I remember Negro Day in this country. I remember when black folks only had one day to go to the fair in this state. So if anybody should be angry, it should be me. If anybody should be angry, it should be my father or my grandfather. But what did they do? They went on about their business, understanding that they had work to do—feeding their family, serving their God—and both of them defended their country. This movie that I have been blessed to make is not built off men who were angry. It was built off men who found a way to succeed under adverse conditions.
Black folks, if they actually looked at the whole picture, would see that they are the greatest success story the country has produced. Slavery in this country was absolutely brutish and horrible. Make no mistake about that. When I say that American blacks are a great story of triumph in this country, it is because of the tyranny of slavery and the excruciating struggle that it took for me to even have this conversation today. But here I am, blessed with that gift in America.
What do you prescribe as the cure for what ails America today?
My grandmother had a saying: "Each tub has to sit on its own bottom." Which means that we're all individuals. And whatever happens to us, happens to us individually. Whatever is contained inside our lives, it's contained inside that individual tub. And what black folks have bought into—white folks are buying into it as well—is the fact that we all must either achieve or not achieve success together. There are winners and losers in everything. There will always be conquerors, and there will always be the vanquished. And America, if we're not careful, will fall into that latter category.
You are a prominent leader in the Tea Party movement, which the mainstream media insists on painting as racist. They really don't get it, do they?
Actually, Terrell, I think they do get it. I think they do get it, and they're afraid of it. And they do what liberal Progressives always try to do—they try to destroy the messengers.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of America?
Oh, I am terribly optimistic about the future of America. America is the greatest success story the world has ever known. We have survived bad administrations before. We have survived bad times before, simply by the strength of the American spirit. I do not believe it has gone away, though I do believe it is being challenged. I do not believe that that spirit has died. I believe that as long as there are red-blooded American patriots alive in this country, we will survive. •
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