Notes about a class…

The most important class was “Stokely’s speech class”. He put 8 sentences on the blackboard, with a line between, like this:

  • I digs wine                                              I enjoy drinking cocktails
  • The peoples wants freedom            The people want freedom
  • (…)
  • I wants to reddish to vote                 I want to register to vote

STOKELY – What do you think about these sentences… such as “The peoples wants freedom”?

ZELMA It doesn’t sound right.

STOKELY What do you mean?

ZELMA “Peoples” isn’t right.

STOKELY Does it mean anything?

MILTON People means everybody. Peoples means everybody in the world.

ALMA Both sentences are right as long as you understand them.

HENRY They’re both okay, but in speech class you have to use correct english.

(Stokely  writes “correct english” in corner of blackboard)

ZELMA I was taught at least to use the sentences on the right side.

STOKELY Does anybody you know use the sentences on the left?

CLASS Yes

STOKELY Are they wrong?

ZELMA In terms of English, they are wrong.

STOKELY Who decides what is correct English and what is incorrect English?

MILTON People made rules. People in England, I guess.

STOKELY You all say some people speak like on the left side of the board. Could they go anywhere and speak that way? Could they go to Harvard?

CLASS Yes… No.

STOKELY Does Mr.Turnbow [teacher] speak like on the left side?

CLASS Yes.

STOKELY Could Mr. Turnbow go to Harvard and speak like that? “I wants to reddish to vote”.

CLASS Yes.

STOKELY Would he be embarrassed?

CLASS Yes… No!

ZELMA He wouldn’t be, but I would. It doesn’t sound right.

STOKELY Suppose someone from Harvard come to Holmes County and said, “I want to register to vote”. Would they be embarrassed?

ZELMA No.

STOKELY Is it embarrassing at Harvard but not in Holmes County? The way you speak?

MILTON It’s inherited. It’s depending on where you come from. The people at Harvard would understand.

STOKELY Do you think the people at Harvard should forgive you?

MILTON The people at Harvard should help teach us correct English.

ALMA Why should we change if we understand what we mean?

SHIRLEY It’s embarrassing.

STOKELY Which way do most people talk?

CLASS Like on the left.

STOKELY Which way do television and radio people speak?

CLASS Left.

STOKELY Which way do teachers speak?

CLASS On the left, except in class.

STOKELY If most people speak on the left, why are they trying to change these people?

GLADYS If you don’t talk right, society rejects you. It embarrasses other people if you don’t talk right.

HANK But Mississippi society, ours, isn’t embarrassed by it.

SHIRLEY But the middle class wouldn’t class us with them.

HANK They won’t accept “reddish”. What is reddish? It’s Negro dialect and it’s something you eat.

STOKELY Will society reject you if you don’t speak like on the right side of the board? Gladys said society would reject you.

GLADYS You might as well face it, man! What we gotta do is go out and become middle class. If you can’t speak good English, you don’t have a car, a job, or anything.

STOKELY If society rejects you because you don’t speak good English, should you learn to speak good English?

CLASS No!

ALMA I’m tired of doing what society say. Let society say “reddish” for a while. People ought to just accept each other.

ZELMA I think we should be speaking just like we always have.

ALMA If I change for society, I wouldn’t be free anyway.

ERNESTINE I’d like to learn correct English for my own sake.

SHIRLEY I would too.

ALMA If the majority speaks on the left, then a minority must rule society. Why do we have to change to be accepted by the minority group?

(Lunchtime)


The class lasted a little more than an hour. It moved very quickly. It was very good. That is, people learned. I think they learned because:

– people learn from someone they trust, who trusts them. This trust included Stokely’s self trust and trust – or seriousness – about the subject matter,

– people learn more, and more quickly, from induction rather than deduction,

– people learn when themselves can make connection between ideas – can move from here to here, to here to there,

– people learn when learning situations emphasize and develop one single idea, which is very important to them personally,

– people learn when they can see what they are talking about. Stokely used the board.


Among other things, they themselves concluded:

– there is something called “correct English” and something called “incorrect English”

– most people in the country use some form of incorrect of broken English,

– it is not embarrassing to these people themselves,

– it is made embarrassing by other people because it is embarrassing to them,

– they are a minority (the people who use correct English),

– they decide what is correct English,

– they make that important and use it to shame people and keep them out of society,

– they make that a requirement for jobs and acceptance,

– they decide who is acceptable to society by shame. But not everybody can be shamed – not Mr.Turnbow for example,

– the main thing is to understand what people mean when they talk,

– that is not the main thing to society.


(…)I don’t want to make conclusions or proposals. I think Stokely’s class can stand on its own. Not only that, I think is better than anything I could say. (…)

by Jane Stembridge

Adapted from book “Stokely Speaks – From BlackPower to Pan-Africanism” by Stokely Charmichael (Kwame Ture)

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