Black people are not afraid to use the church interchangeable with politics because for a long time that was our meeting place, the only place we could go to socialize. We couldn't go downtown. We had our banquets there in church, our meeting place. And we had our politics. Now ministers are careful not to mix it too much, but politics is still an integral part of the black community in church.
My mother used to make me go to church. I hated it. Sit in the back. Offering plate come around, and I'd take a nickel and dime out of it. Go get some ice cream. One time my mother caught me -- she hit me right in church.
I was trained as a scientist. And scientists don't get too much into God -- most of them don't. I didn't go to church, didn't do anything but work on my PhD and my master's.
So then I evolved, I guess, when I got involved in the civil rights movement. I've been in a number of situations where, ordinarily, something bad happens to you. I was in Macomb, Mississippi, 1962. Somebody shot through the window of the house where I was living, and the bullet hit the spot where I should have been sleeping. It was at that moment that I said: Iit had to be God. I've gone through so many things: to come from the cotton fields of Mississippi -- a sharecropper's son -- to Memphis, to be the first in my immediate family to go to college, with nothing, with no money. We were dirt poor. To go through the civil rights movement and not get hurt and not get killed. And so you have to say, it can't be me -- it had to be God. And that's not just a political statement; that's a real statement. That's a cultural difference. Whenever I use God's name some people say, "What are you doing using God? God has no place in this discussion." But it does.
-- Interview by Tyler Currie