So that when we come to you with the question, How do we cool it? All we’re asking is that same old question, What does the Negro want?

Yes. You’re asking me to help you save it.

Save ourselves?

Yes. But you have to do that.

Speaking strictly, from your point of view, how would you talk to an angry black man ready to tear up the town?

I only know angry black men. You mean, how would I talk to someone twenty years younger than I?

That’s right.

That would be very difficult to do. I’ve tried, and I try it, and I try it all the time. All I can tell him, really, is I’m with you, whatever that means. I’ll tell you what I can’t tell him. I can’t tell him to submit and let himself be slaughtered. I can’t tell him that he should not arm, because the white people are armed. I can’t tell him that he should not let anybody rape his sister, or his wife, or his mother. Because that’s where it’s at. And what I try to tell him, too, is if you’re ready to blow the cat’s head off—because it could come to that—try not to hate him, for the sake of your soul’s salvation and for no other reason. But let’s try to be better, let’s try—no matter what it costs us— to be better than they are. You haven’t got to hate them, though we do have to be free. It’s a waste of time to hate them.

This interview originally appeared in the July 1968 issue of Esquire Magazine. Read every Esquire story ever published on Esquire Classic.