Interview by Studs Terkel
Studs had Maya Angelou on his radio show on WFMT-FM in Chicago on March 13, 1970. Angelou had just released her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
The Animated Transcript
Studs Terkel was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who interviewed thousands of everyday Americans and international notables during a 45-year stint on the radio.
The one thing that con men will tell you; the only way you can be a mark is if you want something for nothing. If you’re greedy, you’re set up. Perfect.
Daddy Clidell was your stepfather.
And Daddy Clidell lived by his wits.
Daddy Clidell owned pool halls and gambling houses. Daddy Clidell knew the racket. So he taught me how to look at cards and see if they were marked, how to weigh dice and know if they’re loaded. Then he brought in a lot of con men. Professional con men, who maybe take 2 marks a year.
We should point out a mark is someone who is taken.
My dad, daddy… He’d call the guys in and, “y’all, come on in here, fellows. I want you to tell my baby here how you sold that supermarket in Dallas.” [laughs] “I’m raising this girl. I got to educate her.” So they told me not only the supermarket, but they sold a bridge in Oklahoma. Yes. One man said that, “you see, you use the white man’s bigotry against him.”
There was a white man in the town…
It was Tulsa.
In Tulsa. Who had just exploited all the Indians and the blacks and if he hated anybody more than Indians, it was blacks.
These two con men went down. They checked him out and decided to play him against the store. In long con that’s when you set it up for two months, maybe, and spend a few thousand dollars. You have cards made, a telephone taken in, a secretary, everything, the whole front.
One of the guys played very, very ignorant and very shuffling and went up to the man and said, “look here. I got a friend who own a piece of land, you know. See he got it because he’s part Indian.” [laughs] “Some white man, some Yankee want to buy that land because it’s got a toll bridge on it.” Well my father’s two friends, they sent for a white con man from New York who came down as the big real estate agent from the north, who was interested in buying this land. The white southerner, the Oklahoman, went to the office to talk to this northern real estate man, realtor. The northerner said, “now, listen: I’m going to get this land for maybe $70,000 or something like that because the guy is ignorant. I’ve checked it out. My office has checked it out. He’s got the title of clear. When he signs, it’s mine. But if you check it out or you raise any kind of dust, the state will become aware of that land and that he really owns the property and they’ll move in and confiscate it. So just leave it alone. I’ll … well, you and I can work together.”
Well, this white cracker, the southerner, the Oklahoman said, “he knows niggers.” That’s his attitude. So if this northerner is going to buy it for $70,000, he can buy it for less than that. Get the whole thing.” [laughs]. So they made the deal. At first he was brought to this Indian black American. He went to him and he explained that he’d better have that land and how bad the northern whites were. He talked about the damn Yankees and so the shuffling Indian Negro said, “well, you know boss, I’d rather you have this land than that white man, that Yankee.” So it took some time and he bought it.
For about 50,000.
That’s right. Cash.
And that is not a rare… that is not rare. I mean, when I was growing up, I used to know men, very intelligent men, who lived on maybe 2 marks a year.
Basically you’re talking about the stupidity of racism.
In a way, it’s almost a metaphor.
Of course because these men were born before the turn of the century. What a black man could be by 1915, his inability to function was crystallized. He simply had no way to move. Yet, here are men who lived by that intelligence. Suppose, imagine, if that intelligence had been able to be used constructively, that is more constructively for the common good.
Maya Angelou, our guest. Thank you very much.
Thank you Studs. It’s wonderful to see you again, to see you keep on keeping on.
I’ll stay on the case.
JAHZZAR “Airship Fury”